It would probably be true to say that the Council by election taking place in the Holgate ward tomorrow – following the resignation of local Labour Councillor Sonja Crisp – has failed to excite much interest in the City. The election result will make no practical difference to the balance of power on the York Council and “all out” elections are little more than a year away.
So local issues have understandably preoccupied local campaigners.
Labour will be delighted to see the chaos that has descended on the Tory party leadership at both local and national level. The publicity has diverted attention away from the fact that 3 of the 15 Labour Councillors elected in 2015 have subsequently resigned. 30% is an unprecedented rate of attrition.
The Conservatives disappointed many observers by quietly dropping their colourful, and Portuguese born, Holgate spokesman preferring a youthful former University student instead. He is the only candidate who doesn’t claim to be local to Holgate.
Labour’s Kallum Taylor struggles with an unfortunate legacy. Labour’s current team of 3 Councillors have hardly set the ward on fire with their actions. Chunks of money delegated to be spent in the area remain in the Council’s coffers while, in the absence of regular inspections of public service standards, parts of the ward now look distinctly run down. Taylor blundered by claiming “I use the same services, shops and streets as everyone else in Holgate, and am affected by the same local problems”. He’s only been living in the ward for a few weeks since moving into the area from Fulford Road. That may mean that the cashiers at Iceland and Aldi will be seekingr counselling, but it did look like an opportunistic comment.
Had he said that he had moved into the ward so that he could monitor the standard of public services in the area each day, then he would have had more credibility.
Still, he is apparently the goalkeeper for Poppleton football club – skills that may come in handy when trying to avoid own goals from the John – “run railways via a worker cooperative” – McDonnell section of his party.
In most elections, since Local Government reorganisation, the battle for Holgate has been between Labour and the LibDems. This pattern was interrupted in 2015 when local and parliamentary elections took place on the same day. National issues were uppermost in people’s minds. This also led to a much higher turnout at 66%.
Given the time of year, a turnout of little more than half that percentage can be expected to vote tomorrow.
Perennial Green Party Candidate Andreas Heinemeyer, makes up the quartet of hopefuls. His previous election attempts have so far failed to induce exhaustion in those employed to count the votes
The LibDem candidate is the only woman in the field. With emancipation reaching its centenary this month, it would be fitting if Emma Keef saw off the boy’s club.
She is likely to win or lose based on the effectiveness of her campaign in the Lindsey Avenue and Leeman Road areas. The previous LibDem win in 2003 owed a lot to the votes of Council tenants and those living in the terraced areas
Emma Keef will at least expect to raise the LibDem vote back to its usual level of about 30%. With Labour hoping for 40%, the difference may be down to tactical voting and differential turnouts.
The result should be known at about 11:00pm
There is an increasing tendency for election candidates to announce themselves on social media, with their political party left to play “catch up” in the communications game. Last week a Labour activist announced that he would be the next Councillor for Holgate. Turned out that he had applied to be the candidate. Later he was turned down.
So, what do we know about the runners and riders?
Candidate is local resident Emma Keef who lives in Clive Grove. Has been involved with local groups like the Friends of Hob Moor and the Friends of St Paul’s Primary School. Is a Trustee for York’s Special Care Baby Unit. Works for a local Charity. Married with two children. Formerly a helper at the local children’s centre. Has lived in the area for over 10 years. The LibDem campaign got off to a slow start, but they are the only party to have beaten Labour in this seat since local government reorganisation, so they have a chance.
Had a false start when one “George Norman”, a Momentum activist, declared last week that he would be the next Councillor for Holgate. Apparently, he hadn’t told anyone else and was promptly unseated by a Kallum Taylor. Taylor is a former Student Leader at York Uni and very much in the James Alexander mould. He has a lot to do to retain the seat following disclosures about lack of activity by the present Labour Councillors (who failed to post a single update on their web page between April 2015 and January 2018). He works for JRHT in housing. Main claim to fame seems to be his connection with Poppleton FC. Kallum Taylor claims to live in the ward, but it is unclear where. Possibly another instance of Maskell syndrome – buy/rent a local property a few days before you seek election? Taylor finally made it onto the elector register at 21 Bromley Street when it was updated in February 2018
The Conservative candidate is expected to be Joao Rei Villar a Portuguese national who has lived in York since 2011. He moved into the Holgate ward in the summer of 2016 after which he tweeted that he was the Holgate Tory spokesman. EU nationals are currently eligible to vote, and stand for election, in Council elections in the UK. The York Council already has one EU national amongst its membership (a Green Party Councillor in the Micklegate ward). Joao Rei Villar seems to be a colourful character having formerly been a CDU Councillor in Lisbon. He is also a qualified anti-aircraft gunner which could come in handy if Teresa May starts “claiming back our borders”. Which side of the border Joao will be on come 2019 remains to be seen. By profession he is a script writer and had a minor part in last years Mystery Plays.
The by election takes place on Thursday 15th February. Nominations must be submitted by Friday.
Residents who are not currently registered to vote are encouraged to go visit www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. All applications must be made by Tuesday 30 January 2018.
Completed applications for a postal vote must be received by 5pm on Wednesday 31 January 2018. Postal votes will be sent out first class from Thursday 1 February 2018.
Yes, making oneself accessible is important.
So how well do the present Holgate Labour councillors present themselves?
Many residents, wanting to contact their local Councillor, will turn to the Councils web pages.
Looking for the three Holgate Councillors, they may become confused. They all give their addresses as the Councils “West Offices”. So, if you want to drop a note through their letterbox, about a local issue, you will be disappointed.
Labour claim their new candidate – student leader Kallum Taylor – “lives in the Holgate Ward”. They pointedly fail to say where, or for how long he has been there. No doubt time will reveal all.
There has been no publicity about any Councillors surgeries or advice centres in Holgate, so we must assume that they are things of the past.
But perhaps representatives are so active, they anticipate issues and report them before they become problems for residents.
Well a good Councillor will indeed “walk the ward” each week and report issues to the Council.
We know how many issues each Councillor reported, in each of the first two years of the current York Council, following a response to a “Freedom of Information” request.
All the present Holgate Councillors appear to be less active than their counterparts elsewhere.
It seems that the number of issues raised by Councillors generally is reducing compared to 10 years ago when Councillors were, on average, highlighting over 200 issues per Councillor per year. This may be because standards are higher and therefore issues fewer? We doubt that.
So, what about attendance at Council Committees?
The Council publishes its own stats on meeting attendance records
Better news here, for one of the existing Holgate Councillors. Mary Cannon has a 100% attendance record at meetings. Unfortunately, she is let down by the other two Councillors who are well below the York Councillor average
So, its looks like the present Councillor team in Holgate are not as effective as they should be.
We’ll look later this week at how the by election candidates shape up. Hopefully there will be at least one local resident among them with an established track record in working for the Holgate community.
We will see next week.
With the major parties now being well on their way to selecting candidates for the 15th February Holgate by election, local voters may well be asking “can we do better than the present lot?”
One test of a good local Councillor is how sensitive they are to local opinion and how proactive they are in leading and supporting local campaigns. In Holgate there have been several major issues over the last couple of years which prove a clue to the answer.
York central access route
The preferred access route of the York Central development was decided in 2007. The link would be from Water Lane and would have the advantage of providing a “by pass” for the Leeman Road area. It had the advantage of avoiding the busy Poppleton Road communities. In 2013, the local Councillor James Alexander brokered a deal which saw the council buy land for a route which passed close to Cleveland Street (Chancery Rise) . This route was approved by the Labour Executive with two, of the Holgate Wards three Councillors, supporting it. It wasn’t until the Council leadership changed in 2015 that the plan was reviewed. Opposition to the Chancery Rise option was led almost entirely by residents. No Leadership was provided by Holgate councillors. The Chancery Rise option has now been dropped.
Severus nature reserve
More recently, a planning application to develop land between Lindsey Avenue and the Water Tower (Severus SRE) was submitted by Yorkshire Housing. The opposition to the proposals was led entirely by residents. 159 letters of objection were tabled at the Planning committee meeting held on 16th November. Many objected to the loss of a natural nature reserve. Only one Holgate Councillor attended the Planning committee meeting although the application was refused.
West Bank Park
An active voluntary group now helps to sustain the West Bank Park. To address anti-social behaviour issues, they have used “crowd funding” arrangements to secure the park at night. Crime concerns peaked last year when the park lodge was set on fire. It remains as a monument to ineffective policing in the area. There is no evidence that local Councillors have prioritised addressing the issue, although they did authorise a Ward Committee* donation of £2000 to the gate locking project
Carlton Tavern planning application
An application to demolish the Carlton Tavern Pub attracted widespread concern. Opposition was led entirely by residents. Only one Holgate Councillor recorded an objection to the plan when a report was presented to the planning committee in December. The demolition proposal was refused although an appeal against the decision is expected.
Closure of Acomb Police Station
Two years ago, North Yorkshire Police announced that they intended to close the Police station on Acomb Road. The plan might see an alternative depot established in Lowfields. However, the present site provides a high-profile hub for community safety activities plus good access to the whole of west York. The Holgate ward Councillors have failed to oppose the closure plan.
The Holgate area is fortunate in having many active voluntary groups. The Holgate Windmill Preservation Society is an inspiration for many while – against the odds – the Poppleton Road Memorial Hall continues to be sustained entirely by volunteers.
Whether these, and other, local groups get the support they deserve is open to question.
We will try to answer that question next week.
*NB. Most of the delegated Holgate Ward Committee budget for 2017 remains unused.
…. but what makes a good, local Councillor?
The by election to fill the vacancy left by Cllr Crisp will take place in 4 weeks’ time. The middle of winter is rarely a good time to hold an election. Historically, turnouts have often dropped below 30%. Details of the election timetable can be found by clicking here
How motivated electors will be, given that the result won’t make any real difference to the balance of power on the York Council, remains to be seen. All out elections are due in May 2019 in any event.
But having a locally active representative can make a real difference to the quality of life in a local community. Retiring Councillor Crisp says, “I have been a part of a very productive and dedicated team of three Labour Councillors for Holgate Ward and am proud of the things we have been able to achieve for residents.”
Let’s look at the evidence?
How good have Holgate’s Councillors been with communications?
Effective local Councillors will use a wide range of channels to communication with residents. These range from more traditional formats such as noticeboards, through hand delivered newsletters to social media.
Sadly, the Holgate Councillors fail the noticeboard test. The one in Leeman Road clearly hasn’t been updated for months.
Can residents remember getting newsletters through their letterbox? Political propaganda perhaps, but not local news.
Similarly, on social media, you will look in vain for a dedicated twitter account, Facebook page or web page devoted to the Holgate Ward. Even the Labour Party’s web site offers only brief biographies, but it urges voters to read it’s “Holgate Blog” The last entry was made on 25th April 2015 – just 7 days before the last Council elections.
The Council’s own Holgate web page has no local news items
Only one – very modest – scheme has been put forward for funding from the Housing Estate improvement programme this year (£100 for some keypads). Other wards have applied for thousands to be invested locally from this fund.
We’ll take a further look at campaigning in a future article.
Hard on the heels of Julie Gunnells resignation, another Labour Councillor David Levene is jumping ship. He will stand down from his Hull Road ward triggering a by-election which will take place on the same day as the General Election (8th June).
Like Julie Gunnell he had been overlooked as a Labour Council Group Leader contender
David Levene was one of the last men standing from the ill fated administration of James Alexander. He cites work reasons for his decision (he works for government funded “Transport for the North”).
At least one other Labour Councillor is working some 40 miles away.
Labour had a majority of less than 200 votes in the Hull Road Ward at the 2015 Council elections. This was partly due to the strong student vote in a ward which was fought on new boundaries. However many students are anti BREXIT so any result may be possible in the by-election.
Labour are expected to announce a hard line Corbynite candidate for the election.
David Levene’s short stay on the Council was mired in controversy.
York Liberal Democrats have selected local resident Aileen Hingston to contest the forthcoming Micklegate by-election
Aileen is a retired civil servant who has lived in Micklegate ward for 25 years. Her career involved health and social care, refugee issues, and economic statistics. She has been campaigning to resolve parking problems for residents and to improve local bus services.
The by-election has been triggered by the announcement that a Labour Councillor will resign at the end of March.
Since the EU referendum Liberal Democrats have won more by-elections than all other major parties combined. Sarah Olney MP, the newest Liberal Democrat MP who won a by-election in Richmond Park last year, launched Aileen’s campaign in Micklegate last weekend.
Lib Dem candidate for Micklegate Aileen Hingston said:
“I love living in York, and particularly Micklegate with its fantastic heritage and green spaces. Since retirement I have enjoyed contributing to the local community, such as by volunteering in a charity shop. If elected I will continue the York Liberal Democrats’ strong record for protecting frontline services.”
“Micklegate had one of the highest Remain vote in York and residents are being let down by the national Labour Party’s failure to fight against a hard Brexit. Right now the Liberal Democrats are the clearest voice on European issues, which really matter in this ward.”
The by election has not yet been called but is expected to take place on 4th May. The vacancy occurred when Labour Councillor Julie Gunnel announced she was quitting following wranglings within the local Labour Council Group.
The Greens and Tories have already publicised their likely candidates names.
The Liberal Democrats came within a couple of hundred votes of winning the area in a similar by-election which took place in 2002.
The media are reporting that Micklegate Councillor Julie Gunnel is resigning from the City of York Council. It means that a by-election will take place in a ward which has been electorally unpredictable over the years. The other Councillors for the area currently include an Independent and a Green party representative.
The chaotic state of the Labour party nationally has seen several Councillors quit recently. In nearby Leeds, three members recently left to form an independent grouping.
Julie Gunnel had a deserved reputation as being one of the friendliest and hard working local representatives. She had the great advantage of having lived in the city all her life and owned a house in the Micklegate ward. She cites family reasons for her departure.
The by-election may take place on 4th May when local elections are scheduled in other parts of the country.
Labour’s recent election results elsewhere in the country – coupled with a lackluster performance in the Council chamber – means that a change is on the cards.
Nationally the LibDems have a string of recent Council by-election gains to their credit.