Greens eye up Colchester
10:43 02 May 2006
Essex chief reporter Roddy Ashworth previews Thursday's elections in Colchester
EACH of the major parties will keep a keener, greener eye than usual on the results of the elections to Colchester borough council this week.
Not only is the political balance on the borough council tight - it always is - but, for the first time, there is to be sustained competition from outside the normal three-party scrum.
One third of the 60 seats that make up the council are up for grabs, with some high profile members standing for their wards.
These include John Jowers, the authority's Conservative leader John Jowers, Terry Sutton, who is the current mayor, and the Liberal Democrat group leader Colin Sykes.
Colchester is classified as NOC - no overall control - because the majority party, the Conservatives, has only 28 of the 60 seats. The Liberal Democrats have 22, the Labour Party has been reduced to just seven, while two Highwoods Independent and one Independent make up the balance.
With the environment becoming a major issue because of the war of words on the green agenda among the three major parties at national level, it's no surprise that, for the first time, the Green Party is fielding a candidate in each seat being contested.
Although resources mean they have been unable to campaign to the maximum in each ward, they are eyeing Castle, in the town centre, with a view to a win.
Peter Lynn, who lives in the ward, is campaigning for cleaner streets, better recycling, a better bus station and safer roads.
Also standing in Castle is Independent Stephen Miller, who runs a stationery shop in the St Botolph's area.
Originally motivated to throw his hat into the ring by a council decision to charge a blanket fee for trade waste collection, his campaign has broadened into one calling for support for all small businesses.
The subject of Colchester town centre, and its planned transformation, has inspired another group into electoral action.
The Save Our Bus Station Campaign (SOBS) has fielded six candidates, including co-ordinator Tim Oxton, in a bid to pressurise the members of the town's ruling cabinet, who presided over the demise of the open-air transport facility.
The concrete bus park, on East Hill and Queen Street, is to be relocated in a £7 million, site of the art indoor bus station that will form part of a huge new shopping centre in the St Botolph's area.
Meanwhile a £16.5 million Visual Arts Facility (VAF) is destined to be built on the land it currently occupies.
Unfortunately, work on the VAF - itself a controversial electoral topic - could begin as soon as next month, while the all-singing and dancing new bus station will not be ready for at least five years.
The council's solution of a “temporary” bus station, built on the fringes of the existing site, has infuriated SOBS, which believes bus users are being marginalized.
Meanwhile Gerard Oxford, former Liberal Democrat turned Highwoods Independent, will be defending his seat for the first time since leaving his former party.
Under tough election rules introduced nationally, candidates standing for fringe groups must describe themselves as Independent on the ballot paper unless they have registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission.
However, despite SOBS' efforts, and those of the other parties, Conservative leader John Jowers is confident that his group can keep hold of the reins of power at the council.
The Conservatives managed to gain outright control - after sharing power with the Lib Dems - two years ago.
“We want to maintain the base on which we can keep up the fairly hectic pace of delivery we have achieved,” Mr Jowers said.
“We have got planning permission for the community stadium and the VAF, the start of the western relief road, and the application for park and ride will be submitted in June or July.
“I'm also quite pleased we finally got rid of those concrete bollards in the High Street, the ones that kept falling over.
“We are really getting involved in the Haven Gateway, and as a council we are at last beginning to pull our wait.
“We also want to continue to do in Colchester what Colchester wants - we have, for example, a good reputation for design and housing, and we want jobs.”
Tackling the SOBS issue, he said: “I think the temporary bus station is going to be better than the one we've got - it's not hidden away and so will be less unpleasant at night.
“We have proved we can deliver. We don't say we are going to do things we can't do, and we don't sit around for 18 years - like the Lib Dems did - doing nothing.”
Colin Sykes, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “We believe the environment is important and we are committed to upping re-cycling, and making sure the streets are clean.
“Those are probably the two biggest things. There are of course other issues - the community stadium and the Stanway western bypass, for example, that we will work for.
“But we want to get our recycling rates back up. We want to introduce household kitchen waste recycling. We are going to have to do it, but I don't see any great movement by the current administration on that.
“We would address how we approach street cleaning at the moment. Then every so often - possibly once a month - we would have a blitz on a particular area, such as a complete ward or part of one.
“This would target things that make somewhere look tacky and horrible, like graffiti, as well as give it a thorough clean.
“Within a short relatively period of time we could blitz-clean the whole borough.
“We would want to try and keep council tax as low as possible. And we will deliver what we have promised. This Tory administration has promised and not delivered.”
Tim Young, leader of the council's Labour group, said: “We are hoping to gain some seats - our policy programme is proving very popular on the doorstep.
“We are opposing the VAF, and supporting the bus station. We are concentrating on cleaner and safer streets and tackling anti-social behaviour.
“We want more police community support officers, which we can part fund.
“We support the community stadium, because it wouldn't have the same impact on council tax payers the VAF would.
“The stadium is much needed and Colchester united are popular.
“People don't want grandiose schemes, like flood barriers at the Hythe or art galleries being built on their bus station.
“The Conservatives have proved they are unworthy to run the council. They have got their priorities wrong.”
n ELECTIONS are also being held on Thursday to fill a third of the seats on Brentwood borough council.
However, there will be no contests in Braintree, Chelmsford, Maldon, Tendring, Uttlesford. They have all-out elections, and these are scheduled for May next year.