Tories need one seat to take Colchester. Can they get it?
PUBLISHED: 07:30 12 April 2019
Only a third of Colchester Borough Council's 51 members are up for re-election this year - but it is the authority which is most finely balanced in this year's contests.
After last year’s elections the Conservatives were left with 25 councillors – but they were kept out of power by a “Rainbow Coalition” of 13 Liberal Democrats, 11 Labour, and Three Highwoods Community Association councillors.
The LibDems did particularly badly – winning only two seats and losing their council leader. But they remain the largest single element of the ruling coalition.
The Conservatives did well last year – and have been very hopeful that this year they will be able to make the gain they need to take over the authority.
But national events over the last few months may have dented that confidence.
The Conservative MPs representing Colchester borough area, Will Quince, Sir Bernard Jenkin and Priti Patel, have been very critical of several council decisions and have been looking forward to their party taking over.
And Colchester Labour Party has not always been a happy organisation over the last few years – there have been tensions between “traditional” party members and newcomers enthused by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the Momentum Movement.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been a force in the town for decades (Sir Bob Russell was MP for 18 years until 2015), are hopeful that they could see an upturn in their fortunes as their party has not had as much negative publicity nationally as the two larger ones over the last few months.
The Highwoods group have regularly performed very well in borough elections and will be hoping to retain their presence on the council.
The count in Colchester starts shortly after the polls close on the night of Thursday, May 2 – with the results being declared during the early hours of Friday morning. The full candidates list is here.
However, the shape of the new administration at the borough will only be instantly clear if the Conservatives succeed in gaining seats from other parties.
If no party wins an overall majority in Colchester there are expected to be several days of discussions between party leaders before a new administration can be formed at the borough.
Council and MPs have clashed over Colchester’s expansion
Colchester is one of the fastest growing communities in the country – and this growth has caused tension between the borough and town’s Conservative MPs.
Witham MP Priti Patel has been a regular critic of the authority – especially over a planning row over the Tollgate Village development which is in her constituency.
She also blamed the council for delaying work to upgrade the A12 road in the Colchester area because of planning issues – although the borough claimed these delays were because of requirements made by the Conservative-controlled Essex County Council.
There have also been arguments between the council and Colchester MP Will Quince over the proposed £100,000 elephant sculpture planned for a roundabout near the station as part of a new £200,000 walking route to the town centre – and over proposals to change the town’s slogan to “Britain’s first city” from “Oldest Recorded Town” that has been used for decades.
Borough’s boundaries extend beyond Colchester town
Unlike some “urban” authorities which have quite tight boundaries, Colchester Borough Council covers a much larger area than the town itself.
It includes a fair amount of countryside and stretches from the Suffolk border at Dedham in the north to Mersea Island and Tiptree in the south.
That is much larger than the Colchester parliamentary constituency which is now a very urban seat.
As well as Colchester itself and several towns and large villages, the council also includes the campus of the University of Essex with its halls of residence – and a substantial number of students living in the town itself.
It also includes major honeypots of Constable Country, the nature reserve at Abberton Reservoir that attracts rare species (and birdwatchers) and the town’s zoo near Layer De La Haye which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in East Anglia.