Colchester elections see shake-up

THE BOROUGH council election in Colchester resulted in a shake-up of the town's political leaders - with the LibDem chief losing his seat and the Conservative leader stepping down to make way for fresh blood.

By Juliette Maxam

THE BOROUGH council election in Colchester resulted in a shake-up of the town's political leaders - with the LibDem chief losing his seat and the Conservative leader stepping down to make way for fresh blood.

LibDem leader Colin Sykes being ousted by the Conservatives was the only shock result of the election, which saw the Tory administration gain two seats, bringing their total to 30.

Colchester Green Party, which put candidates in all of the 20 seats up for election for the first time ever in a borough election, took nearly 10% of the share of the votes.

But the Save Our Bus Station group, which put up six candidates in the borough on the single issue of fighting plans to knock down the town's bus station and replace it with a visual arts facility, gained very few votes.

Conservative leader and head of cabinet John Jowers announced his decision to step down as leader after seeing his party increase their majority.

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Mr Jowers, who became Essex County Council localism portfolio holder last year, said: “I'm standing down. I've had four years leading the group. I'm a great believer in refresh and change. It's the way we operate.”

He added: “I'm going out on a high.”

The party will select a new leader this weekend, choosing between deputy leader Robert Davidson and Kevin Bentley, cabinet member for business, leisure and tourism.

Mr Jowers said Labour's position nationally had no bearing on the Conservatives' performance in Colchester.

“In local elections, people aren't daft, they're looking at local solutions to local problems. They want people who will make decisions on their behalf and explain them.”

He said the result was an endorsement of the Conservative's plans for Colchester and the Save Our Bus Station group's performance showed they are a “tiny minority”.

He blamed the LibDem's two losses on the town's MP Bob Russell, who has consistently opposed the council's regeneration plans.

The Conservatives won Prettygate and Stanway from the LibDems, and Tiptree, where long-standing Tiptree Ratepayer Association independent Tony Webb was not seeking re-election. The Tories lost Wyn Foster's Shrub End seat to the LibDems.

Mr Sykes said his party had hoped to win two seats and feared they would lose four seats. In the event they won one and lost two.

“We didn't expect to pull trees up this year,” said Mr Sykes. “We got half our hopes and saved half our fears. It was a mixed bag.”

He attributed his own defeat, not to Mr Russell, but to changing demographics in his ward. Ironically, Gaye Pyman, who beat Mr Sykes, is the wife of Jonathan Pyman, who took his seat in 2000.

Commenting on his personal defeat, he said: “Part of me is very sorry but glad to be going, the other part is sad that bit of life is behind me. I'm very much a glass half-full person.”

Mr Sykes predicted Terry Sutton, current Mayor of Colchester, would become next leader at the annual meeting of borough party today .

Mr Sutton said: “Whilst we lost two seats we gained one which still gives us a boost for running for next year's election. The Liberal Democrats did not fare too badly in the Colchester elections.”

Commenting on the leadership he said he would have to wait and see what his group wanted.

Labour's Julie Young held her St Andrew's ward, the party's only seat up for re-election. The party made no gains.

Leader Tim Young said: “We held our own. Given what happened in the rest of the country we're very pleased we held our own in Colchester.

“We would have liked to pick up another couple of seats, but given the national situation it was going to be difficult.”

Peter Lynn, who polled the largest number of Green Party votes, in Castle ward, coming second to established LibDem Chris Hall, said: “We're very pleased with our overall performance. It's the highest overall share of the vote the party has got in Colchester.”

He said people voted Green because they realised the party's stance on many issues is closer to their own concerns and issues and they are dissatisfied with the three other major parties.

He said this year's results are a “strong base” for next year, when the party hopes to get a candidate elected.

Tim Oxton, of Save Our Bus Station, which now has 18,500 signatories on its petition, refuted Mr Jower's suggestion his group was a “tiny minority”.

He said voters were perhaps put off voting on a single issue. In addition, he said the group did not have enough money for leaflets for every household so they did not recognise candidates' names on ballot papers which were listed as independent.

“I think, all things considered, we would have liked to have done better. We are not exactly disappointed and it's not the end of the story.”

nThe make-up of Colchester Borough Council is now Conservative, 30, Liberal Democrat, 21, Labour, 7, Highwoods Independent, 2. Turnout for the election was 36%.

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