East Suffolk’s new council keeps politicians guessing
- Credit: East Suffolk Council
East Suffolk Council is one of two new “super districts” that have just been created in the county from the merger of former districts.
This has been formed by bringing together Suffolk Coastal and Waveney councils to create a huge authority stretching all the way from Landguard Point at Felixstowe to the villages to the north of Lowestoft.
Geographically it is the largest district in England – and it is a real hike to get from one end to the other – but its creation does mean that the county’s entire coastline falls under one local authority.
Waveney was a council that changed hands several times during its 45-year existence. When the Conservatives were in power in Westminster Labour sometimes (but not always) ran the council.
Suffolk Coastal has been run by the Tories throughout its existence apart from the four years between 1995 to 1999 when the Conservatives were wiped out on councils across the country.
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In 2015, the last year that the council seats were contested, the Conservatives won almost all the seats in Suffolk Coastal and had a good year in Waveney – it was general election day so the party was able to get its vote out.
But there was still a substantial Labour opposition at the Lowestoft-based authority. Labour is hoping to do very well at the north end of the new district – and to pick up some seats south of the River Blyth that was the border between the two former districts.
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In earlier years it has done well in some urban areas like Felixstowe and Leiston – but except in the mid-1990s has always struggled to make a major impact in this district.
The Liberal Democrats have done well in parts of the old Suffolk Coastal area in the past – they hold the county council seat at Woodbridge and have district councillors in Martlesham and the Hollesley areas. They also hold a seat at Southwold.
And there is a strong Green Party presence in Beccles where the party holds seats on both the district and county councils.
There are also a scattering of independent councillors – and the major parties fear they could have a major factor in next month’s election as they focus their campaigns on specific issues in different parts of the district.
Who will be at the helm of the new council?
The Conservatives are favourites to win the most seats in the new East Suffolk council, but it is anyone’s guess who will be the first leader of the new authority.
Both outgoing Suffolk Coastal leader Ray Herring and Waveney leader Mark Bee are expected to put themselves up for election for the top job – and could be joined on the ballot paper by other candidates.
But over the last few months tension has emerged between Tories at either end of the district – and these came to a head when it was revealed that Suffolk Coastal was spending £15,000 of council taxpayers’ money on a “celebration” event at Snape Maltings in March.
Waveney Conservatives were unimpressed – they didn’t do anything like that – and some felt privately that it showed a failure to recognise the challenges of fighting a close election.
Some from the Suffolk Coastal area have come round to agreeing with them – so the battle for leadership of the council could be very interesting.
Could Independents have an impact in East Suffolk?
Politicians from all political parties in East Suffolk are watching closely to see what impact independent candidates will have in this year’s election.
The main issue that has galvanised possible support for independents in the proposal to build a huge new power station at Sizewell on the coast near Leiston – it is a proposal that has prompted a great deal of local concern and has left some local people feeling their views aren’t being reflected by the leadership at Suffolk Coastal.
An independent won a seat in Leiston four years ago – and there are two independents standing for the new expanded Leiston and Aldeburgh ward which will return three councillors this time.
The Conservatives are the only political group to be contesting every seat across the council – although there is an election in all 55 seats in the new authority as there is more than one candidate for each one.
New authority will see a fall in the number of councillors
The new East Suffolk Council will see a significant fall in the number of councillors across the area.
At present there are 42 Suffolk Coastal councillors and Waveney has 48 – a total of 90 across the two districts.
After the election there will be 55 councillors representing the area from one, two and three-councillor wards.
There will continue to be two major offices, at Riduna Park in Melton near Woodbridge and at Riverside in Lowestoft with customer service centres in Woodbridge, Felixstowe and Beccles libraries and at the Marina Centre in Lowestoft.
Final approval for the merger came through from the government early last year – and the parties have been preparing for these elections ever since.
East Suffolk Council officially came into existence on April 1 – but the administration has effectively been run as a single body serving two political structures for the last few years.