New look Babergh hard to predict

BABERGH councillors have always been proud that their administration has been non-party political no party won overall control in the past two elections.

By Alison Withers

BABERGH councillors have always been proud that their administration has been non-party political no party won overall control in the past two elections.

But this year the outcome is less easy to predict because a boundary review, has changed the make-up of a number of wards.

One new ward, Pinewood, has been created for the housing estate alongside the A12 from the outskirts of Ipswich, and Hadleigh has been split into two wards with two councillors each.

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The number of candidates standing for election has dropped from 90 in 1999 to 78 this year. There are just 11 Labour representatives compared with 19 in 1999, and the number of Independents has dropped from 21 to 10.

The Conservatives are fielding 28 candidates, one more than in 1999, and the Liberal Democrats are fielding 26, up five. New to the contest this time are two members of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and one Green candidate.

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Much has been said and written about the decline in candidate numbers and in voter turnout for both local and national elections and it seems from these figures that the downward trend is continuing.

It is even more noticeable in the numbers of parishes where there will be no need for an election this year because there have been either fewer than or just enough nominations for the available vacancies.

Among Babergh's 66 parish councils, 32 were uncontested in 1999 – compared with 24 at the previous election. This time a staggering 48 parishes will not hold an election, leaving just 18 where voters will be going to the polls.

Lack of time and disenchantment with politics in general may play a part but the parish councils have also seen several resignations by councillors objecting to the introduction of a register of interests and a code of conduct.

Tony Bavington, leader of Babergh's Labour Group, believes the war in Iraq has been a factor in the decline in the numbers of Labour candidates willing to stand this time.

Certainly the party has lost one prominent member, Raj Nandi, who represented Great Cornard and resigned from the party in March after a membership of 20 years, publicly labelling the war "immoral and illegal".

But, Mr Bavington said, another deterrent was the hours one had to take away from work to attend daytime meetings.

He said he was proud of the way Babergh had been modernised and streamlined over the last ten years "not at the whim of Government direction but locally driven" and wanted to see this continuing: "Ten years ago Babergh was paternalistic and patronising and it's much better now at listening to its public."

Labour wanted to see many more area forums developed following the success of the energy project at Sudbury and Cornard, and much more effort going into community regeneration. In Sudbury the biggest issue would be the need for a western bypass, and the town's ongoing traffic problems as more homes are built.

Liberal Democrat group leader Duncan Read, on the other hand, did not believe national or international politics would have an impact at local level.

He said: "We will deal with issues that affect Babergh and which we can influence."

He said key issues would be the need to keep improving support for the elderly living independently and for more sheltered housing for the district's ageing population as well as keeping villages alive and providing affordable housing and opportunities for younger people.

Proposals to expand the two ports of Felixstowe and Harwich would also have an impact particularly on the Shotley Peninsula and it was important to ensure that the development met important environmental standards.

The Liberal Democrats shared Labour's concerns about Sudbury's traffic as well as developing Babergh's programme of modernisation, but, Mr Read said, on the doorstep the issues were recycling, rubbish on verges and dumped vehicles.

Conservative group leader Richard Cave felt his party as well as the Liberal Democrats might benefit from the impact of national politics on Labour supporters, who may show their dissatisfaction by not voting, and he believed the Conservatives could make significant gains because of anger over council tax and other tax rises.

Babergh was due for a performance assessment next year, he said, and if it was rated excellent or good the council could have more financial freedom, larger grants and less central government control.

This would do much to improve its financial prudence, its ability to encourage small businesses and employment, to maintain and improve the council's excellent housing record and enable it to strengthen conservation and improve recycling.

Sue Wigglesworth, speaking for the Independents, said most saw themselves as preventing the council from becoming too politicised.

She said: "Although we have to have policy making we don't see any need for party politics to creep in at district level and with a streamlined committee system we are in a better position to keep representation direct to constituents."

She felt the Independents had an advantage over party-aligned candidates because they tended to live in their wards and have direct links with local people. Most important was to get recycling right and to find collection systems that were economic and suited everyone.

Another key issue was getting enough affordable homes allowing young people to stay in their home villages if they wanted to.

Husband and wife Derek and Cynthia Allen, of Pot Kiln Road, Great Cornard, are members of the UKIP and both said they were standing because alongside its commitment to getting Britain out of the European Union, the party was also committed to returning democracy to the people by using referenda.

They said they were appalled that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was intending to remove planning decisions from local authorities and believed that flood plains should not be built on and greenbelt should be protected.

In their election statement they state: "UKIP is concerned at the present escalation of the closures of small businesses and shops, public houses and post offices as these are the backbone of small towns, villages and rural life in general."

Ian St John is the one Green party candidate standing in Babergh on a platform of achieving a sustainable economic and social system.

Among the Green party's many objectives are best practice for energy efficiency being used for every new building, such as systems for water re-use and the use of sustainable local materials with facilities for recycling, bicycles and wheel chair users.

The party also opposes airport expansion and wants to see more attention paid to sustainable transport including adequate and affordable public transport and safe routes to schools.

While the traffic situation, the western bypass and the possibility that town might eventually get a new small hospital may dominate the doorstep in Sudbury, in Hadleigh there are likely to be fiercely fought contests in both the new wards.

The town has been dominated by two main issues, the on-going efforts by Tesco to built a supermarket in the town and what is to be done about the town's ageing swimming pool, which consultants have said may have to be rebuilt next to the town's High School and Leisure Centre to have any chance of attracting lottery money.

In Hadleigh North three sitting councillors, Eileen Banks (Ind), Ann Stephenson (LD) and Peter Matthews (LD) will be among six candidates battling for two seats and in Hadleigh South there are also six candidates, three of them town councillors, for two seats.

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