The battle for Mid Suffolk

THE fight to control Mid Suffolk District Council and decide how to spend its £10 million annual budget is underway, with the Conservatives and Independents hoping to hold on to their slim majority after seizing power four years ago.

By John Howard

As the countdown continues to the local elections on May 3, John Howard examines the issues facing voters in Mid Suffolk while Richard Smith turns the spotlight on Suffolk Coastal>

THE fight to control Mid Suffolk District Council and decide how to spend its £10 million annual budget is underway, with the Conservatives and Independents hoping to hold on to their slim majority after seizing power four years ago.

Conservative David Laurie in Palgrave and Charles Flatman in Eye, an Independent member of the ruling administration, have been returned unopposed. And at Stowmarket North - which returns three councillors - the Tories have fielded three candidates and the Labour and Liberal Democrats only one each meaning that the Conservatives are guaranteed to see at least one councillor elected from this ward.

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Conservative leader of the current administration Tim Passmore, who took over 18 months ago after the death of Roger Saunders, is confident that his party's track record will see them win up to an extra five seats, securing their hold at Mid Suffolk District Council.

“Our track record shows a restoration of financial health following an inherited £1.8m deficit, plus a continuous reduction in the rate of council tax increase to 3%. We have proved ourselves with affordable housing, recycling where we are 8th out of 268 authorities.

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“Doorstep issues so far are about health care and Hartismere Hospital's future, and the environment. In Stowmarket we have committed large sums of money for the important project of regenerating the town.”

Ray Melvin, the Independent group leader who helps the Conservatives hold power, said: “I think that the administration has done a remarkable and admirable job in the last four years bringing financial stability with improved services.

“I'm not much of a betting man but I think at worst the status quo will be maintained and at best an increased majority for the exiting administration.”

The Liberal Democrats are highly critical of the Conservatives who took power from them four years ago.

Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group and a former head of a joint Liberal/Labour administration which became deeply unpopular for huge council tax rises, said: “We are contesting the local elections on the current Tory administration's failure to deliver in a number of key areas.

“We remain passionate about the environment and when in control it was top of our agenda. We do not believe that the Tory administration has done enough for our young people. The Tory administration has failed to engage with young people.

“We are fielding 31 candidates, more than in 2003. We are certainly expecting an increase in the number of Liberal Democrat councillors elected.

“We are aiming to make some gains in Stowmarket where we currently have no councillors and would hope to gain a seat in Bramford and Blakenham, which is a strong ward for us.”

The Lib Dems are facing a fight in one of their heartlands with a new political party - Suffolk Together - contesting three wards. Businessman and environmentalist Lord Blakenham is contesting Bramford and Blakenham, farmer and parish councillor Stephen Wright is fighting Barking and Somersham, and parish councillor and former newspaper editor Peter Welham is standing in Claydon and Barham.

The new party, which consists of personalities well known for their opposition to SnOasis, say they are not campaigning on that issue, but are all about non-political local residents making a difference in their communities.

The group is dismayed at the state of the planning system at the council - given a terrible rating by inspections - and is keen to listen to local parish councils.

The authority's smallest group after being swept away in the last elections by voters furious at constant council tax rises - Labour - is headed by long serving councillor Duncan Macpherson.

He said: “Labour in mid Suffolk wants an improved local environment for everyone, which means not just cleaning up the streets and cutting down on waste, but also good quality affordable housing, reduced fear of crime, and leisure facilities that reflects the needs of everyone including young people and older people who are not well enough served at the moment.

“Labour exposed the failure of mid Suffolk Conservatives to prosecute anyone for littering, and at the budget meeting we proposed a packaging reduction campaign with major retailers, linked to litter. We will pursue these over the next council term.”

Around the district there will be some fascinating fights, not least for the Mendlesham ward where Green district councillor Andrew Stringer faces a three way fight to hold on to his seat.

During his four years he has campaigned successfully to reopen a post office in Mendlesham in an outbuilding behind one of the village pubs and to bring an NHS dental surgery to neighbouring Stowmarket which is used by many villagers.

Since taking office the party became the third biggest group ahead of Labour as Twiggy Davis left the Liberal Democrats to join the Greens, and as Labour's Mike Shave quit his group to join the Green coalition as an Independent.

Mr Stringer: “Our number one priority is to represent our people to the best of our ability, then to keep the pressure on with the environment. Every party is claiming to be green, but don't go colour blind at the election. Vote for us on what we have achieved.”

And at Bacton the issue of middle schools is playing out as Mr Stringer's wife Sarah is so incensed by the threat to her local middle school from the Conservatives at county hall that she is standing as an Independent.

She faces a straight forward two-way fight with Conservative candidate Terence Curran, from Fressingfield.

TOMORROW: We look at the issues facing voters in Babergh

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