Value for money is Chelmsford test

A TOTAL of 168 candidates are in the battle to gain seats on Chelmsford Borough Council in May's local elections.Because of boundary changes, 57 places on the council – across 24 wards – are being fought, with each being contested.

By Roddy Ashworth

A TOTAL of 168 candidates are in the battle to gain seats on Chelmsford Borough Council in May's local elections.

Because of boundary changes, 57 places on the council – across 24 wards – are being fought, with each being contested.

The council is currently run by a Liberal Democrat administration, kept in place by a coalition with three independent members.

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The Conservatives are keen to try to stop the Lib Dems from controlling the council, while the Lib Dems in turn want to gain a majority in their own right – to which end they only need two seats.

Meanwhile Labour is ready to do deals if there is no overall majority after the poll, while wanting to increase its presence in the chamber, where the party has just six members.

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Chelmsford counts itself as a major manufacturing, technological and commercial centre with a large labour market. But many within the borough are actually commuters who vanish off to London in the morning and return in the evening.

The area has low unemployment, even when compared to the rest of Essex. Just 1.6% of the workforce is looking for work as against 2.5% nationally.

More than 75% of the borough's 59,000 homes are owner-occupied, and 17% of the population is educated to at least diploma level.

The Tories' assault in this election centres around their accusation that the Lib Dem/Independent administration costs the electorate more than it should. The Conservatives allege the council wastes £350,000 every year, money that could be saved by reducing bureaucracy, cutting expenditure by changing purchasing policies and publishing fewer glossy brochures.

They also promise to ensure refuse is collected on time, increase planning enforcement and to get tough on dog owners whose pets foul public areas.

Opposing the construction of a housing development in Boreham, the Tories say they will work for more affordable homes and promote recycling. More disabled parking spaces, more street-lighting, extra CCTV and more co-operation with the police will result in reducing the fear of crime in the area.

However, the Lib Dems insist the borough costs less with them. They point out that the borough's recent council tax rise – 3.3% – was the lowest-but-one in Essex, compared with rises of 12.3% in Colchester and 13.3% in Brentwood, both of which are controlled by the Lib Dems also.

They are promising to work with their partners to make Chelmsford even better. They work tackle litter hot spots, plant more trees and extend kerbside recycling in the area. They also promise to prepare a development scheme for a performing arts centre, provide a swimming pool for South Woodham Ferrers and create a new visual arts centre.

They vow to introduce park-and-ride, increase the size of the cycle network and introduce more speed reduction systems in both urban and rural areas.

Like the Tories, the Lib Dems also promise more affordable housing, provide young people with more opportunities to participate fully in the community and work with the police and other agencies to prevent crime and promote law and order.

Labour criticises the Lib Dems for spending on cultural projects such as restoring Hylands House. They claim the proposed new arts centre would cost £30 million to deliver and that the new swimming pool will cost the borough £190,000 a year for 20 years.

Labour activists in Chelmsford promise to introduce community wardens to deal with low-level crime and become the 'eyes and ears' of the police.

They also vow to improve pavements and safer roads along with better parking facilities on local estates.

If elected, more bus and ride sites would be introduced, they say, and a special discount card scheme would be introduced to allow young people, pensioners and the disabled cheaper access to sporting facilities.

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