Who will control Waveney?

THE two main parties on Waveney District Council will be looking to take overall control of the north Suffolk local authority when voters go to the polls on May 1.

By David Lennard

THE two main parties on Waveney District Council will be looking to take overall control of the north Suffolk local authority when voters go to the polls on May 1.

Following boundary changes last year all 48 seats on the council were contested. But the result left no single party in overall control and since the election there has been some changes with councillors switching their allegiances.

Next month one third of the council seats are being contested with the current make-up of the parties standing at Conservative 21, Labour 20, Liberal Democrats 3, Independents 3 and Green Party 1.

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The Labour Party has formed the administration with support of the Liberal Democrats and Independents.

In next month's elections the Conservatives will be defending eight seats, Labour six, the Liberal Democrats one and the Green Party one.

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The Green Party's only seat on the council is Ann Skipper in the Lowestoft ward of Whitton.

When Mrs Skipper won her seat last year she stood as a Labour candidate but switched to the Green Party earlier this year.

She is not standing for re-election and the Green Party will be hoping to make inroads by winning the division. And for the first time the Green Party is fielding candidates in all 16 wards being contested.

"From now on every voter in Waveney will find a Green Party candidate on their ballot paper regardless of the ward they live in," said Waveney's Green Party co-ordinator Graham Elliott.

"This is a major achievement for a party that has only just celebrated its first birthday in the area."

While getting a single candidate elected would be seen as a success for the Green Party both Labour and Conservatives will be hoping to make significant gains.

If either party can not only hold on to their seats but take further seats from the opposition parties, they could end up having overall control of the council.

Not surprisingly the rise in council tax figures highly on the minds of both voters and candidates.

The Conservative chairman of Waveney District Council, Bob Niblett, is standing for re-election in Halesworth.

In his message to voters he attacks the Labour administration for the significant rise in council tax earlier this year.

"At this time last year I gave a serious warning that there would be a large council tax rise in April this year," says Mr Niblett.

"My deep regret is that the Conservatives have been unable to prevent this happening because they have not been in control."

An experienced councillor, Mr Niblett attacked the Labour Party at both national and local level.

"In my 25 years as a councillor I have never known a time when so many of you are unhappy at the way local councils work.

"New Labour, the party that took office swearing to suppress its traditional instinct for high taxes, is just not working to benefit small towns like ours," he said.

The Liberal Democrats are also concentrating on the high council taxes being paid for by voters and want to see more value for money.

"There have been significant rises in council tax this year and the Liberal Democrats want to see more accountability on council spending and the introduction of more cost-saving measures.

"The police authority also received a large increase in council tax payments and we will be ensuring that people in Waveney see the benefits of this extra funding," said the Liberals Democrat leader on the council David Young.

Mr Young said he had been encouraged after speaking to voters in a number of wards and felt that the Liberal Democrats pledge to work towards bringing more jobs to Waveney was being well received.

Labour leader of Waveney District Council Brian Hunter – who is also a county councillor – defended the 15.9% in the district's share of the council tax and pointed out that the county council and police authority rises were much higher.

"I know that any increase is unpopular but we took a clear decision to deliver a budget that will deliver services for everyone in the district," he said.

Mr Hunter pointed out that the Conservatives did not set an alternative budget and the Liberal Democrat alternative would have meant even higher council tax bills for local people.

"The Waveney share of the council tax bill is still one of the lowest in Suffolk and Norfolk," he said.

Following last year's election Labour councillors formed the administration knowing that the opposition councillors could vote them out at any time.

"We took the decision to form an administration and provide the people of Waveney with the best possible service possible.

"I believe the people of Waveney appreciate our efforts and the feedback I am receiving supports this," said Mr Hunter.

The unknown factor at next month's elections is just how many people will actually vote.

The average turnout in wards last year when all 48 seats were being contested was 35.1%. The lowest turnout was the 25% in the Carlton ward of Lowestoft.

It had been hoped that more people, particularly younger voters, would take part in the local elections this year using hi-tech voting in computers either at home or in libraries or internet cafes.

However, Waveney councillors voted not to seek permission to introduce such innovative measures this time and it has been left to Ipswich to pioneer the e-voting revolution.

With the Green Party contesting all 16 wards it will be interesting to see how much support they gain. The local party has grown considerably in recent months and party members will hope that this support turns into votes on May 1.

In Halesworth, town council chairman Paul Whitlow is representing the Green Party. This time last year he stood as an unsuccessful Labour Party candidate.

The Haleworth result will be particularly interesting as district council chairman and town councillor Bob Niblett is standing for the Conservatives, Julie McLoughlin for Labour and Henri Watts for the Liberal Democrats.

Unless either the Conservatives or Labour parties make significant gains next month it looks like Waveney will remain a hung council with the balance of power resting with the Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors.



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