Ipswich Borough Council - There’s no doubt Labour will win the election battle for control of council chamber

Labour will retain control of Ipswich

Labour will retain control of Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Ipswich might be one of the most marginal constituencies in the country, but there is no question about who will win this year’s local elections in the borough, writes Paul Geater.

Grafton House, the home of Ipswich Borough Council in Russell Road.

Grafton House, the home of Ipswich Borough Council in Russell Road. - Credit: Archant

Unlike other councils across Suffolk, the borough elects a third of its 48 councillors every year. This year there are also two by-elections in St Johns and Sprites ward so in all there are 18 seats up for grabs.

Labour currently controls the council with 35 of the 48 seats. The party has 21 councillors who are not up for re-election this year and it will be defending 14 seats.

It is inconceivable that they will not hold the four seats they need to retain control – although it could be difficult for Labour to increase its majority in a general election year.

With both sides able to maximise their vote because of the general election, some of the more marginal council seats like Whitton, Stoke Park, Rushmere and St Johns could be at risk this year – but it would be a surprise if Labour failed to win at least 12 of the 18 seats up for grabs.

The new Bader Close development in Ipswich

The new Bader Close development in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Apart from Conservative group leader Nadia Cenci’s Stoke Park seat, the Tories’ foothold on the borough is confined to the Bixley, Holywells, and Castle Hill wards. However the party will be hoping to pick up seats in Stoke Park, St John’s and Rushmere.

It will also be hoping to pick up the sole Liberal Democrat seat up for grabs in St Margarets – although voters in this ward have shown themselves capable of “split voting” in the past so it is quite possible they might put their crosses beside different parties in the local and general elections.

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A decade ago the LibDems were a significant force on the borough and were part of a joint administration with the Conservatives at Grafton House.

Now they have been confined to their stronghold of St Margaret’s where sitting councillor Cathy French is campaigning on a strong grassroots reputation.

The Labour administration at the borough is currently in the middle of the largest council house building programme in the town for several decades.

The largest new development currently under way is at Bader Close where 108 new homes are being built. The first were occupied shortly before Christmas and the construction work is continuing.

Work has recently started on a new development at McClure Way on the Whitehouse estate in the west of the town.

The future of Ipswich town centre is another major issue in the borough.

A design competition has come up with a proposal to reinvent the Cornhill at the heart of the town centre, but so far the borough has been the only body to commit hard cash to the redevelopment project.

Work is due to start later this year on pedestrianising the Queen Street and Princes Street areas of the town centre – but this has been delayed because of wrangling between the Labour-controlled borough and the Conservative-run county councils.

Senior Labour councillor Bryony Rudkin said: “Campaigning has been dominated by the general election, but people do seem to like what the borough is doing in the town.

“They like the fact that we are building new council houses, and they understand that we are trying to do the best possible to improve the town centre – but that we have limits to what we can achieve.

“The one issue they are critical about is the travel and transport in the town and we point out that that is a county council responsibility.

“Travel Ipswich is still contentious – they like the fact that there is investment in the town’s roads but don’t like the way it has been done.”

Former Conservative council leader Liz Harsant said: “Most of the doorstep talk is all about the general election, but there are the grassroots issues like the state of the verges, the potholes and the general state of the town.

“We are hoping with a good turnout that we might be able to surprise a few people in places like St Johns and Rushmere – and to get another seat at Stoke Park.”

Liberal Democrat chair Inga Lockington said the party’s efforts in St Margaret’s should bear fruit: “We are working hard and Cathy is an excellent councillor who is very well-known.

“We did well in the ward last year, and I am sure we should do well again this time.”

The voting for local elections is on the same day as the general election, and the count takes place the following day in the Grand Hall at Ipswich Corn Exchange.

For full list of candidates, see here Or for more election news, see here