Mid Suffolk faces key election issues

WITH voters across the county getting ready to go to the polls on May 3, NEIL PUFFETT takes a look at the issues facing voters in Mid Suffolk in the final of our series on this year's local elections.

WITH voters across the county getting ready to go to the polls on May 3, NEIL PUFFETT takes a look at the issues facing voters in Mid Suffolk in the final of our series on this year's local elections.

AS a district with no overall majority Mid Suffolk has traditionally been an area of political compromise and alliances.

Possessing 19 of the 40 seats in the district, the Conservatives are the biggest group but currently rely on the support of four independent councillors to form an administration.

However leader of the council Tim Passmore says the party is going all out to increase its share at next week's elections and is hoping to come back with between three and eight additional seats.

If successful the Conservatives would have an outright majority which would make for only the third time in more than 30 years that Mid Suffolk would have experienced a single group governing on its own.

Mr Passmore said: “We are working very hard to see if we can gain a few seats and we are hoping to get a total of between 25 and 30 including the three independent candidates standing with us.

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“I think we are the only party putting a candidate forward for every single seat.

“We are taking nothing for granted and we have got to campaign very hard but we hope people will realise we have tried very hard to set a positive agenda.

“People are keen to hear what we have done and what we plan to do and we are more than happy to take on ideas and move things forward.”

Despite Mr Passmore's confidence the elections are unlikely to be plain sailing for the Conservatives.

The main threat comes from a possible Liberal Democrat and Labour alliance but this would depend on both parties significantly improving on their previous efforts at the polls four years ago.

The Liberal Democrats currently have 12 seats while Labour hold just two seats in the district - the same number as the Green Party.

It would take a gain of seven seats to see a Lib/Lab alliance potentially regain the control of the administration they lost four years ago.

Liberal Democrat leader Penny Otton said the group is targeting wards in Mid Suffolk that have either previously been Liberal Democrat or have the possibility to become so.

These wards include Onehouse, Claydon and Barham as well as a second seat in Bramford.

She said the group is aiming for an increase of five seats to take them up to 17 however she remained coy on the possibility of an alliance with Labour.

She said: “There is not that much of a buzz about the Conservative leader (David Cameron) at the moment so we are hoping to pick up some seats.

“I think the Conservatives have always had to rely on the support of the independents and I don't envisage them getting an overall majority this time.”

Labour group leader Duncan Macpherson told The Evening Star that despite only fielding six candidates - less than one sixth of the number they could potentially put forward - the party hopes to make significant gains.

He said: “We are contesting six seats where we feel we stand the best chance and we are fighting to win all of them.

“We don't want to sound arrogant or over-confident but we are fighting all of them because we want to increase our representation and our ability to influence what the council does.”

The campaign could also be affected by a number of smaller parties including four candidates for Suffolk Together - formed by candidates united against the SnOasis development.

The group will be contesting Barking and Somersham, Bramford and Blakenham, Claydon and Barham, and Needham Market.

The Conservative view

Leader of the Conservative group Tim Passmore said the current administration has achieved much over the past four years.

He said this includes keeping council tax increases low, helping to provide a new NHS dental surgery in Station Road West, Stowmarket, and putting waste and recycling at the top of the agenda.

He said: “One of the main areas we are looking at and have a good track record on is recycling.

“We are eighth out of 268 districts when it comes to the percentage of waste recycled.

Mr Passmore said the administration is also looking to improve the planning system to make it easier for residents in the district to extend their home or build new accommodation for elderly relatives on their land.

Besides this, Mr Passmore says his group is working hard to reduce crime and disorder in the area - specifically issues relating to Stowmarket.

He said: “The alcohol ban in Stowmarket has led to the number of alcohol-related incidents in comparison to 2005 dropping by more than half.

“There is still a lot to do with opportunities for youngsters and the improvements at the leisure centre will have a big impact.

“We are making positive steps to talk to young people here about what they want and what they like.”

The Green Party view

Andrew Stringer, leader of the Green Party in Mid Suffolk, said he feels all the issues being contested in the elections have an environmental aspect.

He said: “Obviously everyone seems to be campaigning on the environment at the moment which is good news although four years ago didn't mention it once in their literature.

“The Conservatives have had a lot of problems to deal with as a result of budget settlements, but they have missed a lot of opportunities.

“They have refurbished the council offices at a cost of £1.25million but there is no source of renewable energy in the building.

“Car park charges in Stowmarket are actually damaging the economy because people are more inclined to drive elsewhere to shop as a result.

“The Conservative's biggest success is the new NHS dental surgery but that was an issue picked up by our party.

“We organised a petition and found a building that the council owned that could be sold to a dentist.”

The Labour view

Labour group leader Duncan Macpherson said his party would increase the pace of a proposed project to regenerate Stowmarket, increase affordable housing and work with police to reduce fear of crime.

He said: “Our key aim is to get the message across about the poor performance of the current administration.

“The council has been successful with the decent homes initiative but that is something they have had to do because the Labour government requires it and funds it.

“Labour in Mid Suffolk wants an improved local environment for everyone.

“This 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 reflect 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.

The Liberal Democrat view

Liberal Democrat leader Penny Otton reckons the key issues of the election are recycling, problems with youth anti-social behaviour - specifically issues surrounding Stowmarket's recreation ground - and people struggling to get a foot on the housing ladder.

She said: “The Conservative's have continued to implement the waste and recycling policies we introduced but they have not done anything particularly new.

“Waste and recycling is at the top of our agenda.

“Another area we think they have fallen down in is anti-social behaviour problems with young people.

“We think they should be putting things in place to make sure it doesn't happen in the first place.

“We should be investing in young people so they don't resort to anti-social behaviour.”

She added that more proactive work should be done to help young people get their first home in the area.

Lack of candidates in Mid Suffolk?

Out of a total of 40 seats in the district, two winners have already been decided because no other party put forward a candidate for election.

As a result Charles Flatman (Independent) will remain councillor for the Eye ward while David Laurie (Conservative) has been handed the Palgrave ward by default.

Besides these walkovers a total of 12 wards will be contested with just two candidates meaning more than a quarter of voters will be left with a choice of two or less parties.

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