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Cutting through the local election noise


On 4th May, the country will go to the polls, with elections taking place across 230 local authorities throughout England. Whilst local elections might not match the glitz and glamour of a general election, they are still hugely important, and the built environment should be paying particularly close attention this year…

For starters, they provide a valuable litmus test in giving an indication on the political mood up and down the country. That is always handy information, but with a general election on the horizon in 2024, this year’s elections are more important than most.

The major parties will certainly see them as a trial run of sorts. A strong showing from Labour will no doubt see Sir Keir Starmer grow more confident about the prospect of standing on the steps of Downing Street next May.

If the predicted poor showing from the Conservatives bears out, we could see a return to the internal battles that the party seems to dearly enjoy as the collective panic over their general election prospects grows larger.

We might even see something of a resurgence from the Liberal Democrats – remember them?

There’s the simple fact that when it comes to planning and the built environment, local elections are often more important than general elections. After all, these councillors are the ones making decisions on planning applications and in charge of delivering Local Plans – many of which have ground to a halt in recent months in anticipation of nationwide planning reform.

So, you might at this point be asking what exactly will these elections mean for planning at a local level?

We look at the top three reasons why the built environment should be paying close attention…

1. Opportunity and risk from the new kids on the block

The first thing you need to prepare for will be the new faces. With more than 8,000 seats up for election, it is only natural that there are plenty of incumbents stepping aside to make way for new candidates. That means that regardless of which party wins, you will often be dealing with new councillors and all of the inexperience that comes with that. There will be opportunities to engage with these fresh faces, but we’ve seen on plenty of occasions how this can complicate an already difficult planning process.

2. All change!

There is also the potential for a more diverse political landscape. As things stand, the Conservatives sit at 29% in the opinion polls. That is lower than any time under Boris Johnson (yes, really) and only looks good when compared to the walking calamity that was Liz Truss. Even in traditional Conservative strongholds, many will no doubt be voting with the “anything but Conservatives” mantra, an approach that is likely to benefit a wide range of parties. This will no doubt mean more groups on councils, more coalition administrations, and more divided committees. Just when you thought things were complicated enough already!

3. Clarity on planning reform?

The elephant in the room is obviously planning reform. Successive Conservative governments have expended plenty of hot air on this topic, but very little has actually happened. There seems to be some hope that things might stabilise post-election and help breathe some life back into the multitude of delayed Local Plans. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but that feels rather unlikely.

With the Conservatives reportedly bracing for the loss of hundreds of seats, there is going to be no appetite to prioritise a political football-like planning reform. Deciding to tinker a year ahead of a general election in the wake of dire local election performance would be tantamount to political suicide. In reality, they will be kicking this can as far down the road as possible.

With all the chaos involved, it is vitally important to cut through the noise to understand the implications of these elections.

Meeting Place is providing election reports to our clients across the length and breadth of the country to ensure they are armed with the insight and best placed to respond to the twists and turns we are expecting in May. If you want to hear more about this, please email us at 

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