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Elections, defections and projections

Reflections

It’s only been a couple of weeks since people cast their votes in the local and mayoral elections, but safe to say, it’s been a political whirlwind since then.

As the dust settles (or as much as it can do given the changing political weather), let’s distil the key headlines and explore what it all means for the built environment.

A recap of the key headlines

The elections were pretty miserable if you were a Conservative – 474 seats lost in total. Polling guru Prof John Curtice even went as far to say that the results added up to “one of the worst, if not the worst” performances by the Conservatives in four decades. Yikes.

Big councils were lost, from Adur to Nuneaton and from Thurrock to Dudley, to name just a few. The Conservatives didn’t fare much better in the mayoralties either, losing York and North Yorkshire (Sunak’s stomping ground) and in the East Mids.

Although Labour made some eye-catching gains (Richard Parker defeating Andy Street in the West Mids being a particular highlight), we’ve seen some of the other parties make progress, such as the Greens in Bristol, the Lib Dems in Dorset, and even the People’s Independence Party in Castle Point!

Ben Houchen’s victory in Tees Valley and Conservative council holds in Solihull and Harlow gave a more positive outlook, but the wins will only act as small drops of consolation when measured against the wider results.

If Labour storm to victory in the coming general election, its plans to change planning laws and support the development of new towns will put housing at the top of the political agenda. Having greater local representation on the ground will give them a better chance of implementing change.

Why the blues are seeing red

As we reflect on Sadiq Khan’s victory in London, some say the Conservative campaign would have fared much better if the party selected a different candidate. Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam, was overlooked by the party and since the result has criticised Ms Hall’s campaign as being “negative” and showing “no aspiration”. Ouch.

This is likely to be Sadiq Khan’s last term in office as Mayor of London. He spoke throughout the campaign of how it could see him work with a likely newly elected Labour Government. Across England, Metropolitan Mayors will all be lobbying the Labour Treasury team in the hope that their region will benefit from a Starmer administration. Sadiq Khan will undoubtedly be looking at his legacy – and housing will be one of the defining issues that his term as Mayor will be judged on.

Meanwhile, the animosity within the Tory party has intensified following the defections of MPs Dan Poulter and Natalie Elphicke to Labour, although many Labour MPs are disgruntled. Lord Kinnock quipped “it’s a very broad church, but churches have walls and there are limits.”

It’s poll position for Labour

While it’s true the local elections showed voters are open to more alternatives than ever before – the anti-Conservative mood in the country hasn’t always translated into immediate Labour gains.

Tactical voting will certainly become a factor as we approach the general election, which will make many sitting Conservative MPs nervous about their re-election prospects.

The locals revealed that where Reform stood, the Conservatives performed much weaker. With plans to field candidates across the country come the general election, Reform could be the difference between Conservatives retaining enough seats to prompt a hung parliament or consigning the party to the electoral abyss.

Until we see changes at a national level, don’t expect to see local plans being progressed at pace, or planning departments gaining the necessary resource to function properly.

But as we look to the future, we can call upon the great Bob Dylan for some much-needed wisdom: “the times they are a-changin”.

P.S.

But help! What do the local election results mean for my site, you might be wondering?

Good question – and much of this will depend on what’s being proposed and where the site lies. Sadly, this blog won’t provide all the answers you’re looking for, so why don’t you get in touch directly with our expert team to discuss further?

In the meantime, here are some things to ponder:

  • Many candidates will have woken up on the day after the election shocked to discover that they have now become a councillor – some for the first time – with no prior experience or expectations to win. We expect councillors will be attending many training webinars during May to get up to speed! Planning officers will have an important role to play in making sure committees run smoothly…
  • It’s council AGM season. Keep an eye out for changes to cabinet positions and committee memberships, all of which are likely to be agreed over the coming weeks.
  • Observing the next few cabinet meetings will give you a good steer on future policy direction, while forthcoming planning committees will provide insight of councils’ attitudes to various proposals and how they choose to interpret the NPPF and other planning policy matters.

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