Skip to main content

Local elections: ones to watch for the built environment


With May fast approaching, the anticipation surrounding local elections is hotting up. As well as impacting communities across the UK, the elections will make a real impact on policies and decisions that directly impact infrastructure, housing and urban development.

To shed light on the elections, we turned to our regional directors to highlight the key battle grounds poised to shape the future of our communities.

Regional Director of our Western team, Freddie Palmer says:

Bristol: There’s a bit of unwarranted hysteria doing the rounds in Bristol. The city will experience change as Green and Labour contest power at City Hall and a new system of governance replaces a directly elected mayor. But many of the same truths remain and Bristol will continue to welcome those who want to invest in a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable way. Cross-party support can exist – evidenced by the local plan process and recent unanimous support for the 21-storey Rupert Street we supported. Projects just need to be approached in the right way.

Exeter: This year’s election will provide a glimpse of what’s been a much slower creep of Green representation at the Guildhall.

Dorset: The rolling hills of Dorset are set to cause one of the most talked about upsets on the national stage if the Liberal Democrats manage to nudge the Conservatives out of power in a county where everything suggests the Conservatives should normally be comfortable.

In the Midlands & North, Regional Director Helen Goral highlights:

Solihull: Whilst 2023 saw Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council buck the national trend and add more Conservative seats, the current majority of seven could hang in the balance if the national polls are to be believed making it interesting, particularly given the local plan has been stalled for some time.
Despite only one third of the seats being up for grabs, the West Midlands Mayoral election is being held on the same day which could increase voter turnout and make this an interesting contest to watch. On that note, Mayor Andy Street will be worried about losing his seat, with current polls suggesting he’s got significant ground to make up.

Dudley: With all 72 seats up for grabs, this heavy leave-voting and traditional swing seat was where Kier Starmer launched the Labour Party’s local election campaign last month and where Boris promised to bring levelling up in a speech in 2020. A bellwether result that could predict the wider mood of the country.

Sheffield: Having suffered eight Labour defections since the last election – (putting the party only narrowly ahead of the Lib Dems) – could lead to a closely fought race for a majority and one that might buck the national trend. Sheffield will also be voting for the new Mayor of South Yorkshire alongside Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, with one of the candidates being the Council’s current Conservative Group Leader.

In the East, Regional Director Joel Fayers will be keeping a close eye on:

Harlow and North Herts: With both councils holding all-out elections for the first time and the added spice of new ward boundaries, any change that comes about on 2 May will be in place for the next four years. Harlow tends to be somewhat of a bellwether authority so with a general election on the horizon, the election will be hotly contested with development no doubt taking centre stage.

Peterborough: If you think that Downing Street has welcomed a lot of Prime Ministers in the past few years, then keep an eye on Peterborough. The city could see their fifth council leader in as many years. With major regeneration plans in the pipeline, including the regeneration of the city centre and around the railway station, the 23 seats up for grabs this year could prove critical to seeing these plans progress.

Brentwood: After being under no overall control since last year’s election, Brentwood will be one to watch. If the Liberal Democrats secure two more seats and win a majority, the Green Belt agenda may lead to somewhat of an anti-development stance across the council, posing potential issues for developers submitting plans within the next term.

Regional Director of our South East team, Joseph Baum picks:

Basingstoke and Deane: It’s currently a rainbow coalition led by the Basingstoke and Deane Independents, in partnership with Labour and the Lib Dems. The story of the area is a perfect microcosm of the rise of Independent Councillors in local government. The Conservatives are campaigning hard but are unlikely to take back control. It will be interesting to see how the diversity of the rainbow coalition changes, with it being very likely that the Women’s Equality Party will win a seat, which could be their first in the UK.

The current Cabinet Member for Planning, Cllr Andy Konieczko is expected to lose his seat. His replacement may have implications for the Council’s emerging Local Plan.

Cherwell: Barry Wood has been the leader for 20 years, but the Conservatives are expected to lose control after May. The Council has gradually been moving away from the party over time and since last May, the Conservatives have been governing as a minority.

…and finally, whilst London will not have local elections until 2026, this May also has the London Mayor and Assembly elections. The Mayor of London has a hugely important role for development in London; not only in setting housing targets, but also developing planning policy.

Regional Director of our London team, Jonathan Simpson says:

Gove’s decision to review the London Plan has put a cat amongst the pigeons in recent months, seen by many as a deeply political move.

Opinion polls suggest that Sadiq Khan is on course for a historic third term in the role, but on the ground, his team have appeared to be nervous, despite the Conservatives fielding a comparatively little-known candidate in Susan Hall. The move to a first-past-the-post ballot for Mayor has left some concerned that the vote will be close.

The GLA constituency and London list votes will be worth watching to see if the wider opinion polls for the General Election are accurate or not. Recent polls have suggested that Labour will win nearly every Parliamentary seat in London and the Lib Dems will make gains in seats in Southwest London.

The election will either be a judgement on Khan as an incumbent, or an indication of the electoral woes of the Conservative Party and the government. 2024 will be an election year that psephologists talk about for a long time.

We’re the Meeting Place of deep knowledge and creative thinking. And we want to hear from you.