Ministers are pressing ahead with changes to electoral law that could make it easier for Conservatives to win future mayoral elections, as Labour claimed 11 of the 13 posts being contested across England.
The UK home secretary, Priti Patel, has already unveiled plans to switch all future English mayoral elections from the existing supplementary vote system – in which the public ranks their two favourite candidates – to the first past the post system used in elections to the House of Commons.
Prof Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, said analysis of Thursday’s polls suggested this change could open a potential route to victory for the Tories in cities such as London.
“It’s likely that first past the post would make it somewhat easier for the Conservatives to win if they could come up with a really good candidate,” he said.
Labour’s Sadiq Khan won the London mayoral contest comfortably against his Conservative rival, Shaun Bailey, once voters’ second preferences were taken into account. But Khan beat Bailey by only 40% to 35% on first preference votes, as some leftwing former Labour voters shifted to the Greens and other smaller parties.
Travers said Labour faced the joint challenge of finding a message that lets them take on the Conservatives at a national level while also stopping leftwing voters in major cities moving to the Greens.
“We’re back to the usual problem of the fragmentation of the left, while the centre-right vote is much better at holding itself together,” he said.
Despite Labour’s dominance in London, there are signs that the decades-long Conservative decline in the capital may have been arrested or gone into reverse. In some areas of the capital, Bailey outperformed Khan on first-preference votes, while the Tories have also been buoyed by growing support from Hindu and Sikh communities.
The government will have to pass fresh legislation to change the voting system, which would also affect elections for police and crime commissioners. Labour has pledged to oppose the changes but the Conservatives have a large majority in the Commons and the party is expected to rely on a vague manifesto commitment to the first past the post system as a justification to push it through the Lords.
Although Labour won most mayoral elections across England easily – with Andy Burnham receiving a landslide 67% of votes in Greater Manchester – under the new voting system it would be likely to lose others such as the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoralty.
There is evidence that voters are confused by the use of the supplementary vote system. Almost 5% of ballots cast in this year’s mayor of London election were rejected, mainly because voters had voted for too many candidates.
Conservative candidates won two of the mayoralties that held elections on Thursday: Andy Street in the West Midlands and Ben Houchen with a landslide in Tees Valley.
Street and Houchen narrowly won against the odds in traditional Labour-voting areas when their positions were first contested in 2017. However, this week both candidates were reelected with substantially increased majorities, having trumpeted their ability to win funds for their local area from a central Tory government in Westminster.
Elsewhere, the incumbent Labour mayors Steve Rotheram, Marvin Rees, Norma Redfearn, Paul Dennett and Ros Jones retained their respective roles in the Liverpool city region, Bristol, North Tyneside, Salford and Doncaster respectively. The party’s Tracy Brabin also won the first-ever West Yorkshire mayoral contest.
The Queen’s Speech will feature a planning bill targetting home ownership in the Midlands and north in a bid to further strengthen the Tory position in traditional Labour heartlands, it has been reported.
Conservative leaders believe the number of people who owned their homes was the key to the party’s gains in last week’s local elections, according to the Times.
Labour received a drubbing in some parts of the country, losing control of a host of councils and suffering defeat at the hands of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in Hartlepool, with the North East constituency electing a Tory MP for the first time since 1959.
The party also lost control of Durham council for the first time in a century, saw its local leader deposed by the Greens in Sheffield and witnessed heavy defeats in Rotherham and Sunderland authorities.
According to the paper, the planning bill is aimed at expanding the rates of home ownership across small cities and towns in areas which have historically voted Labour.
The reforms will reportedly simplify the planning process to make it more difficult for existing homeowners to block new housing schemes, with the country to be divided into “growth” or “protection” zones.
It is believed automatic planning approval will be given to homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices in growth areas, while development in protected areas will be restricted but not ruled out.
The Times also reported the Government is set to trial a “first homes scheme” in the former Labour bastion of Bolsover, Derbyshire, which will give discounts of at least 30 per cent to first-time buyers in their local area.
The Queen’s Speech may also feature a long-awaited overhaul of the social care sector, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove’s prediction of having the reforms passing through Parliament within the next seven months a possible indication the proposals could make it into Tuesday’s announcement.
Mr Gove, asked whether the social care overhaul would form part of the Queen’s Speech, told Times Radio: “We’re working to make sure that we have an effective social care plan at the moment. That work is going on.
“So, by the end of the year you will have a specific social care plan that is heading for the statute books at the very least.
“We want to make sure that we can get cross-party support for it. That is critical.
“That’s the point the Prime Minister has always made. The more support we can get for it across parties, and I hope we do, the quicker we can be.”
Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The test of whether this Queen’s Speech genuinely delivers for the people of Britain is if it brings forward a proper rescue plan for the NHS and delivers a social care solution as Boris Johnson promised on the steps of Downing Street almost two years ago.”
Downing Street has signalled that the Queen’s Speech on May 11 – when the monarch sets out the Government’s legislative agenda – will place renewed emphasis on Mr Johnson’s ambitions to “level up”.
Officials said as well as supporting the nation’s recovery from Covid-19 and backing the NHS, the speech will include draft laws designed to “spread opportunity across the UK”.
Downing Street has confirmed its programme, due to be revealed during the State Opening of Parliament, will see the return of both the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the Environment Bill, which they said will set legally binding environmental targets in the run-up to the international Cop26 summit in Glasgow later this year.
The former Bill was shelved during the last parliamentary session after it sparked violent protests in some places across the UK.
If approved, it would hand greater power to police in England and Wales to shut down protests deemed overly noisy or disruptive, with those convicted liable to fines or jail terms.
Usually one of the most colourful events of the parliamentary year, the Queen’s Speech this year will be a scaled-back affair due to coronavirus restrictions.
The visit of the Queen to the Palace of Westminster will see significantly fewer MPs and peers, a reduced royal procession into the House of Lords where the speech is given from and no diplomatic or non-parliamentary guests to be permitted.
From another Correspondent concerning the County election results:
Before we all get too excited about the Green Party’s Henry Gent winning in Whimple, where Sarah Randall Johnson came second (also elected as the area gets 2 County Councillors) let us not forget he is somewhat less green and somewhat more blue than others of his party and flag up this EDW report of his recent somewhat controversial land dealings:
Jonathan Bartley said the party’s strong performance in areas such as Bristol – where it is now the joint-largest party, forcing the Labour mayor Marvin Rees into a run-off vote – showed it could no longer be dismissed as a wasted vote.
“We’re moving from being the biggest small party to being one of the big parties,” he said. “We’ve been polling ahead of the Lib Dems and we’ve seen in this election that there are no no-go areas for the Greens.”
He said the Green party was gaining support from Labour voters who felt disillusioned with the “authoritarian Blairism” of Keir Starmer, and winning over Tory voters coming to the party through environmental concerns raised by the likes of David Attenborough.
In Bristol, the Greens more than doubled their seats on the city council. Both they and Labour won 24 seats: Labour was down from 33 and the Greens were up from 11, while the Conservatives remained on 14. One of the new Green councillors is 18-year-old Lily Fitzgibbon, a founding member of Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate, who helped organise the 2020 climate-emergency protest in the city which was attended by Greta Thunberg.
Bartley said: “Who does Labour represent any more? Who do the Conservative party represent any more? Neither of those two parties have a vision for the future. We want re-localised economies where people can work from home, we don’t want to shift hundreds of thousands of people a day on the daily commute.”
The party’s other co-leader, Siân Berry, finished a distant third as a candidate in the London mayoral election, but once again increased her vote share. The party was also pleased to win 12% of the capital-wide vote for the London Assembly.
Although their overall elected representation remains small, by Sunday evening the Greens had gained 82 councillors in England, giving them new representation in traditionally Labour-voting urban areas such as Sheffield as well as on rural Tory-dominated councils such as Suffolk.
Caroline Lucas has been the party’s only Westminster MP since winning Brighton Pavilion in 2010. The Greens now hope that Bristol West, held by Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire with a 28,219 majority, could show they are more than a one-city party.
Bartley dismissed the suggestion that the party should revive its 2019 electoral pacts with the Liberal Democrats, saying that related to the single issue of attempting to force a new EU referendum: “We’re a very different party to the Lib Dems.”
Instead, in an approach similar to traditional Lib Dem campaign tactics, the party will take advantage of the expected lull before the next general election by hiring campaign coordinators to target a handful of Westminster constituencies by promoting candidates as local champions. Breakthrough seats could include Bury St Edmunds and Sheffield Central.
The party once again failed to win any seats in the Welsh Senedd election, however, where it has traditionally struggled.
The Scottish Greens, which is a separate organisation from its counterpart in England and Wales, celebrated after winning a record eight seats in the Scottish parliament where it is likely to exert substantial power over the SNP after Nicola Sturgeon’s party fell short of a majority.
The East Devon town gained that moniker all the way back in 1685, when the Catholic James II was crowned king. Shortly after his coronation, his nephew, the Duke of Monmouth, travelled to the south west to build an army to overthrow the king.
Colyton was becoming increasingly influenced by Catholics, which led to religious dissent in the area, and as a result, 105 Colyton men chose to follow the Duke of Monmouth – more than any other Devon town.
It’s long history of rebellion has continued, and now the residents of the town have the chance to have their say on plans that would shape developments in the area for the next ten years and beyond with the Neighbourhood Plan now out for consultation.
The Plan outlines how the town and the parish wishes to conserve its historic heritage, protect its ‘green wedge’ between it and Seaton, and to improve links in and around the village, as well as with the Seaton Tramway.
Residents will now be able to share comments and views on the document for a consultation until June 22, 2021, and the plan covers a variety of topics including the natural environment, the built environment, heritage and housing, the local economy, transport and travel, and community and recreation.
The thrust of the plan is to ensure the unique and special attributes of the parish are protected and enhanced, and that any change is sensitively planned for.
Caroline Collier, chairman of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, said: “After a process that has involved public consultations, surveys and workshops and with excellent independent professional guidance we have eventually produced this Submission Version of the Colyton Parish Neighbourhood Plan, which we believe represents a fair and worthy vision for the future development of the Parish.”
THE PARISH OF COLYTON
Colyton Parish is a relatively large parish of 2,573 hectares, some two miles to the north of the coastal settlements of Seaton and Axmouth. The two main settlements are Colyton, a small town with a population of circa 2,300, and Colyford a village (population circa 800) both towards the south-east of the Parish.
While only a proportion of the Parish, in the north and west, is within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and thus receives the highest level of protection under national planning policy, it is the opinion of many parishioners that the quality of much of the rest of the Parish’s countryside merits inclusion in the AONB and warrants all the protection that can be given to it.
Colyford is an ancient village that straddles the main coastal road (the A3052), which has often acted as its lifeline, but also carries with it several problems. Colyford was a ‘borough’ in its own right, in medieval times, during which it had a significant trading base. Colyford is now largely residential and home to the well-respected Colyton Grammar School (an Academy Trust).
Colyford and Colyton are connected by road and the Tramway, which runs along the discontinued railway branch line from Seaton to Colyton.
Colyton has long been known for its markets and manufacturing, while traditional businesses such as the Tannery and the Wheelwright with a Royal Warrant remain proud working symbols of its ancient past.
While the nature of and balance between its products and services may have changed, the Parish still retains a relatively healthy local economy, although it did take a significant knock recently with the closure of Ceramtec after almost 50 years, which employed 80-100 people.
The Tannery, Wheelwright and the Tramway are just three of the many heritage features of a Parish that is steeped in history, with some unique facets, with most notable being the town’s reputation as the most rebellious town in England, because of the town’s non-conformists and dissidents supporting the Duke of Monmouth’s attempt to take the Crown in 1685.
The neighbourhood plan sets out a vision for the future of its neighbourhood, with Colyton parish aiming to be a uniquely characterful and caring place to live and work
The plan adds: “The vision statement could hardly do other than remind everyone that Colyton holds a distinctive place in the county’s history and long should our Parish continue to be regarded as unique. While our Plan may not be unique, it does have to conform to the strategic context provided for us, its policies are aimed at ensuring the many attributes that contribute to making us different and special are protected and enhanced, and any change is sensitively planned for.”
THE GREEN WEDGE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The Green Wedge areas are fundamental to retaining and protecting the special character of the neighbourhood area, the plan says.
The green wedge between Colyford and Seaton extends to the south of the Parish, while there is a second green wedge between Colyton and Colyton, and the plan makes it clear that development proposals in the designated Green Wedge areas will not be supported, unless it can be demonstrated that no harm to the character or purpose of this area will occur.
It adds: “Green wedges are substantial areas of undeveloped land on the edge of settlements which are recognised as playing an important role in shaping the character and enhancing the appearance of the settlement areas. Its main purpose is to prevent ‘creeping development’ that could lead to ‘the coalescence of adjacent or neighbouring settlements, villages or towns’.”
Policies in the plan make it plain that isolated new development or incursions into the green wedge area will be resisted, adding: “We recognise there may be a need and justification for small-scale development in the interests of ensuring that existing properties and businesses within the Green Wedge can continue to function properly. Any such development should be subservient to other buildings within the curtilage, sympathetic in character to its setting and not visually intrusive.”
The plan adds that proposals for new development on designated Local Green Spaces will also not be supported unless ancillary to their existing recreation or amenity use, or exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated.
The sites are Bridge House Garden, Colyford Play Park, Colyton Community Woodland and Picnic Site, Cuthouse Meadow Play Area, Road Green and Play Area, St Andrews Churchyard and St Andrews Garden, The Elms Amenity Area and St Michael’s Churchyard, Colyford.
Any designated area of local green space lost due to exceptional circumstances must be replaced by equivalent or better provision, in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location, the plan states.
And with ancient woodland sites evident throughout the Parish, especially the 22 hectares of Holyford Woods, development proposals that would result in the loss of, or which would create unacceptable harm to, wildlife sites and other areas of ecological or geological importance, and which cannot be suitably mitigated, will not be supported.
Public rights of way in the Parish are also to be protected from development, with measures to improve and extend the existing network of public rights of way supported, so long as their value as wildlife corridors is recognised and protected, and efforts are made to enhance biodiversity as part of the ‘development’ work wherever appropriate.
The plan adds: “The area is a popular walking area. The countryside and its footpaths attract visitors to the Parish. Many people take advantage of the tram to visit the area and use the established footpath network. There are over 40 public rights of way (footpaths and bridleways) around Colyford and Colyton. In addition, and importantly, the East Devon Way passes through the Parish including touching the edge of Colyton.”
The plan says that development within the Built-Up Area Boundary will generally be supported provided it makes an appropriate use of a brownfield site, is infill and predominantly surrounded by existing development; and there is no harmful impact on the Conservation Area and/or listed buildings.
For all developments in the neighbourhood area, including extensions and alterations to existing properties that require planning permission, buildings should be designed to a high level of energy efficiency aiming towards zero carbon, should be appropriate to its setting in terms of scale, height and massing and choice of materials, and opportunities should be encouraged to integrate bee bricks, bat and swift boxes in a suitable position within the development.
Proposals for housing development outside the built-up area boundary will only be supported if it is demonstrated that it is a small development of up to 15 dwellings, to provide affordable housing for local need, that is evidenced, and it will not have a harmful visual impact on its setting or the landscape.
Where relevant, proposals to bring redundant or vacant historic buildings back into beneficial re-use may be supported, and a small number of market homes may be permitted where this is essential to enable the delivery of affordable units.
The local economy benefits from being a tourist destination, with visitors drawn because of the area’s natural beauty, its heritage, and its unique reputation, the plan says, such as the Colyford Goose Fayre and the Beating of the Bounds, as well as the Seaton Tramway, which in the summer months, travels between Seaton, Colyford and Colyton and is one of Devon’s major tourist attractions, carrying over 100,000 passengers a year.
The plan seeks to develop the Parish’s tourism offer further through sustainable development that takes advantage of the existing assets of the area, and adds that proposals for the change of use of existing business premises away from employment activity will be resisted, unless it can be demonstrated that its existing use is no longer economically viable, and all reasonable steps have been taken to let or sell the site or building for employment purposes for a period of at least 12 months.
Support is also given for measures to improve pedestrian links between the tramway stations and the centre of the settlement areas of Colyford and Colyton. The Terminus in Colyton is located on the edge of the town and, although the town centre is signposted, it involves using lanes without footpaths and is seen as ‘a walk too far’ for many visitors, the plan says.
It adds: “There has long-been a desire to create a dedicated and more direct footpath to and from the Tramway Terminus, which we have been reminded about in recent community consultations. At Colyford too, the tram station is on the edge of the village, which also has inadequate safe footpath links alongside the A3052.
“Development proposals specifically to maintain and enhance existing public transport provision within the area will be supported provided the proposals would not have significant harmful effects on the amenity of residents and other neighbouring uses and the local landscape, including environmental features and assets.
“We support the more general use of alternative transport modes to the private motor car. We are planning for an ageing and growing population and so public transport should remain an important service to the Parish. It will only be so if it is well frequented by local people and suitable public transport services are provided which go to places that residents want to go or need to visit.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Colyton Parish Council has submitted its Neighbourhood Plan to East Devon District Council and residents will now be able to share comments and views on the document for a consultation until June 22, 2021.
After the consultation the plan will go before an independent examiner, who will inspect the plan against a series of ‘basic conditions’ that the plan must meet.
If the examiner is happy the plan meets the requirements then it will proceed to a local community referendum.
If more than half of the electors vote in favour of the plan it will then be adopted and will become part of the statutory development plan for East Devon.
Once adopted, the plan will be used to help inform future decisions about development and planning applications in the Colyton area.
The plan and all the supporting documents are now on the EDDC website, along with a comments form for residents to share their views, while hard copies of the plan will be available on request and to view at Colyton Library.
Anyone wishing to comment should send their comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post to Angela King, Planning Policy Section, East Devon District Council, Blackdown House, Border Road, Honiton, EX14 1EJ.
Is it possible that Marcus Hartnell, the Conservative who took the Seaton county seat from Martin Shaw, had a secret ally? The day after the election, a Twitter account calling itself the ‘Seaton Information Centre’ tweeted ‘We now have a new County Councillor in #seaton #Devon Let us hope he is better than the last one’. The handle for this account is @SeatonTIC, where TIC means Tourist Information Centre. This unofficial account was set up by former Seaton mayor Peter Burrows. He notoriously used it to libel the innocent owner of a Seaton micro pub two years ago, after which he had to resign and the Town Council asked him to stop using the account.
Now the account is being used to express its owner’s pleasure at Shaw’s defeat. Burrows, who had come a weak third in the 2013 County election [as Lib Dem candidate], was very displeased when Shaw came from nowhere to win in 2017, pushing his own vote lower still. He might be expected to take satisfaction in Shaw’s failure.
A complaint has been made to Seaton Town Council about the new use of this account to attack Shaw. The more interesting question, however, is the light it throws on the Tiverton and Honiton Lib Dems’ unexplained dropping of their offer to withdraw their candidate in Shaw’s favour, which he revealed this weekend (the Lib Dems haven’t commented). Was this because Burrows, or someone close to him, objected to this move?
While the tweet is cautiously worded, it suggests that the owner thinks Hartnell could hardly be worse than the man he replaced. Until now, it seemed that the shrinking of the Lib Dem vote had benefited Shaw, even if the votes for their candidate were greater than Hartnell’s majority. Now the question being asked is: Did Peter Burrows and some of his supporters actually vote for Hartnell, rather than the official Lib Dem candidate Martyn Wilson? Even Tiverton & Honiton Lib Dems might feel that was a step too far.