Difficult night for the Conservatives with the party losing control of Windsor & Maidenhead and East Herts
Public attitudes to housebuilding appear to have played a key role in areas where the Conservatives were defeated in yesterday’s local government election.
With many areas still to declare, control of Windsor & Maidenhead local authority was wrested from the Tories by the Liberal Democrats, which gained 13 seats, amid swings of more than 20% in some wards.
It follows a campaign by Liberal Democrat candidates against plans to build more than 14,000 new homes in the authority, including on Green Belt land and, controversially, on a golf course.
Following the result the leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey denied to BBC Radio 4 Today Programme presenter Justin Webb that his party was “anti local housebuilding”. He said: “That’s just not true. We’re building more council houses in Liberal Democrat-run councils now than have been built for 40 years”
“We believe in a community-led approach not a developer-led approach. The Tories who get 25% of their money from developers allow developers to let rip. We don’t do that, we stand up for local people. But that can lead to more homes.”
“I’m proud of them for standing up and saying ‘We want a different approach to planning and to housing.’”
In the run up to the local elections, Conservative councillors had themselves been attempting to backtrack on housebuilding plans in the borough.
In March, council leader Andrew Johnson wrote to the government to request flexibility to deliver below the 14,240 homes agreed in the recently adopted local plan, given the government’s recent consultation on national planning policy reform, suggesting it would put more of an emphasis on placemaking and family housing.
The letter followed news that the government had scrapped its policy to enforce local housing numbers.
Only a small number of local authorities counted their votes overnight, so results of the majority are expected to come in later today.
With 64 out of 230 councils declared, the Conservatives have lost 10 councils, Labour has gained three councils, the Liberal Democrats and independents have gained one each. Notably, Labour won Medway in Kent from the Conservatives for the first time since 1998.
Green Party gains in East Herts District Council have pushed the formerly Tory-run councils into no overall control.
The Greens have been campaigning against a major 10,000-home urban extension to Harlow town in the borough. The £3.5bn Gilston Villages proposal was approved by East Herts Council in March. It is the largest single application to have ever been considered by the council since its formation in 1974. The development forms the first part of a wider 23,000-home Harlow and Gilston Garden Town, which is designed to extend the 1950s Essex-new town on four sides.
In East Herts, the Tories have been left with fewer than 20 seats, despite going into the local elections with 40 out of 50 seats.
Tamworth, Brentford, North West Leicestershire and East Lindsey have also fallen from Tory administrations to no overall control. Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Conservative chairman Greg Hands admitted it had been a “very difficult night” for the party.