Chorley Council elections: your guide to what the parties are promising
With postal votes now being returned and polling day on 6th May, we take a look at what the parties are proposing if they take or keep charge at Chorley Council.
HOW IT STANDS
Chorley Council usually elects a third of its members on rotation, but this year is staging a so-called “all-out” election after boundary changes saw the number of councillors reduced from 47 to 42, split across 14 wards.
The authority has been Labour-controlled since 2012. At the last poll in 2019, the party secured 37 seats, with the Conservatives taking the remaining 10.
The Lancashire Post and Chorley Guardian have been scouring the party pledges and priorities - and hearing the pitch to voters from each of the group leaders.
***Ensure equality of opportunity for all residents no matter where they live or their personal circumstances.
***£500K earmarked for tackling climate change and becoming a carbon neutral borough by 2030.
***Ensure that Chorley builds back from the pandemic as a better, fairer and happier place to live, work and visit.
Council leader Alistair Bradley says he is campaigning on Labour’s track record of improving the life and health of the borough’s residents – and pledging that such a principle would continue to underpin any future Labour administration in Chorley.
“We want to invest to give people a safe environment and so that we’re not wholly dependent on council tax. That also adds to the local economy and creates jobs. We have been going over and above what you would expect a district council to do – stepping in when other people no longer [offer certain services] or don’t do things to our high expectations.
“The Whittle GP surgery is under construction at the minute, as well as the Tatton health and extra care facility, which also comes with a community centre and recreation area. That is a major £15 investment in Chorley. We’re also investing in the villages in terms of play [equipment],” Cllr Bradley says.
He believes that the benefits of the authority’s bold approach have been thrown into focus by the pandemic.
“When you have your backs to the wall, I think our communities have demonstrated that they are more resilient – and that doesn’t happen by magic, it happens by continual investment and responding to our residents’ needs. We think we have done lots of good things to make people healthier, wealthier and happier – but what we’re probably proudest of are the health and wellbeing improvements and the opportunities for young people.”
Cllr Bradley says that the council’s half a million pound investment in climate change – and appointment of climate change officer – shows Labour’s commitment to making the issue “a thread” through all of its policies.
***Rebalancing investments so that rural areas benefit as well as urban.
***Speed up the creation of a local plan to control housing developments.
***Promote a more cautious approach to council borrowing.
As currently the only opposition to Labour on the authority, the Conservative group’s leader John Walker says that rural residents have been overlooked in the borough’s recent investment programme.
“The Labour administration has ignored the needs of those in our rural areas. Millions of pounds from [housing] developer contributions have gone only into the town centre – and hopefully, if we take power, we can put this right,” Cllr Walker says.
He is also concerned that some of the investments made by the council have been funded by borrowing.
“They borrowed £33m from the government to buy the TVS warehouse in Buckshaw Village. We’re getting some [rental income] back from it now, but will this company eventually pack up and go somewhere else? That could be a problem for the council in years to come. I don’t think the residents of Chorley realise how much money the council owes on the investments they have made over the past few years. The risk in all this is that if interest rates go up, it all adds to the expenses that the council has.”
Cllr Walker is also calling for a speeding up of the on-going process to create a joint local plan between Chorley, South Ribble and Preston, which will dictate where housing development is located across Central Lancashire. However, it is not due to be adopted until December 2023 – and the Conservatives say that the borough is being left at the mercy of developers in the meantime, amidst a wrangle with constructors over housing targets.
“We need to get that local plan in place, otherwise we are going to have developers coming along almost every day [to make applications]. There was a public consultation over a year ago and nothing has appeared since,” Cllr Walker says.
***Creating a cleaner and greener borough.
***Protecting green spaces from development.
***Opposing a new Central Lancashire-wide council.
Chair of Chorley Lib Dems Colin Grunstein says that the party is pitching to gain a presence on the borough council by focusing on the “bread and butter concerns” of residents. He also believes that more diverse representation on the authority would “improve local democracy”.
“Lib Dem councils have a good record of delivering cleaner, greener areas – and that is something we would focus on in Chorley. Where we are in control of councils or at least have an influence, we really help in terms of [improving] the local area,” Mr. Grunstein says.
He also wants to see action taken to protect the borough’s green spaces, which he says have the unwanted spectre of development hanging over them as constructors attempt to move in on sites that are supposed to be safeguarded from building at least for the duration of the current local plan.
“Greenbelt – and green land in general, even if it isn’t greenbelt – is now under threat all over Chorley. The borough is bearing an unfair burden in terms of the sites being proposed for development. Chorley has had a massive amount of building in recent years – probably more than any other area of Lancashire as a percentage.
"We do feel that the local council has part in that, but developers make an appeal [against the refusal of an application to build] and a government inspector who knows nothing about the local area approves it, even though all the politicians locally are against it.”
Mr. Grunstein also urges caution over any move to create a standalone council for Central Lancashire to replace both the Chorley and county authorities, as was first mooted last year.
“We’re concerned that Preston would become the main borough within it and Chorley would be left behind.”
***Setting out the details of a plan to become a carbon-neutral borough by the end of the decade.
***Opposing inappropriate development and ensuring sufficient amenities for new estates.
***Supporting the campaign to retain Chorley A&E in the long term.
Andy Hunter-Rossall from the Green Party in Chorley says that he was pleased to see the council declare a climate emergency 18 months ago – but has been less impressed by what has happened since.
“They have said they are going to get to net zero by 2030, but not given any clue as to how they’ll do that. There isn’t a roadmap that lays out what we’re emitting now and how we’re still going to have a local economy and housing, but without these emissions. If we’re really in a climate emergency, you wouldn’t be waiting 18 months to start planning and engaging with businesses and everybody who needs to be involved,” Mr. Hunter-Rossall says.
He also wants to stem “inappropriate development” in the borough by ensuring that the Central Lancashire local plan currently being drawn up is sufficient to achieve that aim.
“There aren’t the amenities for a lot of these developments – like schools and public transport to take you in and out of the area. And while most households have a car, the kids don’t – so they have got absolutely nowhere they can go under their own steam.
“Even the sewage systems are straining under the quantity of new houses. There is raw sewage running into the Yarrow pretty much every time it rains – there is a system there for overflow, supposed to operate during one-in-ten-year storms, but it’s overflowing all the time. That’s not something that only environmentalists care about – there are dog walkers who tell us that wet wipes people have thrown down the toilet are littering the fields.”
Mr. Hunter-Rossall also says that the Green Party will oppose any plan for a single-site super hospital that could ultimately see Chorley A&E close in spite of its recent apparent reprieve.