Onlookers from across the UK will be watching the Amber Valley Borough Council elections with eager anticipation next month.
The vote here, just north of Derby, on Thursday, May 3, is among the “ones to watch”, with the Conservatives currently clinging on to the authority by just one seat.
As it stands, the political makeup of the borough council is a straight split between the Conservatives on 23 councillors and Labour with 22, with no representation from any other political party.
Labour have only managed to wrestle control of the borough council from the Conservatives for one year this millennium – from 2015 to 2016, claiming victory by 23 seats to 21 after snatching two seats off the Tories.
That year, the two wards which Labour stole to overturn 14 years of Conservative dominance were Belper South and Ripley, both of which are among this year’s election seats.
Amber Valley is the only local authority in Derbyshire, excluding the city council, which elects its members in thirds each year, with a fallow year where there is no election.
This year, 15 of the 45 members will be up for re-election, with eight out of the 23 wards not holding a vote. Of the seats up for re-election, 10 are currently held by Labour councillors and five are Conservative.
Here are the wards in which votes are being held, along with the incumbent members in each seat.
Alfreton – Cllr John Walker, Labour
Belper East – Cllr Martin Tomlinson, Conservative
Belper South – Cllr Erik Johnsen, Labour (not seeking re-election)
Codnor & Waingroves – Cllr Isobel Harry, Labour
Duffield – Cllr Chris Short, Conservative
Heanor East – Cllr Barrie Aistrop, Labour (not seeking re-election)
Heanor & Loscoe – Cllr Heather Longden, Labour (not seeking re-election)
Heanor West – Cllr Paul Jones, Labour
Ironville & Riddings – Cllr Paul Smith, Labour
Kilburn, Denby & Holbrook – Cllr Trevor Ainsworth, Conservative
Langley Mill & Aldercar – Cllr Eileen Hamilton, Labour
Ripley – Cllr Roland Emmas-Williams, Labour
Shipley Park, Horsley & Horsley Woodhouse – Cllr Richard Iliffe, Conservative
Somercotes – Cllr Brian Lyttle, Labour
Swanwick – Cllr David Wilson, Conservative
A total of £165,000 has been included in the authority’s Revenue Budget for 2018/19 to cover the costs of conducting the election.
The Bowls Hall at Alfreton Leisure Centre will act as this year’s count centre and 62 polling stations will be used across the borough – these will be open from 7am until 10pm on May 3.
Among those standing for re-election are four county councillors, the deputy leader, the brother of the opposition leader, mayor and a cabinet member.
Three currently elected councillors, will not be standing for re-election, all of which are Labour.
Carol Angharad will be aiming to retain the Belper South seat for Labour, instead of Cllr Erik Johnsen; Hannah Stirland will be hoping to keep Heanor & Loscoe, instead of Cllr Heather Longden; and Frank Carmichael will be trying to retain Heanor East, instead of Cllr Barrie Aistrop.
Labour and the Conservatives have put forward a candidate in every ward – as have the Liberal Democrats, bidding to expand the political makeup of the council to three parties.
Meanwhile, the Green Party has put forward candidates in 10 wards, with one independant this year – Steven White in Belper South – and one candidate representing National Front – Timothy Knowles in Langley Mill & Aldercar.
There are no UKIP candidates.
Belper South is the only seat which will be contested by five candidates.
Labour leader Cllr Chris Emmas-Williams says that the party is confident that it can regain control of the borough council. It aims to lead its election campaign with pledges including, protecting the Green Belt from further housing developments; reinstating the Councillors’ Community Fund; and spurring on prosecutions for dog fouling. He said: “Whilst we are defending 10 seats, we believe the residents will support our candidates also in Belper East; Duffield; Kilburn, Denby & Holbrook; Shipley Park, Horsley & Horsley Woodhouse; and Swanwick.
“The biggest challenge during the last year has been holding the Tories to account for them implementing the Government’s austerity programme of devastating local government.
“Residents will now be aware that they have had a 3% increase in council tax, have seen the offices closing in Alfreton, Belper and Heanor, a reduction from 89 CCTV cameras down to 12 in the town centres at a time when crime and anti-social behaviour is in the rise.
“The town centres are looking unkept with weeds growing, paviours protruding and street furniture neglected.”
Cllr Kevin Buttery, leader of Amber Valley Borough Council (Conservative), said: “Conservatives have shown that we can be trusted to spend taxpayer’s money wisely, being prepared to look at new ways of working to maintain quality services on which the local public depend.
“We are contesting all 15 seats in support of our commitment to provide effective, efficient and value for money services.
“We will work hard to secure every vote and take nothing for granted.”
Liberal Democrat leader in Amber Valley Adam Raphael, said that residents are ready for a change. He said: “We are very confident of getting Liberal Democrat candidates onto the borough council this year.
“Over the past few months many residents we visited have told us they feel a change is needed and will be switching their vote to Lib Dem.
“That’s why we are standing for every seat in Amber Valley, all residents need the opportunity to make their votes count.
“There are a huge number of challenges that face us; developments on greenfield land rather than where they’re needed and NHS cuts, to name just two.”
A spokesman for the Green Party said that its strongest chance of snatching its first Amber Valley seat was in Duffield, through candidate Dave Wells.
He said: “We’re running a positive campaign and the feedback we’ve had from the electorate over the last 12 month demonstrates increasing support.
“Some feel voting Green is a waste, but our data shows in some wards we are actually the main challengers.
“Our biggest challenge has been to maximise our limited resources to work all-year round.
“Our positives include the work we’ve been doing holding the council to account; championing the provision of more affordable housing and on its poor recycling record.“And among other things, we’ve also been working with cycling groups, schools and the council to reduce traffic congestion.”
By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter