Skip to content

Student takeover: Control of council is prize on May 6

In the latest of our student takeovers, UCP student Darrell Goodliffe takes a look at the runners and riders for this Thursday's elections.
city centre 2
Peterborough city centre could get outdoor cafe culture as retail makes positive start post lockdown (Picture: Shariqua Ahmed)

Currently, Peterborough belongs in the NOC - No Overall Control - column when it comes to who holds the reins of power.

However, the Conservatives remain the largest party and have run the council with the support of the Werrington First group of independents. This year that could all change especially as we are effectively having two years’ worth of elections in one go due to the restrictions put in place last year to battle the Covid 19 pandemic. 

Opposition to the Conservative-led administration (28 seats) is fragmentary. Labour/Labour Co-operative have 17 seats, albeit with several councillors who have been suspended from the party; the Liberal Democrats have nine and they are joined by two Green Party Councillors, one Liberal, and Three for Werrington First.

Doubtless, Labour will have their sights set on returning to the position that we have not had in the City since the late nineties - a Labour-run local authority. 

In total, 23 seats are up for grabs this time.

One seat each will be contested in Barnack, Bretton, Central, Dogsthorpe, East, Eye, Thorney and Newborough, Fletton and Stanground, Glinton and Castor, Gunthorpe, Hampton Vale, Hargate and Hempsted, North, Orton Longueville, Orton Waterville, Park, Paston and Walton, Ravensthorpe, Stanground South, Werrington, West and Wittering, and two in Fletton and Woodston.

In addition, voters will also be electing the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire. 

So, all in all, plenty at stake on May 6 across the region and for all the parties. Of course, campaigning has also been curtailed and crammed into a relatively short space of time due to the ongoing Government restrictions on movement and activity to combat Covid 19.

Zeroing in on the city council however, where are the key battles currently taking place? 

One of the fascinating contests is taking place in the Park Ward where the Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Shaz Nawaz, is taking on former Conservative Mayor and indeed also former city councillor for the ward, John Peach.

It is a fascinating contest because both are political heavyweights and it is one that realistically could go either way, especially in view of a national polling swing back towards the Conservatives. If Councillor Nawaz is unseated, it could really change the internal dynamics of the local Labour Group which, if the recent suspensions are anything to go by, already seem to be in a state of flux. 

Mr Peach is clearly determined to win back the ward he once held and in so doing cause a political storm:

“I’m re-standing trying to get elected in Park Ward again after losing my seat some years ago and narrowly missing out on getting re-elected two years ago by about 120 votes. Campaign is going well and the number of people are switching vote for me and the Conservatives. I’m out all the time campaigning I won’t stop until the polls close.”

Of course, the Labour Group isn’t the only group where dynamics are in flux. Councillor John Holdich (Glinton and Castor), the current leader of the city council, will not be retaining that position whatever the results, as he is taking the retirement that he put off for a year.

The Conservative group and potentially the city council will therefore be selecting a new leader whatever happens on May 6. Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald (West), current Deputy Leader, and current Cabinet Member for Waste, Street Scene and the Environment and former leader himself, Cllr Marco Cereste (Hampton Vale) are among the names rumoured to be in the frame. 

However, this is all in the future. May 6 will decide whether they are battling it out to lead the Council and therefore to some degree the city, or whether they find themselves in an unfamiliar position for a Conservative leader in modern times, fronting up the Opposition. We can reasonably expect that some of the seats we have mentioned will stay blue.

It would take a political earthquake, made even more unlikely by the national polls, of truly sizeable proportions for them to lose Glinton and Castor, for example.

However, once we get into the City Centre and into the more urban wards (with the exception of West) the contests tend to be much keener and the outcome much harder to predict.

We have already mentioned Park but other wards to look at are ones such as Bretton (which used to be dominated by Labour but now swings more to and fro), Paston, East and the more urban Orton wards like Longthorpe. These are the battlegrounds. 

Labour’s position is complicated by not being the only Opposition group looking to make a challenge.

The Liberal Democrats, for example, will be wanting to challenge strongly in Gunthorpe where they already have two of the three Councillors. In fact, it is striking that although they only have nine councillors, the Liberal Democrats, when they gain a foothold, tend to then move onto make other gains in the immediate area. Also, they are standing in every ward in the City for the first time in the history of the Party.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Nick Sandford (Paston and Walton) said: "The City Council elections this year could be the most important in Peterborough for a generation.  The Conservatives have controlled Peterborough City Council for the past 21 years and, as well as cutting services, they have taken the Council to the edge of bankruptcy.   It is time for a change. 

"Liberal Democrats have more candidates in Peterborough this year than ever before in the party's history, with a candidate in every council ward.  So, people everywhere will have a chance to vote for a more open and transparent and greener Peterborough. " 

One of the realities that the Labour Group may have to face is that taking sole charge of PCC looks to be a steep hill for them to climb.

Plurality in local government politics has been something of a hallmark of the local scene in Peterborough. In the past, it has had a strong Independent Group, has elected UKIP Councillors and currently, the Green Party is making eye-catching inroads.

Its two current Councillors, Julie Howell and Nicola Day both represent Orton Waterville. Can it capture the third seat in that ward? Only time will tell, however, as we have seen with the Liberal Democrats, once you have a foot in the door as it were, expanding your base certainly becomes a real possibility for all parties. 

In Bretton, Labour is on the defence. Councillor Angus Ellis is defending the seat he won in 2016 but he will be doing so as the sole Labour Rose with the Conservatives looking to make it a clean sweep of all three Bretton seats by adding Chaz Fenner to their ranks. 

In Werrington the outcome of the whole election could hang because if City Hall veteran Councillor John Fox loses his seat a key support for the Conservative leadership of the Council is gone. 

Issues wise, the Conservatives are, of course, pointing to what they argue are the successes of their stewardship and point towards the development of the new university for the city and have made an eye-catching commitment to reintroduce free bulky waste collection.

In response, Labour accuses the Conservatives of “21 years of failure” and have published a manifesto which promises more resources to, for example, tackle crime but also want to lower Council Tax.

It promises 3,000 sustainable homes and to prioritise a bid for Peterborough to become a City of Culture. Labour also wants to “promote green technology” which might give them some common ground with both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. 

Many other issues may still have a bearing on the results; from investigations into anti-semitism, to future plans for the Embankment, crime, transport, housing, and many other considerations.

Whatever the outcome we can be totally sure it is one that will change the political map of Peterborough and therefore the evening of May 6 promises to be an interesting and exciting one for followers of the local political scene. 


 

Darrell Goodliffe, 39 is studying BA Hons in Journalism - and looking to sharpen and hone his journalism skills in pursuit of truth and the occasional cup of tea.