On May 7th there will be 3 elections -the General Election, to decide your local MP, Town or Parish elections, and finally the election of Councillors for Sedgemoor District Council. Currently Sedgemoor is controlled by the Conservatives whose strength is in the North of the District (Cheddar and Burnham) and the rural areas, whilst Labour is the dominant party in Bridgwater-with 13 of 15 councillors, and therefore the main opposition party.
The current position on Sedgemoor;-
31 Conservative 13 Labour 2 Lib Dem 2 independent
What does control of Sedgemoor mean?
This clear majority allows the Tories to control Sedgemoor outright. As a result they can appoint the LEADER of the council (Duncan McGinty) and to choose his Cabinet – that’s a group of Portfolio Holders also known as the Executive.
Labour, as the main opposition party, is in a strong position as it is able to not only nominate the Leader of the Opposition (Mick Lerry) Shadow Portfolio Holders (Shadow cabinet) but also holds the Chairs of two key committees –Corporate Scrutiny (Brian Smedley) and Community Scrutiny (Julian Taylor) and with these powerful committees are able to ‘call-in’ Council (Tory) decisions and put them under scrutiny.
Sedgemoor is run by decisions of the Executive fed by the committee structure, which includes key responsibilities such as Development Control (planning), Licensing, Grants etc. Each of these committees are politically balanced proportionally to the election result, so for instance the Development Committee is chaired by a Tory and has 15 members of whom 10 are Tory, 4 are Labour and 1 is Ind (or Libdem) . In this way the Tories control the council and all the committees.
How can we change this?
Labour must gain 12 seats to take control of Sedgemoor or if the Tories lose 11 seats the council becomes ‘hung’ which means an agreement between parties needs to be reached to provide a working majority. The last time this happened was in 1995 when Labour(13) and LibDems(12) took control with a slim majority of 1 for the following 3 years. Sadly, this failed to last as the Lib Dems never voted the same way twice…..
To win control of Sedgemoor and end years of Tory misrule, Labour needs first to hold it’s 13 seats in Bridgwater and then to make gains in other wards.
Bridgwater Eastover (2 Labour). Eastover is the east side of the river as far as the railway line including the old terraces of Wellington rd and Polden st stretching up the Bristol road and part way up the Bath road plus the Colley lane and Wylds road industrial areas, the ‘Duck’ estate and the Eastover shopping salient which includes Asda and the bus station. Eastover has been Labour for most of the last 50 years.
In 2015 Eastover has 2 Labour Candidates, 2 Tories and 1 lib Dem. Labour candidates for Eastover are Moira Brown and Dave Loveridge
Bridgwater Westover (2 Labour) Westover is the newly created ward formed around the town centre and including West street, the upper-Hamp area around Taunton road and the streets off North street to the Docks and back to the Brewery Field and the Coalyard estate. Only created in 2011 Westover returned 2 Labour councillors in it’s first election. The ward has seen much activity these past 4 years with the West Quay wall collapse , the Northgate Tesco campaign and the various town centre initiatives. The Westover Labour councillors also run a web site for the ward. www.westoverward.co.uk . The ward also includes most of the Bridgwater-Taunton canal.
In 2015 the election sees 2 Labour, 2 Tory and 1 Libdem.
Labour candidates are are Kathy Pearce ,Brian Smedley.
Bridgwater Dunwear (2 Labour) Dunwear was created at the 2011 election and consists of the Bridge estate and the South Sydenham area. Largely residential, the ward also includes the Rollercoaster youth facility which councillors have fought hard to save. In 2015 the choices are 2 Labour, 2 Tory 1 Lib Dem 1 UKIP. Labour candidates are Leigh Redman ,Diogo Rodrigues
Bridgwater Hamp (2 Labour) Hamp has been a solidly Labour ward for all of the past 50 years in town and district terms – although in 2010 the county seat fell to the Tory candidate Steve Gill by a handful of votes. And to confound that he suddenly went Lib Dem. And then Labour’s Leigh Redman retook the seat in 2013. The ward includes the ‘old’ Hamp estate stretching from Rhode Lane through to Wills Road and includes Taunton road from the shops to the town boundary. In 2015 there are 2 Labour and 2 Tories fighting for Hamp. Labour candidates are Wes Hinckes & Adrian Moore
Bridgwater Victoria (2 Labour) Victoria ward has always been Labour. The boundaries stretch from the Docks through to the roads off and including Kendale road and Chilton street and now include the new houses along the NDR. The centre of the ward is the Victoria park where the community centre is a focus for ward activity. In 2015 there are 2 Labour 2 Tories and a UKIP standing in Victoria. Labour candidates are Mick Lerry & Siobhan Wilson.
Bridgwater Fairfax (3 Labour) Fairfax is a newly created ward formed from the north Sydenham estate and the Bower Manor area. It includes the East Bridgwater schools site and the Bridgwater College site plus the football and rugby fields. It also includes the former Cellophane site and the new houses nearby. In 2015 there are 3 labour, 3 Tories and 1 Lib Dem standing for Fairfax. The 3 Labour candidates are Alex Glassford , Graham Granter and Reg Winslow.
If Labour drop votes or seats in any of their Bridgwater wards it’s fair to say they won’t be taking Sedgemoor, and pretty much no other party has the strength to displace the Tories. With this in mind Labour’s main target seat is the final Tory toehold in the town Bridgwater Wyndham (2 Con) which once returned a Labour councillor (Bill Munn) but has been otherwise Conservative. Wyndham ward was created in 2011 from the former Quantock ward and includes the houses in West Bridgwater between the Durleigh and Quantock roads from Northfields to the boundary. Current councillors are the Tories however this time the battle is 2 Labour 2 Tory and 1 Lib Dem. Labour candidates for Wyndham are Liz Leavy & Caroline Wilkins
Outside of Bridgwater, Highbridge (1 Lib 2 Ind) is the most marginal seat in Sedgemoor and changes political control at every election. Once it was a safe Labour seat regularly returning 3 Labour councillors. It swang to the Tories at one stage, back to Labour and then to the Lib Dems. In recent years the Lib Dems, beset by internal problems, split –so it is now represented by 2 (former lib dem) independents and 1 Lib Dem. With the collapse of the Lib Dems likely next time round this has to be Labour’s key target seat to gain. Higbridge is a mess of candidates for 2015 with 3 Labour 3 Lib Dem 3 Tory 4 independents and 1 UKIP. Labour candidates are Alan Beech, Sheila Forrester & Lucy Scanlon
Puriton & Woolavington (2 Con). Historicaly 2 seperate seats but now combined. Woolavington had been a Labour seat for 20 years but was recently combined with Puriton (once a Lib Dem seat) so there is potential to retake these seats. The ward also now includes the village of Cossington. Labour came within 400 of winning last time and UKIP made an intervention here at county level to eat into the Tory vote whilst the LibDems are collapsing. In 2015 there are 2 Tory candidates and 1 UKIP.
To take this seat from the Tories and stop UKIP the progressive vote has to be for Richard Hampson (Labour) and Val Bannister (Green).
KINGS ISLE (2 Con) Returns 2 councillors. This Weston Zoyland, Chedzoy, Bawdrip and Middlezoy based ward saw a good challenge from Labour last time round but still a long way short of the long established local Tories. However, the ward now includes the new Kings Down estate on the edge of Bridgwater and therefore the voting patterns will change.
Current Councillors are both Tory and the battle this time is between 2 Tories 1 lib dem and 1 green. Labour are not standing in King’s Isle so to get rid of the Tories progressive voters should consider voting Mike Senior (Lib Dem) and Jo Smolden (Green)
North Petherton (3 Con) Returns 3 councillors and currently held by 3 Tories, Labour has never held Petherton although does have members on the town council. In the past the ward has also been represented by independents and liberals but since it was expanded to include the rural areas of Moorland, North Newton, East and West Lyng and the Quantock foothills around Broomfield it has strengthened the Tory hold. The ward now however, also includes the new ‘Bridgwater’ housing estates of Stockmoor and Willstock , which of course should have a ward of their own, but currently these urban/non-rural votes will go into the Petherton mix and could cause an upset. There are 3 Tories standing in North Petherton for 3 seats. Against them are 1 Labour 1 Green and 1 Lib Dem. To get the Tories out progressive voters should vote for all 3 opposition candidates Jen Bayford (Green) Marion Denham (Labour) and Bill Revans (Lib Dem)
Berrow (1 Con) A Tory seat which is basically the coastal area north of Burnham to Brean Down ,has in the past been held by independents. Labour challenged last time and came within 300 of winning. Current battle is just between Tory and Lib Dem. To get the Tory out vote Andrew Nisbet Lib Dem
East Polden (1 Con) Seen as a safe Tory seat, and currently home to the leader of SDC, this Ashcott based seat, which also includes Greinton and Moorlinch, saw Labour fielding a local candidate last time round who came second –of course this could have been closer had the LibDems and Greens not also stood thus splitting the anti-Tory vote. Multi opposition candidates are clearly the biggest hope for these rural Tory fiefdoms….. The current battle is solely between Tory and Green. To oust McGinty you need to vote Ian Horsfield (Green)
Quantocks (2 Con) This rural hilly ward which stretches from Goathurst through Spaxton to Nether Stowey and coastally to Combwich and Steart has never had Labour representation beyond parish level and is often seen as a lost cause as the Tories hand down seats as they have since feudal times. Last time round however,local Labour members stood here and built up a sizeable vote which bodes well for the future…unless the opposition to the Tories is split… The 2015 battle is between 2 Tories 1 Labour and 1 Green. To get the Tories out progressives should vote Phil King (Labour) and Lindy Booth (Green)
Cheddar & Shipham (3 Con) This solid Conservative ward is some distance from Bridgwater yet has a strong influence on this area along with surrounding Tory duchies. However, it’s in places like this that the other Tory party (UKIP) could devastate the Tory vote and provide openings for the progressive parties to create margins (so long as they don’t fight against themselves!) . In Cheddar there are 3 Tory candidates and 1 UKIP 2 Lib Dems and 1 Labour. To get out the Tories and stop UKIP you should vote Sue Green and John Outhwaite (Lib Dem) and Norma Scanlon (Labour)
Axevale (2 Con) This single member ward based around Axbridge has been Tory held in recent years although once was a Liberal seat and the town itself often polls well for Labour. The area also includes the parishes of Badgworth, Chapel Allerton, Compton Bishop and Weare. In Axe Vae there are 2 tories 1 labour 1 lib Dem and 1 green. The Labour candidate is Tom Scott
Burnham North (3 Con) This consistently Tory seat is one of their safest and would probably take a hard campaign with popular local candidates to dislodge them. On the other hand, it’s the kind of place UKIP could do well and if they stood then the local Tories wouldn’t know which Tory party to vote for….To get rid of the Tories vote Lib Dem here ‘tactically’
Wedmore & Mark (2 Con) A rural ward which has been pretty much Tory all it’s life, although there was a Lib Dem there in the mid 90’s. The battle here is between 2 tories 1 lib dem and 1 Labour.
The Labour candidate is Gaye Hector
Burnham Central (2 Con 1 Lib) This seat , based around the town centre of Burnham, was historically a liberal stronghold but gradually chipped away at by the Tories until now it appears a battleground seat between the 2 parties. To get rid of the Tories vote lib dem here
Cannington & Wembdon (2 Con) – A 2011 creation formed by merging 2 distinct seats and creating an odd new ward. Cannington is one of the safest Tory seats, although historically has had a strong liberal challenge whilst Wembdon has largely been Tory but with some distant history of ‘Independents’. To get rid of the Tories vote Green & Lib Dem
West Polden (1 Con) The Polden villages of Edington, Catcott, Sutton Mallet, Stawell, Burtle and Chilton Polden form this ward which has been consistently Tory since the first Tory was carved out of Avalon Peat back in the dark ages. That may be overstating the case though… Greens are standing here
Huntspill & Pawlett (1 Con) –This ward stretches from Bason Bridge to Stretcholt and round the Parrett bend and was once a liberal stronghold for years. Boundary changes have slapped it back into the Tory camp. Lib dem and green are standing against Tory here…but only 1 can win
Knoll (2 Con) This ward basically follows the M5 motorway through the middle of Sedgemoor taking in the rural communities of Brent Knoll, Edithmead, East Brent, East Huntspill and Lympsham. It’s Tory. Only a Lib Dem to vote for here…
The Town and Country divide
Sedgemoor District Council was created back in 1974 by merging the Rural District Council that held sway in the largely Conservative countryside and the solidly Labour Bridgwater Borough Council along with other town councils such as Burnham and Highbridge and North Petherton.
This combination has proved the key factor in Tory dominance of Sedgemoor and therefore Tory dominance over Labour Bridgwater since the 1970’s. Many might say this also exactly mirrors the towns decline as clearly the figures show that Bridgwater is the poor relation in Sedgemoor and is no longer in control of it’s own destiny.
An attempt to rectify this was the creation of Bridgwater Town Council in 2002 in a bid to bring some powers back to the town. This has meant a council closer to the wishes of local people but without the key powers to affect major change. The town council has nevertheless led on major issues such as the fight against Sedgemoor’s attempts to force an unwanted Tesco superstore into the town centre and has saved community assets by taking on funding when Sedgemoor withdrew it. This has been the case with the Art Centre, the Museum and the Hamp and Sydenham Community centres.