Today Sedgemoor District Council is 40 years old and so the Tories planted a tree. Labour boycotted the ceremony. Bridgwater Town and District Councillor Brian Smedley explains why.
For 40 years Bridgwater has been in serious decline. Much of this has been due to National Government policies but this has been exacerbated since the creation of Sedgemoor District Council in 1974 which brought to an end the powers of the historic Borough Council where Bridgwater was master of it’s own destiny and replaced with direct rule from Cheddar and Burnham and thereby submerging it into perpetual out of town Tory control.
Bridgwater Town is represented by 13 Labour Councillors to 2 Tory. Sedgemoor District Council is controlled by 31 Tory Councillors to 13 Labour (plus 2 Libdems and 2 former Libdems who fell out with the Libdems). Sedgemoor controls Bridgwater.
All Sedgemoor committees which make decisions about Bridgwater are proportionally weighted to reflect the council – and that means an average of 10 Tories to 4 Labour (+ 1 Lib Dem, Independent or whatever they are now) making all decisions for Bridgwater despite Bridgwater having clearly voted Labour.
The 1972 Act and it’s effect on Bridgwater
In 1970 the Redcliffe –Maud report recommended the changes that led to the 1972 Local Government Act that brought in the concept of District Councils. Whilst the report recommended strong Unitary Authorities based on urban centres, Labour was out of office when the Act came in and the Tory Government of Ted Heath replaced the recommendations with a 2 tier system based on a sharing of powers between County and District but with the abolition of key Boroughs –such as Bridgwater. This proposed combining the Urban and Rural district councils that had been in existence until that time and which reflected the historic town and country divide – towns had historically been Labour and country had been historically Conservative. But the real agenda here was to destroy the power and influence of municipal socialism in the strong labour boroughs – of which Bridgwater was a prime example.
In reality this meant the ongoing reduction of influence in power of the major urban areas to affect their own environment and at the same time the major problems associated with decline mainly affected the urban areas. This combined with the erosion of powers to local government, cutbacks in public services, unemployment, overdevelopment etc meant that places like Bridgwater suffered disproportionately. Bridgwater Labour Party secretary Fred Phillips wrote and submitted his own report in the 1970’s strongly opposing the changes and defending the Bridgwater Borough but to no avail.
Tory dictatorship in action
For 40 years Sedgemoor has been Tory run and Labour Bridgwater has had little say in it’s own destiny. Well, there was a power sharing agreement for 3 years around about 1995 – but the truth is the Libdems never voted the same way twice and you never really could rely on them how they were going to vote anyway. No change there then. Apart from the fact that since then no Libdem has been elected in Bridgwater.
Not long ago Tory sedgemoor forced through the premature closure of the Sedgemoor Splash in opposition to the wishes of the town Council, signed a deal to sell Northgate to a new Tesco superstore and at last months budget proposals the Tories even rejected Labours alternative budget which included modest proposals in regenerate Bridgwater Town centre. Accordingly Labour members voted to boycott any celebration of Sedgemoors 40th anniversary.
The system created in the 70’s has been changed piecemeal over the years with more and more Unitary Authorities created around the country (including 2 in North Somerset) and finally in 2003 Bridgwater was restored to a Town Council status which Labour runs with a solid majority to this day. The Town council, under the firm leadership of Cllr John Turner – a veteran of the Borough council, has proved itself active and responsive in standing up for Bridgwater within the powers it has, bringing key properties back into public ownership and funding community centres and projects. Sedgemoor, however, remains Tory and therefore 40 years of that is nothing to celebrate.