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Cost of living and green spaces are key battle grounds in Derbyshire elections


In under a month, on Thursday, May 5, residents in Amber Valley will head to the polls to cast their votes.

Concerns over the cost of living crisis are expected to be chief among issues raised by residents when candidates come knocking on their doors over the next few weeks.

Following a pandemic which has hit finances hard come increases for household utilities; rises in inflation, National Insurance and council taxes; and hikes to the cost of refuelling vehicles – among other issues.

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The protection of local green spaces is set to be a key issue in the election

Those concerns are not specific to Amber Valley but will impact every household in the UK and the prospect of how to handle the impending rising costs at the forefront of many people’s weekly decisions.

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Voter apathy leading to potential low turnout is also suspected, due to the feeling towards politicians in light of the alleged Downing Street and Government lockdown parties. Turnout outside of a General Election is typically lower, history shows.

Local issues which are expected to be brought up in force include the potential prospect of building homes in protected Green Belt land throughout the borough.

Issues related to this, such as affordable and energy efficient homes, along with cutting carbon emissions, are also expected to be frequent conversations with prospective voters.

Green Belt housing has been a subject of core debate in the borough for years and has at times dominated national topics of discussion.

With the council still in the process of putting together its new Local Plan – a blueprint for future development – parties are keen to stress their line on the issue, with protection at all costs being the prevailing line.

Council finances have been a regular feature in debates at Ripley Town Hall, and virtually throughout lockdown periods, over the past couple of years.

The borough council received significant warnings from auditors and its own management about the amount of money left in its coffers and the potential risk of a freeze on its finances.

Things are currently in a better state, based on council reports on the issue, but do point to intense needs to both continue finding urgent ways to save money and simultaneously draw money to the authority.

The borough council is currently firmly in the hands of the Conservative Party, after Labour suffered a significant defeat in last year’s local elections, which saw the party’s own leader Chris Emmas-Williams unseated. He is now seeking re-election.

That fall-out left a large gap between the two parties ever to have held control of the authority, with the Conservatives on 28 seats, the Labour Party on 15 seats, the Green Party with one seat and one Socialist councillor.

Of the 15 seats being contested this year, eight are currently held by Labour and seven by the Conservative Party.

The Tories could move to a super-majority if they sweep more seats from Labour and Labour would be able to clinch the authority by a single seat if it claimed all of the Conservative wards.

However, the upcoming election is expected to see a potential further shift towards the Green Party, which has been evidenced in the past few election contests.

Cllr Dave Wells was successfully elected the borough’s first ever Green Party councillor in 2019 – representing Duffield – and this was followed by a victory for Cllr Gez Kinsella who became Derbyshire’s first ever Green Party county councillor, representing the Duffield & Belper South division, in May 2021.

Vote shares across other seats in the borough and county council elections saw constituents moving in substantial proportions to the Green Party.

Big council names are stepping down at the upcoming election and not re-contesting their seats. This includes Alfreton’s John Walker, Duffield’s Chris Short and Ironville & Riddings’ Paul Smith.

The Liberal Democrats, alongside Labour and the Conservatives are contesting all 15 seats up for grabs, the Green Party are contesting 13 seats and there is also a candidate apiece for the National Front, in Langley Mill & Aldercar, and the Social Democratic Party, in Ripley.

There are 60 candidates vying for the 15 available seats.

This is to be the last time the borough council is elected in thirds, moving to a new system – in line with most of the country – to have all-out elections, once every four years, from next May.

Up until now the council has had a four-year cycle in which 15 seats are up for grabs each year, for three years in a row, with a fallow year in which there is no election.

The move is expected to save the council hundreds of thousands of pounds over the course of each election cycle and also secure the ability to make more long-term decisions.

Each of the major parties contesting the upcoming election were asked for their hopes as voters prepare to head for the polls, and what they feel the key issues will be on the doorstep.

The statements are listed in alphabetical order of the political party’s name.

Kevin Buttery, Conservative Party

“Last year we inherited a failing council which had increased its annual deficit by £2 million and was judged to have significant weaknesses in its Value for Money statement.

“Bankruptcy was a real fear for staff and residents, so we took immediate action to formulate a three-year plan that would balance the books by 2024/25.

“So far, we have achieved savings of £800k and are on target to balance the books. Like businesses and households, we have to spend within our means.

“We know from the doorstep that the cost of living and the economic recovery from the pandemic are key issues – as is building a greener future by addressing climate change.

“I have no doubt there will be a lot of scaremongering over building on greenbelt land. I can assure everyone, the Conservatives are committed to ‘No’ development on Green Belt in the forthcoming Local Plan.

“Our aim is to retain control of the council and fight for every seat. Our priority is to safeguard jobs, improve services and provide a cleaner, greener future.”

Dave Wells, Green Party

“We have Green Party candidates across Amber Valley and expect to see significant gains.

“Alison McDermott has an excellent chance of success in Duffield, as has Jamie Walls in Belper South, as the Green Party won the last three elections (parish/town, borough and county) in these wards.

“Our Green Team works hard all year round, demonstrating to local people that Greens listen, understand – and get things done.

“More Green councillors will put us in a stronger position to influence the key issues which matter to local people; issues such as road safety, public transport and housing.

“We acknowledge the wider issues of cost of living, global energy security and climate change, and strive to make a difference by guiding local policies.

“Change begins on our doorsteps, so we are fighting for a robust Local Plan which protects the Green Belt and ensures developers build the right homes in the right places.

“We need affordable, properly insulated houses with greener heating systems and access to public transport; all this will help reduce fuel bills and carbon emissions.

“Green councillors are free to speak up for our communities without being told how to vote by our party.

“If you vote Green, we have a much better chance of a fairer, greener borough council.”

Ben Bellamy, Labour Party

“Household energy bills are going through the roof. Petrol and diesel prices have risen sharply. The weekly food shop is increasingly expensive.

“The Tory Council have put up the council tax by the maximum allowed by law. The Conservative Government is out of touch with normal life here in Derbyshire.

“The multi-millionaire Chancellor’s wife has avoided paying taxes here in the UK whilst the Chancellor himself is being investigated over his own conduct, and senior Government officials are being fined for holding raucous parties during lockdown.

Two things are coming up repeatedly on the doorsteps across Amber Valley.

“The first is that people are telling us that enough is enough. People aren’t prepared to put up with ‘one rule for them, another for the rest of us’.

“The election on May 5 is not just a referendum on the way the Tories are mismanaging the council, it’s a referendum on the incompetence – and illegal behaviour – in Downing Street.

“The second is that it’s clear that only Labour can provide the leadership the council and the country needs.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll win back control of the council which will enable us to protect the Green belt, stabilise the council finances, and restore decency to our politics.”

Kate Smith, Liberal Democrats

“We hope to help local people with the cost of living crisis as much as is possible via AVBC. A key element is replacing regressive council tax with a much fairer local income tax based on present ability to pay.

“We hope to help young people just-18 to be able to vote ASAP and engage them. This means returning to annual ‘by-thirds’ borough elections.

“We also aspire to a really fair voting system, where the number of votes is reflected in the number of representatives – as in Northern Ireland. We want 16/17 year olds to be able to vote too.

“We aim to help the environment, by improving local recycling rates, requiring the Passivhaus model for all new build, discouraging new build wherever possible, banning building on Green Belt and keeping developers in their place over Section 106 and releasing land banks.

“We hope to help local people’s wellbeing, by ensuring all green spaces are free from the threat of new build, asking social housing providers to restore more derelict properties to use, and getting more funding for councils from central government for genuinely local needs.”

The last day to register to vote is Thursday, April 14. You can register online here: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Postal vote applications must be received by 5pm on Tuesday, April 19 and can be applied for here: bit.ly/3v5QTSV

Proxy vote applications must be received by 5pm on Tuesday, April 26 and can be applied for here: bit.ly/3utlXgh

Emergency proxy votes required due to medical emergencies, Covid-19 self-isolation and if you are away for work can be made after 5pm on Tuesday, April 26.

For further help or information contact the council on 01773 841458 or email [email protected]



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