Almost all of South Ribble Borough Council's 50 seats are up for grabs on Thursday, as voters are invited to the polls for the first local election in the district since 2015.
The authority stages a so-called “all-out” contest once every four years - meaning every councillor across the borough’s 23 wards is usually elected on a single day.
However, following the sad death last week of Farington West councillor Graham Walton, the two seats in that ward - the second of which is held by Cllr Walton's widow, Karen - will be contested on 20th June. Anybody living in Farington West who has already cast a postal vote will have it voided and new postal voting packs will be sent out to them for next month's poll.
The system operated in South Ribble means residents have the chance to cast more than one vote - depending on the number of seats available in their ward.
In most parts of the district, two votes will be on offer, but in the authority’s largest wards, locals can put their cross next to as many as three different names. Each elector’s voting entitlement will be explained on the ballot paper.
As a result, residents will often see more than one representative of the same party on their list of voting options. It also means that a single ward can return councillors of different political persuasions.
Currently, a Conservative administration is in overall control of the council, as it has been following every local election for the past 12 years. Labour will be hoping to achieve a majority in its own right for the first time since 1995 - the only occasion in the 45-year history of the borough on which it has done so.
The Tory and Labour parties are standing candidates in every ward, with the Liberal Democrats fielding representatives in nine areas and UKIP hopefuls standing in five. The Green Party is absent from ballot papers in South Ribble for this election, having put forward four candidates last time around.
Analysis by the Electoral Reform Society has identified the Samlesbury and Warton ward as one of a dozen in Lancashire which is “under-contested” - meaning one party is guaranteed a seat, whatever the outcome of the vote. In this instance, the Conservatives are certain to gain one of the two seats available, as they have fielded two candidates - while their only opposition is a sole Labour representative. The voting public will still determine who secures the other seat.
Sadly, two seats in the borough are currently vacant as a result of two councillors - Labour representatives David Wooldridge and Dave Watts - passing away last year.
South Ribble may hold an election only one year in four, but that has not stopped the political sands in the district from shifting occasionally since voters last went to the polls.
Two Conservative members became independent partway through their term - one of whom later returned to the fold - while another Tory turned to the Liberal Democrats. Meanwhile, a Labour councillor also decided to sit as an independent after leaving the opposition group.
CURRENT COUNCIL MAKE-UP
Conservative - 27
Labour - 16
Liberal Democrats - 3
Independents - 2
South Ribble Conservatives, led by Cllr Margaret Smith, are standing on a five-point plan manifesto, under the headings “Green”, “Clean”, “Enterprising”, “Healthy”, and “Connected”.
Key Conservative campaign promises include:
***Delivery of a 76km network of “green links” to connect up our parks and green spaces, plus the largest new park in the North at Central Park, between Lostock Hall, Walton-le-Dale and Penwortham.
***New masterplans for Leyland, Penwortham, Lostock Hall and Bamber Bridge town centres, to bring new shops and businesses into the area.
***Further highways upgrades, including the delivery of Penwortham bypass, and dualling of the A582.
***Support for bus routes, and investigate new railway stations at Midge Hall and on Farington Curve.
***£15 million for new sports and exercise facilities across the borough.
***The Conservatives are also pledging to never increase Council Tax above the rate of inflation, and to keep business rates and parking charges down, to help protect the high street.
Margaret Smith said “I’m proud to be presenting an optimistic, forward-facing plan for South Ribble. Conservatives are investing in South Ribble’s future, and if we’re returned to power next month we’re looking forward to cracking on!”
Group leader, Paul Foster said: “We cannot allow the abject failures of the past four years at South Ribble to ever be repeated - the residents and staff deserve so much better.
“The Labour Group have worked tirelessly on a detailed list of new priorities for our borough, ranging from immediate and clear action on the toxic air quality, chronic traffic congestion and lack of affordable family homes.
“We will immediately stop the current Conservative proposals to build houses on our precious play parks and open spaces. We will also review and change the current planning policies that are supporting development in areas that cannot support it. Major development sites such as Cuerden and Bee Lane will be subjected to an urgent, detailed review, in consultation with local residents and campaign groups, who must have a voice that’s heard.
“In 2019, we have a fantastic list of candidates, ranging from some hugely experienced councillors mixed with some exciting younger, newer faces. Exciting times lay ahead for South Ribble, and together with our community, we really do feel we can make a difference.
“2019 is the year when South Ribble will eventually end its spiral of decline with a new, fresh, Labour administration.”
The Liberal Democrats are demanding better for South Ribble than a council that is constantly in crisis, hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. We have a positive, fresh agenda including:
***Investment in our borough and pursuing a policy of local procurement to both support local businesses and reduce our carbon footprint.
***Compulsory purchase of sites where necessary to promote development and address ongoing blight, such as the Government buildings site in Penwortham.
***Promoting recycling by a reduction in the green waste tax over the four-year term of the new council, with help for those least able to pay - and scrapping replacement bin charges.
***Introduce co-ordinated grass cutting and street sweeping to address blocked gullies leading to flooding.
***Support for the police by funding local PCSOs and reversing the cuts made to our contribution to the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour.
***Greater provision of youth facilities and a rolling programme of playground improvements.
***Giving residents a greater say with meaningful area forums, public participation in council meetings, a dedicated public question time and the means to trigger a debate in council by submitting petitions.
***Providing the opportunity for all areas in South Ribble to have Town and Parish councils.
UK INDEPENDENCE PARTY
UKIP councillors will work hard to provide strong leadership and common sense in local government. They want to :-
***Urgently review the spending priorities of the council to improve core services such as street cleaning, instead of high cost vanity projects and expensive studies like the proposed £2.4m town centres Masterplan.
***Promote affordable housing on brownfield sites and strongly oppose inappropriate development where a majority of local residents oppose it.
***Increase the number of free parking spaces in towns and shopping areas to boost local trade,
***Reduce the overall costs of the council and increase productivity and accountability to local residents, including more partnership working with the private and voluntary sectors
***Work with the police to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour with a more pro-active and ‘on-the-ground’ approach.
***Work to improve social care for the elderly and disabled members of the community.
***Reinstate free green waste collections and reduce council tax bills year-on-year.
***Work with Lancashire CC to urgently improve the condition of the roads, footpaths and cycleways.
UKIP Councillors believe in Brexit and want the UK to be a strong, independent and sovereign country and they want to deliver these benefits at a local and national level.
David Bird (Howick and Priory ward)
“Having resigned on principle from the Conservative group in 2018 over garden waste charges, I offer the choice of an Independent councillor with integrity, free from party politics - and I promise to work with other councillors, across party lines, for the benefit of residents. I oppose the threat to our parks and green spaces from housing development. I support the development of leisure facilities, and the redevelopment of the Liverpool Road area.”
Mike Nelson (Walton-le-Dale West ward)
“I decided that continually having to fight battles with fellow councillors and Conservative Party officials was not what I entered politics for. I want the trust of the people who put their cross against my name, in the full knowledge that I would do my best for them without fear of political reprisals. I hope that the people I wish to represent appreciate that I would do my best for them on local issues.”