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The biggest political shake-up in Midlands local government for almost 30 years

Written by


Adam Farrell

Published


The world of planning is becoming increasingly political. Local councillors are the ultimate decision makers on planning applications, and even when your scheme is policy compliant, failing to secure the support of key elected members can result in delays and costly appeals.  

Over the last 20 years, politics in the region has been stable at local authority level. Whilst individuals come and go, the general rule is, Labour control the large cities and unitary authorities; the Conservatives control the county councils; and district councils are usually heavily Conservative, unless they have large urban conurbations within them.  

The May 2023 elections could see the biggest change in local government control since the 1990’s. This presents both challenges and opportunities for developers seeking to invest, secure new sites and gain planning permissions.  

The stakeholder landscape will undoubtedly change, with new leaderships prevailing, and different oppositions emerging. If the political shift is a large as the national polls suggest, BECG would expect local Members of Parliament, up for election in less than two years, to become more and more interested in local development schemes – particularly if it means voters might be swayed at the ballot box.  

In the Midlands, elections are taking place in cities like Coventry, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, and Leicester, as well as in every district council. Many of which are all-out elections and others for just a third of the seats.  

In authorities where they aren’t electing for every seat, the political shift away from the Conservatives will be less dramatic – in some councils, such as Dudley, it is numerically impossible for Labour to take control.  

But in those authorities electing all their members, the current polls suggest a political wipe-out for the Conservatives. A massive shift for the party that has spent the last two decades increasing their vote across the Midlands, becoming the dominant political force outside the big cities.  

Based on data from Electoral Calculus, Parliamentary Constituencies such as Stoke-on-Trent Central, West Bromwich East, Walsall North, Burton, Rugby, Tamworth, North Warwickshire, Mansfield, and Ashfield are all expected to be won by the Labour Party. Although Parliamentary constituencies have slightly different boundaries to local authorities, the general direction of travel is clear – voters across the region seem to be moving towards the Labour Party. 

So, what difference does this make to councils post May?   

New leadership will see changing priorities at local authorities. Labour councillors sitting in opposition may not have even been a councillor the last time their party controlled the council. The shift from presenting opposition to running an administration will be a steep learning curve for councillors. While officers will need to quickly adapt, working with a new political group to deliver on their ambitions for the area.  

Planning committees will change, with Labour taking control of planning decisions in authorities that have been Conservative for over a decade. New personalities, as well as political ideology, will drive forward the planning agenda for councils across the region.  

BECG expect local plan reviews to be brought forward in areas where allocation policies were particularly controversial. Where sites are already allocated, new political pressures will be applied in areas new members now lead.  

Securing officer support and delivering policy compliant schemes is no longer enough to secure a positive decision at planning committee. Political engagement and support are now vital to ensure schemes have a smoother ride through the system.  

This isn’t about politicians having a veto on schemes, it is about creating partnerships.  

Developers must engage with politicians and seek to align the benefits of their proposals with the ambitions of politicians. By having an open dialogue, rather than a box-ticking political strategy, developers will gain a much better chance of planning success.  

Ultimately, politics is about personalities, and it’s looking more and more likely that a new set of leaders are about to take the region forward. BECG has experience across both the East and West Midlands and having worked in every local authority area, have a deep understanding of the political battlegrounds and the people who are seeking a mandate to govern.  

If you would like to discuss this topic further, please do not hesitate to contact Adam Farrell.

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