Cllr Dennis Willetts is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Colchester Borough Council
The Conservative Group on Colchester Borough Council hold 27 of the 60 seats and is the largest political group. But for the last eight years, the Administration has consisted of an “Anything but Conservative” Alliance, currently consisting of 20 Liberal Democrats, nine Labour and four Independents.
Long-term strategy ceased soon after the Alliance took control. The Administration appear only to take decisions where there is an overlap of the manifestos of all three components of the Alliance. There are very few initiatives which fall into this magic area of the venn diagram. So stagnation is the principal flavour. The Administration are great at consulting with focus groups and representative samples of voters, but hopeless at actually doing anything.
Under the last Conservative Administration, Colchester was the top re-cycler of waste in Essex, and 4th best in the whole of the Eastern region. After eight years of the Alliance, Colchester languishes 10th out of the 13 Districts, Boroughs and Cities in Essex, having failed to keep pace with food collection and other innovations in waste collection.
While the town centres of surrounding districts seem like a forest of tower cranes renewing infrastructure, most of the major infrastructure projects in Colchester are on hold. Developers find it difficult to deal with a Council that does not assist carrying through master plans for major developments, and does not empathise with any developer making a profit.
The Borough, with a population of 180,000, has always punched above its weight as a retail and commercial centre, but has depended on attracting people from a much wider hinterland than just the Borough boundaries.
While Conservatives welcome visitors no matter what mode of transport they use, the Alliance Administration hates cars. So car parking has become expensive, and the number of car-parking spaces reduced. The high spenders elect to shop elsewhere which compounds the decline of the town centre.
Colchester has the second Norman castle (after the Tower of London) and the first Norman priory built after the conquest. It has one of the very few Saxon church towers in brick, and more Roman remains than can be crammed into a museum. But this amazing and unique heritage is hardly exploited because most tourists come from outside the Borough and therefore do not vote in Colchester elections. Thus they are of no interest whatsoever to the Alliance Administration.
The rot really started in 1997. After several rather difficult years, the Colchester Constituency, which makes up half the Borough, elected a Liberal Democrat MP. He was a particularly good constituency MP, the lynch pin for the Liberal Democrats to consolidate, and eventually to oust the Conservatives at the Town Hall.
It took the Conservatives 18 years to recover from this disaster. In May of this year, Will Quince, local solicitor and erstwhile leader of the Borough Council Conservative Group (although less than half the average age of the members!) was elected MP of this key marginal with a majority of over 5000.
Suddenly the political landscape looks quite different. Conservatives in the town are rejuvenated. The Borough Council Conservative Group now has a spring in its step. We are confident that, with Ward boundary changes and a lot of hard work, planning, canvassing and delivering, in 2016 we will again be in control of the Borough Council, ready to remedy the disaster of the last 8 years of Liberal Democrat and Labour neglect, with a sensible raft of Conservative policies for the benefit of all the Borough.