Cllr James Friend is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Mole Valley Council
When you picture Mole Valley, you immediately think of fields, market towns, commuting, and hefty Conservative majorities. Sadly, the last one of those isn’t true. When it comes to local elections – half our Surrey County divisions are not represented by Conservatives and, at District, it’s four years since we last had a clear majority – with 22 of the 41 wards today represented by Liberals and 8 Independents.
The eleven Conservative councillors I inherited when I took up the Group Leadership again in May 2019 is half the number I previously enjoyed when leader up to May 2016.
With a third of the wards up for election, to understand what happened is the start of understanding what is needed to regain council leadership this year.
Mole Valley voted remain and it’s easy to point at national politics; but that’s only part of the story. In parallel, council decisions seemed to diverge from the views of local people on the doorstep. We must be honest that we failed to keep in touch via newsletters, effective use of social and local media, or regular survey canvassing to make sure we were basing policies on what really matters to our residents.
Getting it right in 2020
We have constantly and positively worked on each root cause and we have built from the General Election success to reconnect our messages from Westminster to County to District representatives. Residents want to see a single joined-up approach to tackling our local challenges.
The foundation of our campaign is having the best candidates. I have been delighted, enthused, and truly motivated by the calibre, experience, and determination of the local people who have come forward to stand for us.
We’ve focused on survey canvassing to build real information. It’s told us our policies are there or thereabouts spot on.
Focusing on what matters
The Liberal administration set out two key priorities in an Emergency Council Meeting last June and then promptly failed to do anything about either of them. Their leader pledged to scrap the Executive model and return to a full committee system. After peer reviews, including great input from Conservative councillor, Rory Love, it’s not even clear that the majority of the Liberals now support such a change which could slow decision making and deter many talented local people from standing for election with the prospect of two or three nights a week in the council chamber.
The second priority was rightly to focus on the climate emergency. Without any idea of actions to take locally, they firstly refused Conservative demands to understand the starting position and then floundered with lots of talking. The key changes recently have simply been the implementation of plans that were in place before they took power.
By contrast, Mole Valley Conservatives have set out ten clear actions we can take locally to mean that across the district as a whole we capture more carbon from the environment than we put into it. The challenge is to harness modern efficient technology and to change behaviour in every household. Previously the threat of an incinerator being built in a local village led residents to deliver one of the country’s highest recycling rates. Local residents are ready to do it again.
The Liberals vision for a new Local Plan sees swathes of Greenbelt land sacrificed for development. Our plan would be infrastructure led – development focused where transport and health services already exist or are enabled by the plan; based on innovation – making the most of new building techniques and materials to create homes above existing buildings and environmentally sustainable reducing, reusing and recycling devel,oped land. Any changes to the Greenbelt would only be through Neighbourhood Plans.
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, put it perfectly recently, when talking about another local district – “Local communities wishing to preserve the greenbelt sustainably must meet local housing needs through gentle density, through re-imaging town centres, and through aggressively redeveloping brownfield land.” Absolutely spot on.
Whilst the Local Plan dominates, the Conservative team recognises the importance of keeping Local Government small. The Liberals have thrown £1m of taxpayer money, around 20 per cent of the Council Tax receipts, at new hobby projects with no defined benefits for the coming year – alongside an inflation busting council tax increase. We understand this money belongs in the pockets of residents and is better spent by them in our local shops and businesses.
Who will win out?
To regain the leadership, with support from Independent Councillors, we need to win two more seats in May. That means consistently getting across to voters our simple messages of:
- Saving the Greenbelt,
- Innovating to tackle Climate Change,
- Keeping the Council small.
With help from friends at CCHQ, we have grouped these themes around “Helping our Future Generations”. But we need your help too – help to get out the vote between now and May 7th. If you want to see the back of Liberal administration in Mole Valley then please get in touch and volunteer to work for our great candidates. Any time you can give, really would be appreciated.