The Conservatives took control of North East Derbyshire District Council for the first time ever following the local elections on May 3.
Councillor Martin Thacker is the new leader of the council and we spoke to him about a number of issues. Here’s what he said in part one of our interview...
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
“I am Chesterfield born and bred. On my father’s side they have been in Chesterfield for over 400 years.
“Both of my parents are profoundly deaf so I was actually brought up in the deaf community because my uncles and aunties were also deaf so I have a strong passion for supporting the deaf community and campaigning on deaf rights.
“My MBE is for services to the deaf community in north east Derbyshire so that is something I feel very strongly about.
“My career has been in education with 28 years in teaching, 17 years of that as a headteacher in primary schools locally.
“I have been a councillor for a total of 16 years, 12 of those for north east Derbyshire. Nine of my years as a councillor have been as group leader, so I have been an opposition leader for nine years of my political career so that is why it is particularly fantastic to find ourselves in a position now where we are in control. Years ago if you would have asked me about that I would have said that is not on the cards but here we are with quite a sizeable majority as well.”
Why did you decide to become a councillor?
“My parents had friends who were councillors so my dad has interests in Labour politics, he was quite a socialist and had interests in trade unions.
“So my dad had Labour councillor friends but my mum had Conservative councillor friends and during the strike of dinnerladies years ago we were told we could not stay at lunchtimes because of the midday supervisor strike and we all had to go home. But for me to go back to my home in Walton, it was a long walk there and a long walk back just for a lunch break so my mum talked to one of her friends who lived near the school who was a Conservative councillor and she allowed me to have my sandwiches at her house so I could be closer to school. "During those lunch breaks she taught me about Conservative politics. It was during the Thatcher years - and I met Margaret Thatcher - and of course at the time when you are interested in politics it could have gone either way because I had Labour and Conservatives councillors saying ‘come join us’. You are caught in the headlights of ‘this is the Prime Minister’ and I had a really interesting afternoon meeting her and I just found myself joining the Conservatives.”
The Conservatives now have control of the council for the first time ever, why do you think that was able to happen this time compared to previous occasions?
“I think in north east Derbyshire people have gradually decided that Labour was not listening to them anymore and that their votes were being taken for granted. The message that we were delivering was about local issues that seemed to resonate with voters.
“I think the fact that we were actually delivering a manifesto based on residents’ views also made a difference. It was not about ‘let’s talk about national issues’ - that’s not what people were interested in. It was about ‘what can you do for us’ in the place where we live and our manifesto was based on sticking with a positive message about a future, a 21st Century north east Derbyshire rather than harking about things from yesteryear and then just taking people’s vote for granted.
“The manifesto was based on a range things that actually spoke to people from speeding, traffic, parking and litter. We were promising that in our first year we would at least deliver a council tax freeze and a range of other things about innovation, exciting ways forward that we can actually lift north east Derbyshire to be a wonderful place to live, work and be so I think people actually liked that.”
What issues are you going to be focusing on in the next few years?
Greenbelt: “The greenbelt land was a major issue for us because people were saying to us that the greenbelt became a problem because Labour were not listening to residents about the Local Plan. It was not a real consultation in our view and we said so in full council. And so what we have done is actually paused on the Local Plan so we can go back to the inspector and say that all the greenbelt allocations that were agreed, we don’t agree with them and we want them taken back out of the Local Plan. The greenbelt is something we have committed to protect.
Housing: “We are also asking for a revision in the numbers of housing. We know that new housing has to happen it is just that we felt the numbers that were identified were over exaggerated so we are looking to reduce the number of housing so it is fit for purpose and right for the district.
Fracking: “We are very clear that we are saying ‘no’ to fracking. While the government are looking for alternative sources of energy and that is what they should do, we are saying that fracking in not right for north east Derbyshire. We are not just saying that because that is what people want us to say it is because we do not believe that there is a case for it here in a rural community such as this.
Transparency: “Transparency is important to us in north east Derbyshire and that is why the very first full council meeting we had cameras in and we intend to live stream every full council meeting and other meetings going forward so the public can see how we operate and what sort of things we are talking about.
Council tax and business: “We have committed to the council tax freeze during the first year, but also developing strategies about listening to local business because the business people we know say the council has not genuinely listened to them. We have already had one forum with a number of business leaders who have talked to us about what they want and how we can work together to promote business in north east Derbyshire and a consequence increase the number of jobs.
Leisure and tourism: “To me it is a great place to be, we have a wonderful countryside and a wonderful history around here. We have got places of interest to go visit like Renishaw Hall and so on. Why aren’t developing something which makes people want to come to north east Derbyshire? The tourism strategy is working for Chesterfield, why can’t it work for us? So that is something we think is important.”