LOCAL ELECTIONS 2019: Labour seizes back control of Amber Valley Borough Council from the Conservatives

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Labour has seized back control of Amber Valley Borough Council from the Conservatives.

Before this year’s local elections, the authority had been led by the Tories with 25 seats to Labour’s 20.

However, as results rolled in today (Friday) Labour made gains in four seats, Belper East, Belper North, Belper South and Heage & Ambergate to take back control of the authority after four years in opposition.

Up until now, the red rosettes had only held control of the council for one year this side of the Millennium – 2014 into 2015.

The Conservatives, lost six seats overall, to lose their grip on the council.

However, the story of the afternoon was the victory for the Green Party in Duffield, through Dave Wells, seizing the seat from the Tories with double the incumbent councillor’s number of votes.

This success widens representation on the authority to three parties – something which was welcomed by all at the count.

An independent also claimed victory, Neil Ploughman in Belper Central, to further widen the representation on the council, from the previous two-party stronghold.

Coun Ploughman had been listed on the ballot as a Labour candidate, but during the election process he was suspended by the party due to allegedly sharing anti-semitic posts on social media..

He will sit as an independent councillor, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The make-up of the borough council is now as follows: Labour has 24 seats, the Conservatives 19, the Green Party one and there is one independent councillor.

Following the results, successful Green Party candidate, Dave Wells, said: “It is a great opportunity. We’ve been knocking on doors for some time in Duffield and I know that people who have voted for me previously voted for the Labour Party, they’ve previously voted for the Conservative Party, they’ve previously voted for the Lib Dems – so I think I’m in a great position to reflect the views of all those people.

“What I would like to see is all the parties in Amber Valley working together, in a cooperative way to deal with things, local issues like the Local Plan (a blueprint for future planning) and the green belt, but also global issues like climate change.

“Obviously, the local issue of the green belt is a very positive one for us, they (the voters) know our stance on the green belt – it is a well-known thing that we don’t think that the green belt should be developed until brownfield sites and empty homes are looked at.”

Labour leader, Coun Chris Emmas-Williams, said: “We are really relieved and happy, especially after last year, when we lost a lot of good councillors, so it’s really good to be back this year with a good working majority.

“It is a pity we lost the two in Ripley by small margins, which we expected to win, but at the end of the day, we are very, very pleased we have a good working majority and, hopefully, this time we’ll be able to get something done.

“Obviously one of the biggest issues on the doorstep has been the green belt – building houses on green belt.

“That is something that we genuinely believe that the people of Amber Valley don’t want, we believe there are plenty of other sites that can be used for those house, so it is obviously one of the key things that we will have to got to sort out as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, leader of the Conservative group, Coun Kevin Buttery, said: “We recognised that it was always going to be difficult, when you are defending 14 out of 15 seats.

“Our manifesto was all about ensuring we maintained good, high quality services, we supported local businesses, and we looked at boosting the local economy.

“But, at the end of the day, when you’re on the doorstep, whatever you wanted to discuss, people were satisfied with the local services that they received, but the issue of Brexit was raised again, and again, and again.

“I think that in itself has resulted in the effect that people have sent a clear message back to government to say that, in respect of the two-party system, and the Brexit itself – which needs to be sorted out at government level with all parties getting together to resolve the situation.

“I think that they (the voters) have sent a clear message and we have seen that in the results at Amber Valley today.”

Amber Valley is elected in thirds, with just 15 out of 45 seats up for election this year.

Of those, 14 were being defended by the Tories, and one by Labour (Alfreton).

In many ways, the tale of this year’s local elections was dominated by apathy at politics as a result of the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.

However, the vote in Amber Valley was also heavily impacted by the issue of green belt housing.

This saw the borough buck earlier expectations that turnout would flump – with people turning out in key affected areas to make their voices heard, particularly in Belper and Duffield.

Overall turnout was 38.87 per cent – up from 34.42 per cent last year, and almost double the figure from when these 15 seats were last up for election – in 2015.

That year, turnout was below 20 per cent.

Labour had also sought to make gains in both Ripley and Ripley & Marehay.

The Conservative’s Paul Moss clung on to Ripley by just 19 votes – with Ripley Town Council leader, labour Coun Steve Freeborn, posing the leading opposition.

Meanwhile, Tory Ronald Ashton in Ripley & Marehay retained his seat by only 31 votes – followed closely by Labour’s Ian Fisher.

Both Coun Moss and Coun Ashton had bucked party lines to vote against large chunks of land in the borough being deleted from the green belt to pave the way for thousands of houses.

Fellow Conservative, Steven Evanson, had abstained from the vote on the green belt deletions. This may have played a part in his unseating in Duffield by the Greens.

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service