Colchester is surrounded by countryside near the Colne Estuary. It is only 50 miles from London with good connections: it’s on the A12 between London and Ipswich, and fast trains to the capital take under an hour. There are close to 200,000 residents including 13,000 students at Essex University. It’s an attractive city to live in and the population is rising fast.
A young city
Colchester gained city status in 2022 for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, becoming Essex’s third city after Chelmsford and Southend. In March this year, King Charles III and Camilla visited to celebrate this.
MP and Councillors
The 51-seat council is run jointly by 15 Liberal Democrats, 15 Labour and two Greens. Before 2022, it was a very different picture, being led with a narrow majority by 23 Tories in alliance with three Independents. The Independents were all members of the Oxford family representing Highwoods ward, but Philip Oxford did not run again in 2022. Then the Tories lost four seats last year, dropping to 19 councillors.
This last year has been turbulent. Only weeks after being elected, councillor Martin Leatherdale left the Conservatives to be an Independent, and resigned days later. A by-election was triggered, and Tory Sarah Naylor was elected. In September, Mark Goacher left the Greens to go Independent. October saw the two remaining Independents, Gerard and Beverly Oxford, resign in a disability access row. In the resulting by-election, Labour and Lib Dems won one apiece. In December, Green leader Steph Nissen defected to Labour, then Mark Goacher immediately returned to the Greens. Last month, Labour’s Adam Fox, Deputy Council Leader, announced he was standing down, being replaced by Chris Pearson as group leader. Tory councillor Patricia Moore was found to have breached the code of conduct by calling her colleagues “muppets”, and will also step down. Eventful times.
Concerns linked to the environment
Colchester’s population has grown over 11% since 2011. More than 1,000 houses are built annually, putting pressure on schools, GP surgeries and green spaces. Increased traffic means some areas exceed the legal pollutant limit. Controversial housing schemes have been proposed, including one for a huge garden community of 9,000 homes on the Colchester/Tendring border, and another in Middlewick for 1,000 homes.
Haven Road in the Hythe has a constant flooding problem. A task force, including MP Will Quince and local councillors was set up to find solutions, but progress has stalled. There is also continued anger about sewage in the River Colne.
The council discussed its climate targets at the Environment & Sustainability meeting in March. It should not have been controversial, but Piers Corbyn turned up, fuelling a heated debate on whether the council would control residents’ movements to reduce pollution. The council deny this, but they are discussing plans for lower carbon travel, like cycling. Not everyone is happy with the suggested solutions.
The Tories, who mainly represent rural wards outside town, promise to cut the cost of politics and improve infrastructure with on-demand bus services like Digi-go. They also want the house-building target reduced and investment in rural communities. They vow to ‘Make Colchester More Roman’ to attract tourists.
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto highlights honesty and cross-party working. They promise a cleaner city and aim to plant over 15,000 trees a year. They want every new home built to be a Net Zero house with an EV charging point.
Colchester Labour Party promises to tackle the cost of living, revitalise the city centre, improve local policing, address fly-tippers and anti-social behaviour, and freeze council tax. Fixing potholes is a priority, they say. (As do most parties everywhere every year; potholes always seem to be bad just before May elections.) Their parliamentary candidate Pam Cox, who might just take Will Quince’s seat, is canvassing energetically. Labour claims voters are coming to them from other parties.
All the wards have a full slate of Conservative, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens. Former council leader Conservative Paul Dundas, who lost his seat last year, is running again. Four Reform Party and three Independent candidates are also running; these could split the vote somewhat.
17 seats are up for grabs; six are already Tory-held. To win a majority again, they need an extra seven seats, which means taking 13 seats – quite a challenge.
This year, the council leader has been Lib Dem as they started with one more seat than Labour. However, during the year, changes have resulted in Labour level-pegging. In their hopes to lead the council, each must take at least one seat from the other, or from the Conservatives. It will be hard-fought.
All to play for
Notwithstanding local concerns, national opinion polling could influence the way the vote goes. Much depends on the national debate and how key issues are framed. It’s likely Colchester will still have a coalition, but under whose leadership?