Broadland District Council is under Conservative control. They hold 28 of the 47 seats, followed by 12 LibDems, 2 Labour, 2 Greens and one independent. But in recent byelections LibDems, Green Party and Labour have made gains. All the parties are hopeful. But do voters want a new approach to how their community goes forward?
Conservative leader proud of record
Cllr Shaun Vincent, Conservative Council Leader and candidate for Plumstead ward is upbeat about the council’s successes. Speaking on BBC Radio Norfolk he highlighted the unchanged council tax for the past two years, the highest level of recycling, including food waste, in Norfolk, and the Broadland Food Innovation Centre. Part funded by the EU development fund, this centre will be Norfolk and Suffolk’s first dedicated food grade innovation space offering 13 units for small and medium enterprises and start-ups. This, Cllr Vincent claims, has “attracted inward investment of nearly £10m”.
Business Growth or Community Preservation?
But it is the strong focus on business rather than on the community which concerns opposition councillors. Both LibDems and Green Party fear that much of the proposed investment, including those by the Greater Norwich Growth Board, of which Broadland Council is a participant, are going towards road-building. Ostensibly the roads are to improve communications for business. However, the concern is that they are really about opening up access to agricultural land and other sites for the benefit of large scale housing developers.
“What we are seeing is national highways connecting communities but cutting villages in half,” Green Party councillor and Brundall candidate Jan Davis explains. “Plumstead and Thorpe End are garden villages. However, this won’t be for long if the creeping large scale, in-fill developments are allowed. These small villages will become urbanised – part of a larger town. Residents tell us they don’t want this.”
Further north, there is concern about traffic bottlenecks in Wroxham and Coltishall, caused by new housing developments in North Norfolk.
The Affordable Housing Challenge
The Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Labour candidates are adamant that Broadland needs more affordable housing. However too often planning applications which were approved with 30% of affordable homes are later claimed to be “economically unviable”. Subsequently the developer is granted permission to significantly reduce the number of affordable homes to a much lower figure, if any at all. So more executive housing is built, priced out of reach of those starting out in their careers.
“What Broadland needs are the right homes, in the right place, at an affordable price,” says Cllr Davis. “Broadland is losing talented people because they cannot afford to get on the housing ladder.”
Labour councillor and Sprowston Central ward candidate Natasha Harpley echoed this sentiment. “It would be really good to actually have proper communities where people can put down roots like we used to have.”
Vanishing affordable homes
Another frustration shared by Labour and Liberal Democrats, is because so few affordable homes are being built and the rental market is shrinking, there are too many residents in temporary accommodation for far too long.
Liberal Democrats Taverham North ward candidate, Cllr Caroline Karimi-Ghovanlou says landlords are selling up, forcing their tenants into temporary accommodation. “I had a recent case where a disabled person was evicted from her home, sent to Bed & Breakfast accommodation in Great Yarmouth and is expected to live there for up to nine months because there is so little affordable housing.”
Who is benefitting from current policy?
Cllr Vincent argues that Broadland District Council policies, including the move to shared offices with South Norfolk District Council will “keep our council tax as low as possible” thus benefitting residents. But is this enough for voters?
Labour want Broadland District Council to use the reserves to build more affordable homes themselves. Cllr Harpley says it will “reduce the waiting list, boost the local economy and help people stuck on a waiting lists for a long time”.
The Green Party claim current decisions are suiting housing developers and not local people. Cllr Davis expressed frustration that green spaces are not being protected and that developers continue to build unsustainable homes. “Retrofitting EV points to garages, air source heat pumps, solar panels etc. to make homes sustainable will be costly to future residents. Developers should be doing this. Broadland needs policies that focuses on residents, builds sustainably and preserves wildlife and the environment that local people are passionate about.”
LibDems councillor and Spixworth with St Faiths candidate Sue Holland says the Tories are “only paying lip service” to environmental protections.
Making a Decision
On 4 May across 27 wards and 169 candidates Broadland voters have a lot, if not a confusing, choice. The three main parties are all standing in 45 of the 47 seats (though some of the Conservatives are trying to shake off association with the national party by rebranding themselves as “Local Conservatives”). The Greens are standing in 23 seats, and a further 6 come from the Heritage Party, and Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party.
The result in the Plumstead ward will be particularly interesting. The local press has been speculating that the Conservative leader may lose his seat there. Last time, in a straight fight with the Greens he only won by 22 votes. However, this time the Labour candidate may split the opposition vote. We will know by 10.00 on Friday.
What will be at the heart of their decision making? Will Broadland voters choose conservation of their communities with more affordable homes or continued low council tax and investment that benefits businesses?