Bath’s big election issues in May 2023

Bath Guildhall

By Harry Mottram. When the residents of Bath and North East Somerset go to the polls on Thursday May 4th this year they will have a number of issues to consider.
Nationally there is gloomy news for the Conservative opposition in the council chamber in Bath with opinion polls suggesting Labour are more popular than the Government of Rishi Sunak.
Locally Labour will no doubt hope to see a resurgent vote but it would need a big swing for the party of Kier Starmer to gain power in the Guildhall in the High Street.
Meanwhile the incumbent Liberal Democrat administration will be hoping to fend off the Conservatives pointing to the economic woes of the country but also extolling the benefits of their last four years in office. These include a drive to make cycling, walking and Voi e-scooter transport more attractive in a crowded city known for its congestion. Their policy of following Government directives in introducing a charge for some vehicles in Bath has seen pollution levels fall according to their research.
These and a number of policy initiatives such as their creating affordable homes at Newbridge Hill are widely welcomed.
However other policies such as more residents’ parking schemes, liveable neighbourhoods have been polarising with residents generally in favour but neighbourhoods nearby unhappy that traffic is transferred to their area.
Likewise the plan to turn Entry Hill’s former golf course into a bike park raised hackles locally – it’s now been scrapped, while the so-called ‘Ring of Steel’ in the city centre that closed some roads to traffic on security grounds has had mixed reactions.
Some saying the closures have cut footfall and made it harder for those with mobility issues while pedestrianisation has improved the experience for shoppers on foot.
The Tories have focused on traffic and the motorist in particular, accusing the Council of being anti-car. They’ve cited the Ring of Steel as being too zealously applied, the delays in repairs to Cleveland Bridge as being too slow, and the installation of the cycle path on Upper Bristol Road as being less than perfect to say the least.
The Lib Dems have responded by charging the Tories as being only negative and not outlying their policies in detail.
Local elections can give a pointer to the national mood but can also be at odds with the results of General Elections.
Anecdotally Bath Voice has heard there could be a stronger vote for the Green Party – as happened in Bristol where the party ousted the Conservatives and LibDems as the opposition to Labour.
The received wisdom is the public know what the Greens stand for: recycling, renewable energy and public transport along with giving pedestrians and cyclists priority over cars. But they are not for everyone.
As for Labour they once held wards in the city but their stronghold is in the south of the county around Radstock but they’ll be hoping for an increase in their representation especially in Bath where in the Metro Mayor election Labour’s Dan Norris polled well in the city.
Of course the council is not just Bath and the Conservatives have traditionally done well in the rural areas like Chew Valley and will want to build on the 11 councillors at the 2019 election as opposed to the Lib Dem’s 37 when they lost power.
Councillor Kevin Guy who leads the Lib Dem run council will be expecting to win overall control but incumbent administrations usually lose ground as not all their policies are popular. The U-turn over Tufa Field development, the drawn out debate about the future of the golf links on High Common and the temporary closure and relocation of the Fashion Museum may feature with the Conservatives in particular.
Local party workers (of all parties) say it’s also topics such as the cost of living crisis, Brexit, the NHS and immigration that come up on the doorstep. Most of which the council has little power to change as those are national issues.
Whatever their differences all the main parties agree that Bath needs more low cost housing and all want the city’s brown field sites like the former Pitman factory on Lower Bristol Road to be built on.
Bath Labour has said they want the council to ‘call the developers’ bluff’ and force them to build affordable housing there. Whether that would be using compulsory purchase is open to debate as that can be an expensive and legally challenging process.
Everyone agrees Bath needs more homes for those on low incomes – often the people needed to work in the hospitality, care and retail sectors to keep the city going. Which has created a quandary for some councillors and their opponents over the Sulis Fields development due to it being a green field site but it also providing many affordable homes.
One thing is for sure and that is the rhetoric from all parties – including the five Independents – will increase as May approaches.