It’s now 5pm on Friday, and we’re not even halfway to finding out exactly the full extent of the council results, but I think the general picture is clear – signs of voters aligning towards whichever party they think can remove Conservatives, especially where council administrations are unpopular. The Conservatives have lost most heavily in the wealthier and higher status areas, but also seen themselves squeezed in some ‘middle Britain’ areas in the midlands. Urban Staffordshire is a notable surprise – losing control of Tamworth, Labour gaining East Staffordshire.
In London and the South East Labour and Liberal Democrats are picking up most of the urban authorities, or moving them to no overall control. Where neither can win, the Green Party is picking up seats and taking the council to no overall control (spectacularly so in the case of East Hertfordshire). There are still some Conservative councils but they are further out and much more rural.
Development issues were much less prominent in this round of elections than four years ago. Instead it is financial mismanagement which seems to have cost council administrations (Labour losing Slough), and environmental issues (Plymouth Tories must rue the decision to chop down city centre trees). Cost of living issues seem to have driven things in Kent towards Labour.
While new administrations have not got a lot of anti-developer campaign pledges and some support high street renewal, the new political landscape will mean developers will have to take a much more sensitive approach to local communities and to think about how they will give the council a good story it can feed back to residents about the benefits of giving permission.
Labour’s national policy has moved more towards support for housebuilding recently, which may tempt the government (despite Michael Gove’s instincts) to allow councils more ability to restrict development in the hope that opposition to housebuilding becomes a useful electoral weapon for the Conservatives.