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Labour and Liberal Democrats form coalition on Canterbury City Council

A coalition deal has been confirmed to control Canterbury City Council.

Although Labour took the most seats at the polls earlier this month, the party did not take enough for overall control itself.

Labour and Lib Dem leaders Alan Baldock and Michael Dixey have formed a coalition
Labour and Lib Dem leaders Alan Baldock and Michael Dixey have formed a coalition

Party leaders have now agreed to join with the Liberal Democrats to form a majority to run the authority.

It comes after a ruling from Labour’s national chiefs to snub joining with the Green Party, which took four seats at the election and would have seen the two parties take enough seats to form an administration.

Labour secured 18 seats on the 39-member local authority increasing from nine seats before the vote on May 4.

The Liberal Democrats have nine seats taking the coalition with Labour to 27 seats.

The Conservatives were relegated into third place at the ballot box after being the district’s largest party before polling day.

Labour now hold 18 seats in Canterbury
Labour now hold 18 seats in Canterbury

The Tories lost half of the 16 seats it previously held to take just eight, having already been reduced to a minority administration by defections in the weeks leading up to the election.

The Greens increased representation from one councillor up to four - but is the smallest group on the council - which would have been enough for a Lab-Green partnership.

After the count, leaders of Labour and Greens locally told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that there was lots of common ground between their parties.

However, it was revealed this week that Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) - which gets the final say on local parties’ deal-cutting and coalition-making - had ruled against working with the Greens in Canterbury.

New council leader Alan Baldock (Lab) said: “I’m really pleased that we’ve got a coalition with the Lib Dems, it’s been a full and frank negotiation to get there, and our decision in the negotiations not to work with the Greens was shaped by national guidance.

The count in Canterbury earlier this month
The count in Canterbury earlier this month

“We’re delighted that the political balance of the council has allowed us to extend a committee place on every single committee of the council to a Green councillor.”

Canterbury’s Greens will be the second opposition party alongside the back-bench Conservative councillors.

“We welcome their input as opposition councillors, and as we promised we’ll be listening,” Cllr Baldock added.

On the NEC’s decision, a Labour Party spokesman said: “In accordance with Labour Party rules, where local election results leave a local authority with no party in overall control, Labour councillors must seek permission from the National Executive Committee prior to entering into power sharing arrangements with other parties.

“The NEC carefully considers such proposals and will only agree to such arrangements when it feels a stable administration capable of delivering for local residents can be established.”

Canterbury's Labour leader and new council leader, Alan Baldock
Canterbury's Labour leader and new council leader, Alan Baldock

Clare Turnbull, the Green group’s leader and its only councillor prior to the elections, said her party was hoping to be involved in a coalition.

“That’s certainly what we were hoping would be the outcome,” she said.

“We’ve got a lot of ground in common and we thought that would be a good way of meeting our joint objectives for Canterbury and on which we were voted in.

“We were hoping that we’d be working with the other parties in a three-way coalition, however it gives us other opportunities,” she added.

“Obviously we’ll be in opposition, while we will be supportive of the changes that the other parties want to bring in, we are still opposition and we will be there to scrutinise and challenge and that’s what we will do, not in a negative, destructive way, but that’s our role as an opposition party.”

She acknowledged “difficult decisions will have to be made,” and added: “I wish them luck, and I’ll be there to support and to challenge.”

Green Party leader at Canterbury City Council Clare Turnbull. Picture: Clare Turnbull
Green Party leader at Canterbury City Council Clare Turnbull. Picture: Clare Turnbull

In a joint statement, the Labour and the Lib Dem administration told of their priorities including a cross-party working group in the first 100 days of administration to re-draft the controversial Local Plan and scrap the traffic zoning proposals in Canterbury city centre.

In the same period, the two parties have also pledged to get to work restoring the city’s historic market, establish a working group on short-term lets and holiday homes, and take action towards increasing the council’s social housing provision.

Veteran councillor and Lib Dem group leader Michael Dixey will serve as deputy leader of the council.

He said: “The election results show that the people of Canterbury want a council that listens and delivers on their behalf.

“We are delighted to have agreed a way forward with our Labour colleagues to do just that.

“This agreement signals a new way of doing things in Canterbury, where all voices will be heard and common sense restored.

“Although our first priority will be to sort out the mess left by the Conservatives, I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” he added.

Ben Fitter-Harding, former leader of CCC, lost his seat in Chestfield following the vote
Ben Fitter-Harding, former leader of CCC, lost his seat in Chestfield following the vote

The cabinet of Canterbury City Council’s new administration, confirmed at the mayor-making ceremony and AGM of the council last night (Wednesday) is:

Alan Baldock (Northgate, Labour) - Leader of the council

Michael Dixey (Westgate, Lib Dem) - Deputy leader of the council and portfolio holder for property, performance and oversight

Jean Butcher (Northgate, Labour) - Lord Mayor

Tom Mellish (Heron, Labour) - Sheriff

Mike Sole (Nailbourne, Lib Dem) - Cabinet member for finance

Pip Hazelton (Westgate, Labour) - Cabinet member for housing

Charlotte Cornell (Seasalter, Labour) - Cabinet member for heritage, open spaces, waste and recycling

Alex Ricketts (Blean Forest, Lib Dem) - Cabinet member for tourism, movement and rural development

Connie Nolan (Barton, Labour) - Cabinet member for community, culture, safety and engagement

Chris Cornell (Gorrell, Labour) - Cabinet member for coastal towns

Mel Dawkins (St. Stephens, Labour) - Cabinet member for climate change and biodiversity

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