Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brief thoughts on Exeter's local election

There are elections for Exeter City Council today (details here).

As someone wrote on Twitter just now, "Over the years many men and women fought hard and gave up their lives so that you can vote. Please honour them today by voting."

If you don't know what hangs on these elections, take a look at this summary of what the parties are proposing. The result is not going to change the world, but it does affect who makes the decisions on your behalf about our city. If you don't vote you can't complain. Simple as that.

My thoughts? Well I'm a member of the Liberal Democrats, so I'm hardly unbiased! But I tend to look for those candidates who are prepared to stand up to protect people from bullies, whether those bullies are councils, companies, polluters, developers, criminals or whatever. I also look for good ideas for making our city an even better place to live in.

All the Exeter parties have a number of good ideas. I like councils in which different parties have to come together and negotiate what to do. It helps to stop the arrogant dominance of one party enforcing its will; to filter out the nutty ideas; and to improve the proposals that get implemented.

So I would be happy for Exeter City Council to stay in minority control. That's unlikely to happen. My prediction is that Labour will gain three seats from the status quo, giving it majority control. I like many of the Labour folks. They're good people. I like their thinking on housing and renewable energy, and they've done many good things while running the council. But they don't have a monopoly on truth. I'd rather they didn't have absolute power.

A number of Exeter issues particularly concern me at the moment. (Some are within the remit of the County Council rather than the City Council, but the City Council has an important role to play in representing residents' views on these issues.)

1. Recycling: The Conservatives describe Exeter's recycling record as "good", while Labour describes its record as "excellent". Yet the latest figures in fact show that Exeter's recycling rate is worse than the national average, and far worse than Devon as a whole. Devon could be the best in the country if it weren't for Exeter. Increasing recycling rates can help generate energy and income, and this issue needs urgent attention, alongside other local energy saving and generation.

2. Traffic: The scheme to route cross-city traffic through residential areas is an expensive mistake. All credit to the St James candidates Ditch Townsend (Liberal Democrat) and Keith Owen (Labour) who have explained their principled opposition to this scheme. But it is now going ahead because of a failure of proper scrutiny by existing city councillors.

3. Democracy: Voting en bloc for planning and other proposals, as Exeter Labour regularly does, is (in my view) a dreadful dereliction of duty. Each councillor should be weighing up the pros and cons for themselves, and explaining the decision to the people they represent.

4. Library spending: At a time when money is tight, and when libraries round the country are under threat, spending £4m revamping Exeter Central Library cannot be justified. I use this library a lot. It's not perfect, and it would be nice to spruce it up, but it's good enough. In my view, a 1000-seater theatre, safer cycling routes or support for the ECFC ground would do far more to enhance the quality of Exeter life and promote economic growth.

But these are my concerns. Decide for yourself.


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