Conservative leader Steve Count 'disappointed' as Tories lose control of Cambridgeshire County Council
The leader of the Conservative group on Cambridgeshire County Council has said plans for further development in the south east of the county were “probably the main reason” his party lost seats in the area.
While it was a clean sweep for the Tories taking all nine of the seats for Fenland on the authority, elsewhere the news was not so good.
Voters went to the polls on Thursday to elect all 61 councillors on the council and it proved to be a disastrous day for the Tories, with six seats lost.
The Liberal Democrats picked up four, including one left vacant by the resignation of former Tory deputy leader Roger Hickford.
Labour picked up three. Two independents and two from St Neots Independent Group were elected.
It meant the Tories were three seats short of the 31 they needed to retain the control they have enjoyed since 2017 - prior to which there was four years of a hung council.
The county council has responsibility for areas such as education, social care, highways, waste and recycling and services for children and families.
Conservative group leader, Steve Count, who represents March North and Waldersley, said the extent of growth – referring to housing development and infrastructure plans – was “possibly the main reason” his party lost seats in the south of the county.
He said: “I’m disappointed that we are going back into no overall control. We have been there before and made it work to a certain extent, but it’s not quite as easy and I don’t think it’s quite as decisive. We will see how it goes. Obviously we have got to talk to the other groups as to what they want to be doing moving forward. But yeah, a bit of disappointment on my part.”
Asked if there is any cause for reflection, he said: “I think that you can see that there is a clear geographical divide in where our policies have appealed to the members of the voting public, and where we have failed to get over the line, which is in the south east of the county.
“So we are going to look hard at the differences there and what has caused this change in opinion. I do think that the sheer volume of growth of the county in the south east has been driving a certain amount of this. And it’s a matter of getting, if there is going to be growth, making sure that it’s the right growth and explaining that to the people. That seems to be probably the major election issue I would say”.
He added: “Every area is affected by a major new development or a major new piece of infrastructure, and whilst they sit on the drawing board they are only seen as a detrimental impact to any area. Of course, once they are delivered, such as the guided busway, all of a sudden people start thinking a little bit differently, that they may very well of delivered some benefits to the area. But I think at the moment just the sheer quantum of development is causing quite a lot of concern for a lot of people”.
“I would say that is possibly the main reason, the amount of growth,” he said, “of course, that’s not decided by the county council, but I think that it is the growth and the infrastructure for the growth that is reflected in the votes”.
He added: “I think primarily it’s the weight of new development, so Waterbeach, Northstowe, Cambridge West, Bourn Airfield, and then they have got to be linked by things such as the Cam Metro or East West Rail and you know, in each and every area there is something quite large happening and I think that has created some of the difficulties. And it’s not just those specific ones.”
Asked why voters would punish the Conservatives and not the Liberal Democrats, as they are the party with control, Coun Count said:“In each and every case if you look at the campaigning material, so if we take East West Rail, in the south of the county the Lib Dems campaign was we don’t want it here put it in the north, and in the north of the county it was we don’t want it here put it in the south”.
He added: “It’s always a case of what they don’t want. And because of the people who don’t want it I think that has been quite a valuable point for them with the public. There hasn’t been so much about what they do want or what they will accept, more about objecting to what is being proposed”.
Asked if the controversy known as farmgate played a role, Coun Count said he had nothing further to add.
Asked what happens now his party has lost overall control, he said there will be discussions between the different groups. He said: “It may be that between the parties that they want a different leader, it may be that they want the same. It really is a case of just starting to have conversations and see what it is that people want to be doing in the next four years and to see where we have consensus or can gain consensus, and to see what unites us rather than what divides us.”
Coun Count said it is his “desire” to stay on as leader of the Conservative group. Asked if his position is in any doubt, he said: “That’s very much up to the group to decide, that’s done on a yearly basis, and that’s done now between now and the next AGM, and of course the group will be taking our performance into account at that decision, I have no doubt.
“Until they have decided, very much like the council, what they want to do moving forwards, we are in a sort of holding pattern at the moment, but I look forward to talking to them and explaining to them my wishes for moving forward as a leader and seeing if that is acceptable to them”