Voters go to the polls on Thursday May 3 to elect a representative in each of the 23 wards of Kirklees Council. Local government reporter BARRY GIBSON begins a five-part look at the tight races around Huddersfield today by speaking to the candidates in the Colne Valley ward
THE Colne Valley ward was once a Lib Dem stronghold, with the party holding all three seats.
All that changed in last year’s election when the party fell to third behind both Labour and the Conservatives.
But, with just 250 votes between the main parties in 2011, all three will fancy their chances this time.
Clr David Ridgway, who lives with his wife in Linthwaite, is defending the seat for the Lib Dems.
The 66-year-old father-of-three said a key issue in this year’s election is the fate of Slaithwaite Library, one of seven village centres in danger of losing its paid staff.
“The Lib Dems have found the funds to keep Slaithwaite Library open, but the Conservatives voted against it,” he said.
“We would put a levy on homeowners whose homes have been empty for more than a year.”
Development is also a big issue in the Colne Valley in this year’s election.
Clr Ridgway backs the Local Development Framework (LDF), the council’s plan to allow 22,470 new homes in Kirklees by 2028.
But he believes the framework protects undeveloped land in the Colne Valley.
“We have agreed to a very small release of green belt land – 1% of the total – in Dewsbury to encourage £600m of inward investment and there’s no development planned on green belt or green field sites in Colne Valley ward,” he said.
“The Conservatives have stated that they will not build on any green belt land and will retain all brownfield sites for industrial development. They will not say which green field sites will be used for their ambitions to build 18,000 homes.”
On this issue at least, Labour candidate Barbara Jones agrees.
“People do not understand the LDF. Myths are being perpetrated by the Conservatives that it’s a licence for development everywhere on the green belt,” she said.
“In fact it protects the green belt by identifying areas that are suitable for housing. We have to have houses and more affordable houses.”
However, the 70-year-old retired geography teacher disagrees with Clr Ridgway about Slaithwaite Library.
“I would support the involvement of volunteers in libraries,” she said.
“We don’t expect volunteers to suddenly take over the running of libraries. Volunteers will be encouraged with the help of the council in order to keep small libraries open.”
Mother-of-two Mrs Jones, who lives with her husband in Paddock, rejected claims that she is an outsider in the ward.
“I’m very fond of the Colne Valley, I walk up there daily and I live a matter of metres from the river,” said the former Greenhead councillor.
“When the Lib Dems say I’m not local, neither is the Conservative candidate.”