Blues back in business

Daily Echo: Councillor Royston Smith Councillor Royston Smith

IT was an unexpected victory even to the most optimistic of Tory campaigners in Southampton.

But the Labour and Lib Dem bloodbath that ensued on Thursday has left the Tories a clear mandate to govern the city council for the next two years.

Yesterday they announced the were "back in business" after they were briefly ousted from office in a Lab/Lib budget pact.

While they will now have to work within the constraints of someone else's spending plans they insisted they would meet their pledges to voters.

With a majority of four and overall control for the first time in 24 years after making eight gains, they have free rein to do so.

Tory chiefs confirmed:

A controversial gypsy and traveller transit site will not be built at Monks Brook in Swaythling.

A scheme to offer schools 5,000 hours undergraduate sport coaching from Solent University undergraduates will go ahead.

The ten per cent council tax discount promised to pensioner households and a full waiver to special constables will be brought in next year.

Work will resume on Tory-instigated leisure projects including a new multi-million pound Heritage Centre, a temporary winter ice rink outside the Civic Centre and a memorial to the Spitfire.

Private operators will be invited to run the city's leisure and recreation facilities such as the Quays swimming and diving complex, Bitterne and Chamberlayne leisure centres and Southampton Golf Course.

And the threatened BTC Sports and Social Club in Stoneham will be given the long lease it needs to attract investment.

Tory deputy leader, Councillor Royston Smith, said: "We will first and foremost make sure the commitment we made to the electorate will be honoured."

Responding to Labour and Lib Dem fears of devastating and unrestrained service cuts he said: "We are not going to go out of our way to unravel and offload services. But we will look to make improvements or savings."

All parties acknowledged one of the deciding factors of the election campaign was a controversial parking policy to charge residents to park outside their homes.

The Labour and Lib Dem coalition approved the policy, sparking public outrage and a Daily Echo campaign to scrap it. But fearful of being accused of a U-turn they could only insist they had no plans to implement it.

Cllr Smith said Tories would honour a pledge not to bring in new charges for residents' parking permits for the next two years. He added they would look at amending the policy if residents still had concerns.

Official turnout in Thursday's election was 29.7 per cent - comparable with previous years.

Yet the Tory share of the vote surged to overtake Labour. They polled 48 per cent of the vote in the city compared to Labour's 26 per cent and Lib Dems' 19 per cent. They now have 26 seats with Labour on 14 and Lib Dems on eight.

Among the successes Councillor John Hannides won the with the biggest majority in the Basset ward for 17 years, and took the most votes of any candidate on the night.

The night also saw eight Tory councillors elected aged under 30, including two 18-year-olds.

But Dr Ken Ritchie, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society said it was a "failure of democracy".

"The Tories did well to secure almost half of the vote, but to hand them 90 per cent of the seats is madness.

"These laments will be little comfort to more than half of voters who backed other parties and got only two councillors to show for their trouble."

The wins give Tory parliamentary candidates, Councillors Smith and Jeremy Moulton, a strong platform to mount a challenge to the city's sitting Labour MPs, Government minister John Denham and Alan Whitehead. Tory strategists predict they would both lose their seats if the results were reflected in a national election.

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