Preston City Council local election results 2024 – Tory leader stands down, Labour’s Ashton Park woes and Lib Dems bounce

Posted on - 5th May, 2024 - 9:00am | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, Avenham, Brookfield, Broughton, Cadley, Cottam, Deepdale, Fishwick, Frenchwood, Fulwood, Garrison, Greyfriars, Grimsargh, Ingol, Larches, Lea, Plungington, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Ribbleton, Sharoe Green, St Matthews, Woodplumpton
The moment Labour lost Lea and Larches ward Pic: Blog Preston

The departing Tory opposition group leader on Preston City Council has called for a general election after her group suffered heavy losses at the local polls.

Sue Whittam was speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) after the Conservatives lost four of the five seats they were defending at this year’s city elections – including in one of their traditional countryside heartlands, the Preston Rural North ward.

Cllr Whittam – who is stepping down from her role as Conservative group leader ahead of becoming the city’s deputy mayor – said pleas that Tory candidates made for Preston voters to think local when deciding where to place their cross had failed to cut through.

Read more: See ward-by-ward Preston local election results

She said: “No matter how much work we did, we could not change our voters not wanting to come out and vote for us because they are so unhappy with what’s going on nationally.

“Unfortunately, we do need that general election to take place now. It’s gone on all year and we’ve all been talking about it – and I think, now, we just need to get to the polls.

“[Locally], we’re going to go back now, to rebuild and start again and carry on working hard. We’re not going to give up – and it will turn around. We’ve been here before a number of years ago and it does go around in cycles.

“But it is sad and I’ve been very emotional [because]…it hurts to leave on such a low when people have worked so hard,” Cllr Whittam added.

See Blog Preston’s interview with Cllr Sue Whittam below or watch it on YouTube

Read more: Recap all our updates from the Preston local elections results

A new opposition – the Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats have now become the main opposition party at the town hall after scooping five seats – the four lost by the Tories, as well as a shock gain from Labour in Lea and Larches, which saw cabinet member for health and wellbeing – and former Lancashire County Council leader – Jennifer Mein lose her seat by just 13 votes after a recount.

In that ward, more than 300 votes went to an independent candidate who had stood on a platform of opposing the council’s controversial plans to build new football facilities on Ashton Park.

Preston Lib Dems celebrate becoming the official party of opposition in the city Pic: BBC LDRS

Lib Dem group leader John Potter described the outcome for his party – which benefited from major swings in their favour in several of the wards they took – as “probably our best result ever in the city”.

“It’s just absolutely fantastic, we couldn’t have dreamed of…any better,” he added.

The Liberal Democrats previously shared the official opposition title with the Conservatives between 2019 and 2021, but now are the second-largest party outright. In Preston Rural North, they went from a distant last place the last time the equivalent seat was contested in 2021 to winning by more than 200 votes – roughly the same number they polled in total in that ward three years ago.

Cllr Potter denied that the group had simply ridden a tide of Tory dissatisfaction in some wards and won highly localised support over their stance on the Ashton Park issue.

“Politicians never get to choose the topics they get to fight on – and we have been the masters of our own victories here [because] you’ve got to be ready, if those things happen, to use them and then win,” he said.

The Lib Dem added that as the new opposition at the town hall, the party would be “full-throated” in scrutinising Labour “like all powers…should be.”

See Blog Preston’s interview with Cllr John Potter below or watch it on YouTube

Read more: Labour’s Clive Grunshaw returns as Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner

Matthew Brown reflects on keeping control – despite Ashton Park stumble

Nevertheless, Labour remain dominant, having successfully defended all bar one of the seats they held before this year’s poll.

Labour council leader Matthew Brown said the loss of that sole seat had to be “put in context of the gains we’ve made over quite a number of years”.

He added that “very distinctive local factors” had been at play in Lea and Larches over the Ashton Park plan, which he acknowledged had “divided opinion”.

“[On] this one issue, we’ve slipped up on it, basically,” Cllr Brown said. Pressed on what he meant by that, he added: “We could have done more to get our message out there, to be honest.”

However, he defended the decision to pursue the Levelling Up Fund scheme to build a new 3G pitch and sports hub on the popular green space and denied that Labour had been “arrogant” in the face of significant public opposition.

“The reality is [some] communities…have not had investment like that for a long time. We will obviously reflect…but we’ve got to get resources into those communities.”

Cllr Brown also pledged to continue regenerating Preston and tackling the “inequalities which people face”.

See Blog Preston’s interview with council leader Matthew Brown below or watch it on YouTube

The Cowell factor

Lea and Larches independent candidate Ann Cowell said she was pleased with the support she received and thanked those who voted for her, but admitted to having been concerned, at one point, that she had “split the vote with the Lib Dems and let Labour back in”.

She said she hoped the Fight for Ashton Park campaign “still has some legs in it” – in spite of the football-led project being granted planning permission last week.

Meanwhile, the anti-war Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition polled more than 500 votes in one of the two Preston wards they contested – Deepdale.

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