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Local Elections 2023

North Insight


Several more bricks were put back in the “red wall” at this set of elections, with Labour gaining seats across the region and making a significant contribution to the party’s overall total, which has made it the largest party in local government for the first time since 2002. The night was not without its hiccups for the party, but the overall trend was very much upwards.  

Labour couldn’t entirely overcome the losses of previous cycles though, meaning that there are still a number of Councils where the party came very close but didn’t clinch majority control. Labour will be hoping to finish the job on those authorities which have elections next year, but in the meantime will have to do deals with other parties or independents to take Leaderships in places like Bolton, Wirral, Cheshire East, Darlington, and Hartlepool. The form of any coalitions formed will undoubtedly shape the politics of planning in those authorities for the coming term. 


Development is not necessarily going to get any easier in Wirral under a new Labour Council Leader in the form of Paul Stuart. The Council is hung with Labour as the largest party on 30 of the 64 seats. The next largest group is the Conservatives on 17. The remainder of the Council is 13 Greens and 6 Lib Dems. Populism on planning matters is likely to continue to rule with no one party having a majority, with this perhaps confirmed by Councillor Stuart’s criticism of the Leverhulme Planning Appeals.


New Manchester Planning Committee Chair, Councillor Jon-Connor Lyons has suggested the city will be more demanding about the provision of affordable homes. Councillor Lyons said he wanted to “use his influence to push for more affordable and social housing at every opportunity” and that “having council housing in places like the Northern Quarter or south Manchester is really important in terms of equality of opportunity”. He also said that he would like to see the delivery of more hotels (to reduce the demand for Airbnb) and more modern offices with co-working spaces.

The race is on for North East Mayor

The race to be Labour’s Candidate for Mayor of the North East, heading up the new North East Combined Authority, is hotting up. Given the results of local elections in the North East this year, whoever is chosen as the Labour candidate is almost certain to go on to win the election scheduled for May 2024. The two contenders for the nomination are current North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll, described as the “last Corbynista in power” and Northumbria Policing and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuiness, seen as an ally of Labour Leader Keir Starmer.


Councillor Ben Hartley of Trafford was recently selected as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Altrincham and Sale West. The seat is almost certain to go Labour next time due to demographic change. This is significant as Councillor Hartley served as Chair of Trafford’s Planning Committee but has been replaced by his Vice-Chair, Barry Winstanley. A Trafford insider said that this personnel change will lead to “carnage” at committee meetings now.


Revenge in Rochdale as the previous Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Councillor John Blundell, is removed from the Executive Team. The move is rumoured to be revenge over the selection of Councillor Elsie Blundell, wife of John, as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Heywood and Middleton. Leader Neil Emmott was supporting Heywood Councillor Liam O’Rourke to stand for the party in the next General Election. Liam has retained his seat at the Cabinet table. Elsie, who served as an Assistant Cabinet Member, has also lost her special responsibility on the Council as part of the cull. It remains to be seen if this will cause a split in Rochdale’s Labour Group.


The local Green Party has chosen to prop up a Conservative administration in the district, to the furious indignation of the Labour Group. The elections left Labour and the Conservatives tied on 16 seats each, making the authority’s two Green Party members the kingmakers.


Labour clinched minority control at the council’s AGM on Tuesday night, with the Party having fallen five seats short of a majority at the elections. Labour was able to take the leadership and all of the cabinet positions thanks to abstentions in the vote to elect the Council Leader by the 6 Horwich & Blackrod First Independent councillors. This should bring relative stability until Full Council has to vote on Budget in February 2024.


Despite Labour gains, Hartlepool will continue to be run by a Conservative/Independent coalition that formed the administration in the previous municipal year. The council is comprised of 36 seats and Labour has exactly half of these. The Conservatives have 12 whilst independents have 6. On Tuesday night the ballot for Council Leader was tied, leaving the Mayor to exercise their casting vote. With the Mayor being Conservative Councillor Brian Cowie, it was no surprise that he used his position to support his own side.


Sheffield has elected Councillor Tom Hunt as its new Leader, following the resignation of former Councillor Terry Fox, who also served as Leader of the Council as part of a co-operation agreement with the Green Party. Councillor Fox had been under pressure to resign over the Sheffield tree felling saga. The co-operation agreement appears to be continuing given that Councillor Hunt only secured the Council Leadership with the abstentions of the 14 Green Councillors.

Cheshire East

Independents in Cheshire East have cited their desire to ensure “stability” as their reason for continuing to work with Labour to form the administration at the Council. Both Labour and the Conservatives made gains at the expense of the Independents in Cheshire East earlier this month, though neither secured an overall majority. Despite the Conservatives being the largest party, the Independents’ decision to back Labour means that Councillor Sam Corcoran, of the red team, will continue as Council Leader.

Turning Teeside red

“The Houchen effect”, which has protected the Conservative vote in Teeside in recent years did not work its magic as much this year. Labour chalked up significant gains in Middlesborough, Darlington, Redcar & Cleveland and Hartlepool. Labour can lead Middlesborough with a majority and have exactly 50% of the seats on Darlington and Hartlepool so look likely to take minority control there. In Redcar & Cleveland the party has 23/59, so will have to cut a deal if it wants to lead the Council. The one exception was Stockton-on-Tees where the Conservatives made 10 gains to become the largest party, while Labour lost 2.

Quite the twin hatter

“He will not win” was the quote given to the press about the Salford Lib Dem Councillor who stood as a so-called “paper” candidate in The Cotswolds. However, win he did. The impracticalities of serving on two authorities 160 miles apart mean that Councillor Chris Twells is set to resign from Salford and trigger a by-election in his Ordsall ward. Labour will be hoping to retake this.


Former Leader of Oldham Council, Arooj Shah, who lost her seat in the 2022 Council elections returned to the authority this year and has been re-elected as Leader of the controlling Labour Group. She will therefore again become Council Leader.


Labour had success in both Cheshire authorities. In Cheshire West and Chester,Labour gained enough seats to take overall control of the authority. The party also made significant gains in Cheshire East where they had previously run the council as part of an arrangement with Independents, despite the Conservatives being the largest party. The Council remains hung with the Conservatives the largest party and talks are ongoing to decide who the independents will back as kingmakers.

Insight provided by:

Sean Fielding
Associate Director