How many of their key election promises did Northampton Conservatives actually keep?

Today marks what would have been election results day for the borough council, but the government suspended local elections in the county for 2019 ahead of a proposed move to two new councils in 2020
Today marks what would have been election results day for the borough council, but the government suspended local elections in the county for 2019 ahead of a proposed move to two new councils in 2020

This week marks four years since the Conservative Party were voted back into office at Northampton Borough Council.

As with every election, parties pitching for power at The Guildhall drew up a series of pledges that made up their manifesto.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has taken a look at some of the key promises the party made back in 2015, and looked at whether they kept to their word.

University of Northampton relocation

PLEDGE: “We will continue to work in close partnership to deliver the scheme and maximise the benefits for our town.”

RESULT: The new Waterside campus opened in September 2018. A scrutiny panel set up by the council has hailed the ‘positive impact’ students have had on the town, but conceded there are still problems to be addressed in terms of parking in and around the campus, and some anti-social behaviour.

Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “We are really proud of it and the place looks beautiful. The delivery of the project was fantastic, and I think we are working more closely than ever before with the University.”

Castle Railway Station

PLEDGE: “Following the completion of the multi-storey car park, a re-elected Conservative administration will develop the remaining site to further enhance the area.”

RESULT: Although a ‘meccano’ style multi-storey is in place, it is not quite the scheme that was promised at the time, and no further work has taken place. After the change of the rail franchisee, the council has had to go back to square one.

Labour leader Danielle Stone said: “That was such an important part of the development. It’s four years on now, and it should have been done as part of the original development if the planning preparation had been right.”

Market Square

PLEDGE: “We will retain the Market Advisory Group and will freeze rents for market traders for the full four years to keep current businesses and attract new stalls to the market.”

RESULT: The Market Advisory Group is still functioning, and market traders have had their rents frozen for four years.

Labour leader Danielle Stone: “I keep arguing at the council that the Market Square will not improve until we have retail and leisure surrounding it that will draw families in. At the moment there’s a lot of betting shops.”

Greyfriars

PLEDGE: “We will bring forward plans for the key site to enhance the town centre including a new coach facility which will be located on the western island site and close to the North Gate Bus Station and with good links to the town centre and other facilities.”

RESULT: The Greyfriars site remains unused four years after it was demolished. Plans for the new coach facility appear to have fallen by the wayside, and a proposed mixed-use development featuring a cinema was shelved last year.

Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “The previous scheme was a little mediocre if I’m honest, with a cinema close to another cinema. It would be easy to put something on there, but it’s having something of real benefit. We’re still working on plans for it.”

St James Mill Road

PLEDGE: “We will work with our Conservative colleagues at Northamptonshire County Council, the Local Enterprise Partnerships and central Government to ensure this link road is delivered as a key priority for the town.”

RESULT: After more than seven years of debate, the link road was given planning permission in April 2018. The 200 metre stretch of road will cross over the former Northampton to Bedford railway line. Last April, it was estimated the road would be open within the first half of 2019. But since then, the project has stalled due to a revised cost of £4million, double what was originally proposed.

Labour leader Danielle Stone said: “It’s taken six years, that’s plenty of time to have been able to find money for it. It’s shameful that it’s not been done yet.”

St Edmunds

PLEDGE: “We will continue to work with the developers to ensure the plans are completed to bring a historic and iconic building at a key gateway to the town centre back to use.”

RESULT: After years of being derelict, construction work has finally started on building a 130- apartment retirement village and 62-bed specialist care home.

Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “Work has begun on the site, and now that they’re working on it there’s not much more we can do. I hope that it’s ready in time for me to retire there though!"

North West Relief Road

PLEDGE: “We will continue to work towards a North West Bypass for the town to relieve traffic pressures and ease congestion.”

RESULT: Although it is primarily a county council project, the borough council has set aside £4.2million for the Relief Road in its capital budget for 2019/20. It will link A428 Harlestone Road with the A5199 Welford Road and serve the housing growth proposed west and north of the town. A final business case will be submitted in September.

Labour leader Danielle Stone said: “I think it’s really important for the town, but the siting of it needs to be very carefully agreed with the residents.”

Westbridge Depot ‘incinerator’

PLEDGE: “The Conservative administration announced plans for a new power plant on the Westbridge Depot to provide long term energy security for Northampton and lower energy bills for local residents. We will continue to consult with local residents and ensure, before any final decision is made, that this offers the right solution for Northampton.”

RESULT: Rolton Kilbride’s bid to build the £160 million plant at the Westbridge Depot in St James Mill Road faced strong opposition from the community-run campaign No Monster Incinerator in Northampton. The plans were shelved in October last year.

Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “It wasn’t very popular with people, and so we listened to that.”

Lift Tower

PLEDGE: “We will support exciting plans for an HD screen around the tower to be used to show images and videos that promote Northampton and the local area.”

RESULT: The plans, which led people comparing the Lift Tower to a ‘big lava lamp’ have never come to fruition.

Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “There’s no real current plans on that front, and it’s privately owned.”

Free Parking

PLEDGE: “We will guarantee the free parking offer for four years to ensure the town continues to benefit from more visitors as easy access for motorists and convenient parking are key to a vibrant and thriving town centre.”

RESULT: The council kept to this pledge, and as of May this year the free parking will have been in place for four years. But whether that will extend any further is up in the air. The council recently announced plans to increase parking charges, but keep the two hours free parking at the multi-storeys. Following feedback, revised plans reduced the fees for longer parking, but introduced a small fee for the first two hours which would end free parking. Now though, the council has pledged to carry out consultation with residents, with no firm decisions yet made.

Liberal Democrat leader Sally Beardsworth said: “I was really cross with the lack of consultation on these price changes originally. The free parking was a political stunt to get David Mackintosh elected. People just go in, park and rush back before they have to start paying. But there was too much of a jump with the latest proposals. £1 an hour isn’t too much to pay.”

St John’s multi-storey

PLEDGE: “We will continue with plans for an extension to be built to the St John’s multi-storey car park to expand capacity and improve the car parking provision and will continue to review whether the free parking programme should be extended further to other car parks in the town centre.

RESULT: No extension has taken place as such, although within the last couple of months more spaces that were reserved for nearby residents have been freed up for town centre customers. It was recently revealed that the maintenance bill for the upkeep of council car parks would hit £700,000 this year.

Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “It would have been great to do an extension. The council bought Albion House next door and the idea was to extend onto that land. But the cost of building it per parking space was not really cost effective. But the building has turned out to be a good investment, and is worth much more than when we bought it.”

Council houses

PLEDGE: “We will continue to identify new opportunities to build new council homes which will be managed by Northampton Partnership Homes.”

RESULT: Northampton Partnership Homes is continuing to plan the buildings of council houses in the town. A significant number of these are through demolishing residential garages that are unused or in disrepair, though the decision to bulldoze some has proved very unpopular with residents. The Conservative administration has built 107 council houses, there’s 80 currently being built and 50 more have planning permission. There are still 246 awaiting planning permission.

Labour leader Danielle Stone said: “I think NPH is doing a sterling job, but it’s never going to be enough. Developers are playing fast and loose with the amount of affordable housing that they are being asked to provide. We should be challenging them more.”

Environmental services

PLEDGE: “We will review all options, including who provides our waste services to get the best deal for local taxpayers, a review of weekend collections and to look at options for lids on recycling boxes.”

RESULT: The new contract with Veolia started on June 4 last year, and since then a ‘deep clean’ has been taking place of the town. The council has also introduced wheelie bins for recycling, and is running a trial of clear recycling sacks in Far Cotton that is likely to be extended to other areas of the town.

Lib Dem leader Sally Beardsworth said: “I think the new people are doing a good job, but it’s a very costly contract to pay. It’s £3million more than the last one.”

Neighbourhood wardens and park rangers

PLEDGE: “We will remain committed to providing Neighbourhood Wardens operating across the Borough and will protect the number of Park Rangers. (15 wardens, 6 rangers)

RESULT: The 15 wardens and 6 rangers are still in place.

Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “We have kept the same head count as we promised in that manifesto.”

Council tax

PLEDGE: “We will always seek to freeze Council Tax and will work with central Government and the town’s MPs to keep Council Tax low.”

RESULT: Council Tax was frozen from 2011/12 until 2016/17 for Northampton Borough Council, but since then it has been increased each year. The latest rise was by the maximum 2.99 per cent for 2019/20.

Lib Dem leader Sally Beardsworth said: “You do have to put the council tax up to cover things. Central government has hardly helped with the cuts that they have enforced. How they expect us to function I don’t know.”

Sports clubs

PLEDGE: “Remain committed to good working relationships with all of the town’s sporting clubs.”

RESULT: The Cobblers loan scandal has been well covered over the last four years. Relationships with the Saints appear stable, with their loan being correctly used to redevelop the stadium. The council has now approved a new £1.5million loan so the rugby club can carry out further work. But relations with the Cobblers are more complex. A very public row erupted last summer over the redevelopment of Sixfields, but both sides are keen to try and keep the conversations civil, though little progress appears to have taken place publicly. Attempts by the council to recover the money by the former owners of the football club are ongoing.

Liberal Democrat leader Sally Beardsworth said: “We didn’t think the Cobblers’ business case stacked up, and we were right to turn it down. Look at where things have ended up.”