Voters in every ward in Eastleigh Borough are headed to polls today to choose a new council in a rare ‘all out’ vote that could see a fundamental change in the balance of power in a town that has been Liberal Democrat since 1994. Boundary changes, an active anti-development lobby and recent defections have combined to present Eastleigh Liberal Democrat Leader Keith House with his stiffest electoral challenge to date but an overall victory today for the Liberal Dems will almost certainly see them celebrate their 25th anniversary in power next year.
Eastleigh council is one of only six non-metropolitan borough’s in England to have their entire council up for election today – every seat is up for grabs and voters will be tasked with choosing either two or three candidates in each of the 14 wards, with plenty to choose from with 139 candidates chasing 39 seats in a new-style slimmed down council that has dispensed with five seats and five wards as part of a reorganisation of ward boundaries. In addition, voters in the Chandler’s Ford and Allbrook parishes will also be voting for a new Parish Council, meaning some residents will be electing up to eight new representatives.
The old wards of Bishopstoke East and Bishopstoke West that previously shared four seats have been combined into one new ward – Bishopstoke – with only three seats, while in Hedge End, the three old wards of St Johns, Wildern and Grange Park has been integrated to make two new wards, Hedge End North and Hedge End South. As a result, Hedge End South will see four sitting councillors – including Keith House – chasing just three places meaning at least one of them will not be re-elected.
A further unusual aspect of the election today is that not all the candidates who are elected will be returned for a full four-year term. Only the candidate that tops the poll in each ward will sit until 2022, while the runner-up will sit for two years and in wards with three seats, the third placed candidate will face re-election in a year’s time (there will be no borough elections in May 2021 when County elections will be held.)
There are also several sitting councillors who will not be seeking re-election today including three of the Liberal Democrats who recently left the ruling group to sit as independents because of their opposition to the adoption of a Local Plan that will see the construction of new homes and a relief road north of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak. The three councillors are Eastleigh Central independent councillor Mark Baalam and Sarah Bain and Mo Sollitt (the outgoing Mayor) who sat in Eastleigh North. (Although Bain is a candidate in the Allbrook Parish Council election.)
The current Deputy Mayor Chris Thomas, who also defected from the Lib Dems, is standing as an Independent in Eastleigh North and will have to be re-elected in order to assume the office of Mayor later this month; while the leader of the Independent group Steve Sollitt – a former Lib Dem cabinet member- is also standing in the same ward. Three more independents are standing in Bishopstoke where objections to local plan options in the North of ward have united the independents and main opposition parties although all have stood their own candidates in the ward making a total of 13 candidates vying for three seats.
Each of the three major parties are fielding a full list of 39 candidates, Ukip have 11, the Green Party 5 and there are 6 independents. Of the 139 candidates standing 52 are female.
The composition of the outgoing council was:
Liberal Democrats: 32
Vacant seat: 1
Polls close at 10 o’clock tonight and results will be live tweeted from the count via @Eastleigh_news
Correction 17.00 Bishopstoke North and South to read “Bishopstoke East and West”
Last updated 19.05