All out elections are taking place under new ward boundaries for Bedford Borough Council in May, which will see the number of councillors increase from 40 to 46. The directly elected Mayor, Liberal Democrat Dave Hodgson, who has held the post since the creation of the unitary authority in 2009, currently heads up the Executive which comprises an additional eight councillors. All of whom are directly appointed by the Mayor.
A positive result in 2019 meant the Liberal Democrats became the largest party at the expense of the Conservatives, having previously sat in third. Mayor Hodgson therefore needed to forge cross-party political alliances by appointing Labour and Independent members to the Executive – to which he is no stranger, having spearheaded the Executive of a council that has been in no overall control since 2010. He has leaned on this support throughout the process of progressing the Local Plan 2040, which was submitted to the Inspector in January 2023.
The Conservative Group, under the Leadership of Cllr Graham Coombes, has made their opposition to the Local Plan known, and may try to frame it as a wedge issue during the local election campaign.
Frustration over Brexit in 2019 meant traditional Conservative wards fell to the Liberal Democrats, who also picked up seats at the expense of Labour in areas such as Goldington and Kingsbrook. It remains to be seen whether the Conservative and Labour vote will recover, with both parties under new national leadership this time around.
As the current largest party, the Liberal Democrats are dedicating significant resources locally to ensure they are well placed to consolidate this position, seeking to reduce their reliance on cross-party cooperation. However, boundary changes mean that both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will feel like they have a real chance of winning new wards such as Wixams and Wilstead.
Dave Hodgson is seeking re-election as the Mayor on a Liberal Democrat manifesto which identifies three key pledges: supporting people; protecting the environment and tackling climate change; and ensuring there is opportunity for all.
Keen to ensure villages do not coalesce with the Bedford Town Urban Area, the manifesto outlines that the Liberal Democrats will continue to oppose perceived unsustainable large housing developments. This is all the more important in the context of the emerging Local Plan, which Dave Hodgson will be looking to secure as his Mayoral legacy with adoption anticipated later this year.
Based on 2019’s results, Hodgson’s main rival for the mayoralty appears to be Conservative candidate Tom Wootton, a borough councillor since 2007. In 2019 Hodgson defeated Conservative candidate Gianni Carofano by a comfortable margin of over 3,000 votes and will be looking for a repeat of this in May. The Labour Party, through Saqhib Ali, will be looking to improve on 2019’s third place finish whereas Adrian Spurrell, who is once again the Green candidate, will be hoping to pick votes off the three main parties.
Discontent with the Conservative Party has grown both nationally and locally across neighbouring counties such as Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire and this was reflected in last year’s election results in these areas. Therefore, it is likely the Liberal Democrats will strengthen their position as the largest party on the authority, albeit not quite gaining enough seats to secure an overall majority.