May 4 2011 By Liam Murphy
THIS year will see the first elections to Cheshire West and Chester Council, and follows significant boundary changes.
Those changes could help the opposition parties dent the dominance of the ruling Conservative group – but questions remain about whether they will shake the Tories’ vice-like grip on power.
The current Conservative-dominated authority was elected as a shadow council ahead of the transition from the two- tier system.
Previously, local government had been composed of Cheshire County Council and the boroughs which included Chester and Ellesmere Port and Neston.
The current councillors were elected in 2008 across west Cheshire, and took over power in 2009 when the authority took over from the previous councils.
In those 2008 elections, the Tories took 55 of the 72 available seats, leaving Labour with just 13 and the Lib-Dems on four.
A number of defections and fallings-out have seen the Conservatives drop back to 50 seats, but still with a significant majority.
This year, the boundary changes mean that, instead of all wards having three councillors, some wards will elect one, two or three councillors.
The total number of elected representatives will rise to 75.
Across Cheshire West, nine independents are standing, outnumbering the Greens who have just four, while UKIP are putting up 15 candidates.
There is one Socialist Labour and one BNP. Labour and the Conservatives are battling in all 75 seats, while the Liberal Democrats have 51 hopefuls going to the polls this year.
Malcolm Gaskill, leader of the Lib-Dem group, said they wanted to ensure they had candidates in as many wards as possible, giving people the chance to vote Lib- Dem if they chose.
He was also upbeat about his party’s chances this year, saying the boundary changes should benefit opposition parties more than the incumbent Conservatives.
But the Lib-Dem leader dismissed suggestions of the Tories losing their majority as "a bit fanciful".
Labour’s leader in Cheshire West and Chester, Derek Bateman, played down the chances of the Tories losing control of the authority.
However, his party can probably only improve on the devastating result in 2008 which saw them with just 13 of the 72 seats, and this year they are seeking to get into the mid-20s. He said: "We are hoping to change things and become a substantial force."
Council leader Mike Jones, leader of the Conservative group, said he did not believe the boundary changes would make a major difference, and added: "I wouldn’t want to be complacent, and that is why we’re continuing to working hard."
He pointed to the council’s long term plans for investment and said he believed, if people focused on local issues, they would support his party, but added: "If they only look at national issues, it could go either way."