St Albans Lib Dem group leader after turbulent election night

PUBLISHED: 14:53 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:35 08 May 2019

Councillor Chris White.

Councillor Chris White.

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The St Albans Liberal Democrat group leader has reflected on what proved to be a jubilant election night for his party.

Fleetville coummunity centre. Photo: Danny Loo.Fleetville coummunity centre. Photo: Danny Loo.

Toppling the Conservative administration, including St Albans district council (SADC) leader Alec Campbell, the Lib Dems gained seven seats across the area.

This brings their powerhouse up to 25 seats - although not quite enough to secure a majority, they are now the largest party in this district.

Group leader Chris White said: "We are really pleased, it exceeded our expectations and it was quite a night to be honest.

"To become the largest party is very significant. What that means in terms of administration I don't really know, we need to talk to other groups but we are in pole position to carry out our manifesto."

Chris White, the St Albans Liberal Democrat group leader. Photo: Hannah CouzensChris White, the St Albans Liberal Democrat group leader. Photo: Hannah Couzens

He believes Brexit uncertainty, a high-profile People's Vote campaign, and support for former Parliamentary candidate Daisy Cooper can all be thanked for the substantial Lib Dem gains.

St Albans bucked the trend by swinging Remain in the 2016 referendum and local pro-EU groups have since garnered large memberships.

He said: "We now see the full horror of what Brexit means for this area, in terms of jobs and important institutions like Rothamsted Research.

"It is something we can't afford, individually or in the community, and it is time to think again."

One priority for the Liberal Democrats will be lowering SADC's emissions, Cllr White said, so the authority is effectively "carbon free".

Questioned on whether this is feasible, Chris answered: "If we don't try, we won't find out - and getting as close to that situation as we can is better than where we are now."

He suggested policies to that end could include implementing an electric taxi fleet, along with all the associated infrastructure such as charging points.

Highlighting a need for more affordable housing, Cllr White said: "So many people can't afford to live in this area any longer.

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"Buying or renting in St Albans is not sustainable. More and more people who are working in shops and pubs and restaurants and shops can't live in St Albans - my kids left the area because it is too expensive."

Local, rather than national, initiatives should be leading the way in making sure these homes are delivered, he said.

Cllr White also hopes the Local Plan is approved by the secretary of state: "The key thing is to have a Local Plan in place.

"The moment we have a Local Plan we can get onto refreshing it, we can't get on with refreshing it at the moment and we are miles behind other authorities."

SADC is currently awaiting Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire's thoughts on the document, which outlines where 15,000 new homes will be built in the district before 2036.

Investing in community facilities is also on the Liberal Democrat agenda, Cllr White said.

There are a few specific projects and campaigns currently underway. In June last year, 1,000 people signed a petition created by the Cottonmill and Sopwell Hub (CASH) campaign asking SADC to create an community centre in their area.

The Fleetville Community Centre New Build Project is looking to replace its existing structure on Royal Road, which was originally built in the 1940s as a temporary structure.

Cllr White said: "Some of what we have is literally falling to pieces. We have to look at the community centres that are falling apart because that is not on.

"We have to look after our community sites before they become derelict - it is not the way we want to live."

He said the Lib Dems will also be looking to overhaul the way planning is conducted at SADC, starting with the existing application portal.

"We have to have a much more creative approach to planning and this will become more vital," he said.

"Also, what is the plan for the city centre? What is the plan for St Peter's Street, for protecting the businesses that rely upon St Albans, and the situation with business rates? Yes it is a national problem but we have to have a plan.

"Otherwise we will wake up in five year's time with far less places to eat and drink."

Find out more about the CASH campaign at www.cottonmillandsopwellhub.org or the Fleetville Community Centre campaign at www.fleetville.org.uk

The Local Plan documents can be found at www.stalbans.gov.uk/planning/thelocalplan.aspx

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