I had to take a break from my monthly column because of the local elections earlier this month.
It seems fitting, now those elections are over, to just look at what they mean for our local political scene.
In the Harrogate district we are used to fairly frequent elections. Prior to these elections, in the urban wards there were two councillors representing each ward and these were elected in consecutive years. The third year saw elections to the county council.
That has changed. Harrogate Borough Councillors will be elected once every four years. Every single councillor will stand for election at once. This means the political complexion of the council can change overnight.
There are also fewer councillors. When I moved to Harrogate in the 1990s there were 57 borough councillors. This was reduced to 54 in 2002 and now to 40.
So, on May 3 we elected 40 borough councillors all at the same time, who will be in place until 2022. Those councillors are younger too - five of the new councillors are in their 20s and 11 are aged below 50. In terms of age it is a much more representative chamber than before May 3.
Where we, as political parties, have done less well is at achieving a better balance of women councillors. We need to look as national parties, in government and on local councils at addressing this.
Each of the local parties had an election manifesto. Naturally only one has a full mandate to be implemented as the Conservative administration of the council significantly increased its majority and substantially increased its share of the vote. But no individual or political party has a monopoly on good ideas. Over the years I have been heartened by the cross party working locally on budgets, housing and a variety of other issues and I hope this will continue.
A number of the new administration’s initiatives are about lobbying the government to change legislation. In particular, the government is launching a consultation on how to encourage developers who have received planning permission for housing to get on with developing it. In our district there are permissions for thousands of houses which could help provide affordable homes for local people and people working in the district. These permissions need to be implemented. Harrogate Borough Council has suggested that the government allows local authorities to levy fines on developers equivalent to the council tax that would have been generated from the houses they have failed to build. I do not know the practicalities and legalities of this but it is an innovative idea and one which shows determination to tackle this deep-seated problem which is simply pushing house prices locally higher and higher.
Similarly, the new administration has signalled its determination to bring long-term empty homes back into use by stepping up its use of the compulsory purchase system. This is an initiative which is well overdue.
Addressing our lack of affordable homes for people who work locally and grow up here is an issue on which all political parties locally and most local people seem to agree. So these recent local elections have a sense of generational change, with new ideas and a fresh younger look to the council. It is good to see imaginative proposals. Our area is a great place to live and work, and I look forward to working with councillors of all political colours to make it even better.