‘Vomit-inducing’ smells in one part of our region appear to have cost Labour a seat in tonight’s local elections.
The Lib Dems gained a seat from Labour in Heath, Runcorn – where drama has recently unfolded over the town’s controversial Energy from Waste facility.
It means Halton Council, which covers Runcorn and Widnes, now has 51 Labour councillors, three Lib Dem councillors and two Conservative councillors.
The previous makeup was 52 Labour councillors compared to two Lib Dems and two Conservatives.
The seat up for election in Heath was held by Labour Councillor Charlotte Gerard, who took it in 2015 from Lib Dem Margaret Ratcliffe but chose to step down this year – giving Cllr Ratcliffe a chance to make a comeback.
Although Labour remain dominant on Halton Council , it is the first time in four years they have failed to retain every seat – and there is perhaps one specific reason why.
Heath, in West Runcorn, is in the vicinity of one of the UK’s largest energy recovery facilities, where waste is burnt to power homes.
Residents have frequently complained about ‘vomit inducing’ smells from the facility – and were outraged when the Labour-dominated planning committee approved plans to allow plant managers Viridor to burn more waste there earlier this year. .
The planning meeting, in February, ended in cries of “shame” – and many residents expressed disappointment that their local Labour ward councillors did not support their opposition to the plans.
The Lib Dems, who now hold all three seats in Heath, have been outspoken on this issue and have been campaigning for better air monitoring around the facility.
Speaking after tonight’s victory, Halton Lib Dem Leader Chris Rowe said: “National politics obviously has effect but on local issues the unhappiness with the incinerator has got to be a big factor,
“It’s an unpopular facility at the best of times but with the recent planning application that came in for the increase in tonnage to be burnt some of the residents felt that they weren’t being represented in the way they would have liked an I think that’s galvanised people to turn out and support us because they have seen us actively working on that issue.”
Lib Dem Margartt Ratcliffe won the seat in Heath by a generous margin of 485 votes.
She was victorious with 854 votes compared to Labour candidate Victoria Begg who recived 369 votes.
UKIP candidate Dave Myers received 199 votes while the Conservative candidate Ian Adams recived 146.
The 65-year-old was on the council for 18 years before loosing her seat in 2015, and says she is “absolutely ecstatic” to be back in her position.
While the Lib Dem victory in Heath was predicted, a surprise result of the night was in Beechwood.
Long-standing Labour Councillor Chris Loftus won by a small majority of 51, almost loosing out to Lib Dem candidate and former councillor Linda Redhead.
Concerns were raised tonight about a lower than usual voter turnout – although figures have not yet been confirmed.
A much higher proportion of votes were spoilt this year compared to previous years – and Brexit has been blamed for this.
Halton voted to leave the EU, and council leader Rob Polhill said this was a major issue for local residents during Labour’s door knocking, despite being a national issue the local authority have no control over.
He said he feared people were taking their frustration over Brexit out on the local elections by spoiling their vote.