IN JUST a few days, voters across Britain will take to the polls for the 2023 local elections.
Turnout is traditionally much lower in local elections than general elections, especially among young people. Arguably, local councillors have more of an influence over our everyday lives than MPs or the government. They set our council tax rates and they are responsible for services we all rely on like road maintenance and rubbish collection.
In recent years, local councillors have also begun to play more of a role than ever before in deciding the makeup of the areas where we live. Whether it’s central London or a remote countryside village, various planning committees and panels based within local authorities often hold sway over whether developers are allowed to build new houses, shops, factories and more.
Planning is more of an art than a science. Lots of factors are at play. Britain suffers from a chronic housing shortage, for example, fuelled in large part by local councillors’ reluctance to approve new housing projects.
Conservative MP Dr Luke Evans recently called attention to this during Prime Minister’s Question Time, when he highlighted the very different rhetoric coming from Liberal Democrats locally and nationally. It seems they are much keener to promote high housebuilding targets to a national audience than a local one.
“My honourable friend is right to point out the hypocrisy of the local Liberal Democrats on that,” replied the prime minister.
But the planning debate, which will be directly affected by the results of these local elections, goes far beyond housing. On the issue of energy, it is perhaps even more crucial. With energy bills skyrocketing and fuelling the cost-of-living crisis and a government determined to achieve net-zero emissions at all costs, how and where we get our power from matters more than ever.
Of course, we all want to help slow down climate change and save the planet, and we certainly all want Britain to enjoy stronger energy security. But that doesn’t mean any and all investment into clean energy is wise.
The Bramley and Silchester solar farm is a case in point. At this site in Hampshire, which is a stone’s throw from some of England’s best preserved Roman town defences, local authorities have given the green light for an enormous solar farm project to get underway.
The Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has approved the mega-project to cover around 200 acres of land in solar farms, roughly the equivalent of 140 football pitches. This decision is harmful for countless reasons, not least the fact that amid skyrocketing food prices, signing away such a huge area of perfectly usable farmland to solar panels seems bonkers.
These are exactly the kinds of decisions local councillors have to make on a daily basis. If we do not vote in local elections, we risk letting them think they can get away with virtue-signalling at our expense, or otherwise making decisions that are not in our best interests.
For that reason, it’s vital that everyone – especially young people – gets out to vote in May’s local elections. We all deserve to be represented by local politicians who have our best interests at heart.
Plus, these elections will be closely watched by the national parties in Westminster too – a dramatic result one way or another could weaken or shore up party leadership. These elections matter for the future of Britain.
Jason Reed is a writer and broadcaster on politics and policy for a wide range of outlets.