A tight battle is reaching its conclusion in Wirral ahead of local elections tomorrow.
The ward of Heswall, which includes some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the UK, has been Conservative since Wirral Council was created in 1973.
Heswall has long been considered a safe seat with majorities of at least 34%, the Liberal Democrats came within 6% in 2022 and they are now hoping to gain ground in the area delivering more than 5000 leaflets over the weekend before elections are held on May 4.
Before election day, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives remain optimistic about success with the latter arguing their vote is holding up better than last year.
In this year’s elections, voters will choose three councillors to represent their area for four years as the local authority moves to all-out elections.
While out on the doorstep, one woman approaches Elizabeth Brame, one of the Liberal Democrat candidates, about the new 20mph zones in the area. A Labour voter nationally, she said she is considering voting Liberal Democrat this time around.
This is the kind of voter that could swing the election because in 2022, Labour got 18.2% of the vote. The Green Party who withdrew their candidates this time around got 6.5%. However the Liberal Democrats face a tough battle as long-standing councillors Kathy and Andrew Hodson seek re-election.
The Liberal Democrats argue it’s time for a change pointing to issues such as a former councillor being removed for failing to turn up to meetings to councillor David Burgess-Joyce being selected and then de-selected as a Conservative candidate.
David Jones, one Liberal Democrat candidate, said issues coming up on the doorstep included dog fouling, car parking, sewage being discharged into the River Dee, the recent vote on council tax, and the problems with old boats on the Heswall shore.
He also pointed to places like Whitfield Common, a park with sports facilities, as a key issue for voters.
On Whitfield, he said, “The place has fallen down. It has to take somebody to go to the council and think, we can do more with this. Can we get someone to rent it as a sports facility but if it can’t then what can we use it for?”
Elizabeth Brame, also standing for the Liberal Democrats, said, “I was appalled when I heard about the sewage coming up in the Dee. There’s some pavement and road issues, I think that perhaps need to be looked at.”
She added, “I grew up in Heswall so I remember a much happier Heswall than I’ve come back to in some respects and I would like to in my own way for that to come back.”
The weekend before the election, the Conservatives were also making their presence known in Heswall, setting up a table outside the bus station and talking to voters face to face.
Despite the close result in 2022, Conservatives believe their vote is holding up stronger with voters happier about Rishi Sunak’s performance as Prime Minister than Boris Johnson. They also argued the Liberal Democrats are not putting postive proposals forward.
Graham Davies is now standing as the third Conservative candidate after Cllr Burgess-Joyce was removed. A former teacher, he is involved with the Friends of Whitfield Common and said he spends his life litter picking but also passionate about parking and speeding.
He said litter is a huge problem at Whitfield Common, adding, “The kid’s play area is the most beautiful play area in the park and we found teenagers who had left 60 cans and bottles.”
Despite the criticism of their record, both Kathy and Andrew Hodson feel their work as councillors stacks up pointing to issues like the Heswall boatyard, challenging Wirral Council on its finances, and double yellow lines on Delavor Road. Kathy Hodson said, “Why would you want to change what is doing well?”
Andrew Hodson added, “I think I have only proved myself over the last 29 years as a councillor for Heswall. People have told me I make a big difference in the work that I do and I feel confident about what the general public has told me. People have even told me they vote Labour but they are voting Conservative in these elections.”
In response to criticism from the Liberal Democrats over past planning decisions, Kathy Hodson, who sits on the council’s planning committee, said, “I see my job on planning is to administer planning law. You have got to look at it with a nuanced approach. You have got to take the rough with the smooth.”
With controversial flats proposed on Well Lane, Nicky Hurst, a neighbour against the plans, praised both councillors, adding: “Kathy has been helpful as this has now gone to the Planning Inspectorate. She has been very helpful in getting me to understand the process.”
However, the Liberal Democrats say they are doing better than expected in areas of the ward where Conservative votes have traditionally been stronger.
Dr Phil Waterfield said they had had a lot of people vote Liberal Democrat for the first time and want to see a change. While national issues came up, he said, “it’s local issues as well. It’s things like the state of the roads, the potholes. There’s also greenbelt developments and then Whitfield Common which has been left totally neglected.
“We’ve been getting a good response. When you’re knocking on people’s doors you never quite know the response you’re going to get.”
Wirral Labour were also approached for comment.
The list of candidates in Heswall:
Sophia Ballantyne (Labour)
Elizabeth Brame (Liberal Democrats)
Graham Davies (Conservatives)
Andrew Chapman Hodson (Conservatives)
Kathy Hodson (Conservatives)
David Jones (Liberal Democrats)
Donna Lyons-Whearty (For Future’s Sake – Freedom Alliance)
Michael Royden (Labour)
Jimmy Sergi (Labour)
Philip Waterfield (Liberal Democrats)
Images: Ed Barnes