Metro Mayor Election: Candidates for the West of England

Last year, councils in Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire voted in favour of shifting power from central government to a more local level. As a result, the new West of England Combined Authority was established in February 2017, led by the newly created role of ‘Metro Mayor’, a new elected leadership position for the region.

In a previous YIMBY blog post reporting on the challenges facing the West of England area, London think tank, the Resolution Foundation identified the housing crisis as one of the greatest challenges that the Metro Mayor will have to prioritise in office. With Metro Mayoral elections on the 4th of May fast approaching, there’s not much time left to figure out where the candidates stand on this issue.

Who’s who?

All the candidates have now been announced and the latest betting odds for the election have been published which show Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams and the Conservatives’ Tim Bowles as the clear favourites in a race to be the first West of England Metro Mayor.

The full list of candidates are; Former Bristol West MP Stephen Williams for the Lib Dems, B&NES parish councillor Lesley Mansell for the Labour Party, South Gloucestershire Councillor Tim Bowles for the Conservative Party, Aaron Foot for UKIP, and Darren Hall for the Green Party.

The latest to enter the race is Dr John Savage who is a Bristol-based businessman. Dr Savage is well known in the Bristol area for his roles as chairman of the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust and executive chairman of Bristol Chamber of Commerce. He was also amongst the panel discussing the future Metro Mayor at the Resolution Foundation event held earlier this year.

Views on housebuilding?

Hoping to capitalise on the Lib Dem fightback that has gathered pace since Brexit, Stephen Williams has made a bold pledge to set up a joint house building company between the three local councils in order to build homes for sale and private sector rent. The surplus is to be invested towards homes for social rent. He also intends to review the West of England’s regional spatial plan so that new homes will be built primarily in existing urban areas, including preventing Bristol from extending north of the M4. New homes will only be added to country towns and villages when adequate public transport is in place. 

Conservative candidate Tim Bowles claims that, if elected, he will “adopt a better approach to development – so the right homes are built in the right places”. It can be assumed that this means, similarly to Stephen Williams, a presumption in favour of building primarily in urban brownfield sites. Considering that much of the core Conservative vote Tim Bowles relies on will come from the rural areas and in particular South Gloucestershire, the protection of greenbelt will be key to establishing himself as the rural champion of the candidates. Further pitching his campaign towards the rural vote, Bowles states that “A Central Bristol, Labour dominated agenda has resulted in communities like ours having to take development but not get the infrastructure to match”.

Outside the favourites to win, Labour’s candidate Lesley Mansell has highlighted that, if elected, she would “build more social housing and affordable, homes, focusing on the areas of greatest need” and aims to build “at least 4,000 homes – 1,200 affordable – a year across the West of England by 2021.” If this seems familiar it is because this pledge is following the same successful formula of Labour’s successful Bristol Mayoral campaign in 2016 where Marvin Rees pledged 2,000 new homes a year by 2020, including 800 affordable. 

Independent candidate John Savage focuses on not only building more homes to counteract the housing crisis but also building houses for future generations to come which include the right transport links and essential services and public facilities.

The Green Party’s Darren Hall and UKIP’s Aaron foot, both have little to say on housing compared to the other candidates at this point and are more on the periphery of the election. Though Hall states online that he believes more brownfield sites can be freed up for development by demolishing poorly designed and dilapidated buildings.

A two-horse race?

It’s to no surprise that the Liberal Democrats and Conservative candidates are the clear favourites considering Stephen Williams’ experience in Westminster during the coalition and the Conservatives’ current form in the polls. However, there is still a chance for a few surprises. If the turnout for the election is as low as expected, the result could go to the party that can encourage its voters to the polling station the most.