Hoylake can often be a fairly predictable part of Wirral Council’s elections, but this year everything is different.
John Ellis, an Independent, is standing on a ‘save the beach’ platform which could throw a spanner in the works of a part of Wirral which has been true-blue Conservative territory in recent years.
This is hugely important not just for the Hoylake and Meols ward, but for the whole borough, as every Wirral seat matters in a council which is balanced on a knife-edge.
Labour currently leads the council, but does not have a majority, meaning other parties can outvote it if they work together. The party is under pressure from the Greens in Birkenhead and from the Tories in Pensby and Thingwall, but Mr Ellis could split the pro-sandy beach vote in Hoylake creating another intriguing contest in the borough.
Since 2019, when Wirral Council stopped all maintenance of the beach after it was slated for spraying it with glyphosate, a passionate local debate has opened up. Local Conservative councillors have sided with the sandy beach argument, while Labour has favoured a natural beach.
While many other issues interest voters in Hoylake and Meols, the beach has been an incredibly loud and vociferous debate. It could see voters move in different ways to their traditional allegiances and with a new candidate in the mix it is all to play for in the seaside town.
Here’s what each candidate has to say on the issues that matter going into the crunch vote on May 5.
John Ellis (Independent)
Mr Ellis said: “I have decided to stand as an independent candidate in order to give the voters of Hoylake, Meols and Central West Kirby an opportunity to have their say on the state of the beach. The beach used to be a wonderful amenity for local people and visitors alike.
“At present it is turning into a swampy mess that is unusable by people who would like to walk, picnic, exercise or build sandcastles. It [why I am running] is because the adversarial nature of local politics means that whatever is proposed by the Conservatives is usually ignored by the ruling Labour group.
“An example of this was when the Conservatives presented a large petition on behalf of Hoylake Beach Community. As far as I can tell this petition has not made any progress. The Conservative councillors also have a very low rate of activity regarding activity representing their constituents.
“I would hope to be able to have a more measured approach to the issue of the beach, hopefully negotiating with Natural England and other bodies to see what can be done. If elected I would not be a single issue councillor and intend to hold regular surgeries to represent issues that constituents may have with council matters.
“I would not take the councillors allowance for personal use, making regular donations to local charities after expenses.”
Tony Cox (Conservatives)
Cllr Cox did not respond to a request for comment. But last month, Cllr Tom Anderson, leader of the Conservatives on Wirral Council, set out the party’s stall for the upcoming elections.
Cllr Anderson said: “The Labour-led council’s finances have been a mess for over a decade. Two independent reports laid bare the irresponsible financial decisions taken by successive Labour councillors.
“£7m spent on the Vue cinema and funding vanity projects such as the failed Hoylake Golf Resort to build on Wirral’s green belt. Then paying £500,000 to the developer to get out of their contract which Conservative councillors, local campaigners and residents told them was an expensive folly.
“The latest incarnation of creating a local authority run bank costing taxpayers £5m, has now thankfully died a death. Local Conservatives will protect our green belt. This is why we proposed the Local Plan at a recent council committee meeting which has only brownfield sites listed for development.
“These local elections will decide what type of Wirral we want. Local Conservatives’ priority is to have a clean, green and pleasant environment for all our residents to enjoy.
“We will use the £100m given from government to level up Wirral, creating highly skilled jobs, attracting new businesses so our children don’t have to find employment out of the area. We will protect the local services which all our residents rely upon and the council exists to provide, such as maintaining our roads and pavements, keeping our streets clean and free from litter, cutting the grass across the borough and protecting our most vulnerable residents.”
David Sindall (Labour)
Mr Sindall said: “Some of the candidates focus on Hoylake beach, often at the detriment of other areas. The management of the beach itself isn’t really coming up as an issue on the doorstep.
“People are saying, however, they are tired of the divisive politics around the beach. They want councillors who are positive about the local area and will champion this area on the council.
“We live in a fantastic place, with a wealth of bustling independent businesses and a friendly, welcoming community. We have excellent community groups here, putting up Christmas lights, organising family events and running volunteer organisations.
“To borrow an old phrase, as a community there is more that unites us than divides us. That’s why I love living here and that’s the feedback that I’ve been getting on the doorstep.
“The other key thing that I have been hearing from a lot of residents about is the cost of living crisis. People are genuinely worried about how they will pay their bills and feed their families. We have a higher than average proportion of elderly people here, and many are concerned by fuel bills doubling this year.
“This is a direct result of the Conservative government allowing energy companies to lift the price cap. Wirral Labour is trying to mitigate the worst of this – at the budget this year they voted to turn the heating down in council buildings and ringfence money to help those most in need.”
Alix Cockcroft (Green Party)
Ms Cockcroft said: “As a scientist I fully endorse the scientific view of this issue. The beach should be allowed to develop naturally, which in time would lead to sand-dunes forming, the normal environment for this part of the coast.
“Raking off vegetation only frees the sand to blow in over the promenade, a problem which has developed over decades as the Hoyle Lake has gradually filled up with millions of tons of sand. There should be a presumption of refurbishment rather than destruction and rebuilding, the current oversized and dominant building being attached to the back of the old Town Hall being a good illustration of an ugly intrusion.
“There is scope for redundant retail buildings being converted into residential properties with care. Green belt should not be built on.
“It should have been possible to reduce the size of the recent budget cuts and the council needs to be much more proactive in raising funds, as Warrington has done through bonds issued to fund solar farms, and spending them locally on procurement, as Preston has done.”
Peter Reisdorf (Liberal Democrats)
Mr Reisdorf said: “I regret that the whole issue of the beach has divided the community so deeply and I would have hoped that there could have been a compromise that would leave part of the beach as a leisure area. That seems unlikely now.
“The beach has been unmanaged for so long that getting rid of the grass from even a small area now would be incredibly difficult. It will be even more difficult when the council implements a new management plan next year after the consultation process.”
Mr Reisdorf added: “One thing has puzzled me and that is the campaigners’ emphasis on the council. As I understand it, whatever the council decides to do about beach management at Hoylake, including if they decide to do nothing, has to be approved by Natural England. If the council wants to do something that Natural England disapproves of then it won’t happen. It seems to me that Natural England will make the final decision.”
He continued: “Single issue candidates concern me, as whoever is elected will have to deal with a whole range of issues, not just that one. It’s quite clear where Liberal Democrats stand on issues like the Labour/Tory council budget, which could see nine libraries, two golf courses and a sports centre closed. Liberal Democrats opposed the budget.”