With 23 councillors deciding not to put their names up for re-election in Bridgend, there is an uncertainty over which way some wards in the county borough might go in this year’s local government elections.
The Welsh Conservatives are hopeful of holding on to the gains they made in 2017, whilst independent candidates are predicted to mount a more serious challenge to Labour.
Boundary changes, confirmed last year, have further complicated the picture for Bridgend. The number of wards in the county borough has now reduced from 39 to 28.
Here is a look at some of the key areas in Bridgend where the elections on May 5 could be won and lost.
Blackmill could see a re-run of the closely fought battle between Labour’s Hywel Williams and independent James McKay in 2017. Back then, Mr Williams won by 77 votes and went on to become a cabinet member at Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC).
Running alongside these two in Blackmill this year will be Conservative candidate Vanessa Latchem-Smith.
Bryntirion, Laleston and Merthyr Mawr
Due to boundary changes, which will come into effect during this year’s elections, Bryntirion, Laleston and Merthyr Mawr will have three seats on offer instead of two.
Pam Davies for Labour – who will not be running for re-election – and Cheryl Green for the Liberal Democrats won the two that were available in 2017, with Conservative candidate Gordon Lewis following up close behind them.
This year, Ms Green will be defending her seat in the face of sizeable competition. The Conservatives have three candidates running, including nurse and mother-of-10 Samantha Chohan, whilst Labour have two representing them in the ward. Read more about Samantha Chohan and her husband, Paul’s bid to become councillors whilst parenting 10 children here.
There will also be two independent candidates and and one Plaid Cymru candidate looking to win a seat here.
Made up of what used to be Morfa and Newcastle, Bridgend Central is one of the new wards to emerge from the boundary changes announced last year.
Competition for the two seats in Newcastle during the 2017 elections went neck and neck between Labour candidate David White, independent Tim Wood and Conservative candidate Carolyn Webster – who later became an independent herself.
Morfa was also closely fought between Labour candidates Nicole Burnett and Stuart Baldwin and independent Pete Foley. Independent candidate Steven Bletsoe, who ran unsuccessfully for a place on BCBC in 2017 and later became the Mayor of Bridgend will be running in Bridgend Central this year.
Stuart Baldwin will be running for re-election alongside David White, and with six independents and Conservatives – three of each – running for the three available seats it is expected to be a tight contest.
Conservative candidate Matthew Voisey will be the only person looking to defend his seat in Oldcastle this year after fellow party member Lyn Walters decided not to stand for re-election.
In 2017, the former Conservatives group leader at BCBC and Ms Walters won the two seats available by 560 and 587 votes respectively. This year, Bridgend town councillor and mayoral consort Freya Bletsoe will be looking to instigate a Conservatives loss alongside fellow Bridgend County Independent-supported candidate Ian Williams.
Caerau will certainly be one ward to keep an eye on during the elections in May. The ward has been at the centre of an inflammatory saga that has seen residents and councillors fighting for action over shoddy insulation work that was carried out 10 years ago.
An internal audit report found that no due diligence checks were evidenced in BCBC contracting a company called Green Renewables Wales Ltd. (GRW) to carry out insulation installations on 25 properties.
Phil White, who was the Director of GRW and a BCBC councillor for Caerau at the time, died last year. You can read more about the findings of the internal audit report here.
Two seats are now waiting to be claimed in the ward – as opposed to the three that were available prior to the boundary changes – and with another Labour councillor, Gareth Howells, deciding not to run for re-election, it is far from clear to tell which way Caerau could swing.
Labour’s Paul Davies and independent candidate Chris Davies, who won the Caerau byelection after the late Mr White’s seat became available, will be running for re-election. One other independent, Matthew Rowlands, and Labour candidate Robert Lewis will also be challenging for the two available seats – as will two Conservative candidates, Lee Williams and Michael Day, and Plaid Cymru’s Kyle Duggan.
Election agent for Bridgend County Independent-supported candidates, David Unwin, said he believed some of the newly created wards, like those in Brackla could go “any way”.
“In my view, 11 [wards] will be very closely contested and the spotlight will be [on] how well the independents do against Labour with the Conservatives trailing and other parties virtually nowhere,” said Mr Unwin, who is also standing as an independent candidate in Pyle, Kenfig Hill and Cefn Cribwr.
“The make up of the council, with all the boundary changes and minor seat reductions will be fascinating.”
On the potential threat of independent candidates, Labour’s Huw David, said: “There has always been independents running and what we are picking up from the doorstep is that there is still support for the Conservatives.
“We have got a really strong range of candidates across the county borough and the Conservatives were the party with the big gains in the last election. That is where a lot of our focus will be and a lot of multi member wards have that Conservative-Labour contest.”
Mr David, who became Council Leader at BCBC after the 2017 elections, said wards to keep an eye on include those that have swung between Labour and the Conservatives in the past, like Pen-y-Fai and Oldcastle.
He added: “We anticipate those seats to be hard fought again this time.
“We are certainly finding on the doorstep that it is still very much a contest in those places between Labour and Conservative.”
Conservative regional Senedd Member for South Wales West, Tom Giffard, said he felt like the party was “flying blind” going into the election and that the result will be “difficult to predict” due to the recent boundary changes.
On this year’s prospects he added: “Five years ago was our best result so we do want to hold on [to our gains]. [It] would be a huge success.”
When asked if he was concerned about voter confidence in the Conservatives being affected by Prime Minister Boris Johnson having broke Covid-19 rules, Mr Giffard said: “This is a local election about local issues. When I have gone around knocking doors, people overwhelmingly raised local issues and I think that is what local elections should be fought on.”