Express & Star

Green belt vow after Tories maintain grip in South Staffordshire

A council leader said the Tories had bucked the national trend in South Staffordshire after holding their own in the local elections.

Tory winners in Wombourne South – Mike Davis, Mark Evans and Vincent Merrick – celebrate the results

Councillor Roger Lees said the Conservatives had been left with a "strong working majority" as he vowed to press on with his plans for the district.

And he revealed he had spoken with Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove in a bid for clarity over protecting the green belt – a key issue in last week's elections.

The Conservatives finished on 29 seats, a reduced majority of 16 which was partly offset as the number of councillors was reduced from 49 to 42 following boundary changes.

It was in stark contrast to the national picture and elsewhere in Staffordshire, where the Conservatives suffered heavy defeats.

Councillor Lees told the Star: "We have bucked the trend.

"Overall there is hardly any difference than there was before following the boundary review. We're may be about three short, but we've still got a strong working majority.

"We did a lot of hard work and ran a good social media campaign, which appears to have been successful.

"But we will not rest on our laurels. We will keep moving forward with our transformational work to try and give our residents an effective, efficient and value for money service concentrating on strong finances, strong communities and strong council. We are in a good position."

Conservative council leader Roger Lees

Councillor Lees also revealed he had held talks with the Prime Minister and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove regarding protecting the green belt.

The issue has been a key one over the past few years, with the council facing criticism after swathes of green fields were put forward for development due to local planning obligations.

The plans have been paused since January pending fresh guidance from ministers, which is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Councillor Lees said: "I think they fully understand the problems we have got. We will do everything we can to protect the green belt.

"The problem is that current legislation says we have to hit certain housing targets – largely through a duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities – but in South Staffordshire we simply have nowhere to put them as we're 80 per cent green belt.

"We think there is going to be some changes to the duty to cooperate, which could benefit us, but we want clarity. All our work remains paused until the Government releases details of the new National Planning Policy Framework."

Mr Lees is expected to be confirmed as leader at a Tory group meeting on May 11.