Beds, Herts & Bucks

Buckinghamshire elections dominated by high-speed rail

Highspeed train
Image caption High Speed Rail is a key issue in the Buckinghamshire election

Wherever you turn in Buckinghamshire, whichever road you drive down, there is only one issue which really dominates - high-speed rail.

The roads are lined with posters and banners opposing the rail line, which will carry passengers from London to Birmingham at speeds of up to 250mph (402km/h).

A decision on the project was made nearly a year and a half ago, yet the scheme and the fight against it is playing a crucial part in the local elections.

Buckinghamshire County Council has been Tory-run for more than 100 years and the party continues to have a large majority, holding 44 seats.

The Liberal Democrats has 11 seats and there is an Independent and a Labour councillor, though he was originally elected as a Tory and defected at the start of the year.

HS2 fight

The council has pledged £500,000 over three years to fight HS2.

Some have questioned if it is right to use council taxpayers' money to launch judicial reviews over the scheme.

However, Martin Tett, the leader of the council, says there is merit in local councils getting involved.

"I think it is right and proper that when you have something that's being promoted by national government, that is so detrimental to this county, that will do irreparable harm to this county in perpetuity, then if we are not there to support residents and if necessary oppose the government then what are we here for?," he said.

However, Avril Davies, acting leader of the Lib Dems, said there was growing concern about the amount of money being spent on the fight.

"We voted originally for the first tranche of money, but as a group now we do have wobbles about the appropriateness of spending taxpayers' money," she said.

"Judicial reviews haven't been very successful, we need to take stock and think about where we go next."

Both the Green Party and UKIP are also opposed to HS2.

The Green Party says there is no business case, whilst UKIP has put candidates in all seats on an anti-HS2 ticket.

Labour says the decision is made and it is time to make the best of it.

Mike Padmore, deputy chairman of Labour in Buckinghamshire, says the economic aspects of the project could benefit the county.

"We have got to look at the national perspective," he said. "We do need a new line between the north and the south.

"High-speed lines are the solution to our economic development throughout the country."

State of the roads

Image caption BBC Three Counties Radio hosted a debate ahead of the election

Investment is needed in the road system in Buckinghamshire, which the council admits requires as much as £300m of funding.

Mr Tett blames a cap on the spending given to the county by the previous government for the main roads having fallen into such a state of disrepair.

The Lib Dems said they would borrow money to sort out the problem properly rather than patching up potholes.

Labour's Mr Padmore says the county seems to be in a "constant state of needing to repair the roads".

UKIP chairman Chris Adams, said he had heard of cyclists crashing into potholes and that some resemble bunkers.

The council said it has already spent £30m addressing immediate concerns and has allocated another £50m to be spent resurfacing roads.

Calvert incinerator

The other key factor which divides the parties is the county council's plans for a large incinerator in Calvert, which would deal with all of the county's waste.

The council said it would save £1m a month in landfill fees.

Ms Davies said another incinerator planned for Bedfordshire would have been sufficient for Buckinghamshire's waste, and the money should be spent on roads instead.

Labour says it is old technology and will see much of its waste imported from outside the county, yet the Conservatives say it is the only solution and that waste has to go somewhere.

UKIP said there should have been a referendum on it and questioned the council's motives in approving its contract with the developer just days before the election.

Broadband, cycling and social care

The parties have their own priorities other than these key issues.

The Tories want to maintain council tax freezes, introduce superfast-broadband and maintain the selective education system.

The Lib Dems want more youth centres, better cycle paths and to prevent further expansion of Luton Airport.

Labour wants to ensure the changes to the health system locally are safe for residents and would increase social care facilities, whilst UKIP says it will cut council chief salaries.

The Green Party does not rule out building on the greenbelt, a contentious issue in leafy Buckinghamshire, but said it would ensure brownfield sites were developed ahead of countryside where possible.

It is hard to see anything beyond a Conservative council come the count on 3 May, though even the Tories admit it could see some seats fall to the other parties.

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