Harrogate, once regarded as one of the safest Conservative parliamentary seats in the country, was shocked in 1997 when Phil Willis became MP. Sadly, the seat was lost in 2010.
With the Conservatives holding the Parliamentary seat and strengthening their control on the Council it was difficult to see how the local Liberal Democrats could break through to show that we are still a fighting force.
This year saw John Fox, an experienced campaigner and former Election Agent to Phil Willis from 1995 to 2007, become Constituency Chair and the driving force to get local Liberal Democrats campaigning again.
Campaigning concentrated on key issues which affected the residents – campaigning against wasting public money on an oversized incinerator which no-one wants, costing £18million; proposed new council offices costing £12.4m and the loss making Harrogate International Centre which through mismanagement now requires £1.5m per year subsidy.
On Thursday 15 November the Conservatives were shocked again when Liberal Democrats gained one of the Conservatives’ safest seats in Rossett ward.
The Council had just approved its Local Development Framework which identified suitable sites for future housing development. The plan allocated 680 extra houses at Cardale Park, on greenfields on the edge of Rossett ward, opposite RHS Harlow Carr, serviced by an already congested road, with no further infrastructure being considered. This was to become the key campaign issue.
David Siddans, a local resident and a retired engineer, was the Liberal Democrat candidate. David was involved with several community organisations including the Harrogate Civic Society and the Local Residents’ Association and was the ideal candidate. The Conservatives selected yet another member of the MP’s staff, who lived at the other side of Harrogate, to be their candidate.
John Fox said “Having previously stood as a candidate in this area, I decided to target specific areas where I knew Liberal Democrats resided and those residents who would be most affected by development at Cardale Park.”
The Rossett gain saw the first Liberal Democrat gain from the Conservatives in the North of England for 12 months.
Liberal Democrat 897
Swing 25.6% from Conservative to Liberal Democrat