Leeds local elections 2023: What the Social Democratic Party is promising as it attacks council 'war on cars'

As the 2023 council elections draw near, our series with local party leaders continues with a look at the key campaign issues for the Social Democratic Party’s candidates in Leeds.
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The Social Democratic Party (SDP) is taking aim at the political establishment, as it tries to build on its success in last year’s local elections in Leeds. The SDP caused an upset in the 2022 polls by winning its first council seat in the city since its 1980s heyday and is hopeful of making further gains next month.

Coun Wayne Dixon, who is overseeing the party in Leeds, has re-iterated calls for a “back to basics” approach in delivering council services and claimed the Labour-run local authority is pursuing a “war on cars”. Interviewed ahead of the May 4 election, Coun Dixon criticised the powers-that-be for making it too difficult for Leeds residents to access the heart of the city.

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“We talk about having a strong economy in Leeds and we’ve killed the city centre because we can’t get there,” he said. “The transport into the city centre is poor. Buses are getting cut left, right and centre and we’ve still no mass transit system, wich we’ve been promised for decades. I don’t just blame Labour locally for that, I blame the national government as well, because they’re all complicit. Even the Liberal Democrats are too because they were in power as well, in 2010. That’s my frustration with the big parties, because they all talk a good game, but when it comes down to it, none of them actually want to do anything. A lot of it is [a lack of] willingness to do it.”

Coun Wayne Dixon wants to see the council taking a 'back to basics' approach. Picture: Local Democracy Reporting ServiceCoun Wayne Dixon wants to see the council taking a 'back to basics' approach. Picture: Local Democracy Reporting Service
Coun Wayne Dixon wants to see the council taking a 'back to basics' approach. Picture: Local Democracy Reporting Service

The SDP has argued for buses and trains to be brought back into public ownership, a policy also supported by Leeds’ Green Party and the local Labour administration. But Coun Dixon claimed that moves such as the recent introduction of bus gates in the city centre – which have closed off some streets to private vehicles – had “messed the city up”.

Echoing similar remarks made publicly by one local Lib Dem earlier this year, Councillor Dixon added: “There’s a war on cars at the moment, which I don’t really get. I get the need to clean up pollution but the war on cars shouldn’t be a war on cars. It should be about converting people to electric and how we do that. For me, first things first, you have to get the basics right. The basics for me would have been having a mass transit system first before you start blocking cars.”

Social housing policy has been made a priority by the SDP nationally, with the party calling for a heavy tax on developers to fund the building of 100,000 new council properties every year. Coun Dixon also called for a tougher stance on nuisance bikers, who have been causing noise and misery to communities across east and south Leeds over the last year. He criticised the Labour administration for cutting funding for local PCSOs – a decision Labour says has been forced by its chronic cash shortage.

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Coun Dixon, who is one of just two SDP councillors across the UK, added: “We’ve got bikes zig-zagging up and down our roads at the minute. I accept that’s a police issue, but we’re a party that wants to do something about it and it doesn’t seem to me that the other parties do.”

Asked if he thought the recent introduction of on-the-spot £100 fines for nuisance bikers could tackle the problem, Coun Dixon replied: “It’s fine if you’ve got the enforcement, but I don’t see the enforcement. I think the council could fund PCSOs for a start. Even if they’re just on the streets and reassuring people, it’s a start. They’re not doing that. That’s an own goal, especially when the Labour Party are shouting tough on law and order, and then they refuse to be tough on law and order themselves.”

Coun Dixon criticised the Conservative government for the scale of “damaging” cuts to local authority budgets, but suggested Labour locally needed to be “more savvy” with the cash. He also expressed scepticism about spending on Leeds’ Year of Culture, while annual events such as Bonfire Night displays will no longer be funded by the city council. “To say we’re spending money on culture and then we’re cutting the main cultural events is just bonkers,” he said. “Leeds 23 as a whole, I just think it’s loads of short-term jobs. When that money goes, what happens to those people? I don’t think there’ll be any legacy. It’s just a bit disappointing.”

Read the interviews with the Lib Dem and Green Party leaders in our politics section.

SDP in numbers

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Current seats on Leeds City Council: 1/99 (7th largest party)

Number of candidates standing in 2023 local elections: 13 (out of 33 wards)

Year first SDP councillor elected in Leeds: 1982

SDP candidates standing in your area

Ardsley and Robin Hood – Daniel Paul Whetstone

Beeston and Holbeck – Nigel Perry

Bramley and Stanningley – Richard David Riley

Burmantofts and Richmond Hill – Paul Anthony Whetstone

Chapel Allerton – Sasha Samantha Holdsworth Watson

Farnley and Wortley – Jack Michael Bellfield

Hunslet and Riverside – Thomas Peter Fisher

Middleton Park – Emma Louise Pogson-Golden

Morley North – Richard Thomas Cowles

Morley South – Andrew Alexander Martin

Rothwell – Sarah Jane Wellbourne

Temple Newsam – Wendy Vivienne Whetstone

Weetwood – Rob Walker