Official opposition at Barnsley Council changes days after election as political groups join forces

A new ‘official’ political opposition group has been formed in Barnsley just days after it appeared the Conservatives had been ousted from that position by the Lib Dems.

By Paul Whitehouse
Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 9:26 am
Updated Monday, 11th November 2019, 11:23 am

Last week’s elections saw the four strong Conservative group lose one seat and the Lib Dems, which previously had just one councillor, gain three to put them in the position as Barnsley Council’s second largest political grouping.

But independent councillors, along with two elected as Democrats and Veterans, have formed an alliance which makes them a six-strong group, meaning they leapfrog the Lib Dems and will be recognised as the official opposition to the controlling Labour group.

The new group is made up of three existing councillors from the Barnsley Independent Group, along with Coun Sam Danforth who stood in the Dearne South ward as an independent and has now joined BIG, along with the two councillors giving the Democrats and Veterans their first representation on Barnsley Council.

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They are Victoria Fulton, elected to the Monk Bretton ward where Margaret Sheard lost her seat for Labour and Trevor Smith in the Darfield ward, beating Dorothy Coates as sitting councillor for Labour.

The new grouping means the authority has only one independent councillor not part of a group, Jake Lodge who took the Worsbrough seat from Labour’s Roya Poulari.

Coun Phillip Birkinshaw is leader of the BIG group and represents the Dodworth ward, where Labour lost a seat to the Lib Dems.

He said the new group would work together where it was to the benefit of constituents and said: “We have been co-operating during the election.”

The BIG group has been much larger in the past and was formed to provide a global identity for independent councillors, he said: “We are still independents, we have never had a party whip. Everyone is free to vote in the best interests of the electorate the represent. We try to support each other.”

Penny Pie Park, the urban green space destined to be taken up for a new gyratory ring road between the town centre and M1 at junction 37 is in Coun Birkinshaw’s ward and the Lib Dem’s campaigned hard against the council’s decision to go ahead with the project.

He said: “I was responsible for naming it Penny Pie Park; I got the Section 106 money put forward for the equipment in there; I was instrumental in setting up the ‘friends’ group who have done all the cleaning up.

“I am very sorry to lose the area as a working park. Having said that, I live on Broadway and we do have a tremendous traffic problem.”

He blamed the traffic generated by Horizon College, built on the site of an old SR Gents sewing factory, for compounding existing congestion.

“We did protest vociferously about the school being located there. They insisted it went there and it went through. It has created a major problem.

“There are several other upcoming projects which will increase traffic substantially in the area.

“The gyratory is the best solution they have come up with but I am not convinced it is the ideal solution,” he said.

Pinch points around the M1 and Townend would only be solved by an orbital road, looping around the most densely occupied areas close to the town centre, which had been discussed decades earlier but dropped on funding grounds, he said.