Never before have there been such concerted efforts by anti-development groups to change the political and planning landscape in their local authorities.

The elections on Thursday, 2 May, were always going to be important to all political parties as it is the year when the largest number of “all-out” elections take place as every councillor has to face being re-elected. Also there are numerous contests in councils where a third of all councillors are up for re-election.

In a veritable “mini” General Election millions of voters will have an opportunity to cast their votes.

The last time these seats were contested was in 2015, on the day that David Cameron rode into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister with an overall majority. The turnout in local elections were therefore unusually high, with averages of 78% in the rural areas.

As there was such a swing to Conservatives in the General Election, this was reflected in voting patterns in the local elections so Conservatives won seats they would never have dreamed of taking. The year of 2015 was therefore a high watermark for them.

How things have changed, not just since 2015 but from two years ago. On Thursday, 4 May 2017 the Conservatives had their best showing in local government elections for 40 years. On that day Conservative Tim Bowles became the first Mayor of the West of England by 4,377 votes and fellow Tory Andy Street became the Mayor of the West Midlands by 3,766 votes, no mean feat in an electorate where at that time 21 of the West Midlands parliamentary seats were held by Labour.

Political parties were agreed at the time that “The Theresa May effect” influenced the voting, especially in the knife-edge successful Tory conquests in the Tees Valley, West Midlands and the West of England.

Governments always expect local elections to be used as a barometer of the public feeling’s on how they have performed.

So, Conservatives are feeling more than uncomfortable on a number of issues. The handling of Brexit may not have been in the headlines in the last couple of weeks, but it still comes up on the doorsteps. Along with this comes “The Theresa May effect” which is now seen as a negative with Conservative constituency chairmen wanting her to go soon. Some party members are talking about spoiling their ballot papers and refusing to campaign.

Conservatives nationally are pointing to the fact that Conservative councils are better value for money as council tax is higher in Labour controlled councils. So, whilst historically Government parties complain that people vote on national issues in local elections, these elections are prominently featuring local issues. The big local issue is planning, very often an unpopular draft Local Plan where objectors have formed themselves into action groups to take on the traditional political parties.

A case in point is on the Prime Minister’s home turf of Maidenhead, which is part of The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, where an unpopular draft Local Plan has been considered by an inspector and sent back to the council to review.

After contentious committee and council meetings, some Conservative Party councillors resigned the whip, sat as independents and then formed themselves into The Borough First Party, which is highly critical of the draft Local Plan and the running of the council generally. This new group is fielding 19 candidates and has allies in other wards.

The Conservatives currently have a large majority and gained control from the Liberal Democrats in 2007, who had two spells of running the council and for a number of years it was a no overall control authority. The council membership will be reduced from 57 to 41 on 2 May and this year’s contests are being fought on new boundaries so this is an added political dimension.

It is a similar situation in Guildford, where the Conservatives hold 31 of the 48 council seats. In 2015 the Guildford Greenbelt Group contested a handful of seats and they have three of the current seats. A new group, “Residents for Guildford and Villages” was formed in January 2019 with the aim of encouraging more residents to support or stand as Independents. “Residents for Guildford and Villages,” who complain that “the council’s strategy has been to prioritise huge development around the villages in the Green Belt,” are fielding 17 candidates and Guildford Greenbelt Group have six candidates in most of the 22 wards.

In neighbouring Mole Valley, the political tallies are even closer with 21 Conservatives, 14 Liberal Democrats and six Independents, giving the Conservatives an overall majority of one. But, even before election day, the Tories have lost a seat as they failed to put up a candidate in Bookham North. The Greens are making a challenge too.

Objections to the draft Local Plan in Tonbridge and Malling has prompted the Greens to field 10 candidates and they are campaigning particularly about the council selling off public green space.

The Greens and Liberal Democrats are making concerted efforts in Solihull, where even in the “Mayfair of the Midlands,” Conservatives are expecting losses, largely because of Brexit. Under the draft Local Plan some Green Belt land will be lost in an authority where 66% of the land is Green Belt.

Over in South Oxfordshire, the draft Local Plan now with Mr Brokenshire’s department, has not only been unpopular with residents but also with some Conservative councillors, who voted against it going out to public consultation last December and were suspended from the party. Most of these members are now not standing again. The Liberal Democrats have done a deal with the Greens on not standing against each other.

In other areas established political parties who had previously controlled the local authority are making determined bids, often complaining about a lack of infrastructure accompanying new housing. An example of this in the Vale of White Horse where the Liberal Democrats are aiming to regain seats in Abingdon, Grove and Wantage.

Likewise, in Bath and North-East Somerset, the Liberal Democrats, buoyed by two by-elections wins from the Conservatives and the regaining of the Bath parliamentary seat in 2017, are pushing to take further political scalps.

Boundary changes in South Gloucestershire, where the number of councillors is being reduced from 70 to 61, may have an impact on the result, although the Conservatives are expected to retain control.

With a likely swing away from the Conservatives, Swindon (with Conservatives having a majority of just one is likely to go to no overall control) and Milton Keynes is expected to remain without a majority party.

The parties are agreed on three things – there will be a reduced turnout and with the public having little time for politicians, apathy will reign, and this could help the minor parties. Further, it could be a long wait for the results. With a shortage of council election staff and some councils’ budgets hard pressed, the counting of votes for the districts and unitary authorities will not begin until 9 am on Friday with some town and village contests being counted on Saturday.

Elections were due this year in the four districts within Buckinghamshire, but these were cancelled as Buckinghamshire will have an all-purpose county authority next year.

In all, some 8,425 seats in 248 local authorities across England are being contested. When they were last fought the Conservatives took 4,906 and took control of 140 local authorities.