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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL AUTHORITY STORIES IN THE NATIONAL PRESS - UPDATED 11:40HRS

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POLL GAINS FOR CONSERVATIVES AND LABOUR MEAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LOSE OUT ...
POLL GAINS FOR CONSERVATIVES AND LABOUR MEAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LOSE OUT

The Liberal Democrats have been squeezed by the revival in support for the Tories under Michael Howard since October, according to the latest Populus poll for The Times(p1). The poll shows that support for the Lib Dems has fallen for the fourth consecutive month, now standing stands at 18 per cent, down 4 points on early December, compared with a peak of 26 per cent three months ago. Since October, support for the Tories has risen by four points to 35 per cent, the same rise as for Labour, up to 40 per cent. A leaderin the paper comments on this apparent 'return to two-party politics.'

INSIDERS' VIEWS ON TOWN AND PARISH COUNCILS

The letters page of The Times(p17) carries three correspondents' thoughts on the size and function of parish councils. Former chairman of 'one of the larger parish councils,' Nigel Holmes from Carlisle, says: 'I have yet to discover where our raison d'être really lies. We have little influence and less power.' Former Stotfold town councillor Roger Finch believes: 'Parish councils are an important channel for local concerns, even with co-opted members.' Cutcombe parish council clerk Colin Stevenson believes the view that 'recent government initiatives, such as the Quality Parish Council Scheme, are opposed in small parishes does not apply everywhere.'

EXPANDING LAND OF THE CONCRETE COW

One of England's largest cities is set to emerge beside the genteel country estates and timeless villages of Buckinghamshire over the next 20 years. Under plans being prepared by a national regeneration agency for John Prescott's housing and planning department, the new town of Milton Keynes is likely to double in size and overtake cities such as Nottingham, Leicester, and perhaps Liverpool, reports The Guardian(p1).

PEOPLE GET THEIR SAY ON NEW MILTON KEYNES PARTNERSHIP COMMITTEE FOR GROWTH(ODPM)

TRAFFIC BILL DRAWS FLAK FROM ALL SIDES

MPs across the House of Commons have accused ministers of failing to appreciate the scale of the changes in its Traffic Management Bill (see LGCnet. In a heated debate on the traffic management bill, the veteran Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody raised doubts about plans to hand police powers to outsiders, reports The Guardian(p11). The Guardian(p11) also profiles one such 'outsider'. In a letter to The Guardian(p25), Public and Commercial Services union national officer John Thornton asks 'who will do this job in London?' He points out: 'The union has been told there is no future for the traffic warden service in London. Recruitment has been frozen and those that remain are being 'encouraged' to transfer to become community support officers on worse terms and conditions and with a much wider role than the important one of keeping London moving.'

LIVINGSTONE MUST PLEDGE LOYALTY TO PARTY, SAYS PRESCOTT

John Prescott will today demand loyalty guarantees from Ken Livingstone before allowing him back into the Labour Party. The deputy prime minister will be a key member of the panel that will interview the London mayor before a meeting of the party's ruling National Executive Committee in the capital. The promises sought will include a pledge not to run as an independent, not to contradict national Labour pol icy and to make his manifesto for mayor fit that of the London Labour Party, reports The Independent(p5).

MOST RECENT TRIUMPH OF 15TH CENTURY WELSH HERO

On St David's Day in 2001, a resolution to rename Aberystwyth's North Parade 'Owain Glyndwr Square' was passed by Ceredigion CC. Aberystwyth town council - and many of the town's citizens and businesses - rose up in protest at the idea and a war has raged ever since until magistrates yesterday, under the auspices of the 1925 Public Health Act, ruled that the renaming should take place, reports The Independent(p9).

FOUR MILLION CANNOT AFFORD TO PAY WATER BILLS, MPs WARN

A committee of MPs has warned that water bills are so expensive that up to four million people cannot afford to pay them, reports The Independent(p4). Increases in water and sewerage bills have been so steep in some areas of England that 'their affordability has become a threat to public health,' the House of Commons report said.

AND FINALLY ...

Road gritting crews were honoured at a series of special church services yesterday, reports The Guardian(p7). The Bishop of Lincoln and eight other clergy toured every highways depot in Lincolnshire, blessing local council lorries and reading prayers.

by assistant editor Neil Watson

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