HYPER-LOCAL parties have been making their mark on the region's political landscape in recent years. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN asks why these new groups have been so successful.

NEW hyper-local parties have been popping up across the region over the last two years and enjoying immediate success.

A total of seven councillors on Bolton Council, more than 10 per cent, now belong to these independent groups.

Their votes were decisive when the Conservatives took over the local authority for the first time in 40 years, ending decades of Labour dominance.

Meanwhile, over the border, another hyper-local party, Radcliffe First, won its second seat at Bury Council last month, beating Labour at a by-election in a traditionally red stronghold.

But the story started in Farnworth when a "political earthquake" shook the ruling Labour group to its very core.

Cllr Paul Sanders won a by-election for Farnworth and Kearsley First in March 2018, only six months after the party formed.

He said: "Many people in Farnworth and Kearsley simply feel that they were taken for granted by Labour councillors year after year and that our towns didn’t receive a fair-share of political attention or funding.

"Time has proven that being part of a bigger council has simply not worked; on Labour’s watch our services and indeed identity were being stripped away in favour of the town of Bolton. Labour’s decades of failings were the catalyst for local people to come together to form their own successful political parties to do the hard work."

The party's success only grew as it took another two seats in May, leaving it with as many councillors as UKIP and the Lib Dems.

Cllr Maureen Flitcroft, who was elected in Farnworth last year, said that peripheral towns have been neglected ever since the metropolitan borough system was introduced in the 1970s.

She said: "Far from preserving the rich heritage of towns like Farnworth, ruling parties – mainly Labour – have seemingly sought to destroy our towns’ identities in favour of a 'bigger Bolton'. Local residents, through Farnworth and Kearsley First Party, are changing this."

Labour no longer have any seats in Farnworth or Kearsley as the hyper-local group won another two seats at the last election in May.

Cllr Paul Heslop, who won a seat in Kearsley with a whopping majority of 1,847 votes, says it is now time for a complete overhaul of local government.

He has also taken issue with what he calls the "Manchesterisation" of the region, predicting the creation of a "Bolton First" movement to counteract this.

One of the party's founding members, Cllr Heslop claims that boroughs outside of Manchester and Salford are increasingly referred to as "districts" in regional political discourse.

He said: “I think people from towns like Bolton are going to get fed up that they are going to get soaked up by Manchester.”

READ MORE: 'People were just fed up': ex-Labour councillor on rise of hyper-local parties

Elsewhere in the borough, Horwich and Blackrod First Independents came out on top in both wards their candidates fought for in the last election.

The party, which started out as an online community group, was officially recognised by the Electoral Commission only months before the vote.

The group's leader, Cllr Marie Brady, told The Bolton News that the party formed because, she believes, local councillors were not listening to the people they were elected to represent.

She said: "The success of hyper-local parties is largely due to traditional mainstream parties putting their party first and ignoring what is going on locally. Hyper-local parties do the opposite, we put the needs of the community we live in first, and act on those needs.

"We fully understand that in a council representing an entire borough, we will always be a minority but the success of hyper-locals is changing the mainstream parties. They now acknowledge their failure to listen and ignore parts of the borough was a mistake."

Hyper-local parties are making ground in two of the borough's town councils too.

The new independent groups now have 16 seats at Horwich and Westhoughton town councils, representing the districts of Bolton.

Westhoughton First Independents leader Jack Speight said that voters are "sick of Labour" and described the new hyper-local parties as a "breath of fresh air" at town councils.

He said: "People are not daft. If we can get someone representing us and put the community first then that's what we want. "

Just over one month after they were recognised as a party by the electoral commission, the newly-established Westhoughton First Independents claimed five seats in May.

Horwich and Blackrod First Independents also had a hugely successful election, with the party taking 11 in total.

One of the group's founders, Cllr Steven Chadwick said that despite the local dynamic, there is a bigger national picture at play.

He said: "There is simply a lack of trust in politics, particularly with the mainstream parties."

But the Labour leader, Cllr Linda Thomas, blames the national picture for what has happened in Bolton and neighbouring councils.

The ex-council leader who was ousted in May points to austerity, which has led to the local authority losing around £1bn over a decade, as the main reason why voters feel disillusioned with party politics.

She said: "Families have become poorer due to wage freezes and tough welfare changes. Neighbourhoods have understandably felt neglected as councils have had to responsibly prioritise services for the most vulnerable.

"Sadly some parts of the borough have suffered more than others which has made it easier for the local independents’ offer of putting their part of the town first to receive help become very attractive. It is always easier to criticize from the sidelines."

Labour is still the largest party in Bolton with 23 councillors despite losing seven seats, mostly to hyper-local party candidates, earlier this year.

The Conservatives now control the council despite only having 20 seats out of a possible 60. The new administration relied on votes from the hyper-local parties, Lib Dems and UKIP to take control.