Huntingdon election candidates answer your questions

The Hunts Post Hustings, at Huntingdon Regional College, Green Party Tom Maclellan,

The Hunts Post Hustings, at Huntingdon Regional College, Green Party Tom Maclellan, - Credit: Archant

Next month’s General Election could be the most tightly fought in decades and last Thursday (April 16) night an audience of voters at Huntingdonshire Regional College were given the opportunity to find out what the prospective parliamentary candidates for the Huntingdon seat will be offering should they be selected.

The Hunts Post set up the Hustings in partnership with HRC, and invited the five candidates who were asked to respond to seven questions posed by Hunts Post readers.

Dr Nik Johnson (Lab), Rod Cantrill (Lib Dems), Jonathan Djanogly (Con), Paul Bullen (Ukip) and Tom MacLennan (Green) took part in the Question Time-style debate, chaired by the Reverend Andrew Milton.

The 130-strong audience listened as the candidates, in turn, gave their views on family incomes, the EU, housing growth, the A14, social welfare and elderly people, Hinchingbrooke Hospital and the East Coast mainline.

The questions were posed by readers and the candidates were unaware of the subject matter until the evening.

Here we give you a run through of the questions and the candidates’ answers:

Jayne Leckie, from Huntingdon, whose question was read out by HRC principal Susanne Stent, asked: My husband has a good job in London, I work part-time from home and we have two children under the age of four. We own our own home, have a decent income yet every month we just about balance the books. Childcare costs, food bills, fuel costs and energy prices really hit people like us hard.

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What plans do each party have to support and improve the quality of life for the average working family?

Rod Cantrill (RC): Acknowledged that lots of people were struggling to make ends meet. “We will propose a further rise in the Personal Allowance. The people who can afford to pay more should pay more.”

Jonathan Djanogly (JD): “Our Government was headed towards a solution to our financial problems. Food and fuel costs have fallen rapidly and that has been a great help to people in this constituency. There are some serious issues for commuters as it affects very large number of people. Rails fares would be frozen during the next Parliament.”

Dr Nik Johnson (NJ): Made a pledge to bring about higher living standards for families. “Labour will freeze energy bills and challenge the big six energy companies and force bills down. By 2019 the Minimum Wage will be increased to £8 and the will be an increase in the level of free child care.”

Tom MacLennan (TM): “The Green Party is committed to making work pay. We don’t think people should go home absolutely wrecked by work. We want to see a £10 Minimum Wage by 2020. People should have a nice lifestyle and not be waiting for the next pay day. We want an integrated public transport system and a 10 per cent cut in rail fares.”

Paul Bullen (PB): “Politicians are out of touch. It’s disgraceful that we now have food banks in every town and city in the country. We want to bring in measures to support stay-at-home parents. Biggest problem is our debt. The current Government is not doing anything to get rid of that debt and it will be our children and grandchildren who will have to pay it back.”

Jim Lomax, of Godmanchester, asked: Should we leave the EU?

PB: “Yes. Why will the rest of the parties not give people a say? It costs £55m a day to be a member.

We can organise a free trade agreement (if we come out). There are 270 countries in the rest of the world. We lost seat on the World Trade Organisation - we would have that back.”

TM: “No, we should not leave. There are 1.8 million Brits living in Europe - if we left they would have to come back. The Green Party planning to give you a vote on the EU - we would campaign heavily to stay in. Norway’s not part of the system and still has to pay heavily into it.”

NJ: “I am English, British and also European. We get more benefit from being part of the EU, than negative.

“We benefitted from the EU working time directive – it’s only because of the EU that junior doctors not falling asleep. It (a referendum) is not a priority of a Labour government – much more important to deal with the economy and NHS. If significant change in arrangement, then there would be a referendum.”

RC: “No (we should not leave). I run a small business – the majority of my business is done with Europe. The cost of us leaving the EU is £54billion. Locally, we receive about £2bn in research grants from the EU. Would be far worse if we were alone. If not in the EU I would be out of business.”

JD: “We will renegotiate terms and whatever happens we will have an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. I’ve always taken the position that, on balance, it has worked in favour of this country and if that continues to do so we should stay in. I totally support a referendum. Switzerland has 18 separate treaties with the EU - each needs constant monitoring. Do not think if we leave the EU we will have less engagement (with it). We will have to have more engagement and no say about regulations because we will not be there at the table.”

Nick Dibben, of St Ives, asked: With major growth in housing and jobs planned for the area, what would the candidates/ political parties do to ensure there is adequate infrastructure in place to cope?

NJ: “Housing and growth is a good sign that the area is improving. We need more housing and real meaningful jobs. We need a co-ordinated transport policy for the A14. Our focus would be on education, education, education. We need more independents and co-operatives on the High Street and the development of art installations and a café culture. And why don’t we make more of the Oliver Cromwell connection in this area?”

JD: “These are key issues for the local area. Businesses are expanding and people want to come and live in this area. The vast majority of my time is spent on these issues, but it is a local success story that our area is growing and improving.”

TM: “We mustn’t lose Hinchingbrooke Hospital. I live in Alconbury and 5,000 homes are planned for Alconbury Weald, but we need to think about the primary and secondary schools and ensure there is proper infrastructure in place so that these places are not just dormitories or satellites of Cambridge.”

PB: “The current Local Plan is ill-conceived and ill-thought out. We don’t have the money to support the tens of thousands of new houses. Huntingdonshire is 26th on the Flood Risk list and if all this house-building goes ahead it will become number one on that list. If we go ahead and build new homes it should be on brown field sites. We just cannot support this many homes.”

RC: The average cost of a house in this area is £240,000. The housing growth has to be managed. We have to develop proper communities by building schools, GP surgeries, community centres. We can’t build these homes until we have developed the infrastructure.”

Melina Lafirenze, of St Neots, asked: Do you think the upgrade to the A14 is necessary or desirable given the dangerous amount of extra pollution it will create? Is there an alternative solution?

TM: “I am opposed to the A14 bypass as it stands. For people of Brampton it will be a 10-lane super-highway running past their homes. Several things I would do to Brampton Hut and Spittals Interchange to alleviate pressure. Also, we need to invest in rail. Lorries make up 30 per cent of traffic – take them off roads and put them on rail. There’s going to be insane amout of noise, light and particulate pollution.”

PB: “A14 does need an upgrade but current plan is not right one. Big problem is the pinch points - Girton, Spittals, Brampton Hut. Whoever originally designed road got it wrong. We could upgrade what we have without building new road. Need to look for solution that costs less money and gets job done quicker.”

RC: “We want sustainable transport. Size of containers coming into Felixstowe do not fit on current rail system. We would need a new system. It’s an option, but long term. The A14 viaduct has been repaired on a temporary basis. It’s life expectancy still very short. A solution is an alternative route. It appears the decision has already been taken.”

JD: “It took a Conservative government to provide the £1.5billion to do this road. We need it from a safety perspective...a local business perspective...and from regional business perspective. The decision has been taken. This road is now happening. Villages will be impacted to a greater or lesser extent and I will continue to represent their interests. We will need to look at A428 and A1 as well. Government has put 428 in five-year building plan and now looking at A1 as well. Oxford to Cambridge railway is vital.”

NJ: “I would ensure we mitigate the problems for The Offords, Buckden and Brampton. The A14 needs a major upgrade. It’s about listening to those communities. We want it sunken down, more trees, embankments, to make it fair for everybody.”

Terry Hayward, of Buckden, asked: How will your party deal with the increasingly difficult problem of social welfare for the elderly and those with mental illnesses?

JD: “No government should ever disregard its elderly population and to this end we have kept prices down and heating bills down and Council Tax down. People are also very grateful about the changes to private pensions and that they no longer have to buy an annuity.”

NJ. “The growing elderly population does present challenges, especially increasing health needs. I am very proud of our NHS. We need to invest and increase the number of nurses, doctors and carers.”

PB: “There is a national crisis in elderly care. We would increase the number of nurses by 20,000, 8,000 more GPs and 3,000 more midwives.”

RC: “We have huge concerns about all those people who have been forced to use their savings to pay for care. We would provide funding to allow elderly people to stay in their own homes. Also, we have a whole army of people in the community doing a fantastic job looking after elderly people, but many of them are not being paid for the time they spend between jobs and we would end the practice of 15-minute calls and ensure people are paid a living wage.”

TM: “Older people should be supported. We want to see free social care for the over 65s. There are huge concerns over the changes in personal pensions. This has been good for some but for others it is a risk.”

Erica Jones, of Eaton Socon, asked: If each candidate were to obtain the seat for Huntingdonshire, what assurances would they give personally to the backing of the campaign to save our district hospital Hinchingbrooke from any kind of dismantling of the present services?

NJ: “There’s no one on this panel that knows Hinchingbrooke Hospital better than I. Make no bones about it, we are in trouble in terms of the NHS. We have a funding deficit at Hinchingbrooke Hospital of £12m. With Peterborough and Addenbrooke’s, three hospitals wanting to provide acute care. Hinchingbrooke will be targeted. NHS needs more funding. Money from mansion tax will be put in to NHS. I will make sure the level of service remains the same. I know what works. I know how to link in community services. At the top of my list is saving all services at Hinchingbrooke Hospital. That’s what I am standing for.”

JD: “I see Hinchingbrooke as one of the greatest local assets we have. It’s vital for people - much-loved, widely used and respected. It will continue to have my entire, complete support. We have had two-anti closure campaigns. So far we have won those campaigns. As a community we have all come together in joint cause, whatever party we are. The Conservative Party has committed to £8bn more funding (for the NHS).”

TM: “The problem we have is the funding of the NHS as a whole is terrible. We have massive shortfalls because 14 per cent of the budget is spent on the internal market – procurement. There are private companies coming in (offering services) that other parts of the NHS can do. The NHS must be public – not private. I will go hell for leather to make sure there’s nothing (services-wise) we will lose in an area that’s growing.”

PB: “I do not believe a word I’ve heard from the others. Labour saddled the NHS with £85m of debt. The current coalition has continued down that road. I think if any other political party other than Ukip has anything to do with government they will close Hinchingbrooke Hospital. They would move Hinchingbrooke (services) to Peterborough.”

RC: “I am glad Hinchingbrooke is back part of the NHS. I heard the question from the Hands of Hinchingbrooke campaigner who asked ‘Could they give a cast iron guarantee (about Hinchingbrooke’s future)?’ They did not give a cast iron guarantee and I fear for Hinchingbrooke. It’s important we continue the fight. I would be about maintaining Hinchingbrooke, having resources to succeed as a local district hospital.”

James Goodman, of St Neots, asked: With the East Coast main line being returned to private hands again despite signitficant imporvements made while in public hands, where do you see the future of the rail industry for the UK? Public, private or a mix?

PB: “We would scrap the HS2 [plan for high speed rail link between London and the Midlands] and use the money to put right what is wrong. The whole network needs looking at.”

JD: “Locally there are signs that things are better. More carriages, more seats, better stations and parking. The railway is doing pretty well. We would freeze fares.”

RC: “We would continue with plans for the electrification of the majority of the network and proceed with HS2.”

TM: “We would allow the franchise to lapse. There are huge issues around ticket prices and we need to see a fairer charging system. We would bring in a 10 per cent reduction in rail fares.”

NJ: “It was Dr Richard Beeching who was responsible for taking the railways apart – wouldn’t it be great if it was Dr Nik Johnson who helped to put them back together again.”