General Election: Questions to candidates- Helen Whitehead, Labour, for Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency

Helen Whitehead

There are five candidates vying for the Herne Bay and Sandwich seat (including parts of Thanet) when the country goes to the polls for the General Election on July 4.

In the 2019 General Election, before the boundary changes that have come into force this year, veteran Conservative Sir Roger Gale, who held the North Thanet seat since 1983, was  elected with 30,066 votes – equalling 62% of the poll. Labour’s Dr Coral Jones took 12,877 – 27%.

However, for this election there is a new constituency of Herne Bay and Sandwich – which includes Westbrook, Birchington, Garlinge, Thanet villages wards and Westgate. Electoral Calculus currently predicts a 45% Conservatives and 55% Labour chance of winning.

We have asked the candidates to answer some questions on issues that matter to Thanet.

Here Helen Whitehead, standing for Labour in Herne Bay/Sandwich, tells us her views on subjects ranging from housing development to the NHS:

Housing development- particularly on farmland – and the housing numbers dictated for the Local Plan are a concern for many residents.

What is your view on this, can government reduce housing need figures due to them being based on 2014 ONS stats which do not seem to reflect the 2024 situation and need?

Alongside this Thanet needs more social housing, how would you tackle this?

I have long expressed concern over the use of the 2014 Office of National Statistics figures by central government in determining predicted population growth, and the resulting housing numbers that they require to be delivered linked to those figures.

Requests were repeatedly made to central government to allow the usage of more up to date figures which are more reflective of current housing need; those requests were repeatedly turned down, as was a direct request from the Labour administration to call in all applications on agricultural land to the Secretary of State, and to create a central protected register of agricultural land.

We have fought strongly to be able to provide the housing that is needed, in areas that work, and will continue to do so. It is however misleading to advise people that granted applications and agricultural land already allocated for housing under previous administrations can now be removed from the Local Plan under current central legislation; I would question the motives of anyone who does so. Equally any review of the Local Plan to determine future need undertaken now would still be forced to use the 2014 figures, as central government have not confirmed which ONS figures can be used; beginning a review of future housing allocations now would increase housing numbers rather than decrease them, which demonstrates just some of the flaws in the current Planning system.

My request to create a central register of protected agricultural land was made last year, as part of my submission to the National Planning Policy Framework consultation; however, although this was also suggested by several national bodies, it wasn’t included, and the new NPPF does not provide for any protection of agricultural land other than advising Councils to take it into consideration; for authorities without brownfield (again due to the scale of the housing numbers the use of the 2014 figures produced), “consideration” is impossible, as there is very little useable brownfield left, and any brownfield that there is has to be put forward by the owners of the land. It is a myth often peddled that Thanet District Council owns extensive brownfield that just isn’t being used; Thanet District Council has always had a brownfield first policy, and would use it if any more was available.

We desperately need homes in Thanet; but we need the right homes, in the right places, supported by the right services. Bluntly, we need Council housing to address the needs of those on our housing register, and further diversification in council housing to provide for residents who cannot be supported through the housing register. I have already taken direct steps to enable this, and to support the continuing growth of council housing. You can be certain that Labour can deliver what is needed, because in less than a year we have already shown that we can.

Over the last decade our Council produced an average of 18 council homes per year. In less than a year, since the Labour administration came in, we have acquired and put into production 209 homes; 155 of those being directly due to our new housing strategy. Families are already moving into this new council housing, and we have met over half of our initial promise to deliver 400 council homes in less than a year, and are working to significantly exceed that total by the end of this term.

I also fought for and significantly extended our in house temporary accommodation, to ensure that families facing homelessness can be kept in Thanet, near their families, support networks and jobs; it is this growth and diversification of council housing that is needed, and that I will continue to fight for.

Minster Marshes – There is a campaign against the National Grid plans for a converter station as part of the Sea Link project. What are your views on this?

I supported a Labour motion at Thanet District Council expressing our concerns about the proposed site of the convertor station and associated infrastructure, and also supported the submission of a statutory response to the application, again through the Labour administration, to assert our worries for biodiversity if the development were to go ahead, and to clearly and strongly set out how these proposals contradict our local Planning priorities.

I also submitted an individual response expressing the same concerns.

We are an area of significant biodiversity, and irreplaceable individual habitats; the loss of these unique stretches of biodiversity cannot be rectified with the purchase of government sanctioned biodiversity credits, and recognition of this at a central level is essential.

We desperately need renewable energy and clean energy infrastructure; however, we also need a government strong enough to enforce regulations that protect both our national treasures and our energy security; and while the current government is content to have essential services delivered privately, we will always be faced with cost and ease being prioritised above ecological considerations.

Labour will deliver GB energy, and will set the stage for energy delivery that delivers for our country, our biodiversity and for clean energy; our national assets are worth more than profit margins.

Southern Water sewage releases in our sea – how would you tackle this?

I grew up in Thanet, and love our coastline and our seas; I am very connected to them both, and have repeatedly seen the results of sewage discharges, as well as their continuing impact on the health of our seas and beaches.

We are proud of our coastal heritage here; not only do we love our seas, but our economy and infrastructure is built around our continuing success as a tourist destination, and the beauty of our coastline.

Having previously worked for Ofwat, I am aware of the current limitations of their powers through central legislation.

Labour will work to give Ofwat “teeth”; to ensure that their regulatory powers are expanded, that polluting our seas becomes a criminal matter, and that no one who damages our delicate coastal ecosystem receives bonuses or rewards for doing so.

I very much want to see our services back in public ownership; however, the reality is that this government has already disposed of them, making enforced purchase something that will not solve the issues we are facing. Doing this would instead effectively pay and reward those who have done so much damage to our systems and our environment. They need to be made to pay to fix the systems they have broken, and rectify the damage they have done. Labour will ensure they do.

Cost of living – Thanet families are struggling to make ends meet, businesses also struggle as a result and there are a large number of empty shops in our towns. How will you help the economy to recover and how will you help our families and businesses?

The cost of living crisis and the ongoing effects of Conservative austerity measures have had a profound impact on Thanet. Combine this with the recent Conservative budget choices that caused mortgage rates to skyrocket, the lack of regulation of energy companies that allowed extraordinary price hikes, and the continuing decision to keep local housing allowance rates lower than anything available within the current rental market, and the impact on Thanet has been devastating.

Housing is at the heart of economic stability and regeneration. If housing is available and affordable, populations thrive; however, areas like Thanet often see regeneration that displaces rather than includes. Continuing to provide council homes that never exceed local housing allowance rates to ensure that they are affordable provides financial stability; ensuring those homes are A or B rated reduces energy costs; ensuring the installation of solar panels reduces those costs further, and enables families to support the local economy in both retail and leisure, supporting our high streets, our businesses, and building communities. Central reform of business rates is essential, and a priority for Labour; our high streets provide community as well as amenity, and their regeneration is key to our success as an area.

Availability is just as important as affordability, and secure homes allow residents to put down roots, build families, and contribute to the local economy. Having requested regulation and the right to require planning permission and registration for airbnb and short term rentals several years ago, ensuring that this newly granted legislation is used effectively is essential to ensure the private market becomes affordable, that houses are homes, and that tourist accommodation becomes a sustainable industry.

Youth services: There has been a loss of funding for some youth services (such as Pie Factory and The Pavilion in Thanet). What are your views on provision of youth services and how this should be done?

Youth services, like all public services, should be centrally funded, and centrally supported. Over the last fourteen years we have seen increasing cuts to vital public services, with cuts to the central funding of Thanet District Council alone amounting to a loss of over 60% over the past decade, with other Councils, especially those with Health and Social Care and Education responsibilities such as Kent County Council, being placed in a financially impossible position where financial need in the short term overrules community need in the long term, and cuts to essential provision create greater costs, both financial and social, in the long run.

To support youth groups and projects which deliver so much within our communities we need to not only greatly increase Council funding, to allow for support of both internal and external projects, but recognise that short term cuts deliver long term suffering, and that the stability of community youth projects act as a constant and effective preventative measure in supporting young people, especially in terms of their mental health.

To do this Labour will develop a Fairer Funding Formula for Councils, to ensure that they can fund and deliver what is needed, and recognise the importance of stability in youth provision. I worked as a teacher for a long time, and have supported highly vulnerable young people within both education and social care; as such I can say without doubt that the stability of provision and services is absolutely essential for the health of our young people.

Manston airport – the DCO is now confirmed and it appears there will be no further legal appeals. What is your view of the airport/cargo hub scheme and what involvement , if any, will you have with the scheme going forward?

The issue of Manston airport is an interesting one, as the reality is something that is not often discussed.

The continuing binary has always been deliberately positioned as a choice between jobs and houses; when the simple fact is that an airport is not the only way to deliver jobs, and there are many routes to economic regeneration.

The reality is that the future of Manston airport always sat with central government, the judiciary, and the individuals involved in the project. Neither MPs or councils have (or should have) any influence within those processes, as they are independent processes, and now those processes are completed, the delivery of a functioning airport is something that lies in the hands of those proposing to deliver it.

With the DCO granted, it now sits entirely with private enterprise to deliver the airport and the promised jobs alongside it. In 2018, to support the airport, the then Conservative administration chose to move the allocation of 2,500 homes from the brownfield Manston Airport site on to agricultural and rural land across Birchington, Westgate, Hartsdown, Westwood and Minster. Considering the agricultural and rural land we have lost to enable an airport, I hope very much that it delivers sufficient benefit to make up for these losses.

Asylum – what are your policies on asylum and small boat crossings?

To address this issue well we have to address both the moral and the practical.

I find it easiest to address the moral aspect by thinking about what I would want for my son if our country were plunged into conflict, and we had to leave.

I would want people to understand that no one, ever, would take their child on an incredibly risky open sea crossing unless they felt they had no other choice. I would want people to understand just how terrifying that journey must be; and I would want them to understand the humanity of my son, that he is no different to anyone else, or anyone else’s child. I would want him to be protected and cared for; I would want people to welcome him, support him, and help him make a home and contribute to his community.

Knowing this, the moral aspect of this issue is simple for me; if I would want support when needed, it is imperative that I offer it when others need it.

The practical issue is more complex, as it involves the safety of those crossing, and the practicalities of stays whilst asylum claims are determined. The numbers of staff processing asylum applications has been cut significantly by our current government; as such the backlog is extraordinary, and the management of provision of housing and accommodation for those waiting for decisions has been appalling, and has caused conflict where there should be none.

Labour will increase staffing levels to speed up the processing of applications, repair damaged relationships with France and Europe to bring about new agreements to support our policies, and ensure that we are providing a unified security approach to tackle the criminal operations using the trauma of displacement to make profit. We will support family reunions and safe returns, and use our influence internationally to address the issues that cause displacement.


  1. GB energy is a PFI. Labour have form on PFIs. And have we seen this candidate actively campaigning for Minster Marshes?

    • As a matter of curiosity, which do you think is more effective in changing policy as an MP; submitting statutory concerns that the government are forced to consider as part of the process, and directly ensuring that residents voices are heard in political Chambers, or joining a protest? Campaigning is a positive thing; but it isn’t what you elect an MP for, or none of the needs expressed in a campaign would ever be addressed by Parliament, as MPs are required to take that campaigning further and submit work that can change legislation and proposals.

      Labour brought a motion to ensure that residents voices were heard in the Council Chamber, and submitted a statutory response to central government to demonstrate how the development would go against our Local Plan and force central government to acknowledge, consider and address the damage that would be done.

      MPs represent their communities by understanding the processes involved and ensuring that residents voices are heard in them. That’s what I do, as I learned long ago that politicians are listened to based on the work they do, and not on whether central government saw them at a protest.

      All the best,


      • No response to the fact that GB Energy is a PFI scheme then! Funnelling public money into private energy firms. Shameful policy. Starmer’s Labour is making it very clear that they are the party of ex-Tory CEOs and business leaders and no-one else

        • You have a choice-more of the Tories lies, gaslighting, incompetence & corruption, or Tory-Lite Labour under champagne socialist Starmer-with socialists around him to hopefully keep his worst Blairite (Thatcherite) tendencies in check. Let’s get shot of the Conservatives & get the pale flag flying low.

          • Or, you can simply vote for who you think is the best candidate for the area you live in, regardless of political allegiance. I am.

          • You can in East Thanet-as Labour are 91% to the Tories 9%, but in this one it is just a wasted vote-it is a fight between her & Gale & he needs to be put out to pasture.

          • Do you fancy a small wager on your 91% for labour figure. I say they won’t get that many, loser pays £20 to charity of t(eir choice?

          • Judging by most of the local people I speak to, I’m not totally convinced that Sir Roger will lose his seat either – much as I’d like to see Helen win. Bigger polls than this have been wildly inaccurate in the past (Brexit will fail, Trump will lose, etc).

        • Ms. Pink my offer of a wager is in respect of Thanet East, where with McKinlay stepping away from politics its a certain Labour win, but I really don’t believe they’ll get anywhere near 91%.

          As for Gale, much as I found him a decent MP he was a one of those happy to ride with Boris in order to secure a good majority but one of the first to start the back stabbing and chicanery to get him removed, one of the faux tory lib dem at heart conservatives that have bought the party to an election where they’ll barely register in many areas, there’ll be many previously solid conservative voters who’ll be wrestling with the decision to support him or not. If sufficient number register their disdain with the current tories by voting Reform or just not bothering to turn out, there’s a good chance he’ll lose. ( and in many ways deservedly so).

    • Some people think the most effective way to take action is to grab a placard and a whistle and go on a march.
      Seems to me that Helen thinks it’s to stand for election and – you know – actually DO something rather than shout about it.
      Her way might not be quite as instagram-friendly, but I’d be it’s more effective.

  2. Thank you for the post, ok i have already voted but what i find worth discussion is the list of hopefuls on my election postal form. some of their office or other address seem to be distant to thanet for example east finchley, harringay or outside our lovely kent.
    Just saying as i have already voted. Tbh people who are allowed to vote Please do.
    Happy voting

  3. Lots of reference the failings of the present goverment and your representations to them and how some things can’t be changed. Discussion of your moral viewpoint on migration, ( no indication of wether you believe there is a limit to those we can help, or the effects it has on communities here) but like the manifesto no real detail or explanation of what will be done. Given that a labour government is a given and they’ll have the majprity to pass pretty much anything they like , it seems odd that there is such a dearth of detail, especially in terms of how the costs incurred will be met, given that these plans / actions must be known.
    Your answers are pretty similar to Polly’s in that there’s lots of promises as to what you want and will fight for but nothing in labour policy statements to back them up, bit like the old beauty queen trope of wanting “world peace and a cure for cancer” but having no idea of how to actually achieve it.
    It rather seems that labour are trying to get the vote whilst giving themselves as much leeway as possible once they have the keys to number 10.

  4. Local Labour still sitting on the fence regarding Manston.

    It’s a very simple question with a “yes” / “no” answer – Do you support a cargo airport at Manston ? No one seems able to answer it with a red rosette on.

    • You just need to read between the lines of what they do say and look at pther things they talk about, neither supports Manston and will do nothing to help it , which like
      Y means that behind the scenes they’ll quietly put obstacles in the path of an airport where they can, especially polly with her eco leanings.

      • There won’t be a need for anyone to put obstacles in the way of the airport.
        The SoS’s own DCO lists over a dozen (including the High Resolution Direction Finder aerial).
        Then there’s the tricky problem of finding £800,000,000 of investment.

        • Then there’s no need for the endless arguments over the future of manston, let them get on with it or not and let it sink or swim.

  5. You would make a very capable and caring MP Helen. It makes a change to hear intelligent and honest answers to sometimes difficult and politically sensitive questions.

  6. Ian Driver has published some emails written by Ms. whitehead, in which her choice of words were either very poorly chosen or represent her views on those who had objections to the proposals in question.
    Worth looking up and making your own mind up.

    • Dear Congenital Optimist;

      You may want to read the actual emails, rather than Mr. Driver’s assertions about their content.

      Strangely enough they don’t say what Mr. Driver alleges. Which is not unusual.

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