General election: Candidates fight for votes at Herne Bay and Sandwich Hustings

Vicar Anthony Everett, Angie Curwen, Thea Barratt, Helen Whitehead and Sir Roger Gale

By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Esson

Water pollution and housing were two of the focuses at a hustings with candidates for the new Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency – which includes Westbrook, Birchington, Garlinge, Thanet villages wards and Westgate.

Answering voters’ concerns about local water pollution, the Conservative parliamentary candidate Sir Roger Gale told residents money will be ploughed into the area to address the issue.

Speaking at the hustings at Herne Bay’s Christ Church, Sir Roger said: “In terms of sewage there is a multi-billion pound investment programme planned,” which was met with low chortles from the crowd, before stressing “many millions of that will be spent in Herne Bay.”

The former MP of North Thanet argued his case to the voters in the new constituency of Herne Bay and Sandwich on a stiflingly hot summer evening on Monday.

Holding the position for 40 years, Sir Roger had his work cut out for him when defending his party’s work in government since 2010.

Helen Whitehead, the Labour candidate predicted to take the seat by Electoral Calculus, slated the “wholescale pollution of all of our waterways” by privatised water firms under the Conservative government. She forcefully declared that Labour would “criminalise” the deliberate pumping of sewage into waterways.

Sticking to her party’s line, Ms Whitehead stressed that she’s against immediately nationalising water firms.

She told the audience: “I don’t believe that we should ever reward people for doing bad things – taking water into public hands at this point would effectively be paying off those people who have been destroying our natural realm.”

Thea Barrett of the Green Party on the other hand declared quite openly that the Green Party, rather than fine water bosses, wants the state to “seize shares” in the companies, getting applause for saying the government must “hit them where it hurts”.

“They are actively, happily destroying the planet,” she stressed.

The Lib Dem’s Angie Curwen called the actions of water companies “just criminal,” and linked it to a perhaps favoured issue of Lib Dems, adding: “Since Brexit there has been less regulation in this country.”

Water pollution is a hot topic in coastal towns. Southern Water come under regular fire for their discharging of sewage into the sea and waterways during periods where the infrastructure is under strain.

Southern Water said last year that they were going to invest at least £50 million by spring 2025 to reduce the use of storm overflows in Whitstable, Deal and Margate by at least 20% in two years. Nonetheless, the company is still criticised  for what is widely seen as poor environmental practice.

There are no independent candidates standing for Herne Bay and Sandwich, but all five major parties – Labour, the Conservatives, Greens, Liberal Democrats, and Reform UK are fielding options.

Angie Curwen arrived late, taking her seat at the front of the hall halfway through the opening addresses. Amelia Randall of Reform however did not turn up at all.

Several interesting candidates have run in North Thanet, the precursor constituency, such as Tony Blair’s wife Cherie in 1983, and Tom Holmes, a former chairman of the National Front in 2001.

However, Ms Randall may be the first self-declared psychic to put herself forward. Electoral Calculus expects Reform to come third, with 13.9% of the vote.

Housing was also a focus during the hustings, with affordable homes and building rates raised by members of the audience, and then asked by moderator, vicar Anthony Everett.

And campaigners from Thanet fighting to save farmland in Westgate, Garlinge and Birchington from being developed for housing, sat in the front row in matching Save Our Fields shirts.

All candidates expressed discontent with the current planning system.

“I’m absolutely adamant that we cannot continue to build on farmland if we want the country to be able to feed itself,” said Sir Roger.

Ms Curwen argued: “The system that we currently have seems to be developer-led and the councils as far as I’m aware seem to have very little power.”

She stressed her party wants council houses built in “the numbers we need in the places we need them”.

“We are in the garden of England and we need to keep it that way,” said Ms Barrett. “We are opposed to any building that doesn’t need to happen.”

Ms Whitehead is the deputy leader of Thanet District Council (TDC) and also cabinet member for housing.

She said that “to change even some of the situation that we are in at the moment we need systemic planning reform”.

Ms Whitehead argued local council housing targets are based on old population projections “which are not at all reflective of our actual population needs”.

Since her party took control of TDC at last May’s election, the authority has  stepped up the acquisition of new council and social homes.

However at the hustings Ms Whitehead shied away from openly declaring Labour’s manifesto aim to build 1.5 million homes across the next five years, and reintroduce mandatory housing targets. Presumably Thanet will get no exception to this.

Christ Church, in William Street, has hosted hustings for the past several general elections. Mr Everett warned early in the proceedings: “We want there to be no barracking or heckling please. I’ve said that to the candidates and we will throw them out if they do it and I will do the same to you.”

There was the odd chunter, chortle, groan or tut but otherwise the hour and a half of debate was peaceful, with neither candidates nor spectators aiming to take chunks out of anyone personally.

In his final statement, Sir Roger said that having been in Parliament since 1983, he still has “unfinished business” – particularly on the reopening of Manston airport, and protection of agricultural land.

He seemed under no pretence that his party will win, and instead said he wants to help new MPs, and that in his position as deputy speaker in the Houses of Parliament: “I hope I’ve established a reputation for being fair and impartial.”

Ms Barrett had previously said quite openly she was “under no illusions” she would be an MP, and Labour will win outright.

She called for people to vote against the two party system, telling the audience: “I’m urging you to vote with your heart, with your conscience, and to say enough is enough.”

Based on the reception of candidates that night,  the real battle for votes in Herne Bay and Sandwich lies  not in personal support for the incumbent, but for the vote against the national government.

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  1. Gale sure has “unfinished business”. He and his Tory cronies have brought the country to its knees but haven’t quite destroyed it yet.

  2. Just asking but was this event live streamed ? just saying those with postal votes Will have already started voting 7 days ago.
    Thanet deserves better (where has our high street funds, levelling up funds bin spent. Just saying what what my 2 eye’s and camera records 24/7.
    Oh i don’t do turdtown youtube videos + other content vlogs, saying that ave had a lovely few days in jaywick.. Down to earth locals absolutely marvellous, crime non existent I invited my jaywick neighbours & friends to visit thanet. Offer declined and sweary words said.

    Vote pink

  3. Unfinished business with Manston-you have been in office for 43 years & oversaw the failed attempts during that time-with all the same promises that weren’t true being made by the same guy doing it now on behalf of RSP & at a huge cost to the taxpayers.

    Every report says it isn’t viable & will just bleed money-like the 100 million plus losses from the attempts from 1998-2014, but let’s just do it anyway-at least when it fails this time it will be RSP picking up the bill-since KCC made it clear it would no longer waste any more taxpayer money on it, or at least we hope so.

    About time a mandatory retirement age was introduced into politics, how on earth can a man in his eighties run the USA, or be an MP in the UK? Thankfully Labour are polling ahead of him-so it should be a golden handshake & watch.

  4. Has Ms. Whitehead not considered that there’s the “build and they will come” principle, it’s really unlikely that the population projections included the moving of people from other areas here into housing built for that purpose.
    Surely if another borough wants to move people here and can do a deal with a housing association to provide the homes, it’s meeting a need. May not be the need Ms. whitehead wants to meet ( or many others, in the absence of jobs and services to support those moving here) but it’s need none the less. Are labour going to ban such practices?

    • Labour’s plan is to build 1.5m new homes in their first term of office primarily on what they call “grey belt” land.

      If you haven’t come across “grey belt” before, it’s because Labour have simply renamed part of the green belt to grey belt and will build all over it.

      If you think an incoming Labour government will stop the incessant building of new homes everywhere you are in for a huge shock.

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