Published:
June 1, 2017
Election hustings event sees candidates debate Burnham-On-Sea Police station closure, Brexit, social care and transport issues

The four candidates standing in the General Election to become Burnham-On-Sea's MP debated a variety of hot topics during a lively hustings event held in the town last night (Wednesday May 31st).

With one week to go until the election on June 8th, Conservative James Heappey, Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt, Labour's Andy Merryfield and the Christian Peoples Alliance's Lorna Corke all answered questions from local voters.

Burnham-On-Sea.com and local churches jointly organised the event, which was held at Burnham's Baptist Church and attended by over 80 local residents, with local resident Alex Turco as the Chairman.

One question focussed on the recent upsurge in local crime in Burnham. The candidates were asked whether closing Burnham-On-Sea Police Station is the right thing to do.

Lorna Corke said it is sad to see any local Police station close. She added that the involvement of the community is important in helping to address crime.

Andy Merryfield said the closure is an example of "one of the worst effects of this Government", adding that austerity cuts have caused the "decimation" of the Police service.

Tessa Munt added: "I don't mind it closing if there's an alternative where we can see and access the Police." She vowed that the Lib Dems would put £300m into community policing.

James Heappey said: "I don't believe Burnham Police Station should close," adding that he is "firmly" behind keeping it open. "There's a belief that bricks and mortar don't stop crime - officers do," but he added that shutting Burnham and Cheddar Police stations is wrong.

The candidates were then asked about climate change and whether they would back action to meet climate change commitments and ban fracking.

Tessa Munt said she is "committed to a ban on fracking" and she is concerned that the local "coast is an area that could be affected". She said it is "really important" that the idea of fracking is halted. She says she belives in climate change and added that better housing energy schemes, such as improved insulation, would help to reduce energy use.

Lorna Corke answered by pointing out that our land is not suitable for fracking, unlike America. She went on to say there is not a real understanding of climate change and that we need to look at what is a good temperature.

James Heappey said the Government is working on the issues. He says affordablity of housing is important as it is expensive to run houses. He added that efficient heating and lighting would help housing become more affordable. He went on to say that we need renewable energy. He belives fracking will not work in Somerset and that we should not worry about the threat as there have been no applications to drill so far. He went on to attack Donald Trump's "hugely disappointing" decision to walk away from an international climate accord.

Andy Merryfield said Labour is aiming for a target of 60 per cent renewable energy by 2030. He says the Clean Air Act would be positive for the Burnham-On-Sea area and he added that the UK needs to invest in housing and introduce heat pumps to houses. He said that Labour would ban fracking.

The evening included a question about the inequality of state pensions for local women born in the 1950s.

Labour's Andy Merryfield said "clearly women have been really, really poorly treated" and he said his party's manifesto pledges to help them.

James Heappey says he has not voted on the issue yet, but that he understands "why some people feel hard done by." He says he has represented the women in parliament.

Lorna Corke said that the "pensions crisis" is part of a wider austerity issue and that it illustrates "profound things wrong" with our system.

Tessa Munt said that while she had voted on the changes, she was concerned that nobody had received proper notice about the pension changes and that the matter needs to be looked into in more detail.

 

The next question at Wednesday's Burnham-On-Sea hustings claimed that public transport in Burnham-On-Sea is "terrible" and that travelling to local towns such as Weston for work is especially difficult, so what would the candidates do to improve this?

James Heappey said the public transport timetable in Burnham had improved despite the loss of some buses. He said "a number of people have been cut off" and that reaching outlying facilities such as Berrow Medical Centre is "unworkable".

While he says Somerset County Council does not have the money to improve transport, he hopes the funding will be given in the future.

Tessa Munt said that local public transport services is a "really serious problem", with some residents who rely on public transport unable to get to work. She said the Government is too "urban-centric" and obsessed with city travel.

She also says that a proper review of the transport service in the Burnham area is needed as it is a barrier to travel for many. She went on to point out that Burnham has "missed out" when the Government looks at public transport.

Andy Merryfield said the whole matter is a "nonsense", because the Government "gives out bus passes and then takes away the buses." He believes that because residents don't have buses, people are forced to drive cars, adding to climate change.

He added that Labour will re-nationalise the rail services, which was met with applause by the hustings audience. He adds there are trains which don't stop at Highbridge and this is a basic requirement.

Lorna Corke said she doesn't understand why there is a problem with buses and why we allow big companies to get away without paying tax. She says we live in an "unfair and unequal society" and it is not good enough as the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.

 

The next part of the hustings event turned to Brexit and the whether it's right that the UK faces a big bill to exit the EU. This topic attracted plenty of interaction and heckling from the crowd.

Mr Merryfield said Labour would ensure all workers from abroad who are here are able to stay. And he went to say that the NHS would "fall apart" if the foreign workers were taken away because of Brexit. He claims that Labour is best placed to take us out of Europe and will ensure we get the best possible Brexit deal.

Lorna Corke - who is a UKIP district councillor - says the UK should never have joined the EU in the first place. She said we are a "unique nation" and we have the ability to stand on our own feet and trade as we did before again.

She says we shouldn't pay money to leave the EU and it will 'miss us when we are gone'. She added that the EU is a "dictatorship" and we should not accept that.

Tessa Munt said that while we are leaving the EU, we must be brave and ask questions. She says the people of Somerset are her "experts" and she will listen to constituents about how to leave the EU. She wants to see a second referendum before the final EU deal is signed off.

Mr Heappey argued that having a policy of a second referendum would be a poor one since the EU could put together a terrible deal if we did leave. And he added that while we shouldn't pay money to leave the EU, if it's a great deal then that is up to the Government.

He admited that "I got it wrong" about the economy suffering as a result of Brexit and he went on to say that in fact it has improved. He added that he is 100 per cent certain the UK can flourish outside of the EU.

Burnham resident Tony Lynham quizzed the candidates from the floor on where the £18bn that would be saved following Brexit would go. Tessa Munt said she feels it should be released to raise the 1% pay cap on public services and to support farmers so they are less in need of subsidies. Mr Merryfield said he feels the cash should go to the NHS and funding primary school meals.

The next question referred to how the candidates would stand up for rural areas of Somerset in terms of financing.

County councillor Tessa Munt, who won her seat in Wells at the start of May, says there are many differences across Somerset and she feels that there is a lot of new infrastucture built in Taunton and Yeovil while more rural areas such as Burnham and Cheddar do not see those benefits. She feels a lot more can be done to spread employment opportunities, broadband services and new enterprise jobs.

Lorna Corke, who is a UKIP district councillor, says she would like to see more money to the rural industry like farming and fisheries. She wants to ensure these industries thrive again and she praised Bridgwater College for training people to work at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

Mr Merryfield said homelessness is an issue and that better housing is needed. He also said the road structure in Somerset is 'unsafe'.

He went on to say that children's social services need to improve in the area. "If we can't look after our vulnerable children then that is poor," he added.

Mr Heappey told the hustings event that there is a disparity between rural and urban funding and he vowed that local authority funding "needs to be improved more than it already has."

He continued that "we have a long way to go with fair school funding but we are going in the right direction."

He also says there is funding for primary care in Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge but there is a real issue regarding GP recruitment.

He added that there is a tough decision to be taken on how much development to accept in this part of Somerset. "We live in a beautiful part of the world and we have to have these conversations. Money comes with development', he said.

The last question was about later-life funding around the winter fuel allowance and what the candidates would do about means-tested care for pensioners.

Mr Heappey said there would be a cap on liability for pensioners. He says it may be increased and there will be consultation. He admitted that some of the information had come "out after the launch of our manifesto" in a nod to a much-publicised clarification from Theresa May on social care funding caps.

Andy Merryfield says Labour would set up a national care service and will focus on the elderly. He adds that local organisations need to benefit from these plans and he added that he wants to address the gender pay gap and is committed to making sure this changes.

Tessa Munt said that the Lib Dem cap would be £72,000-£74,000 rather than £100,000 from the Conservatives. She argued that the government's "dementia tax is unfair" when it encourages people to buy a home and earn money through their life, only for it to be taken away in later-life care. "We need to look carefully at this," she said.

In the closing statements, Lorna Corke said her party wants to strengthen the institution of marriage by providing marriage awareness courses for a couple's first marriage. "We will provide grants of £10,000 per couple to encourage marriage," she explained.

She added that different views should be taught in schools and universities and added: "There seems to be government interference in education and we believe it should be the responsibility of the parents."

Tessa Munt said she and Mr Heappey are the only two in the race given the 2015 General Election result, and she asked voters to think carefully about who will stand up to Theresa May's Conservatives.

"We don't want yet another yes man in Westminster," she said. "James has never voted against his party line - I did, and I will stand up for local people."

Andy Merryfield said residents should vote for the party that they feel most comfortable with. He added that you will then have a clear conscience on June 8th. "Vote with your heart and mind," he said.

James Heappey concluded the evening by saying he hoped he had shown that seeks to know about the local issues. "I look carefuly at the detail to find solutions and am impassioned about our local community," he said.

He adds he will have the right conversation and make the right decisions. "I think you can get a better deal by being in Government," he said.

Residents across the Wells constituency - which includes the Burnham-On-Sea, Highbridge, Brean, Berrow and Brent Knoll areas - will be voting in the General Election on Thursday, June 8th.

 


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