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Medway council: By-election after Kelly Tolhurst steps down

The people of Rochester West will head to the polls today for a Medway Council by-election.

Five candidates have been battling it out for votes following the resignation of Kelly Tolhurst (Con), who stepped down after being appointed as a government whip in January.

Sonia Hyner (Green), Alan Kew (Con), Rob McCulloch Martin (Ukip), Alex Paterson (Lab) and Martin Rose (Lib Dem) have canvassed for votes over the past few weeks, sharing their views of a range of issues in the process.

Kelly Tolhurst (Con) resigned after she was appointed a government whip in January
Kelly Tolhurst (Con) resigned after she was appointed a government whip in January

Rochester West returned two Conservative councillors in 2015.

Polling stations at The Institute, Borstal Village Hall, Sherwood Cricket Club, St John Parish Hall and St Margaret’s Church will be open between 7am and 10pm.

The Local Democracy Reporter Service has approached each of the five candidates, asking them the same three questions and giving them 300 words to play with.

Sonia Hyner, Green Party

Sonia Hyner
Sonia Hyner

Briefly introduce yourself, specifically focusing on your life in Medway and local politics.

I grew up in Medway and returned in 2002, initially working in Citizen Advice and then retrained to be a teacher. I have been politically active for a number of years and took part in the London march in 2003, against the war in Iraq.

I have attended many anti-discrimination protests and was part of the march that took place in the by-election in 2014 when the people of Rochester united to prevent Britain First from entering our towns.

I also stood as a parliamentary candidate for Rochester and Strood in the 2017 general election.

What are the main two issues affecting residents in Rochester West?

1. Rochester West constituents report a loss of public service provision across all sectors, predominantly the NHS. Alongside better NHS services, cleaner air, green spaces, better cycling routes, and streets free of litter would all help towards improved health and wellbeing. Social and environmental rights are inextricably linked.

2. I have been moved by the significant growth in development and loss of natural habitat in Medway. Despite this, the local authority fails to respond to local housing need as the homes being built are too expensive for local people. We need homes that don’t destroy the environment, but do help to alleviate homelessness.

What are your key commitments to voters if you are elected on March 8?

I would work with other parties towards ensuring that Medway’s Local Plan is truly sustainable, both in terms of providing homes that local people really need, and in protecting our environment.

I would fight to protect local public services from cuts and privatisation and promote Green solutions to further the health and wellbeing of local residents.

I would work towards improving the council’s record on recycling and litter, moving closer to zero landfill and a circular economy.

A Green vote on March 8 would help to put health, wellbeing and environmental protection at the centre of council decisions.

Alan Kew, Conservatives

Alan Kew
Alan Kew

Briefly introduce yourself, specifically focusing on your life in Medway and local politics.

I have lived in Borstal within the Rochester West ward for the past 30 years. Having raised my family here I feel very much a part of this community. Prior to retiring my occupation was as a civil engineer working on highway and town regeneration.

I have assisted our MP and councillor, and always been involved with community projects but I now have the time to achieve far more.

I have sailed the Medway for many years so I am also keen to promote, protect, and regenerate our river.

What are the main two issues affecting residents in Rochester West?

1. The impact of population growth on this historic town which has limited space. We know we need to provide new affordable homes, but we must also make sure the infrastructure can cope. Residents need to be able to park, travel, and have schools and doctors able to manage greater demand.

2. Living within our means while maintaining essential services. This local authority has had more than its fair share of the financial burden while still maintaining the lowest council tax in Kent. But people rightly expect essential front line and social services to be maintained at a high level.

What are your key commitments to voters if you are elected on March 8?

1. I promise to respond to every individual resident inquiry I receive promptly; no exceptions. And I will step in when things go wrong.

2. I will do all I can to influence the impact of growth and change on Rochester West residents, speaking up where it is clearly detrimental to the ward, on behalf of residents and businesses.

3. This ward, as part of Medway, needs a new visionary plan; new ideas and new ways of thinking which make it a great place to live for generations to come.

Rob McCulloch, Ukip

Rob McCulloch
Rob McCulloch

Briefly introduce yourself, specifically focusing on your life in Medway and local politics.

I have been a member of Ukip for quite a long time. The reason I joined is the fact they are an unwhipped party – that means voters’ voices go directly to the council.

I was born in Scotland, but I grew up in a council house in Gillingham with my mum, before moving to Rainham and a flat in Chatham. I now live in Mercury Court thanks to help from Ukip councillor Roy Freshwater.

I stood for election in Gillingham South in 2015 and was 200 shy of winning the seat (the actual figure is 464).

What are the main two issues affecting residents in Rochester West?

The coach park is a huge issue that has defined my campaign – even though we have won the battle, we have not won the war. Protecting our green fields, used by everyone, is important.

Pilgrims is a lovely school but pupils from Rochester West and Borstal Village cannot go there because it is oversubscribed.

We have a lovely former school building (St Matthew’s Primary) that has been abused by yobbos for the past 10 years. It is privately owned. We need extra buildings to educate and this site could be used to rectify this issue.

What are your key commitments to voters if you are elected on March 8?

To fight for people in the private rented sector. I think my own experiences gives me a quality of knowing the issues affecting residents.

I will hold regular surgeries – the Conservatives have not been very good at that. If I win, I will hold one every fortnight.

I want to have a big debate on parking permits. I want to discuss whether residents in Rochester West want parking permits and understand the negatives they bring, as well as the positives. I want it to be their decision.

Alex Paterson, Labour

Alex Paterson
Alex Paterson

Briefly introduce yourself, specifically focusing on your life in Medway and local politics.

I’m married to Elizabeth and we have a daughter and a son, who both attend local secondary schools. We have lived in Rochester for 15 years and are passionate about this place.

I’ve been a governor at St Peter’s Infant School, and am most proud of the part I played in the successful parent-led campaign to save it for our community when Medway Council tried to close it.

I am a journalist by trade and spent 20 years working for the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and their sister titles. Last year I started a new job as a press officer.

What are the main two issues affecting residents in Rochester West?

Our GP surgeries are at breaking point and Tory NHS cuts coupled with local difficulties mean for many people in Rochester the system is simply not working.

I know from my own family’s experience at the Thorndike Centre and from conversations with voters that a seven-week wait for an appointment is not unheard of. We also have a rough sleeper crisis on our High Street.

The council must support the excellent caring work done by local charities by tackling the key underlying causes – cuts to addiction and mental health care as well as the chronic lack of local affordable housing.

What are your key commitments to voters if you are elected on March 8?

Rochester’s interests will not be best served by sending another “yes man” to Gun Wharf.

The plan to build a coach park on the Esplanade Gardens – which my Freedom of Information request revealed was a done deal and decided by the Tory leader of Medway Council as far back as November – was only reversed when Kelly Tolhurst’s resignation forced this by-election.

I will work constructively with my ward colleague to defend our green spaces from this and other threats, but I will challenge any further attempt by the Tory cabinet to sideline local councillors in the decision-making process.

Martin Rose, Liberal Democrats

Martin Rose
Martin Rose

Briefly introduce yourself, specifically focusing on your life in Medway and local politics.

I joined the Lib Dems in January 2017, disappointed by the 2016 referendum result, made worse by the Government’s completely avoidable insistence on a “hard” Brexit which could be so damaging for Kent. I needed to do something and stand up for what I believe in.

Born and bred in Medway, I grew up in Chatham and until a few years ago, lived in Rochester city centre.

I graduated from the University of Kent in 2006. Since then, I’ve worked as a public transport planning specialist and gained a Masters in Transport Planning in 2009.

What are the main two issues affecting residents in Rochester West?

Housing has been a key concern: Medway has one of the longest social housing waiting lists in the country. The council could help tackle this through improved planning policy, increasing the mix of affordable housing to rent and buy.

The other key issue residents have raised is access to local healthcare services, including difficulties obtaining GP appointments. Many have shared our concerns over the closure of Medway hospital’s acute mental health unit. We continue to campaign for its reinstatement; doing so would free up police resources and could help tackle wider issues such as the growth in homelessness.

What are your key commitments to voters if you are elected on March 8?

I would be hard-working and committed: the great news is that voters can hold me to account in the full council election in May 2019. A one-year trial!

Medway needs a liberal voice: recognising the importance of European trade to the area, encouraging housing development where appropriate, with strong protection for habitats and open spaces, and contributions to infrastructure.

I would support measures to increase participation in the planning process. In our conversations with residents, the loss of Rochester’s city status clearly remains an issue. It reflects the loss of local decision-making felt over the past 20 years.

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