Can a new candidate retain South Suffolk for the Tories or will the seat change hands for the first time in more than 30 years?
- Credit: Archant
The predominantly rural constituency of South Suffolk has been a Conservative safe seat since it was created by boundary changes during the early 1980s.
Former South Suffolk MP, Tim Yeo, was elected in 1983 and subsequently re-elected at every election until he was deselected by his party last year after more than 30 years in the job.
With a new candidate, James Cartlidge, in place, the constituency is largely expected to remain a Conservative stronghold, although nothing is being taken for granted. In the 2010 election, the party’s nearest rivals the Liberal Democrats came in second with 15,861 votes - more than twice as many as Labour which polled 7,368.
The closest fought battle in the constituency was in 1997 when the Conservatives won with 19,402 votes, Labour came in second with 15,227 votes and the Liberal Democrats were just behind on 14,395.
The Conservatives, along with the other contenders have been canvassing and leafleting in the outlying villages for several weeks now, while UKIP and the Liberal Democrats have set up stalls in Sudbury town centre on market days.
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The largest towns in South Suffolk are Sudbury and Hadleigh, although the suburb of Pinewood just outside Ipswich is also included in the boundaries. Most of the seat is traditional agriculture but it is also prime commuter territory for people working in London.
That is why one of the major issues candidates from all parties are keen to campaign for is better transport links to and from the area. This includes a more direct rail link from Sudbury to London and improved road links.
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As with many parts of Suffolk, there is a shortage of affordable housing in the South Suffolk constituency and one of the biggest problems going forward will be ensuring that any new developments have the right balance of properties to meet local housing needs while still supporting economic growth and fulfilling Government planning criteria.
With around 2,000 new homes planned in and around Sudbury over the next 20 years, securing the necessary infrastructure to cope with the influx is high on the agenda.
The Conservatives have pledged to push for a western bypass for Sudbury to relieve traffic congestion in the historic town centre while the Green party would fight for investment in rural buses and trains before new road building.
A hot topic in Hadleigh and Sudbury over the past five years has been business rates, which have crippled many small enterprises in both towns. All candidates across the board have recognised the need to push for changes to the business rating system.
Local healthcare provision is also likely to be a subject close to many voters’ hearts. A new health centre opened in Sudbury in January and the town has recently been chosen to trial a new ‘Connect’ initiative to bring together police, health and social care services, councils and voluntary organisations to ensure that people in the area get “joined up” high quality services for health and social care.
For more election news from South Suffolk, see here