Focus on Saffron Walden

James Hore previews the election battle in the traditional Tory pastures of Saffron WaldenSAFFRON WALDEN is the Tory stronghold of Sir Alan Haselhurst who has been MP for the area since a by-election victory in 1977.

James Hore previews the election battle in the traditional Tory pastures of Saffron Walden

SAFFRON WALDEN is the Tory stronghold of Sir Alan Haselhurst who has been MP for the area since a by-election victory in 1977.

Traditionally it has been rural issues which rate highly on the political agenda here and, once again, candidates will have to convince voters they will be fighting for better schools, transport and local services for the countryside.

But in the last four years Stansted Airport has moved to the centre of the political radar as plans for a second runway emerged and were then given the go-ahead.

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The expansion proposal led to outrage across much of the region with some saying it represented the "rape of the countryside" with homes and listed buildings ripped down in the name of progress.

Such is the opposition to a second runway, which would place the airport in the big league alongside Heathrow, that no candidate in their right mind would risk even a private thought of possible benefits to the region.

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And it is another threat of more concrete being poured into the countryside that voters will also be quizzing the would-be MPs over when they hit the campaign trail.

The M11 corridor has been earmarked for hundreds of thousands of houses to satisfy an expanding population and reduce the shortage of affordable homes.

But the unprecedented development in the East of England has been labelled a "dagger pointing at the heart of the countryside".

The plans propose 478,000 new homes to be built by 2021, were drawn up by the un-elected East of England Regional Assembly, which later suspended its support after the Government refused to pledge the necessary money for the necessary infrastructure.

So it is the local issues of national importance that will be the key vote winners when it comes to polling day on May 5.

Sir Alan Haselhurst is preparing to fight his ninth General Election battle. He fought his first in 1970, winning the Labour-held seat of Middleton and Prestwich, but lost it in 1974.

He has been the Saffron Walden MP since 1977 and said he goes into the latest campaign with as much enthusiasm as he did 28 years ago.

Knighted in 1995, Sir Alan said there were two key issues for the constituency - the second runway at Stansted and the threat of thousands of new homes flooding an area along the M11 corridor.

"I think the General Election will be fought on national issues for the most part but I identify myself as a leader of the campaign against a second runway and that represents the view of the vast majority of constituents and I think the chances of getting that project defeated are improved by getting a change in Government.

"The second issue of great importance is the plan the pour concrete all over the place and nobody is sure where it will be.

"We all feel under threat of the thousands of houses and in that respect a Conservative Government would reign back on those plans.

"We would abolish the regional assemblies and move the power and decision making back to the local councils and the county council."

He added he felt passionately that those in the countryside were not getting "fair deal" under the Government - from farming through to problems with health services and education opportunities.

The recent ban on fox hunting has caused some resentment from people in the countryside angry about the perceived invasion on their civil liberties.

Sir Alan pledged that should the Tories return to power, there would be another vote on the controversial topic.

With the General Election closing fast, the 67-year-old has been busy with the campaign and is encouraged by the feedback from constituents.

Sir Alan said he felt the Conservatives would benefit as the public's patience with the Labour party was beginning to wear thin.

"Compared to 2001 election when people felt it was good to give Labour a chance, which is the essential fair mindedness of the British public, I now have people coming up to me and saying 'when are you going to get them out?'"

Despite a majority of more than 12,000 votes in what the Conservatives must regard as a safe seat, Sir Alan refuses to take his position for granted.

He said: "It is essential to rediscover whether I have the confidence of the electorate to continue, that is all I am asking for at this time.

"I certainly aim to continue doing the job and fighting for people's interests with as much enthusiasm as when I first came to power."

The Labour Party candidate, Swatantra Dhanraj Nandanwar, is a county councillor, representing Basildon, Vange, since 1997.

He regards himself as being on the progressive wing party and is a member of human rights group, Liberty.

Mr Nandanwar said he would be campaigning on issues of local concern and on Stansted expansion, he said he was not "entirely convinced" of the need for a second runway.

He said: "We cannot escape the fact that there is an increasing demand for economy flights and we can't stop people from going on holiday. Travel brings benefits to Essex both economic and culturally; it creates a better understanding of peoples and makes us less insular.

"After all, we are part of Europe now. But how many of us speak fluent German? Every single German I meet speaks perfect English.

"It is predicted that demand could grow up to 35- 45 million passenger per annum on just the one runway.

"So BAA has not really presented a proper business case for their second runway and they seem halfhearted about it. All they have said so far seems to suggest that they would prefer Heathrow as the hub airport.

"They made a mish mash of their plans for siting the second runway, so widely spaced apart raising legitimate doubts and fears about how many extra runways they really envisaged.

"I believe that if we can manage on just one runway then we don't need any further expansion. The 'predict and provide' model is not an exact science and has as much validity as reading tealeaves."

However, on plans for the influx of homes in the region, he said it was important to have affordable housing.

"I see people leaving our villages because of lack of affordable accommodation, often being forced out by second-homes buyers; rural communities are suffering as a consequence.

"I believe people want three things: a good job, a decent home and security and all these issues are being addressed by the Labour Party."

He claimed Labour was facing up to reality and proposing practical solutions to meet the shortage of homes without destroying the countryside.

"Labour is the party of the countryside and values its traditions; it supports all those who work hard and live in the countryside and preserve our cultural heritage.

"I would like to see all schools be better neighbourhood schools, and encourage a desire for lifelong learning.

"I want to encourage more economic growth in Essex, developing a strong jobs skills base and for giving more support to small businesses.

"I believe in improving access to welfare services, especially for the young, needy and elderly, and better working between health and social care," he added.

ElfredaTealby-Watson sits on Uttlesford District Council and will be attempting to overturn a majority of 12,000.

In 2001 the mother-of-one polled nearly 12,500 votes, representing about a quarter of the ballot cast and placing her as runner up to Sir Alan

Mrs Tealby Watson said was fighting her campaign in the belief that the majority could be overturned if the Liberal Democrat voters come out in force.

The 40-year-old said, like Sir Alan, her concerns were about the future of Stansted and the area being ear-marked for thousands of houses by the Government, but she believes there needs to be a radical re-think of aviation policy in the UK.

"We have been in the situation where we have the Government trying to bully us into development for our area.

"On Stansted in particular I am completely opposed to the second runway and completely opposed to a second runway anywhere in the South-East.

"There would be environmental destruction and we have to put the planet before planes and that is the foremost difference for us. It will not be o.k. anywhere else, it will not be ok anywhere.

"I firmly dispute this supposed need for more flights – talk to the major operators and they don't want to come to Stansted, the small, low-cost companies don't want any more at Stansted.

She said the Lib Dems were proposing a far greater use of regional airports because runways across the UK were not operating to their full potential.

"People are tired of having this Government trying to tell them how to lives their lives and having an opposition that does not stand up effectively.

"We have opposed the East of England Regional Assembly's plans in as much as it tries to dictate to our community where we would put houses.

"We all know there is a need for affordable housing, but it is not up to central Government to tell us where to put that, we know our local needs better than they do."

On her chances of winning, she said the successes for the party at Uttlesford District Council had given her the faith that people were prepared to vote Liberal Democrats in the General Election.

"There was a large majority in 2001, Sir Alan has been here a long time but times have changed since 2001 and voters have been voting Lib Dem in large numbers."

Mrs Tealby Watson said she would push for improved rights for mothers who wanted to remain off work for longer periods after having a baby, but without businesses having to bear the financial burden.

Barry Tyler is representing the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The former chairman of Uttlesford District Council said if he is elected he intends to spearhead Britain's withdrawal from a "dictatorial" European Union.

He said: "The EU's constant interference in business, law, agriculture, fisheries, transport and all other aspects of Government is crippling Britain.

"UKIP is the only party committed to keeping the pound forever and retaining control of our interest rates, our economy and our property."

He said £30 billion a year would be saved by UKIP.

Trevor Hackett is standing for Veritas, the party founded by former daytime television star Robert Kilroy-Silk, and had not been involved in politics until just two months ago.

He said: "I felt, like many people, that I had been disenfranchised as all we get from all three main parties is more of the same along with lies, spin and deceit. I felt it was time to stand up and fight for my country before it is too late.

"I believe that now is the time to stand up and be counted if we want an independent country free from Europe and to eradicate the lies, the spin and deceit from British politics.

Ray Brown of the English Democrats is campaigning for "fair play" for the English nation and against the nation being split into nine separate regions.

"I am keenly aware of the local issues facing the people of North West Essex, particularly the politically inspired decision to expand Stansted Airport against air industry advice and strong local opposition," he said.


General Election 2001

*Sir Alan Haselhurst (Con) 24,485, E Tealby-Watson (LD) 12,481, T Rogers (Lab) 11,305, R Glover (UKIP) 1,769. Con maj 12,004. No change. Turnout 65.22%. Electorate 76,724. Swing 2.7% LD to Con.

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