General Election 2015: Spotlight on Dartford
PUBLISHED: 10:41 19 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:50 19 March 2015
In the run up to the general election, The Reporter will be looking at our electoral wards with a guide to the candidates and the key issues. This week we highlight Dartford...
ON Thursday, May 7, the country goes to the polls – in what many are predicting to be the closest fought election in living memory.
However, based on previous results, this north Kent seat has become something of a bellwether constituency.
In 1979, it turned blue with Margaret Thatcher’s rise to Number 10, switching red for Tony Blair in 1997 and then switching back again in time for David Cameron’s ascension to the throne in 2010.
If that is to continue, place your money now on David Cameron remaining as PM, given the size of majority currently held by incumbent Gareth Johnson who won the seat for the first time five years ago.
Labour’s victories before have tended to be narrow and it is hard to imagine Ed Miliband has sufficiently captured the mood of the nation to make a difference this time around.
As with all other constituencies, the joker in the pack will be Ukip. It is just possible it could split the vote and leave Mr Johnson exposed. It’s a big ask however and one many believe will be beyond it.
The focus, however, remains on the key local issues.
The High Street, like many others, faces difficulties and the town centre is in need of some regeneration - hindered in no small part by living in Bluewater’s shadow.
After years of indecision, Tesco pulled out of their plans for a store on Lowfield Road recently, after shelving plans for a further 49 large stores.
It was hoped that Tesco’s investment would have given the area a boost, bringing with it affordable homes, new shops and employment opportunities.
So it came as something of a blow when they pulled out earlier this year, sparking a political row between the Tory led local council and its political opponents.
Conservative MP Gareth Johnson said: “I will continue to work with the council to ensure we get the right deal for our town.”
Simon Thomson, Labour parliamentary candidate, said: “They should have had a plan B , it was obvious Tesco wasn’t going to be built.
“People are desperate for a place to hang out, an attractive, vibrant place in the town centre.
“We could be doing far more to regenerate Dartford town centre. There are a lot of empty premises.
“You could easily say to young people, entrepreneurs, start ups - see how you go and we’ll give you a helping hand. That’s how the Pret A Mangers of tomorrow start.
“Dartford will never get the big shops back, they have gone to Bluewater.
“Dartford has got a lot going for it. It’s got the river, the rail links. I want to see Dartford improve its image and outreach and get companies in the town centre, and companies to come back to Dartford.”
Ukip’s candidate Elizabeth Jones added: “The electorate has informed us that there is insufficient fun, that perhaps a bowling alley, and coffee and cake shops could bridge that gap.
“Dartford needs to become a hub of industry, skills, and artisan works to give people a real economic future and attract visitors, with a view to attracting start-up concepts, such as Old Street Silicon Roundabout and Croydon Tech City.”
She added: “The site requires a master plan to be drawn up by a planning summit between the land owners, interested developers, and the people of Dartford.
“Retail should include plenty of scope for small shops, similar to Richardson’s butchers, a farmers’ market, and plenty of free parking.”
And there are plenty of other key issues for the candidates to be discussing on the door step.
National issues such as the threat of NHS privatisation have had a trickle down effect, with concerns raised by residents about the waits, access and parking charges at Darent Valley Hospital.
Add to this issues such as the cost of living and train fares and there is plenty to sway an uncertain voter.
The Dartford Crossing is something which has also been brought to the attention of the candidates.
Especially as at some point after the election dust has settled, a decision will be made as to the location of the next Thames crossing – one which will either sit alongside the existing QEII Bridge or be sited east of neighbouring Gravesend.
Many claim the impact of the booth-free crossing should be examined before any future crossing is agreed, although it is hard not to argue that something needs to be done... somewhere.
FULL LIST OF CONFIRMED CANDIDATES:
Gareth Johnson (Con)
Simon Thomson (Lab)
Elizabeth Jones (Ukip)
Simon Beard (Lib Dem)
Steve Uncles (Eng Dem)
PAST GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS:
Gareth Johnson (Con)- 24,428 (48.8%)
John Adams (Lab)- 13,800 (27.6%)
James Willis (Lib Dem)- 7,361 (14.7%)
Gary Rogers (Eng Dem)- 2,178 (4.3%)
Richard Palmer (Ukip)- 1,842 (3.7%)
Stephane Tindame (Independent)- 264 (0.5%)
Ernie Crockford (Fancy Dress Party)- 207 (0.4%)
Majority: 10,628 (21%)
Howard Stoate (Lab)- 19,909 (42.6%)
Gareth Johnson (Con)- 19,203 (41.1%)
Peter Bucklitsch (Lib Dem)- 5,036 (10.8%)
Mark Croucher (Ukip)- 1,407 (3%)
Michael Tibby (New England)- 1,224 (2.6%)
Majority: 706 (1.5%)