GENERAL ELECTION 2017: Four fight for power in Chorley
What happens in Chorley could predict the outcome of the whole election.
Since 1964, the party which won in the town has gone on to win the general election on all but two occasions.
But its role as a ‘bellweather seat’ could be under threat because it failed to vote in line with the national picture in the last two elections.
Since 1997, the ebullient Lindsay Hoyle has held his hometown seat for Labour and his high-profile role as Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons has made him a well-known face in the area.
This year he is standing against another home-grown candidate in Conservative Caroline Moon, who was born in Chorley Hospital.
Last time Mr Hoyle held the seat with a majority of 4,530.
But just weeks ago bookies were offering odds on it turning blue, predicting that there could be a Conservative landslide if the constituency followed the lead of national polls.
It is a known Tory target. Green Peter Lageard and Liberal Democrat Stephen Fenn are also standing in a constituency where there is one issue which towers above all others – the future of Chorley and South Ribble Hospital and its accident and emergency unit.
The unit’s closure due to staff shortages in April 2016 catapulted the town into the national spotlight and sparked a year of protests. When accident and emergency finally reopened in January, but for just 12 hours a day, it remained a deep wound for local residents, with campaigners claiming its fragmented service offers a shocking preview of the future of the NHS.
Local businessman Malcolm of Malcolm’s Musicland on Chapel Street speaks with two hats on – as Chairman of the Chorley Traders’ Alliance and as a concerned local resident and parent.
He said: “The hospital is the main thing. With the extra houses that are being built in Chorley and South Ribble we need 24-hour accident and emergency.
“We can’t cope without accident and emergency.”
For years the town struggled with empty shops but the local council has been a driving force in repositioning the town and showing it truly is open for business.
With the decision to extend the local Market Walk and the announcement that big retailers – including M&S Food and T.K. Maxx – are set to move in, many feel the town does have something to smile about.
Buckshaw Village – part of which is in Chorley and part South Ribble – has been a prime example of rejuvenating a brown field site and bringing new residents to the area. Outside of the urban areas there is a significant rural electorate, which tends to vote Tory and self confident communities such as Adlington, Anderton and Whittle le Woods proud of their distinct identities.
With the recently established flower festival, the jewel in the crown that is Astley Hall, the delightful Yarrow Valley Country Park and the popular Chorley Little Theatre, residents say this is a good place to live and it is a town with a wider reach.
A particular retail concern is that while business rates were once linked to footfall, the rise of online shopping means customer numbers have changed.
Malcolm Allen argues rate levels should take account of that and change is needed to ensure the town centre thrives.