The Big Chorley Election Debate - the borough's politicians on the issues that matter at the local elections in 2024

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With local election day looming on 2nd May, the Lancashire Post put Chorley's political leaders and hopefuls on the spot to debate the big issues facing the borough.

You can watch the event here or read the highlights below.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Green Party are fielding candidates in all 14 seats that are up up for grabs, while the Liberal Democrats and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition are standing in four each.

The Liberal Democrats were unable to attend the debate, but you can find a local manifesto from them and all of the political groups here – and a full list of all the candidates in each ward is here.

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[Clockwise from top left]:  Cllr Alistair Bradley (Labour leader of Chorley Council), Jenny Hurley (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), Cllr Alan Cullens (Conservative opposition group leader) and Olga Gomez-Cash (Chorley Green Party).[Clockwise from top left]:  Cllr Alistair Bradley (Labour leader of Chorley Council), Jenny Hurley (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), Cllr Alan Cullens (Conservative opposition group leader) and Olga Gomez-Cash (Chorley Green Party).
[Clockwise from top left]: Cllr Alistair Bradley (Labour leader of Chorley Council), Jenny Hurley (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), Cllr Alan Cullens (Conservative opposition group leader) and Olga Gomez-Cash (Chorley Green Party).

Local democracy reporter Paul Faulkner was joined by Cllr Alistair Bradley (the Labour leader of Chorley Council), Cllr Alan Cullens (Conservative opposition group leader), Olga Gomez-Cash (Chorley Green Party) and Jenny Hurley (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition).

Here’s a flavour of what they had to say on the topics that came up for discussion.

MAKING THE BOROUGH BETTER

We asked each of the party representatives for one way in which they want to improve life in Chorley.

ALISTAIR BRADLEY

“I want the county council to give [Chorley Council] control of highways repairs and maintenance, because potholes are an absolute shambles. I would also like Alan to explain why, of the £7.2m [in additional roads maintenance money allocated to the county council from the government’s axed HS2 cash] not one penny is coming into Chorley, given the state of our roads – why is Chorley being disadvantaged against the rest of the county? Give us…control of our highways, we’ll do a better job of it.

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“Just drive from the M61 motorway into the centre of Chorley on the bypass – and if you’re in an ambulance, going to the hospital, you will be shaken to bits before you get there. That is not acceptable in the 21st century in a first world country.”

ALAN CULLENS

“I’m more than happy to respond to [Alistair’s point] and I’m partly going to agree with [him that] the idea of how [highway] funding actually works is very strange. [The] money comes down from the government – and it is a very significant amount of money [for Lancashire], more than £20m – and they dictate by a formula which roads should actually be…resurfaced. If Chorley decided to go on their own on this one, that money will be lost – it has to be a collective way across the county. So it wouldn’t be more money coming into Chorley, it would actually be less money. I think you will see a lot of activity over the coming months that will improve [Chorley’s] roads.

“[My one policy for a better borough] is that we will protect our green spaces. We don’t want to see any development in the greenbelt whether that be for housing [or] whether that be for industry – it’s a red line for us, we will protect our green spaces. “

JENNY HURLEY

“I’ve been working a long time [opposing] the cuts in the NHS. We do have an input into it as a borough – we do have services that we do provide that can go into it. Things like the new hospital programme – we’ve been working on this for eight years as part of the campaign for Chorley Hospital…[and] we now have a direct link with our [NHS] Integrated Care Board, which we meet on a regular basis and we also have a contact with NHS England on the general [issues]. So we do have a voice right up there to speak about those issues [and we want] less cuts for Chorley.”

OLGA GOMEZ-CASH

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“We’ve been pressing the council about air pollution for a while, we’ve been pressing [them] about their climate emergency strategy etc.. And I don’t deny all the great things that the council has done…[but Alistair] himself said that we’ve been keeping them on their toes and I think that’s what we would like to do, just to make sure that these grand promises do come into reality and that we’re bringing that fresh [and] challenging voice to the council. So if we’ve done that outside the council imagine how much more we could do within it.”

HOUSING

Chorley Council has recently been sanctioned by the government over the number of times it has refused permission for housing estates – only for those decisions later to have been overturned on appeal. The government has temporarily given developers the opportunity to bypass the council altogether and ask the Planning Inspectorate for permission over where houses can be built in the borough. Meanwhile, Chorley is working with neighbouring Preston and South Ribble councils to develop the first Central Lancashire local plan, which is due for completion next summer and is designed to put the borough’s housebuilding targets back on a firm and fair footing.

ALISTAIR BRADLEY

“The problem is we built Buckshaw Village and we had a massive amount of housing delivered [as part of that]. [But] the government’s crazy algorithm that works out how you build…houses is [to] put more houses where places have built [them], not [in] places that haven’t built houses. The government won’t change its policies. [Communities Secretary] Michael Gove was making a political stunt when he made that designation [of Chorley].

“And we actually can do nothing to change [our] position. We told the government that we questioned their numbers [regarding how many houses Chorley needs to build each year], which are false, because of planning appeals in Preston and South Ribble that went a contrary way. Ultimately, we are all trying very hard to get the local plan in place for the next 15 years, but we are hamstrung yet again by government policy. Every government planning minister I’ve met for the last five years [has] said, ‘We agree with your situation, but we can’t change anything.”

ALAN CULLENS

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“There is something [the council] could have done and that was to get the local plan in place. I understand why this has happened, there are a shortage of planning experts – but this is well overdue. If we’d have had a plan in place [it would have been] very clear to developers of where those sites are that could be built on. The [housing target] figures would be there, but they’ve failed to deliver the plan.

“As such, that meant that…a number of developers [have succeeded in appeals against the council]. People want to come and live in Chorley – fantastic – and we welcome everybody. But there has to be a plan.”

OLGA GOMEZ-CASH

“We know that Chorley has built too many homes and that is the situation that we find ourselves in. There’s been a clash of government policy [and] of local plans…[but] that may change. We do need places for people to live in, ones that they can afford to rent and buy [and] they have to be in places where people need them. If it’s a really holistic plan around the housing, around the infrastructure, the transport, the kind of materials that are used, the waste management, it can be a real opportunity to do something of a really high green standard and lead in that way. Retrofitting [the houses] we already have – that’s also a big part of what needs to be looked at.

JENNY HURLEY

“Chorley has built an absolutely huge amount. Obviously, we haven’t got the funding from county level [and] from government level to keep up with the infrastructure [needed] – schooling, hospitals, GP surgeries. We’ve moved to centralising [some of] those services, as opposed to having them in the community.

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“Olga did have a good point there about retrofitting – we do have properties…that can be developed and bought and retrofitted to the highest environmental standards. You’re looking at using your existing infrastructure, using existing land…[and] you meet in a certain amount of government tick boxes.”

COUNCIL HOUSING

Is it time to go back to the future with a wholesale return to council housing?

ALAN CULLENS

“I’m afraid [I don’t think so] – the reason that it ended up with housing associations was the state of housing that was left under councils – and that was right the way across the country. They were left in dilapidation – and that was because councils didn’t have the money. We have to…work with government on unique ways of finding affordable housing for people. “

JENNY HURLEY

“There’s always a way back to [council housing]. We keep hearing that we’re getting affordable housing. Buta lot of this private development is not affordable to many people – there is a huge gap in the housing market, and especially in the rental market. [If the council] can build the houses, you will cover that gap.”

OLGA-GOMEZ CASH

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“It’s also, if we are building homes, that we have a really good strategy around the climate. So when we do build them…that they have all the right environmental assessment criteria, that they’re insulated – that could be fantastic for a local economy in terms of building a green economy [and] creating jobs around making those houses efficient.”

ALISTAIR BRADLEY

“We have over almost 200 [council] properties at the moment – and they’ve all been acquired through the Labour administration [apart from one]. [But when you] get to 200 the government penalises you for building houses. At the moment……we want to spend another £2m [on around 12 houses]. We get clobbered, [whereas] the housing associations don’t [and] private developers don’t. So the government policy takes money off councils for building houses.”

THE ENVIRONMENT

Chorley Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and wants the borough to be carbon neutral by 2030 – but are things happening quickly enough?

OLGA GOMEZ-CASH

“At the moment, the [council’s vehicle] fleet is going to be renewed…[and] there’s ways of making that much greener, much more efficient [and] much less [costly]. This…quite pernicious idea that somehow green policies are things that are bad for us and we have to swallow them – [it’s] quite the opposite. They are not just environmental policies, they’re social policies. They’re about social justice, and they’re about making communities thrive.

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“So my hope would be that we’re not talking about anything that people have to…suffer for…[but] It’s a good idea that creates a very different way of managing. And I think we’re seeing…some councils are able to really turn this tanker around. This idea – a very dangerous idea – that certain parties put forward that [green policies] are vicious attacks on our liberties or our money - no. The local economy thriving is a positive thing for everybody.”

ALAN CULLENS

“What we are against is gimmicks – and bee-friendly bus shelters are expensive gimmicks, we need a much wider plan. The leader of the Greens and I [last year] called on the council to have a fully costed plan of how they’re going to make net-zero by 2030. Twelve months on, we’re still awaiting that plan. I think we have to be realistic [about] whether we can achieve the 2030 targets.

“We are in a scenario whereby climate change is having a significant impact. I think that from a Chorley point of view, we are fully supportive of some of the areas that [the council is] working on currently. But we need to look at our buildings first and foremost – it’s going to be a tremendous cost to get them to be carbon neutral or carbon efficient. Where’s that carbon offset going to come from? And those are the plans that we need to see in place, we need to debate…and to ensure that they are cost effective [and] that the council can afford to do them.”

ALISTAIR BRADLEY

“Part of our role in this has been as a community leader, to try to get people to change their behaviours and habits – that’s what we all need to do. The council can’t do it, individuals can’t do it [alone] – everybody has to do it, the government, particularly. There is a [council] plan…it’s very much a work in progress. There is no point of going out there saying we can do this, that and that by then – and then not doing it. But the biggest factor is the government – we have [them] rowing forward on this and then rowing back on that. So the electric vehicles issue [pushing back the date when petrol vehicles will no longer be sold in the UK] is an example.

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“We can’t do just that green stuff over there [as a council]… it has to be a green thread. So every department, every function that the council has, considers now its contribution to…net zero and our climate change aspirations.”

JENNY HURLEY

“It will bring complete social change to residents…and it can be done economically in some ways. There are lots of small things that can be done, that can be brought in. The big thing that we’ve got to do is move away from gas and oil generally, as a nation, as a world. So some of those investments into those buildings that are costing the most would be a move away to try and [shift] away from that.

“There are now so many initiatives where you can actually earn money from making your own energy – solar panels and wind devices...can be put in at...quite a low cost these days, that can actually bring back some of that investment into those buildings. Looking at your supply chain is another issue, you can really knock it down.”

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