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Healthcare, water quality and education: Your questions answered by candidates during hustings

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Politicians were put through their paces as they answered an array of questions about water quality, education, healthcare and more during a hustings last night.All five of the North West Norfolk candidates were in attendance at the event at the Cornerstone Baptist Church in South Lynn, hosted by King’s Lynn’s Churches together and King’s Lynn Foodbank.Labour’s Tim Leaver, Liberal Democrat Rob Colwell, Conservative James Wild, Reform’s Phil Walton and Michael De Whalley from the Green Party were each given a minute on the clock to answer a list of selected questions submitted by members of the public.

The candidates were from left: Reform Phil Walton, Labour Tim Leaver, Green Michael De Whalley, Liberal Democrat Rob Colwell and Conservative James Wild with host Ivor Rowlands

Around 136 seats were booked by residents on the night, who were eagerly awaiting to hear what the five candidates could offer for North West Norfolk.The event was hosted by Ivor Rowlands, a businessman who has lived in Lynn for 33 years and is a heritage volunteer in the town.The pressing question that the politicians were asked first was about Lynn’s crumbling Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Steve Everett asked: “What are you as candidates going to do to make sure the money is released to build a new hospital in Lynn by 2030?”In response, James Wild, who has been the constituency’s MP since 2019, argued that securing a new hospital for Lynn has been his “number one priority”. “Those plans are moving forward, I was at the hospital yesterday with the chief executive. The Inspire Centre has been demolished, the helipad is being moved. They are getting ready to build the multi-storey car park at the end of the year.“We’ve got a clear plan with a £20billion programme. This is the number one issue for me. I’ve made it my priority.”Rob Colwell, a West Norfolk councillor and county councillor, said he feels “strongly” for the NHS. “It is unthinkable that we in West Norfolk may be left without a hospital if the Government doesn’t release the funds,” he said.“Many of you will have seen the struts with your own eyes. You may have had loved ones in that hospital. You may be concerned that things are not moving fast enough.“We as a community fought for three years after the Government missed us off of their 40 new hospitals plan. But I don’t know where they are.“We fought and got that news, 12 months have passed, and there is not a boot on the ground.” Michael De Whalley added: “There are in excess of 4,000 struts holding up the ceiling.“As we have heard, the funding has not been released.“Plans rely on a hospital 2.0 formula, these plans haven’t been finalised and they need to be finalised urgently.Tim Leaver said: “I think all of us believe in the NHS. All of us have seen over the last 14 years it basically being broken. Being broken by this Tory government. “We have got to rebuild the NHS. I think the biggest issue around here is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. We’ve all seen the props, we’ve all wondered when it will stop being a building site.”Mr Leaver pointed to Labour’s pledge to rebuild the hospital, which he announced last week.Phil Walton said: “The priority is always going to be the NHS in general.”He said if he was to be elected as MP for North West Norfolk, he would raise questions about the NHS. “My first question to the Tories would be, you said you were going to build these hospitals in 2023, why has it not been done?” He said.“You knew the elections would be coming up in 2024, so did you have any intention of starting to build this, or did you deliberately delay it to 2025?”A discussion was also started by host Mr Rowlands about the location of the new hospital.Tim Leaver argued that options should have been explored more for the new QEH site, while Mr Wild pointed out that investment has been made on the existing site. The conversation moved onto the lack of dentistry in the area, where Reform’s Mr Walton told members of the public that he believes a dental A&E service should be introduced.Fiona Munn asked: “Most people can’t afford private dentists and there are no NHS appointments available. What are you planning to do?”However, Tim Leaver argued that A&E staff are already overstretched and pointed to Labour’s campaign to monitor children between the ages of three and five while they brush their teeth.Cllr Colwell said children’s dental care should be prioritised and that VAT should be reduced on youngsters’ toothpaste. Tackling food poverty was on the mind of Ellen Archer, who asked the politicians what they proposed to do about it.Michael De Whalley said that increasing taxes for higher earners could help tackle food poverty.However, Mr Wild disagreed and said that taxes should be lowered for struggling working families so they can keep more of what they earn.Tim Leaver said that “kick-starting” the economy would help by creating more well-paid jobs in the area. Phil Walton suggested that anyone earning £20,000 or less shouldn’t be paying tax.Cllr Colwell said that despite how much food banks help people, they shouldn’t have to exist.Tara McKenna asked: “What are your funding plans to address social housing to help carers in our community?”Mr Leaver said that 1,500 people in the area are on a council house waiting list and the Labour is committed to building 1.5 million homes across the country in the next five years.Mr Wild pointed to the 12 new homes rebuilt in Brancaster Staithe after a wildfire – arguing that they made an impact on those working in the village.He also mentioned a Hunstanton housing development and that they would be suitable for first-time buyers.Rob Colwell said that homes should be made to be energy efficient and that existing homes that stand empty should be invested in.The privatisation of water companies was also mentioned, where politicians discussed the water quality at Heacham and Hunstanton’s beaches as well as rivers.

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