Bob Thompson is the Liberal Democrat candidate for the December election
Tell us about yourself and why you’re standing for election
I am Bob Thompson and I am the Liberal Democrat candidate for City of Chester. I was born in Chester, within the city walls, I was educated in Chester so I think I know something about it. I went to Nottingham university and did a degree in Industrial Economics, I went to work for ICI, a great British company and spent 24 years there. I finished my career with INEOS in Runcorn as the HR Director. That’s me, I was born raised and now live in Chester. I was the city councillor and borough councillor for Hoole . I like to think that I was a campaigning councillor and if you look at my political career its littered with what I tried to do to improve the quality of life for the residents of Chester. Lightfoot lodge would loom large, it was a respite home for Cheshire County Council and they wanted to close it down. I raised a campaign which had some 6000 signatures to object to the closure, and the end result was they didn’t close it. We highlighted a real issue of how you care for the most vulnerable people in society. Its important to look after our people until the end of their lives.
What are your top 3 priorities for Chester if elected ?
I think I’m well known for trying to get a tram system introduced in Chester. Its clean green and an efficient way to get people in and out of Chester. I would love to see a tramway which takes us from Saltney through the city, to the zoo. A second line would take us from the park and ride, through Blacon and to Vicars Cross. I think that would open up the city.
My second priority would be to open up the city as an interesting place to live. One of the things I would love to see is a digital interactive museum where we can live and breathe, what it was like to be with the Romans, the civil war, how would it feel? We should be an exciting place to visit, the best place to visit, but we need to invest. We need a museum that would bring people together. That kind of interactive, historical exhibit should be built around the Castle area. I’d move the crown court out and I’d devote that area to bringing Chester alive..
My third one would be to bring the city centre alive. We aren’t going to rely on retail in the future, that’s going to be subject to the vagaries of the retail industry and the internet. I would like to see Chester dedicated to innovation. We have a university which is creative and brilliant and we have an Innovation Centre on our doorstep, and we need to build on it. Chester can be a niche which it should flourish from. We need more innovation and industry, Chester has always been somewhere for small businesses to thrive and prosper, and Chester should carve out that future. Watergate street used to be antique alley, and today, sadly it isn’t. We need to rebuild that entrepreneurial spirit because the future of Chester depends upon it.
How would you describe Chester to someone that doesn’t know it ?
Its a wonderful city, being born and brought up here, I speak with some passion. Its an exciting place, if you walk round the walls and look to the skies, you can see the history captured. You can see on Eastgate street where the tram lines were. I look to that history and see how powerful it is. I look to the amphitheatre and think how exciting that could be. Why isn’t the amphitheatre a national treasure, centre stage? I dont really understand that. I fought to get the history of Chester remembered and reinvigorated and had no response, to me that is appalling.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Chester ?
My favourite thing to do is to go the football. I have been a devoted supporter since 1966. I have wonderful memories of the club, Gary Talbot, Mickey Metcalfe… beating Leeds in the cup!
We have seen a huge increase in homelessness in Chester over the last few years. What policies/funding would you put in place to address the issue?
I think people tend to regard the homeless as a one people state. If you talk to the homeless they are all individual cases. Some are ex army and as a responsible society I think that’s awful, that people who have served the country are not protected. I think the services should do more to look after their veterans. I know they try hard but they dont do enough.
The homeless otherwise, some fall out of life because of fractured home lives, or fractured existences whether it be drugs or alcohol. If you look at Chester today we se people looking at the homeless as one entity , without cause or hope. I think we should be providing help and support. As a Liberal Democrat we are going to be treating mental health with the same vigour and emergency as physical health. We are prepared to put 1pence on income tax to support the NHS and to produce connectivity between the health services. Its about how we conduct our society, how we draw people from adolescence to jobs and their future. We don’t have a strategy for dealing with that in this country. When we have people languishing on the streets its a condemnation for all of us.
What’s your view on the ongoing homeless protest ?
I am appalled that we have homelessness in the city. I applaud those who are standing on the street. I think we need to look at our benefits system and universal credit because they’re not working. We need to create jobs and opportunities to contribute to society. I was chair of Hoole Community Centre for ten years and we partnered organisations that had issues in Chester and we gave individuals the opportunity to work. I hope community centres will continue to provide that important opportunity because the Conservative state won’t.
How safe is Frodsham street ?
Difficult one! When it appeared I wasn’t too sure. Even now I’m always looking over my shoulder so I’m not too keen on it. If you look back at my history then you’ll see I dont like where the bus station is. I objected to it at the time. It lent itself to some of the problems we have now. I understand Frodsham street has won some awards and I’m a bit surprised!
How did you vote in the EU referendum and what do you think the impact of Brexit will be on Chester, positive/negative/both ?
I voted to stay in the EU. I fervently believe we should stay in the EU and we should be leading in the EU. How did we end up in this mess? If you take the start of this awful mess we find ourselves in now, it was the Conservatives that decided they had a problem with UKIP and division in their own party, so they decided to feast their own internal problems on all of us. In my opinion I dont think its the way we should go, it was the wrong outcome founded on the wrong basis. We should be working together with our European partners to create a better future for all our residents. I don’t believe in division, I believe in working together. I dont believe in standing alone, its a recipe for isolation, it means no hope and a poorer Britain.
If we stay in Europe we can influence Europe and have a status on the world stage. The next generation who are going to be paying our pensions , we should be setting out a stall, not putting barriers in their way. The Conservatives decided they wanted to sort out an internal problem and they put the country at risk. When I see the press barons of the UK describing the judiciary as “traitors” , I think we’ve got a real problem and I worry about the future of the country. The gap between rich and poor is widening every year, if anything is going to bring people to the streets, that is the point where people will take real issue with what’s going on.
What can Chester improve on ?
Accessibility, a tram system to bring people into the city. The zoo brings about 1.5 million people into the city, but they don’t all stay in the city for 2 or 3 nights. They spend a day at the zoo, and we need more than that. The city itself should be exciting and vibrant, we need something digitally viable for the 21st century where people can experience what it was like for the Romans.. (see above) . We have to make Chester a different place to be and somewhere that’s on people’s list to visit. We have places like the Canal, which should be exciting with cafes etc. It should paint the picture of Chester in the industrial age , and it has to be brought to life.
Do you support the Northgate development ?
Storyhouse is great, I commend it because they have created something special and we should be proud of that. I personally, thought it was too expensive and I felt a development on the back of the library would have cost the residents less. It would have been about 5 million less, I would have let the University of Chester, who expressed an interest, take it (the Odeon) and created the same theatre at the front of the library.
We are looking at a mess pot of housing, retail and cafes and I dont think that’s how Chester should position itself for the future. Flats and retail wont bring people into Chester. I understand the councillors look at the money and what they can get for the money, but we need to take some risks. The risk is building on the known strengths of Chester , the history . We need open spaces and integrative digital technology, where families are going to come for excitement.
How would you describe the record of Chris Matheson ?
I think he is an honourable man, I’m not going to decry anyone who has stood for public office.
How do you see the future of Chester as the high street declines, parking issues, congestion etc continue?
I think Chester needs to move on from where we are. If you look at what’s happening in Europe with tramways, they’ve used it as an opportunity to regenerate the living space and quality of life.
Chester has to position itself differently. We are 80,000 people strong and that’s it, we need to be a niche market where people want to live work and play. Plenty of people want to work here, Virgin money came here because the lady who ran the company lived in Chester. We have to exploit that kind of advantage because Chester is a lovely city. But we have to build on that and say how can we protect ourselves for the 21st century ? One advantage we have is our history, and we should exploit that opportunity, we have the opportunity to build a better Chester. The citizens of Chester are loyal and resilient and welcome to visitors. If you look at what’s happening with the EU Chester has always positioned itself as being a place where people can visit and feel welcome, and I think that’s why Chester voted to remain.
What qualities does your party leader have to be a good Prime Minister ?
She is an admirable woman, she is a mother, a party leader, articulate and bright with a professional history. She’s very personable, I’ve met her a few times. She has the experience of life which will be welcomed by society. I think she’s got a very good public image and I find I appalling we have these whispers going round about her, Labour and Conservative. Young women across the country should look at her and say “I could do that”.
Why should people vote for you ?
People have voted for me over the years, when I was parish councillor and city councillor. I think they’ve done it because, contrary to all the rubbish of today, and the vitriolic headlines, when I see what’s written in the press, I think I was honest politician and I did my best for the community. I think people respected what I did ,and people thought I put the community first. People thought I was an honest person and I hope it says that on my tombstone !
Is there anything you’d like to add ?
My personal thing is about education and I would invest most in the next generation. If you look at society, where we absorb most knowledge is between birth and the age of 8, Investment in early years education would give a platform for the next generation.
I don’t like our parliamentary system, its adversarial and it pits people against one another. That reflects in our society, what I’m seeing in this election I don’t like. People are prepared to wander up to strangers and call them names, this isn’t the world I grew up in! The other thing I’d say is I don’t like corporate Britain and that needs to be resolved as well. we are rewarding people incredible sums for failure, if you look at what’s happened with Thomas Cook and Carillion before it, that can’t be right, what kind of society are we bringing our children into? People think its right to sink a company whilst taking money out of it. These challenges aren’t going to be addressed by the Conservatives or Labour.
Thanks to Bob Thompson for his time.