- Tell us about yourself and why you’re standing
Chester is my home. It’s where my heart is. I grew up in Chester, my first job was in the café at Browns of Chester, and I raised my family here. I’ve spent the past 12 years helping local people as a local councillor, and in 2015 I became the first woman leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Firstly, I am standing to be Chester’s MP so I can continue to fight for the brilliant people of Chester. I am caring and compassionate, and I am on the side of local people as we all try to get through the Conservative cost of living crisis. Throughout this election I have been meeting people who are struggling to make ends meet or who are worried about the future. Life shouldn’t be this hard – people in Chester deserve better. I will stand up for you in Parliament.
Secondly, I have a positive vision for our city. I am proud to live here and to have represented our city on the council for over a decade. Of all the candidates standing in this election, I am the only one with a track record of actually attracting investment into Chester. I will fight for investment for our heritage, in our transport infrastructure, in health and education provision, and to protect our environment. I will stand up for Chester on the national stage.
- What qualities can you bring to the role of MP ?
I know Chester, I know our local communities, I know our strengths and I know what we need to do to help our city and our people to thrive. As the city’s new MP, I’ll hit the ground running. In the last twelve years I’ve shown I have the commitment to deliver major projects like Storyhouse and Chester’s new market. I have also shown I have compassion by taking real action on poverty and protecting funding for early years support so local kids get the best start in life. I want to make Chester the best place in the country to grow up and grow old. It’s this drive that makes me the best candidate in this election.
- How would you assess the record of the current Government ?
The Conservative government has crashed the economy and broken our public services. Family finances are being squeezed in every direction. Since 2010, real wages for full-time workers living in Chester have fallen by £2,500. Rents are increasing, energy, fuel and food prices are increasing, and homeowners in Chester face paying £470 a month more on their mortgage since the Conservatives’ disastrous mini-budget.
The Conservatives are out of control. They are divided, out of ideas and no longer fit to govern this country. For people in Chester, this means their government has lost sight of what local people need and appear to have no awareness or understanding of the chaos their Party has created here in Chester. The country needs the chance for a fresh start, and only Labour has a plan to fix the mess the Conservatives have caused. I want to stand up for Chester in a future Labour government and that’s why I am asking for people to vote for me on Thursday 1st December.
- What would be your 3 main priorities for Chester ?
My three priorities for Chester are looking after people, looking after our economy and looking after our environment.
I will stand up for Chester’s people and be a powerful voice for you as we fight to make new laws and new policies which will help people through the Conservatives cost-of-living crisis. I also want public transport to go where people need it to go, and that’s why I want to put the control of public transport back into the hands of people who use it.
I will support Chester’s economy by attracting investment to support retail and tourism. I also want to see more police on the street, especially in places like the town centre where anti-social behaviour can change the way residents and visitors feel about being there – I want people to feel safe in town and in their neighbourhoods.
Finally, I will protect our environment. This is a big issue and we have a long way to go, but I have pledged to work with the water companies to stop raw sewage dumping in the River Dee. I chaired the council committee that delivered the new surface water drain that takes rain water out of the city and directly into the River Dee. This will help stop Chester’s Victorian sewers from becoming overloaded and reduces the need for sewage discharges. It’s a good start, but there is more to do. We must protect green spaces and waterways like The Groves.
- How would you support constituency SMEs through the economic crisis ?
As the councillor for Chester City centre, I have met and worked with many Chester business owners over the years. Twelve years ago I remember canvassing Geoff and Debbie Hughes who own the butchers in the new market. They told me about the problems with the old market and I promised my help. Seeing the success of the new market is a huge source of pride. I’ve delivered my promise to them.
On a day to day basis, I work hard for business and residents in the city. I have been supporting people with the alfresco licences, which is really bringing the city to life, I helped with the parklet outside the town hall, and I have helped with licensing and planning applications for new businesses too. I care deeply about Chester city centre, I want to protect it, to regenerate it and to see thriving businesses operating there for us all to enjoy.
I used to sit on the Chester City Centre Management Committee which was the precursor to the Business Improvement District. I supported the creation of the BID and continue to work with them and other city stakeholders on the Chester City High Street Cell which was formed to bring the city out of the pandemic but is now a positive and creative forum for improving the environment in the city for residents, visitors and businesses.
The current situation with energy prices and the rising costs of ingredients or imported goods for retailers is deeply worrying. Couple this with staff shortages and it is easy to see how the situation for Chester small business owners is becoming precarious, not just in the city centre for the hospitality and retail sector, but also for trades people, small manufacturers and the service industries too. I want to work with local businesses to try to join the dots between the council’s adult education programme and the needs of local employers, as well as looking at how the Workzones that I helped to build in the council can be used to help businesses with staffing issues.
Labour has a plan to get rid of business rates and that will help city centre businesses to compete with the large digital retailers. I meet many local people who think the council sets business rates and that they are too high. In fact, it’s the government that sets the level of business rates. The Conservatives have failed to tackle the issues of the high street, but readdressing the balance between small businesses and big online retailers through scrapping business rates will be a big step in the right direction. Labour have committed to this.
- What works well in Chester ?
Chester is at its best when everyone works together. We are a city of doers and when we all push in the same direction, we can achieve great things. There are so many passionate people in Chester and by and large we all want the same thing, we don’t always agree on how to get there, but the destination or direction of travel is certainly something that is shared.
I think this spirit of collaboration is something that works well and we need to continue to nurture it so that we can create a single vision for the city that residents, businesses and other organisations can see, understand and support.
- What doesn’t work well in Chester and how could you improve it?
Buses. You (@shitchester) and I first ‘bonded’ over the dreadful, leaky yellow bus shelters. It was the perfect illustration of everything that was wrong with the Conservatives’ approach to public transport. I want to see buses back in public control so they can be run for people and not for profit.
- What steps should Chester take towards relieving the climate crisis ? How would you encourage green investment ?
The climate crisis is the biggest challenge faced by our planet and it requires collaboration between people and nations, as well as us taking leadership and personal responsibility seriously at every level of society including: government, workplaces, community and family.
As your Member of Parliament, I will be backing Labour’s plan to make the UK a clean energy superpower and to help people with their energy bills. This includes insulating 19 million homes over the next decade, doubling onshore wind, tripling solar power and quadrupling offshore wind, as well as investing in tidal, nuclear, and hydrogen. The UK needs energy security and Labour will deliver it.
Labour’s plans to tackle the climate crisis and grow the economy for the long term go hand in hand. Labour will establish Great British Energy, a home-grown company that will harness the power of Britain’s sun, wind, and waves to deliver good, secure, high-paid British jobs, cut energy bills and deliver energy independence for our country.
In Chester, I want to see us pursue options for local energy generation. When David Cameron’s government stopped the Feed In Tariff for renewable energy projects, it stopped progress on re-opening the Dee Hydro Hub. This could have been generating clean, renewable energy by now. As a councillor, I have supported projects with Chester Community Energy to deliver local solar on top of buildings in my ward, like on the Northgate Arena. I believe we need more of this, and nationally we need investment in the grid and reforms to planning so that locally we can accelerate the roll-out of cheap, clean, home-grown energy for communities.
There’s also a real opportunity for Chester to become an innovation hub for Britain’s green future. The plans for Ellesmere Port to become a net zero industrial cluster mean that Chester, in partnership with the University, could become a real incubator for energy and green technology start ups. I will be a real champion for this, in part for Chester’s economic growth, but also so that our city can proudly be at the forefront in the fight against climate change.
Two of my five campaign pledges are focused on the environment. Bringing Chester’s buses back under public control will mean our buses will go where people want them to go again, and this will help reduce our over-reliance on cars. Secondly, stopping the dumping of sewage in the River Dee will help local wildlife as part of tackling the nature emergency. It’s unacceptable that underinvestment in our sewer infrastructure has created a situation where raw sewage is dumped into the river when the system backs up.
There is so much I could say about this subject, but I am also really proud to have led a council that is planting millions of trees with Mersey Forest. I really support the wildlife corridors that Chester Zoo is promoting, there’s the work of Eco-communities, Transition Chester and the Sustainability Forum – all great people doing great work and I hope I am in a position to support them if I am elected. With their support, I want to be a powerful voice on the simple things we can all do to protect the local environment, help nature and reduce waste.
- Do you support sending asylum seekers to Rwanda?
The Conservatives’ Rwanda project is not a sensible solution to fixing the broken asylum system – it’s not working and it has already cost £140 million. The broader picture is one of increasing backlogs and costs, and the home office failed to process 96% of channel crossings last year. We need a much stronger agreement with France to stop the dangerous boat crossings that put lives at risk, and Labour has a fully costed practical plan to boost the work of the National Crime Agency, work upstream and tackle the problem at source.
I’m proud that Chester is a City of Sanctuary offering support to those fleeing war, famine, violence and terror. As the Council’s Leader’s champion for refugees, I’m humbled by the response of Chester families who have welcomed people into their homes, particularly our Ukrainian guests of which there are now nearly 300 in Chester.
- How has Brexit affected Chester and how could we maximise any current/future benefits?
Whether you voted for Brexit or not, I believe the Conservatives were not properly prepared for it and they made promises to people that they have been unable to keep.
The vote took place 7 years ago though and I believe we have to look to the future and not the past. As it stands, the trade deals that the Tories signed up to do not put Britain first. It’s stifling investment in innovation, as businesses see increasing costs for processes that used to cost them less.
In Chester, we also have a large financial services sector which has undoubtedly been impacted by Brexit, as has tourism. There are opportunities to improve this situation and I believe that Labour will do a better job of negotiating these trade deals and improving the perception of Britain around the world. I also think we will do a better job of keeping the consumer and workplace protections that we once had as members of the union.
The Brexit debate was deeply divisive for our country and right now we need to heal, and focus on the future so we can move the country forward together.
- What are your aspirations for the next phase of the Northgate development?
Delivering Northgate has been an aspiration for the city for decades. Dividing the project up into distinct phases has been a real achievement and I was proud to be leader when we opened Storyhouse and am proud to have delivered the current phase with the new market, cinema, office space and restaurants.
For me, the next phase has to be largely residential, and potentially more office space too. We need more people living and working in the city centre to support our town centre businesses. My big challenge for this project is that we look to create something that has really strong environmental credentials and which builds town centre communities rather than simply apartments.
- How can we better maintain and support the city walls , in particular the collapse of 2020 which remains unrepaired?
Since Cheshire West and Chester Council was formed, there has been more investment in Chester’s Walls during the Labour years than in the Conservative years. Under my leadership, we created the City Walls Fund for ongoing maintenance, and we have delivered restoration work on the Eastgate clock, the new steps at Northgate, as well as repairs and restorative works at Bridgegate and Watergate. During the Northgate development, we recovered stonework that has been used to make repairs to sections of the city walls too.
These are big projects that require Scheduled Monument Consent and sensitive archaeological and specialist architectural support. Currently we are replacing the steps near the King Charles Tower, which is another commitment we made and is being delivered. I want to see the towers re-opened as heritage attractions and I will work with people in the city to try and help this happen.
The Walls are scanned frequently using lasers and other technology, as well as walked frequently by specialist inspectors to look for any movement that would indicate a safety concern. Where the Walls are propped, it will be because of a safety concern or a legal dispute over responsibility for repairs. When these disputes happen, they are complicated and can take a long time to resolve.
On the collapse, as the local councillor, I called that application in for a decision by the Council’s planning committee because of my concerns about the proximity of the development to the Walls. As a result, conditions were put in place that advised on how construction should proceed. There is a legal case ongoing to determine responsibility.
The biggest challenge for the Walls is that, unlike York, our Walls are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They form part of our pedestrian infrastructure and are maintained, in part, from our highways budget. The highways budget comes from national and local funding, but the national part has been cut year on year by the government and by as much as 22% in recent years. There is no recognition in the council’s highways allocation from the government for the fact that Cheshire West and Chester Council maintains a scheduled ancient monument as part of its highways infrastructure. I believe this is a fairly unique situation and one which needs to be rectified either through increased general funding for the local authority or a specific grant.
- Dee House remains in a state of disrepair, how could we speed up progress on this divisive issue?
Clearly some residents would like to knock down Dee House, but as a listed building this would require permission from the Secretary of State. Given it has archaeological merit this is not straightforward and a range of tests would need to be met. Some residents signed a petition a number of years ago which asked the council to dig up the amphitheatre, but Historic England owns the amphitheatre and they want to preserve any remaining archaeology in situ.
When you stand looking at Dee House, St Johns Church and the amphitheatre, you are looking at more than 2000 years of British history, it is built up layer upon layer with architecture and it is visible in just one view. I think Chester has an opportunity to celebrate how this single site has been a place of recreation, congregation and education in our city for millenia.
There is a really amazing story to tell and I would love it if we could find an immersive and interactive way to tell it by preserving and exposing the most exciting elements.
- Would you support the Ginger E scooter trial being made permanent ?
I think Chester’s trial has been one of the more successful trials in the country, but it has not been supported by everyone and I think we need to listen to the concerns of those people in the city. It seems to me that if we wanted to have any kind of permanency for rentals, or if we wanted to allow privately owned e-scooters to be operated legally, then we need to establish a proper licensing and legislative regime sooner rather than later.
- Our former MP said he would fight the closure of the Countess with every drop of blood in his body – do you enjoy the same level of conviction?
Absolutely. I was a non-executive director of the Countess of Chester for ten years until 2012, and virtually every year, the Countess was one of a handful in the top 40 hospitals in the country. Sadly, the staff have been pushed to the limit, resources have been cut and now the hospital struggles with long waiting lists for some treatments and fails to meet its targets in departments where the pressures are particularly acute. I will fight for the investment it needs to get it back to being a top hospital again.
But the hospital isn’t the only part of the NHS in crisis. I know there are serious problems in general practice, particularly with access to GP appointments, dental care and in mental health services. After 12 years of austerity, the hardworking staff in all parts of the NHS are on their knees.
Labour’s plan to train thousands of nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals will tackle the fundamental problems we’re seeing with workplace stress and staff leaving their profession. And it will mean that we return to the first-class health service people in our country deserve.
- What are your views on the future use of Chester castle ?
As Chester Castle has traditionally been the seat of the Earldom of Chester, and the Earl of Chester is a role traditionally held by the Prince of Wales, Prince William may become the new Earl of Chester and that means Chester Castle will transfer to him too. This is part of the fascinating and complex history that makes Chester Castle an intriguing and challenging project to move forward. Areas of it (some of the main buildings) are owned by Crown Estates, some parts – namely the Agricola Tower – are owned by English Heritage, and the adjoining Chester Walls are owned by Historic England.
Getting the castle reopened to the public a few years ago was an amazing achievement for a range of partners, but taking it further is even more complicated because of the ownerships and priorities of the different organisations. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the ambition to deliver something on the site in the future though.
While I was leader of the council, we worked with people in the community to re–open the castle and English Heritage have continued to invest in the Agricola Tower. Their next event is on 26th November and it’s called ‘Christmas at the Castle’. This is a great idea as traditionally it has only opened in the summer for events like the Heritage Festival. This shows how the castle can be used for education and events throughout the year, while we keep working on a more permanent and sustainable plan for its future.
- How would you tackle the further regeneration of the rows?
The Rows are the historic core of Chester. They are home to the oldest shop front in the country and arguably they are the oldest shopping centre in the country too.
They are unique to our city and as Chester works hard to reposition itself as a shopping, culture and leisure destination in a post pandemic, online retailing world, I think it will be hugely important to define Chester as a historic shopping city so that people want to come here to experience a traditional shopping experience on a traditional British High Street.
I believe a positive step on this journey would be to campaign for world heritage site status for the Rows – this would position Chester among a strong mix of destinations across the globe and would give great pride to residents and businesses and help to protect this important historic asset for future generations.
In the shorter to medium term, I strongly support the conversion of upper levels back to residential. The 70s, 80s, 90s and even early 2000s saw big retail moving into row and street level historic buildings, with upper floors mainly used for storage or simply empty. The changing high street provides new opportunities for smaller, independent businesses to flourish in smaller spaces, for service sector businesses to open up in former retail spaces, for live/work opportunities, for new apartments for people to live in the city centre. We are already seeing this happen in some places and it’s really exciting.
I’m really proud of some of the Heritage Action Zone work too, sorting out areas like where Shrub is on Eastgate Row, cleaning up the bridge over Pier Point Lane, creating better bin storage areas in some of the historic alleyways – all of these things make the Rows and the city better, and we need to continue this and continue to attract investment to revive and revitalise them so that they are enjoyed for generations to come.
I’m also proud that in 2017 Chester won the European Access Award for our commitment to ensuring our city continues to become more accessible for all. This includes access to the Rows and we should continue to ensure we build on this for the future.
- What support could you offer to Chester FC?
Chester FC has a very special place in my heart, and my family have been involved with the club for years. My husband, Nick, and stepdad, Frank, are season ticket holders on the Harry Mac and they’re named on the wall as founding members from when the community shares were issued. The Club’s motto – Our City, Our Community, Our Club – is really powerful. It makes me really proud. I would like to continue to support the Club and Community Trust with projects like the King George V.
As Member of Parliament, I would use my position to help find a long-term solution to the administration of the stadium given its position on the border of England and Wales. With the Policing being with Cheshire Police and the stadium’s ownership and safety inspections being with Cheshire West and Chester Council, we need to try and find a sensible solution that would help the club move forward.
- What is your definition of a woman?
The majority of people define their gender based on their sex. For a small number of people that isn’t the case. I believe people should always be free to be themselves, and that it isn’t down to me or anyone else to determine who they are.
- What are your views on a form of proportional representation for Parliament and House of Lords reform?
Families in Chester are struggling in the Conservative cost of living crisis, the only way Labour can fix this is to win the next general election on the current system.
Personally, I believe strongly in the power of democracy though, so I am open to having a proper debate around electoral reform.
The Labour Party nationally has plans to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a new elected chamber, a key part of our plans to restore trust in politics.
- What are your views on the cost of parking in the city particularly the new Market Car Park?
Car parking in city centres always generates debate. This ranges from people who want it to be free, to people who want limited car parking so people have to use other forms of transport. With over half a billion pounds of government cuts to the council budget since 2010, the cost of running car parks has to be recovered or other public services would have to be cut to cover these costs.
In terms of prices, there are a range of tariffs for short and long stay parking. Long stay visitors can park in the Little Roodee for up to 12 hours for £5. It’s around £1 an hour to park at Garden Lane or St Anne’s Street car parks during the day. The central, larger car parks like Trinity Street, Delamere Street and Chester’s New Market Parking at Northgate offer a range of tariffs for day visitors to the city and evening visitors can park in places like The Kaleyards, St Annes, Watergate Street or Garden Lane for as little as £1.50 after 6pm. For a more central location which is well lit and covered by CCTV, the New Market Parking has a flat rate of £4 after 6pm.
For people who would like to utilise more sustainable modes of transport, there are over a hundred new cycle parking spaces available near Storyhouse and Chester’s new market. Half will be in the new indoor cycle hub opening later this month, which is on the ground floor of the New Market Parking. Park and Ride costs just £2 per person (under 16s can travel free with an adult) with buses running every 10 to 12 minutes on Mondays to Saturdays and every 15 minutes on Sundays and bank holidays. The free Shopper Hopper bus from the Bus Interchange at Gorse Stacks to Hunter Street links with all bus services including the Park and Ride network, but ultimately if we want to improve the options for bus travel in the city we need a government that wants to bring buses back into public control, so they can be run for people and not for profit.
- How would you improve transport links to the city? Manchester/London/Flintshire etc. Also rural transport links
Improving rural transport links is really important in Chester. Our villages are becoming more isolated as fuel costs go up and public transport services deteriorate. I’m pledging to bring buses back into public control and this will allow us to restore frequent and more reliable buses around the city.
I would also like to see rural bus services get linked up with the city’s park and ride service so people can make multi bus journeys with one ticket, allowing the frequency of park and ride buses – which run every 12 minutes – to support a greater frequency of buses circulating in the rural villages around Chester. We simply cannot do these things without a change of direction in the current government, or even better – a Labour government.
The Conservative’s have really let us down on our rail connections too. We used to have regular direct trains to London and they’ve vanished to a few a day. Over the years, I’ve campaigned hard for improved transport links across the Cheshire/Merseyside and North Wales areas. I will continue to work hard for regular trains for Chester’s commuters, and Labour in government will nationalise the rail system to transform services for passengers that rely on them.
- What are your views on an English assembly/ Parliament ?
We need to empower communities across Britain to make decisions that are right for them. Labour will give mayors and local authorities the powers to deliver their vision for local growth – whether it’s the control over buses to connect people to apprenticeships and jobs, friends and family, or more control over adult skills. I’m a great believer in devolution with decisions being made at the right level. Over the past 12 years, we’ve seen the Tories centralising decision-making to an incredible extent. It’s wrong and the next Labour Government will address this.
- What are your hopes for the local housing market ?
Every council has to set out targets for housing in its area under its local plan and I’m pleased that our Labour-led council is on track to meet its targets. Within that plan is a commitment that 30% of housing is affordable which is important to make housing in our area attainable for local people.
I’m also pushing for the second phase of the Northgate development to include housing, providing the city centre housing options that we’ve seen a real demand for. However, I am worried about the increasing levels of conversion of city centre residential properties into AirBnBs which is forcing up the cost of private rents. This is a completely unregulated area of housing policy. As Chester’s MP, I want to see proper regulation of this market.
- How would you tackle the increasing number of street drug/drink users?
Under my leadership of the council, new laws were brought in for Chester city centre that mean people have to surrender their alcoholic drink to an enforcement officer if asked to do so. The issue these days is that there are not enough police officers available to enforce the laws we have created. That’s why I have said that I will work with local police commanders to crack down on anti-social behaviour in our city, including street drinking.
When it comes to drugs, I think we are in a very complicated space at the moment. County lines gangs are organised and evasive. New types of drugs like spice are highly addictive and easy to manufacture. This makes life very tough for the police, who I know want to stamp out organised crime and redistribute the proceeds of crime to the communities that are impacted by it.
The reality is that we need more resources to tackle anti-social behaviour on our streets, more specialist officers to investigate and prosecute organised criminals, and we also need to have the services available to help people with their addictions. As Chester’s MP, I will make the case for these things with anyone who cares to listen.
- The Chester constituency has a collection of varied wards , some affluent, some not, how would you bring economic equality to the city so all residents are involved in opportunities and investment ?
I think the ongoing work for Chester’s new One City Plan is the way to do this. The plan sets our 45 actions that we can collectively achieve by 2045 to make Chester a greener, fairer and stronger place. This includes tackling wealth and health inequalities, and includes participation at its heart – so that the people affected by decisions are involved in them too.
We need to be clear though, this question is hugely complex and any candidate who replies with a commitment to deliver economic equality in our city does not understand the gravity of the situation or the factors of health, education and opportunity that lead to inequality in the first place. What I do know is that it is grossly unfair for life expectancy to vary by ward, or for education outcomes to vary by ward.
I will support the process of delivering the One City Plan, so the right people from the right organisations are around the table to discuss these issues and create the work programmes that will help to address structural inequality in our city.
Under my leadership, we were the first council in the country to undertake a Poverty Truth Commission. This is a process that puts people who are experiencing poverty at the centre of decision making whether by the Council, the Department for Work and Pensions, the landlord or other organisations. I convened the most senior people from the public and private sectors in our area so they could hear first hand the experience of people impacted by poverty and inequality. I wanted to create the opportunity for people to be heard. I am humbled by the commitment shown by everyone who is involved in this continuing work which is needed now more than ever.
Time and again I have demonstrated I am on the side of local people, fighting injustice and trying to make life better for everyone. I will keep doing this as Chester’s next Member of Parliament