Rats, the Metro and controversial plans for a new multi-million pound civic centre in Sunderland were the hot topics when the city’s political parties met last week.
Representatives from six different groups set out their stalls at Fulwell Methodist Church last week (Thursday, March 28), hoping to prove themselves worthy of the public’s vote in May’s round of local elections.
The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, who both currently have seats on the city council, were represented, but the Labour Party refused to take part, citing issues with the event’s organiser, the Sunderland for Transparency group.
Below is a selection of the parties’ response to key issues.
Q – How will you tackle litter and rats in back lanes?
Richard Elvin, UKIP – Reinstate weekly bin collections.
Coun Stepen O’Brien, Liberal Democrats – It’s obvious, bring back weekly bin collections and make pest control free at the point of use. If your neighbour can’t afford it, you’re still going to have the problem.
Coun Antony Mullen, Conservatives – The Conservative government is making funding available to reinstate weekly bin collections. Also, killing rats. The Liberal Democrat councillor in Barnes put out a leaflet calling for the ‘ethical’ killing of rats – I don’t care how they’re killed.
Glyn Dixon, Democrats and Veterans Party (DVP) – Weekly bin collections need to be reinstated and reduce the cost for brown bins.
Rachel Featherstone, Greens – Encourage recycling, weekly bin collections and free vermin control – we were horrified when they brought in charges for that.
Tony Morrow, The Populist Party – Where my dad lives, I’ve killed four rats. There’s a street cleaner now who makes sure the back lanes are [clean]. He lives in the area and he is proud of the area. That’s what we need, more people living in the area who work in the area.
Q – Is a new civic centre the best use of public funds?
UKIP – No. It’s absolutely ludicrous. I’ve been her for 10 years, all the residents said ‘don’t worry, they’re going to build a new civic centre on [the Vaux site]’. It’s a vanity project so they can have posh offices.
Lib Dems – No. They should move into offices they already own in the city. We moved a library into the Winter Gardens – they could go there. Having £80m or £62m wasted on a suite of offices for the Labour Party is ridiculous.
Conservatives – The Conservative proposal is to scrap the capital cost, put £11m into a leisure centre and put the rest into a new civic centre.
DVP – It’s not a good use of money, there’s empty buildings in the city centre which could be used.
Greens – The current civic centre isn’t fit for purpose, but no, we should not be building a brand new one. They’ve driven a lot of people out of the city centre and there’s a lot of empty office space – use that.
Populist – They knocked a good [civic centre] down in Fawcett Street – why did they build that monstrosity?
Q – Should the Metro be extended to Washington?
UKIP – I’m a believer in extending the Metro wherever we can. It would be a great benefit to Sunderland generally and it’s long overdue. I cannot comprehend why those old lines have not been reutilised, they’ve been lying there for years.
Lib Dems – I agree. It needs government funding, but are we going to get that funding? I don’t think so.
Conservatives – The Conservatives have long supported the extension of the Metro, not just to Washington, but also to Doxford. This government had invested money in the Metro, but I hope they will invest more.
DVP – If the money is there, I agree [it should be extended to Washington] and also to Doxford and maybe to Seaham.
Greens – Yes to Washington, but also to other areas of the city – we want integrated public transport.
Populist – It should have been done when they did the extension to South Hylton – get on with it.
Q – What can be done to ensure HMO (houses in multiple occupation) landlords are more responsible?
UKIP – They should be more strictly regulated, they’re difficult to look after and maintain. The problem is we have a lot of landlords who see it as an easy way to make money.
Lib Dems – I think we have to limit the amount of HMOs. A small step is a mandatory register so we know who owns a home, but it also goes back to us needing more social homes.
Conservatives – People will be aware of the problems with HMOs in places like Roker Avenue. You can vote for Conservatives like me. When it comes [to the planning department] we insist they ask everyone on the street.
DVP – It needs stricter controls on the landlords. The people in the area need to be made aware of exactly what it is going to be used for. There needs to be transparency, possibly a register.
Greens – You need a permit to have a HMO and too many have been issued in areas like Roker Avenue. We would like to see more revoked and turned back into family homes.
Populist – The problems are in the houses. Let the landlords’ associations have more power to control this, otherwise it’s just going to expand.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service