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Drama unfolds at High Peak Hustings event

There was early drama at Tuesday night’s High Peak hustings when Conservative MP Robert Largan left before a question had even been posed.

It was standing room only as more than 250 people packed into Glossop’s Central Methodist Church for the highly anticipated ‘Election Meeting’.

But with the five candidates arriving for the 7.30pm ‘question time’ it quickly became apparent something was wrong, with rumours that the High Peak MP, looking to defend the seat he won in 2019, might not be staying.

Almost 20 minutes ticked away with some members of the audience beginning to clap impatiently before the candidates took their seats, with chair, Glossopdale School Headteacher Debbie McGloin, announcing the Conservative candidate would not be participating.

He delivered a statement to the audience, alleging two individuals had attended the event who were awaiting trial on charges of harassment against him.

“There are bail conditions which mean they should not be approaching me,” he stated.

“The PCSOs have asked them to leave, but they are refusing, therefore I cannot take part in a debate where I am expected to be within a few metres of two people currently awaiting trial for harassment against me. It is most regrettable.”

There was some laughter and shouting as he made the announcement, before others called out ‘let him speak’.

He was then afforded the time by the chair to summarise his successes since his election in 2019, saying locally progress had been made despite all ‘the squabbling down in Westminster’.

He pointed to the expansion of extra school places at Glossopdale School, creation of the High Peak Nature Recovery Project, securing £7m for the restoration of Glossop Town Hall and Market Hall, improving bus services and setting up a jobs fair programme resulting in 1,000 more people in work. 

He also warned the building of the Mottram ‘bypass’ or Link Roads scheme, rubber stamped earlier this year, would be in jeopardy and potentially scrapped by Labour if he was not re-elected.

Then he was gone, leaving behind the four remaining candidates, Joanna  Collins for the Greens, Catherine Cullen representing Reform UK, Peter Hirst for the Lib Dems and Jonathan Pearce for the Labour Party. 

Each had the task of fielding six questions that had been submitted by the public and by the end there was just time for two additional questions from the floor.

Before answering the first question, Jonathan Pearce stood to declare he was ‘disappointed and saddened that Robert couldn’t take part’ as a real debate was ‘desperately needed’ across the High Peak. He outlined how the cost of living crisis was leaving all the families he spoke to on the doorstep feeling much poorer.

The first question tasked the candidates to address the global climate crisis, asking them to explain their party’s policies.

Mr Pearce answered the second question - which raised the matter of whether candidates supported the local ‘Mottram bypass’ - while addressing the first climate change issue.

Rejecting Robert Lagan’s statement, he said Labour would build the bypass, but that if elected he would also work with Hyde and Stalybridge MP Jonathan Reynolds to push to find a solution to the traffic problems in Tintwistle and Hollingworth.

“Congestion must come down to improve pollution levels,” he said.

In complete contrast, the Green’s Joanna Collins said she was totally opposed to the A57 bypass plan.

“This was first muted 40, even 60 years ago, but things are different now,” she said, claiming the new route would only cause more congestion and pollution.

She said the Greens would use the £188m cost of the bypass to pay for more bus services and invest in cycling and walking schemes locally.

Reform UK candidate Catherine Cullen said she completely agreed with the Greens on the issue.

“I remember my parents talking about it - that’s how long this has been going on for. It’ll only cause more congestion and pollution,” she said, adding one answer would be to provide a train station for Gamesley. 

Liberal Democrat Peter Hirst said he believed bypasses generally created more traffic, but added he wasn’t saying the A57 Link Roads project, as it is now called, shouldn’t be built if there was a strong enough local case for it.

The candidates faced other questions about the state of the NHS and funding for social care, how they would deal with those seeking asylum, how they might make homes more energy efficient plus how they would implement changes to help lift four million children out of poverty in the UK.

From the floor there were two direct questions, one how each party would feed Britain, with each candidate declaring the country needed food security. The final question on the night turned the spotlight on the teaching profession and how teachers might be retained and how schools could be better supported.

The Greens and Lib Dems said they would scrap Ofsted and Labour’s John Pearce also drew attention to his party’s pledge to introduce mental health workers into schools and solve the SEN crisis - all three receiving applause.

Reform UK’s policies didn’t all go down as well, with Catherine Cullen choosing to answer the final question by stating her party would ban ‘transgender ideology in schools’, echoing Nigel Farage’s launch of her party’s manifesto on Monday. 

Her statement was met with derision by some but some applause by others as a relatively peaceful and strictly controlled hustings came to a close, albeit without one of the main players.

Police have now confirmed that there has been no breach of bail. 

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