LIKE MOST urban collectives in the UK, Blackpool is a town with particularly distinctive, contrasting areas. This notion is represented by the two wards involved in by-elections on the 3rd of May.
On the one hand there is Bloomfield; a relatively deprived seafront ward of densely populated residential areas, former industrial zones, hotels, boarding houses, HMOs, significant car parking and some beleaguered retail. Bloomfield has been subject to half-hearted yet grandiose plans reliant on profligate local authority spending without a consideration of real value, and for the most part these intended loss leaders have concluded as simply losses, with the area remaining as it started: a transient hub, down in the dumps with little hope.
On the other hand there is Marton. Marton is an inland residential area encompassing the expanse between Blackpool Victoria Hospital and the North side of Preston New Road all the way to the M55 roundabout. The eastern boundary stretches out to – but does not include – Staining and the western boundary is formed by the southern aspect of North Park Drive, the eastern aspect of West Park Drive, the south of Beechfield Avenue and the east of Whitegate Drive.
Marton is known as a leafy, sedate, ward of long term residents who have an investment in their communities, contrasting with Bloomfield which has a lot of transients due to the availability of cheap holiday accommodation and HMOs. This is supported by the turnout figures for local elections: whilst the 38.73% turnout in Marton is far from spectacular the contrast with Bloomfield, at just 26.47%, is evident.
Marton has a single CCTV camera and saw 474 incidents of antisocial behaviour reported in 2009/10. This is a low figure but it is still more than twice as many reported incidents as were reported in Norbreck during the same period. Comparing crime figures from 2011 and 2012 suggest an overall fall in crime.
Overall Indices of Deprivation show that Marton falls within the bracket of 25-50% least deprived areas nationally, and as such is one of the least deprived wards in Blackpool. Central wards such as Bloomfield and Talbot fall into the bracket of the 3% most deprived.
The ward is more than twice the size of Bloomfield yet has one of the lowest numbers of residents in Blackpool (6,636), suggesting that the ward is full of large houses with gardens the size of football pitches, but this isn’t true at all.
Unlike most Blackpool wards, large parts of Marton are lined with greenery and trees. The largest park in Blackpool, Stanley Park, dominates Marton and occupies 256 acres to the west of the ward. On the eastern side of the ward there is a 93 acre nature reserve known as Marton Mere, which is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its bird population. North of Marton Mere lies the De Vere hotel and golf course, followed by Blackpool Zoo, part of the Stanley Park golf course and then Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
Interestingly, the area upon which the zoo lies used to be an aerodrome and aircraft construction facility. This area, in conjunction with an additional facility on Squires Gate, played a part in pumping out over 2,500 Wellington bombers during the Second World War.
As a residential ward rather than one that predominantly caters for holidaymakers, Marton has its own smorgasbord of concerns. Of particular interest, it has been suggested that the majority of Marton residents have highlighted an issue that doesn’t really affect their ward as their number one bugbear: stag and hen parties defiling the town centre. Contrast this with the holiday businesses in Bloomfield who would welcome such visitors with open arms in order to make ends meet.
Another concern which has been highlighted is the use of roads between Lawson Road and Preston Old Road as ‘rat runs’ because they are part of a quicker route to Preston New Road than queueing at the appalling junction with South Park Drive. This is a tough one for local policymakers because a road is a road, and any cars are entitled to drive on them. Even so, many residents are unhappy with the traffic and are demanding action.
Many residents cite dog fouling as a problem and given the large open spaces in Marton and the volume of dog walkers in and around Stanley Park, it is as big a problem in Marton as anywhere else. Dog fouling is a horrible practice, but irresponsible owners have to be caught in the act by Civil Enforcement Officers in order to be issued with a fixed penalty notice. You don’t see many CEOs outside the town centre, so most incidents of fouling go unpunished. The same applies for another much despised practice – littering.
- Distance from ward: lives in ward
- Election history: 2003 Marton, 2007 Marton, 2011 Marton, 2012 Marton by-election
On paper Jim has all the credentials to be the clear winner of this by-election. He lives in the ward, has been politically active for many years, and Labour are the flavour of the month due to David Cameron hitting the self-destruct button. Jim is a one-ward man with no evidence of wanting to stand anywhere just to grab power, and this should appeal to voters.
Jim has appeared several times as a candidate but has unfortunately lost out each time. Last year he was pipped at the post by his colleague Debbie Coleman and fellow ward resident the late Jim Houldsworth in 2011, but if he had taken just 33 votes from the Tory, he would now be a councillor.
Aside from one fairly bad tasting leaflet which appears to give the message that Jim Elmes is ‘the candidate Jim Houldsworth would have voted for’, the Labour propaganda circulating around at the moment focuses on national politics, predictably banging on about ‘Tory cuts’ without offering anything ward-specific to the electors in this by-election.
On his Labour website, Jim says;
I’ve lived in Marton for 22 years and I know the problems that speeding through rat runs like mine on Lancaster Road can cause. And although our Labour Council is pursuing problems such as dog-fouling, vandalism and litter across the town, Marton residents and our councillor Debbie Coleman are pressing for more action to clean up Marton Ward.
As you know it’s getting harder and harder for young people to get decent jobs. That’s why I support our Labour Council’s efforts to attract inward investment into the town.
- Distance from ward: 1.8miles
- Election history: 2008 Park by-election, 2011 Park, 2012 Marton by-election
Peter Collins broke onto the political scene in 2008 when he sensationally ended a 20-year exile for the Conservatives in Park ward with a thumping by-election victory following the death of Labour councillor Les Kersh. Peter was propelled to instant stardom within the Callow regime and was handed the lucrative position of the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services within the council executive.
Having been the sub-postmaster on Grange Park for over 20 years, Peter built up a solid backing from locals who saw him day in, day out, and felt that he was ‘one of them’. When the Conservatives decided to shut the library on Grange Park, hearts were broken and the romance with Peter Collins faded. He fought a decent campaign in 2011, but the Labour leader’s former girlfriend Gillian Campbell was standing as a candidate there and as such the ward was made a target. They won it with a large majority.
Peter brings experience to the political table and is passionate about improving Blackpool as a whole. He was awarded the MBE by the Queen for his services to the community in Blackpool.
- Distance from ward: 2.5miles
- Election history: 2003 Warbreck, 2007 Warbreck, 2011 Warbreck, 2012 Marton by-election
Kevan Benfold is a massive figure within the local Liberal Democrats and has been a member of the party since it formed in 1988. Prior to this he was a member of the Liberal Party. Currently he is the Membership and Recruitment Officer within the local party and also holds various other positions such as that of Parliamentary Candidate Assessor and Front of House Manager at the national conference.
Liberal Democrat literature has been fairly limited for both this by-election and that of Bloomfield, focusing on national issues as Labour have done. This is a bit of a shame as you would have thought they would have championed some of the work that their last remaining councillor Doug Green has done.
- Distance from ward: 2.2miles
- Election history: 2011 Warbreck, 2012 Marton by-election
In the 2010 general election, Philip Mitchell stood as a Green Party candidate in Fylde, and following this defeat he saw another defeat in the 2011 local elections, standing in Warbreck, the ward in which he is resident.
Philip professed as a biomedical scientist in and around London but left work and returned to Blackpool in 2005 to care for his elderly mother. As you would expect from a Green Party candidate, Philip is against nuclear power, pollution and other nasties which make the world go round. He loves cycling and does not fly.
He has been in the local and national press a bit recently in relation to the fracking issue. Unsurprisingly, Philip doesn’t support it for environmental reasons. He said;
The pollution has many different ways of getting into the ground, gas is dissolved in water and can find its way into the water course. There has been little interest at any level of government in public safety and the impact on the Lancashire countryside.