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In Bury St Edmunds it's all about second place in 2019 General Election

PUBLISHED: 07:30 21 November 2019

Bury St Edmunds is a popular place to live - which has pushed up house prices considerably.  Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Bury St Edmunds is a popular place to live - which has pushed up house prices considerably. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

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Bury St Edmunds is a surprisingly urban constituency - it includes Stowmarket and Needham Market as well as the historic county town of West Suffolk.

Jo Churchill had an 18,000 majority in 2017 - expect the battle in Bury St Edmunds to be fore second place!  PICTURE ANDY ABBOTTJo Churchill had an 18,000 majority in 2017 - expect the battle in Bury St Edmunds to be fore second place! PICTURE ANDY ABBOTT

But it also includes villages (some quite large) between them - and rural areas up to the Norfolk border

It has always returned Conservative MPs (well, since 1885 anyway) - although there was a close race in 1997 when David Ruffley was elected with a majority of just 368.

In 2017 Jo Churchill won with a majority of more than 18,000 over Labour - but this time things could be more interesting because of an electoral pact that has seen the Liberal Democrats standing down to support the Greens in the seat.

So what are the key issues facing voters here?

Helen Geake, Green Party candidate for Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GREEN PARTYHelen Geake, Green Party candidate for Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GREEN PARTY

Housing:

There are substantial housing developments under construction or planned for both Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket. And smaller-scale development is planned in the Needham Market area.

But most of these new homes are for the private market - in Bury there is a serious shortage of affordable homes and its popularity as a location has pushed up the price of privately-owned homes significantly.

New schools have been built to cater for the growing population, but more needs to be done.

Bury St Edmunds Labour candidate Cliff Waterman.  Picture: MARIAM GHAEMIBury St Edmunds Labour candidate Cliff Waterman. Picture: MARIAM GHAEMI

Stowmarket has also grown significantly over recent years and this seems likely to continue in the future.

Crime:

Both Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds have had problems with County Lines drugs gangs coming out of large cities over the last few years - prompting calls for more to be done to offer youngsters other activities.

There have also been concerns about rural crime in the countryside.

Independent candidate Paul Hopfensperger  Picture: MARIAM GHAEMIIndependent candidate Paul Hopfensperger Picture: MARIAM GHAEMI

The need for more police - and a more obvious police presence - is likely to be an issue voters will want addressed.

Employment and jobs:

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The closure of the Bosch factory in Stowmarket has caused concern for jobs in the area - but the proposed development of the huge new distribution park between the railway line and the A14 should help to ease the pressure as that will lead to the creation of more jobs.

The takeover of Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds announced earlier this year inevitably caused some concern among employees - but there appears to be little threat to its long-term presence as one of the country's largest breweries in the town.

School transport:

The county council's controversial decision to change its school transport policy has caused serious concerns in the rural parts of the constituency - particularly in the villages that are in the catchment area for Thurston Community College, many of whose students travel from neighbouring villages.

There is a review of these changes taking place at the county - but it is likely to feature as an issue during the campaign.

Who is standing in the election?

Jo Churchill, Conservative: First elected in 2015, this is her third general election in four and a half years. She was appointed a junior health minister in Boris Johnson's first government.

Cliff Waterman, Labour: Won the Eastgate seat on West Suffolk Council in this year's first elections to the new council. He is a teacher and a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.

Dr Helen Geake, Green: Stood for the seat in 2015 and 2020, she is a well-know television face as an archaeologist on Channel Four's Time Team programme.

Paul Hopfensperger, Independent: Member of West Suffolk Council and a former county councillor.

Who's going to win?

This is an interesting seat because there could be a very tight contest . . . for second place.

The Liberal Democrats have stood aside and will be supporting Green candidate Dr Geake who actually came behind them in the poll in 2017 and lost her deposit (although she had beaten them two years earlier).

Leading national figures have been boosting their campaign while Labour has been putting most of its effort into supporting candidates in marginal seats like Ipswich and Norwich North.

Labour has usually come second in Bury St Edmunds but the Greens have put a lot of effort into the seat and have done well in local council elections, particularly in the Mid Suffolk wards which are in the constituency.

But whatever happens, it is difficult to see any other candidate dislodging Mrs Churchill who had a majority of 18,441 two years ago. She is likely to be in an informal contest with her fellow MPs for "largest Tory majority in Suffolk" crown on December 13.

Mr Hopfensperger has strong local support in his council ward which has seen him re-elected several times - but for an independent to multiply that support to mount a real challenge in a parliamentary contest is very rare.

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