Constituency profile: Halifax

OVER RECENT weeks, there has been much talk of marginal constituencies, key seats, and political battlegrounds - and Halifax is one such seat that is always included in the list of targets.

Prime Minister David Cameron began his campaign year at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax in January

David Cameron chose the constituency to launch the Conservative’s general election campaign back in January, with a rousing speech at Dean Clough Mills, and party chairman Grant Schapps told The Yorkshire Post it was a “key seat”.

The Conservatives want Halifax not just to win the election - but to show they can do well in the north. So much so, since election campaigning started with force Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Chancellor George Osborne have both paid visits to the constituency.

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Labour’s Linda Riodan has held the seat since 2005, but won by just 1,472 votes in 2010. In February, just four months before the election and as parties and candidates were gearing up for battle, she surprisingly announced that she was stepping down - leaving Labour in a spin.

Retaining A&E at Calderdale Royal Hospital is a local concern

While Conservative candidate Philip Allott, who also stood in 2010, was campaigning in earnest, Labour was pulling together shortlists, dealing with union rows about candidate selection and fighting off accusations about parachuting in the best candidate. Eventually Holly Walker-Lynch was chosen as the party’s candidate on March 21 but she has ground to make up and plenty of pavements to pound before May 7.

But while Halifax might be a priority to the parties - politics doesn’t seem to be all too important to people on the streets of the town centre on a cool spring Monday lunchtime.

Dermot Byrnes, like many of those I stopped and spoke to, seemed uninterested.

“I don’t vote. I just can’t be bothered,” he said. “I’ve never had an interest in it.”

Parking charges in Halifax town centre have been a cause of major upset for local traders

Politics seems to be a dirty word, something that’s “nothing to do with me”, as another woman put it. But ask anyone about parking, or the changes Calderdale Royal Hospital, and they are happy to talk. Local issues, not national, seem to be the priority.

Speaking from behind the counter of his butcher’s shop in Borough Market, Stephen Siddall said: “We’ll always find something to moan about. It could be a lot better but there’s only so much money to go around. “Parking is the main issue for us. They built on the big carpark, and haven’t provided anything else.”

Parking charges have recently returned to the streets of the town centre after a long-running saga saw Calderdale Council forced to axe charges in certain streets after they were found to be unenforceable.

For Mr Siddall, it has all been damaging, both to his business, and the town centre. He seems jaded by the issue, and local politics in general.

“They are selling everything off, trying to rake in as much money as they can,” he said. “The Piece Hall has been shut for 12 months, I’ve heard the bus station might move. A&E will definitely move. It’s a foregone conclusion.”

Just up from Mr Siddall’s stall is Coletta’s cafe.

Owner Joanne Walsh has been here for 13 years. She shares his worries about parking.

“Older people who used to come here for a cuppa and chat are going to Sainsbury’s instead because they know they can park for free,” she said.

A&E closing, immigration, and benefits sanctions are popular topics of conversation among her customers.

“I’ve got customers here and they go barmy about immigrants, especially when they can’t get council houses,” she said. “They talk about it all the time. A lot of people are living on the breadline.”

While the issues in Halifax may be local, it, along with a string of marginal constituencies in Yorkshire, is being treated as a national priority.

The Yorkshire Post took to the streets of Halifax town centre to speak to people about which issues really mattered to them when it comes to voting in the general election.

Colin Gledhill said: “One thing that annoys me is the HS2 rail link. To save half an hour they are spending billions of pounds. Halifax to London only takes two or three hours, I can’t see the problem. If you are going to cut the journey time in half, fine, but for the time you save and the money is costs, it’s ridiculous.”

John Thorpe said: “I used to be a big rail user, the rail services up here are atrocious and the roads are appalling. As soon as I could afford a car, I dropped public transport like a brick.

“Even if they ramped up car tax, if the choice was taking a battered old bus, I’d still use the car.”

Linda Peel said: “I don’t think they are putting enough into the town centre, it has declined over the years. The Piece Hall brought a lot of tourists into Halifax but it shut so early.

“People think there’s nothing to come to Halifax for now. There’s more pound shops than anything else.”

Zahoor Ahmed said: “I think the Conservative have done really well. Now the pound is stronger, fuel is cheaper, there’s quite a lot of savings. The NHS is one of the main issues. A&E should stay in Halifax. God forbid if someone gets hurt here, but the time they get to Huddersfield, it could be too late. Keep it in Halifax, and improve it, bring the waiting times down.”