BBC Oxford election debate: Five things we learned

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BBC Oxford hosted an election debate in the brand new constituency of Bicester and Woodstock, where candidates clashed over affordable housing, the benefits system, NHS funding, the Botley Solar farm and plans for Oxford United’s football stadium.

The televised election debate was hosted at Bicester’s Eco Business Centre in the heart of Elmsbrook. It is a passive house and workspace building - meaning it generates more energy than it uses.

Candidates from four of the parties faced questions from the public as part of the BBC's Your Voice, Your Vote campaign.

So, what did we learn?

Back of the net?

Parties are split down the middle when it comes to plans for Oxford United’s new football stadium.

Proposals for the Triangle in Kidlington have divided locals, with some concerned building the stadium in the green belt may damage local biodiversity.

Residents are also concerned about the parking and traffic issues it might bring to the area.

Supporters say it is a great opportunity to boost the local economy. But what do candidates think?

The Conservatives’ Rupert Harrison told BBC Radio Oxford the current proposals aren’t going far enough to address these issues.

Similarly, the Green candidate, Ian Middleton, expressed concerns about the issues potentially closing roads could cause. Mr Middleton says he is against the proposals.

However, Labour’s Veronica Oakeshott believes the proposed plans present a “significant” investment opportunity for businesses in the area.

Calum Miller, the Liberal Democrat candidate, is also supportive and believes the stadium will “come back with a solution”.

Back to work

There is a strong divide between parties over benefit reform.

Martin got in touch to say that he is on benefits, but would like to vote for a party that is not going to reform benefits too much - or force him into work before he is ready.

The Conservatives might disappoint Martin, as Rupert Harrison confirms the party would reform the benefit system.

“We have seen… unsustainable growth in these sickness benefits,” says Mr Harrison.

“It would be better for them and society if they’re back into work."

Responding to the Conservatives’ candidate for Bicester and Woodstock, Veronica Oakeshott said, “I am absolutely astounded to hear from Rupert that he thinks work always pays”.

Ms Oakeshott added that “nurses and teachers are needing support from foodbanks”.

Calum Miller, from the Liberal Democrats, also weighed in during the heated discussion, expressing his concern over “the tone of this debate led by Conservatives” which he described as being “aggressive towards those who are suffering from what is… an epidemic of mental health conditions”.

The Green party would “increase universal credit by £40 per week”, according to Bicester and Woodstock candidate Ian Middleton, adding that they would “get rid” of the “punitive” attitude towards benefits.

Solar farms

John is worried that land in the UK is scarce. He wants to know if it should be used for solar power stations or farming.

There are proposals for the building of a solar plant in Botley West. If it goes ahead, it could be the largest in Europe.

“They [the proposals] are totally inappropriate for the area, this is something the size of Heathrow plonked in the middle of the Oxfordshire green belt,” says Mr Harrison.

Even the Green party have rejected the proposals.

“I agonised over this for a while,” says Mr Middleton.

“Obviously… the Greens are… very supportive of sustainable energy” he acknowledged, but added that “it’s too big” and “in the wrong place”.

The Liberal Democrats are “strong advocates for renewables”, says Mr Miller.

But the Lib Dem candidate says many people “are really concerned about the wild west of planning in planning of solar farms in this country”, adding that he does not support the Botley West proposal.

Labour have accused the Conservatives of being “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to sustainability.

Ms Oakeshott said that the party had been “setting net-zero targets but not putting the infrastructure in place to achieve them”.

Public sector workers

Oxfordshire is struggling to retain its public sector workers, but parties disagree on how to tackle the issue.

Mr Middleton of the Green party says he would “support” an Oxfordshire weighting for public service workers, adding that the party back NHS workers “who have had to take action” in recent months over pay disputes.

The Liberal Democrats would “remove some of the strings that are attached whenever additional funding is provided by central government”.

Labour’s Veronica Oakeshott wants to prioritise staff retention, after being told about instances where teaching assistants “are filling in for teachers” due to “recruitment freezes in schools”.

But the Conservative party seemed a bit more reluctant. Although acknowledging that Oxfordshire is “a very high cost area”, Mr Harrison says the cost of living crisis created a “difficult period” where public sector pay demands had to be kept at “a reasonable level”.


Some parties are considering integrating social care into the NHS to tackle unsustainable costs.

Glynnis wants social care to be free and part of the NHS; “elderly people are abandoned to be cared for by elderly children”.

Free personal care is high up on the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto. The party is proposing it will “make personal care free”.

“It would allow people to be looked after in their homes,” says Mr Miller.

Labour would have social care “properly integrated’ into the NHS according to Veronica Oakeshott.

“There is a cohort of people who are squeezed in the middle and public services are failing them.”

Mr Harrison pledges that the Conservatives would “cap the cost of care for every family” at £85,000.

The Greens would impose a 1% tax on assets over £10 million and 2% on assets worth £1bn.

A full list of candidates nominated in seats across Oxfordshire is available on the BBC News website.

Polls open at 07:00 BST on Thursday 4 July, with coverage online, radio and TV from when polls close at 22:00.

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