Seven takeaways from our Harpenden candidates debate

Six people sat down, four men and two women
Five of the six candidates in the constituency joined our presenter Jonathan Vernon-Smith for a live debate [BBC]

Our final election constituency debate featured some of the candidates from the newly formed Harpenden & Berkhamsted constituency. The 4 July vote will return an MP for a seat that also includes Redbourn, Sandridge, Tring and Wheathampstead.

Here are some of the key topics and how the candidates reacted to them.

Victoria Collins in the BBC Three Counties Radio studio
Lib Dem Victoria Collins said health and social care was the number one issue on the doorsteps of voters [BBC]

NHS services

Mark Patten, for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), works for the NHS and kick-started the debate on this one, saying the NHS budget should focus on primary care and mental health.

Conservative Nigel Gardner said the NHS "simply wasn't good enough" and was suffering from a "long term malaise" that needed a long term plan to fix it.

Victoria Collins, for the Liberal Democrats, told BBC listeners and viewers the number one issue on the doorstep was health and social care and said it was her number one priority to try and fix it.

Zara Layne for Labour said "no aspect" of the NHS was working but that her party had a 40,000-appointment plan as well as proposals to speed up the cancer pathway and harness AI to help in the long term.

Green candidate Paul de Hoeste said his party wanted to increase taxes for high earners in the constituency, with the hope that a third of that money would go directly to the NHS.

Paul de Hoeste in the BBC Three Counties Radio studios
Paul de Hoeste for the Greens wanted a return to counsellors and school nurses to tackle the SEND problem [BBC]

SEND services

Hertfordshire's Special Educational Needs service made the headlines when Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission gave it the lowest possible rating in November.

So how would our candidates fix the problem?

Nigel Gardner blamed the local Conservative-run county council for the fact that only 38% of SEND plans for individual pupils were completed on time.

Lib Dem Victoria Collins agreed the council had let parents and children down, and said her party would find money to avoid an SEND postcode lottery.

Mark Patten, from the SDP, wanted to put more cash into SEND but admitted that would involve "taxing most people living in Harpenden and Berkhamsted" to pay for it.

Labour's Zara Layne wanted to improve inclusivity in mainstream schools so more children with special educational needs would be able to attend them.

Paul de Hoeste for the Greens suggested bringing back counsellors and school nurses along and said £5bn should be allocated for it.

Nigel Gardner wearing a salmon pink shirt
Conservative Nigel Gardner said he opposed airport expansion which he felt was an historical issue [BBC]

Luton Airport expansion

Historically all the nearby MPs have opposed Luton Airport's expansion plans but what do our candidates say?

Zara Layne, for Labour, said she was not hearing much about the issue on the doorstep, but said it was not just the town of Luton that would feel the benefits of expansion.

Victoria Collins, for the Lib Dems, said in her manifesto she was "explicity against expansion" but that "stronger voices" were needed to oppose plans, whoever wins on 4 July.

The Greens' Paul de Hoeste said his party would stop all airport expansion, including stripping away internal flights that could be done by train instead.

The SDP's Mark Patten said he had used the airport three times this year and was in favour of expansion as he felt it enhanced growth.

Tory Nigel Gardner said his parents had complained about aircraft noise over Flamstead 30 years ago, but said whoever gets elected needed to support local campaign groups.

Zara Layne in the BBC Three Counties Radio studios
Labour's Zara Layne wants failing water companies to be put in special measures [BBC]

Cleaning up Hertfordshire's rivers

Pollution in rivers has come under the microscope recently, with the singer Fearghal Sharkey being vocal campaigner about polluted chalk streams.

Green Paul de Hoeste told the debate "90% of rivers in Hertfordshire are polluted" suggesting the county had the worst rivers in the country.

Lib Dem Victoria Collins said authorities needed to hold water companies to account, adding that chalks streams should be given ratings in the same way that beaches were judged for Blue Flag Status.

Nigel Gardner, Conservative, said he was "ashamed by what has happened with chalk streams" and wanted criminal sanctions against organisations that were found to have put sewage in water.

The SDP's Mark Patten felt differently, saying in his view water companies had made "massive strides", saying that rather than advocating for cleaner rivers, his party would spend "money on something else".

Labour's Zara Layne said the issue was coming up "time and time again" and that water companies should be placed in special measures if they did not fix things.

Mark Patten wearing an SDP rosetted in the BBC Three Counties Radio studios
SDP candidate Mark Patten voted Leave in the referendum and said it was the government's fault Brexit was not working [BBC]


Presenter Jonathan Vernon-Smith told the debate "many people in places like Harpenden had voted Remain" then asked the candidates if Brexit was working?

He asked Conservative Nigel Gardner several times for an example of Brexit success in Harpenden and Berkhamsted - in the end Mr Gardner said it was "working to the level it can work at the moment."

Green Paul de Hoeste felt it had been a "disaster" with "the economic damage clear" adding a new debate on the issue would be "toxic" but was one the party wanted to have in the next 15 years.

Labour's Zara Layne felt Brexit had been "an absolute blinking disaster" but that it was not the right time to have another referendum.

Victoria Collins for the Lib Dems said she had spoken to "business after business" who said it was not working with one person telling her they'd "voted for Brexit but were conned".

Mark Patten for the SDP said he had voted to leave the European Union because the "European Working Time Directive was not working for post-graduation medical education in this country". He felt Brexit had not been a success though as the government had not taken advantage of chances to remove constraints put on healthcare by the EU.


Victoria Collins for the Lib Dems felt the current developer-led system "wasn't right" but said smaller houses should be built, with better infrastructure around them.

Zara Layne, for Labour, said more affordable homes were needed and suggested "grey" belt sites like disused car parks would be a good place to start.

Tory Nigel Gardner said he was a "proud nimby [not in my back yard]" saying he had seen too much greenbelt disappear in the seat.

SDP candidate Mark Patten wanted houses to be built on Aldwickbury Park Golf Club telling the debate he was the only candidate "being honest" about housing, adding that not building on green belt was crippling young people's lives.

Green candidate Paul de Hoest wanted to bring unused houses back into use, citing examples of empty properties above shops as somewhere people could live.

Saba Poursaeedi of Reform UK
Saba Poursaeedi for Reform UK could not attend the live debate because his wife has just had a baby [BBC]

Saba Poursaeedi - the Reform UK candidate

Mr Poursaeedi was unable to attend our live debate as his wife has just given birth to a baby girl.

He left the Labour Party two years ago and joined Reform UK as he considered it "the only party that will stick up for the working people of this country".

He works in the social housing sector, and says that, as a passionate believer in free speech and open debate, he also volunteers when he can with the Free Speech Union, Debating Matters and the Battle of Ideas Festival.

If elected, he said he would make sure the character of the towns was preserved, including no more building on green belt, protection of small businesses and improving doctor surgeries.

He lives locally and said his dad had to leave Iran when "madness and theocracy took over that beautiful country". He said he wanted Britain to be a place that was safe and free and said he would fight for the youth in the constituency.

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