More than 10,000 voters in rural Lancashire are eligible to go to the polls on Thursday, January 11) in the first by-election in the county of 2018.
The poll takes place in the county’s Wyre Rural Central seat, which covers a large area of Lancashire stretching from Forton near Garstang to the River Wyre estuary at Knott End.
The poll was called following the death last September of County Coun Vivien Taylor (Conservative) and comes at a time when ruling Tory group at County Hall.
Conservatives, Labour and Green Parties are fielding candidates.
Eco-issues have ignited a lot of passion, with the now-approved Halite gas store plan for Preesall becoming linked with the larger fracking debate. The campaign so far has seen Labour’s Nic Fogg blaming the Conservatives for approving the gas store plan, with the Tory’s Matthew Salter promising detailed scrutiny as the gas plans are rolled out over the next few years.
Green Party candidate Sue White has linked these issues in her campaign literature, saying the area needs “a stong champion to help overcome the difficult issues caused by flooding, fracking and gas storage. All of these issues threaten our wellbeing and our financial and physical survival in the years to come.”
The Rural Wyre Central seat includes St Michael’s on Wyre, which over the years has seen some of the worst flooding in the county. More recent years have seen rising concerns about increasing incidences of flooding in the wider area. Conservative candidate Mr Salter wants to see flooding risks reduced while Labour’s Mr Fogg wants prosecutions of landowners who have allowed ditches and dykes to become clogged with silt.
Pot hole politics has also been on the agenda, with the condition of rural roads on the important issues list.
To the surprise of some voters, the Brexit debate has also found its way into the campaign, following the intervention of former Conservative MP (and one time Over Wyre Tory county councillor) Dr Harold Elletson, who lives in Preesall.
Dr Elletson, a vocal pro-Remainer, has openly called on voters to back Mr Fogg in the poll, and has supported Mr Fogg on the gas store issue. In reply the local Conservatives, shocked at the approach of their former colleague, have issued a leaflet backing the government’s Brexit policy and stressing they are the party which “respects democracy.”
The Rural Wyre Central seat includes Forton, Winmarleigh, Pilling, Preesall, Great Eccleston, Inskip, St Michaels, Preesall and Knott End.
Nic Fogg (Labour). Lives in Preesall. Former local journalist who later became a social worker (specialising in mental health and emergency duties).
Matthew Salter (Conservative). Lives in Lancaster, currently a PhD student at Lancaster University.
Sue White (Green). Lives in Pilling and has run a respected secretarial services business for many years.
The by-election comes at a time when ruling Tory group at County Hall, led by Cllr Geoff Driver, is desperate to cling on to its small majority.
* A by-election also takes place in Wyre Council’s Preesall ward (4,775 voters) on Thursday, January 11. This will be a two-party fight between Conservative and Labour candidates.