Political constituency focus: Residents in Elmet and Rothwell have their say on the vital issues
In the run up to December’s General Election, the YEP has been out in communities across the city, speaking to residents about the issues which matter to them.
Here, as part of the YEP’s Constituency Focus series, Alison Bellamy reports from Elmet and Rothwell, a Conservative stronghold to the east of Leeds, where she finds mixed feelings about the state of the nation ahead of December 12.
It is a rainy Wednesday afternoon on Main Street in Garforth and people are shopping as traders trim up to attract Christmas trade.
Cafes including the independent Cielo Coffee House, established ‘to see loneliness decrease and cohesion increase through coffee’ and a Costa franchise, both appear to be thriving and are full of customers of all ages.
The constituency of Elmet and Rothwell houses the City of Leeds wards of Garforth and Swillington, Harewood, Kippax and Methley, Rothwell and Wetherby
It is said to be the 'safest seat' for the Conservative Party in West Yorkshire. This area is deemed as a Tory stronghold and it seems people are keen to vote.
In the 2017 General Election, the patch recorded the largest turnout of any seat in West or South Yorkshire, with almost 60,000 people casting a vote.
Alec Shelbrooke won the Conservative seat again, with a 16.5 per cent majority, beating Labour rival David Nagle by almost 10,000 votes.
The turnout was 74.2 per cent, out of a total electorate of 80,291.
Retired Tricia Higgot, a former Magistrate, who is attending a craft afternoon at the Garforth Miners Welfare Hall, says she feels that Mr Shelbrooke has done a ‘good job’ as MP for the last nine years, since the constituency was created in the 2010 boundary shake-up.
Mrs Higgot said: “Alec does an awful lot for the area. Why would we not vote for him?
“He gets out and about and sees people and he campaigned to save the clinic, which sadly closed in the end so now people have to travel to Kippax for check-ups and it costs them £10 return in a taxi.
“Regardless of an individual’s politics; he is good for the people who live here.”
Traders on the main shopping street say times are tough for small business owners, crippled by business rates and competition from supermarkets and out of town shopping centres, as well as people buying on-line.
Butcher Ross Firth, who has run Firths Traditional Quality Butchers on Garforth’s Main Street for 14 years, said: “We are of course concerned about Brexit and the implications on our small business and what it means for us in the future and various legislation relating to meat.
“People living here have mixed feelings as the General Election approaches, although it is something everyone is talking about.”
He said the family run firm was at the heart of the community and they regularly heard people’s political viewpoints in the shop as they stocked up on supplies.
The EU Referendum result, from the mainly white British population, showed that 56.79 per cent of people wanted to leave, with 43.21 per cent opting to remain.
The unemployment rate is very low, one of the lowest in Leeds with just 2.7 per cent of the population of working age, out of work.
Hairdresser Gemma Hughes, 27, who is pregnant with her first child, said she would not be voting and had never voted previously, since she has been eligible to vote over the last decade.
Gemma, who works at Scream Hair Studio, said: “I do see any point in going out to vote, it would be a waste of time.
“It makes no difference at all. People voted to leave Europe a couple of years ago and it has never happened. When I do the hair of older ladies they say they have voted for years and they also say it has not made any difference to their lives.”
Student Lili Rowe, 19, of Garforth, recently went to London to protest about climate change.
She said she was concerned about the state of the environment and wanted to do something about it: “I will be voting for the party who represent the young and secure our future and make it brighter in a sustainable way.
“I was protesting recently about the unsustainability of our culture regarding plastic and our attitudes towards it, being lazy and our lack of drive to solve the problem because that is a big issue that is going on.”
Small business owner Scott Cooper runs the Refill and Go store, in Garforth, which aims to reduce single use plastics.
He said customers come in and fill their own bags and containers with goods on sale, including everything from washing powder to nuts. He also sells things like drinking straws made out of steel or bamboo to replace single use plastic straws.
Mr Cooper said: “Although this is traditionally a Tory stronghold area, I do hear mixed opinions about the state of the country in the shop.
“Whatever the outcome of the election, it would be good to see more support for traders. Business rates for example could be looked at, with much more help for small independent businesses such as ours.”
The patch has several small market towns which are classed as desirable areas to live such as Harewood, Wetherby and Garforth.
Elmet and Rothwell Candidates for the 2019 General Election
Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative and Unionist Party; Penny Stables, Green Party; David Nagle, Labour Party; Stewart Golton, Liberal Democrats; Matthew Clover, Yorkshire Party.