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Soham and Isleham voters set to choose their next county councillor in tomorrow's by-election

Decision time: Polling stations are set to open across Soham North and Isleham on Thursday
Decision time: Polling stations are set to open across Soham North and Isleham on Thursday

Polling stations open tomorrow as voters across Soham North and Isleham are set to choose their next county councillor.

Four candidates are fighting to win the Cambridgeshire County Council seat: Conservative Mark Goldsack, Liberal Democrat Victoria Charlesworth, independent Geoffrey Woollard, and Labour’s Lee Jinks.

The shock by-election was called after Tory Paul Raynes' controversial appointment at Mayor James Palmer's combined authority in August.

Independent candidate Geoffrey Woollard, 80, criticised the departure and said if voters selected him he would be a 'much-needed independent voice at the county council', and has been taking his policies to residents' front doors.

"The time is right for an independent. People are fed up to the back teeth with party politicians party politics in local government and they welcome the idea of an independent to do what he or she can for the area," he said. "I used to be a Conservative county councillor and I grew tired of that because I was told what to think, what to say and how to vote.

"I want to go back to Shire Hall as an independent so I can speak up for Soham and Isleham without having to defer to a party political line. People welcome this - instead of speaking for a political party I can speak for the residents and it resonates with people. You can see their faces light up."

He said as an independent county councillor, he could provide the area with better representation and highlight issues in the town with pot holes and crumbling pavements, care for the elderly, and school funding as some of his concerns.

"In Cambridgeshire we are way behind many other counties in regards to school funding and we are being unfairly treated. I have been campaigning since the 1970s for fairer funding for Cambridgeshire's schools and it still hasn't happened. We're still worse off compared to other parts of the country with a £2,000 gap per child," he said.

Despite planning matters being decided at East Cambridgeshire District Council, he said one of the biggest issues which comes up on the doorstep is the number of new developments in the area.

"People are uncomfortable at the rate of expansion of the area. People are not happy with the speed of development and I think they are right. I can see it as I go around. There are estates which I have not been in before with hundreds of houses - every little field and meadow on the edge of town seems to be put forwards for development. People say to me its too far and too fast, and I agree with them. It's quite clear we have got to have more houses but I would like to see it spread around more."

Soham and Isleham's rapid expansion is a point Conservative candidate Mark Goldsack, 54, has also noted and listed housing as one of his priorities for the seat.

While unable to comment on specific developments because of his role on the district's planning committee, he told the Journal he thought the town had taken more than its fair share of development.

"We want to build quality sustainable places that give young people a place to live. But we keep building four or five bedroom executive homes, which we need, but what about the two and three bed starter homes? That's what I am about. I want to see quality developments."

He said without development the area will not have improved infrastructure, another of his key priorities for the area.

Mr Goldsack said Soham's station would make a"huge difference" and would push for transport executives to start planning the future of the town's transport networks, including building cycle routes and making bus routes more reliable bus services.

The Soham North district councillor, who has lived in Soham and Isleham all his life, has also singled out sports and leisure as another key point. "If every house is built in the area we will have 17,000 people in Soham yet at the moment we have three full sized football pitches, two of which are on common ground, and we have no facilities for cricket and no other team sports like hockey.It's a disgrace Soham is woefully left behind." He said his vision was for a new facility which incorporated youth facilities, and said a external district wide review would highlight the poor state of the Soham's sports grounds.

As part of his campaign, he has also identified social care and welfare, and economic development as his key priorities.

But he would not be standing for election if Paul Raynes had seen his four year term through. Speaking about his departure, Mr Goldsack said: "If somebody offered me a £130,000 salary for a job that an absolute square peg fit on my skill set I would be interested, I would look at it.

"Would I have taken the actual job and have gone to work for James Palmer? No. Because what they have is a specific need and Paul is an absolute square peg in a square hole. He has written books on the subject, he is an expert in that field.

"I would say that's Soham's loss and Paul is going to be a hard act to follow so I will never say never but district councillor was beyond my expectation of what I would ever do of a political nature. County councillor means I can do more of what I have learned in the last 14 months and I love doing it. When people contact me and I respond.

Mr Goldsack added: "I have no ambitions to be the new James or anything like that, all I am interested in is community. My interest is community. Always has been always will be."

The Tories' main opposition at the county council, the Liberal Democrats, attacked Mr Raynes' appointment and have called for an independent review into the combined authority.

The party have selected maths teacher Victoria Charlesworth as their candidate in the hope voters will send a 15th LibDem to Shire Hall tomorrow.

Highlighting education as one of her core messages, she said Tory-dominated Cambridgeshire County Council is not investing enough in services.

"The Conservatives have cut back services across Cambridgeshire and then spent money on themselves. They have given themselves a 30 per cent pay rise at a time they are cutting services across the county," she said.

Mrs Charlesworthhighlighteddevelopment in the area as another concern on the doorstep, and called for infrastructure investment for the division.

"Soham is set to grow a lot and we really need the local infrastructure to keep pace with all the houses that are being built. Residents have told me they are concerned about the time it takes to get an appointment at the medical centre and this will only get worse as the Eastern Gateway is built."

On Soham's station, Mrs Charlesworth said: “I wholeheartedly support the reopening of Soham Station. However, the laissez-faire approach of the Mayor, who has no concrete funding in place, will not secure this vital infrastructure for the people of Soham in good time. The Conservatives have been in power here for a considerable length of time and very little progress has been made.

"The recent £1.5m commitment is miniscule compared to the overall cost of the investment. There have been no assurances that the station will definitely go ahead. We also need to reopen the Newmarket chord so that there are direct trains from Soham to Cambridge not just Ely.”

Labour selected Lee Jinks as their man, hoping the well-known Soham man will make an unprecedented breakthrough in the seat.

In his campaign literature, Mr Jinks said: "The Tories, who have dominated the council for years, continue to cut the vital local services we all rely on, while the LibDems have passively sat by and allowed them to do so.

"Cuts are a short sighted policy that will cost us all more in the long run. If elected I will listen to what local people want from our council and work hard for the benefit of the whole community."

A Journal investigation into Mr Jinks' online history uncovered a series of offensive comments. The Journal has tried to contact Mr Jinks for comment, but has not had a response at time of publication.

Polling stations across Soham North and Isleham are open on Thursday from 7am to 10pm with the result expected the following day.