VOTERS grilled parliamentary candidates on flooding, a third road off Canvey, and cuts to emergency services during the second in a series of Echo-organised hustings.

More than 100 residents packed into Hadleigh Old Fire Station, on London Road, Hadleigh, to hear what candidates standing in Castle Point had to say on the burning local issues.

The number of voters turning out to hear the candidates’ views underlined the prediction that Castle Point is a major battleground for the general election on May 7.

According to a poll by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, the seat is on a knife edge with the Conservatives juse one point ahead of Ukip.

Both parties have also seen a stream of party heavyweights visit Castle Point, including Home Secretary Theresa May and Ukip leader, Nigel Farage.

The candidates - Conservative Rebecca Harris, Labour's Joe Cooke, Jamie Huntman for Ukip, and Dominic Ellis for the Green Party - clashed over the NHS, immigration, the economy and education.

Mrs Harris, who is fighting for a second term as MP, said: "I tried very hard to be the kind of MP people said they wanted, fighting on the issues people cared about and not claiming expenses.

"This is probably the most important election since the winter of discontent in 1989. We are facing an absolute crossroads in this country.

"We can't risk giving the car keys back to the driver who crashed the car in the first place."

Mr Huntman, who runs his own wood merchants firm, claimed his Essex roots meant he could relate to voters in the borough.

Addressing the audience, he said: "If you are affected by potholes then so am I because I live here in Castle Point. If you are affected by flooding or congestion then so am I.

"There is only one party that's really different from the rest and that's Ukip. We are unashamedly patriotic and believe in Britain.

"We will keep our word and being common sense back into politics."

Mr Cooke, who admitted Labour was falling behind Ukip and the Conservative's in the polls, said the NHS was a key priority for him as it is "not safe in the coalition's hands."

He added: "On a personal level I would love to represent the people of Castle Point, but this is about the party. We need to get Labour back in because the coalition has failed this country.

"In five years time we could end up with a health service that's not recognisable."


Mr Ellis, the youngest candidate at just 24 years-old, was praised by all three rivals - who said they would like to see him join their political party in the future.

Explaining why he decided to stand in May's general election, he said: "I'm here because we need an alternative. I'm offering another option that doesn't demonise and that looks for the best."

"For those of you wanting a change, wanting someone passionate to represent them, then give me a chance. I think the Green Party can make England a better place."