In the shadow of three former parliamentary buildings, residents of the island’s ancient capital met on Monday evening as they grilled the candidates for this year’s Castletown Commissioners election.
With Castle Rushen providing an imposing background and the Royal George and old House of Keys surrounding them, former Chief Minister Tony Brown chaired the meeting which covered topics including parking, facilities for young people, the new high school, town rejuvenation and issues with the central gov.
In Castletown, which is the only southern local authority to be holding an election, Santon falls into the eastern district, the candidates are Elsebeth Cannan, Jimmy Cubbon, Jamie Horton, Jeremy Ludford-Brooks, Colin Leather, David Parnell, Eleanor Quinney, Carol Quine, Nathan Rodgers and Green Party candidate Susan Rossouw.
Why Do You Want to Be a Commissioner?
In a question more for the new candidates contesting the election, one resident asked why they want to be a commissioner. Mr Rodgers said he first got involved with the commissioners when he and several others come forward to help organise a Christmas event for the town last December. He said: ‘I saw the hard work all of the Commissioners put in and I wanted to be part of that.’
Ms Cannan’s answer was suitably simple, she lives in the town and wants to ‘help make Castletown great’, equally Ms Quinney said she ‘wants to help our community grow’ and Ms Rossouw said that having made Castletown her home, she wanted to use her professional skills to assist with running the town and bring a more green voice to the board.
Of the sitting members, Mr Cubbon said he originally sought election to the commissioners in 2016 to ‘bring some more positivity to the town’ and pointed to the change of use of the town square from a car park to a community space as one of the successes of the current board. He added: ‘The town needs to be great for everybody, we’ve worked hard to make it that, but we’re not there yet.’ Mr Leather, who has been a commissioner for nearly 40 years, said he had seen the town grow again and new investment had come into Castletown, he added: ‘This town is moving forward and I want to be part of the team which continues that.’ Mr Hoton, who was elected in a by-election in 2018, said the town should be proud that it was the only southern authority to have an election this year and said that he wanted to continue improving the town for residents and to boost tourism. Mr Ludford-Brooks said he not only wanted to continue to help grow the town, but also to continue to push for a new swimming pool to be added to new Castle Rushen High School, whenever it finally gets built.
One of the most dominant subjects of the evening was, rather inevitably, parking in the town. A resident who suffers from fibromyalgia called on the candidates to outline what they would do to not only improve parking, but to ensure that the town provides more disabled parking. Candidates said that there was a clear need to get parking right in Castletown but that it needed to be a holistic view alongside how the roads are used and how to make the best decision for the whole town and not just the town square.
However, Shane Butterworth, owner of Shane’s Chippy, said that the commissioners’ recent decisions to close part of the town square to cars has a knock on effect for businesses in the town. Mr Cubbon said he understood the concerns of business owners like Mr Butterworth, but defended the decision saying ‘there are more people coming to the town now than there were five years ago’. He added: ‘I think you’ll find very few historic town centres in the UK with immediate access to shops.’ Mr Cubbon also hit out at central gov for not providing the cash influx needed to improve active travel routes in the south of the island, particularly in the ancient capital.
Mr Leather said the town does need to improve its offering for disabled parking but added that ‘we’ve got to get it right for everybody’. Ms Rossouw however said that ‘we will never have enough parking’ and instead said people should lobby for free public transport and improved active travel routes.
From there the panel was quizzed on issues ranging from infrastructure to new housing developments and hosting community events. During the questions focussed on infrastructure, current chairman David Parnell said he was open to a discussion about the centre of the town being made one way, not only to improve traffic flow but to improve safety in the town. Pointing to the frequent interruptions during the meeting made by buses passing through the square, he said: ‘I can’t think of any other town that would allow two buses to run each way here.’
The candidates also criticised the role of central gov and Manx National Heritage for abandoned plans to enhance the visitor experience in the town by moving the entrance to the Castle to the square, opening heritage sites more often and returning the Peggy back to the town (this brought a smile from MHKs Graham Cregeen and Jason Moorhouse who had turned up to listen to the meeting). Several of the panel said if the investment made by central gov into other towns and villages was made in Castletown then it would drive private investment into the area and provide a boost to businesses. However the general feeling amongst the public was that the commissioners can still do more with what it has on offer and should increase its support for local groups who want to use the Town Hall and Market Square for events and markets.
The final big talking point of the night was how to provide better services for young people in the village, with one young lad asking what there is for people who don’t like sport. Each candidate had their own view of how this could be achieved with Mr Cubbon suggesting that more can be done with Poulsom Park, Mr Rodgers said he’d like to see the opportunity for events such as gaming nights to be held in a community hub that could be made available for kids to hang out without having to be in one of their parents’ homes. Ms Cannan said that it appears there hasn’t been a strategy for this but that the commissioners can do more to hold events for all people in the town and should help those who want to do so. And Ms Rossouw said the Commissioners should ‘give every assistance’ to help support events in the town.