CANDIDATES wanting to be Maldon’s next MP faced a grilling with tough public questions at an election husting.

Four of the six candidates standing for the Maldon constituency – John Whittingdale (Conservatives), Peter Edwards (Labour), Zoe O’Connell (Lib Dem), Richard Perry (Fighting Unsustainable Housing Because We Care), were joined by Brentwood Green candidate Paul Jeater standing in for Steve Betteridge at the husting at the United Reformed Church in Maldon on Tuesday evening.

UKIP candidate Jesse Pryke was also invited but could not attend.

Healthcare and progress on improvements to St Peter’s Hospital were debated at length.

Mr Whittingdale said: “Mid Essex has a reputation for being one of the most underfunded areas in the country for healthcare. I know improvements are needed, and good progress is being made with the appointed project manager, I’m fully confident we will see a new improved and centralised health hub in the town in the next few years.”

Mr Edwards said: “Good for the project manager, but in Maldon the wait to see doctors and GPs is getting longer and longer, we travel further and further just to be seen.

Works on improving St Peter’s Hospital have been talked about for over 20 years, and yet we feel absolutely no closer to having a replacement.”

The Lib Dems and Greens committed themselves to employing more GPs and guaranteeing EU citizens who work in healthcare their right to stay post-Brexit.

Mr Whittingdale was grilled by a member of the public over the Tories’ handling of education. He responded: “We’re moving towards a national funding formula, which will be a much fairer system of education funding. There will be a small number of schools that will not be better off from it, but no school will see a reduction in its budget as a result of the formula.”

Mr Jeater said: “The Greens would scrap Ofsted, which would severely lower teachers’ level of stress and workload. Many other parties bang on about how tight our country’s budget is, but we are simply not poor. We have £30 billion being spent on HS [High Speed] 2 so people can get from Birmingham to London quicker, yet you in Maldon don’t even have a railway.”

When asked about environmental issues Zoe O’Connell said: “I’m a keen sailor and when sailing around the Dengie peninsula it’s striking how many wind farms we utilise. So much power can be gained from these and they should be protected.”

Labour, Greens and Lib Dems opposed fracking, but the method was supported by the John Whittingdale and Richard Perry, as well as nuclear power.

Mr Perry said: “I support fracking and nuclear power, although the thought of Chinese corporations running the Bradwell Power Station makes me very uneasy, it should be run by British companies who can train and better British workers.

“To tackle climate change, we should bring in increased taxes for people who keep having children.

“We’re overcrowded and those who choose multiple children should pay more.”