Last night five candidates went head to head at an election hustings to secure your vote to become Epping Forest’s member of parliament.

With December 12 – the day of the election – looming, Conservative Dame Eleanor Laing, Labour’s Vicky Ashworth Te Velde, Liberal Democrat Jon Whitehouse, Steven Neville of the Green Party and Thomas Hall of the Young People’s Party debated the constituency’s big issues.

Hosted at Epping St John’s, the hustings saw candidates deliver opening statements before taking questions from the audience.

Education was one of the most debated issues on the night, Ms Laing approached the issue by blaming Tony Blair’s Labour government’s ‘fiscal irresponsibility’ for the shrinking school budgets.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Dame Eleanor Laing

She added the current Tory government had been building the economy back up, which meant there was no more money available for schools, highlighting the party’s pledge to increase school funding £14 billion.

Vicky Te Velde responded by blaming bankers for ‘ruining the economy’ and said the current school system was “broken”.

She claimed that only Labour could be trusted to provide the necessary funding for schools and highlighted the party’s pledge to scrap tuition fees.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Vicky Ashworth Te Velde

Candidates were also questioned on academies, to which Mr Neville said the Greens would abolish totally and put all schools back under control of local authorities.

Ms Te Velde said Labour believed academy schools could be good when ran well but called for greater recourse for parents who felt specific academies were underperforming.

On the local plan, Ms Te Velde – a Waltham Forest councillor – called the current plan for 11,000 new homes “incompatible” with environmental concerns but stressed the need to build affordable housing in ‘the right places’ in the district.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Steven Neville

Ms Laing responded by accusing her of trying to turn Epping Forest into a London Borough.

She defended the local plan for delivering the houses needed, so residents can stay in the area they call home.

“I see you want to make this Waltham Forest, this is not a London Borough, this is Essex and we do it our way”, she said.

Liberal Democrat, John Whitehouse said balancing development and preserving green spaces was “a tricky balance to strike”.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Jon Whitehouse

He added: “The key thing is that we mitigate the impact of any future development while providing the infrastructure that residents need.”

On Brexit and a possible second referendum, Ms Laing said she had voted to leave, adding: “I have never wavered from that, nor will I."

Mr Hall said he had initially voted for Brexit and would vote remain again.

Mr Whitehouse told the audience if they wanted to stop Brexit, vote Lib Dem.

Mr Neville said the Greens represented the democratic solution, a people’s vote and Ms Te Velde said Labour would present a vote between “a better deal” and remain.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Thomas Hall