LONGER READ: Inverness Central candidates in Highland Council by-election explain why they want your vote
The surprise resignation of Richard Laird from Highland Council last month has left his Inverness Central seat empty, triggering a by-election to be held this month.
Six candidates have put their names forward to serve what is one of the most challenging wards in the region.
Inverness Central ward is marked by contrasts as it contains some of the most important and profitable retail areas in the region as well as the train and bus stations.
However, the ward also has some of the most deprived areas in the Highlands like Merkinch and South Kessock that suffer from poverty, addiction, substance abuse, crime and unemployment.
The Inverness Courier asked the candidates why they want to take on such a challenging role and what it is that they hope to achieve if elected on November 14.
Richie Paxton – Independent
“I have lived and worked in Inverness all my life, so I care deeply about our local area. Listening to people’s concerns, like the unreliability of buses, the need for safer streets, 20mph zones, and regular maintenance and modernisation of tenants’ homes.
“I plan to visit everywhere in the ward, to speak with as many people as possible in the coming weeks, to better understand their needs and priorities. I want to make Inverness an even better place to live.
“I served on the community and police crime prevention panel for six years, so I’ll be pressing to reduce antisocial behaviour, with better community policing and with improved youth facilities.
“Our citizens need quality affordable and well maintained homes. To assist hard-working families and busy single parents, we need wrap-around care in our schools and nurseries.Our senior citizens and those with disabilities deserve better facilities, as do all those with additional support needs. I want to be your strong local voice in the council.”
Ardalan Eghtedar – Scottish Labour Party
“I moved to Invernessfrom Liverpool five years ago to complete my NHS training and have settled in this beautiful part of Scotland.
“Being part of the community and the nature of my profession allows me to interact with a lot of locals on a daily basis. Keeping dentistry to one side, the everyday chats with my patients allow me to have a good grasp and insight of local issues particularly as the dental practice I work at as an associate is based in the central ward.
“I appreciate the challenges the city is facing, from supporting local businesses to wider access to better schoolandnursery care provision. I take a great interest in homelessness and care for vulnerable kids and adults as I see them in my everyday job.
“I would bring fresh ideas, passion and youth to the table. I come from a working-class family and I believe in the power of a strong community to allow everyone to reach their full potential.”
Rachel Hatfield – Scottish Conservative and Unionist
“My family has lived in Dalneigh and Merkinch for generations. I don’t just know the broad issues, but also have a great knowledge of the real local issues on the ground such as the unreliable bus services.
“One my biggest motivators to stand is that time and again, people keep telling me they just don’t feel listened to. Too often ‘consultation’ is just that, nothing more than a tick box exercise to say it has been done while people’s fears and worries are not listened to and damaging cuts are forced through.
“The worst example of this has been the budget cuts to vulnerable children with additional support needs (ASN), I had support in school and saw the fantastic changes the right support makes to kids. It is just heart-breaking to see the impacts these cuts have had on vulnerable children.
“I am delighted to be the Scottish Conservative candidate at such a crucial time because the Conservatives are the ones who have been making real change.”
Russell Deacon – Scottish Green Party
“I’m standing for election in Inverness Central because we urgently need more Green decision-makers in the council. Thisyear Highland Council and the Scottish Government declared a climate emergency. We must make sure these declarations are more than empty words.
“Highland Council is fortunate to already have Green councillor, Pippa Hadley. I have lived and worked in the Inverness Central ward for 20 years and want to join her so that together, we can push for proper climate-responsive policy.
“Greens offer alternatives to the ‘business as usual’ approach. We will continue to protect and expand public transport. We will work to have cleaner and safer streets; cleaner by improving the way landfill waste and recycling are collected, safer by extending the 20mph zones.
“A first choice Green vote strengthens the voice for real, local democracy. As a councillor, I will listen to people living in the ward and wider Highlands and work to meet the needs arising from this climate emergency.”
Mary Dormer – Scottish Liberal Democrats
“I’m delighted to get the chance to represent the central ward, where I have lived for many years. So who am I? Brought up in the Highlands as the ‘daughter of the manse’ I have maintained that link through my close involvement at Inverness Cathedral.
“Roads and traffic is number one on my ‘to do’ list – from potholes to better public transport – as a regular bus user and non driver I know there is room for improvement.
“I admire and support the excellent work of local community organisations and will do my utmost to help social enterprises like For The Right Reasons, Café Artysans and many more.
“Education has to be high on everyone’s list and I am delighted to see the new Merkinch school taking shape but it’s not enough and rest assured I will fight our case to get the facilities local children need and the classroom assistants and ASN support for those at risk of falling behind.”
Emma Roddick – Scottish National Party
“I live in Merkinch and work in the ambulance service, volunteering evenings with the local mental health charity Mikeysline. I am standing in this by-election because I want to be a voice for people who don’t know how to navigate the complicated systems involved in claiming the benefits they are entitled to, accessing appropriate housing, and being listened to by the powers that be.
“More affordable houses need to be built in appropriate places, private rent hikes must be curbed, and support for people struggling to find accommodation should be easier to access.
“I know how difficult it can be not only to seek help for a mental health issue but to receive it. It is not good enough for people in immediate danger of suicide to be told they’ll be seen in three days’ – or even three months’ – time.
“This council administration needs to be held to account on their lack of transparency in decision-making and I am keen to ensure that the most vulnerable children in the Highlands are not hurt by the cuts they are making to teaching assistants.”