EXCLUSIVE: From bringing back Crowtree, to the Shipyards, SGM speaks to Reform UK about their plans for Sunderland

Reform UK is a right-wing populist party that originally started off as the “Brexit Party”, which itself was a breakaway from UKIP. Despite the variety of names and entities, all incarnations of the party have been in someway associated with Nigel Farage, who remains its honorary President.

As the governing Conservative Party has sunk in popularity due to a series of scandals and a poor economic outlook, Reform UK has grown in popularity as a entity, appealing to disillusioned Tory voters and those unwilling to support the Labour Party. As a result, the party has built a presence in Sunderland and is now fielding 24 candidates in the upcoming local elections.

But the question remains, what does Reform UK actually believe in and stand for? Especially on the local level? Is this a party with a plan and a vision, or is it merely an angry protest vote alternative against the mainstream, effectively being the same vehicle which drove UKIP and the Brexit Party to success in European elections previously, yet otherwise struggling to implement a coherent vision on a policy scale. Exploring this, SGM posed a series of questions to Reform UK about just what it “plans” for Sunderland, which were answered by their party spokesperson.

1) What are Reform UK’s primary goals for the city of Sunderland? What is their vision
for the city?

“As a Party, Reform UK’s primary goal is to put Sunderland first. What this means practically is common-sense policies to help unlock Sunderland’s potential. Our policies include the ‘Maritime Sunderland’ Project, a fully costed and realistic plan that focuses on bringing the Maritime Industry back to Sunderland, the prospect of a Washington Town Council, giving the people of Washington a say on their area and bringing better investment to Washington, and further Transparency to the people of Sunderland; we have from our campaign seen the outrage of the people from the ‘City of Sanctuary’ status that was imposed onto us, so we would make this the choice of the people. You can read more of our aims on our local manifesto here.”

2) What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Sunderland today?

“Many residents in Sunderland including Reform UK believe one of the key issue affecting our residents is the lack of leisure activities for our young people. Previously, we had places such as the Crowtree Leisure Centre where people could swim, play sports, ice skate and socialise but now have very little in this way. Further, such big events as the Tall Ships and Sunderland International Airshow have been scrapped for very dubious reasons to be replaced with a poorly attended Triathlon. Leisure facilities are key in giving our young people things to do and keep them off the streets. Reform UK would push for such policies as a Sports Village for Washington in collaboration with Washington United and a new Leisure Centre for Sunderland to help put our City back on the map.”

3) Why does Reform UK prioritise a restoration of the Pallion Shipyard, and not multi-
million plans to build a film studio out of the same facility?

‘Reform UK’s maritime policy actually prioritises the dredging of the river. We also have a medium-term policy to see a 21st ship repair facility built in the Port of Sunderland and a project team, consisting of ship repair companies and maritime specialists, is creating a feasibility study. Finally, our long-term aim is the total reinvention of the Port of Sunderland to bring it up to 21st century capability, in order to deal with future trends in shipping and global trade. These three aims make up our ‘Maritime Sunderland’ proposal.

But our immediate priority is the dredging of the river Wear. The cumulative effects of 30 years of total neglect are now causing flood events due to insufficient draining of excess rainwater and silted up storm and CSO drains. The silted upriver now prevents Liebherr Cranes from using their two load-out quays, having to go via road instead, and the Wear through Sunderland is quite possibly the worst condition major river in all of the UK. By dredging the river, this will be the key to unlocking and reviving the river-based economy, as well as preventing future flood events both upstream and downstream.

As a consequence of the river being dredged, the route from the shipyard to the North Sea will be open again. Therefore, should the shipyard’s Greek owners see an opportunity that has been denied to them since 2011 due to the condition of the river, then we will fully support that and work with them to reinstate the shipyard for maritime use. It was primarily for this use that the owners bought Pallion Shipyard in 1991.’

4) How does Reform UK see Labour’s developments in the “Riverside Sunderland” plan?
Do you see it as being fundamentally beneficial for the city?

“Reform UK see the plans as a waste of tax-payer money, and something imposed upon us with little to no consultation. It is a vanity project and nothing more. The project aims to bring office space and houses during a time in which the population of Sunderland is declining (according to the ONS), and with the ever-growing problem of vacant properties not being utilised. We furthermore believe that Sunderland should focus its efforts on fixing the problems we do have before we focus on new projects such as this”.

5) Why does Reform UK provide a better alternative to Labour, as opposed to the
Sunderland Conservatives?

“The titular opposition in the form of the Sunderland Conservatives seem to be, in the words of a recently defected Councillor “focusing on petty squabbles” and have lost 3 Councillors since January despite no elections taking place. Many in Sunderland believe that the local Conservatives offer no real solution to the problems our City faces and that if they cant keep their own Councillors happy, how do they expect to represent the people? They have not released a local manifesto at the time of writing for Sunderland, whereas we have worked with the people to focus on their priorities in the creation of our manifesto. Any elected Reform UK Councillor is also not subject to the Whip System, meaning they can focus on the
needs of the residents they were elected to represent and not the needs of the Party, something neither the Labour group nor the Conservative group can say”

6) What does Reform UK stand for nationally? How is it different from the Brexit Party?

“The Brexit Party was formed to give a voice to the majority of people who were fed up with the way politics was done in this country. Brexit was about making us free, but beyond Brexit we have to be governed better. The whole system of government in the UK is not working. We renamed the party Reform UK, as we want to be known as the party of reform, which reflects what our country needs. Reform. Real change to benefit the people, to give them back their liberties, and to make our nation more successful.”

“In general, Reform stands for the Reforming of government in the most common-sense of places. We must cut spending where it is wasteful and implement policy where it makes sense to do so to ensure Liberty and Reformation takes place. This includes, but is not limited too, scrapping the TV License fee, solving the migrant crisis, leaving the ECHR, stopping the Net-Zero madness, and implementing the PR voting System. You can read more about our policies and plans on our official website

7) How have local residents received Reform UK so far in your campaigning and public

“Reform UK Sunderland have been actively campaigning for many months now, our membership has soared in recent months and the interest from the residents of our City has gone up with it. A lot of the engagement we have had with the public both online and in person has been overwhelmingly positive, with people expressing their disdain for the usual parties on the ballot and their willingness to support the common-sense policies that Reform UK has to offer.”

“There is something happening everyday for us, and someone is always campaigning. We have also seen a rise in the number of window posters in support of us around the City, and the amount of people who are pledging their support to us. As the City to first declare for Brexit, the support for our party and its policies runs deep here, and the people of Sunderland need Reform now more than ever”.