Lib Dem General Election candidate questions future Hatfield polling station linked to Conservatives
PUBLISHED: 06:59 13 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:20 13 January 2020
A Liberal Democrat 2019 General Election candidate has questioned whether a hotel in Hatfield should be used as a polling station - because of links with incumbent Conservative MP Grant Shapps.
On Tuesday (January 7), Welwyn Hatfield borough councillor Paul Zukowskyj asked whether there were concerns about the use of Beales Hotel as a future polling station.
The venue - which has hosted events for the Welwyn Hatfield Conservative Party - is run by managing director Andrew Beale, who has publicly endorsed MP Mr Shapps.
Cllr Zukowskyj said at full council: "I am a little intrigued by the decision to utilise Beales Hotel for one of the polling stations.
"And I wonder if we could have a comment from the returning officer about whether there are any concerns whatsoever - given the endorsement of our MP that occurred from, I believe, the owner of Beales Hotel in the recent election campaign.
"I am just nervous about any potential conflict there."
In response, chief executive and acting returning officer Rob Bridge - who had not been aware of a link to the MP - pointed to the challenge of finding accessible venues in suitable locations.
Mr Bridge stressed that polling stations should be "neutral places" and he would ensure there was nothing in the Beales Hotel that would suggest who people would vote for.
Following the meeting, he added: "There are a number of considerations we have to give to the suitability of a venue for use as a polling station - accessibility being the most important - and there should certainly not be anything at the venue to suggest which way people should vote.
"However, the political views of the owners of a building would not automatically prevent us from using a particular venue."
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The report says the council had initially hoped to return to The Comet London Hotel - previously the Ramada Hotel - but it says it would not be possible because of the large fixed tables in the available rooms and the token parking system.
"Extensive enquiries have been made for an alternative polling station," states the report.
"Jim McDonald Centre would be too far for electors to travel and would have to pass the existing station - Howe Dell Community Centre to vote.
"However Beales Hatfield Hotel meets all the criteria for a polling station is accessible to all electors including those who are disabled and has adequate free parking."
Following the meeting, Andrew Beale - managing director of Beales Hotels - said he had backed Mr Shapps in a personal capacity, and he stressed that the hotel had hosted events for a number of parties in the past.
He said: "Over the years we have hosted overtly political events for various parties, as well as a wide number of community fund raising events, charity functions, and many public sector meetings.
"On polling day there would be no political signage of any kind permitted, but of course polling station directional signage is fine.
"I endorsed Grant Shapps at the last election on a personal basis, but this is irrelevant to this strictly apolitical booking for the use of a room at Beales Hotel as a polling station on May 7, 2020."
Meanwhile the polling station review also reports that The Holy Family Primary School will no longer be used as a polling station.
This follows a request by the headteacher at Holy Family, due to the school having to be closed.
Instead, voters will be directed to the nearby Haldens Sports and Social Club.