Green Party credentials tested in Rochester and Strood by-election

Natalie Bennett, of the Green Party
Image caption Natalie Bennett is keen for her party to be included in the leaders' debates

Plenty of big-name Conservative, Labour and UKIP political figures have been hitting the campaign trail in Rochester and Strood, but Tuesday was the turn of the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett.

She decided to start her visit at Lodge Hill - an area that has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as it supports the UK's largest nightingale population.

It's feared that plans to build 5,000 houses on the site - which have been approved by Conservative-led Medway Council - could lead to the destruction of the natural habitat.

The Green candidate in the by-election, Clive Gregory, says there is still a chance to stop the plans and is calling for Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government, to step in.

Ms Bennett says: "The Green Party is the only party in the area that has consistently been opposed to this development. Our candidate has been opposing it all the way along.

"We've got a beautiful natural environment here... with nightingales, a particularly evocative bird, and we are saying that putting 5,000 homes here is absolutely not what we need.

Greens polling higher

"We need new homes, but these are not the kind of homes that we need."

It's a classic Green Party issue - and sits much more comfortably with it than the other big issue dominating this by-election - immigration.

At the last general election the Greens barely registered in Rochester and Strood, receiving only 1.5% of the vote - compared with the 16.3% for the Liberal Democrats.

But a recent poll suggests that the Greens are polling higher nationally than the Liberal Democrats, who are in government.

If the Greens can do better than the Lib Dems in Rochester and Strood that would be an achievement for Ms Bennett and her party - and would increase pressure for her to be included in the leaders' debates ahead of the next general election.

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