DevComms director Charles Bushe provides an update on everything of note that Thames Valley’s MPs have been up to over the past month.

Starting in Reading, there has been a twist in the ongoing saga around the sale of Reading Prison, as Labour MP Matt Rodda (Reading East) sent a letter to Justice Minister Dominic Rabb saying that a ‘potential multi-million pound’ offer, to top-up Reading Council’s £2.6 million bid, could be on the table.

Since then, it has emerged that Banksy has pledged an additional £10m in order to meet the site valuation. He plans to raise the money through the sale of the stencil used to create his iconic artwork on the side of the prison.

Matt Rodda has called this gesture ‘the best Christmas present Reading could wish for’ and said that transforming Reading Prison into an arts hub would ‘boost’ Reading’s bid for city status. The Ministry of Justice responded to say that the deadline for bids has passed.

The Government’s decision to cancel the Eastern Leg of HS2 created headlines across the Thames Valley. Slough MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, unsurprisingly described the announcement as a betrayal of the north and said the Conservatives had ‘cancelled their promise to transform rail across the north’.

Conversely, Conservative Greg Smith (Buckingham) wrote an article for The Telegraph on November 18 where he said scrapping the Eastern Leg means ‘the entire project is left hanging on borrowed time’. He said that he ‘cannot and will not stand by as the destruction continues’, because HS2 is ‘the wrong path to take’.

Moving to Windsor, The Times has reported that a by-election could be ‘imminent’ as HMRC has reportedly filed a petition for bankruptcy against Adam Afriyie (Con) relating to past business interests and unpaid tax. Afriyie has said that he is working towards reaching a settlement with HMRC and will pay any tax that is due.

John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) has commented on planning and house building over the past month, highlighting the apparent ‘tensions’ between the need for increased house building and pressures on ‘local schools, surgeries, hospitals and green spaces’.

He said that planning policy should encourage house building in areas of the UK with ‘cheaper land and a shortage of new homes’, as there is ‘less need to overbuild close to London’ given the increased number of people working from home.

The second reading of the Planning (Enforcement) Bill took place on November 19. The bill seeks to create offences relating to repeated breaches of planning controls and establish a national register of those who commit planning offences.

James Sunderland, Conservative MP for Bracknell, contributed to the debate in the Commons, saying that a key motivation for the bill is to ‘protect our countryside’, as councils are ‘powerless to deal with the problem’. More broadly, he said that he is ‘very enthused’ by the forthcoming Planning Bill but, echoing the comments by John Redwood, said the Government should ‘incentivise developers to target less valuable land by levelling up further north and in areas that need new housing.’

And in other news…

  • Environment Minister Victoria Prentis (Con, Banbury) supports plans for two new prisons on land at Wethersfield Airbase in Braintree, saying that it would be a good location and the extra prison spaces will play an important role in efforts to ‘drive down crime’. The plans have been criticised by environmental campaigners, who say that the site is a ‘rare bird and amphibian habitat’.
  • Ben Everitt (Con, Milton Keynes North) has ‘welcomed’ the announcement that Network Rail will be investing £6 million into railway improvements between Milton Keynes and Rugby in the new year.
  • Ben Everitt and Iain Stewart (Con, Milton Keynes South) both expressed their disappointment that funding for the new university ‘MK:U’ wasn’t included in the Chancellor’s budget. Iain Stewart said that he believes MK:U is ‘an integral part of the levelling up agenda’.
  • Robert Courts (Con, Witney) said he was ‘pleased to welcome’ the progress made by Gigaclear, who have reportedly ensured 16,000 extra properties across rural West Oxfordshire can access a gigabit fibre-to-the-premises broadband.

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