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

Conservative MP for Wantage David Johnston kicked off the new year by leading a debate in the House of Commons where he claimed that the house building system is ‘broken’ and only works ‘in the interest of developers, not local people’.

He continued by saying that ‘the balance of power is wrong’ and that the Government needs to help ‘restore the balance’, so that local communities do not see new houses as a ‘curse on the area they used to love’.

He raised specific concerns about the quality of new homes, affordability and impact on the environment, whilst saying that the problem in his constituency could be summarised as ‘too many homes, too little infrastructure’.

In Windsor, questions around the reported bankruptcy proceedings of Adam Afriyie (Con) rumble on, with queries around whether a by-election may be triggered. The Liberal Democrats have recently announced that Julian Tisi would contest the seat on behalf of the party if one was called, but Adam Afriyie has dismissed the prospect and said that the Liberal Democrats should learn to ‘respect democracy rather than playing politics and rumour mongering’.

Maidenhead MP Theresa May (Con) publicly outlined her support for Reading’s recently submitted bid for city status, saying that it is ‘long overdue’ Berkshire had a city. She believes city status for Reading would open up new opportunities for the area and bring a boost to local economies, therefore delivering ‘tangible benefits for Maidenhead and Berkshire as a whole’.

In Reading East, Matt Rodda (Lab) welcomed the former Conservative Mayor of Reading, Cllr David Stevens, to the Labour Party after a recent change of allegiance. Matt Rodda noted that it is the first time a Conservative councillor in Reading has joined the Labour Party and praised the ‘leading role’ Cllr Stevens has played in the campaign to ‘save’ Reading Gaol.

Staying on the subject of Reading Gaol, Matt Rodda asked a question in the House of Commons on December 7 about the future of the gaol. He queried whether Banksy’s £10 million offer for the prison would be considered by the Ministry of Justice, but Justice Minister Victoria Atkins responded by simply stating that the competition had already closed and bids were being considered.

In Reading West, Conservative MP Alok Sharma responded to the impending determination of a 165-home scheme at Pincents Hill in Tilehurst, by saying that ‘we must continue to protect this vital strategic gap and treasured green space’. Mr Sharma called on the Secretary of State (Michael Gove) to call-in the application, if required, and spoke against the application at committee last week, which was then refused unanimously by West Berkshire Council’s eastern area planning committee.

Meanwhile in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, East West Rail remains a contentious topic.  Greg Smith (Buckingham, Con) has been criticising the company over ‘dangerous’ road surfaces in Aylesbury Vale, as he said they had shown a ‘blatant disregard for the safety and wellbeing of my constituents’.

Conservative MP for Banbury & North Oxfordshire Victoria Prentis also had a call with the chief executive of the East West Rail Company to get an update on the project. They reportedly discussed progress with construction and the ‘solution’ for the London Road crossing in Bicester, with options being considered including a bridge or a tunnel.

And in other news…

  • In Henley, John Howell (Con) took part in a ‘protest walk’ against plans to build a logistics hub in the Oxford Green Belt, with more than 250 people purportedly attending.
  • Robert Courts (Witney & West Oxfordshire, Con) said he welcomed the Government announcement of a multi-million-pound investment in A40 upgrades, which aim to provide improved bus journey times, better public transport connectivity and improved active trave infrastructure.
  • Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North, Con) expressed his disappointment that the new Cranfield University had not been assured of Government funding, which has led to a delay in the project. He did though say that ‘there’s no reason why the project couldn’t get a reboot’.
  • Conservative MP for Wantage, David Johnston, and Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, Layla Moran, both questioned the future of a £200m purpose-built vaccination centre in Oxfordshire. Campaigners are reportedly ‘demanding answers’ to reports that the Government is planning to sell the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre at Harwell Science Park.

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