Welcome to Spotlight on Westminster (Eastern Region) where DevComms Director Charles Bushe reports on what MPs in Essex and Cambridgeshire have been up to over the past month.

This is part of the Spotlight on Westminster series, which provides monthly updates on MPs across various regions of the South East. This Eastern edition will be published regularly in the Eastern Echo, alongside a Thames Valley edition which is published in Thames Tap on the last Monday of every month (click here for the latest Thames Valley update).

We can only start in one place, with Sir David Amess MP who was sadly killed whilst hosting a regular constituency surgery in mid-October. He had represented Southend West since 1997, as well as having represented Basildon from 1983 to 1997.

Respects were of course paid by MPs across Essex and Cambridgeshire, but with many seemingly taking a small degree of comfort from the news that Southend was finally granted city status after many years of staunch campaigning by Sir David on the issue.

But what else have MPs across this the Eastern Region been up to over the past month, as the new Session of Parliament begun?

The Government’s consultation on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework has recently closed, and Paul Bristow (Peterborough, Con) warned that the delivery of homes could be at risk due to the lack of travel connections between Peterborough and Cambridge. Anthony Browne (South Cambridge, Con) stated that the Arc should be a ‘truly visionary project – not just another excuse to build houses and urbanise our rural areas’.

Anthony Browne also undertook a survey on East West Rail, after saying that the recent consultation was ‘lacklustre’. Over 3,000 residents responded to his consultation, and reportedly 58% do not support the scheme, with only 31% in favour.

Staying with Anthony Browne, he has been vocal in criticising the Greater Cambridge Local Plan. In the Commons on 25th October, he stated that the ‘unprecedented house building bonanza’ in South Cambridgeshire is an active decision of Liberal Democrat controlled South Cambridgeshire Council. He has since criticised the current Local Plan consultation, as he says it is an effort to market ‘decisions the council has already made’.

25th October was a busy day in Parliament and there was also a debate on urban regeneration, where Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden, Con) was answering questions in her recently appointed capacity as Minister for Levelling up Communities. In response to a question about what her department is doing to support regeneration in towns and cities, she outlined that the Government is reportedly investing billions in local growth funds and has an ‘ambitious agenda…for renewing pride in the whole of the UK’, which will be set out in the upcoming levelling-up paper.

Robert Halfon (Harlow, Con) also asked Kemi Badenoch what steps the Government is taking to support towns. In response, and perhaps unsurprisingly, she once again reiterated that ‘billions’ are being spent on regeneration across the whole of the UK, including the £3.6 billion towns fund and the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. Specific to Harlow, she referred to the £23.7 million town deal.

Moving away from the Commons and over to Castle Point, Rebecca Harris (Con) has continued her opposition to the Local Plan after a Government Inspector found the Plan sound. Rebecca Harris has repeatedly suggested the Plan is ‘not fit for purpose’ despite being devised by a Conservative administration. 

She was no doubt buoyed by reports of a volte-face from the Conservative Group, who said they will not adopt a Plan unless their residents ‘agree it is the right thing for the Borough’, and so they are looking to find ‘viable alternatives’.

Cabinet Minister Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire, Con) visited the site of a new Government Hub at Fletton Quays in Peterborough, which will house approximately 1,000 Government employees once completed. He said that it is an ‘exciting project’ as part of the levelling up scheme, and Shailesh Vara (North Cambridgeshire, Con) said he was delighted to see Stephen Barclay visiting the city and that the new jobs will provide a ’major boost to the local economy’.

And in other news…

  • On 11th October, Shailesh Vara (North Cambridgeshire, Con) attended the opening ceremony of a new UK Head Office for HaskoningDHV and said it was very encouraging to see the company ‘invest in the wider Peterborough area’.
  • In Braintree, local MP James Cleverly (Con) visited the £3 million pedestrianisation scheme in the town centre, saying that the pandemic reminded people of the importance of local shops and businesses.
  • In Witham, Priti Patel (Con) met with a number of Councillors to discuss ‘their continued opposition’ to plans for the Rivenhall Incinerator by Indaver.
  • Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford, Con) submitted a response to the Rochford District Council Local Plan consultation setting out ‘pressures’ on infrastructure and highlighting the need for adequate infrastructure.
  • And Paul Bristow (Peterborough, Con) has been criticising the decision by the Labour Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, to cancel plans for the Cambridgeshire Automated Metro.

Image source- DevComms

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