Welcome to Spotlight on Westminster (Eastern Region) where DevComms Director Charles Bushe reports on what MPs in Essex and Cambridgeshire have been up to since January. This is part of the Spotlight on Westminster series, which provides regular updates on MPs across various regions of the South East.

We start off in Southend, where Anna Firth (Con) won a by-election in early February to represent Southend West, following the sad death of Sir David Ames in October last year.

Shortly after the by-election, on March 1, Southend officially became a City which was an issue that Sir David Ames had passionately campaigned about for many years.

Moving to the Commons, a debate was held in late January on ‘Levelling Up: East of England’ which a number of MPs from across the region contributed to. Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, spoke about the need for infrastructure improvements in the area and said that ‘slogans may come and go but we need a proper regional policy’.

Giles Watling (Con, Clacton) also took part in the discussion, saying that the right transport infrastructure is needed to ‘keep our economy alive’. Speaking after the debate, Giles said that the East of England ‘needs to be levelled up in the same way as the rest of the country’, as it has ‘some of the most deprived pockets in the nation’. Stephen Metcalfe (Con, South Basildon and East Thurrock) said that individual investment projects are not sufficient to support the region and that it is essential to improve housing and education generally, in order to lift ‘the whole area’.

The topic of the Ox-Cam Arc has reared its head again over recent weeks. Prior to the news that the Government was deprioritising the Arc, Daniel Zeichner (Lab, Cambridge) claimed that ‘East West Rail and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc are absolutely crucial’ for the area.

Conversely, Anthony Browne (Con, South Cambridgeshire) said he is ‘glad that the OxCam Arc appears nowhere in the levelling up White Paper’ and he noted that this policy shift puts ‘more strain’ on the ‘already precarious’ business case for East West Rail. Lucy Frazer (Con, South East Cambridgeshire) met with the East West Rail CEO, when she said that it is ‘particularly evident’ that a northern route would ‘negatively impact the communities of Milton and Landbeach’.

Returning to Anthony Browne (Con), he recently undertook a survey on the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Cambridge South East Transport Busway Scheme (CSET). It received 1,958 responses, with 81 per cent saying that they would ‘definitely not or probably not’ support the busway. Anthony said that the results reflect the ‘weak business case’ for the busway and that there are ‘better alternatives’, which will not destroy ‘precious landscape’.

His Labour counterpart in Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, has however questioned the ‘utility’ of these results, saying that surveys should not be carried out by people with an ’axe to grind’. He said that it is a ‘complex subject’ and that the Greater Cambridge Partnership ‘should be supported in their important work’.

A number of Eastern MPs have also been publicly opposing development schemes coming forward across the region. Shailesh Vara (Con, North West Cambridgeshire) ‘continues to support’ local residents in Huntingdonshire who oppose a planning application for a waste energy recovery facility at the Envar Composting site in Somersham.

In South East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Frazer (Con) wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the end of February, in her long-running battle against the Sunnica proposals for a solar farm in her constituency. The letter was also signed by neighbouring MP Matt Hancock, who recently wrote an article for the Daily Mail stating that Sunnica ‘didn’t bother to turn up’ when he held a public meeting with Lucy Frazer regarding the plans.

Steven Barclay (Con, North East Cambridgeshire), who was recently appointed as Boris Johnson’s new Chief of Staff, has written to Fenland District Council setting out concerns regarding the proposed Wisbech Incinerator. He questioned the pre-submission public consultation, as he believes ‘key information necessary to inform the community’ wasn’t provided’ and that it was ‘a tick box exercise’ instead of a ‘meaningful approach’.

And in other news…

  • Mark Francois (Con, Rayleigh and Wickford) spoke at a Public Inquiry regarding plans for 662 dwellings off Ashingdon Road, in his constituency. He stated that the proposed development fails on ‘common-sense grounds’, as the ‘real-world effect’ of the proposals would be ‘severe at best and highly dangerous at worst’.
  • Kemi Badenoch (Con, Saffron Waldron) reacted to the news that Uttlesford District Council has lost its planning powers, saying that planning decisions are ‘ideally taken locally’ and that the R4U administration ‘have once again failed local residents’.
  • In Witham, Priti Patel (Con) welcomed the Inspector’s decision to dismiss an appeal by Gladman for 90 dwellings. She said that the plans ‘would have been damaging to the environment and countryside’.
  • On cladding, Daniel Zeichner (Lab, Cambridge) met residents at Pym Court to discuss the ‘rapidly escalating’ building insurance costs following the completion of the post-Grenfell fire safety remedial work and Vicky Ford (Con, Chelmsford) says she has been ‘supporting leaseholders’ to try to resolve negotiations with developers and property owners.

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