In the first of DevComms’ Spotlight on Westminster series, Charles Bushe provides an update on the activities of Thames Valley’s Parliamentary representatives. This will be a regular monthly feature, so do keep an eye out for future instalments.

Whilst it seems most MPs are currently occupied by the ongoing Covid-19 response, the controversial Internal Market Bill and the recently secured free trade agreement with Japan, we’ve scoured the proverbial corridors of Westminster for nuggets of note for the valley.

Over the past month, a number of local MPs have been reacting to development plans and proposals. Henley MP John Howell (Con) reiterated his historic opposition to development in the Green Belt, albeit perhaps more for posterity than purpose. Although ostensibly unhappy about the release of Green Belt through the South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) Local Plan, he made clear that he’s happy to defer to the inspector’s assessment of exceptional circumstances.

Matt Rodda (Reading East, Lab) has been highlighting the ‘high level of concern’ demonstrated in his recent survey regarding plans for development on Reading Golf Course. Part of the site which sits within South Oxfordshire’s boundaries is proposed as a country park, with new homes planned on the area of site that falls within Reading Borough (allocated under Policy CA1b of Reading Borough Council’s Local Plan).

As keen observers will know, this is a long-standing saga, with local opposition group ‘Keep Emmer Green’ having vociferously opposed the plans for a number of years.

James Sunderland (Bracknell, Con) used a debate in the Commons about housing development in West Sussex to raise concerns about the proposed new standard methodology. He said that both local councils within his constituency (Wokingham and Bracknell Forest) had ‘proudly and boldly delivered against the Local Plan’, requesting that the Government apply ‘some form of judgement on top of the science’.

Robert Court (Witney, Con), who was recently promoted to Minister for Aviation and Maritime at the Department for Transport, has been using his social media accounts to encourage constituents to take part in the consultation on the pre-submission draft of the Salt Cross Garden Village Area Action Plan. Once adopted, this will be a statutory document which will be used alongside the Local Plan and Eynsham Neighbourhood Plan to determine future development.

Turning to infrastructure and transport matters…

Laura Farris (Newbury, Con) has clearly been delighted by the recently announced investment into the A34 between Newbury and Oxford by Highways England. As seems to be in vogue at the moment, she too has launched a survey which seeks views from local people on how the road could be upgraded and improved.

During England’s Economic Heartland Annual Conference last week, Greg Smith (Buckingham, Con) expressed his opposition to the western section of the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, which he said has no local support or economic case. Furthermore, he said that, as Highways England has not been pushing it forward recently, he is confident it will ultimately not happen.

Rob Butler (Aylesbury, Con) wrote to Wendover Parish Council in response to perceived ‘misapprehensions’ regarding his efforts to oppose HS2. He emphasised that, despite being a long-term opponent, he now accepts it will go ahead and is focussing his efforts instead on minimising local impacts.

Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham, Con) has also picked up the topic of HS2, reiterating that local people deserve ‘consideration’ whilst it is being built. On September 9, in a question to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, she requested action from the Government against Extinction Rebellion so that ‘the integrity of peaceful campaigners is not impugned’ – in her view, they are giving justified environmentalists opposing HS2 a bad name.

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