2015 is almost at an end, and what a year it's been! As ever I've been busy in both Westminster and South Northamptonshire, and I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a quick update on what's been happening.
The biggest political event of this year by far was the General Election, where I was honoured to once again be elected to represent this beautiful part of the country as your MP for another five years. The national result was certainly a surprise to the pollsters, but a majority government now gives us the chance to implement our manifesto commitments, including lowering taxes for the poorest in our society, supporting 3 million new apprenticeships, delivering an in/out referendum on our membership of the European Union, and restoring our nation's financial situation to prosperity.
Following the General Election, I was delighted to be appointed the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change in the new Conservative Government. It is a fantastic opportunity to take on one of the great challenges of our time, and I am really pleased to be working with my colleague Amber Rudd MP, who was appointed Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. There is lots to do and there has been much to learn in the first few months, however, I am eager to make progress and my priorities in this new role are to ensure energy bills stay low and that the lights stay on as we move to a low carbon economy!
In other Westminster news, the House of Commons this year voted to extend the bombing campaign against ISIL to Syria. While the decision was a difficult one for every MP, regardless of how they voted, the debate held ahead of the vote was among the most considered, respectful and impassioned I have ever known. I set out in full my reasons for voting in favour of action against ISIL on my blog, and I will continue to monitor the situation closely.
2015 has also seen a surge in momentum for the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto, a campaign I launched with cross-party support in 2013 and which reflects my passion for giving every baby the best start in life. Parent Infant Partnership UK, a charity I founded, has overseen huge growth in provision of psychotherapeutic support at local level for infants and their families who are struggling to form a secure bond.
It has also been a pleasure to host several constituents and schools in Parliament this year, and in particular I was delighted to welcome Richard Camp, Head Teacher at Towcester C of E Primary School, who won a national Pearson Teaching Award at a presentation in Westminster.
Back in the South Northamptonshire, my team and I have been making progress on my 'manifesto' from the General Election; the list of major issues that were raised on the doorstep and which I want to make progress on. I wanted to take this opportunity to summarise them below:
The Government has committed to spending over £5 billion on roads maintenance this Parliament, and Britain now has a permanent pothole fund. More locally Northamptonshire Highways operates the Street Doctor online reporting tool and I encourage local residents to notify the Council of particular problems. If there are specific potholes that have gone unattended, then please do get in touch with me and I will raise the matter directly.
In addition to Collingtree, the A422 Farthinghoe bypass, the Towcester relief road and Government changes to wind farm policy, I have been discussing the vital need for better car park provision across the area with a specific focus on Towcester. Whilst the Northampton Road car park is now in progress, I am keen to explore further sites including the old Co-op site by the Sponne Arcade. Residents have also raised concerns about the impact of the Aylesbury Vale Enterprise Zone on the Silverstone Masterplan, and I am aware that South Northamptonshire Council are talking to Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership on this. If there is a specific local planning matter that is of concern, then do send me an email and I would be pleased to discuss it further with you.
At Grange Park superfast broadband has been rolled out some six months ahead of Northamptonshire County Council's original projections and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. I am aware that there are residents elsewhere in South Northamptonshire who haven't been given a timetable for when they will be able to access faster speeds, and I continue to support any constituent who contacts me to raise the matter with NCC's Superfast Northamptonshire team. You can check their roll out schedule, including plans on the 'When and Where' map, on their website: www.superfastnorthamptonshire.net/when-and-where/Pages/roll-out-schedule.aspx
HS2 Compensation and Mitigation
In Westminster, the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum which I founded in the last Parliament has been reconvened, and allows MPs whose constituents are affected by HS2 to liaise over a range of matters and discuss common problems. In the most recent meeting, chaired by my colleague Cheryl Gillan MP, we heard from HS2 Ltd's Residents' Commissioner Deborah Fazan and a number of specific issues were put to her regarding communication and engagement. I have also petitioned on behalf of a number of petitioners against the proposals at Euston in Additional Provision 3, and supported South Northants Action Group in their locus standi challenge for the same provision. I continue to do all that I can for local residents to secure the best possible package of compensation and mitigation and, alongside many of my colleagues, would hope that the recent review by the HS2 Select Committee into the Need to Sell scheme will result in reforms to what is offered to affected residents.
The Energy Bill, currently passing through Parliament and due for its Second Reading in the House of Commons on the 18th January, aims to ensure that local people will have the final say over planning consent for wind farms of any size. This is a huge success for communities across the country, and one that I am proud that to have had a part in delivering in my role as Minister of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Towcester Relief Road
I am in the process of organising a public meeting in the New Year to discuss how we can make urgent early progress on the delivery of this vital infrastructure, working with local action groups, developers, enterprise partnerships, residents and the Council to find a mutually beneficial way forward. I would urge any local resident with an interest in the relief road to attend: details will be published on my website closer to the time.
Brackley and Towcester Outpatient Services
I will be meeting with Dr Darin Seiger and John Wardell, respectively the Chair and Chief Executive of NHS Nene Clinical Commissioning Group, in February to discuss the services that local residents in Brackley and Towcester have made clear to me they would like provided. There is considerable support across all interested parties, and I am hopeful that we can work collectively to get this sorted following the unfortunate closure of Brackley Cottage Hospital.
A422 through Farthinghoe
Northamptonshire Highways has undertaken a consultation to seek the views of the village on options for a bypass either to the north or the south, following exhibitions in the village hall on the 4th and 5th of December this year. I am hoping to arrange a meeting with Northamptonshire County Council, HS2 Ltd, the Department for Transport and/or Highways England once the results of the consultation are known to discuss how we move forwards.
Green Spaces around Northampton
I continue to support the many residents of Collingtree who have overwhelmingly rejected current proposals to build more houses in their area around concerns of overdevelopment around their beautiful village and potential for strains on local infrastructure. I am also extremely concerned that the concreting-over of the green spaces will affect surface run-off into the Wootton Brook, likely leading to more catastrophic flooding locally. Indeed, information I have obtained from the Environment Agency suggests that the flood proofing for the area is not in line with that required by Northampton Borough Council's Northamptonshire Local Flood Risk Management Strategy. I spoke on behalf of constituents against the proposals at the Planning Inspectorate's planning appeal inquiry, and we await the outcome of the Hardingstone appeal.
Full Employment in South Northamptonshire
The most recent statistics show that South Northamptonshire has the 623rd highest employment rate out of the 650 UK constituencies, with a Jobseeker's Allowance claimant rate of 0.7 per cent of those who are economically active. This continues a trend of increasing employment in the area, and I continue to meet with local businesses to discuss how they can provide apprenticeship opportunities for young people.
Sports and Leisure Facilities
I am pleased that progress is being made on the provision of a new skate park in Brackley and I hope that this will be delivered soon; funds are being put aside for this project at the moment. If there are specific facilities or projects that local young people would like to see in their area then do get in touch with me with your ideas; I am always very pleased to support proposals that provide opportunities for our children.
Volunteering and Support for Vulnerable People
In the New Year I will be starting my Village Action Days again, and I am looking forward to visiting all of the villages and communities across South Northamptonshire. In particular I would be very keen to hear about projects and initiatives that can be replicated and upscaled across the area, and to share best practice from one part of the constituency with another.
As always you are welcome to contact me by phone, email or by writing to me. I am also continuing my regular advice and 'drop in' surgeries across the constituency and will start my 'village visits' again in the new year. My new constituency office is now open in Towcester and I hope this will also improve the service I can offer.
I look forward to facing the challenges that 2016 will bring, and as ever I there is any issue I can help with do please let me know. In the meantime, may I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!
With best wishes,
Andrea Leadsom MP