Being ‘out of the House’, I’ve decided to get on my bike for an August “Cycling Constituency Tour”. My challenge is to peddle across the 200 square miles of the constituency stopping off at shops, restaurants, pubs and other businesses, as I go. I want to give them my support, ask how I can help and give the businesses a platform on my social media accounts to sell their wares. I’ve met some wonderful people, and we’ve uploaded some funny videos. There’s nothing better than getting to meet those who act as the beating hearts of our community. Many have been absolute heroes throughout lock-down. Whilst I live in the middle of the constituency, I need my old Land Rover to take me to the start of some of the circuits. Sadly it clapped out on me in Herstmonceux, is in intensive care and unlikely to pull through. I’ll have to think again, or peddle even further.
This week, the Government has announced consultations for major reforms to our planning process. The aim is to build even more homes where we need them, and fewer where we don’t. It’s times like this that I feel as if I’ve been an MP for fifty years, and not five. We’ve had countless attempts to reform the planning system. These must have failed otherwise we would not need another one. On paper, this set of ideas does look appealing. As I know from conversations with developers, they say it takes too long to get permission to build big sites, such as the Link Road (where we were supposed to see 1,500 homes but have nothing like that). Instead, they cherry-pick smaller sites where it is worth the effort but is leading to density and unsuitable development in Little Common, Ninfield and other villages. The Government is proposing, for sites such as the Link Road, that a local plan identifies the land for ‘Growth’ and, thereafter, there is no need for planning permission because it’s already been given via the plan (which is produced by our elected representatives). I support this, in concept, but only if we similarly make it harder for development to occur in the classification of ‘Protected’ land. Only then will we get the homes supported by the community. I’d urge residents to complete the consultation and air their views.
Water supply has also been an issue for me this week as parts of the constituency have been without it. South East Water have had a perfect storm; extremely hot weather, causing people to fill up pools, and a mixture of no commuting to London, staycations and extra tourists in the area. All of this has seen water usage increase from 540 million litres per day to 696 million litres on one day (a record). One of our surface reservoirs, where the water is pumped to for local use, could not cope hence we lost supplies. That also takes me back to the argument about development; if we cannot cope with extra demand then we either need more investment or fewer new homes. I will be monitoring this further. It’s been really challenging for those who have been without water. It’s not good enough.
Another issue causing great concern is the future of our young people. Employment opportunities are limited. The Government has launched a Kickstart Scheme - directly paying employers for the costs of employing a 16 - 24 year old for 6 months. I’ve been promoting it on my cycle tour. The A level grading process, in the absence of exams, has not been a success. I joined a call with the Schools Minister and the exams regulator and was assured that a mixture of teacher assessments, amended to ensure historical exam trends are maintained for the school, and the right for the pupil to sit the exam in Autumn if they felt under-graded, would work. Then, 36 hours before results day, we added mocks as another benchmark. If this was a good idea, why wait until the last minute? It’s very confusing for local young people and very disappointing for me as their MP. I went to a poorly performing school, and got low GCSEs grades. My FE teachers used these, in the absence of classroom learning, to give me expected grades much lower than I obtained in my A levels. That caused me to reapply to the leading Universities but at least I got my A grades thanks to the exams I sat. Some young people will be robbed of their potential by this virus. It’s an absolute tragedy and I’m determined to do better for them when it comes to gaining their preferred University place. In the future, I am sure employers will be aware that 2020 was an extraordinary year to graduate or take exams and will take that into account rather than judge.