From Helen Whately <[email protected]>
Subject A busy start to the year in Parliament
Date February 20, 2020 2:19 PM
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An update on my work in Parliament and beyond

Welcome to my newsletter
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** Introduction

It’s been a busy start to the year in Parliament. After years of wrangling and uncertainty we have finally left the EU. I know there are still strong views on this, but most people I spoke to during the election wanted to move on, and that's what we've managed to do.

The focus is now on building a new relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. There are huge opportunities for our country in the decade ahead, not just in our new role in the world, but also with our growing economy and a commitment to levelling up investment and opportunities across communities.

In the last few weeks in Parliament we’ve put NHS funding increases into law, introduced Bills on the environment and agriculture to make the most of having control in these areas once again, and set out plans for a £5 billion fund for better bus and cycle links to help every region outside London.

I’m continuing to work hard to get Kent its share of new investment – whether that’s in broadband (#broadband) , roads (#roads) , policing (#policing) , or schools (#school) .

I know some people have been through the horrible experience this month of seeing flood water enter their homes. It’s a reminder of the pressures we face in Kent - and the need to make sure new developments work with our plans for tackling climate change. Natural flood defences will become even more important - another reason to oppose the Cleve Hill (#cleve hill) solar plant as we would lose the opportunity to turn Graveney Marshes back into valuable coastal salt marsh.

** Do you want to join my team?

I'm looking to recruit a Caseworker. This is an excellent opportunity for someone who would like to work as part of my team helping people in Faversham and Mid Kent. More information, including details on how to apply, can be found here ([link removed]) .

** Making healthcare better for everyone
On a visit to Maidstone hospital - responsibility for the NHS workforce is part of my new job

I’m delighted to have been appointed Minister of State in the Department for Health and Social Care, as part of last week’s reshuffle.

My new responsibilities include social care, the NHS workforce, as well as learning disabilities and autism.

Solving the crisis in social care, and achieving our commitment of 50,000 more nurses, are two of the most important things for making sure people get the care they need.

I’m looking forward to working with fantastic NHS and social care staff across the country - including here in Faversham and Mid Kent, to make healthcare better for everyone.

** Full fibre coming to Faversham
Faversham is one of the towns prioritised by Openreach for super-fast broadband

Faversham, Sheldwich, Painters Forstal and Davington will be some of the first places in the country to benefit from a full fibre broadband network.

This is part of Openreach’s work to connect market towns, villages, and rural areas to super-fast broadband. Work on installing the fibre cabling is expected to start in April.

Painfully slow speeds and files than wont download should become a thing of the past very soon.

I know there are many places in Kent that need better broadband, but this is a step in the right direction.

** 96% say no to Lenham Heath development
I've been working closely with the Save Our Heath Lands campaign to oppose this development

The results are in from my survey and it’s clear there is overwhelming opposition to plans for a “garden village” at Lenham Heath.

96 per cent of responders said that Lenham Heath was the wrong place to build 5,000 new homes. Only 2 per cent supported the proposed development, with a similar number being undecided.

People are rightly worried about the damage it would do to the countryside and the thought of even more cars on the roads.

Maidstone Council needs to think again before pushing ahead with these unpopular plans. The views of local people must not be ignored. I’ve raised similar concerns about plans for a 5,000 home ‘garden community’ at North Street. ([link removed])
On a recent visit to Molehill in Maidstone

** A better future for nature in Kent

We all want to see nature thrive, but our wildlife and habitats have been under pressure in recent years.

From turtledoves in the orchards around Selling, lapwings at the Graveney Marshes, to songbirds in the Weald – Kent is home to an astonishing range of wildlife and habitats.

Two exciting new Bills have been introduced to Parliament recently, setting out our future policies for the environment and agriculture outside the EU.

The Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill ([link removed]) will put nature at the heart of the Government's agenda, not just in farming but across all areas of policy. I recently met the Kent Nature Partnership to discuss how these new policies can benefit Faversham and Mid Kent.

** Independent inquiry into East Kent maternity services
With the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and East Kent MPs

I was shocked and deeply saddened by the death of baby Harry Richford at QEQM Hospital, Margate, and the extent of the failures at the maternity unit revealed by the Inquest.

Parents need to know they’re in safe hands on the maternity ward – and clearly in this case there were terrible failures.

Action has been taken quickly and I’m assured that the Trust is a safe place to give birth, following an inspection earlier this month. An independent inquiry has been commissioned by NHS England so that these terrible failures never happen again. The full ministerial statement can be found here ([link removed]) .

** An update on in Headcorn
Local councillors say they are seeing progress

More regular patrols by police officers in Headcorn are already making a difference.

I was back in the village recently for a meeting with the police and local councillors to see if action to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour is having an impact.

I’m encouraged to hear that things seem to have improved since our last meeting in November. Local parish councils say progress is being made and people feel safer, but if your experience is difference please let me know.

We’re getting an extra 597 police officers in Kent over the next two years and Maidstone is getting five dedicated police officers. This means officers have more time to patrol villages and rural areas, including places like Headcorn.

** Maidstone Apprenticeship Fair inspires next generation
It's fantastic to see so many great employers offering apprenticeships, including Shepherd Neame

A record number of students and employers took part in the 2020 Maidstone Apprenticeship Fair on Friday 7 February.

It’s fantastic to see more and more young people considering an apprenticeship as a way of getting on in life.

Close to a thousand school students from across Kent and nearly 60 apprenticeship employers took part in the event at Maidstone Leisure Centre. This included students from three schools in Faversham and Mid Kent, along with local employers – including Shepherd Neame.

I was pleased to host the event once again, along with other Kent MPs. This was the third year running the event has taken place and coincided with National Apprenticeship Week.
With the farming minister, George Eustice, calling for better access for seasonal workers for farmers

** Another step forward for upgrade

Efforts to improve Brenley Corner have been given a boost by the Minister responsible for roads.

Roads Minister, Baroness Vere, has said she recognises “the force of the case” about upgrading this junction. This is really encouraging, as investment in this stretch of the road network in Kent is long overdue.

The Minister wrote to me after I called on the Transport Department to include Brenley Corner in the Government’s second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2), which is due to start in April this year.

** Temporary bridge brings relief to town
After weeks without a way to cross the creek, the temporary bridge is a huge relief

It’s a huge relief to have the temporary bridge in place over Faversham creek. People and cars can now cross the creek once again.

I know it’s been tough for people and businesses around the creek since the old bridge closed last year, so it was great to formally open the bridge last month.

Whilst this temporary bridge is good news, clearly this is not a long-term solution. We need a functioning bridge across the creek once again – to allow people and cars to cross and boats to pass through. I’m working hard to make this happen, and have had some productive conversations recently with Peel Ports and KCC.

** An update on solar plant

[link removed]
Talking on Politics South East about the impact of the development

The campaign to save Graveney Marshes enters the next, crucial stage.

The Secretary of State is due to receive a recommendation from the planning inspectors by the end of this month about whether to grant permission to build the UK's largest solar plant next to Faversham.

I've been continuing to do all I can to oppose this development, working with the GREAT campaign (Graveney Rural Environment Action Team) to highlight the environmental damage this plant would inflict on a beautiful strength of the North Kent Coast.

A final decision will be made by the end of May, so campaign work will step up a gear over the next few months. Find out how to get involved here ([link removed]) .

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