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** Vicky Ford InTouch March 2023
I want to share some recent news from across Chelmsford.
Beaulieu Park Station
Improving our transport infrastructure is key for our future economic growth, jobs and prosperity.
Today, I attended the ground-breaking event for the new Beaulieu Park Station. It is truly excellent news that construction on this important project is now underway. The people in the north and east of Chelmsford have waited many decades for the second station and constituents will know that this has been a key priority for me since I was elected. Beaulieu Park Station is a significant investment in accelerating future growth in Chelmsford and in the surrounding areas.
For local residents, this will mean fewer car journeys into the centre of Chelmsford and thus less traffic. The passing loop that the new station provides will enable fast trains to overtake stopping services, improving the reliability of train services for commuters all across the Great Eastern Mainline.
This project is currently on schedule and on budget, and is expected to open by the end of 2025.
Army & Navy
Many people from all across Essex waste precious time stuck in Chelmsford traffic jams. Therefore, replacing the junction at the Army and Navy is vital for the future of growth in our area. The Army & Navy Sustainable Transport Package includes a new junction and improvements to Park and Ride, bus, cycle and pedestrian routes. The total cost is estimated to be £80.1 million. Essex County Council have offered to contribute £8.1 million and Chelmsford City Council have offered £4 million from developer contributions. We are therefore asking the Government to contribute £66.8 million. The Army & Navy Sustainable Transport Package has a 2.7% cost/benefit ratio, meaning that for every £1 invested, £2.70 will be delivered in economic growth in return. The Roads Minister recently visited Chelmsford to see the Army and Navy for himself. I will continue to make the case with Government Ministers for this vital project.
Investing in Skills for our economic future
It is so important that our young people have the best possible skills to help them get jobs. This will also help our economy to grow. I opened the new Construction Centre and Institute of Technology at Chelmsford College. The Construction Centre provides cutting edge resources and equipment to train students and apprentices to become skilled tradespeople ready for work in the construction sector. It has been funded by the Government via the Local Enterprise Partnership and supported by many local construction companies.
10 Minute Rule Bill
Recently, in the House of Commons, I introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill, a type of Private Member’s Bill, on Affordable Housing. Where new homes are being built, the local council is able to apply an affordable housing obligation to ensure that a certain percentage of the new homes are affordable. However, currently when a commercial building is converted into residential homes, the local council can not apply an affordable housing obligation.
Therefore, entire office blocks can be converted into luxury flats, without providing any affordable homes. My Bill intends to rectify this anomaly.
Looking back at buildings that have been given permission to convert over the past nine years, it is estimated that this could have resulted in 453 more affordable homes in the Chelmsford City Council area. If my Bill goes through, Local Authorities will have the ability to use this power in a manner that best suits their local area. This Bill has the potential to deliver many thousands of new affordable homes for people across the country in a quick and timely manner.
Supporting the NHS
Just over five years ago, the Government announced five new medical schools, including one at Anglia Ruskin in Chelmsford. In just a few weeks’ time, the first students will graduate as doctors. This the first time students have ever been able to study for a degree in medicine in Essex. I met many of the students recently and was delighted to hear that very many of them want to stay working in our local area. I know that they will play a key role in the work that is already going on to cut NHS waiting lists. Given the success of the medical degree in Chelmsford, I am pressing ministers to approve an expansion so that even more doctors can train here.
I also visited the Operations Centre for East of England Ambulances in Broomfield. I was pleased to hear that handover times at Broomfield and other Mid Essex Hospitals have greatly improved and are on average now within 30 minutes. This is partly due to additional funding from the Government to help with winter pressures and to reduce waiting lists.
Trip to Washington
In February, while Parliament was in Recess, I spent two days in Washington DC with three other MP colleagues. The transatlantic relationship between the UK and the US is extremely important, not only for our own peace and security, but for freedom and democracy across the world. Our packed diary of meetings included briefings at the White House, the State Department, the Senate and the World Bank. We were focusing on the 3Ds; Defence, Diplomacy and Development as well as other important issues such as improving global food security, migration and climate change.
£2 Bus Fare Extended to the End of June 2023
The majority of bus passengers in Essex will be able to travel more cheaply by bus until the end of June after a Government fare discount scheme was extended. Since January, the £2 Bus Fare Cap limited the price for an adult single fare to £2 on routes operated by bus firms which have opted into the scheme, including First Bus. Thanks to additional funding of up to £75 million across England from central Government, the scheme has now been extended to 30 June 2023.
The Department for Transport has also confirmed up to £80 million of continued support for critical bus services across England.
Increasing Police and Reducing Crime
By March 2023, we will have 900 extra officers in Essex since I became the MP for Chelmsford and under the leadership of Conservative Police Fire and Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst. This makes a huge difference in our communities and is making Chelmsford an even safer place to live, work and thrive. I have also been out and about on patrol in Chelmsford with the police.
Tragically, a teenage boy was recently murdered in Chelmsford at the Waterson Vale green space which is owned by Chelmsford City Council. There has been an increase in police patrols in this area. I have been pressing Chelmsford City Council to prioritise safety improvements in this area, including CCTV cameras and reducing some of the undergrowth. But sadly to date the council has not listened to local residents on this. I believe that safety must be a priority and will be working with conservative candidates who agree to prioritise safety in the run up to the local elections this May.
Women and girls’ safety in particular is a key priority of mine. I am delighted that Chelmsford has recently retained it “Purple Flag” status for safety in the night time economy. I am working to increase awareness of spiking. It is disturbing to hear that there have been a small number of spiking incidents in Chelmsford. It is very important that anyone who thinks they may have been spiked comes forward quickly so that they can give a urine sample and thus provide vital evidence to help catch perpetrators.
At the end of January, I led a debate in Parliament's Westminster Hall on the Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry. This is a very important debate regarding the future of mental health services across Essex and in ensuring that the tragic stories that I and many of my Essex colleagues have heard from families affected by failings of mental health services in Essex are not repeated. I have called for the current independent inquiry to be converted to a statutory inquiry. The independent inquiry was announced two years ago, but last month we heard from the independent inquiry chair that the non-statutory inquiry was unable to fulfil their terms for reference due to the extremely low engagement of EPUT staff.
The minister responsible is considering giving EPUT a short window of time to endeavour to achieve a "quantum leap" in staff engagement before deciding to move to a statutory inquiry. I would like to thank the families that attended the debate, and my fellow Essex MP colleagues who took part. My speech included the very harrowing testimony of a survivor.
Thank you to all those Chelmsford families who have so warmly welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes. On the day of the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, I joined students from St John Payne School as they held a minute of silence to remember the war. Mariia, a Ukrainian refugee in year 7 sang a very beautiful, haunting Ukrainian folk song to over 1,000 of her fellow students. As she sang, I was struck by her bravery and the immense bravery of the people of Ukraine. Thousands of people have lost their lived, and many thousands of children have been abducted by Russia since Putin started this brutal war
It is important that we help genuine refugees, but it is also extremely important that we stop the small boats so that people traffickers do not force people to risk their lives in the channel. This is why I will be supporting new measures to stop the small boats.
Our National Priorities
As you may have seen, the Prime Minster has outlined five key priorities nationally. If you are a constituent of mine, I would be very interested to hear from you about which of these would be your priority? Please do email me to share your thoughts on [email protected]
As ever, please do stay in touch - my email is [email protected]
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