Thank you Leckhampton!

Can I say thank you to everyone who voted in Thursday’s Cheltenham Borough Council elections and particular thanks, of course, to those who generously voted for me and placed me top of the poll in Leckhampton. Two seats were being elected here this time and the second went to Conservative Stephen Cooke, just 13 votes behind.  Commiserations to the other candidates, in particular Glenn Andrews, the brilliant Lib Dem candidate who worked his socks off in the ward and has promised to keep working hard for local people, and also sitting councillor Chris Nelson who lost out to his Conservative colleague by just 2 votes.  Thanks to him and retiring independent councillor Ian Bickerton for all their work for Leckhampton.

Across the town it was a great night for the Lib Dems.  Despite already holding nearly three quarters of the Borough Council’s 40 seats, we made three gains and increased our total to 32.  The Conservatives now hold 6 seats and the People Against Bureaucracy 2.

The full result in Leckhampton was:

Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrats   1,082
Stephen Cooke, Conservative                  1,069
Chris Nelson, Conservative                       1,067
Glenn Andrews, Liberal Democrats          834
Green    302
Labour   78
Labour   56

Votes spoiled: 1          Voter turnout: 52%

For the full ward by ward results across town, see Gloucestershire Live here.  And for more comment and coverage of the elections see their site here.

Thanks again.

Saving green spaces

 

Martin has never believed that the best way to help the homeless or make homes affordable was to build all over the countryside. So he has always strongly supported campaigns to protect treasured green spaces around Cheltenham.

In opposition he developed a policy for the Liberal Democrats which was then implemented by the coalition government as the Local Green Space designation now being used to protect green spaces in Leckhampton and across Cheltenham.  It provides protection for local green spaces not for their landscape value or scientific importance but simply because they are important to local people – providing free recreation and quiet enjoyment, growing local food, improving physical and mental health and absorbing both CO2 and dangerous particulate pollution.

Martin strongly welcomed the coalition government’s decision to scrap Labour’s centrally-driven Regional Spatial Strategies and return powers over housing and development to local communities.

As Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury councils then worked together to develop their own Joint Core Strategy, Martin consistently lobbied for enough housing for local people in need but not the tens of thousands required by a strategy based on economic growth regardless of environmental consequences.  In particular he lobbied hard against the loss of precious green spaces at Leckhampton, Chargrove and Springbank.  This was made difficult because neighbouring councillors like Tewkesbury Conservative councillor Derek Davies condemned Cheltenham’s LibDem councillors as ‘greedy’ and ‘precious’ for trying to protect Leckhampton and regularly blocked moves by Cheltenham to protect key green spaces. In the end the JCS ruled out a huge ‘strategic’ development at Leckhampton, reducing the likely housing there from over a thousand houses to a couple of hundred and with most of the green fields permanently protected.

Martin’s father, Don Horwood, was one of the founders of the Leckhampton Green Land Action Group (LEGLAG) and Martin joined at an early age. When he returned to Leckhampton with his own family and his children began attending local schools and nurseries the need to protect a green, safe and healthy local area for the future became even more personal.

Thousands of communities nationwide are now using a policy devised by Martin to protect threatened green spaces in and around their cities, towns and villages.  The new Local Green Space designation is designed to protect local green areas valued by local people – not just great crested newts and landscape painters.  Cheltenham’s LibDem council is pursuing the policy enthusiastically and the new designation is being recommended in the emerging Local Plan for the Leckhampton Fields, Greatfield Park and Holmer Park in Hatherley, Newcourt Green on the Cirencester Road and many more.  Martin developed the policy as an opposition environment spokesperson for the Lib Dems.  It was picked up in the Lib Dems 2010 election manifesto and implemented, as promised, by the coalition government.

In Leckhampton, there is a striking contrast between the Cheltenham side of the borough boundary where housing development has been refused pending the protection of the most important green spaces in the Local Plan using the new Local Green Space designation, and the Tewkesbury side of the boundary – across Farm Lane – where the Conservative-led council caved in to developers Redrow who pre-empted the local joint planning process and have ripped up historic hedgerows and wrecked views from the AONB in their rush to build expensive executive homes.

Martin believes more homes should be built on brownfield sites and in mixed use developments like St.Paul’s, the Brewery and North Place in Cheltenham, in urban city centres in need of regeneration and close to smaller villages and market towns whose shops, post offices, pubs and schools are closing for lack of people.

Martin has also called for more action to support rural housing (for instance in and around farms) where it is wanted and needed, tougher measures to bring more of the UK’s 850,000 empty homes back into use and new powers at local level to encourage the buying and building of more social housing for rent which is where the need is greatest.

Max Wilkinson is Cheltenham’s new champion!

Councillor Max Wilkinson has been elected by local Liberal Democrat members as their new parliamentary candidate.

Former Lib Dem MP Martin welcomed the news: “Max is a terrific local campaigner, a good friend and he works to get things done. Unlike the Conservative MP, he lived and worked in Cheltenham before becoming a parliamentary candidate here. He’s already working hard for local people as a member of the borough council. I have every confidence that with Max in the lead, we can close the slender gap between us and the Conservatives at the next General Election, whenever it comes.”

“Cheltenham badly needs a new voice for tolerance, internationalism and openness in Parliament, and the country badly needs an alternative to this shambolic, divided government which is going to drive us over the cliff-edge of a very hard Brexit. So that election can’t come soon enough.”

Personal statement

For reasons unconnected with politics, as one of my predecessors once said, I wrote yesterday to Cllr Paul McCloskey, chair of the local Liberal Democrats, to let him know that I have decided not to put my name forward in any forthcoming selection of a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham.

I do regret having to take this decision and I very much hope to return to frontline politics in the near future.  But I can’t commit to that right now.  We ran a tremendous campaign in Cheltenham earlier this year, bucking the national trend by increasing our vote significantly and making this one of the most winnable Liberal Democrat / Tory marginals in the whole country, so I understand why the local party will want to crack on with selecting a candidate as soon as possible.  But the timing isn’t right for me.

Luckily, the Liberal Democrats have many able campaigners locally and nationally who will be very interested in taking on this challenge.  I wish them every success and I hope to be able to give them my wholehearted backing.

For the record – since this question is often asked – Cheltenham remains home and I have no intention of going anywhere else.  I remain a trustee of three local charities and I will be continuing with all of those commitments and continuing to help Cheltenham Liberal Democrats as much as I can.

The Conservatives are making a tragic mess of our country and their inept handling of Brexit in particular threatens all our futures.  Jeremy Corbyn’s increasingly embarrassing personality cult and his 1970s policies provide no realistic alternative.  Here in Cheltenham, we continue to see Lib Dem victories in local elections.  So I see no reason why the Liberal Democrats should not go from strength to strength again, nationally and locally.  We have a new national leader in Vince Cable and we now need a new standard-bearer in Cheltenham too. But there is still everything to play for.

Brexit

Martin didn’t vote against the Referendum Bill as he never opposed the British people having their say.  But he passionately believed that Brexit was wrong for this country and still believes our future safety, prosperity, environment and culture would all benefit from continued membership of the European Union.  Even Brexit supporters must now despair of the Conservative government’s inept and disunited approach to the EU negotiations which risks the UK dropping out of the EU in 2019 like a crate of eggs off the back of a moving lorry.

Martin supports the British people having the final say on whatever Brexit deal actually emerges from the negotiations in a final referendum, with the option to vote to remain in after all if Brexit is clearly going to be a complete disaster for the UK.

As the Lib Dem party spokesperson on Europe in the 2010-15 parliament, Martin repeatedly confronted anti-European Conservative and Labour MPs pressing then Prime Minister David Cameron to bring in the Referendum Bill (which Cameron did believing it would be lost and that he could guarantee Conservative unity in the process.  Wrong on both counts.)

During the referendum campaign itself, Martin put a strong case for Britain remaining in the European Union.  He believes EU membership is:

  • The best guarantee of British jobs and future prosperity, through our full membership of the world’s largest single market
  • Enormously important for tackling cross-border organised crime, people trafficking and terrorism, and for bringing British and other EU criminal suspects to justice through the European Arrest Warrant and EU agencies such as Europol
  • The best way for Britain to find its voice in highly competitive global negotaitions on everything from climate change to world trade
  • The best way of safeguarding the environment which transcends national boundaries and requires co-ordinated action for its protection
  • The guarantor of many human rights, consumer protections and employment rights
  • An enormously important cultural, educational and scientific benefit to the UK, and in particular for future generations.

Martin told local businesses during the campaign: “Cheltenham businesses, from high-end engineering firms to the social care sector, benefit from millions in investment from within the EU and employ hundreds of people from other European Union countries and would in many cases struggle to fill those posts if visa or residence qualifications ever got in the way. Our businesses benefit from their skills and productivity, the UK benefits from the taxes they pay – and of course we get the right to live, work, study, sell our goods and services and even retire anywhere in Europe on the same terms as local citizens. Why would we throw all that into doubt with a costly and uncertain divorce from Europe?  And the moment we voted for Brexit businesses all over Europe would start to think about how they could get the rules of the single market tweaked in their favour after we’ve gone and have no say. A town like Cheltenham with strong international links would lose out in that situation.”

Sadly, the vote for Brexit was followed by an immediate drop in the value of the pound which has been maintained as business confidence has faltered, the NHS, public sector and many companies now face a crisis in recruitment and retention of valued European staff and young people feel rightly cheated of their future work and study opportunities.

The Conservative government’s inept handling of the Brexit negotiations has added to the uncertainty, even amongst Leave voters.  The government used European residents of the UK as bargaining chips when they could have guaranteed their unqualified right to stay at once and got the negotiations off to a positive start, moving on to the crucial need for a trade deal as fast as possible.  Instead we have had sometimes aggressive and often wildly unrealistic statements accompanying talks which barely seem to have got off the starting blocks as to the clock ticks down towards a ‘hard’ Brexit of tariffs and trade barriers, lost opportunities and an uncertain future for longstanding UK residents.

Even the Prime Minister’s proposed ‘transitional deal’ requires the final consent of all 27 other EU states and still hasn’t resolved the Irish border question so the UK still faces the risk of falling out of the back of the European Union in March 2019 with a very nasty bump indeed.

Thank you for your support in the 2017 General Election

Originally posted on Facebook, June 2017.

Well we didn’t quite do it. But we did buck the national trend to increase our vote share by 8 points, adding six thousand to the Lib Dem total and slicing the Tory majority from 6,500 to 2,500.

We suffered from a national campaign that struggled to break through despite excellent leadership from Tim Farron, the lack of a UKIP candidate locally sending pro-Brexit votes straight to the Tories, and an increased Labour vote swept along by the Corbyn surge which in Cheltenham ultimatelyhelped the Tories win as well. Sometimes the cards just fall the wrong way during a campaign.

But the fact that we came so close is a credit to everyone from all over Gloucestershire and further afield who volunteered, delivered, stuffed, donated, delivered, called, knocked on doors, tweeted, posted and generally worked their socks off for weeks. Thank you SO much.

And thanks as well to those who co-ordinated ward efforts, led canvassing, covered Cheltenham in Lib Dem diamonds, gave advice on policy and messaging, wrote copy, handled emails, managed the money, produced video, promoted the campaign on social media and fundraised. We would never have come so close without you too.

Its invidious to name anyone in particular but I have to name check our core campaign team: my agent Steve Jordan, Andy Williams’ political intelligence and hard work at the printing presses in Hewlett Road, our vital national link Dave Wood, Chris Twells on the outstanding literature and many people’s superstar of the campaign, Chris Ward, who read the data and directed the huge volunteer effort at the Bakery and across the town. You were a fantastic team and put together a strategy that should have won us the seat – and would have done if the national tide had just flowed a bit more strongly in our direction.

But Theresa May’s gamble in calling the election misfired so catastrophically for the Tory party that we may all be back here again before long. Overturning a 6,000+ majority always looked like a bit of a longshot. But your tremendous effort this time means that whenever the next election comes, we’ll start within spitting distance of victory.

Thank you

Martin

Martin Horwood
Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham 2017


Better railways

Better public transport is crucial to our economy, our quality of life and our battle against climate chCheltenham Spa ange. Throughout his ten years as our MP, Martin successfully campaigned to protect local rail services and to win new investment in track and station so that the nearly two million passenger journeys that now start at Cheltenham Spa each year can be quicker and more convenient for personal, business and tourist travel.

Martin led the opposition to the Conservative-led County Council’s plan for a Gloucester Parkway station between Cheltenham and Gloucester when it became clear that it was based on taking services away from Cheltenham Spa. He was backed by environmentalists like Jonathan Porritt, local politicians of all parties and many residents and businesses in Cheltenham and Gloucester too. As a result of Martin’s campaign, the plan was shelved by the Department for Transport.

Martin has consistently backed new investment in Cheltenham Spa station and a future development that would improve parking, access for public transport and bikes, make better commercial use of the site and meet the concerns of the station’s neighbours.  Working closely with Cheltenham Borough Council and the University of Gloucestershire, he lobbied for a plan eventually supported by train operators, Network Rail and Travelwatch SouthWest and helped to get millions in funding in place by 2015.  The most ambitious version could have seen two brand new bay platforms to prevent stopping trains slowing up through services and the lower part of the car park given a second tier – but this now looks like being downgraded to a much less ambitious plan since the Conservatives took office in 2015.

Martin & LibDem transport minister Norman Baker at Cheltenham Spa Martin successfully campaigned for the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble line. Two lines on this key route will allow more direct trains from Cheltenham to Swindon, Reading and London and give the whole region a more reliable railway service because trains will be able to overtake delayed or stopped services.

Martin personally lobbied Labour transport secretary Andrew Adonis,  Conservative ministers Teresa Villiers and Philip Hammond and finally LibDem transport minister Norman Baker to secure the £45 million spending.

Again working with Cheltenham’s Chamber of Commerce, Martin also backed a longer-term plan to build a Gloucestershire light rail network linking, Gloucester, Cheltenham town centre, the racecourse and Bishop’s Cleeve, possibly connecting with a new line to Honeybourne. This would be a convenient, reliable and low-impact network using routes like the old Honeybourne line and could connect with a restored main line north of Cheltenham, offering the prospect of a ‘heritage triangle’ train connection between Cheltenham, Stratford and Oxford.

Keeping the NHS local

Martin campaigning for local health services

It has never been more important to stand up for the local NHS.  As your local MP, Martin campaigned tirelessly for free, local health services.

Martin is married to a doctor himself and four generations of his family have been cared for by Cheltenham GPs and hospital staff so he never forgets how valuable it is to have a good local health service free to all.

Martin has campaigned for many years to defend the emergency department at Cheltenham General Hospital and to see the full overnight A&E service restored in Cheltenham.  After ‘critical incidents’ were declared at Cheltenham and Gloucester, Martin asked the NHS regulators to investigate what went wrong in Gloucestershire and what role the new 111 service played, how well the various local health and social care providers are working together (for instance when they refer patients in to A&E and allow patients to be discharged) and whether local management decisions have made the situation worse by downgrading Cheltenham A&E at night and routing all unplanned admissions through A&E.

Under the coalition, Martin refused to vote for Conservative Secretary of State Andrew Lansley’s Health & Social Care Bill which he believed broke the coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats which promised no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. But he supported the coalition in raising overall spending on the NHS from £98bn in the last year of the Labour government to more than £110bn a year in 2015.  The Conservative government since 2015 has failed to match that rate of growth.

Far from bringing extra money into the NHS, Brexit will now put this progress at risk by damaging the economy and the so the resources available to the NHS, as well as driving away European staff and damaging recruitment.

Back in 2006, under the last Labour government, Martin was a leading member of the coalition of local campaigners that fought the 26 different cuts and closures that threatened the long-term future of Cheltenham General and many local services. Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have a rose-tinted belief that Labour has always been a good friend of the NHS but that’s not how it felt then.

Martin led the campaign to save Cheltenham’s maternity ward

That campaign secured the future of Cheltenham’s St.Paul’s maternity ward which was earmarked for closure.  Martin will continue to campaign for the services that matter most to people, like maternity and A&E, to be kept local.

Other cuts like IVF services were also restored after pressure from Martin and others and as MP he took up many individual cases for local people who felt let down by local healthcare providers.  But he has always taken time to praise NHS staff and volunteers for their tremendous work and to give credit to local NHS management when they get things right.  Under the coalition, they managed to increase expenditure and deliver a small net surplus after achieving more than £17m in efficiency savings.

But as the chart from the independent King’s Fund below shows, in the few years since the Conservatives took power on their own, the majority of NHS trusts have plunged into deficit – and this now includes Gloucestershire too.  This is a direct threat to the future of local NHS services.NHS_into_the_red_under_Tories.png

Martin also campaigned consistently for good mental health services in Gloucestershire to make sure mental health service users get not only the services professionals think they should have but the services they want and need – just like those suffering from physical health problems.  He believes there is a particular crisis in child and adolescent mental health.  Before the coalition ended, he backed Lib Dem Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s announcement of £1.25 billion over five years for children’s mental health – but tragically this spending has not been maintained by the Conservatives since 2015.

At the 2015 General Election, only the Liberal Democrats pledged the full £8 billion extra which the NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said the NHS needed over the following five years and pledged equal status for mental health within the NHS, including children’s mental health and new mums who may need rapid access to treatment.

Flooding

A footpath in Hesters Way in 2007

Based on the experience of 600 flooded properties in Cheltenham in the summer of 2007, Martin strongly supported a new national deal on flood insurance and responsibility for drainage and extensive government-funded flood defence work in Cheltenham and elsewhere, but also a more sustainable approach to naturally holding water in the landscape, for instance by extensive tree-planting and landscape management.

Martin was home in Cheltenham when the June and July 2007 floods hit. Although he had to rescue his own children from a flooding car and lost his water supply along with the rest of us, he escaped lightly compared to many constituents who were left homeless or had their business premises wrecked or lost priceless possessions in the waters. Martin has repeatedly acknowledged the debt we all owe to the emergency services, the army, the environment agency and local council and NHS staff.

During the passage of the Floods and Water Management Act 2010, Martin was the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on flooding. He won a series of concessions from ministers and tabled many amendments to the bill calling for changes that have been highlighted by people in Cheltenham since the floods in 2007:

  • more steps to protect critical infrastructure like the Mythe water treatment works and Walham electricity sub-station
  • clearer responsibility for flood prevention including clearing and maintaining culverts, drains and small rivers and all forms of flooding
  • encouraging flood management that works with nature, for instance using land management and woodland to hold back water uphill not just expensive flood defences in our towns

On two key votes pressed by Martin, the Conservatives (including the current MP for Tewkesbury) failed to support him and his amendments were voted down which would have promoted fairer insurance policies and given local authorities clear powers to refuse planning permission in flood risk areas where overdevelopment can make matters worse.

Martin helping out with fresh water supplies in Oakley in 2007

After the 2010 Act, the coalition government struck a new national deal with the insurance industry called Flood Re to secure affordable insurance for all. Martin welcomed Flood Re but still wants government to actively monitor the affordability and availability of flood insurance, which has affected many people in Cheltenham since 2007. The coalition also strengthened planning guidance relating to flooding in the new National Planning Policy Framework although, again, Martin believes this could go further.

Flood defences need to work with natureMartin has also consistently called for more funding for anti-flooding works. Cheltenham’s multi-million pound scheme including Cox’s Meadow did hold back 75,000 litres of flood water and more work was later done by the Environment Agency to the River Chelt and adjacent areas and by Severn Trent to sewers and drainage all over town, including Warden Hill.

Martin’s own car stranded in the 2007 floods in Leckhampton

Anyone concerned about flooding can find the latest information on the Environment Agency website or by following @EnvAgencyMids on Twitter.

They can also sign up to Flood Alerts via the Flood Alerts Facebook App   http://www.facebook.com/FloodAlerts or by calling the Environment Agency Flood Line on 0345 988 1188 or 0845 988 1188.

Experts fear global warming will mean extreme flood events will be much more common in future. So we have to take every step we can to reduce the risks from flooding and avoid making it worse.

Fighting crime

Martin strongly defended a well-funded local police force, called for smart sentencing and innovative approaches like restorative justice to cut re-offending and involve victims more in the justice process.

There were more than 7,000 recorded crimes in Cheltenham in Martin’s last full year as an MP – still far too many but more than 27% less than in 2010.  Domestic burglary, drug offences, bicycle theft, public order offences, possession of weapons offences and vehicle offences were all sharply lower then in Cheltenham than they were in 2010.  This is a tribute to Cheltenham people including Neighbourhood Watch volunteers, to Gloucestershire Constabulary‘s effective community policing and preventive work and to innovative projects like the Aston Project and the Halt project who have worked to reduce the risk of offending amongst young people.

Martin backs community-based policing

Martin criticised Conservatives on the old Police Authority for refusing funding for our police which would have avoided cuts and has welcomed new Police & Crime Commissioner Martin Surl’s more careful approach and backed his successful campaign as an independent candidate in the last PCC election.

Gloucestershire Constabulary has a strong record of community-based policing and effective action against crime – including anti-terrorist arrests like the Gloucester ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid and clampdowns on organised crime families. The force’s finest hour was their emergency leadership role during the 2007 floods.  Under the last Labour government there was a serious plan to wind up local police forces like ours and set up a centralised south west England police force.  Martin was one of many MPs who lobbied strenuously against this plan which was duly dropped as unworkable and unaffordable.

Seeing_town_centre_policing_first_hand_bw.jpg

Martin has been a critical friend of the police when necessary, pointing out problems emerging in outlying areas of town like Hatherley and Springbank that needed nipping in the bud. He strongly supported the force’s move towards more community-based policing and also highlighted residents’ and tenants’ concerns about crimes on specific estates around town and the time it sometimes seem to take for the police and other authorities to take action against anti-social behaviour.

Martin has also supported honest sentencing – so that life really means life – and smarter sentencing – leaving proper discretion to juries, judges and magistrates but offering the alternative of ‘restorative justice’ involving victims more in setting the punishment.  Gloucestershire is already a leader in this novel approach which promises lower re-offending rates and puts victims at the heart of the justice process.

Martin also supports tough community payback schemes to make community sentences fit the crime and innovative projects like Cheltenham’s Aston Project and Halt project which offer positive alternatives to young people at risk of getting into trouble.  Early results suggested they could have a dramatic effect on offending rates.