The news that Nigel Jones, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, died last week was terribly sad for Nigel’s family and for Cheltenham.
Nigel always told me he wanted to be ‘Mr Cheltenham’ and he was just that. When I was out knocking on doors in my campaigns I lost count of the number of people who seemed to know Nigel and had been helped by him. As his successor, I was very aware I had big boots to fill but he was always approachable, kind and supportive to me.
He won an historic victory in 1992 built on many years of determined campaigning. As MP he took a high profile when championing trade union rights at GCHQ and defending local health services. But he was effective behind the scenes too, lobbying successfully to keep GCHQ in Cheltenham when that seemed to be in doubt and constantly networking quietly and effectively. He held a bewildering array of spokespersonships for the party in parliament using his IT background to particularly good effect. He’d earned the right to put his feet up when he stood down undefeated from the Commons in 2005 but he went on to be an equally effective member of the House of Lords too. We’ll all miss his gentle manner and witty banter.
My thoughts are with Katy, Amy, Lucy and Sam and the whole family at what must be such a difficult time for them.
You can read my profile of Nigel on the section of this website devoted to Cheltenham’s past MPs here.
Thank you to everyone in Leckhampton who voted in yesterday’s local election. Thank you for putting me top of the poll here again and putting your trust in me to represent you as your borough councillor for another term. Leckhampton was just one of 18 Lib Dem wins across Cheltenham while the party celebrated more than 190 council seat gains across England.
My majority over the Conservatives was just 13 votes four years ago but did increase a bit this time! After an unusually aggressive anti-Lib Dem campaign, the Green Party came third with a reduced vote compared to last year’s election.
During the campaign I promised to keep working for a fairer, greener, safer Leckhampton and I’m determined to do just that.
Today, Thursday 5 May, expect another close race in Leckhampton between the Conservatives and local Lib Dem councillor Martin Horwood. The last time this seat was contested in 2018, Martin was just 13 votes ahead of the Conservatives so every vote here really counts! Greens and Labour have always come third or fourth here.
Since his election in 2018, Martin has worked tirelessly for:
A fairer Leckhampton with more affordable housing including 40% of any new private development and new council housing for rent across town. These will now include our first zero carbon council and private homes with lower fuel bills built in. And Martin has argued for a local catchment for our new secondary school so local kids stop missing out.
A greener Leckhampton with record recycling, more renewable energy, a plan to get Cheltenham to net zero by 2030 and 26 hectares of our Local Green Space here finally protected by the Lib Dem Local Plan after decades of campaigning. Martin won funds for renewable energy at Burrow’s Field and has successfully pushed developers to bring forward more zero carbon homes – and opposed it when they didn’t. It’s easy to call yourself ‘Green’. Martin actually delivers!
A safer Leckhampton. Martin has repeatedly lobbied the Conservative County Council highways authority to do more on dangerous pavement and corner parking and to provide safer roads, walking and cycling routes – especially once the new school opens.
So vote wisely on 5 May. The polling stations are open 7am-10pm. For more information on where to vote – or if you need a lift to vote – call 01242 224889.
Cheltenham’s planning committee have refused Miller Homes’ application for 350 new houses on land next to the Shurdington Road.
I put a strong case to the committee based on issues I really care about as a Leckhampton resident myself:
Traffic. I argued that Miller and the county council had still done nothing about the traffic this application would add to local roads. Even the Conservative county councillor and I agreed her own council hadn’t done enough. But the official county council highways advice was still ‘no objection’.
Landscape. I’ve campaigned to protect our green fields for decades. While development is expected next to the Shurdington Road alongside the 26 hectares of Local Green Space protected in the Lib Dem Local Plan, this application encroached on prominent fields a government inspector previously said shouldn’t be developed.
Climate change. I don’t oppose all development. Last year I backed 22 new zero carbon houses for Leckhampton on a nearby ‘brownfield’ site. But Miller said they couldn’t even manage solar panels on the majority of their houses because they faced the wrong way (even though they designed them!). Houses like these won’t be allowed anywhere under rules expected in 2025 so I’m proud Lib Dem-led Cheltenham is saying no to them here now. This was the key reason councillors gave for refusal.
Local facilities. I also argued Miller had made no space for a local shop or an expanded doctor’s surgery. We need communities where people can walk and cycle to local facilities. This wasn’t one of the grounds used for refusal but I’ll keep arguing for better local provision.
Miller may appeal and we might all end up in front of another government inspector. But I really hope Miller will come up with a much better & greener plan – and that the county come up with a traffic plan too.
You can rest assured that if I’m re-elected on 5 May, I’ll stay on the case.
On 24 January 2022 I gave evidence to the examination by government inspectors of the proposed scheme for the A417 which has been hotly debated for more than 20 years. Despite all the years of delay the scheme the government is proposing still raises landscape, environmental, cultural and even new road safety concerns. And they wouldn’t pay for the schemes found to be have the best environmental, social and economic outcomes. Read my take on the A417 here.
I don’t always support new housing developments in Leckhampton (there’s still time to object to Redrow’s awful new plan to build right in front of the AONB here using ref 21/02750/FUL).
But last week I gave enthusiastic support to one new development. Local developer Newland Homes brought forward a plan for 22 new homes on a former nursery site in Kidnappers Lane. 9 will be affordable, meeting the Cheltenham Lib Dem target of 40% of every new development being affordable housing. They’re on a so-called ‘brownfield’ site actually suggested by the parish council as appropriate for development – a good example of how trusting local people and their representatives, instead of trying every trick in the planning playbook to override local opinion, really doesn’t mean no homes being built anywhere. Newland spoke at length to Cheltenham’s professional planning department and to parish councillors as they revised their plans.
But most important of all every single house will be zero carbon when its occupied. This is going to be achieved through a combination of really good insulation, air source heat pumps and solar panels which will also send some electricity back into the grid to offset any non-zero carbon electricity that’s bought in. It’s a big step towards the Lib Dem goal of getting Cheltenham to net zero by 2030.
This is a revolutionary moment and something I’ve been campaigning for all my political career. When I was an MP the Lib Dems pushed the coalition government into setting a deadline of 2016 for all new housing to be zero carbon. As soon as the Conservatives took over on their own they got rid of that deadline despite the science surrounding the climate crisis getting more and more alarming with every passing year. So we’re struggling to persuade other developers like Miller Homes – hoping to build 350 new homes only a few hundred metres away – to build zero carbon homes because government rules still say they don’t have to.
But here in Leckhampton at least one developer is doing it anyway with our support, proving it can be done, by a private developer, with both open market and affordable housing. It’s possible and it’s commercially viable. At last, the revolution has begun. And I’m really proud that it’s happening in Leckhampton.
Until 15 November you can still have your say on the future of Leckhampton by visiting www.haveyoursay.cheltenham.gov.uk (or by using this QR code) and taking part in the Parish Council’s Neighbourhood Plan survey. And every submitted response enters you in a draw to win £100!
Parish Councils are the butt of many jokes (thank you Vicar of Dibley and Jackie Weaver!) but their Neighbourhood Plan is surprisingly important. It sets out our community’s approach to protecting local green spaces, where we want development to go and how we want it to look and which local facilities we value. Neighbourhood Plans were introduced in the Localism Act passed when the Lib Dems were in government and they really count in planning permission decisions alongside the National Planning Policy Framework, the Cheltenham Plan and (in the the case of our three councils Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham) as Joint Core Strategy (JCS) that allocates land for major housing developments.
For historic reasons, it doesn’t yet cover all of Leckhampton but you can still have your say if you’re in the area.
In the case of the Leckhampton Fields, we managed to get them taken out of that JCS to stop pretty much all of them being built on and then got 26 hectares protected in the Lib Dem borough council’s Cheltenham Plan last year alongside 350 new homes – many of them affordable – and the new secondary school which is now going up on Kidnappers Lane. The parish council’s Neighbourhood Plan strongly supports the permanent protection of these treasured green spaces. But it also lists the community facilities like local shops and play areas that we value most and includes policies on our heritage assets and even how we want to protect the area against flooding.
The parish council and its Neighbourhood Plan working group (which I co-chair with Councillor Graham Beale) has already organised thousands of leaflet drops and two drop-in events and we’ve had hundreds of responses but we still want more. And please don’t use the unofficial survey issued in the name of ‘Leglag’. If you want a paper copy, call the parish clerk on 07739 719079 and she will make sure you get the proper one.
And there’s a bonus too. If we get all the way to a final referendum on the plan, probably in the first half of next year, and if the plan is approved, the parish council will get even more to spend on local facilities through the Community Infrastructure Levy which comes from the developers building all that housing. So new projects like the fundraising appeal just launched for a revamped Scout Hut on Leckhampton Road would be great candidates for some of that money.
So get online now and complete the survey! The whole plan is 160 pages long and the survey has links to key policies which are themselves quite long in places but please keep going even if you have to skim through it a bit. Remember you could win £100 and help the local community along the way!
It’s been a long time coming but consultation by the county council as highways authority has finally begun on a proposed Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) to tackle dangerous corner parking in Leckhampton. It covers hotspots across Leckhampton and some neighbouring wards as well.
Dangerous corner parking was one of the first issues that was raised with me when I first ran for the council back in 2018, particularly the exits onto Leckhampton’s big main roads. Since then I’ve raised it repeatedly including during my stint as chair of the parish highways group. First there was negotiation over the possibilitity of combining multiple sites to reduce the cost of consultation, then over who would fund the consultation and then over which sites really justified even consideration of new yellow lines (several visits were apparently necessary and parish councillors were despatched to talk to residents). Finally there was further discussion of actual detailed plans. Now we have an agreed list to consult members of the public on but even that has started in a very limited way . Don’t worry though – you still have the chance to have your say: more formal consultation is planned for later in the process and I’m told “site notices and plans are placed around the site on street furniture, adverts placed in the local press and a page posted on the Gloucestershire County Council website”. Watch out for them!
I thought it would be helpful for people to see all the plans that are being considered so here are the ones proposed in or very near to Leckhampton ward..