After a 40 year battle, Leckhampton’s green fields are protected today

There have been a few compromises and defeats along the way but this afternoon, after more than 40 years of local campaigning, most of Leckhampton’s much-loved green fields around Kidnappers’ Lane and Farm Lane will today be designated as a protected Local Green Space when the new Cheltenham Plan is adopted by the borough council.

The green fields are an oasis of green space, ancient hedgerows and accessible pathways, the last remnant within the borough of Cheltenham of the medieval pattern of small fields, meadows and smallholdings that once characterised most of this area. Thousands of local people have joined repeated campaigns to fend off the loss of the entire area almost all of which has been optioned by developers.

Lott Meadow, a miraculous survival of an ancient field from medieval times, now a haven for local bats and many other species, and enjoyed and valued by thousands of local people – and now finally protected at the heart of the new Local Green Space designation

As well as protecting much of the green space, today’s Cheltenham Plan, in accordance with the hotly contested Joint Core Strategy agreed with Gloucester and Tewkesbury, also allows space for at least 250 new homes, most of them next to the Shurdington Road in the so-called ‘northern fields’ with some going on old nursery sites further up Kidnappers Lane. Since hundreds of new homes have also just been built at the corner of Farm Lane and Leckhampton Lane (permitted against furious local opposition by the neighbouring borough of Tewkesbury), the Leckhampton community is currently contributing more to local housing need than most other parts of Cheltenham. And thanks to the county council literally moving the goalposts, a new secondary school is also expected to be built on fields that were previously agreed to be remaining entirely green as playing fields. Your local Lib Dem councillors Iain Dobie and myself have fought to ensure that at least the buildings are more environmentally friendly and local hedgerows and natural habitats are protected in the process. And while many planning inspectors’ enquiries have supported campaigners in protecting the valued green fields for their rural character, the most recent inspector arbitrarily reduced the size of the Local Green Space designation which could be protected.

Leckhampton in the Cheltenham Plan being adopted today. The new Local Green Space designation which offers strong protection to green spaces important to local people, is shaded in green.

The Local Green Space designation didn’t even exist 40 years ago and the whole area was ‘safeguarded’ for future development. Campaigners like local Liberal councillor Kit Braunholtz and my father Don Horwood couldn’t claim the area enjoyed the chocolate box landscape of the nearby Cotswolds AONB or many particularly rare species that would have earned scientific protection nor was any of the area recognised under archaic ‘village green’ laws. But they rallied thousands of local people under the banner of the Leckhampton Green Land Action Group. Wider opinion about the environment was already changing too: the value of local green spaces to peoples’ mental and physical health, their biodiversity and ‘ecosytem services’ in reducing carbon emissions, filtering out air pollution, absorbing flood water and providing free recreation were all gaining more recognition.

In 2006 a previous Cheltenham Plan introduced by the Lib Dem administration recognised the area’s unique rural character and importance but the threats were still there: Labour’s top-down Regional Spatial Strategy or RSS threatened to overturn local plans and impose urban sprawl on Leckhampton, sacrificing all the green fields. I had just become an MP and wrote a new policy for the Lib Dem opposition which would create a new designation that offered a high level of protection on the basis of a green space’s well-established importance to local people, not just to great crested newts or landscape painters. This policy made it into the Lib Dem manifesto in 2010 and from there straight into the new coalition’s Programme for Government. The coalition quickly abolished Labour’s toxic RSS and, against all the odds, the new Local Green Space designation made it into the new National Planning Policy Framework in 2012. Some councils (like Tewkesbury) largely ignored it but Cheltenham’s Lib Dem administration enthusiastically planned to designate dozens of vital green spaces across Cheltenham’s urban area including the Leckhampton fields. In all 16 will be designated today including vital green spaces in Fairview, St.Mark’s, Hesters Way, Benhall, Charlton Park and Hatherley.

Leckhampton’s green fields from the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Leckhampton Hill, visible as islands of green amongst the growing urban area.

While this process ground slowly forward, Leckhampton’s active Parish Council picked up where the early campaigners left off and fought tooth and nail alongside local borough councillors to protect the fields from overdevelopment based on growth-based housing projections often way in excess of local housing need.

The outcome isn’t the complete protection of the whole area my father and others originally campaigned for but councils rightly have to strike a balance between the genuine pressures for new homes and schools and the need to protect the most important green spaces for local people and particularly the children who will live in those homes and go to those schools. I’m proud that Cheltenham Borough Council has managed to square that awkward circle and will today deliver the strong protection for most of the Leckhampton fields for which we have campaigned for decades – and proud to have played my own part over decades.

We now have to make sure this protection is defended against reviews of the Joint Core Strategy, planning “reforms” by the new Conservative government and the constant, well-funded pressure of developers. We can develop our own Neighbourhood Plan and plan to encourage use of the green fields and educate everyone about their importance to our own health and wellbeing, our community and the local and global environment.

Parish and borough councillor Martin Horwood, 20 July 2020

Martin Horwood MEP raises contradictory UK stance on Iran nuclear deal in the European Parliament

Yesterday in ⁦⁦the European Parliament⁩ I raised the contradiction between Foreign Sec Raab’s support for JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) and Boris Johnson’s call to replace it with a ‘Trump deal’.

Yesterday in ⁦⁦the European Parliament⁩ I raised the contradiction between Foreign Sec Raab’s support for JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) and Boris Johnson’s call to replace it with a ‘Trump deal’.

EU foreign polic⁦y chief Josep Borrell Fontelles⁩ wisely replied he believes Raab.

Science Matters

Science matters, so I visited the Royal Society to get a better understanding of the impact Brexit is already having on UK science and the impact actually leaving might have.

The best deal for the future of British science is the one we already have. We must stop Brexit to safeguard the future of British science.

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.

Brexit

Martin passionately believes that Brexit is wrong for this country.  He still believes our future safety, prosperity, environment and culture will all benefit from continued membership of the European Union.  Even Leave voters must now despair of the Conservative government’s inept and disunited approach to the EU negotiations and subsequent parliamentary car crash which still risks the UK dropping out of the EU in October without a deal, like a crate of eggs off the back of a moving lorry.

Theresa May’s rejected deal (supported by Cheltenham’s loyalist Conservative MP but repeatedly defeated all the same) would take the UK out of the EU but tie us to rules for years over which we would no longer have any say – and long before we know the real detail of any final deal that might one day be done.

Martin supports the British people having the final say on the Brexit plan, whether that is Theresa May’s deal or no deal, with the option to vote to remain in the EU after all.

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 has already damaged the UK.  It was followed by an immediate drop in the value of the pound which has been maintained as business confidence and investment 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.  There is good evidence we have sacrificed as much as 3% GDP growth since the vote.

The Conservative government’s inept handling of the Brexit negotiations and subsequent parliamentary votes has added to the uncertainty, amongst businesses large and small and amongst Leave and Remain voters alike.  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 had often aggressive and often wildly unrealistic statements accompanying talks which barely seemed to have got off the starting blocks as to the clock ticked down towards a ‘hard’ Brexit of tariffs and trade barriers, lost opportunities and an uncertain future for longstanding UK residents.  And despite losing her majority in a General Election called specifically to back her approach to Brexit, Theresa May refused to involve MPs of other parties in her planning until days before we were due to leave.

Even now, May’s deal – still the only one actually agreed by the EU – hasn’t resolved the Irish border question and would leave us subject to many EU rules and regulations despite having no say in them because we would have legally left the Union.  It seems doomed to constant defeat in Parliament anyway and the Brexiteers cannot agree amongst themselves which of the many arcane alternative variants on offer they want to try to negotiate with the EU or whether to leave without any deal.  This will not change witha new Prime Minister.  So the UK still faces apparently endless uncertainty and the risk of falling out of the back of the European Union with a very nasty bump indeed.

The only way to break the logjam, is for the Brexiteers to agree what kind of Brexit they actually want and the EU will agree – at the moment that means Theresa May’s deal – and put that back to the people in a second People’s Vote. Remain voters who are persuaded by the actual deal on offer can switch to Leave, while Leave voters who think the actual deal on offer is worse than staying in can vote to do just that.

Click here if you want to join the Lib Dem campaign for an exit from Brexit.

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.