Good news (for now) on Leckhampton’s bus service

Martin with Warden Hill councillor Graganm Beale and Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Max Wilkinson, widely tipped to be Cheltenham's next MP.
Local Lib Dems were quick off the mark campaigning to save our bus service. Martin with Warden Hill councillor Graham Beale and Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham, Max Wilkinson, widely tipped to be Cheltenham’s next MP. Photo by Anna Lythgoe.

Last autumn local people were horrified to hear that Leckhampton’s regular regular local bus service – the F bus – was soon to be lost. Its operator Marchants, who had struggled for some time to deliver a reliable service, notified Conservative county transport bosses on 17 August that they were pulling out. But Shire Hall were caught asleep at the wheel and didn’t begin ‘formal market engagement’ on a new service until 14 October blaming Stagecoach for the delay.

Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Max Wilkinson, widely tipped to be Cheltenham’s next MP, was quick off the mark supporting Martin and other Lib Dem councillors in their campaigns to save services as soon as the news became public in October. In the end the county subsidised Marchants to run an ’emergency’ replacement L bus service just in time. It is only 16 buses a day not 24. The L bus route is shown below.

The weekday L bus route.  Currently free but fares will be back soon.
The new replacement L bus service will last at least until November 2023 and for now it’s free. But enjoy that while it lasts: fares will be back soon.

It was unclear then how long this would last, especially as no fares are being charged so far, and whether the weekend F bus, scheduled to end this month, would also be replaced. Now Shire Hall have confirmed to Martin that a weekend service with “similar coverage” to the L bus will replace the F and that the contract with Marchants runs at least until November 2023.

Sadly, the freebies are coming to an end though with fares coming as soon as the proper equipment can be fitted to Marchant’s buses.

Martin said ‘This is good news for now and we have time to campaign for a permanent reliable local service now.’

‘In the face of climate change, growing awareness of air pollution and rising fuel costs we should be doing everything possible to encourage and grow public transport. But Conservative leaders at Shire Hall seem to be lurching trom crisis to crisis and presiding over reduced services instead.’

A tribute to Mr Cheltenham

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.

Leckhampton’s first zero carbon homes

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.

Where Cheltenham’s first zero carbon housing estate is going to be built on Kidnappers Lane in Leckhampton

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.

There’s still time to have your say on the future of Leckhampton!

Until 15 November you can still have your say on the future of Leckhampton by visiting (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!

Scan this QR code to go to the Neighbourhood Plan consultation

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.

The area inside the red lines has already been protected as Local Green Space in the Lib Dems’ Cheltenham Plan – but the Neighbourhood Plan can reinforce that protection

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.

The drop-in events have finished now but you can still respond online by 15 November.

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!

Why I’m opposing the Kidnappers Lane school planning application today

In a virtual county planning committee meeting today that you can follow live online here, I’m going to be opposing the planning application for a new secondary school in Kidnappers Lane, Leckhampton.

Although I’m not arguing against a school in principle – there is provision made for a school in the area in local plans already – I am sceptical about the need for it. Only a few brief paragraphs of ‘educational rationale’ have been provided to today’s committee and I fear that if the school proves as popular as Balcarras, it may just ‘poach’ admissions from nearby Bournside and parents hoping to close the notorious ‘Leckhampton Corridor’ may still find themselves more than a mile from all local schools and so still unsure of getting their kids into any of them.

The new school will sit within the Bournside priority area and may not close the infamous ‘Leckhampton Corridor’

But my main objections are on grounds of biodiversity loss, landscape impact and the poor design of the school building. I also support Leckhampton with Warden Hill Parish Council’s strong opposition on air quality and traffic grounds.

Last year the county council voted to protect biodiversity in the county in a full council motion. But their own chief ecologist in his report to today’s committee says the application “could be refused on biodiversity grounds alone”. Another expert ecologist report to the committee todays predicts “net loss of habitat units down to -56.69%” even with parallel increases in hedgerows nearby and other mitigation measures without which the habitat loss would have been nearly total (-95%).

Hatherley Brook runs the entire length of the application site but is an important habitat for many species and would be seriously affected, including by floodlighting.

The reports catalogue a huge diversity of species on the site including at least 11 bird species and 10 bat species – both protected from habitat disturbance by law – with 9 trees lost if the application proceeds and 3o more affected, one hedgerow lost completely and others damaged and the important brook habitat that runs the length of the site infiltrated by floodlighting which could disturb hibernating bats when the floodlighting is used in winter, causing them to wake and starve.

The south of the application site and the brookline running its whole length was given the highest possible rating for landscape sensitivity during the recent Joint Core Strategy (JCS) planning process..

Turning to landscape sensitivity, this is something that has been highlighted by successive Planning Inspectors and reports over decades, agreeing to protection for the Leckhampton fields area’s “special historical, landscape and amenity value” and “attractive pastoral character.. linked strongly into the landscape of the AONB”. In 2012 the Gloucester, Cheltenham & Tewkesbury Joint Core Strategy (JCS) landscape report considered the area a “valuable landscape resource” with ”a good brookline and associated tree cover” and gave parts of the application site the highest category of landscape and visual sensitivity. Many local and national planning policies instruct planning authorities to protect valued landscapes but this application and design does not do that, placing a huge “office block’ design into this sensitive local landscape.

The square urban “office block” design of the proposed school building is a major problem with the application, especially in such a highly rated landscape area.

Local plans also specifically protect the views into and out of the neraby Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This site is very prominent in iconic views from within the AONB at Leckhampton Hill and the building proposed would stick out like a sore thumb.

The site (outlined in red) would be extremely prominent in the most iconic views from within the AONB at Leckhampton Hill. Local and national policies instruct councillors to protect such views.

Buildings, even large buildings, can be placed in sensitive locations. Think of how the radical, environmentally-friendly design of Gloucester Services on the M5 blends into the Severn Vale landscape. But this building won’t.

So for all these reasons, I’m opposing the planning application today. You can read my full comment and written objection document online here. Enter reference 19/0058/CHR3MJ.

The best places for advice on the virus & how to get and offer help

These are worrying times but we need to focus on keeping those at risk safe by sticking to government guidance and looking out for anyone who needs help.

For advice on staying at home, social distancing if you’re well, self-isolating if you’re unwell, symptoms, employment advice and much more, go to

Don’t phone 111 (that’s only for people whose symptoms are really getting worse). If you are worried about your symptoms you can also go to 111 online.

In Gloucestershire there is a great Community help hub up and running where you can ask for help, volunteer to provide help or highlight a neighbour who needs help.

You can also listen to BBC Radio Gloucestershire live which is offering a running commentary on the local situation, often featuring definitive advice from our local Director of Public Health Sarah Scott and generally trying to find answers to some of the trickier questions. You do have to put up with Mark Cummings’ sense of humour but these are tough times.

This BBC Explainer gives details of where struggling businesses can get help.

I’m obviously not conducting surgeries at the moment but you can still email me on Borough council-related issues at

All the best. Keep safe & keep others safe.


Martin Horwood MEP dissects Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

Early votes have been taking place in the European Parliament on Boris’s Brexit deal. They suggest it will be passed when the full Parliament votes tomorrow. But I’m finding more and more reasons to vote against it.

Early votes have been taking place in the European Parliament on Boris’s Brexit deal. They suggest it will be passed when the full Parliament votes tomorrow. But I’m finding more and more reasons to vote against it.

Martin Horwood MEP questions Saudi minister on human rights in the European Parliament

Last week in Brussels at my last European Parliament foreign affairs committee I grilled a Saudi minister who bravely attended – an opportunity I never got as a Westminster MP

Last week in Brussels at my last European Parliament foreign affairs committee I grilled a Saudi minister who bravely attended on their human rights record – an opportunity I never got as a Westminster MP.

Martin Horwood MEP speaks out on citizens’ rights post-Brexit

I had the chance to speak up for citizens’ rights in ⁦the European Parliament⁩ this week. I paid tribute to ⁦Guy Verhofstadt⁩ for his focus on EU27 citizens’ rights in the UK & the rights of Brits in the EU.

Plus a surprising model for EU associate individual citizenship…

I have told many constituents that I share their wish to find a solution that will allow UK citizens to retain their EU citizenship on an individual basis, and fully support associate EU citizenship as a possible course of action.

Liberal Democrat MEPs sit with the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament. I actively lobbied my Renew colleague, Guy Verhofstadt, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, to keep pushing the European Commission and European Council to grant associate citizenship for UK nationals after Brexit.

As the Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator, Guy is also responsible for drawing up a recommendation for Parliament on whether to approve or reject the Withdrawal Agreement. MEPs from all groups in Parliament are currently negotiating a motion that sets out the conditions that need to be met for Parliament to approve the Withdrawal Agreement.

Section 20 of the motion offers an opportunity to pave the way for future discussions on associate citizenship for UK citizens, which I lobbied Guy to include. The motion was still being negotiated between all the groups last week and, of course, we have to be realistic about the chances of the EU and its remaining Member States agreeing to this. But I will continue to fight hard for associate citizenship, and we asked Guy for this section to be strengthened even further if it is possible to do so. The motion for a resolution will be put to a vote in the full European Parliament this Wednesday.

Since being elected on 23 May, all 16 Liberal Democrat MEPs have worked tirelessly with MEP colleagues from Renew Europe to highlight the damage Brexit will do to the UK and to our relationship with Europe. We will continue to push for associate citizenship with the EU and will vote for it at every opportunity. We will also press for the closest possible relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit to ensure UK citizens’ rights in the EU27 and EU27 citizens’ rights in the UK are protected.

Thank you


Thank you. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the people of Cheltenham for ten years, so far, as your MP.  We have won many battles together – to protect local health services, keep treasured green spaces and win investment in the town and its public transport system in particular.  I will keep on fighting for those causes and for this town.

Thank you too for all the kind messages for me and my family which I have received since the election.  Cheltenham has a big heart.

To those of you who voted for me, and resisted the overwhelming professional marketing campaign dropped on us and many other LibDems from a great height by Tory central office and their millions, thank you so much for putting your trust in me again.  I’m so sorry we didn’t win it for you this time.

To those who voted Labour or Green, I understand your desire to vote for what you may have believed but, as we warned, it has helped to achieve the exact opposite of what you wanted under our rotten voting system, helping our new Tory MP into office and the Conservatives into a majority government.

To those who switched to Conservative to stop Ed Miliband and the SNP, I’m afraid the Tories’ real objective has now been achieved: to rule on their own, committed to deeper and faster cuts than any other party.  There will be no tax rises for the wealthiest now, but there will be a referendum on Europe that could prove as divisive as the Scottish one and lose us vital jobs, and a confrontation with the SNP in Scotland that could put the union at risk all over again.  It’s a grim prospect but the Liberal Democrats will keep battling for a fairer approach, just as we did in government.

Your new MP’s office address is:

Alex Chalk MP

Gloucestershire Conservatives

Regent Court

Gloucester Business Park GL3 4AD

Finally, thank you too to all those who were part of the LibDem volunteer army in Cheltenham that fought back like tigers against the Tory marketing machine.  You made me so proud to be a Cheltenham Liberal Democrat. It was the most phenomenal team effort I’ve ever seen and it bodes very well for this local party in the future.

If you want to join us in the fight back, click here.

Thank you again.