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.

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 nature. Martin 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.

A stronger economy – locally and nationally

In 2015, after five years with the Lib Dems in government locally and nationally, Cheltenham was enjoying its strongest economy in years with a big drop in unemployment, local businesses reporting healthy order books and both businesses and householders still enjoying low interest rates and mortgage payments.  As MP, Martin backed both the coalition government and Cheltenham’s LibDem-led council in taking the tough decisions necessary to build sustainable prosperity and worked hard to lobby for and promote local business.

All this is now at risk from the Conservatives’ suicidal drive towards ‘Brexit’ which could could see the UK drop out of the world’s largest single market like a crate of eggs out of the back of a lorry.  The Conservatives’ initial arrogance and aggressive approach towards the EU negotiations and their chaotic and unco-ordinated approach to Brexit generally is undermining business confidence further.

Click on the image to watch Martin working for local business when he was MP: opening the new Chamber of Commerce business centre

Back in 2010, the new coalition government inherited a massive financial crisis from the last Labour government.  Whoever you blame, the situation in the 2009/10 financial year was that:

  • Government was spending £153 billion pounds* a year more than it was raising
  • This represented 10.2%* of GDP (the value of the economy)
  • If this hadn’t been brought under control, our economy would quickly have gone the way of Greece and others and our interest rates – which set the cost of borrowing by businesses as well as your mortgage – might have skyrocketed, doing serious damage to the economy, increasing the cost of living for homeowners and throwing millions out of work
  • Unemployment in Cheltenham was already 2251 or  4.5%**, the highest in years
Martin at Safran (then Messier-Bugatti-Dowty)

To strengthen the economy, Martin and the Liberal Democrats backed the tough decisions – opposed by Labour – which did bring public spending under control, reduced that overspend by a third and reassured financial markets so that business borrowing and mortgage rates in Cheltenham were kept low as we fought off recession. By 2015:

  • Government overspending was expected to be £91.3 billion*, still very high but down by a massive £61 billion a year
  • This represented 5% of GDP* – half the value it was five years previously
  • The economy was the fastest growing economy of any of the G7 group of major economies, growing 2.6% in 2014/15 and it was estimated to keep growing at 2.5% a year – until the disastrous Brexit vote
  • Earnings were finally starting to go up too.  Together with the fall in fuel prices, this helped everyone by bringing the cost of living down this year.  The Office of Budget Responsibility confirmed living standards were higher in 2015 than they were in 2010.
  • Unemployment in Cheltenham fell to 854 or just 1.6%** Under the coalition, the UK had the strongest employment growth in the G7.  The number of young people claiming unemployment benefits was at its lowest since the 1970s.

Sources: * Office of Budget Responsibility 2014/15 ** Department of Work & Pensions

But a stronger economy isn’t just a fast-growing one – it must be sustainable too:

  • The coalition launched the world’s first Green Investment Bank and locked investment in low-carbon energy into energy markets through the Energy Act and has created a record number of green jobs. In Cheltenham, Martin has backed local companies like Tidal Lagoon Power and Commercial who have pioneered sustainable jobs and business
  • The coalition created more than 2 million new apprenticeships, 2,610 of them in Cheltenham, building skills for the future
  • Whether we were still in recession or growing again, the coalition kept investing in infrastructure, maintaining spending on public transport and committing another £6 billion investment to flood defences, including more flood defence work in Cheltenham to protect another 240 properties
  • The coalition committed to the largest ever sustained investment in Britain’s science base, including a £2.9 billion Grand Challenges fund to enable the UK to invest in major research facilities.  This progress is now particularly at riosk from Tory Brexit plans.

The economy was stronger locally too.  Cheltenham’s LibDem council faced cuts along with other local authorities –  their net budget fell in cash terms by about 12% over seven years, from £16.1m to £14.2m – but despite the cuts, there was no crisis at Cheltenham Borough Council:

  • £8.5m was found in savings and additional income and ‘austerity’ has had little impact on frontline services. Savings have been made by radical management efficiencies, sharing back office functions and major functions like waste collection with other councils, and turning arts and leisure management over to a charitable trust of which Martin is now an unpaid trustee.
  • Martin and the borough council worked together to win major new investment in developments like the Brewery, North Place and in local transport, including £5m for local sustainable transport, £45m for the redoubling of the Swindon/Kemble line to improve services  to Swindon, Reading and London and an ambitious plan to upgrade parking, access and facilities at Cheltenham Spa station which has now won widespread backing.

In stark contrast, The Conservative-led county council has lurched from crisis to crisis – taken to court over its library closures, signing up to a wasteful incinerator contract turned down by its own councillors then forced through by the administration, slapping new on-street parking charges on small business areas and leaving our roads in a total mess.

Martin on a return visit to the Cheltenham business where he worked before being elected MP

As MP, Martin lobbied for and promoted local companies from publisher Edward Elgar to worldbeating clothes retailer SuperDry, from engineering firms like Spirax Sarco, DIS and CF Roberts to IT firms like Innov8ive software.  He worked with business organisations like the Chamber of Commerce, Gfirst LEP and Cheltenham Connect to promote and support local business.

He promoted Cheltenham’s Festivals in Parliament with an eye to drawing even more valuable visitors to the town and encouraged council backing for areas like the Lower High Street that deserved more support.  He supported a more determined strategy to market Cheltenham to visitors, investors and relocating businesses which has now happened with the recent creation of Marketing Cheltenham.

Lib Dems pledge cash for NHS as Gloucester A&E wait hits SIX HOURS

Outside Cheltenham A&E at the last election. Photo: Anna Lythgoe 07801819711

The Liberal Democrats have announced they would plug funding gaps for the NHS and social care by putting a penny on income tax, in their first major manifesto commitment of the election campaign.

The tax would raise an additional £65m for Gloucestershire, with £42m for the NHS, including mental health, and £23m for social care each year.

This is the party’s flagship spending commitment and its first major policy announcement for the election. The Liberal Democrats will also set out a ‘five-point recovery plan’ for NHS and social care services in their manifesto.

At least 70% of Brits would happily pay an extra 1p in every pound if that money was guaranteed to go to the NHS, an ITV poll found last October (link).

Former Liberal Democrat MP and now parliamentary candidate, Martin Horwood, said:

“This morning in Gloucester the waiting time to be seen by a doctor or nurse hit a staggering six hours while Cheltenham A&E was still turning away ambulances until half an hour ago because of the night-time downgrade.  This can’t go on.  It’s blindingly obvious we need two fully-functioning A&E departments in this county and that Gloucester Royal just can’t cope on its own at night.”

“This is a national problem as well as a local one.  Our NHS Trust isn’t the only one that has plunged into deficit in the last two years of Tory government.  And the Conservative candidate here voted for all the spending plans and Budgets that are making this happen.  He didn’t even mention Cheltenham A&E in Parliament for the best part of two years.

“The Liberal Democrats are prepared to be honest with people and say that to secure the future of the NHS we will all need to chip in a little more.
A penny in the pound here could be used be to pay hard-to-recruit rates and get the doctors we need into both A&Es, while the extra money for social care would ease pressure on the NHS too.  Only the Lib Dems seem to want to make this happen.

“This Conservative government has left our health and care services chronically underfunded – and while the crisis gets worse they just don’t seem to care.

“We cannot continue asking the system to deliver more and more without giving them the resources they need.”

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson and former health minister Norman Lamb said:

“The NHS was once the envy of the world and this pledge is the first step in restoring it to where it should be.

“A penny in the pound to save the NHS is money well spent in our view.

“But simply providing more money on its own is not enough and that’s why this is just the first step in our plan to protect health and care services in the long-term.”
NOTES

  • The Liberal Democrats manifesto will set out a ‘five-point recovery plan’ for NHS and social care services. This will include a 1% rise on the basic, higher, additional and dividend rates of income tax in the next financial year raising around £6bn per year, which will be ringfenced to be spent on NHS and care services and public health.
  • A regional breakdown of how the £6bn would be distributed, based on current funding allocations for both the NHS and social care, can be found here
  • Emergency departnment (A&E) waiting times at Gloucester Royal and Cheltenham General can be checked online here
  • Alex Chalk’s failure to mention Cheltenham A&E in parliament until 11 January 2017 can be checked on the independent website theyworkforyou.com.  He is no longer technically the MP following the dissolution of Parliament for the election.

Former MP says he won’t take second job if elected

Martin Horwood on the campaign trail for the 2017 General Election. Photo: Anna Lythgoe 07801 819711

Former Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood has signed the national petition calling on the Conservative MP for Tatton, former Chancellor George Osborne, to resign following his appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard. 

The petition on campaign website 38degrees now has 189,000 signatures.  The website highlights the impossibility of Mr Osborne doing a proper job for his constituents as well as that of editor of a major newspaper.  It also points out the inevitable conflcits of interest.

‘I always found being Member of Parliament was more than a full-time job and I certainly won’t take a second one if I’m elected as MP for Cheltenham again in the future.  Some of George Osborne’s appointments – such as chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership which he championed as Chancellor, don’t seem that inappropriate,’ commented Martin ‘but taking a one-day a week job advising an American fund management firm and then taking the editorship of a major newspaper as well is just taking the mickey.  If I was one of his constituents I’d want my money back.’

Mr Osborne is reputed to be earning £650,000 for the one day a week job with fund managers Blackrock.

‘MPs earn a good enough salary at £75,000 a year’, added Martin.  ‘I know my successor as MP for Cheltenham has earned nearly £4,000 on top of that as a London barrister since being elected in 2015.  I understand he wants to keep his hand in.  But that’s small beer in comparison to the sums George Osborne expects to rake in when he should be representing his constituents.  It’s simple, old-fashioned greed and he should resign.  And in any case, how he can possibly be an independent editor, holding ministers to account, while taking the government whip in the Commons?’

NOTES

  • Alex Chalk MP’s outside earnings are declared in the Register of Member’s Interests which can be seen on theyworkforyou.com at https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/25340/alex_chalk/cheltenham.   Earnings marked “0 hours since election” are discounted from the £3,941 total earned since the election.

Budget fails Cheltenham

Philip Hammond’s first and last Spring Budget today has failed Cheltenham, say local Liberal Democrats.

‘This was the crunch moment for NHS funding and an opportunity to put right the looming financial crisis facing many Cheltenham schools as well’ said Martin Horwood, Cheltenham’s Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and former MP. ‘And on top of that he has hit our 6,800 strong army of self-employed workers with a bigger bill too.’

‘Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust (which runs Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal) is in the red and going deeper into the red’ he said ‘and after the failure of the Fair Funding campaign headed by our own MP, we now know many local schools are heading that way too.’
‘The Chancellor could have sorted out both these problems today but he failed on both counts’.

‘The NHS got an extra £425m but that won’t even clear this year’s deficit of nearly a billion pounds. The NHS could have received a much bigger cash injection while all parties discussed a long-term solution to the funding of social care, acute hospitals and mental health in this country, as the Lib Dems in parliament have been calling for. We heard more for social care which is welcome but won’t get Cheltenham General off the critical list’

‘And the Chancellor announced money for new grammar and faith schools but nothing at all that will help secondary schools like Balcarras, Pate’s and Bournside and many local primary schools which are now facing the prospect of growing deficits and some very hard choices after the failure of the Fair Funding campaign. Far from correcting the historic underfunding of Gloucestershire schools, the government’s proposed new national funding formula is actually going to leave many existing local schools worse off and the Chancellor did nothing to help with this looming crisis today.’

‘To cap it all, he has hit the self-employed with a National Insurance hike as well, breaking a clear Conservative manifesto pledge. Cheltenham has a big self-employed population – over 6,800 people according to a recent survey and the Conservatives have told them that instead of sharing in the benefits of the economic growth they are helping to create, they basically have to cough up more.’

Cheltenham EU citizens deserve right to remain

Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood has called on the government to accept their defeat in the Lords on Wednesday and accept the right of EU citizens already in this country to remain after Brexit.

Speaking to a meeting of Cheltenham’s Polish Tenants & Residents Association earlier this week he strongly condemned the government’s plan not to guarantee the right to remain of citizens of other EU countries until reciprocal rights for British citizens in the rest of the EU had been secured as part of the ongoing Brexit negotiations – ‘as soon as they can’.

“Those negotiations could drag on for many years and agreement might never be reached” Martin told the TARA. “Yet the government could sort this tomorrow if it wanted.  It is just immoral to use people as bargaining chips in this way. People have lived here for years and have always been told they had the right to remain here.  They have jobs, families, children that can’t simply be uprooted. They are working hard, paying taxes and keeping the NHS and care sector functioning.  No-one imagines that a sane British government would actually deport them on the day we leave the European Union but employers and landlords and banks would start to ask for evidence of their right to live and work in the UK and make life more and more difficult.  Yet it is entirely within the power of the UK government to guarantee their right to remain regardless of the negotiations.”

Cheltenham is thought to have thousands of citizens of other EU countries living and working here, including in the NHS and in local technology companies.  Martin Horwood criticised Theresa May’s hardline stance on this issue during the Conservative leadership contest last year (http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/martin-horwood-criticises-theresa-may-over-eu-citizens-stance/story-29478677-detail/story.html).  The TARA meeting heard many Polish Cheltonians complain about the uncertainty the row had suddenly caused them and how current Home Office systems to grant permanent leave to remain were simply not set up for people who had always had that right and never before needed documentary proof of permanent residence.

Following Wednesday’s House of Lords vote Martin Horwood added: “The House of Lords have shown the government the way by amending the Brexit bill to guarantee EU citizens’ right to remain.  The government should accept this defeat gracefully and do the right thing for our European friends, neighbours, family members and workmates.  The House of Lords isn’t seeking to stop Brexit, just impose some moderation and humanity on the process.  The government should follow their Lordships’ lead and make the guarantee now.”

Hinkley C a ‘bad deal’

Cheltenham Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood today [Monday] moved a motion at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton to oppose the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C.

He quoted a National Audit Office report that confirmed the likely cost of Hinkley to UK energy billpayers had risen from £6 billion (estimated in 2013) to £30 billion. And he criticised the Conservative government for reversing Coalition support for renewables and ditching the promise not to provide public subsidy for nuclear power.  He warned that the 35 year Hinkley deal would burden a generation with higher energy bills.
“There hasn’t been a single nuclear power station built anywhere in the world on time, on budget and without public subsidy” he told delegates in Brighton. “And the EPR model being used at Hinkley hasn’t actually been built at all yet. And the two in progress, in Finland and France, are billions over budget and years late.”
“Just four new large offshore windfarms would add as much electricity to the grid as Hinkley”.
“Hinkley C is a bad deal. We need a UK energy policy based on renewables, energy efficiency and storage and interconnection with other countries.”
The motion opposing Hinkley C was passed overwhelmingly.
NOTES

Tories break broadband promise

The former Cheltenham MP who first raised the issue of poor broadband service in parts of Cheltenham has accused the new Tory government of breaking its promises and his Tory successor of dropping the ball.

Former Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood called a special debate in Parliament in November 2014, just months before the May 2015 general election, once it became clear that many hundreds of houses across Cheltenham with historically poor broadband speeds were being left out of both commercial upgrade opportunities by BT and Virgin AND the government subsidised programme administered in Gloucestershire by the County Council under the name ‘Fastershire’.

‘The Tory minister spent most of that debate on his mobile phone but he did promise to ‘knock heads together’ and get the problem sorted. And the coalition government’s pledge was that by 2016 everyone in the country would have a decent basic connection speed of at least 2 megabits per second’ said Martin. ‘Both those promises have been broken: the gaps in Cheltenham haven’t been filled despite the fact that just before the election I supplied both commercial suppliers and the County Council with the addresses of more than 600 affected homes so they had no excuse that one side wasn’t telling the other who had been left out. Parts of Cheltenham are still plagued with very low connection speeds and still have no prospect of an upgrade, making it nearly impossible to do business, online homework, online banking and shopping and many other transactions many of us now take for granted.’

‘The Tory County Council’s Fastershire programme hasn’t solved the problem and the Tory government has dropped the coalition’s 2 megabit pledge, pretending the only places affected are in the Outer Hebrides or other far flung rural areas where people ‘don’t want to be connected.’

‘My team and I were hot on the heels of ministers, commercial suppliers and the County Council right up to the election. Since then my Tory successor seems to have completely dropped the ball. He was very quick to jump on the bandwagon during the election campaign but seems to have fallen right off it afterwards.’

NOTES

  • The worst affected areas combining both poor connection speeds and inability to upgrade are in Pittville, Up Hatherley and Benhall wards. Cheltenham councillors in some of these these areas include Cllr Dennis Parsons 07540 398914, Cllr Roger Whyborn 07960 240090 and Cllr Nigel Britter 07752 109307.

Technical note: the historically slow broadband speeds in Cheltenham are due to the unusual centralised telephone exchange which leaves outlying areas with a really poor broadband service, often under 2Mbps. Commercial suppliers, principally BT and Virgin have delivered ‘superfast’ broadband upgrade availability across much of the town where they believe this is commercially viable – mainly via large BT cabinets serving whole neighbourhoods. But newer estates like the former Midwinters site off Tommy Taylor’s Lane in Pittville ward, Manor Farm in Up Harherley ward and Grace Gardens in Benhall typically have cabinets serving smaller populations and failed the commercial suppliers’ viability test. The County Council has been subsidised by the government to provide for less viable areas but has exclusively targeted more rural areas (see  http://www.fastershire.com/where-when ), having broadly categorised entire Cheltenham postcodes as ‘commercially viable’ and so ineligible for subsidy under EU competition rules – but failing to find out from commercial suppliers which exact addresses, for instance in newer estates, were not actually commercially viable.  This subsidised programme – which they have called ‘Fastershire’ – has completed much of its work and is due to end by 2018.

Lib Dems vote to ban fracking

Fracking.JPG
The Liberal Democrats Spring Conference in York has voted for an outright ban on fracking – the extraction of shale gas using the high-pressure hydraulic fracturing of underground rocks.

 

Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Cheltenham voted for the successful motion: “Fracking poses really significant risks to the local environment wherever it is allowed” said Martin, “from the millions of litres of water pumped below the water table and lost to local water systems, to the pollution and disruption caused by the thousands of trucks transporting water and gas to and from the wells. I’m horrified that the Conservatives even plan to allow fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty like the Cotswolds.”

“It’s also a crazy energy strategy. We’ve just committed to a low-carbon future for the planet in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. So why put direct investment into a new fossil fuel industry instead of energy efficiency and renewables? Fracking for gas won’t even displace coal because dirty coal will be on the way out anyway by the time fracking delivers any significant supply in the 2030s.”
During the General Election campaign last year, Alex Chalk – now Cheltenham’s Conservative MP – promised to oppose fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But in December 2015, he voted to support it.