Hello again everyone. 2018 has, inescapably, been the year of the 'B' word for us all and it seems certain that the Brexit saga will run for many more episodes, all the way into the next decade. This is a sea-change for our country and I will continue to work with my Kent Colleagues, local authorities and the business community to ensure that we minimise the threats and maximise the opportunities for our County.
One such challenge has come from the fruit industry, leading members of which have long been raising concerns with me about ensuring an adequate supply of seasonal labour for picking and packing. I am pleased that our efforts in directly lobbying government on this point have led to a trial scheme being approved, which can be built upon for the longer term.
The fluid movement of heavy goods vehicles to and from the EU on our arterial highways after Brexit is a work in progress, but there's also been a huge amount of effort targeted at restricting HGVs GVs from traversing our rural lanes and bridges. A new multilateral committee has been convened for this purpose and I am very pleased to be a member of the team. I thank John Wilson and Councillor Sean Holden for their leadership in this task.
Transport campaigning extended into the village of Marden this year too, working alongside the parish council in bidding for full step-free access at Marden station. For wheelchair users, mums with prams, people with luggage and those who just have trouble traversing the 52 steps on the bridge, this will hopefully end the need for Eastbound passengers to have to go to either Paddock Wood or Staplehurst stations, both several minutes away. We will find out if our bid is successful in April 2019.
Across the Low and High Weald I have been lobbying continuously for improvements in our mobile phone and broadband communications. Alongside copious correspondence I also met with the Minister of State for Digital to progress that agenda. Some major strides have been made with the provision of fibre services in Cranbrook but there's still much to do in and around villages such as Marden, Nettlestead, Sissinghurst and Frittenden and I continue to push for faster and more consistent services in these locations.
One of my election priorities in 2017 was to improve our schools, and ensure they get the facilities and funds they need for the future. Benenden's new and long-awaited primary school is one such project which I am delighted to see is finally being built. I've had to help secure continuity of the funding stream from Government, but hopefully we are set for an opening in time for the next school year in September, given a following wind!
Another longstanding campaign in The Weald has been to replace the community facilities lost to Cranbrook following the demolition of the old council offices. Having helped to promote the new community centre project over several years, those in the driving seats report that we may be close to securing the legal ownership of the land and the access rights needed. I remain ever ready to assist in converting this plan into reality.
....and on a recent visit to Cranbrook Rugby and Cricket Club, to watch the ladies rugby match, I learned of planning permission success for a grand new clubhouse. It will provide the town with marvellous new facilities, complimentary to the proposed Community Centre, and I was pleased to be asked to get involved in the fundraising effort by Chairman Tim Fagg. Turning to the action on the pitch, I watched the number 14 player with particular interest; Katy Allen is my wonderful diary secretary, a longstanding Cranbrook resident and a former Benenden school student. I am proud to report she was cited for her sterling efforts after the match!
As we look toward 2019, if you think I can help you, please get in touch - I am at your service. Call my constituency office on 01622 669623, my London office on 020 7219 7107 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish you all a very happy Christmas.
This piece was first published in the December 2018 edition of the Parish Cake magazine.