Autumn Newsletter from our local MP.

Hollingbourne Parish Council has received the following Autumn Newsletter from Mrs Helen Whately, the Member of Parliament for Faversham and Mid Kent which includes Hollingbourne. Please see below for the text of the message which mentions Operation Stack on the M20 from Hollingbourne to Ashford in the last but one paragraph where it is highlighted. After Brexit in 2019 it is planned to park thousands of lorries on the motorway while they are awaiting customs clearance at Dover and Eurotunnel.

It’s been a busy start to the new term in Westminster where I’ve asked questions on International Trade and Equal Pay, and spoken in debates on upskirting and proxy voting. The headlines may be all about Brexit but there is other work going on too. I’ve also got some new responsibilities as the Conservative Party’s Vice Chair for Women. Meanwhile there’s plenty going on with my with local campaigns on Cleve Hill Solar Farm, East Kent Hospitals, Operation Stack, Brenley Corner, Farming and Accessibility.
At the moment, disabled passengers, parents with buggies – anyone who can’t use stairs – can’t get onto the London-bound platform at Headcorn. There are similar problems at Faversham station where the lifts constantly break down. Thankfully, after years of campaigning, the Faversham lift is finally getting replaced with bigger, easier-to-use and more reliable lifts. Works have already begun and are due to finish in November. As for Headcorn, I’ve been arguing that this station should get a share of £300 million fund to improve step-free access at train stations and we’re expecting an announcement soon.
If getting a train is tricky when you have a disability – catching a plane can be uncomfortable, undignified and unsafe. Being maneuvered into your seat in front of the entire plane can be mortifying, and risky if the person assisting you isn’t properly trained. Once you’re in your seat, you can’t get out, even to go to the toilet. I’ve heard that people avoid drinking water for hours before a flight and wear incontinence pads. During the flight, your wheelchair may be stored in the hold and could be lost or broken, so when you arrive at your destination you’re stuck. I’ve introduced a new Bill to make sure airline staff are properly trained and that wheelchairs are stored safely.
As well as equality for people with disabilities – including hidden disabilities like mental health problems – I’m fighting for equality for women. I sat on the Committee for the Bill to make upskirting – the awful, intrusive practice of taking a photo up a woman’s skirt – a crime, and I was pleased when this Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons. As the Conservative Party’s new Vice Chair for Women, it’s my mission to encourage more women to step forward and stand for election. Since I’ve become Vice Chair, almost everyone I’ve spoken to knows someone – a woman – who would be a good MP or Councillor. But too often, women don’t quite have the confidence – they say things like “I’m not sure I’m good enough…” or “I don’t think I’d have time to really do it justice…” even though I know they are the sort of people who are brilliant at fitting things in and would give more time than others already in the job. If you’re reading this and thinking “that sounds like me”, please drop me a line and let’s have a chat. Or if you know a woman like that, please encourage her to do so. Don’t get me wrong, we need capable men to stand for election too, it’s just that there are a lot more men putting themselves forward than women.
There are so many passionate campaigners locally who make an enormous contribution to our public life. Like the Graveney Rural Action Team, who are doing a great job raising awareness of a proposal to build a solar farm the size of Faversham on the Graveney marshes. I’m extremely concerned about the scale of this proposal. I want Britain to have more sustainable energy, but this solar farm is just huge. I want much stronger reassurances from the developer that the beautiful landscape and local wildlife will not be harmed.
Our countryside is precious and needs looking after. Farmers work hard to protect the environment, but it’s a tough business and profit margins can be slim. For two years, I’ve been campaigning for a seasonal agriculture workers’ scheme, so that fruit growers can hire the workers they need to harvest their produce. There were growing fears that beautiful Kent fruit would be left to rot in the fields – so I’m delighted that the Government has listened and is now piloting a seasonal workers’ scheme. While the numbers are small at the moment, it’s a step in the right direction. If this pilot is a success I hope the scheme will be extended so that farmers can continue to access migrant labour after we leave the EU.
To make sure the country is prepared for Brexit we need to make sure our roads can cope if there are delays at the border – and that we won’t be paralysed by Operation Stack. The A2/M2 is a crucial corridor leading to and from the port, but at the moment Brenley Corner junction is completely unfit for purpose. It’s busy and dangerous, and while some sections have recently been upgraded with a new surface, the job’s only half finished. I recently met with Highways England to get some answers. They explained that two separate improvement schemes are underway at Brenley Corner. The first is the resurfacing scheme, and the second is the installation of pedestrian and cycle – ‘toucan’ – crossings. The proposal is that the remainder of the roundabout will be resurfaced when the crossings are installed. This is expected to take place before the end of the financial year, subject to approval.
On Operation Stack, Highways England have come up with a temporary plan to keep traffic on the London-bound part of the motorway while stacking lorries coast-bound. At the same time they are working on a permanent alternative to Stack. The Prime Minister is rightly working to get a deal that keep movement at our borders as smooth as it is at the moment – but it’s responsible to be prepared.
It’s tricky to fit all my news in here, so if you’d like to keep up-to-date with my campaigns on local healthcare, transport, housing, business and schools why not sign-up to my monthly email newsletter? You can subscribe at www.tinyurl.com/helenwnews

Helen Whately

helen.whately.mp@parliament.uk

Mrs Helen Whately MP – Faversham and Mid Kent – Conservative.