Helen Whately’s Parish Update

A long winter ahead but reasons to hope

For many people, this time of year would usually be spent planning Christmas parties, carol services, winter fairs, and all the other things we enjoy.

This year feels very different. Plans for Christmas have been thrown up in the air by a virus that has already brought so much hardship and frustration to our lives.

People are worried about their jobs, frustrated at the restrictions on life, and struggling with the difficulty of staying in touch with loved ones.

But even in these dark, wintery days, there are reasons to be hopeful.

Our aim is that the new national measures across England will bring the virus under control, meaning we will not only protect the NHS, but give families the chance to be together at Christmas.

We’re learning more about this virus with every day that passes. Our testing capacity is the largest in Europe, with over 36 million tests carried out so far. And work to develop a vaccine has been given a boost by recent good news from several trial schemes.

All of this points to a brighter future ahead. But for now, I know people and businesses need all the help they can get – particularly those shops and services that have once again had to close.

That’s why we’re extending the furlough scheme and self-employed support into the New Year and providing £4.5 million to help the hardest hit families in Kent put food on the table and pay the bills.

We face a difficult winter, but we will get through it together.

Getting help where it’s needed

Kent County Council is getting an extra £17.7 million to support frontline services like social care as council resources continue to feel the strain.

KCC has also been allocated £4.5 million as part of the new Covid Winter Grant Scheme, to help the hardest hit families and individuals put food on the table and pay the bills over the winter months. The Holiday Activity and Food programme will also be expanded next year at a cost of up to £220 million.

Don’t concrete over Kent, I tell Housing Secretary

 I met the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, last month to raise people’s concerns about the number of new houses being built in Kent.

We need to give the next generation a chance to own their own home, but there is a balance that needs to be struck. People rightly want to see our green spaces and countryside protected.

The Government recently published a White Paper on plans to overhaul our outdated planning system. As these important reforms are being considered, I wanted to make the Housing Secretary aware of the pressures we face in Kent.

Keeping Kent moving as EU transition ends

The end of the EU transition period is on the horizon.

Our negotiating team are continuing to work hard to secure a free trade agreement with the EU, but we cannot accept a deal at any cost – particularly if it threatens the integrity of the UK.

I’ve worked with other Kent MPs to make sure our road network is prepared for any outcome in the negotiations. This includes a new Kent Access Permit, which will stop HGVs heading to the Channel Ports and clogging up our roads when they haven’t got the right paperwork.

Victory for leisure centre funding

I’m pleased to see a new £100 million fund has been set up to help leisure centres during the pandemic.

I raised concerns about the future of local leisure centres with the Sports Minister and Local Government Minister. I’m pleased to see they have listened.

There were concerns that some leisure centres were falling through the cracks of existing Government coronavirus support. This new funding should help places like Maidstone Leisure Centre to reopen, and stay open, when restrictions are lifted.

Don’t’ miss out on broadband funding.

I know many places are already looking at how they can take advantage of the new broadband funding.

People and businesses in the hardest to reach rural areas can now claim up to £7,000 per premises to help with the cost of installing gigabit broadband through the Kent Top Up Voucher Scheme.

The scheme is limited until March 2021 so make sure you don’t miss out. For more information contact Kent County Council at kentvoucherscheme@kent.gov.uk or call 03000 42 00 09.

Upgrade Stockbury junction and village access

I gave evidence to the Stockbury roundabout public inquiry on 18 November.

A revamp of this junction is badly needed, but I’m concerned improving life for some risks making it worse for others – particularly for the village of Stockbury.

I welcome KCC’s proposal to include a bridge over the A249 as part of the junction improvements. If a new access bridge is not included as part of this scheme, then we need a commitment that this will be built in future.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to not only fix the junction but also fix access to Stockbury.

Making planning fair for everyone

People in Headcorn and Ulcombe have contacted me with concerns about the growth of local Traveller sites.

Relations between local residents and the Traveller community have generally been good. But the recent growth of a number of Traveller sites has left permanent residents feeling there is one rule for them and another for Travellers.

Earlier this month, I arranged a meeting with local councillors and officials from the Ministry of Housing to look at what can be done to make planning enforcement simpler and fairer.

The Government’s White Paper on planning reform includes new enforcement powers for local authorities along with measures to prevent intentional unauthorised development. I look forward to being able to support these measures in Parliament.