Monday 11th to Sunday 17th January 2010
This week we have been battling with the elements in East Kent, but a week which started with thick snow on the ground across Folkestone and Hythe ended with a warming debate in the BBC South East studios.
The previous weekend we had had heavy snow, which had closed roads and made it difficult to get out. At home in Elham the temperature one morning was as low as minus 6 degrees C, and my daughter Claudia’s snowman was enjoying a longer than expected life in the garden.
Snow disruptions, particularly when they affect the Channel Tunnel, the car and lorry entrance for which is just outside Folkestone, can cause lots of problems. Lorries are ‘Stacked’ on the M20 motorway leading to complete closures between junctions. We have an urgent need for investment in the general road and rail freight infrastructure around the Tunnel and also the Port of Dover.
However, the bad weather hadn’t been enough to deter the contestants for the annual Romney Marsh Sloe Gin Competition at the Ship Inn in Dymchurch. I had been asked once more to join the panel of judges and on a blind tasting. The winners cup went again to our local County Councillor, Willie Richardson, and the funds raised from the event went to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Dungeness appeal.
Willie has also been closely involved with one of the major issues which has recently affected the constituency: the future of Dungeness and the prospects for a new nuclear power station there. The Dungeness ‘B’ power station is due to come to the end of its operating life in 2018 and the site had been on the Government’s shortlist for a new generation station to be built. However, following some questions raised by Natural England on the environmental impact of the new station on the shingle beds that form the Dungeness peninsular, the plan was dropped. This decision is still part of a consultation process that will close on 22nd February and there is considerable local support for a new power station which could create up to 2,000 local jobs. It could also supply more than enough clean energy to power the the whole of Kent.
Michael Howard and I met with EDF on Tuesday, who are the energy company that run the existing power station to discuss their views on the long term future of Dungeness. I also discussed, with the Mayor of Lydd, a public meeting which he is planning to call for the communities that live near the power station. This is due to be held on 13th February at the Guildhall in Lydd.
The snow intervened on Wednesday and this led to the cancellation of a public meeting I was going to attend at Sellindge Village Hall. This was to be a public meeting of the Kent County Council planning committee on the controversial application to build a ‘sludge plant’ at Otterpool quarry. The meeting will now be held on Monday 8th February.
On Thursday morning I had a call with Helen Burrows in Ed Vaizey’s office to discuss the next event for the Conservative Arts and Creative Industries Network. I am Director of this new group that we launched in May last year and holds events for people in these industries to meet with each other and members of the Shadow Culture team. Our next event is being hosted by Bonhams on 3rd Ferbruary and will focus on ideas to promote new artisitc talent and creative businesses.
In the afternoon I joined a workshop on environmental and climate change policy, which was being run by the Green Alliance think tank for a group of my fellow Conservative candidates. We had the chance to discuss a broad range of issues linked to climate change and energy policy, from fuel poverty, to flood relief and energy security. Given that in my own constituency we have a nuclear power station, large onshore wind farm and also the Romney Marshes, much of which lie below sea level, these were all particularly relevant issues. In the evening we were joined by Greg Clark, the Shadow Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, to discuss these issues over dinner.
On Friday I had a series of meeting across the constituency. This started off in Sandgate with a discussion with Trevor Minter at the Folkestone Harbour Company about regeneration plans for that area of Folkestone. I then met with Ann Berry who is the Vice Chairman of the Step Short project, of which I am Chairman. ‘Step Short’ is a project focused on regeneration the Road of Remembrance in Folkestone, which was the road down which millions of men marched during the First World War to and from the boats that carried them to France and the front line trenches. The project’s aims are to create a new memorial along the road that will tell its story and that of the role played by Folkestone during the war, and also to provide information resources for visitors. We want to complete this work in time for marking the centenary of the outbreak of the War, in July 2014.
The meeting was followed by a quick working lunch with my agent Gordon Williams (who, thanks to his psychic training, called me as I was typing this bit). In the afternoon I met with Briony Kapoor in New Romney to discuss the work of some of the leading local arts groups and societies, and how our policies might support them. Later, early that evening I met with Arnie Sanyal and Mustafiz Khandaker, at Mustafiz’s business in New Romney, the Curry Lounge. As well as some serious discussion on issues that are affecting the local business community, we also sampled some of their excellent food.
On Saturday morning we braved the cold and driving rain for a canvassing session in the Harbour ward in Folkestone. Despite the weather we had a warm reception on the doorsteps and afterwards pick up some scallops from the fish market. My wife Sarah and I took our children Claudia and Hugo over to see my parents in Tenterden later in the afternoon. Claudia is three on Monday (18th January), so amid much excitement and mess there was a very serious cup cake making session with Granny to look forward to.
On Sunday I had agreed to take part in a live discussion on the Politics Show South East with a Labour and Lib Dem candidate from Kent. This was recorded over at their studio in Tunbridge Wells. It was also good to see Alex Deane there from the ‘Big Brother Watch’ campaign who was also taking part in an earlier slot on the programme. Following the programme I joined the rest of the family at my parents in Tenterden for Sunday lunch followed by an early, birthday eve tea for Claudia.