MP raises local issues in Summer Adjournment Debate

24th July 2018

Speaking in the Summer Adjournment Debate, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown raises four local matters with the Government: the negative revenue support grant for Stroud District Council, the missing link on the A417, making the Cotswolds into a national park and the delays in the completion of a £400 million contract awarded to the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this important debate. I wish to raise four matters: the negative revenue support grant for Stroud District Council, the missing link on the A417, M4 and M5, the reasons for making the Cotswolds into a national park, and—this is the most important issue—the delays in the completion of a £400 million contract awarded to the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh in my constituency.

Stroud District Council sent a petition to the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid). It explained that when it accepted the four-year revenue support grant settlement, it did so on the basis that business rates would remain the same, with 100% retention, and that the new homes bonus would also remain the same. It has subsequently been reduced. I suppose that the most worrying aspect of the negative revenue support grant is the fact that it affects 147 out of 200 district councils in England. Not only will councils not receive any of the grant next year, but some councils, such as Stroud, will have to pay money back to the Treasury.

The petition sent to my right hon. Friend reads as follows:

“Stroud District Council strongly objects to Central Government introducing a new stealth tax on local households by demanding the payment of £549,000 from Stroud District to the Treasury in 2019/20… It is a complete reversal of financial support and is a worrying precedent which seriously threatens the Council’s ability to continue providing essential local and facilities; especially if this payment turns out to be the thin end of a stealth tax wedge which will see ever larger…payments of money siphoned off from local households to Central Government… Council therefore determines to lobby Central Government, through the District’s two Members of Parliament…for removal of the so-called Negative Revenue Support Grant of £549,000”.

There will be a review later in the summer, and I strongly urge my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to conduct that review in a way that is more favourable to one of the two district councils that I represent.

The second subject that I wish to raise is the missing link on the A419-A417, about which I have campaigned for some 15 years. It is a highly dangerous stretch of road on which, sadly, there have been far too many accidents and far too many fatalities in recent years. It is a very busy road that links the M4 to the M5. Finally, after a lot of campaigning, we had a public consultation earlier this year in which two routes were published. Option 30 was chosen, and it is very important that the Secretary of State lives up to his promise of announcing a preferred route at the beginning of next year, so that we can get on to the development consent order process and get diggers into the ground and start work on this important road in the very early 2020s.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important point about the A417. Does he agree that the death of a young soldier in May on this treacherous piece of road underscores the importance of delivering that vital project, which is crucial for safety, air quality and the economy of Gloucestershire?

The death of that young man was tragic, and I feel very sorry for his parents and his family. Unfortunately, this is just one of a number of fatalities, as my hon. Friend, who has worked with me very hard on this project, knows only too well. That is why it is imperative that this road scheme goes ahead, and he and I will shortly hold a meeting with the Treasury to make sure we get enough money for it.

The third subject I wish to raise is why the Cotswolds should be designated as a national park. Already 80% of my constituency is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is, as many Members will know, an important natural landscape and built environment, and I want to make sure that it continues to be protected so that our children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy this very special place. To that end, the chairman and chief executive and I visited the chief planner of the South Downs national park to see how well it operated, and we were impressed. We were also impressed by the number of similarities between our area and the SDNP—it covers 15 local authorities, and a national trail goes right through the middle—and that it seems to work very well in planning terms. There is a high standard of planning in the SDNP; it has very few call-ins, and when it does have appeals, it seems to win most of them because of the professionalism of its planning team. We could learn a lot from that, and the Cotswolds will get increased resources to pay for a lot of that if we are designated as a national park.

The defence fire and rescue contract was recently awarded, and announced publicly, to the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh. This contract is worth about £400 million over 12 years to the college. It will secure vital jobs in a part of my constituency where jobs are desperately needed—the north of my constituency, which is a very rural part—and my constituents and the FSC employees were looking forward to running this contract, but it seems to have run into some delay. That is most regrettable, and I call on the Ministry of Defence to resolve whatever difficulties there are—I am not entirely sure what they are—as quickly as possible, because that would provide certainty for the workforce. This contract is much needed in my constituency.

I have had discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), whose constituency contains Manston airfield where this activity is currently based, and he is very happy and wants to see this contract resolved as quickly as possible, because Manston airfield can then be used for an aviation freight hub opportunity and for further houses, which are desperately needed in his constituency.

I therefore call on the MOD to resolve the problems and to keep me, as the constituency Member of Parliament, informed. I should add that I have received superb help from the all-party group on fire safety and rescue. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) is present, and I thank him for his support over many years and months. The group’s members have visited the college in Moreton-in-Marsh and seen for themselves the world-renowned excellence of this institution, and it will be made even better and the entire country will benefit if we can get this contract there and it can start selling its services to the rest of the world by proving, through this defence fire and rescue contract, that it is superb at what it does.

 

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