Brexit, Manston, QEQM and ferries

The Parliamentary session before recess continued to throw up some interesting tidbits, not least the opportunity for me to put Olly Robbins, the Prime Minister’s Europe Adviser, under the spotlight at the Exiting the EU Select Committee. Mr Robbins is a senior Civil Servant and so it would be unseemly of me to criticise here unelected officials who are unable to defend themselves; but my pointed questions, particularly on how the government ended up with the dog’s dinner of the ‘Chequers Agreement’ on exiting the EU and subsequent White Papers, were widely reported on national media. Click here to watch my questioning.

I was pleased that Thanet District Council agreed by a good margin the revised Local Plan at its special meeting at the end of last month. We now have a firm basis to present to the Inspector, and it is one which gives Manston Airport enough breathing space to allow the Development Consent Order application to weave its way through its process. Housing numbers and where they are to be allocated always causes alarm but the reality is that developers don’t simply develop on a ‘hope they will sell’ basis, they use careful analyses of demand and saleability. I have no doubt that no more than 8,000 homes will be built during the term of this Local Plan to 2031, no matter that the Plan, in accordance with the formula dictated by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, allows for over 17,000 to be given land allocation.

As the local MP it is always a pleasure to be invited to meet with local businesses and organisations. It was a pleasure to meet with the volunteers at Broadstairs Information Kiosk. There are 45 volunteers involved in keeping the information centre open throughout the summer, are the friendly face of the town and much loved by visitors and local residents alike.

We often think that we have a shortage of hi-tech industries locally. This is simply not true. I had the opportunity of an extended tour of the full operations at FujiFilm on Pysons Road, Broadstairs. Hardly a ‘hidden gem’ given the size of the factory site, which includes a substantial solar panel array, but its operations, born out of the historic Sericol business are world leading. As more and more printing methods move away from analogue (setting up a plate to reproduce lots of the same) to digital, the ability to personalise each and every print is now very much the norm. The main product – some 5,000 tons of it each year, is specialised resin based ink, which cures instantly under ultra-violet light into a hardened, durable finish meaning no volatile chemicals to evaporate. On the site is a full research facility and testing laboratory which also tests and develops new printing equipment. The products are exported to 86 countries. An amazing visit to an outstanding local employer with over 300 staff and opportunities for apprenticeships. Outstanding.

As the consultation results are now in for the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for Kent and Medway, I have received an increasing number of concerns about the proposal for stroke services to be moved to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. We have heard for years from the government that the first hour is important and of the FAST acronym for stroke recognition. The more political of the activists are claiming that I’m not fighting hard enough for our local QEQM. Not true, but it obviously makes for a good story. I have had face-to-face meetings with Thanet CCG and am receiving information from both sides. Evidence is the most important factor. Of course I want QEQM to have the best of everything, and local residents deserve nothing less. The world of medicine is changing and I do believe that the Hyper-Acute Units will bring better outcomes and recoverability to stroke sufferers – the argument now is where they should be placed. I believe that Ashford is too far away, leaving Thanet residents with some of the furthest distances to be travelled in the country. This is not good enough, and I require the NHS planners to bring better evidence to the table to support their suggestions. They should not discount the need for a fourth unit to be developed locally or to substitute one of their proposals. But, hyperbole and abuse directed against me really doesn’t help anybody’s cause.

Finally, the good weather is keeping local tills ringing, and I anticipate great news as visitor numbers are estimated at the end of the season. I had the opportunity for a few days boating to Ostend, Belgium. This route is one suggested by potential ferry operators, although they would traverse the Southern North Sea from Ramsgate somewhat quicker than I managed under sail. Ostend is a great town, with excellent rail connections to the rest of Belgium. I’ll keep you abreast of any updates I receive.