Today is a momentous day for Tunbridge Wells with the official opening of the newly dualled A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury. Already the old narrow, dark and dangerous road seems a distant memory.
Along with getting the new hospital built, the dualling of the A21 has been my biggest campaign since I was elected MP for Tunbridge Wells. Over 35,000 vehicles travel along this section of the A21 every day and at peak times, they came to a halt. It was a nightmare for people travelling to and from work, and a serious drag on the local economy. This stretch of road was also an appalling accident blackspot – the average accident rate was nearly double the national average for roads of this type and too many people had lost their lives.
It was blindingly obvious that something had to be done but little did I realise just how long our campaign would have to run. And I firmly believe its success is the result of three ingredients: tenacity, creativity and unity.
Firstly, tenacity – I cannot begin to count the times when it seemed all was lost. Back in the early days in 2008, when local road priorities were decided on by a Regional Transport Board, the Department for Transport tried, on more than one occasion, to put pressure on the Board to drop the scheme. All of these attempts were thwarted. At one point I even had to gatecrash a meeting of the then South East Regional Transport Board to persuade them not to cancel the A21 dualling – as was proposed on an agenda I got wind of the day before the meeting. Each time a new Transport Secretary or Roads Minister was appointed, I asked to meet them to ensure the A21 was firmly in their consciousness so that as and when setbacks occurred, they were fully aware of just how important the scheme was to local people and local businesses.
Finding creative solutions to what seemed, at the time, major obstacles, was also critical. Remember the note left by the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury to his successor after the 2010 General Election which said "there's no money left"? This led to the dualling scheme being postponed. We took the decision to keep the project alive by seeing if there was any way of reducing the cost of the scheme which might persuade the Chancellor to change his mind. Kent County Council agreed, along with other local councils, to underwrite the costs of the stalled public inquiry. The Transport Secretary announced that the Public Inquiry for the Tonbridge to Pembury dualling scheme could go ahead –the authorisation of a public inquiry before funding for construction was agreed was an extremely unusual step and I am sure would not have happened had the Secretary of State not been under constant pressure to get the dualling underway.
The success of the A21 campaign was a vindication of the focused effort by the whole community. We would not have got to where we are without working closely together – local people, local businesses, local councils and local press speaking as one. By bringing together every MP and every council on the A21 from Sevenoaks down to Hastings, as well as the local NHS Trust, into one campaigning group, speaking with one voice, we were able to emphasize that the dualling was desperately needed for the whole of the South-East. We met regularly to take every opportunity to press the case with Ministers and others. This culminated at the Public Inquiry where leaders of local councils and MPs representing constituencies all along the A21 presented a unified case.
The whole community can be proud of what we have achieved in the face of many adversities. Thank you to everyone for your huge support.
But it doesn't end here - the campaign goes on with the next section of the A21 from the Blue Boys Roundabout to Lamberhurst firmly within our sights. No doubt we will meet obstacles on the way but given our success with the Tonbridge to Pembury dualling, I am determined we will succeed.
After local residents and representatives from Lamberhurst Parish Council came to see Greg at one of his advice surgeries to raise concerns about ongoing and frequent power cuts in Lamberhurst Down, he contacted the Chief Executive of UK Power Networks, Basil Scarsella, to ask for urgent action.
The power cuts have been caused by a faulty underground cable which runs through the grounds of Scotney Castle and although it has been agreed that a new power cable will be installed, archaeological works will have to be undertaken beforehand which means that the works are unlikely to be completed by the summer of 2018. It has already taken UK Power Networks two years to reach an agreement with the National Trust and English Heritage on this.
"To wait yet another year for this problem to be resolved was unacceptable so I was delighted that after contacting its Chief Executive, UK Power Networks has agreed to install an additional cable outside the castle which could be completed within the next 3-5 months. This should provide a fast and reliable back-up if the main cable fails."
In June 2017, residents of Lamberhurst Down experienced at least 8 power cuts – some of which lasted a number of hours.
In his Times of Tunbridge Wells column published today, Greg has called for urgent improvements in the local Patient Transport Service.
To read the full story, click here
Today Greg officially opened the new Southborough Post Office following a major refurbishment.
"The Post Office is a vital part of Southborough and I'm delighted that its future has been secured. Now with seven day opening and longer hours it can serve the community even more. I wish Sivarajah and his team all the best."
Greg met Alex Wood, a local apprentice jeweller who has been chosen to represent the UK at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 – often referred to as the "Skills Olympics".
WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 is an opportunity for the UK to demonstrate the high quality of its apprenticeships and technical skills.
Greg said: "It was great to meet Alex - he showed me some of the pieces that he had made which were really amazing. We wish him all the best for the competition in Abu Dhabi."
Following Tuesday night's flooding, Greg held an emergency meeting on Friday to demand answers from Kent County Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Southern Water and the Environment Agency.
"Lives and livelihoods have been repeatedly ruined by flooding, and the various responsible bodies must take every step they can to minimise the risk.
"A number of clear problems emerged from the meeting ranging from the clearance of drains, insufficient capacity and an inadequate response.
"I am now forming a working party of affected residents and businesses to oversee the response by the agencies responsible to ensure it deals with the problem comprehensively."
Greg met the Chief Executive of the new provider of the local young people's mental health service, John Brouder.
The contract for the new service starts on 1 September 2017.
"Given that we have suffered from an inadequate Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for far too long, I wanted to meet the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust chosen to run the new service as soon as possible.
"He told me that they want to transform the service to make it much more community based and with a single point of referral which should make it easier and simpler for schools, GPs and families to access services.
"I told him that I welcome this approach but made it very clear to him that I will be keeping a close eye on them as I want to see is a marked improvement."
Contracts have been awarded for two local mental health services – a new young people's mental health service and all-age eating disorders service – in Kent & Medway.
The organisation providing these two new services will be North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT).
Greg congratulated Langton Green Community Sports Association on being awarded Construction Project of the Year for its new Sports Pavilion by Kent Excellence in Business.
"The building of the new sports pavilion in Langton Green was a fantastic community effort so this award is very well deserved. It just shows what can be done when everyone pulls together."
Greg officially opened the Sports Pavilion last September.
Whilst at the Kent County Show, Greg visited the Produced in Kent and Kent Police stands.
He also spoke to the Kent County Agricultural Society about the important contribution that the agricultural and food production industries make to the economy.
Greg hailed the opening of the Longfield flyover this morning as a significant step in the A21 Tonbridge to Pembury dualling.
"For months we've sat in queues watching the bridge being built so it's a relief that it's finally open.
"This is a significant step, bringing to an end the need for travellers on the A21 to get snarled up in the Industrial Estate traffic – delaying both. And it also marks the start of the final few months of works after which we will see the full benefits of the project.
"The delays have been frustrating but given how long and hard we campaigned for the dualling we have been patient knowing that at last the dualling is taking place."
Today is a momentous day for Tunbridge Wells with the official opening of the newly dualled A21...
After local residents and representatives from Lamberhurst Parish Council came to see Greg at one of...
In his Times of Tunbridge Wells column published today, Greg has called for urgent improvements in...
Today Greg officially opened the new Southborough Post Office following a major refurbishment. Greg...