The summer has flown by: it only seems like yesterday that students were breaking up from school. I was so pleased to see how well pupils did in their A-Levels and GCSEs last month. I know how difficult the past 18-months has been for them all. I’d like to thank every parent, teacher, tutor, school and college leader for their efforts to support learning in these unprecedented times.
I’ve been keen to keep in touch with schools throughout the pandemic and am looking forward to getting out and visiting them again in the new term. Over the summer holidays, I enjoyed taking part in a National Citizens Service programme at Wykham Park Academy. It was great to see students participating and developing their critical thinking skills. I also hosted pupils from a number of local schools for a virtual work experience session, where they got to catch a glimpse of a typical day in the life of an MP. I always enjoy speaking to students who are enthusiastic about local issues.
This year’s UK Parliament Week will run from 1 to 7 November. It is an opportunity for young people to learn more about Parliament, take action and make an impact on local issues. Last year, North Oxfordshire was the most engaged constituency in the country. More schools, groups and young people signed up to take part in the activities locally than in any other constituency. It was brilliant to see so many actively involved and I hope we can carry that momentum through to this year.
As part of Parliament Week 2021, I will be hosting my sixth annual democracy challenge, sponsored by Cherwell District Council. This debating competition is always a lot of fun and something I look forward to. Despite last year’s challenge taking place virtually, all the teams did a brilliant job. I’m always impressed by local pupils’ awareness of issues and debating skills. I will be writing to all schools this month with further details and hope that lots of teams will take part.
With schools returning in the coming days, all 16 and 17-year-olds in England have now been invited for a jab. It is important that teenagers come forward as soon as possible. Vaccination is still the best possible line of defence against coronavirus. I understand that safety precautions will still be in place inside schools this term to help manage the risks as best we can. As we learn to live with COVID, it is vital that we minimise disruption to young people’s education.
I hope that the autumn term gets off to a great start and wish pupils, parents and teachers the very best.
Earlier this month, the country moved to Step 4 in the roadmap which marked the start of a new phase of continued caution, managing the risks we are aware of and taking responsibility for our choices.
I have had a number of constituents get in contact with me raising their concerns over the lifting of restrictions. I have explained to them that while there is no perfect time to relax the existing restrictions, moving to Step 4 during the summer means pressures on the NHS are less significant than in the autumn and winter months. I have reassured those with concerns that I will continue to monitor the situation in our area closely.
The lifting of restrictions coincided with the resumption of my pub tour last week. Lots of constituents turned up to the Bell in Lower Heyford and asked me questions on a whole host of issues from the climate change agenda to the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange proposal at Ardley.
I’m proud that we are known for our modern industry here in Bicester as we continue to grow and attract global business. Earlier in the month, I visited Hardide’s new and larger premises in Launton. Hardide is the leading global innovator and provider of advanced tungsten carbide/tungsten metal matrix composite coatings. They coat critical parts used in high-wear applications for major companies in the aerospace, defence, energy and precision engineering sectors. It was great to meet Chief Executive Officer Philip Kirkham who showed me the giant coating reactors in action.
I also enjoyed my visit to Saietta Electric Drive, who deliver axial-flux motor technology to the electric vehicle mass market from scooters to buses, in Upper Heyford. I met Chief Commercial Officer Graham Lenden who explained their plans to bring more engineering jobs to the area and how they intend to make their operation carbon neutral. I got time to test drive the Twizy, powered by Saietta’s proprietary AFT elective motor innovation.
I was delighted to also visit David Wilson Homes’ development site at Kingsmere. I was especially pleased to meet Site Manager Scott Harris to congratulate him on his success in this year’s NHBC Pride in the Job Quality awards. During my visit I was given a tour of The Chelworth and The Avondale show homes which I really enjoyed. It was good to see first-hand the level of skill and workmanship that goes into creating a new development.
With vaccination rollout continuing across North Oxfordshire, I popped in to the Bicester Vaccination Centre to mark its 6-month anniversary. I met Tracey Bishop, new Montgomery House Practice Manager as well as Dr Sara Askew. Nearly 50,000 jabs have been administered there alone which is all down to the tremendous hard work of the many volunteers. I was told that Goss Butchers have been bringing food supplies to keep the volunteers going which is testament to the superb community spirit we have here in Bicester.
Over the past year, emails from constituents have been at their peak. Lots of people have written to me in search of advice to help them through the pandemic. My team and I have been working hard to signpost and support those in need. Alongside coronavirus-related casework, I have continued to deal with issues as varied as housing situations, overdue hospital appointments and benefits-related claims. While cases are not always straightforward, solving problems for constituents is one of the most rewarding parts of being a Member of Parliament.
In recent months I have also heard from many of you with views about local issues. There is a lot going on in Bicester at the moment. This week, the Planning Inspectorate was scheduled to start its hearing on Bicester Sports Association’s plans to extend the Chesterton sports facilities following the sale of the Oxford Road site to Value Retail. It is clear that we need to do more to identify appropriate sites for Bicester’s sports teams; I have held a couple of meetings with clubs and local Councillors to discuss future sporting provision in the town, particularly as we continue to grow. The sale of the Oxford Road site could also impact the Bicester Community Garden, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to pop down there last week to meet local volunteers to discuss their future plans.
Chesterton also remains at the forefront of my mind given the recent decision by the Planning Inspectorate to allow the Great Wolf Lodge appeal. The news came as a shock to us all, particularly after the District Council had rejected the application unanimously and had put considerable resources into the appeal process. Since then, I have had a meeting with representatives from Chesterton Parish Council and the Parishes Against Wolf campaign group. I know that they were looking at whether there might be grounds for a judicial review, but that does not seem likely. Going forward, it is clearly important to understand how we mitigate the impact of the development on Chesterton. I have met Highways representatives from Oxfordshire County Council to discuss just that and also had a virtual meeting with Great Wolf to discuss the situation directly with them. I have encouraged the need for community engagement and discussion going forward.
Initial plans for the possible construction a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange at Ardley have also become public recently. I have significant concerns about the location of the development but will wait to see what mitigation measures are proposed. Preliminary meetings with local parish councils as well as the District and County Council about the plans have proven useful and I am hoping to meet Network Rail in the weeks ahead.
While it all these issues will need to be assessed on their own individual merits and constraints, it is clear that consideration must be given to their collective impact on Bicester and the surrounding villages. I am determined to make sure my constituents’ voices are heard throughout.