With Parliament in recess throughout most of August, I used this time to make a number of visits in my role as Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food. Early in the month, I really enjoyed a visit to the Northern Fish School in North Yorkshire. I was taken out on the banks to fly fish by Angling Trust Ambassador Marina Gibson. Other memorable visits included to the magnificent Nether Wasdale Common in Cumbria to discuss their unique situation and to Fir Farm in the Cotswolds where we spoke about sustainable farming. To mark #Farm24, a day which celebrates everything farming, I met my parliamentary colleague Dehenna Davison and local farmers in Bishop Auckland.
Towards the end of August, I flew to Norway. In Trondheim, I attended Aqua Nor, the world’s largest aquaculture technology exhibition. I also travelled to Bergen and met Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen, Norwegian Minister of Fisheries. To finish off a busy summer, I headed to Gower in Wales to visit Weobley Castle Farm. They produce the world-renowned Gower Salt Marsh lamb, which is the first food to gain protected status under our new Geographical Indication Schemes. On the way back, I called in for a tour of the Three Choirs Vineyard in the heart of Gloucestershire, where I was fortunate enough to try some lovely wine!
More locally, I have been pleased to see businesses returning to some normality, with foot traffic increasing on our high streets. Earlier in the summer, I enjoyed dropping into a number of shops in Banbury, including the Ruskin Bakery, Wildbean Café and David’s Flowers. I was also delighted to be able to resume my Pub Tour with a visit to The Bell in Lower Heyford. Lots of constituents came along and asked me questions on a whole host of issues, from climate change to the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange proposal at Ardley. These events are always a great way for constituents to raise concerns with me and I look forward to hosting more in the autumn.
It only seems like yesterday that students were breaking up from school for the summer. I hope the autumn term has got off to a great start and I wish students, parents and teachers the very best for the school year ahead. Running from 1 to 7 November, this year’s UK Parliament Week is fast approaching. 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 is a great opportunity for young people to learn more about Parliament and it was brilliant to see so many actively involved. I hope that we can carry that momentum through to this year. To find out more and sign up to take part, visit www.ukparliamentweek.org.
I know it may seem a little early to start thinking about Christmas too, but I like to give plenty of notice for my annual card competition. This year’s theme is ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’. I hope as many primary school children as possible will send in entries. The winner will have their design printed on the front of my Christmas card and will also get to meet me for tea in Westminster. I have written to local schools with further details on all of these activities and look forward to getting out to visit lots of them this autumn term.
Parish councils have been the bedrock of our democracy since the Local Government Act in 1894. Two subsequent Acts of Parliament in 1972 and 2011 have handed them greater powers and re-affirmed their role in local democracy, serving approximately 16 million people across England. In Cherwell alone we have 79 parish councils, town councils and parish meetings. Parish councillors are some of the most hard working people in their local community. From bus shelters to allotments, housing needs to planning applications they are a strong voice for residents.
A few weeks ago, I met members of Lower Heyford and Caulcott Parish Council to talk about the increase in traffic on the historic Grade II-listed Rousham Bridge. They believe that a weight limit should be imposed to preserve the integrity of the structure. They also raised concerns over the need for traffic calming measures to help manage the roads through the villages. While the parish council have received assurances from Oxfordshire County Council that a weight limit would be introduced, this is yet to happen so I have written to the Chief Executive for an update on progress.
Last month, I also joined a virtual meeting of Somerton residents who wanted to discuss their personal experiences and learning from the pandemic. We have come a long way in recent months; the new Health Secretary has made it clear that we need to balance the harms caused by COVID with the wider impact of ongoing restrictions. Personal responsibility will be key as we move forward, alongside the ongoing success of vaccination rollout, with a booster programme now under active consideration.
I have also been in touch with all the local Parish Councils following news of a possible Strategic Rail Freight Interchange between Ardley and Heyford. The site proposed by Oxfordshire Railfreight Ltd would be on the side of the Chiltern Mainline, on land to the east of Heyford Park and west of the B430 (opposite the Viridor ERF facility). I have significant concerns about the location of the development but will wait to see what mitigation measures are proposed. Preliminary meetings with some Parish Councils as well as the District and County Council about the plans have proven useful. I am always keen to hear constituents’ thoughts and look forward to meeting others soon to discuss the proposals. It is important that consideration is given to the SRFI’s impact on the local villages. I am determined to make sure my constituents’ voices are heard throughout.