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Helen Whately: Countdown to Christmas

Please see below for the latest newsletter from MP Helen Whately

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“Earlier this month I called into Faversham to mark Small Business Saturday.

The Christmas tree and lights were up in the Market Place and the whole town was wonderfully festive.

It’s that time of year when the clock starts to speed up and we begin to wonder how we can get everything done in time.

While this Christmas can only be better than last year, the spread of the new Omicron variant is a reminder that we are not yet out of the pandemic. The measures announced by the Prime Minister last week are a reflection of that reality.

And while I know that a return to face coverings and working from home will be frustrating for many, these are crucial steps to slow the spread of this new variant and get booster jabs into arms.

Earlier this month, we announced our 10-year plan for social care – giving carers and the people they look after a clear plan for the future. It was a huge privilege to lead this work when I was Care Minister and I’m delighted to see the plan published.

We’re also giving greater protection to nature through our Environment Act, which will see new duties on water companies to clean up their act. And we’re delivering on our commitment to level up communities across the country, including more money for communities in Kent.

These next few weeks will be challenging. Everyone can help to keep our recovery on track by taking up the offer of getting a booster jab and following the latest guidance.

As our battle with the virus enters a new phase, it’s vital everyone takes up the offer of getting a booster jab.

Last week, I got my booster – joining over 600,000 people across Kent in getting a third jab. If you have not yet had your booster, you can book an appointment or find details for walk-in clinics.

Since our vaccination programme started in December last year, over 3 million jabs have been given out across Kent. Huge thank you to everyone involved in this colossal task.

I’ve called on Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group to expand booking options in Faversham to avoid people having to travel miles to get an appointment.

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I called into some of our great local shops in Faversham to mark Small Business Saturday earlier this month.

While the pandemic has been tough for many businesses, the shop owners and traders I spoke to were optimistic about the future. Faversham has so much going for it, and I’m determined to help our town realise its potential.

Across the country, we’re helping high streets back on their feet after the pandemic with business rates halved for 90 per cent of retail, hospitality, and leisure businesses; training and support through our Help to Grow scheme; and our Plan for Jobs.

In Kent alone nearly 3,000 young people have been given work placements through the Kickstart Scheme and the number of people on job seekers support across the county continues to fall.

Like many people, I’ve been shocked by stories of sewage ending up in our local rivers and coastline, and flooding caused by our creaking wastewater network.

I put these concerns directly to the CEO of Southern Water, Ian McAulay, in a meeting I arranged at Faversham’s Wastewater Treatment Works last month.

Having secured a £2 million investment in the treatment works, I was keen to see how this money will be used to clean up our water locally – including plans to increase capacity at the site. I’ve called for similar investment at the Harrietsham Wastewater Treatment Works.

Southern Water also committed to working with Kent County Council and local councillors to tackle the repeat flooding incidents in Faversham. I’ll be keeping a close eye to make sure these commitments turn into action.

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Our landmark Environment Bill became law last month and is now known as the Environment Act 2021.

Thank you to everyone who contacted me about the Bill. I was pleased to be able to support it in Parliament as another step towards better protection for our environment.

New legally binding targets to improve air quality, biodiversity, water, and waste reduction – as well as a commitment to halt species decline by 2030 – are good news for nature in Faversham and Mid Kent.

Crucially, the new law will crack down on water companies discharging sewage into our rivers and coastlines – including a new legal duty on water companies to reduce storm overflows.

I joined parishioners at All Saints Church in Ulcombe to commemorate the Parish’s connection to Britain’s newest saint

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Work by our local borough councils to develop new Local Plans has entered a critical phase.

I’ve told Swale Borough Council that some of the proposals they’re considering for their Local Plan would lead to an unforgivable amount of house building around Faversham with no clear plan to improve local infrastructure. Read more here.

While I support the main objectives of Maidstone Borough Council’s draft Local Plan, I remain concerned about the proposed developments at Lidsing and Heathlands – which are strongly opposed by local residents. Read more here.

I’ve had several recent conversations with Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, about the need to look again at overall housing numbers. We do need new homes, but Kent mustn’t be expected to take more than our fair share.

Meanwhile… Covid cases meant that the Meadows Inquiry in Headcorn, which I was due to speak at earlier this month, was postponed until March next year. I share residents’ concerns about the delay, and I’ve written to Housing Minister Chris Pincher to ask how we can make sure the Inquiry goes ahead.

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I put the case for investment in Brenley Corner to the Roads Minister when we met again recently.

This local bottleneck is long overdue investment as local residents know all too well. Having secured funding to develop a plan to improve the junction, we now need to make it a reality.

I’m working with National Highways to make sure we have a watertight case for investment and a plan that local people can support ahead of the Government’s third Road Investment Strategy being announced in 2023.

Last week I met the Brenley Corner project team for an update on progress. A consultation on a proposed junction improvement plan is due to be launch next year.

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It’s horrid seeing rubbish lying around on our pavements and roadsides.

We’re tackling this in Government by making household recycling easier, introducing our deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and by introducing plans to end single-use plastics.

But we need local action too, and young people seem to get the need for action better than anyone. I’m delighted that so many school children from across Faversham and Mid Kent took part in my Litter Angels competition.

Huge congratulations to this year’s winner – Charlie Foxall from Boughton-Under-Blean & Dunkirk Methodist Primary School. Charlie’s poster will be printed and displayed at the M20 Maidstone services from January 2022.

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Action on climate change

I know from the emails and letters I receive, just how much people in Faversham and Mid Kent want to see action to tackle climate change.

We were able to make real progress at COP26 – from agreement on ending deforestation and cutting methane emissions, to reducing coal power.

Action on climate change needs international co-operation, but it also takes individual actions and decisions. As Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, I’m helping deliver green infrastructure so that people can choose cleaner forms of power and transport.

Last month, we announced that all new homes will need to be built with electric vehicle charging points. Another step in helping people to go greener.

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Crime and anti-social behaviour can be hugely damaging to communities and people’s lives.

I’ve been continuing my work to bring police and station staff together to make Faversham station safer. I’ll also be chairing another meeting in Headcorn in the New Year for an update on work to tackle crime in the village.

There are now record numbers of police in Kent, and the new Maidstone Task Force is making fantastic progress in tackling drugs and violence in Shepway – with 50 vehicles seized and 175 arrests made in the last 12 months.

We’re also giving police new powers to tackle drug gangs, and our new 10-year drugs plan will prevent more people from falling into addiction in the first place.

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Our work to level up communities will benefit people across the country – from Teesside to the Thames.

As Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, I visited Teesside with local Mayor Ben Houchen to see how the new Freeport will boost jobs and growth. Another Freeport is due to be opened in the Thames Gateway – bringing more jobs and investment into Kent.

I’m determined to see our economic recovery from Covid benefit communities across the UK, including in Faversham and Mid Kent.

This work is already underway as Kent is benefitting from almost £7 million of new funding as part of the Government’s Community Renewal Fund. This will be used to develop skills and improve access to healthy and affordable food in places most in need of support.”