Important opportunity yesterday to make a speech during Black History Month and pay tribute to the immense contribution made by the black community in Ipswich. We’d be much poorer without this community among us and I thought it was right to pay a particular tribute to the Caribbean and African Health Support Forum in Ipswich which I was able to visit in August and does excellent work raising awareness of the health issues disproportionately impacting Caribbean and African people in our town.
As part of the debate we were also discussing petitions on black history in the school curriculum. I do think there is more we can do to teach the history of black people in this country, including the injustices they have suffered in the past. But this must be done as part of a shared history, which also recognises the great many things we have to be proud of in our past, rather than a separate curriculum being proposed by some. There is much more that unites us as Britons than separates us based on what colour skin we happen to have, and we mustn’t encourage separateness among young people by deciding what they learn based on the colour of their skin.
It was also important to talk about the shocking death of George Floyd and the importance of continuing to stamp out the racism which still exists in our society. I believe this is the true intention of the majority of protesters but it is disappointing that some leadership figures in BLM UK have strayed beyond a unifying anti-racism message into sometimes promoting divisive political rhetoric with calls to abolish things like the police, the nuclear family and capitalism. I also think we have to be careful about divisive terms being used by some like institutional racism which smear entire institutions. We need to root out racist individuals in our institutions and society but it’s counter-productive to label many who aren’t in this way. We must uphold a message of unity and one that focuses about how we can keep improving on the past.
In the Chamber yesterday I raised the comments made by England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, with the Health Secretary when he said: “A national lockdown at the moment would be inappropriate for communities in Cornwall and East Anglia”. And that it would be very difficult to justify to these communities. As things stand with relatively low levels of Covid-19 in Ipswich, I strongly believe he is right. We need a balanced and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties, not the one size fits all national lockdown being proposed by the Labour Party and Ipswich Labour which would completely shut Ipswich’s hospitality sector.
This sector employs thousands of people in our town and includes many great businesses like our local pubs. Labour’s blanket approach would unnecessarily put these livelihoods at risk. It’s important to underline that the situation locally could change but we must be flexible and not approach this crucial issue with the blunt instrument Labour is proposing. It was good that in response to me the Health Secretary re-emphasised Professor Van-Tam’s comments and the need to take action where necessary but not take it where it’s unnecessary. I’ll keep monitoring all aspects of what this pandemic means for Ipswich and represent our town to the best of my ability at every stage.
This week I submitted a letter of objection to the planning application to build 98 dwellings on the site behind Ravenswood Primary School. Opposing new affordable housing in Ipswich is not something I take lightly at all. We do need more housing in our town, including more council houses for Ipswich residents. But unfortunately the Borough Council has come forward with plans in this case which would do more harm than good in their current form.
A number of weeks ago I wrote to every resident in Ravenswood about the plans. I received dozens of responses which overwhelmingly objected to them and I felt this letter was an important representation to make as their MP. I don’t have a formal role in the planning process but I share the key concerns many of my constituents have raised.
Ravenswood has successfully established itself as mixed tenure community with around a 65%/35% split between private and council housing spread throughout the estate. But the Borough Council’s plans turn this on its head with over two-thirds of the homes proposed for social rent and all clustered in single area. This does risk undermining part of what has made Ravenswood a success story of integration and the plans need to take into account the community these homes would become a part of. I am pleased that 10 new starter homes have been allocated in these plans for key workers to get their foot on the property ladder, but I do question why it’s only 10. Now more than ever we are in debt to our local key workers and this would be good opportunity to give more of them the chance to buy their first home in the town.
And before any new development goes ahead and more cars are added to the roads there must be better access for the estate to the road network in place. I’ve personally been caught up in the congestion at the Nacton Road roundabout at rush hour and it’s clear that the addition of more cars to this chokepoint puts Ravenswood in real danger of grinding to a complete standstill. I met again with the County Council today to raise this issue after my Ravenswood survey underlined just how disruptive this bottleneck is. But Ipswich Borough also needs to realise this is a quality of life issue for residents and can’t be brushed under the carpet.
I’ve also mentioned in the letter how local homes for local people are crucial source of public trust in this development. If these plans do go ahead I will work with Ipswich Borough Council to make sure all the new council homes go to people with a strong local connection to Ipswich. This means people on the Borough Council’s waiting list who have lived in Ipswich for over 6 years or who’ve had a strong connection to our town for a similar period of time.
The consultation is now closed but I’ll be monitoring these plans very closely going forward as they go to the Planning Committee. I’m working with Ravenswood’s Residents’ Association and local Conservative Councillors to keep making the case that we need more homes in Ipswich but we need to deliver them in a smart way that respects the distinct communities in our town and brings people with us. I’ll be providing more updates over the coming weeks.
Today I voted against the 10pm curfew being applied at the national level and it applying in places such as Ipswich which have a very large hospitality sector and comparatively low levels of COVID-19. This is the first time I have ever voted against the Government in Parliament and it wasn’t something I took lightly. I was elected as a Conservative MP however I have always said that I will always make decisions based on what I believe to be in the best interests of my constituents and the Town and therefore its likely that from time to time, on occasions like today, that I may take a different position to that of my Party. In Ipswich we are in the position of having a very large hospitality sector and great pubs, restaurants and bars that employ thousands of my constituents whilst at the same time having very low levels of COVID-19 compared to other areas of the country. In addition to this I’m not convinced that the 10pm even makes a positive difference to tackling the spread of the virus. Often what we’ve seen is crowds of people all leaving hospitality venues at the same time and crowding together. All the time when I vote on big items as your MP I ask myself the question, “how does this impact my constituents, on balance positive or on balance negative?”. Having carefully considered the 10pm curfew and discussed with the hospitality sector here in Ipswich I decided to vote the way I did. The reality is that the 10pm is hurting our pubs, restaurants and bars just when they are looking to recover from the first national lockdown. Many of the jobs and livelihoods of my constituents are likely to be lost because of it. I fear it could be the difference to your local making it through this or not. The negatives it brings in my view at this moment in time far outweigh any public health benefits it brings. I was one of 82 MPs voting against the 10pm curfew today but it ended up comfortably passing so it continues but I made my stand. As you will likely already know Ipswich is in tier 1 meaning that things continue as they have been for the past few weeks with the 10pm curfew and the rule of 6 but other than that whilst be careful (hands, face, space) we can largely go about our business as usual. I must say I was a little surprised at quite how many other areas were in this category. Within this tier we have Ipswich and other areas with very low levels of COVID-19 but also areas with much higher rates that are teetering on being moved up to tier 2 such as London for example. It’s a shame that there couldn’t be a tier specifically for low Covid-19 areas where we could look at replacing the 10PM curfew, even an 11PM curfew would be a big improvement allowing restaurants and pubs that serve food a second sitting (this is what they’ve done in Northern Ireland). I am not cavalier about the threat posed by COVID-19 to public health and the lives of some of the most vulnerable within our Town. We need to do everything we all can to contain the spread of the virus. We also need to be alive to the fact that the level of COVID-19 is increasing in Ipswich and Suffolk and neighbouring counties. However, as I’ve previously stated, its critically important we get the balance right between protecting “lives, livelihoods and liberties” and it is my view that at this current time the 10pm for Ipswich doesn’t do this. Just this week we’ve seen the number of those out of work in Ipswich jump and jump at a higher rate that other surrounding areas and I think it would be fair to assume that at least some of this is to do with the size of our hospitality sector and how hard its already been hit by COVID-19.
With regard to the Labour Party’s position and the position of Sir Keir Starmer? They now want a second national lockdown and to close the entire hospitality sector nationwide for up to 3 weeks. Could someone please tell me how closing all the pubs, restaurants and bars in Ipswich will help those COVID-19 hot spots tackle the spread of the virus? The reality is that if we were to shut down all of the pubs, restaurants and bars in Ipswich right now many simply wouldn’t reopen and we should unemployment in the Town rocket to a degree never seen before. This Labour position would be terrible for our Town. There are difficult times ahead and as I’ve said before we need to be vigilant in playing our part as we have all already done to stop the spread of the virus.
This is a very challenging period for the Government and I have every sympathy for the Prime Minister who is desperately trying his best to balance the need to protect lives and livelihoods at the same time. He won’t get everything right and either will I however rest assured that whenever I take a decision its always in what I believe to be the best interests of the people I have the honour of representing, my constituents.
Chaired my first Ipswich Transport Taskforce meeting this morning where it was good to receive further reassurances from Highways England that the speed limit solution to the Bridge closures remains on track for this winter.
The exact wording they used was that work on the ground would start in ‘early 2021’, and I’m pushing for this to mean early January so the new speed limit is in place by the end of January. I stressed again to Highways England how this solution can’t come soon enough for Ipswich and drew their attention to my recent transport surveys where thousands of local residents highlighted the disruption as a major issue.
I said when this taskforce was set up it must be focused on delivering results for people in Ipswich and chairing today’s meeting was a good opportunity to hold Highways England to account. I’m making sure that the Orwell Bridge is on every Taskforce agenda going forwards so this scrutiny can continue and the Taskforce is put to good use.
Slightly concerned to learn the safety work in a wind tunnel has been delayed to the end of October after the Transport Secretary told me he was expecting it on his desk by the end of September and I actually helped get this wind tunnel open for the work after it was shut due to Covid-19. I was told today though that this wouldn’t delay the overall project. And I’ve got a further meeting today with Highways England where I’ll be raising all these issues in even more detail. This is a crucial few months for this project and at every stage I’ll be making sure Ipswich is represented.