Category Archives: E-News

Rail and Regeneration

Gloucester Train Station

It’s now over ten years since I moved to the city centre, and as a huge fan of travel by rail and a weekly commuter to London I’ve worked on trains, the station and the land around it throughout the last decade.

So I thought it was time to give a quick summary of what’s happened and is happening or about to happen: and the current developments that are work in progress – which will determine what the experience of rail travel is like for the decade ahead.

Railway Triangle & a University Technical College
The story of change had to start here. The Railway Triangle, as it was, highlighted all that was negative about our city. It competed for the most depressing entrance to any cathedral city in the country. A stream of well intentioned initiatives by the former Gloucester Heritage Urban Regeneration Company (GHURC) had led nowhere. We were left with almost two miles of wasteland, collapsed buildings and brambles visible to all passengers as trains slowed down to come into the station, and to bus and car passengers from Metz Way. What a symbol of decay and despair on arrival.

So my first ever YouTube video in 2009 was filmed there to say this was a 20 year disgrace and that I would sort it if elected. Most people said I was mad.

But in the autumn of 2010 a developer came up with a regeneration plan that would create a mini industrial park with over 500 jobs and not a penny of taxpayer money to do this, including decontaminating the land and building the road access. I supported the lxb plan, the city council approved it, the site was sorted by local companies and, after a Jobs Fair I organised in Barton, Morrisons hired 59 long term unemployed to work at their new store on the site.

Today the RT is thriving, and the next stage is building more homes – including social housing – on Network Rail land on the Kingsholm side of the RT, and I hope too a new Gloucestershire Health and Care University Technical College (UTC) close to the station. This is strongly backed by all the NHS Trusts and the University of Gloucestershire and will provide both GCSEs and A levels like a secondary school, but also BTECs in Health or Care, and guaranteed work experience with the NHS and private sector. So the UTC will provide great pathways into Health and Care, our biggest employers in the county. Our UTC, if we get the go ahead to apply early in the New Year, as we hope, would only be the second health UTC in the country. The first (in West Bromwich) is thriving.

We already have light industry (Rygor/Mercedes Benz) and retail jobs in the RT: soon we should have homes and I hope a unique educational establishment – all created from brown field wasteland.

So although contaminated or damaged brown field sites aren’t easy, my experience of the last ten years is that they can be regenerated, and we’ve shown how. We’re also doing that on the old Contract Chemicals site on the Bristol Road, and on the ex Norvilles site in Tredworth.

Gloucester Station itself
Moving now from Network Rail land around the station to the station itself, the real contrast at our station is between the warmth of the station (GWR) staff, with years of customer focused service, and the unloveliness of the buildings and infrastructure.

So the first thing I did was to try to involve the community through my 2010 Station Art Exhibition. Glos Col co-ordinated and PJ Crook advised eight primary schools to create a series of panels showing rail transport through the ages. They’re still there, towards St Peters church on platform 4 (the longest or second longest platform in Britain): and I hope all involved will always remember as I do the happy day the paintings went up, bringing children and their ideas into the station and making it permanently more human.

Next were the Waiting Rooms & the Station Bridge from Platform 2 to 4. During the negotiations for a new GWR franchise in 2012 GWR agreed to build two waiting rooms and proper bike stands as well as lifts by the new bridge to improve disabled access. But the bridge didn’t have (had never had) a canopy and I badgered GWR for so long that they kindly agreed to add that soon after – and passengers can now use the bridge without getting wet.

But my big ambition is the £4.2 million bid I worked on with the City Council to our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The LEP is funded by government to deliver growth and our bid is all about improvements to the Railway Station – and the benefits to travellers and their productivity from this. This will involve a revamp of the underpass to Great Western Road and the GRH, which will be welcomed by all who walk that route (like our nurses and other NHS staff). The bid also includes a new entry and exit off Metz Way, to speed up traffic getting out of the station. Lastly the bid would transform the main entrance, appearance of and areas outside the station, and (half hidden) pedestrian and cycle path. We will hear about the outcome in the New Year – and anyone who loves Gloucester, rail transport, regeneration and not waiting in a queue of cars to get out of the station – then please let me know.

Meanwhile we’ve moving ahead on a new (additional) station car park and the first ever access to the station from Great Western Road. I could never understand the logic of an empty unused car park there. It was once intended for new courts, an idea of (and then abandoned by) the last Labour government. So it’s remained unused for a long time, and for those travelling from e.g. Hucclecote, Barnwood, Elmbridge, Longlevens and Tewkesbury or the Forest the new car park will offer real alternatives to current parking arrangements.

Transferring an obscure Ministry of Justice real estate asset is an admin nightmare, but with the help of Ministers, our city council and GWR eventually everyone agreed and the asset is now with GWR.

Action since then has been disappointingly slower than I was led to expect, but after the New Year things will happen and I hope the 220 space car park will open at Easter.

Train Services – Cross Country & GWR
Demand for rail travel from Gloucester has grown sharply (up 50% since 2006/7, well above the national average). The main causes are more commuting (especially to Bristol, not least as public services regionalise their offices), more visitors and Gloucester being the seventh fastest growing city in the country. That will continue as e.g. the University of Gloucestershire is in the process of delivering 500 new student rooms in Blackfriars for their new Business School in Oxstalls. So getting the trains right is critical.

We’re well served in some ways (e.g. the Welsh line) but only 2 Cross Country InterCity trains a day running between Birmingham and Bristol currently stop at Gloucester. That was a result of  a bad re-negotiation of the franchise in 2006, but when it came up for renewal in 2016 I persuaded the DfT to increase the Cross Country Interservice stops at Gloucester by at least 2 more a day, or 728 extra trains a year, once the track work at Filton Bank (outside Bristol) is complete (expected end 2018). I’ll be pushing ahead to make sure the extra services are timetabled in advance.

Meanwhile, by the end of 2018 we’ll also see a new direct hourly GWR train service to London. This follows the re-dualling of the Swindon-Kemble line that our government did in the last parliament. Brand new faster Made in Britain Hitachi trains coming into service will cut journey time to London by around 15 minutes. At the same time we’ll also benefit from a new half hourly service to Swindon.

Lastly and most importantly I’m working on a much better regular (including commuter) service to Bristol. As electrification work is completed in different parts of the country, particularly in the Thames Valley, turbo trains should be available for routes in the South West and many will be based in Bristol, allowing more and better services, with increased capacity, to and from the city.

So I am making the case to GWR, the Department for Transport and the West of England Partnership for a half hourly service to Bristol by 2019 as part of the first phase of the MetroWest project (to improve services to and from Bristol). A new half hourly service (instead of the current hourly offering) on bigger and better trains would make a huge difference. This is a very important campaign, and if you agree do support this by replying to The Department for Transport consultation on the GWR network via: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/great-western-rail-franchise

In short: homes and a University Technical College on parts of the Network Rail land not included in the Railway Triangle mini business park: more InterCity trains, double the number of London services, and the possibility of a new Bristol service; together with the potential of transforming the look of the station and the land around it, with a definite extra car park and new entrance – we have lots to work on over the next year.

At the end of all this we should have the services we deserve, and a train station to be as proud of as our new bus station – which will open in the summer of 2018.

Let me know what you think of our plans on richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk

Gloucester overtakes 100 constituencies: our remarkable jobs story

The latest employment figures show 325,000 more people now in work than a year ago.

Businesses have created more than 3 million net new jobs nationally since 2010 or 1,000 jobs every day since the Conservatives were elected.

During this time Gloucester has created the second highest number of private sector jobs of any city in the UK and now has the third highest employment rate (ie % of population working) in the country (source: Centre for Cities and House of Commons Library).

The chart above shows on the left hand scale that our actual figure for unemployment (number of claimants) has come steadily down from 2,470 to 1,195 over the last three years, or 1.9% against 2.5% nationally.

The blue line (using the right hand scale) shows the impact on our relative unemployment – with Gloucester improving from ranking 262nd out of 650 (where 1 is worst) to 383rd ie moving us from the bottom of the third quartile to above average in the second quartile (or over half way to the table).

It’s not quite as dramatic as Gloucester Rugby’s rise from 9th to 2nd in the Premier League table, but there’s a bit more competition…

What we don’t show on this chart is the most spectacular bit of all – the drop in youth unemployment from 990 in 2012 to 250 today, a drop of 75%. This in turn mirrors the rise in our apprenticeships. I’ll show those charts another day.

These stats won’t always continue to go on getting better, but show where we have come.

Our key strength is a variety of employers big and small, combined with a strong entrepreneurial appetite. We benefit from growth in cyber, health and care, nuclear energy, retail and f&b (Gloucester Quays) and all manufacturers, solid insurance and banking giants, growth in regeneration, construction and fitting out, and a huge number of start-ups. Diversity and exporting are key to our success. If Gloucester can continue on this track – and 2018 is our Year of Infrastructure – then we can carry on, like Gloucester Rugby, surprising on the upside…

All this success is down to creative Glosterpreneurs (supported by sensible government policies) and I am grateful to you all. What recent growth success story in business, public sector, charity or social enterprise in Gloucester would you like to highlight?

Do let me know what you think about this at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

Richard with Poeton apprentices

2017 Summer Events in Gloucester

This weekend had pretty mixed weather but great music at the Rhythm and Blues Festival and the 2017 Carnival as Willie Wilson’s Fun Fair kicked off in Gloucester Park for a fortnight.

There’s masses coming up – here are some of the best:

Gloucester Quays Food Festival / Friday, 28th July – Sunday, 30th July
The now annual food festival in the Quays will have celebrity chef demonstrations and entertainment throughout the day. Entry is free and open to all, with a vast variety of foods available.

Stunts Shows 2017 / Saturday, 29th July, 2pm
A free event at Gloucester Park, the Stannage International Stunt team and Xtreme Stunt Team are performing dare-devil stunts.

Dinosaurs’ Exhibition / Saturday, 15th July – Saturday, 28th October
A free event at the Museum of Gloucester, genuine dinosaur fossils and world-leading Palaeontologists from Bristol University are coming to the Museum of Gloucester for this amazing exhibition. A family outing must.

Fireworks Spectacular 2017 / Saturday, 5th August, 7pm
A free event at Gloucester Park, come along and join the amazing fireworks display brought to you by the very same people behind the London 2012 Olympic fireworks. Music, entertainment, food and drink available before the fireworks which start at 9:40pm.

Gloucester City Football vs Truro City / Monday, 7th August
Watch National League South side Gloucester City play at Evesham. Fixtures are happening all summer, find out more at http://www.gloucestercityafc.com/201718-fixtures/

SoMAC Stage 2017 / Saturday, 12th August – Friday, 25th August
The stage in King’s Square will be free and provide an exciting performance. There will be highlights including Bash Street Theatre, Bootworks Theatre and Hip Hop from AJ Tracey and Kojo Funds. More via www.somac.org.uk/event/somac-stage/

Gloucester Goes Retro 2017 / Saturday, 26th August
Westgate, Northgate, Eastgate and Southgate streets will be transformed into different time periods from 1900 – present day. There will be numerous cars, costumes and entertainment on during the day. Register your car via www.gloucester.gov.uk/retro-festival

Gloucester Rugby vs Exeter Chiefs / Friday, 1st September
The first game for Gloucester Rugby kicks off at Kingsholm at 19:45. Complete fixture list on www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk/rugby/matchcentre/index.php

Gloucester History Festival / Gloucester Day, Saturday, 2nd September – Sunday, 17th September
Heritage comes alive in our city. A huge programme of Civic Voices events: the nation’s second rated Heritage Open Weekend and a stunning series of Blackfriars talks. Book early to avoid disappointment via www.gloucesterhistoryfestival.co.uk

Heritage Open Days / Thursday, 7th September – Sunday, 10th September
Explore the vast heritage of Gloucester where many of the oldest and finest buildings will open their doors for free and allow walks, tours and concerts.

Gloucester Beer Festival / Friday, 22nd September – Saturday, 23rd September
At The Farmers Club, Sandhurst Lane, there will be over 50 different beers both locally and from all over the UK. Tickets cost £6 in advance via http://gloucesterbeerfestival.co.uk/ or £7.50 on the day.

Have I missed anything? Do feel free to send me an e-mail at Richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk with details of other events in our city.

Best regards

The 10th Anniversary of the Gloucester Floods 2007

Ten years ago to this day, twelve hours of intense rainfall in Gloucester and nearby followed the wettest June and July since records began. This caused what The Citizen has rightly called “the worst natural disaster in the county’s living memory.” It’s worth recapping what happened, what has happened since and the wider lessons, still relevant today.

What happened that day is very clear in my memory, as it will be for us all. By the evening it was chaos. Cars under the railway bridges completely under water: and virtually all roads impassable. In big picture terms 10,000 motorists were stuck between junctions 10 and 12 of the M5 and 500 people stranded at Gloucester Railway Station. When the Mythe water treatment centre lost power 350,000 people were without running water for 18 days. The Castlemead electricity substation was overwhelmed, cutting power to almost 50,000 of my constituents. Some 4,000 houses, 500 businesses and 20 schools were flooded, and three people died. I’ll never forget the mess left by the water at homes in Manor Road, Elmbridge.

There was a precedent. In 1607, a great flood swept up the Bristol Channel ‘with huge and mighty hills of water’ some 25-feet high. It spread over 200 square miles of land and killed 2,000 people. The great Gloucestershire flood 400 years later was different and resulted in much less loss of life, but its impact was huge, and almost led to a national crisis.

I’ve written for The Citizen about the water volunteers that I organised once water was cut off in the city, and that we weren’t allowed to deliver water to those too ill or old to move – because not all the volunteers had CRBs. I asked at what point in critical civil disaster situations organisations have to cut corners and accept risk in order to save lives. Leadership at all levels in natural or other disasters is critical, as we have been reminded since the dreadful inferno at Grenfell Tower.

Meanwhile, down at the Tri-Service Centre at Waterwells, then Chief Constable Tim Brain, as Gold Commander, had powers to co-ordinate national and local bodies, Armed Forces and charities. These Gold Command structures are crucial, and work well if residents trust the lead individual and organisation. As we now know, if the trust is not there, for whatever reason, then the Government has to step in and bring in other individuals and organisations.

Afterwards the Pitt Review made recommendations on how to mitigate future flood risks. Much progress has since been implemented – brooks and streams cleared: willows cut back and responsibilities better known: Flood Re established to handle insurance issues; and Victorian sewers and drains replaced, notably in Westgate and Kingsholm, at a cost of £13 million by Severn Trent. Those are huge improvements and there has been no flooding in Worcester Street or Kingsholm Road since, despite lesser floods on two occasions since in Gloucester.

The major Government and county council-financed bit of infrastructure is the new diversion lake close to Elmbridge Court, to which surplus water from the Horsbere brook is automatically transferred. That’s already successfully prevented flooding in Longlevens and Elmbridge twice since 2007. And lastly, the Environment Agency has greatly improved its mapping, modelling and communications, thanks to better technology. Anyone living near the Severn can now get regular email and text ‘flood alerts’, and I encourage all my constituents to sign up here: https://emea01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fflood-warning-information.service.gov.uk%2F&data=02%7C01%7Crichard.graham.mp%40parliament.uk%7Cc84cdd9bdb40411d607c08d4cf9a4acd%7C1ce6dd9eb3374088be5e8dbbec04b34a%7C0%7C0%7C636361708964021050&sdata=meayss7YQ6bKewx4Jz9XAFzKGIbHpiD5eIIV4ONCW%2Fs%3D&reserved=0

There are things still to be resolved, such as the height of the wall protecting homes by the river at Pool Meadow. We must ensure that watercourses are kept clear, man-made defences maintained, crisis planning kept up to date, structures reviewed, substations protected and contingency plans in place. We also need to be cautious about planning permission for homes on floodplains as we may not have to wait 400 years for the next natural disaster.

There are many organisations to thank for their response that day, including the Fire & Rescue Service demonstrating the vital rescue part of their role: and local media for brilliant information updates. Today’s commemorative articles will rightly highlight the value of resilience, the power of communities and the importance of pulling together in a crisis.

That is relevant to every challenge in life. The Brexit negotiations are very different from the Gloucestershire floods or the Grenfell Tower inferno, but for all of them we need resilience, leadership and a shared purpose, to get through the crisis. The word “crisis” translates as “danger opportunity” in Chinese. We have to deal with the danger and realise the opportunity – which is to be better prepared for the next challenge life throws our way.

Today, across our city and county, my sense is that we’ll remember what happened, reflect on the lessons and pray that other communities pull through with hard work, luck and good spirit – as we did ten years ago.

Do let me know what other lessons you felt came of the Gloucestershire floods of 2007 on richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

A Greener Gloucester

Litter picking, cycling and raising funds for St James’s City Farm Allotments

I’ve had a few emails recently effectively asking ‘how green is Gloucester and what more can we do?’ This is a good question not just for me, but for all of us.

So let me share some thoughts and wishes, and seek your views.

1. Recycling: better, but room for improvement
This used to be a delicate issue in Gloucester. Only ten years ago our recycling rate was 21%, but ten years on we’re in a much better position, at 37% and in the top 3rd of local authorities for recycling rates. But the best cities in the UK recycle around 66%, so we can do lots more.

Gloucester City Council has examined our contracts and changed our rubbish pick up lorries. The new trucks will accept more plastic and cardboard and this should increase our recycling. The new service also means 100% of what is collected kerbside is recycled into new products, will save us £250,000 a year and divert 2,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. This is an encouraging start.

2. An additional recycling centre off Eastern Avenue 
I believe we could drive up recycling volumes and reduce carbon emissions from journeys to the Hempsted tip by having an extra recycling facility on council land off Eastern Avenue, which would be closer to residents of Barnwood, Hucclecote, Abbey, Robinswood & Matson, Coney Hill, parts of Barton & Tredworth and Tuffley – probably half the city. The site wouldn’t be big enough to handle the full range of recycling at Hempsted, but it could still make a significant difference. Clearly making this financially viable is important.

3. Stopping the landfill at Hempsted
Since 1996 taxpayers have had to pay fines for putting waste into the ground, with Hempsted landfill costing more than £10 million last year. I don’t know anyone who thinks this is a good idea either environmentally or financially. Clearly there were different views about the Waste to Energy plant at Haresfield, but creating energy to power for 25,000 homes, reducing carbon emissions by 40,000 tonnes and stopping lorries from around the county delivering residual waste to landfill in Hempsted are huge benefits to anyone living in Gloucester. Now there is a chance for more creative recycling at Hempsted.

4. Sorting out traffic in the City 
The business of air pollution is mostly about car emissions in Gloucester. An idling engine can produce up to twice as much exhaust emissions as an engine in motion. We need to improve our traffic flow in the city centre to combat this, and in particular I want to see the jams in Southgate Street reduced by a proper pedestrian crossing at the CD Rack and a roundabout at the Trier Way/Stroud Road end of Southgate Street to replace the existing cross roads. This would then enable drivers to turn right to the Peel Centre and St Ann’s Bridge, rather than creating more traffic jams going through an absurd triangle around the Stroud and Bristol Roads. Peel has offered financial help and I would like to prioritise the blockages in Southgate Street after the county elections.

5. Progress on a mini-hydro at Llanthony Lock?
Seven years ago I brought the then-Water Minister to Gloucester to hear the Hereford and Gloucestershire Canal Trust’s idea to create a mini hydro at the Llanthony weir, on the edge of Alney Island. As I do, he loved the idea of creating energy from the water so close to the heart of the city centre. This could raise significant income for the Trust (towards buying the land to restore the Canal), but it’s complicated and is taking an age to actually happen. As Vice President of the Canal Trust I have to manage my natural impatience: the long term goal of producing our own natural energy from the River Severn is an attractive one.

6. Getting tough on fly tippers and reducing litter
The most immediate way any city is judged, as with people, is through our appearance. And whether it’s the A38 passing Kingsway towards Cole Avenue, or Metz Way bringing drivers over the Railway Triangle there is far too much rubbish on the side of the road. Some shocking corners have been much improved: I remember standing with the Rygor CEO beside a thick pack of dirty nappies dumped in the Railway triangle some seven years ago. That’s all gone, replaced by their sparkling new building. But there are several roads and streets in our city that could be better.

Our recent Great British Spring Clean did help, I think, because litter picking is for us all, not something to waste taxpayer money employing a council contractor to do more and more of. We can set an example and gradually change attitudes. So I’m grateful to all who joined in (in driving rain), and would love to see more community litter picking.

We also need tougher fines, and we now have them, thanks to the City Council. A maximum fine of £400 should make any resident think twice – but is it enough for those who fly tip commercially? I believe at the very least we should name and shame the frequent large fly tippers.

7. Improving our cycling routes and getting more people to use them
Apart from the benefits of a fabulous hill (Robinswood) in our city, and the HQ of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust there, we also have a canal whose tow path leads from the Docks to the Pilot Inn, on the Quedgeley/Stroud border. It’s a wonderful, idle 25 minute bike ride but not all of it is in a condition for, say, young children. I’ve met with the Canal and River Trust to get upgrading this path on their agenda, and this remains something to see through.

Likewise ensuring an upgrade for the cycle path through Alney Island to Maisemore and Over after it was blocked when flooding rotted one of the connecting bridges. The GCC has promised to fund sorting this later this year, which is good news. These are great scenic routes that I want everyone to explore and enjoy, and use their bikes much more this summer.

Of course there are other cycle routes which occasionally also need improvement, and I hope cyclists will take photos of any issues and mail them to me so I can forward them as appropriate. But some things again can be done by us as individuals. I often carry a pair of secateurs to deal with e.g. sudden growth on a bramble bush; as so often action by individuals and community groups can complement what councils do, so we can focus them on the most serious issues.

8. Community Groups leading the way
Community groups like the Friends of Alney Island, Robinswood Hill, Saintbridge Pond, Gloucester Park, KGV Park, Hillview Gardens and Barnwood Arboretum who all take real ownership of their area are making a huge difference. I would recommend joining them to everyone living nearby. The group planning to bring the Matson Angling Pond back to life are also showing great initiative so do support them too!

9. What else?
The environment is a huge subject, and everyone will have their different take on it. Dog poo, fly tipping and litter are incredibly irritating things and I get plenty of emails on all three. But I also hope that my constituents will keep a sense of adventure, and discover new walks – like the new balancing pond created off the ring road between the Elmbridge Court and C&G roundabouts – a wonderful place to see waterbird life. This also shows that measures taken for one purpose (successfully protecting Longlevens and Elmbridge residents from flooding) have great spin off benefits.

There is so much to encourage: the land around the Boating Park in Westgate is fun for dogs and children and could be much more: and every child should have the chance to see a sunset and the snaking silver river from the top of Robinswood Park, and explore its Jurassic rocks. There is so much to enjoy in our city.

What else do you think we could do to make Gloucester more environmentally friendly? Let me know at richard4gloucester@gmail.com.

Best regards

Improving our old estates

Parts of Matson and Podsmead look tired now

Churchill famously once said ‘we shape buildings and then they shape us’. The £1.25m Estates Regeneration award just won by Gloucester City Homes, with strong support from the City Council and I, is all about this dynamic.

Our physical goal is to transform the post war estates in Matson and Podsmead, two wards of Gloucester which will hugely benefit from new and better buildings, landscaping and overall look. I know GCH will respect key green areas and local priorities.

There are encouraging precedents: the micro regeneration of the sites of former pubs The Musket (Matson) and Jet & Whittle (Podsmead) by GCH and Green Square respectively have already shown that good value and good materials can go together successfully. And then the buildings have shaped a great sense of pride in surroundings.

I’ve wanted to see a transformation since I first walked around both wards ten years ago. I wanted to see the most made, especially of Matson’s, beautiful natural setting with a more attractive man-made contribution.

Now the combination of GCH’s new status as a stand alone company and the £50m housing debt write off I achieved from the last government, plus a good pitch by GCH to this new government programme, means transformation is now, at last, possible.

This is the next stage of GCH’s journey under Ashley Green: from managing city council housing stock to independent company driving housing regeneration in city and county.

As Citizen Editor Jenny Eastwood notes it’s a great win for all of Gloucester, because regeneration has to be spread everywhere across our city.

This is a good example of a new source of funding through the government. To succeed we need great ideas, and I spend a lot of time either thinking what we could do (like the major Blackfriars scheme or the new railway car park) or writing letters of support for others’ good ideas. The teamwork between MP and different organisations in our city is incredibly important and rating low on political squabbling is one reason we’re winning more bids.

But this is only the beginning of the estate regeneration. The detail is critical. We’re rightly sceptical of big promises in Gloucester and residents of Matson and Podsmead will want to know exactly what’s planned before getting excited about it. But residents have seen the good new housing in Painswick Road, locally designed by Aqua, and that should bring confidence that GCH will bring forward some good plans and designs.

Meanwhile I think we should be proud of our Housing company, and pleased that the Gloucester team is together winning funding for Estate regeneration, against competition from all over the country. Let’s now shape some great new housing and infrastructure – and then be optimistic about how it will then shape us.

A week after Gloucester won £1.49 million for cultural development from the Lottery Fund and the Arts Council, we’re continuing to surprise ourselves, positively.

Let me know what other regeneration initiatives would be positive surprises in our city at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

New GCH and Green Square homes in Matson and Podsmead

The why, what and how of the new School Funding Formula

The Government’s consultation on proposals for a new funding formula closes this Wednesday. This is both very important and very complicated – and whatever final proposal emerges it will be impossible to please everyone.

Let me try and explain the issue, the current proposal and where I think we go from here. Please do try and have your say included too.

The problem with our school funding is that no-one can easily explain it and it ends up with huge disparities in the amounts of funding for similar pupils in different parts of the country.

Basically this benefits metropolitan boroughs and cities, at the expense of poorer cities in well off counties, which is roughly our situation. This is unnecessarily complicated and certainly isn’t fair for much of the country. So the government made a pledge to resolve this with a simple new national formula which would explain clearly on what basis each school gets funded.

This required a basic level of funding for each child and then agreed factors, and weightings of those factors, for issues that influence children’s attainment at school to determine extra funding.

The government has proposed such a formula, and the main factors are low prior attainment, deprivation, mobility and English as a second language: alongside school and geographical cost factors.

It’s impossible to know exactly what income each school would get in 2018-19 as we don’t yet know how many pupils or eg how many are entitled to free school meals or have English as a second language in 2018-19. Extra or fewer pupils will change the figures: if a primary school, for example, is predicted to gain or lose £25,000 then 5 pupils more or less could see that change disappear.

However, based on this year’s entry, the estimates show that Gloucester will gain £58,000 for primary schools and £256,000 for secondary schools: an overall increase of 0.4%.

But within that figure, which is an encouraging start, there are of course winners and losers.

The winners are schools with lots of pupils with the characteristics that show they need extra help. So, for example Beaufort, St Peters and Severn Vale Secondary Schools are relative winners and the grammar schools relative losers. The primary schools which have the fewest pupils on free school meals and English as a second language tend to do less well: e.g. Meadowside has 1.9% of pupils for whom English is a second language whereas Widden has 78%. The challenges for those two schools are very different.

So if your school is a relative loser in year one or two, it is understandable if your Head encourages you to write to me: but some of the changes are not large as a percentage of turnover, and none over 3% per year. Many government departments (though not Health and Education at all) and all councils have had to reduce by much more.

As the son and brother of primary school Deputy Heads, I understand that you will fight for every penny: but I also have to look at the bigger picture and the underperforming primaries in my constituency who will benefit, which will increase the chances of those pupils succeeding.

Basically there are now 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools across the country than there were in 2010 and I would love EVERY primary and secondary in our city to be in those categories. There have been some great successes but others need more help to get there.

Some constituents have asked me why the government is cutting education. It isn’t. Health and education have been the most protected budgets since we inherited a public finance overspend of over £150 billion a year. The Government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, and this year over £40 billion is being spent on schools in this country. Any suggestion that we have ever spent MORE on schools is simply wrong.

Over time counties like ours will get more, and metropolitan areas relatively less. But that has to be done gradually, and there is no new money to make it easier – you know the pressures on other areas (whether health, social care, or welfare) while we try to get back to living within our means.

All of which makes for difficult politics in the Commons. Because there are many schools in the least funded areas which don’t see an immediate rise in funding, and some that do lose quite a lot, in my view there is not enough political support in Parliament at the moment to introduce the new formula.

Meanwhile the consultation isn’t closed until Wednesday evening (https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula2/). So you still have a chance to have your say on the consultation and influence the results. The government will analyse the results and decide how to respond (I imagine) in the summer.

My own belief is that the weighting of the factors in the formula could be altered slightly: it can be argued for example that deprivation is scored too highly once all the factors are considered. A similar point in another way would be to increase the basic figure to educate a pupil regardless of the pupil’s circumstance. And of course some extra transition money divided between eg the most poorly funded areas would be very helpful, although it’s hard to see where it might come from.

But we have to try and find a way through this if a) we want to fulfil the pledge and b) more importantly we want to prevent the inequality of the current situation from growing still further.

So I’ve had meetings with the other Gloucestershire MPs, the county council and also with Ministers trying to find possible ways of improving the formula and its implementation. And I’ll continue to do so. But I will also bear in mind that current proposals mean overall schools in Gloucester would see a slight increase in education, and that should continue to increase gently in future years.

So I’m balancing the views of those who are unhappy with those who are beneficiaries, the short and the longer term, and taking a view based both on the city as a whole and the national interest.

I await the analysis of the consultation and the government’s response with great interest and hope changes can be found to make this first ever national funding formula work for as many as possible of my and other schools.

Do give your reactions to the consultation before Wednesday evening and copy me in on any email responses you send (the consultation is also quite complicated) at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

No rose tinted specs – join the Great Gloucester Spring Clean

Litter off Barton Street last week

Yesterday a constituent who gets my regular e-news accused me gently of having rose tinted specs. Mary, who lives in Robinswood, said I always focused on the good news and wondered if we lived in the same city.

So we discussed Mary’s view of Gloucester. She’s retired, so she isn’t that interested in changes to employment, the growth in jobs and apprenticeships, or the 80% reduction in youth unemployment. New employers in growing sectors like cyber, nuclear or tidal lagoons don’t impact Mary: and she’s not very interested in Heritage or Sport either. New housing means construction and she’s not mad about the noise and change involved.

Mary hasn’t been to the Docks and Quays for years, and she doesn’t think whatever’s happened there is for people like her anyway.

No: Mary judges Gloucester by what she sees in her part of the city, where her daughter lives in Barton, and in the city centre. And she doesn’t like what she sees.

In Robinswood around her, Mary sees too many unkempt tenants’ gardens with brambles spreading over their fences. She points out a path where the contractors don’t keep the grass cut very well (she does it) and a tree where the conkers aren’t swept up. She sees far too much litter and dog poo everywhere.

Mary says the alley from Barton to Asda is ‘dreadful’, the litter on the verges of the roads that she sees from buses ‘shocking’ and young men in sleeping bags in the city centre ‘depressing’.

Mary would agree it’s not just a question of pointing a finger at the city council, their contractors or GCH – though there are times some or all need chasing. She’s worried about attitude. Too many rude, litter leaving individuals who just don’t care. And Mary has a point. So what can be done?

In my view, leadership means getting tougher on individual responsibility, and communities leading the way on improving local areas. One example of this, often discussed, is fly tipping. In Barton, residents, even some councillors, have told me for years it is because strangers drive into the ward and dump stuff there.

Well earlier this year Barton businessman Phillipe Lassey was ordered to pay over £2,000 for organising industrial scale fly tipping round the corner from his business on Barton Street.

Recently too, Kingsholm and Wotton resident Elias Mathai was fined £1,830 for dumping his rubbish on RSPCA property on Horton Road, around the corner from where he lives.

Neither case is about some outside person bringing rubbish into Gloucester but local, individual responsibility. How can you live or work in a community and treat it like this?

So we do need a tougher approach to fly tipping and I welcome Richard Cook and the city council increasing fines sharply and creating a site where you can put photos of people behaving irresponsibly and report them here.

But there are also some public places where the litter just needs cleaning up, like in the St Mary de Crypt graveyard, Tuffley Park, Blackbridge and Kingsway, where I helped teams of volunteers. If everybody gave half a day in the ward they live a year to clean up it would make a big difference.

The late Cllr Yakub Pandor set a great example, walking around with a litter picking stick. And Ivan Taylor’s brother-in-law Paul  does the same in the city centre (pipe, cap and broom). We should recognise those who clean up, selflessly.

So come and join me in the ‘Great British Spring Clean’ March 3 2017 between 10am and 3pm, at the Guildhall on Eastgate Street. 

Let me know if there’s a good clean up in your ward (like Kingsway) you want to highlight at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

Why I voted to trigger leaving the EU

Watch my speech in the House of Commons above

In the run-up to the referendum, I believed that the considerable short-term risks of leaving the European Union outweighed the unquantifiable future benefits, but I underestimated the deep mistrust of the European Union.

The people have decided to leave. I must respect that decision, and I will support this Bill.

The hard work now begins. For example, how do we access the benefits of free trade and the inspection-free transfer of goods from outside EU structures such as the single market and the customs union? Some believe that nothing is possible, but that the alternative to working for success is to hope that things go badly—even to will it—to be ceaselessly critical and, ultimately, to achieve only an echo of Private Fraser’s lament, “We’re all doomed.”

Although none of us has perfect foresight, I am absolutely confident that we will have much greater success in lining up future free trade agreements than some people have suggested.

The negotiations will begin soon. In my view, we need an agreement in which we are generous to Europeans living here, enthusiastic in our continuation of academic and research co-operation, and resolute in our solidarity with Europe on defence and security.

In that agreement, we must be practical about ways of controlling immigration but welcoming to skills, tourists and entrepreneurs; we must be free of the European Court of Justice, but never compromise on standards or the rule of law; and we must be adventurous in pursuing our own trade deals, but never underestimate the importance of free trade and easy customs clearance in all that we do with Europe.

That is what I hope the Government’s White Paper will lay out. I hope that it will bring our one nation of diverse parts together. Whatever our concerns about the journey, we should start positively, not cynically.

Do let me know what you think Brexit should look like at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.
Best regards

 

 

 

 

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Britain’s chance to create energy from the world’s first Tidal Lagoon

It may not hit the headlines when the media are focused on whether the Kremlin has compromising material on the new US President, but yesterday was I think the moment Britain got serious about creating a new global industry.

We were early movers in offshore wind energy, and we have an opportunity now to be the first mover in generating energy from tidal lagoons. There are tidal barrages in eg France and Russia, but no tidal lagoon – where a large wall is built around a bay, and an under water turbine captures energy from the twice daily movements of the tide – anywhere in the world. Yet.

Some time ago I opened the Gloucester headquarters of Tidal Lagoon Power plc (TLP), which proposes a series of tidal lagoons to harness the strength of the Severn Estuary tides and generate up to 10% of Britain’s total electricity needs. The technology is not totally new, but has never been deployed in this way before: and the size of even the first and smallest lagoon in Swansea Bay involves over eleven miles of wall. And although TLP has funding for the c£1.3 billion project, ultimately the taxpayer would subsidise the cost through the price paid by the National Grid.

In the wake of controversy about the size of the subsidy to be paid for nuclear energy from the new Hinkley Point stations, the government was cautious about the cost and last year commissioned a Review of Tidal Energy. Those who thought the aim was delay, prevarication and kicking the issue into the long grass will have been disappointed by Charles Hendry’s report, whose launch I hosted (as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Marine Energy & Tidal Lagoons) in Parliament yesterday.

Charles is a former colleague and Energy Minister, and although he started a sceptic hisreport  is absolutely clear about the scale of the opportunity and its importance to the UK. He described our tides as the greatest untapped source of energy in the country, and highlighted the Severn Estuary and the Solway Firth in particular. He sees a golden opportunity for Britain to be bold and seize first mover advantage in a new global industry, and in his 40 recommendations urges the government to reach agreement on a pathfinder by TLP at Swansea Bay as soon as possible. Why did he reach that conclusion?

The Hendry Review looked at four key questions – the security of supply, decarbonisation, affordability and economic gain (jobs). On all four it found strongly in favour of tidal lagoons. Their energy is domestically sourced and predictable, very low carbon (and supported by Greenpeace). The estimated UK content is 65%, with 50% likely to be sourced from Wales – not least manufacturing (including steel) and construction, but with huge tourism potential which Charles Hendry thought had been much underestimated, and compared to the Eden Project in Cornwall. And then there is the cost.

The report estimates that the cost of the Swansea pathfinder would be cheaper (through the Contract for Difference or CfD structure) than the nuclear subsidy, and over the lifetime of a tidal lagoon considerably cheaper per megawatt hour than offshore wind: less than 50p per household per year over the the first 60 years (after which the subsidy would end).

The Hendry Report makes 40 recommendations, many to government: including the creation of a Tidal Power Authority and establishing competitive tenders for future lagoons. The government will now study these in detail. So what happens next?

Last autumn I wrote a letter to the Chancellor urging him to look seriously at the Review when it came out because the 111 MPs who signed my letter all believed there were significant opportunities for Britain. As the Hendry Review has confirmed our instincts I will now write again, urging a detailed and formal response before the Budget.

In my view it would simply not be credible for the government to ignore or reject the general thrust of the recommendations. The Review and its author are too authoritative. It will have to look closely particularly at the structure and pricing issues, but the risk of the pathfinder at Swansea is really with TLP plc – they won’t receive anything until the electricity is in the National Grid, probably in 2022. And the support they have in Swansea, Wales and much more widely for this project is almost unprecedented.

I am also sure that an opportunity to buy tidal bonds with an income stream as steady as the energy itself would be well subscribed by both pension funds and retail investors alike. I want to see Britain investing in and owning our own infrastructure and this is our chance to show that we can and will do so. So much of our infrastructure from Camelot to most of Heathrow Airport is not owned by us – but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Which brings us back to Gloucester. What could be more exciting than to have a business based in our city construct the first of what I hope will be many tidal lagoons, all over the world. Our city has thrived on manufacturing innovation – whether Booth’s first vacuum cleaner, to the first flight of Whittle’s jet engine, Dowty’s landing gear and aviation instruments and the nuclear industry whose operations are all still run from Barnwood. Creating the world’s first tidal lagoon is in a great tradition – and I will do all I can to keep encouraging this bold step forward for Britain.

Let me know your thoughts and reactions on richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk

Best regards

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