Category Archives: E-News

What’s on this Christmas 2016

The Winner of my Christmas Card competition was Kinga Chabowska (Year 6, Widden Primary School)

The Winner of my Christmas Card competition was Kinga Chabowska (Year 6, Widden Primary School)

Here’s a quick guide to some of the best things this Christmas in Gloucester, and information on rubbish collection and health services. I hope readers all get some time off to enjoy some of these events and activities!

Open Air Ice Rink and Christmas Market
until 2 Jan | Gloucester Quays 
The Market closes on Christmas Eve, but the ice rink remains until the 2nd of January. So take to the ice at Gloucester Quays this Christmas.

Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre
Opening hours and ticket prices vary | Robinswood Hill | 
Whether you’re learning to ski / snowboard or getting in a bit of practice before your trip away to the snow, head down to our local Ski Centre. For more information call 501438.

Treasure Seekers Gift Shop Christmas Event
until 22 Dec | Treasure Seekers Shop, Westgate Street | Free 
Enjoy a number of late night shopping events: (1st Dec) Art Exhibition, (8th Dec) Cavern taster night, and (15th and 22nd Dec) live Christmas music with free mince pies.

Christmas Classics Film: It’s a Wonderful Life (U)
16 Dec 7:00pm | 17 Dec 2:00pm | 19 Dec 2:00pm and 7:00pm | Gloucester Guildhall | 
This year marks the 70th anniversary of this defining Christmas classic!

Christmas Panto: Cinderella
17 Dec – 20 Dec | Gloucester Guildhall | £10, £8 concessions
7:00pm, with matinees at 2:00pm on Saturday and Sunday
Gloucester’s most popular entertainment troupe return to put their spin on Cinderella.

Sail with Santa Cruises
17 Dec – 24 Dec | National Waterways Museum, Docks | £10
12:00pm, 1:30pm and 3:00pm each day
Step aboard the King Arthur to see Santa come down the chimney into his floating grotto and enjoy a 45-minute festive cruise along the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. Call 318200 to book.

Gloucester City AFC v AFC Fylde 
17 Dec | K.O. 3:00pm | Whaddon Road
The Tigers welcome AFC Fylde to Whaddon Road for their last game before Christmas.

Christmas Carols on the hour
17 Dec | Gloucester Cathedral | Free
11:00am, 12:00pm, 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm and 4:00pm
Come and enjoy Christmas Carols sung on the hour by Adult Choirs: each service lasts just 30 minutes

One Church Annual Carol Service
18 Dec | GL1 | Free tickets only
The fifth annual carol service is expected to sell out, doors open at 5:15pm for a 6:00pm start. Make sure to order your free ticket here.

Lift Up Your Voice: A Festive Recital
19 Dec 12:30pm | St Johns Church, Northgate Street | Free
Join Caroline Carragher (mezzo soprano) and Sue Honeywill (piano) for an evening of seasonal music.

Christmas Carol Service and Midnight Mass
23 Dec to 24 Dec | Gloucester Cathedral | Free 
A traditional service of readings and carols with the acclaimed Cathedral Choir with Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Find more information on Cathedral Christmas services here.

Last Chance to Visit Father Christmas
24 Dec 10:00am – 4:00pm | King’s Walk Shopping Centre 
Father Christmas makes a quick stop at King’s Walk shopping Centre. Bring your children to visit.

Gloucester Rugby v Harlequins
27 Dec | K.O. 4:00pm | Twickenham Stadium | Live on BT Sport
Watch Glaws take on the Quins in the Aviva Premiership.

Christmas Day Church Services
For details of all services click here.

Help for minor injuries, pain and coughs at the Gloucester Health Access Centre, open every day 8:00am to 8:00pm, in the city centre on Eastgate St.

The NHS non-emergency 111 and the Gloucestershire Out of Hours service 0300 421 0220 if your GP surgery is closed.

Rubbish Collection
See the City Council website for information: Hempsted Recycling Centre is open every day, apart from Christmas and New Year’s Day, from 9:00am to 6:15pm.

Happy Christmas and New Year, and thank you for reading and answering my e-news during 2016. Let me know at if there are issues you think I should cover in 2017.

Best regards

Vote for a Park

barnwoodparkEveryone wants me to write about the latest twist in our Brexit saga, and I will – but first I want to ask you to do something even more unusual than voting for or against the EU: to vote for a Park.

One of the joys of Britain is that every town and city has a park: and some are very handsome. But we have one uniquely special. In fact it doesn’t really fit the urban model at all.

This Park has a gracious collection, especially of hardwood, trees beside a gentle duck filled brook and its own arboretum, where fabulous new and old trees are nurtured. There are wild spaces sometimes grazed by sheep: a miniature Gothic former chapel, now a temple to the body (or gym): a great water meadow stuffed with buttercups at the right time of year; and lovely views towards St Lawrence’s church that no-one could imagine are part of a cityscape.

‘In the Cotswolds’, pronounce friends confidently when I show them photographs from this haven and invite them to guess where they were taken.

But I am of course extolling Barnwood Park & Arboretum, Gloucester, in the last century once a private preserve, then part of a mental hospital (where poet Ivor Gurney amongst others was incarcerated), and for a generation now a people’s park.

Barnwood Park is yet another little known secret of our great city, close to Ermin Street (Hucclecote Road), the Roman road that still links Glevum (Gloucester) and Corinium (Cirencester) – and not really signposted at all. Park by St Lawrence’s, cross the road and walk 100 yards to your left and you’re there.

Today the park is tended by the council and a small army of dedicated and fiercely protective volunteers and we have the chance to give it (and them) deserved recognition. It’s been nominated for an award in the Best Park in the UK competition.

Normally when I get involved in awards it’s to support them for individuals, buildings or charities. And if I’m seeking a vote it’s in a General Election. This is the first time I’ve appealed to you to vote for a Park, which might result in an award.

Apart from this candidate’s great qualities, she won’t make any promises, won’t cause any scandals and will still be here in a hundred years, giving us all pleasure from her nature in a still troubled world. I rest my case.

So please join me and vote for Barnwood Park & Arboretum before Wednesday the 9th November here:

Best regards


The Boundary Review


Boundary Commission proposals for new Parliamentary constituencies will affect the way some of us vote in the 2020 general election.

They reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600 and alter the boundaries of almost all – including Gloucester.

For Gloucester the current proposal has three elements – no more mention of any Westgate residents voting in the Forest of Dean: the return of Longlevens residents to vote for a Gloucester MP and Quedgeley voters being asked to vote in the constituency of Stroud.

I’m so glad the Boundary Commission explicitly recognised Westgate Ward is in the heart of our city, not a fringe in the north as they originally assumed in 2011. I campaigned hard with some of you to put a stop to that and they have heard us loud and clear.

But because Gloucester has over 5% of the maximum number of voters allowed I knew something would have to give, especially if Longlevens residents vote in Gloucester. The proposal for Quedgeley voters to transfer to Stroud is, however sad, at least logical (in a way the Westgate idea never was).

Apart from personal regret, the issue is a disconnect between where voters vote in local and national elections – Quedgeley is still part of Gloucester City but not my constituency.

True Quedgeley has bounced to and fro between Stroud District Council and Gloucester City Council over the years, but as I understand it there is no plan proposing current council boundaries be changed at the moment.

On the other hand I suspect few people living in Longlevens would choose to vote in the constituency of Tewkesbury rather than Gloucester, where they vote in local elections. The more Longlevens residents that write to the Boundaries Commission to say so the better.

Which brings me to the next step. These are only initial proposals and the consultation runs until the 5th December. You can comment on the Commission’s consultation website here: www.bce2018.

Meanwhile it’s business as usual and I will continue to help ALL constituents in Quedgeley for at least the next four years.

Let me know what you think about this on

Best regards


Gloucester’s Exam Results and Jobs: More skills and more in work

Richard opening the Performing Arts building at the University of Gloucestershire with students

Richard opening the Performing Arts building at the University of Gloucestershire with students

We’ve now had A level and GCSE results, university applications – and all the usual photos of pupils jumping for joy. Were results up, down, or the same and how is that translating into jobs?

Nationally there was a real effort to avoid any grade inflation, but overall our local students have done very well and should be proud. There was good news at many schools – including record ever A level results for example at the Crypt.

With 424,000 students accepted into UK universities and colleges so far, there’s already been an increase of 3% in the numbers of undergraduates nationally, and an increase of 9% in applications to the University of Gloucestershire.

There were also more acceptances nationally for mature students and the gap between male and female undergraduates has reduced. Interestingly too – and contrary to what some claim – the proportion of English 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds applying has gone up 7% since 2009.

At the same time many more school leavers are taking up apprenticeships – both Ribston and St Peters specifically referred to this in their comments on results – and the combination of more students taking up both undergraduate and apprenticeship opportunities should mean better skills levels, and in time higher paid jobs. Average wage levels are up 2.3% nationally so far this year.

Better results in exams from pupils all over Gloucester and an increase in jobs available has resulted in steadily improving youth unemployment figures (now nearly a quarter of what it was in 2012 at just 2.6%, see graph below).

This is all encouraging. Remember meanwhile if you haven’t yet got the University offer you want then make sure to read the UCAS advice on Clearing open until 20 September.

Also good apprenticeships are sometimes only marketed on employers’ websites, especially public services like the NHS. Glos Care Services in particular are hiring more and our Hospitals Trust has a big programme. Do check out the NHS careers websiteGlos Jobs, and the Gov.UK apprenticeship search engine.

There’s always more to be done which is why the move of our University’s Business School from Cheltenham to Gloucester, our bid for a new Gloucestershire Health University Technical College and a pilot training Nursing Associates programme through higher apprenticeships is good news.

Then there is Glos Engineering Training’s bid for funds to train more engineers for the food and beverage sector. What else do you think we could do more of to increase our skills, and therefore chances to get good jobs? Do let me know what you think about this at

Best regards







Youth unemployment rate in Gloucester (%)

Youth unemployment rate in Gloucester (%)


Balancing Compassion and Regeneration

Richard with Sgt Matt Puttock and city centre based officers

Richard with Sgt Matt Puttock and city centre based officers

Some residents and retailers have written to me about an increase in beggars and apparently homeless people sleeping in the city centre.

They rightly point out that this puts off visitors, discourages investors and gives the wrong image of a city that should be known for its friendliness, heritage and good shopping. Of course this also doesn’t help the good work being done to regenerate our city centre, whether through Heritage Lottery Fund awards or government and City Council grants to improve streets like Southgate Street: or help to encourage over 5 million visitors a year to the successful Docks and Quays to walk up to the city centre as well. So what are we doing about this?

I’ve had meetings with the Police, the City Council and St Mungo’s. We all agree more needs to be done to make sure that rough sleepers are returned safely into the communities they come from (often not Gloucester), and that beggars are off the street so that no one is put off coming to the city centre. Part of this is about a more visible police presence in the city centre and I am pleased that Supt Richard Cooper has brought back a team of officers, based in Bearlands, to patrol the city centre more often.

Alongside this we have increased the breadth of compassionate help available for people in trouble. The appropriately named George Whitfield Centre (formerly the Railway Club) now houses a Glos Care Services unit for the Homeless, the Foodbank, the Gloucester City Mission and a Green Square debt advisor. To have these services all together under one roof, opposite the Hospital, is among the most joined up operations in the country.

I am determined that Gloucester be a city of compassion for those who need help: but that we do not become the destination of choice for rough sleepers and beggars in Gloucestershire, let alone further afield.

I believe that having the Police back in the city centre and patrolling more often, ready to use their enforcement powers if need be, alongside the services in the Whitfield Centre, is the right balance of tough love: and I hope you will continue to see the improvement that we all want in the centre of our city.

Have we got the balance right? Let me know how you feel about our approach to rough sleepers and beggars at

Best regards






Richard outside the George Whitfield Centre with the team

Richard outside the George Whitfield Centre with the team


What’s on this Summer in Gloucester?


enewspicI’m sorry this is a week late and so comes at the end of the world’s oldest festival with the best choral music in the world – the Three Choirs Festival – and after the fantastic Gloucester Carnival (see photos above).

But there is so much happening in our great city that it gives me space to mention some well-known, and not so well-known, activities.

What have I missed? Do let me know of any other great events in our city at

Best regards

Beatrix Potter Trail // The Cross
Free entry // until Thur 1 September
The great illustrator author Beatrix Potter was born 150 years ago. Collect the trail competition from the Tourist Information Centre (Southgate Street) and join the other parents and children, finding all the clues to get a treat from the House of the Tailor of Gloucester.

Gloucester Waterways Museum // The Docks
£5 adult, £3.60 under 15 // Open 10:00-17:00 all summer
The Museum was re-opened today and is a joy to go around, with films, oral history, interactive additions next week, and the story of our canal, docks and waterways.

Robot Exhibition // Gloucester City Museum
£5 adults, £3 concessions, £12 family // until Sat 27 August
Featuring robots, cyborgs and androids from TV and film productions, go and visit to see Iron Man and the Terminator.

Robinswood Hill
Free entry // Open dawn til dusk daily
The best and highest place for a picnic, walk, play (try the slides) and incredible views. Also the winner of a Green Flag Award last week.

Live Music with Jessica Rhodes // Café René
Free entry // Wed 3 August
Jessica Rhodes is a powerful Soul band with funk-based rhythms making for a great live gig in Gloucester.

Chantel McGregor Live // Gloucester Guildhall
£16 on the door // Thurs 4 August
In 2014, Chantel was voted by the British Blues Awards as Guitarist of the Year for the second consecutive year. She has also won five other awards in the last three years, including Young Artist of the Year.

Junior Gloucester Rugby Camp // Chosen Hill RFC
£60 for 2 days // Thurs 4 – Fri 5 August
Led by Terry Fanolua, Gloucester and Samoan International, and experienced Community Coaches, the camp will offer players of all abilities the opportunity to get the latest rugby tips straight from the top.

Summer Fireworks // Gloucester Park
Free entry // Sat 6 August
Watch this fabulous display with music and food available from 7pm.

Wilson’s Fun Fair // Gloucester Park
Free entry // until Sun 7 August
All the fun of the fair with all rides £1 on super saver Tuesdays.

Jamaican Independence Day Celebrations // Gloucester Park
Free entry // Sun 7 August
Arts and crafts, school games, tug of war and a football tournament. Come and see the local performers and make your own kite while eating Caribbean food.

Cathedral Library Tours // Gloucester Cathedral
£7 for over 16s // Sat 13 August
A rare chance to visit the beautiful 15th century monastic library, located high above the main body of the cathedral.

The Walk of Life // Gloucester Cathedral
Mon 15 – Tues 30 August
Visitors are invited to remove their shoes and walk the Cathedral Labyrinth, a copy of the one in the Chartres Cathedral in France.

Murder Mystery // Hallmark Hotel
£29.95 per person // Fri 19 August
A game of murder mystery where party-goers are secretly, and unknowingly, playing a murderer, and other attendees must determine who is the criminal. Includes a three course meal and disco.

Sportbeat Music Festival // Oxstalls Sports Park
Prices vary on website // Sat 20 – Sun 21 August
Family friendly music festival with sports and attractions for all age groups.

Tea and Tales // St Mary de Crypt
Free entry // Tuesdays weekly until Tues 23 August
Enjoy the magic, mystery and fun of reading with Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers. Tea, squash and cakes available.

Today is the day..when we decide our relations with our neighbours

with the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Neil Carmichael MP and Alex Chalk MP

with the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Neil Carmichael MP and Alex Chalk MP

It’s gone on a long time: important, frustrating, emotional; and a source of endless argument. It is the Referendum – and many of my constituents are still unsure which way to vote. I break the issues into five: the Big Picture, Money, Security, Sovereignty and Immigration.

The Big Picture. I believe we need as many friends and allies as possible: in the UN Security Council, at the heart of the Commonwealth, the G7 & NATO, in a special relationship with the US, a strategic partnership with China, very close to Ireland – and a member of the EU. We are smaller by losing any of these.

And our history is one of tremors from quakes on the continent. We’ve often had to intervene and make war to keep the peace, and above all keep the balance of power – preventing dominance by any one country, which is always bad for us. Whether against Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler or Russian communism, we’ve teamed up with a coalition of the willing to stop them – like the Welsh archers, Eugene of Savoy, Blucher and the Polish and Commonwealth airmen. England has never fought alone in Europe.

Money. Almost everyone, including the leading Brexiters, recognise there’ll be a hit if we leave, as sterling drops, inflation rises and interest rates and mortgages go up. The markets have already shown what they can do. I worry about how quickly things would recover, how long it would take to replace the 53 Free Trade Agreements the EU already has, and the long term impact of trade duties on e.g. our aerospace exports to Airbus in Toulouse. Short term this would inevitably lead to less tax revenue for the NHS and other public services – and for how long we just don’t know.

Security. There is no single global policeman today. We need maximum co-operation against e.g. terrorists, especially with our nearest neighbours. Our security could not be increased by acting more alone, without the European Arrest Warrant, or by having the refugee camps at Calais moved to Dover. Home to GCHQ and the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), in Gloucestershire we know the value of partnerships and sharing information carefully.

Of course immigration and sovereignty are also argued over. I hear comments like ‘I want my country back’, ‘our infrastructure can’t cope’ and ‘so many of our jobs are taken by foreigners’.  Nor can these just be dismissed. We must make our own decisions in our own Parliament: but we can also accept legislation e.g. to protect workers’ rights, improve our beaches and water that came from the EU: 14% of our total laws. And when it comes to sovereignty I see no advantage to business in not having a voice at the table on decisions that affect almost half of our exports.

Ultimately, I don’t see leaving the EU will solve immigration – are we going to ask weekending French to apply for a visa, or a German engineer visiting his business here to apply for a work permit? No. Or if yes, then increase the cost of leaving as we axe cheap flights to Europe, many jobs at airports and across the travel industry.

In a nutshell if we want free trade then we pay the club sub and accept free movement to work – we just lose any role in decisions. If we don’t want free trade then watch out for the hit to jobs and the 75% of tax from business.

If we want the surest prospects of future jobs for our children then let’s make the European partnership work, recognising some compromise in all partnerships. And if we’re concerned about immigration and pressures on schools etc then yes, push at us MPs to do more – taking out from the stats students who pay for our universities would make sense – but leaving the EU is not a solution to that. Ultimately the complete lack of detail about what the Leave campaign would do is a huge risk, and although safety is not as sexy as risk, this is a risk I wouldn’t recommend at all.

Best regards


Home Grown Nurses for Gloucestershire

Trudi carrying on nursing in the Glos Royal Hospital

Trudi carrying on nursing in the Glos Royal Hospital

Hardly a day passes without a newspaper putting the words ‘crisis’ and ‘NHS’ together. In Chinese there are two characters for crisis, and they literally translate as ‘danger opportunity’. This e news highlights one crisis in Gloucestershire healthcare – and three steps we’re taking to make the most of an opportunity, and to avoid the danger.

In an earlier e news I touched on one aspect: our bid this autumn for a Gloucestershire Health University Technical College (UTC). I pointed out that the health sector is our biggest employer in the county (50,000 jobs) and city (12,000), and giving pupils a chance to get Btecs in Health and Care, alongside GCSEs and A levels, plus masses of health related work experience, should open up many job opportunities for them later.

But there is still a skills training gap after school – especially for nurses. Every year we need over 400 new nurses for the needs of our 3 NHS Trusts, many private care homes, the Winfield Hospital and GPs surgeries.At the moment we aren’t training anything like that number in our county, and I want to share what we intend to do about this.

Under the old system there was a top down decision on how many nursing places to offer, and a local monopoly on pre-registration training with the University of the West of England (UWE), which has a base in Gloucester Docks but couldn’t produce nearly enough nurses for our needs. As a result Gloucestershire has been importing nurses from all over the country, Spain, Portugal and more recently the Philippines. Twice I’ve had to write to Home Secretary Theresa May to seek her support for our Hospitals Trust to recruit more Filipinos and Filipinas to come and work here.

Don’t get me wrong on this: I once ran an airline in Manila, love the country, speak their language and am currently the PM’s Trade Envoy for the Philippines. But I don’t think the best solution for Gloucestershire is to rely on Philippines nationals for our nursing needs. We should be able to train our own nurses locally.

In the brave new world quotas and monopolies are done away, allowing anyone to apply to study nursing and any university to apply to train them, making the provision of skills locally much more possible. Yes nurses will get loans not grants now, but there are much more generous maintenance grants to recognise nursing undergraduates have little time to earn while doing their required work experience. The door is now open for lots more Gloucestershire nursing students, who are more likely to stay in our county when trained in Cheltenham and Gloucester – IF our local university can offer the course.

So the crucial development, which I hope we’ll hear about next week, is how the Uni of Glos can move forward with NHS and other health partners to get that approval. If it does, that paves the way for the third element in our nursing strategy that I am very keen on: a pilot project for Nursing Associates.

The plan from this government is for a 2 year Higher Apprenticeship course as the qualification for a Nursing Associate, who will fulfill many vital nursing tasks. Ministers need to agree and confirm the regulatory arrangements and then enable the Health Executive to run pilot projects. I’ve raised with the Prime Ministers, Ministers and the Health Executive my strong enthusiasm and support for the Uni of Glos to run one of these pilots, with training and work experience in both Gloucester and Cheltenham.

My neighbour in Cheltenham Alex Chalk MP completely agrees that if we had a UTC, a Nursing Associates pilot project and pre-registration training all available in our county then we would have the potential to become one of the leading areas of home grown health sector specialists. We both feel this would make a huge difference to jobs being won locally, to patients and to both public and private bodies in the healthcare sector.

So keep an eye out for local news on courses for pre-registration nurses at the University of Gloucestershire: for a national announcement on the establishment on Nursing Associates, and then the opportunity for our Uni to train Nursing Associates here in Glos.

Alongside news of our UTC bid early next year, having a Nursing Associates pilot scheme and training more nurses for degrees locally would mean great opportunities, not dangers. Over time we could even get rid of the word ‘crisis’ when it comes to nursing provision in Gloucestershire. It’s a goal worth going for.

What do you think about these ideas for training more home grown nurses? Let me know at

Best regards

Where Exports Meet Compassion


Last week three Gloucester companies – Helipebs (manufacturing cylinders), Advanced Insulation (manufacturing thermal insulation and fire protection) and Only Natural Products (packaging tea) – won Queen’s Awards for Enterprise (exporting). Only 11 businesses in the South West (population six million) were honoured so this was an amazing Gloucester performance.

Our winners follow successes by other Gloucester businesses like Severn Glocon and Prima Dental, showing our city continues to manufacture, service and trade as it always has done – backed by export support.

I’ve played a modest role in this, both as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy (to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the ASEAN Economic Community) and as Chair of the All-Party Group for China. Last month I helped host the first visit by Indonesian President Jokowi, and we signed deals worth about £15 billion, with plenty more to come. Every Airbus purchased by Garuda Indonesian Airlines (all with Rolls Royce engines, Made in Wales wings and Made in Glos landing gear) feeds directly into supply chains that employ many.

And although you can buy almost everything through the internet, relationships are still crucial to exports. We saw that with the new deal between Helipebs and the Chinese oil and gas producer JMP from in Western China. I know the area well – and if I can use my experience to benefit other good local contractors so much the better.

Business matters because it pays 75 per cent of all our tax revenue – paying especially for health, education, welfare and pensions. If our businesses do badly, we wouldn’t have the money for Europe’s best welfare system, let alone the extra £10 billion put in the NHS.

The growth in jobs that have more than halved Gloucester’s unemployment, or apprenticeships that have reduced youth unemployment by 75 per cent over the last six years, would dry up. So there would be less money for welfare just when it would be needed most.

Put simply, we need Glosterpreneurs, like the new Indectron data service I cut a sod for last week, to thrive.

Over the last few months too I’ve encouraged our NHS Glos Care Services to relocate from Southgate St. and have better facilities for their Health for the Homeless service in the same building as our Foodbank. They have now been there a month. We should be proud of it. Meanwhile the Gloucester City Mission is moving there. And I’ve had meetings with Employment Minister Priti Patel about basing a DWP Advisor there, who can both check benefit issues for Foodbank users, and steer unemployed people back to work.

Our provision is ahead of many other cities, helped by business succeeding, tax revenues rising, and using our influence effectively.

What sometimes gets forgotten is the link between business and charity. We must never forget those who day after day are working hard to build local businesses that employ our children and pay the taxes for the services we cherish. We can, and must, support enterprise while also being compassionate.

Do let me know of any other great Gloucester exporters I haven’t mentioned here on

Best regards

A Test Case for Community Solutions – The Curious Case of the Ridge & Furrow

With Secret Garden Nursery owner Charlie Perkins at the Ridge

With Secret Garden Nursery owner Charlie Perkins at the Ridge

Why does an MP get involved in the future of a pub that’s already closed?

That’s the question I asked myself over two years ago, when I read about Morrisons supermarket’s announcement of their decision to apply for a petrol station on the site of the ex Ridge & Furrow pub.

The answer was that I didn’t believe a ‘study’ by their consultant claiming residents were resolutely behind this idea. It was partly that the site is not ideal for a petrol station – beside a popular GPs’ surgery and a stream, raising questions about run off and environmental pollution, and partly because this wasn’t what residents were telling me on the doorstep.

So I did my own survey to thousands of residents, with a very high response rate, which confirmed my suspicions with almost 70% against. This destroyed the supermarket case that the petrol station was wanted.

So the scene was set for a planning battle – in fact several battles, including an appeal. All were lost by Morrisons, the last appeal only recently. We – principally a good combination of motivated residents, dedicated Councillors and a planning expert giving his time free of charge – got the pub listed as an asset of community value: the City Council did its objective job well and the right result was reached (even if I thought for the wrong reasons, but let’s not go there).

Victory? Only in a negative sense. Almost three years on the site is still boarded up, the car park blocked by rocks, the garden untended and no-one living in Abbey can be proud of that. Having got involved in the principle of local feeling, I didn’t, and don’t, think I can walk away at this stage from residents who feel ‘OK, what now?’

I feel an obligation to work with those opposed to a petrol station to find what would be good, and to get a solution. The starting point was Morrisons. So I’ve been in contact and am delighted that this week, after a few mails and a conversation, the supermarket has confirmed that they have no plan to try again with another planning application for a petrol station. That’s a welcome step forward and I’m grateful to the supermarket for confirming it.

The next point is then what the community think would be a popular solution. I have have had suggestions of a nursery from several operators, and the concept of a nursery as well as a pub or family restaurant from Charlie Perkins of the Secret Garden, a stunning Eastgate St. nursery.

Morrisons is not selling the site, so there is no opportunity at the moment for a community buy-out. Trust Inns remains the lessee, which means dealing with them. And as my father (who has been in the pub business for a long time) said, there probably isn’t enough to feed three mouths – landlord, lessee and a tenant manager.

At this stage a sensible MP would probably be slipping away from the battlefield – announcing victory, and letting others try and untangle the future. But I don’t feel I can do that. Victory is when a viable business provides a useful new service to the local Abbeydale and Abbeymead community, pays a commercial rent to the landlord and earns a decent living at the old Ridge & Furrow. We’re still a long way from that.

So the next stage is:

1. Seeing who might be interested in establishing a business there (ideas please, even though no specification or rent details are available)

2. Hearing what residents would most value (ditto: ideas please)

3. Discussing with Trust Inns their plans and interest in the site

I will write to Trust Inns on that point, although they weren’t very forthcoming last time I contacted them, and something tells me this is going to need intervention high up. If that’s what it takes then so be it. This Jack Russell doesn’t give up easily.

Meanwhile, if you know of an interesting business looking for a new hub in a great location, then do let me know. I hope there will be enough interest for a community meeting before long.

This is all taking time: is it worthwhile? I think so, but I’m conscious that we are all impatient nowadays, and I share any frustration readers may have. The good news is that we are now over the petrol station phase of the site and can focus on a bold alternatives.

Let me know your thoughts on solutions on

Best regards

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