New Year

Christmas was not so happy this year for the thousands of West Sussex residents who lost power in the storm and floods on the day before Christmas Eve and in some cases weren't reconnected for five days.

We should remember that engineers worked throughout Christmas to restore power, and in a rural county it took time to repair many lines brought down by trees, particularly where flooding impeded access.

Nevertheless, I think the power companies should review how their infrastructure is protected, and how such incidents are handled, in future.  Communication was an issue, with many people finding it difficult to find out what was happening to restore power.

Flooding also caused problems on the roads, and once again we saw the unpleasant problem of foul water rising in residential areas, further demonstrating the inadequacy of existing infrastructure, let alone if there are major new housing developments in our villages.

Looking back over this year, planning was once again the most controversial local issue in my constituency - as it has been ever since I was elected, except for when our hospitals were threatened with downgrading.

And looking ahead to 2014, I can see that planning will remain a huge issue, with all of our district councils due to finalise their local plans.

I will continue to champion localism and the ability of our councils to determine housing numbers that are sustainable.  I remain a strong supporter of neighbourhood plans, which will give local people far more control in their own towns and villages. 

Drawing up neighbourhood plans is hard work for the dedicated volunteers who lead our local communities, but the rewards are great, and I hope that our parish and town councils will continue to embrace them.

In the New Year I will also restate my belief that we must protect the countryside and the rural character of West Sussex.

That doesn't mean saying no to every development.  For instance, there is a strong environmental case for upgrading the A27, to reduce rat-running and pollution in our Downland villages.

So in the New Year I will be stepping up the fight for an Arundel by-pass, which is at last being considered again by the Government.

So, a busy year ahead.  I look forward to the many discussions, events and meetings which I will be having with my constituents, and wish everyone a very happy New Year.

Christopher N Howarth