Nick Herbert meets residents to discuss local concerns
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert attended a meeting of the Ashington Residents Association on Friday evening (11 January).
Around fifty people went along to the meeting at the Methodist Church Hall in London Road to hear Mr Herbert speak about local issues.
Mr Herbert focused on the need to preserve local services in our communities and resist the growing centralisation of power in Whitehall.
The MP commented on the reduction of 171 Police Community Support Officers promised in West Sussex by the Government and highlighted the closure of local post offices, saying that two branches in his constituency were currently under threat - those at Washington and Slindon. He said it was unreasonable to expect residents in Washington to travel to Ashington to access post office services.
Mr Herbert discussed the campaign to save local services at hospitals in West Sussex. Earlier that day, he met with representatives from the West Sussex Primary Care Trust in Worthing to discuss the proposed changes to services at St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, Worthing and Southlands Hospitals and the Princess Royal Hospital at Haywards Heath.
The changes originally set out by the PCT would have led to the closure of two out of three A&E departments in West Sussex.
The MP was hopeful that A&E services would be largely retained at all three hospital sites. However, he stressed that no decision had yet been taken by the PCT. He also said that it was still unclear what would happen to maternity services. Consultant-led maternity services may be centralised on one site, but Mr Herbert believed that the final decision should be guided by the professional advice of clinicians.
Mr Herbert said that the PCT's change of heart on A&E services was a direct result of ‘people power'. He congratulated the hundreds of thousands of people who had written to the PCT, signed petitions, joined the marches and contributed to the campaign in other ways.
The audience was told that, over the past week, Mr Herbert has met with local campaigners fighting plans to dump more waste in landfill sites in his Arundel and South Downs constituency.
Only that day he had met with campaigners fighting plans to extend the use of Horton Landfill Site at Small Dole and held discussions with representatives of Thakeham Village Action who are campaigning against plans for a new landfill site at Laybrook Brickworks.
Last week he had met with John Auckland, Chairman of the Chanctonbury Landfill Action Group (CLAG) which is fighting plans to dump more waste at Rock Common in Washington.
Mr Herbert said that he strongly supported all of the local campaigns against landfill. There should be less waste produced and more recycling to reduce the county's dependence on landfill. Mr Herbert was particularly opposed to the dumping of London's waste in rural West Sussex.
Mr Herbert talked of his concern for people, particularly the elderly, faced with rising energy bills. As one of nearly 7 million customers of npower, he commented on the news that bills will rise by over 12 per cent for electricity and over 17 per cent for gas. He feared that other energy companies would follow suit.
The MP talked about the need for more affordable housing for young people struggling to get onto the housing ladder, but stressed the importance of building new houses in the right places. He said that house building must be sustainable and accompanied by improvements to the local infrastructure, so that expanding communities are provided with adequate roads, schools and hospitals.
Mr Herbert highlighted the concerns of people in West Sussex at the proposal to build at least 5,000 homes on the flood plain at Ford, creating a so-called ‘Eco-town'. A decision is expected by the Department for Communities and Local Government early this year. He criticised the way in which the plans were subverting the normal planning process, taking control away from locally-elected councils.
After the talk, Mr Herbert took part in a ‘question and answer' session in which he shared the concerns of residents about the ‘compensation culture' and the disproportionate fear of risk.
The MP was asked whether he felt that we are on the verge of becoming a ‘police state'. He believed that this was not the case at present, but that we should be extremely wary of legislation that threatens to create a ‘nanny state'.
In response to another question, Mr Herbert welcomed the decision to build nuclear power plants as a way of helping to reduce our carbon emissions and providing the country with greater energy security. However, he said that nuclear power should only be part of a mix and should not be subsidised at the expense of investment in renewable forms of energy, such as wave and wind power.
Mr Herbert said he supported measures to reduce waste, increase recycling and introduce ‘micro-generation' schemes to encourage households to generate their own energy.
After the meeting, Nick Herbert commented: "I was very pleased to have been invited to speak at the Ashington Residents Association meeting.
"It was a good opportunity to discuss matters of local concern and I was asked some very thought-provoking questions from the audience."
The meeting was chaired by Frank Wilkinson, County Councillor for the Storrington Division.
Frank Wilkinson commented: "I was most appreciative of Nick who gave up his Friday evening to come and talk to us. It really was appreciated by everyone at the Ashington Residents Association."
Mr Wilkinson added: "The association meets quarterly and Ashington residents are always welcome."