In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the need to build on Sevenoaks’ progress this year:
2016 was a very successful year for Sevenoaks. In an unsettled year nationally, our local economy remained strong, with unemployment falling to another record low.
Though there will be challenges, I believe 2017 could be even better.
After so many years of campaigning, in September our new grammar school annexe will finally open. I visited the site just before Christmas and I could already see that it will be a great addition to the remarkable range of high-quality school choice that is now on offer in Sevenoaks. There is still more to do to secure grammar provision for boys, though, and that will be one of my top priorities this year.
Meanwhile, discussions on the new rail franchise will be a great opportunity to lobby for the extension of the Oyster network and the many other rail improvements we want to see. I look forward to continuing to make the case for passengers this year.
With an ageing population increasing pressure on the NHS and our care system, we need to continue to protect Sevenoaks Hospital. It is a much-loved feature of our town – but it also has an important role to play in relieving pressure on facilities at Pembury and Darent Valley. Carrying on making that argument will be vital this year.
Finally, we need to make sure the District Council develops a robust and reasonable Local Plan that will give us the homes we need without encouraging inappropriate development in our town and in our villages in the years to come.
With all of these priorities and more, I am looking forward to continuing to represent Sevenoaks this year. After a successful 2016, let’s build on our achievements in 2017
In a sometimes unsettled year nationally, Sevenoaks, Swanley, Westerham and our villages have continued to go from strength to strength. Unemployment remains at record low levels. Our new grammar annexe is being constructed and will open next year. Our local economy is vibrant and prosperous.
Building on this progress will require more work in the New Year. Bringing fast broadband to all parts of the constituency is still a top priority. We must also continue to work hard to protect our much-loved Green Belt from inappropriate development. Most importantly, though, the spring will see consultation on the new rail franchise and I will use this opportunity to push for the extension of the Oyster network to Sevenoaks.
At the end of a successful year for Sevenoaks and Swanley, I would like to wish all of my constituents a very happy Christmas and New Year. I am always proud to represent this constituency and I look forward to being as active as ever throughout the area in 2017.
Michael has welcomed the decision by Weald of Kent Grammar School not to exclude parts of his constituency from its 2017 admissions policy.
The announcement made last night means that areas such as Westerham, Crockham Hill and Brasted will all now be included in ‘Category A’ of the Oversubscription Criteria. The proposed changes, which were due to come into force in time for the opening of the new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, would have led to pupils from these areas having a lower chance of admission to the school. The school will next consult for the 2018 Admission Policy.
Michael raised his concerns with the school as part of the recent consultation process. He said: “This is the right decision by Weald of Kent. It is vital that the places at our new annexe go to local pupils. My constituents across Sevenoaks will now have access to a grammar school education for their children, regardless of where they live.”
Last May, I was honoured to be elected for the fifth time as your Member of Parliament.
Since the election, I have continued to work hard on behalf of all of my constituents. I hold two advice surgeries each month, as I have done consistently since 1997, and I regularly raise issues and concerns on your behalf. My Westminster office also deals with hundreds of emails and enquiries every week. I work closely with our county, district, town and parish councillors, as well as other organisations such as Kent Police, the Citizens Advice Bureau and West Kent Housing.
I remain closely involved in campaigns across Sevenoaks and Swanley. From fighting to save Hextable Dance Studio to defending Sevenoaks Hospital, I am proud to support my constituents and fight for our communities.
Supporting our local schools
I am a strong supporter of schools across my constituency. Since the election I have visited schools in Westerham, Sundridge, Swanley, Sevenoaks, and elsewhere to speak to pupils and answer their questions about my work as MP.
Winning our campaign to secure grammar school provision last October was probably my best ever day as your MP. This decision was long in coming but the priority now is to get this annexe built and open for local parents and pupils. My next goal is to secure grammar provision for boys and I am working on this.
Getting a better deal for commuters
Our ageing railways cause a huge amount of frustration for commuters and passen
gers. Disruption may be the price of the vital work at London Bridge – but passengers need to know why they are delayed and what is being done about it. I was concerned to learn on a recent train cab ride that drivers are often unable to inform passengers about ongoing disruption and slow running while their train is in operation. Making sure drivers and passengers have rapid, clear and sufficent information is essential. I will continue to raise these issues with Southeastern to make rail travel easier for my constituents.
Bringing Oyster to Sevenoaks was another promise I made at the general election. Rail passengers have waited long enough and I will be meeting the Rail Minister again shortly to push for a definite date.
Fighting for our NHS services
I am committed to our local NHS. We need to see more services in Sevenoaks, not fewer. That’s why I have continued to defend Sevenoaks Hospital against the threat of closure. The withdrawal of some clinics was concerning but I have secured assurances that these vital services will continue to be available for local people.
Protecting GP services is also important. There is a review of GP provision underway and I will ensure the views of local people are fully represented. The NHS is so much more than the big district hospitals like Pembury and Darent Valley; it works best where it is local and loved.
Boosting our local economy
In Sevenoaks and Swanley, our local economy is strong. Compared with 2010, there are 600 fewer people out of work, including 200 fewer young unemployed, and we have 600 more businesses. I see evidence of this progress on each of my regular constituency days. Since the election, I have visited businesses, shops and local sites throughout the constituency and I have more visits already planned for the next few months.
But there is still more to do to support our local economy. Broadband is a key issue that businesses and the Chamber of Commerce continue to raise with me. I have recently begun a fresh campaign to demand further action from BT. We need to make sure our local businesses and those who work from home have the broadband they need to thrive, wherever they are based.
In response to Weald of Kent’s proposal to exclude several parts of his constituency from Category A of its new admissions policy, Michael has made the following statement:
“I am deeply concerned about the proposal to exclude areas like Westerham, Brasted and Crockham Hill. The original proposals, published before the annexe was confirmed, recognised that the lack of grammar school provision in Sevenoaks meant that priority ought to be given to applicants from the area. Now that we have an annexe, it is even more important to ensure that the places go to local pupils.”
Following the news that national campaign group Comprehensive Future will not be challenging the Government’s decision to approve a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, Michael said:
“It would have been outrageous for politically motivated national campaigners to attempt to block the expansion of a successful school that is strongly backed by the people of Sevenoaks and Kent County Council.
I welcome the news that the annexe can now start to be built, meaning that local parents will at last have the same choice of schools as elsewhere in Kent.
We need more good school places in Kent in academies, grammars, and free schools. Any successful school should be allowed to expand, so it is wrong to discriminate against grammar schools.”
Michael applauds the Department for Education’s decision to approve Weald of Kent Grammar School’s application to build an annexe in the Sevenoaks constituency.
Following the announcement, Michael congratulated everyone who supported the campaign. He also called on the school and Kent County Council to implement the decision as soon as possible in order to successfully achieve the intended opening date of September 2017.
Michael said: “I am very, very pleased with the decision to approve Weald of Kent Grammar School’s application to build an annexe in Sevenoaks. I have strongly encouraged the Minister to reach this decision, which will finally end the absurd situation of Sevenoaks being the only area in Kent not to have a grammar school. It will also help to ease the growing pressure on school places in West Kent. Parents will have more choice, pupils will have shorter journeys and more of them will be able to access high quality schooling on their doorstep.
‘I would like to congratulate all the parents and campaigners who worked so hard for so long to achieve this great result. It was strong local support that helped make the difference. Following Thursday’s excellent decision, it is now time to move forward and get this new annexe built on the Wildernesse site as soon as possible. After all the time taken to get the go ahead, parents and pupils have a right to expect no further delays.”
Work is ready to start in the next few months in Sevenoaks to build a new grammar school annexe, the first for 20 years.
The Weald of Kent Grammar School Academy Trust has now submitted its proposal, in line with the requirement identified by Kent County Council to develop the new annexe to the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan.
Planning consent has already been obtained to build the school on the old Wildernesse School site in Seal Hollow Road and contractors are ready to start work, subject to the Secretary of State’s sign-off.
Kent County Council understands that the submission by the all-girls Weald of Kent is compliant with the regulations set up by the coalition government to establish a new grammar school annexe for girls.
Leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter said: “I am delighted that we now have a robust proposal to put to the Secretary of State for her sign-off. School rolls are rising dramatically and we must be allowed to expand grammar schools in line with all other categories and types of school. This is good news for parents with daughters and we will continue to work in earnest to find a solution for their sons.
“I am also delighted by the support from Theresa May and Michael Fallon for the establishment of further grammar school provision in their constituencies.”
Mr Fallon said: “I am delighted to support this proposal from the Weald of Kent Grammar School for a satellite annexe in Sevenoaks.
“It remains deeply unfair to parents in my constituency that we are the only area in Kent not to have a grammar school. This proposal will not only go some way to eliminating this injustice, but also produce the additional places we need in west Kent.
“I hope the Secretary of State makes a speedy decision.”
David Bower, Chair of Governors at Weald of Kent Grammar School said: “As the existing provider of education to 500 pupils from Sevenoaks we believe Weald of Kent is ideally placed to establish an annexe, offering an additional 90 places per year group.
“Recognised by Ofsted as ‘Outstanding’ we are confident in our ability to deliver the highest quality of education possible for the children in Sevenoaks and that we can extend our unique ethos to embrace students and staff across a split site operation to feel part of a single community.”
The Department for Education has turned down the most recent bid for a new grammar school in Sevenoaks.
Commenting on this decision Michael said:
“This decision is bitterly disappointing and does nothing to address the pressing need for more grammar school places in Sevenoaks. The ruling means that any new Sevenoaks annexe must be the same as the sponsor school. Only a girl’s school would be allowed while Weald of Kent remains single-sex; a co-ed school would only be possible if Weald of Kent itself becomes co-ed by the time a new one opens. We will have to rethink but our campaign goes on.”