We welcome the idea of a Big Conversation about the long term challenges for our county, and some possible solutions to them. It’s good to see the University of Gloucestershire, with growing numbers of students in campuses in both our constituencies, at the heart of the discussion. And we look forward to seeing the feedback of a wide range of stakeholders on the ambitious and innovative ideas.
Among the ideas presented are infrastructure developments which could benefit all of us, like an additional proposed bridge over the River Severn or the development of a Cotswold Airport (not at Staverton).
The concept which would most impact our constituents is of course the proposed Gloucester and Cheltenham Super City. Whilst we support house-building, we recognise that there are limits to what can be accommodated without disproportionate impact on our green environment. Our county has collectively agreed to build over 30,000 new homes in the coming thirteen years, changing the face of Gloucestershire. In that context any yet broader house-building vision should proceed with caution and be closely tied to projections of future need, as generated organically in Gloucestershire. We do not instinctively favour a speculative ‘If you build it, they will come’ approach.
We warmly welcome the potential for greater cooperation between Cheltenham and Gloucester and see that close working as crucial to the county’s collective success. The days when former the former Labour and Lib Dem MP could not share meetings with the NHS are long gone. We’ve met together over issues such as GP funding, the Hospitals Trust, NHS England, Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioners, the Chief Constable, the County Council, Highways England, the Glos LEP and the University – to name but a few. We’ve worked closely together on, for example, the Elmbridge Court roundabout development and a proposed cycle route between Cheltenham and Gloucester. We both support a new Gloucestershire Health University Technical College, and we even helped change the law (on maximum sentences for stalkers) together.
So we welcome the idea of a discussion about a further extension of transport links, and would welcome initial thoughts on options. Of course we must bear in mind the government’s existing commitment to the county’s MPs on a vast investment for the A417 Air Balloon link, and so exploring other sources of funding will be key.
Both of us support a future for more jobs in aerospace, engineering and related aviation activity at Staverton Airport, within existing restrictions of the runway and noise controls, not a giant housing development there.
And we believe that there is a great opportunity for closer cultural co-operation: for example we encourage the Cheltenham Science Festival to organise events in Gloucester as well as Cheltenham, and for the Gloucester History Festival to do the same in Cheltenham. There will be many other ways for our constituents to benefit from our two urban centres working more closely together.
The Vision also rightly raises the ambitious Cheltenham Cyber Park, a concept long championed by Alex, which is already in planning stages. Focusing on these skills is vital to the vision of quality jobs for the younger generation raised in the presentation on Gloucestershire 2050 Vision. We think it’s important to note that while this cyber park will rightly be the centre of attention, there has been a considerable growth in cyber related business both in Gloucester itself and in the Gloucester Business Park, just inside Tewkesbury Borough and constituency. So the cyber sector has a county as well as a Cheltenham focus.
So we welcome this injection of long-term thinking into our county’s plans, and look forward to being closely involved in projects that support greater connectivity between Gloucester and Cheltenham. We will be interested to get feedback from our constituents from last Thursday’s launch of the Big Discussion.
From Alex Chalk (MP for Cheltenham) and Richard Graham (MP for Gloucester)