In a constituency that stretches from the edge of Reading to the south and the edge of Bicester to the north, and from the River Thames to the West and the Buchinghamshire border to the east there are often relatively local issues that do not immediately affect the whole constituency – although there may be implications on a wider scale.
One such issue is that of an additional bridge over the River Thames in Reading. This has been on the agenda for very many years and comes to the fore from time to time. There has been a recent round of concern on this as a Strategic Outline Business Case was published by Wokingham Borough Council, the Authority we had asked to take the lead on the project rather than Reading, in the Autumn of last year. This is a hot topic in the south of the constituency. Many people commute south to Reading and beyond and would welcome improved access but others fear that a new bridge will put strain on the road network in South Oxfordshire. There is a good economic case for looking at the project. However I have made it very clear that robust assessment of the implications on the road network to the north of the bridge must be made and appropriate mitigation of any negative impact be included as part of the project. We must be alert to the potential for additional traffic moving north from Reading to the M40 at junctions 6 and 8 and also across to the west to join the A34. If properly addressed this could help resolve long standing issues through our villages. If not it could add to problems.
In the middle of the constituency concern has been raised over the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Expressway as there has been suggestion of a route which cuts through the Green Belt around Oxford. Although roads are permitted in the Green Belt, this new road would need to be funded with substantial housing development which is neither appropriate or permitted under normal Green Belt regulation. In my view such a route is entirely unnecessary and not the most practical. A key area for growth is the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge arc and such a road would need to include Milton Keynes in the link. I have made my views known to the Secretary of State for Transport. I have also called for full public consultation on this project which so far has not been included in the National Infrastructure Commission proposals. A project of this magnitude must be open to public scrutiny.
An issue which affects many pockets across the whole constituency is the provision of Broadband. Some communities now enjoy superfast speeds but others are still struggling with speeds too slow to access even the most basic websites. With so much dependency on the internet today for links with Government Departments, utility companies, education, and retail (to mention but a few) broadband is fast becoming a basic utility. I am delighted that just before Christmas the Culture Secretary announced a Universal Service Obligation that will give everyone in the UK access to high speed broadband of a minimum of 10 mbps by 2020. For some this is still some way off and in the meantime improvements are continually being made through the Better Broadband for Oxfordshire programme. Information is readily available on progress by postcode and is updated every two weeks. (www.betterbroadbandoxfordshire.org.uk)
If you would like to know more about my work in Westminster, on behalf of the Government and the Constituency please do look at my website which is regularly updated. The address is www.johnhowellmp.com. I also produce a periodic electronic newsletter and briefings on specific issues as well as writing in these parish magazines. If you would like to subscribe to these please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org You can also follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/JohnHowellOxfordshire or on twitter @JHowellUK
Further details of the work of Parliament is available on the parliament website at www.parliament.uk. As always, I am interested to hear constituent’s views on the proposals before the House.