Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 6th January 2016

This week Parliament has returned after the Christmas and New Year recess. It’s been a very busy few weeks over the festive period and a very welcome opportunity to spend even more time in Swindon, talking to fellow residents, meeting community groups and attending a large number of local events.

On Sunday, I braved the wind and the rain at Uffcott Farm for a 5 mile New Year Gingerbread Fun Run to raise money for Brighter Futures Radiotherapy Appeal. The going was hard, and I couldn't help thinking about the difficult journeys made by friends and fellow residents in order to receive radiotherapy treatment.

The fundraising campaign was first launched last May by the Great Western Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust to raise £2.9 million to build a dedicated radiotherapy centre at the GWH. A new centre would save local residents who require treatment a painful and expensive 70 mile round trip to get to the nearest radiotherapy centre in Oxford.

As your local MP, I am always working hard to enhance our local NHS so that all residents receive an even higher standard of local service, and I am wholly supportive of Swindon having a radiotherapy centre of its own.

Last year, Justin Tomlinson and I wrote to Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health) and Simon Stevens (Chief Executive of NHS England) asking for their support, and I helped to raise awareness of the campaign by uploading a photo of me standing in front of Big Ben and using the hashtag #TheTimeIsNow.

This campaign has received a lot of support from local residents. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved so far, as well as all the runners who took part to help bring radiotherapy services in Swindon a step closer. A huge thank you also to Paula Harrison and the Wroughton Whippets. What an encouraging start to 2016.

In the first week since the recess, the agenda in Westminster has been dominated by housing and infrastructure, and I have been in touch with many of you who have contacted me about this issue.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister will announced that the government is to step in and directly commission thousands of new affordable homes.

In a radical new policy shift, not used on this scale since the work of Conservative governments in the 1980s in the Docklands for example,, the Government will directly commission the building of homes on publicly owned land. This will lead to quality homes built at a faster rate with smaller building firms – currently unable to take on big projects – able to get building on government sites where planning permission is already in place. The first wave of up to 13,000 will start on 4 sites outside of London in 2016 – up to 40% of which will be affordable ‘starter’ homes. This approach will also be used in at the Old Oak Common site in North West London.

The Government also announced a £1.2bn starter home fund to prepare brownfield sites for new homes. This will fast-track the creation of at least 30,000 new starter homes and up to 30,000 market homes on 500 new sites by 2020 – helping deliver the commitment to create 200,000 starter homes over the next 5 years.

The new investment will help kick-start regeneration and secure planning permission in urban areas – renovating disused or under-occupied urban sites so builders can get to work without any delays. 

I am strongly supportive of the building of the new homes our town needs in accordance with our Local Plan, and these announcements by the Government are very welcome.  I am keen to identify suitable areas of brownfield land in our local area that would benefit from new housing and regeneration in a way that will benefit our local community.

Speaking of development, I am delighted that work will begin next week on the regeneration of Havelock Square in the Town Centre. The area, which I know is used by many local residents (including me), will receive a much needed facelift, including new seating, paving, lighting and trees.   

Turning to the international stage, there has recently been coverage of an international development committee report on child refugees. As this report rightly makes clear, the UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis and we will continue to push others to honour their commitments.

Our programme in Syria has already resettled vulnerable children as part of family groups, with over 1,000 refugees resettled by Christmas. Additionally, the Government’s £1.1 billion commitment is helping hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in Syria and the region to rebuild their lives and next month’s Syria conference in London will raise significant new funding from the international community.

There is also ongoing coverage of the international situation involving Saudi Arabia, and I know local residents share my concerns. The UK does not support the death penalty in any circumstances and that includes Saudi Arabia.

We always make representations on the death penalty and the Foreign Office ministers have made it very clear on this occasion. We want to see good relations between the countries in the Middle East – not least because they will be absolutely essential to solving the crisis in Syria which is the source of so many of these problems.

As ever, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have a national or local issue that you would like to raise. You can contact me office on 01793 533393, or email me at I look forward to hearing from you!