It is an honour to be elected as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central, and it is a job I do not take lightly. This is my first opinion piece in the Stoke Sentinel and I look forward to sharing many more exciting developments in the months and years to come.
My first month in Westminster as your MP has been a hectic whirlwind of activity but I am encouraged by the willingness of the Government to engage and understand the needs of our city.
It has been a juggling act of navigating the political maze of Westminster while making important decisions and getting Brexit done. In December, the country voted to take back control of our money, laws and borders so that we could invest in our NHS, schools, police, roads and infrastructure.
We left the European Union on the 31st January and are now getting on with the job of levelling up our country, and I will make sure that it includes driving investment to Stoke-on-Trent.
I spoke out during a recent debate in Parliament on the NHS Funding Bill, which marks the biggest cash boost in its history, about the needs of the Royal Stoke. I will be meeting the Minister in the coming weeks with my fellow Stoke-on-Trent MPs to thrash out a new settlement.
And it’s not just health that needs investment. We must continue to improve education standards and skills. We need to get our public transport provision up to scratch to cut congestion for us all.
Stoke Town deserves every penny of the Heritage High Streets money it has been promised, and it needs clearer and more direct pedestrian routes to Stoke-on-Trent railway station.
Although the city has taken welcome strides to regenerate Hanley as the city centre, my strong opinion is that we have not done enough to make the most of either Stoke town or the Trent, both of which are very close to, and should be an easy walk from, the railway station. It is essential to go ahead with the works to improve the onward journey to Hanley from the east side main exit of Stoke station. However, the west side exit needs equal attention to connect it properly to Stoke town, thereby giving pedestrians the most direct journey possible via Elenora Street, through the exciting development at Spode Works, on to the heritage high street of Church Street and London Road.
At the moment, pedestrian access is a long and unattractive walk round. That barrier must be bridged—literally—if the strategic aim of increasing footfall in Stoke town is to be realised in full. I want to see it as an integral part of the city council’s otherwise excellent Transforming Cities Fund bid, which currently indicates minor improvements to the existing pedestrian route. That means that it will still take more than 10 minutes to walk from Stoke railway station to Stoke town centre. We should be more ambitious than that. Residents have felt left behind for too long, and I am determined to fix this and actively represent your views.
As for the River Trent, for too much of its course through the city, you would not know it was there.
I will learn lessons from anywhere on how to improve public access to watercourses so that we can all enjoy the river as a key attraction of Stoke-on-Trent. And while I welcome the Government’s fund for new pocket parks, I will lobby relentlessly to get more funds into our historic parks too.
Talking of our history, our identity as a city must stay closely linked to the ceramics industry; and preserving the authentic Potteries landscape must be part of our tourism offer.
But the ceramics industry itself must always be allowed to move on into the newest processes, at the cutting-edge of technology.
I want to see the successful Ceramics Valley Enterprise Zone expanded, and I want to see an international research centre for advanced ceramics in the city, supported by Staffordshire University.
Stoke-on-Trent is on the up and I look forward to doing everything I can to keep it that way, with our economy flourishing, our manufacturers making, our job satisfaction high, our earnings good, our talent retained, and our opportunities increased.
I am here and I am listening. From Trent Vale to Baddeley Edge, and Etruria to Bentilee we deserve every bit of the attention that I will ensure we are going to get.
Article published in The Sentinel, February 2020.