Huddersfield Examiner column – October 2019

I write a monthly column for the Huddersfield Examiner about my work as Colne Valley’s MP, locally and in Westminster. This month’s column is below.

Examiner column October 2019 – Thelma Walker MP

Although the judgement of the Supreme Court means that I have had to curtail time spent in my constituency, I am pleased to be back in Parliament and able to do the job I was elected to do – representing your views and holding this Government to account. It is shameful that our Prime Minister has broken the law to silence our democracy, and it has never been more important that we are able to scrutinise what his government are doing. 

Although I may never have agreed with much of what past Conservative Prime Ministers did and said, I never doubted that they believed in the values of free speech and democracy. Unfortunately, everything Boris Johnson does demonstrates his utter contempt for anyone who disagrees with him – and that he is prepared to go to dangerous lengths to further his own self interest. 

Locally, I have been contacted by many residents about the proposed housing development on Netherton Moor Road. There are a lot of myths circulating about what Kirklees Council has done and is able to do, and what influence MPs have over the planning process. 

I have committed to supporting residents to voice their concerns about this specific development to the council, and agree that many of the issues being raised are sensible concerns – for example, around our school infrastructure when all local schools have faced significant cuts in recent years, around increased traffic flow, and doctors/dentists’ surgeries to name but a few. I know that local Crosland Moor & Netherton councillors have also committed their support to residents. 

However, Kirklees  – like all local councils – has had their power in planning matters significantly curtailed. 

Radical planning reforms in March 2011, including the creation of our current National Planning Policy Framework, forced councils to adopt a “presumption in favour” of development in all planning concerns, including when designing their Local Plans. It also removed the requirement on developers to ensure that their plans benefit the natural environment. 

These decisions were voted for by Colne Valley’s previous Tory MP despite representations from organisations like the Telegraph’s Hands Off Our Land campaign, the National Trust, English Heritage, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth, the British Wildlife Trust, the Campaign for Better Transport, and the Campaign for Rural England. A previous draft of our Local Plan was rejected by the government because it did not contain enough houses. 

So while I will always listen to the concerns of local residents and support you locally to raise these concerns with Kirklees as our local planning authority, I will also commit to pushing nationally for policies which protect rural areas and help them become sustainable. I will work to bring forward policies which will provide the houses we so desperately need, without sacrificing the unique character of our local area to a government which cares only about the wants of big developers. And I will never oppose development locally for a quick populist win and a photo opportunity, but vote nationally for policies which mean our local council has no choice but to accept the degradation of our towns, villages, and natural environment. 

Also in relation to our environment, I was proud to support local young people and councillors of all parties at the climate strike rally in Huddersfield town centre last month. It was an incredibly positive day, and it left me even more convinced as a politician to lead from the front on climate change and ensure that our children and grandchildren have a livable planet. 

To those criticising our young people for taking this action, I would say, please look at the bigger picture. 

First of all, as a former teacher and head teacher, I am so impressed at how informed and engaged these young people are. I think it is incredibly important for the next generation to learn outside the classroom, and to experience direct democracy and making their voices heard locally, nationally, and internationally. 

It is easy for the older generation to criticise the ‘youth of today’ for being uninterested in their community and disengaged from politics. But I for one feel much more hopeful after seeing how concerned and involved our local school and college students are in the most pressing issue we currently face. 

Secondly, climate change is affecting us all already. In the last few years we have seen unprecedented high temperatures, severe flooding close at hand in Calderdale and some areas of Kirklees, and moor fires above Marsden coming perilously close to people’s homes and businesses. This should not just be a ‘youth’ issue, but one which all of us take seriously and demand action on. Climate change is now the biggest issue of concern for people in this country, and is something that none of us will be able to avoid. 

Although the national situation is chaotic at the moment, and it is difficult to predict what will happen next, I promise to continue doing my best to represent you and your concerns in Parliament. That does not just mean on Brexit, but on the whole range of other very serious issues we face as a society, and which come into my constituency office every single day. As always, if you have any issues, questions, or concerns, please feel free to contact me on the details below.  

Notes from Conference 

Labour Party Conference took place in Brighton in September and I was pleased to join colleagues from across Colne Valley and Huddersfield to discuss and debate our plan for the country. 

I was overjoyed to hear Labour’s plans for reducing the power of ‘big pharma’, and the ability of pharmaceutical companies to hold our NHS – and people’s lives – to ransom. I have written in this column before about my campaigns for constituents with Cystic Fibrosis and Batten disease, to name just two conditions which have had life-changing medicine withheld for financial reasons. It is heartbreaking to sit with sufferers and their families and hear stories of how the medication exists, and how transformative it can be, but that it is out of reach. It is long overdue that our politicians take a lead on this, to stand up for these most vulnerable patients. 

Of course, I was also very pleased at our proposals for education and schools. Particularly welcome were commitments around bringing schools back into local authority control, and of removing charitable status from private schools. 

While I know the latter policy has been controversial, this is not about vilifying parents – who I know always try to make the right decision at the time for their children. I have spoken to several local parents who talked about the sacrifices they made to send their children to private school, because they were not confident that their children’s specific needs would be met in the state sector, particularly due to a lack of funding. This is unfair not only on those parents, but on the parents of children who cannot afford to make this decision.   

Labour’s policies are about providing real choice in education, throughout our lives, which is accessible for all. It is about ending the stranglehold that two or three incredibly elite schools have on the positions of leadership in our country. It is about creating a truly just education system  – and not one where we say to working class children ‘this far but no further’. 

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