I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful time over the Jubilee bank holiday weekend. Parliament was in recess for the week, I spent the time doing various activities in Chelmsford, taking part in some of the celebrations and also catching up with family.
In Chelmsford, I joined members of the police's "Town Team" for a walk about. These town teams were introduced across Essex a couple of years ago. The Chelmsford team regularly patrol around the city centre. They work very closely with the team of specialists monitoring the network of CCTV cameras.
We discussed work they are doing to reduce antisocial behaviour, especially antisocial begging, and talked to some of the traders about protection against shop-lifting. On the whole there is little antisocial behaviour in Chelmsford compared to other areas but in order to keep it that way it is important that members of the public do report any incidents that they witness. The easiest way to do this is by calling 101 or online to Essex Police.
I was very pleased to hear that following recent arrests there has been a marked reduction in thefts of bicycles from the City Centre but there has been a spate of break-ins to sheds and garages in Moulsham. Please do make sure your shed is well locked and that any bikes are marked with your postcode. The police are running frequent bike-marking sessions.
I also met with the lead councillor and officers for major projects at Essex County Council to discuss progress on the new Army and Navy junction and Beaulieu station. Both these projects are extremely complex and are taking time to deliver, but they are on track. Recently work has been taking place over night at the Army and Navy to access the drainage systems and this has gone well. The engineers and designers are putting together the outline business case for the junction which is expected to be completed in September. This is required before a full planning approval process can commence.
The plans for the station are also going through the various phases of planning. Building the station also involves moving the entire Great Eastern Mainline track by a few meters on each direction of line, as well as splicing in new track and amending signalling. This all has to be completed in phases whilst keeping the trains running. Therefore many of the elements will only be able to take place when the train line is shut down over certain bank holidays. It is a very significant engineering challenge and will take about 3 years before it is completed - but I am pressing for it to happen as quickly as possible.
Representatives from Chelmsford City Football Club came to discuss potential plans to improve the grounds. The Club set up an Academy for young players, working closely with Moulsham School to make sure that the players also get an excellent education. The Academy recently won the "Champion of Champions" tournament when competing with academies all across the country. What an amazing achievement.
In London I was hugely honoured to represent Chelmsford at the Trooping of the Colour. A small number of MPs are allocated tickets each year and I was incredibly lucky that Chelmsford was picked in the ballot.
The crowds in Hyde Park and around the Mall were unbelieve and everyone was in such a positive, happy mood - full of joy. Every single movement of the troops during the ceremony is perfectly choreographed and, as a former clarinet player, I loved the band music. I am completely in awe of how anyone manages to play a musical instrument whilst also riding a huge horse!
During my time as Minister for Africa I have been blown away by the elegance of Africa fashion. I wore jackets made from West African fabrics for the Jubilee events to help promote this fabulous culture, with a hat from Marie Horn's boutique in Chelmsford - all in Ukraine colours.
I also represented the UK at St Pauls Cathedral for the Thanksgiving Service to Her Majesty. I joined other Ministers from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office to welcome Ambassadors and High Commissioners from all over the world to accompany them to the service and host them at a reception after the service. It was another beautiful occasion, with soaring hymns and trumpet peals. I was particularly moved to hear the Archbishop of York preaching the sermon, as I remember him so fondly from his time as Bishop of Chelmsford. As he said “thank you your Majesty, we are all so glad you are still in the saddle.” God Save the Queen.