I woke up on Monday morning to hear the very sad news that a 16 year old boy had died following a knife incident in the Waterson Vale area of Chelmsford. It is a lovely part of our city, but last summer residents told me that they were concerned about sporadic incidents of anti-social behaviour and from time to time they had witnessed what they believed to be drug dealing in the park area. I raised this with Chelmsford City Council at the time as they are responsible for managing the park. They told me that an appropriate plan of action was in place to manage antisocial behaviour. Now a young man has died. I wish I had pressed this further. My thoughts go out to his family and residents.
Parliament was in recess, so I started the week in Washington DC with three other MP colleagues. The transatlantic relationship between the UK and the US is extremely important, not only for our own peace and security but for freedom and democracy across the world. Our packed diary of meetings included briefings at the White House, the State Department, the Senate and the World Bank.
We were focusing on the 3Ds; Defence, Diplomacy and Development as well as other important issues such as improving global food security, migration and climate change. It was good to hear many times how much the US values the relationship with the UK.
I returned to Chelmsford overnight on Wednesday night and met the local police on Thursday. An 18 year old has now been charged with murder. It does appear that this was a specific isolated incident and crime has been reducing in Chelmsford and across Essex.
I also visited the Waterson Vale area where I spoke to some residents and the police officers present. There has been some more police activity in the area since last summer but clearly more needs to be done. We discussed further actions that the police will be taking to keep people safe in this area.
Whilst our local neighbourhood watch schemes can be very helpful, it is very important that information about anti-social behaviour is properly reported on police systems so that the police can build as full a picture as possible. Please do use 101 or 999 or the online crime reporting system to report incidents.
In my conversations with residents, we discussed the possibility of improving lighting, installing cctv camera(s) and better management of the wooded areas and undergrowth. I also spoke to the Minister for Crime and Policing and the Essex Police Fire and Crime Commissioner about what actions have worked to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour in other areas. They have made some very helpful recommendations.
I spent Friday morning at Chelmsford Foodbank, helping store provisions and pack food parcels with volunteers and then meeting foodbank users and helpers at one of the drop-in sessions. Thank you to everyone who took time to talk with me. It is clear that people need to use the foodbank because of different reasons and rising prices have put challenges on family budgets. However there may also be some more local systemic issues. For example, I was told that often the Foodbank is supporting parents who can’t take up work because they face long travel times between where they are living and their children’s schools. With pressure on housing lists and school places, often it is hard for those who need to move to get a home near their children’s school. I will be asking Essex County Council if it might be possible to set up a clearing system to help parents swap school places.
Friday brought a surprise visit from the Roads Minister who came to visit Chelmsford bus depot where he made an important announcement that the Post Covid Bus Grant and #GetAroundfor TwoPounds scheme have both been extended to June 30th. I often ask for more frequent bus services in Chelmsford, but it is difficult to get them when usage on the buses is often low. If more people use the buses then I will be able to press for more services. The £2 maximum fare will take you anywhere in Essex so do think about having a day out on the bus.
Before he headed back to the Department for Transport, I took the Roads Minister to the Army and Navy so he could see first-hand why it’s so vital we get the funding for the new junction.
The Outline Business Case for the Army and Navy Sustainable Transport Package was submitted in October. This includes improvements to park and rides, bus lanes and pedestrian and cycle routes as well as the new junction. We need £68 million of funding from the Government to make all this happen. It was really helpful to show the Minister the site. I will keep lobbying ministers at every opportunity. I would also like to thank to Cllr Anthony McQuiggan and Cllr Rob Gisby for joining me and explaining how important a new junction is for local residents.