Back in 2015, when I left a career as a barrister to enter public life representing my home town I made a personal vow: for as long as I represented Cheltenham, my guiding ambition was to fight its corner at every turn and secure the best possible future for our town and its people.
Whether it was infrastructure investment, our A&E or schools funding I was determined that it should never be passed over or ignored again.
And so, with all the talk of ‘levelling up’, I have made clear that Cheltenham will not be making way for the North of England. I have nothing against the North, and I wish them well. But it would be a complete nonsense to view need in this country purely through the lens of geography.
That’s because, when it comes to opportunity, three of the 18 wards I represent are in the bottom ten per cent of income per capita anywhere in the country. That’s why one of my fundamental motivations for a Cheltenham Cyber Park was to improve the life chances of people living nearby. I knew local youngsters had the talent. All they needed was the opportunity.
So I have been pressing government departments to ensure that Cheltenham remains on track for the investment we have secured. Some is already being spent – the £24m road improvement money secured for West Cheltenham in anticipation of the Cyber Park for example. So too is the £30m for the new school in the south of Cheltenham.
I was pleased recently to receive assurances from Highways England that the £400m Air Balloon scheme is progressing well. They are now on the point of the Development Consent Order stage, which will get the key permissions in place. And in the last week a preferred design for the £200m Junction 10 four-way upgrade of the M5 has been agreed.
Not far off a billion pounds of investment for the local economy. Cheltenham won’t be left behind.