Meeting at the aptly named Helen’s Coffee House in Staplehurst High Street, Helen Grant talked with members of the collective of skilled tradespeople known as Staplehurstmakers to learn about their refreshing approach to business.
The group of artisans, designers and makers are all based in the Staplehurst area. Together they aim to encourage and support each other through monthly meetings and by raising the profile of local handmade goods through quarterly craft fairs in Staplehurst.
Their established meeting place is Staplehurst’s independently owned Helen’s coffee house under the vibrant proprietorship of Helen Rose.
After her meeting Helen Grant said ‘It was great to meet some of the members of Staplehurst makers. With their mutual support I am sure the collective will enjoy great success and I wish them well’.
It was also good to see Helen’s Coffee House becoming very much a community hub for Staplehurst. The owner told me she is about to launch a board and card games morning for local people who are seeking a bit of a giggle and a chat over tea and a bun – what a lovely idea’.
Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone & The Weald, attended a special meeting at Staplehurst primary school with seven school captains who wanted to learn more about National politics first hand, from their local practitioner.
The year 6 students had a private audience with Helen for about an hour around a conference table in head teacher Cathy Farthing’s office.
Among a wide range of subjects their questions included issues such as how decisions are made in Parliament, why the Junior Doctors are striking, what is the point of SAT exams and did Helen want to be Prime Minister?
Helen said ‘I love talking to young people about our democracy and this was a great way to engage. Usually I address a large number of children in an assembly style of arrangement but this was a much more personal approach. They certainly came up with some tough political and personal questions and I hope they all went home enlightened and inspired’
Helen Grant MP: ‘This Solar Farm battle is won, but the war has just begun’
After three years and an exhaustive opposition campaign Maidstone Borough Council last night refused an application to build a large solar farm installation on green belt land in Staplehurst.
The refusal was based upon the visual impairment to the rural environment and was decided upon at a packed meeting at Maidstone Town Hall on Thursday 4th February. The issue was debated for almost two hours before the vote came and jubilant campaigners breathed a sigh of relief. Maidstone & The Weald MP Helen Grant was present throughout the meeting having worked closely with the Great Pagehurst steering group since 2013.
Helen said “I am so relieved at this decision. Several key issues have arisen from this debate which I hope will help defeat several other applications that are in the system, for example; the possibility an applicant could extend the 25 year period of permission without having to return the land to arable use and the fact that after 25 years the site could well be classified as mixed use brown-field and not arable green-belt are but two major concerns.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the combined effect of new rural development plans. This is one of six solar farm applications in the area which, together with plans for thousands of new homes, has the potential to destroy forever the rural heritage we call the Garden of England enjoyed by farmers, local people and tourists from all over the world.
This Solar Farm battle has been won, but the war has just begun on our rural heritage. We have a long way to go yet but we have a great team and we will fight to the end.
In the weeks running up to Christmas, Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant made progress dealing with the concerns of constituents about underperforming rural bus services.
Firstly there were continuing issues with Arriva’s 5 service from Cranbrook to Maidstone. Amongst other problems the most pressing was an amended departure time which meant school children were having to reach the bus stop around two hours prior to their scheduled arrival at school. The second was the proposed cancellation of the Nu-Venture 28 service from January 2016 which travelled through Marden to Maidstone.
Problems faced on both of these buses had a mutually detrimental knock-on effect. For example children from Marden who could no longer travel on the 28 service, were likely to go from Staplehurst instead creating further difficulties on the No 5 buses.
Issues relating to the No. 5 service have long been the focus of a Bus Committee chaired by Helen since 2014 and attended by Arriva buses, Kent County Council, local head teachers, councillors and parents.
With the added worry about the loss of the Marden service Helen wrote an urgent letter to Paul Carter CBE, Leader of Kent County Council, to find a resolution and just before Christmas she received some very encouraging news;
Kent County Council announced that as of 10th January an additional service (5X) would be added in the morning which would travel directly to Oakwood Park Grammar School and Maidstone Girls Grammar School. This will not only help to resolve the issues of overcrowding but will help students reach school on time.
In addition to this the ‘1st Stop Bus’ company will be operating a service from Marden on the same route and timings as the cancelled Nu-Venture 28 bus. This is due to commence from 11th January.
Helen told MWCA: “I am very pleased that Kent County Council and Arriva have listened to the voice of our Committee and thank them for implementing these vital changes. I look forward to more developments in the future as we continue to work together to provide a better quality service for all users, but particularly our school children.”
Mrs Julie Derrick, Headteacher for Invicta Grammar School and Bus Committee Member said: “We have been extremely grateful for Helen’s invaluable support in securing the new services to the 5X and the 28, as well as that of the bus providers. The changes to the services will be instrumental in helping a significant number of students and their parents in the local community. We will now have much happier students; they travel long distances to get to school and it is important that their journey is as easy as possible, if they are to have the right mind-set for learning when they arrive. I shall look forward to the new services having a positive impact on the welfare, happiness and most importantly learning of our students.”
Local constituent Mr Colin Whittle said: “I contacted Helen with concerns for my Grandson, who attends Oakwood Park, and his travel to school. She quickly replied advising of her action on this and followed up with further information from Kent County Council. A solution to the route 28 problem seems to have been put in place immediately upon her involvement.”
“Parking on Pavements is hazardous, and here’s the proof” said Maidstone & the Weald MP Helen Grant during a visit to Staplehurst.
On a recent previous visit, Helen and Tracy Haith, the Sobell Lodge Service Manager, had discussed the difficulties wheelchair users had with cars parking on pavements and with accessibility to the local bank and shops.
With a team of residents and volunteers from Leonard Cheshire disability home Sobell Lodge, together with Parish Councillor Peter Spearink, Helen led the banner wielding campaign column along Staplehurst High Street putting leaflets on cars parked on pavements and talking to passers by.
Helen said ‘I think for the most part, drivers are unaware of problems caused to pedestrians when they park on the pavement, thinking instead that this will minimise the impact on through traffic. In fact the practice can force pedestrians to step into the road because they restrict the width of the pavement. It especially affects those with pushchairs, wheelchairs or mobility scooters and also damages the pavements causing people to trip’.
She added ‘we’ve chosen today at random but just look at how many vehicles there are on the pavements on the arterial main road through the village of Staplehurst, the infamous A229’.
Campaign leaflets were prepared jointly with Sobell Lodge and Helen hopes the publicity will help educate drivers to recognise the impact of their actions on pedestrians throughout her constituency and beyond.
Helen also talked to the managers of local stores praising those with permanent ramps, such as Corals the bookmaker, and suggesting to others with temporary access ramps to consider improvements for wheelchair access.
Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone & the Weald, recently visited the Great Pagehurst Farm in Staplehurst, where Vogt Solar Ltd are planning to build an industrial solar power station across 53 acres of land.
Helen has been working extensively to oppose this development since July 2013 when it was first brought to her attention by local residents, husband and wife, Patrick & Shirley Roche. At that time she wrote to both Maidstone Borough Council and Kent County Council to protect the interests of local people who fear this will damage the rural aesthetics of the village.
As a nation the UK is committed to meeting 15 per cent of its energy demands from renewable sources by 2020 and solar energy will certainly play a central role in this. However this cannot be achieved whilst sacrificing our countryside. Following Helen’s letter to Kris Hopkins, Minister for Local Government, the Government has made it clear that they want to move the emphasis away from large solar farms and instead focus the solar market on south facing rooftops across the country.
The Government discourages landowners from constructing solar farms on the best and most versatile agricultural land, and from January 2015 has withdrawn farm subsidies from land occupied by solar farms.
Helen says: “The area concerned is a beautiful location – there are residential properties 100 metres away from the proposed site. The need for renewable energy should not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities.”
“I am working with the local Councillors and residents in this area and I am confident we have a strong voice for action”
Mrs Grant will be strongly urging Maidstone Borough Council & Vogt Solar to listen carefully to the planning concerns of local people. As well as this, she will be conducting a MP Outreach Survey shortly to sample the opinion of local residents.
Helen Grant, Member of Parliament for Maidstone and the Weald, convened a meeting with Arriva Buses on Friday accompanied by county, borough and parish councillors, parents and teachers. The meeting sought to address ongoing issues with the company’s bus service, including the No. 5, the No. 89, No 59 and the No 12 serving Staplehurst, Coxheath, Boughton Monchelsea and Tenterden through to Maidstone.
Following the meeting, the MP has produced a 5 point action plan to improve services:
1. Arriva will address maintenance issues and will replace and prioritise more frequent routes when they have breakdowns
2. Arriva will implement a dedicated team of drivers for the No. 5 route from January 26th 2015 and they will monitor and thoroughly train drivers
3. Arriva will investigate providing greater capacity on school routes
4. Arriva will resolve issues with the app providing live bus information and report back to Councillor John Perry
5. A subcommittee will be set up consisting of Cllr John Perry, Parish Councillor Peter Spearink, Mrs Julie Derrick Invicta Head teacher, Mr Robert Patterson (Arriva) and parents Marissa Avraamides and Tina Jordan to monitor progress and convene in April 2015.
Speaking after the meeting, Helen said:
“I convened this meeting to tackle ongoing issues with Arriva’s services in and around Maidstone and the Weald. My 5 point action plan sets out clear steps to improve service and tackle problems flagged to me by parents, teachers and councillors.
“I’m pleased our new sub-committee will monitor progress and meet in April to review our action points. I look forward to receiving an update and expect reliability issues to now improve”
Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and the Weald, organised and chaired a roundtable meeting of parish, borough and county councillors, affected residents, Southern Water’s Chief Executive, their Director of Infrastructure and their Infrastructure Planning Manager for Kent, at her office in Maidstone on Wednesday.
Helen convened the meeting to seek solutions to the longstanding problem of surface water ingress to sewage systems which causes pumps to become overloaded and raw sewage to emerge into residents’ gardens in Marden and Staplehurst, among other locations across the Weald
The meeting also gave all parties the opportunity to discuss proposed new developments and their impact on existing drainage infrastructure.
As a result of the meeting, Southern Water have agreed to undertake the following action points going forward:
1. Seal existing manholes where possible to prevent surface water ingress – Completed 2. Improve resilience and reliability of pumping stations with new pumps capable of handling greater capacity of sewage and detritus 3. Southern Water will continue to contribute to the development of Kent County Council’s Surface Water Management Plan for the area with key stakeholders 4. Southern Water’s Infrastructure Planning Manager for Kent to act as a Community Liaison with Parish Councils 5. A Strategic Review to be undertaken by Southern Water’s Director of Infrastructure and presented to Helen Grant MP before Christmas 6. A meeting to be convened between Helen Grant MP and Southern Water Chief Executive Matthew Wright to progress any actions arising from Strategic Review 7. To facilitate a closer relationship between Southern Water and Maidstone Borough Council in respect to the drainage demands of forthcoming housing developments
Speaking after the meeting, Helen said “I convened this meeting to solve this long-standing sewage problem once and for all. I am very pleased to have agreed a clear plan of action going forward, following a positive and constructive meeting with Southern Water. I would like to pay tribute to all the affected residents and councillors who have worked so tirelessly on this issue. I look forward receiving Southern Water’s Strategic Review and making swift progress on our action plan”
Southern Water Chief Executive, Matthew Wright, said “We welcomed the opportunity to update the group on work we have carried out to seal manholes in the area to reduce infiltration of the sewer system and to improve the resilience of Marden Pumping Station. It is vital however, that we work collaboratively with Kent Council Council, the Lead Flood Authority, and other key agencies to develop a Surface Water Management Plan that will reduce the amount of surface water entering our sewers and significantly improve the situation for our customers in the area. We are committed to playing a key role in developing and delivering this and to keeping the local community updated about our work.”
Concerned Staplehurst resident, Louise Brice, added “This is a toxic issue for residents who I have spoken to, especially those in the Marden and Cranbrook Road areas, who have campaigned long and hard to see improvements. It’s fantastic to hear that their hard work may finally be rewarded with double the number of pumps being installed and resolve this long running blight on their lives. Thank you to Helen for bringing all parties together, to help highlight for Southern Water the priority that this issue deserves.”
Residents prepare carefully for meeting with Southern Water
Helen Grant, Member of Parliament for Maidstone and the Weald, convened a meeting of residents and local councillors on Friday 31st October, to prepare for the MP’s much-anticipated meeting with Southern Water.
Helen and a Parish and Borough Council delegation, including residents, will meet Southern Water’s Chief Executive and Director of Infrastructure at Helen’s constituency office at Maidstone East Station on November 12, to tackle the sewage problem which has blighted Wealden villages over the last three decades.
The main problems occur when surface water leaks into defective soil drainage systems during periods of high rainfall. This drives excess solid waste toward the pumps that send the sewage to the treatment works causing overload and they then trip out. This results in backflows of raw sewage emerging from manholes into residential gardens and agricultural land.
At the preliminary meeting a clear consensus of opinion on the core issues was clarified and an agreement reached as to the goals the team want to achieve with Southern Water.
Commenting afterwards Helen said:
“In situations such as this preparation is everything and I am delighted to see such a united stance amongst everyone involved. This sewage problem has blighted our Wealden villages for the last three decades. It is simply not acceptable that every time there is a significant downpour, the soil drainage system fails and residents’ gardens are flooded with raw sewage.
“Our preliminary meeting allowed us to agree objectives ahead of next week’s meeting and ensure we present the best possible case to Southern Water to solve this problem once and for all.
“I look forward to meeting the Chief Executive and Director of Infrastructure of Southern Water at my office to plan a course of action”
Helen Grant will meet with Southern Water bosses to discuss sewage problems in the Weald next month.
The MP for Maidstone and the Weald has called the meeting, which will take place on Wednesday, November 12, after residents told her they were concerned by regular flooding, particularly in Marden and Staplehurst, but also Coxheath.
Toilets often become blocked and surface level floodwater is often contaminated with sewage.
Mrs Grant wrote to Matthew Wright, chief executive of Southern Water, last week to raise the issues.
She sad: “Marden has been suffering a sewage management problem for over thirty years, as pointed out to me by longstanding Parish Councillor Dorothy Reed.
“This is a problem that I am determined to try and resolve across our Wealden villages.
I am delighted that the Chief Executive of Southern Water has heeded my call and I am looking forward to our meeting.”
Other delegates will come from Maidstone Borough Council and Marden Parish Council.