Swindon is a town that continues to grow and the development of the local NHS has been a key issue for me over the past seven years as your MP. I have pushed the Department of Health and NHS England, alongside North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson and the late Dr. Peter Crouch, Clinical Chair of the CCG for a fair share of support for Swindon to areas of comparable size and deprivation. We also pushed for the budget period to be increased from two years to five years, ensuring that we could make improvement plans for the future, which included the building of the much needed new Swindon NHS Health Centre.
On Friday, I went to the official opening of the £10m Health Centre, which has replaced the Carfax Medical Centre and includes a walk-in centre, two GP practices (the Whalebridge Practice and Carfax St Medical Centre), dental and podiatry and other NHS Services. The state-of-the-art Health Centre serves a local population of 22,000 registered and 36,000 unregistered patients in and around Swindon and I was pleased to hear about the difference that this excellent facility is having on patient health care.
It has been a very busy week so far, with my attendance at the Opening of the Legal Year at Westminster Abbey and now at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, where I have been speaking at fringe events on legal services and public legal education, plus discussions of local issues with Ministerial colleagues.
One such discussion was on housing and planning. I am very supportive of our Manifesto policy on housing, which would involve the building of new council houses by local authorities – to be subject to Right to Buy after ten or fifteen years, and with the proceeds to be ploughed back by councils into more social housing. The Prime Minister has already announced that an additional £10bn will also be invested in the Help to Buy scheme, enabling more young people to buy their own homes.
Now is the time for action on the supply of housing too. I continue to be deeply frustrated about the gap in Swindon between the large number of planning consents for housing, and the actual building of new homes in accordance with our Local Plan. These delays are undermining our local plan, and making a mockery of the system in the eyes of residents, while the wait for new houses continues.
The Government has taken steps to help speed the development process up, but where there is brownfield land or where the principle of development has already been established, then the sort of interventionist approach that was taken by post-war Tory governments right up to the 1990s is the right one. The problem is that the construction industry itself is struggling to keep up with demand. New technologies such as modern prefabrication allowing for houses to be built in weeks rather than months can help deliver housing. Planning permissions already expire after a period of years, so the real answers lie in removing practical obstacles to development.
This week, we made a welcome announcement on student finance, freezing tuition fees and increasing the amount that you can earn before paying back a loan to £25,000 and then linking this to yearly rises in incomes. The Conservative Government is getting on with delivering a country that works for everyone.