18 AUG 2017

Let's get on with Brexit

Ask someone in Dover what they want the Government to do following last year's vote to leave the EU and they will tell you straight. Get on with it.

People want to know why it's all taking so long. They also ask why there's all this talk of transitional arrangements. These are fair questions – why can't be ready on day one in March 2019?

Seeking to answer this I have written a series of articles on how we can be ready on day one for Brexit. Deal or no deal. We need to be ready for no deal. Talks could break down over the EU's excessive demands and we need to be fully prepared if that happens. Here at the Dover & Deal frontline we are the tip of the spear – if we're not ready, ours is the community that will bear the brunt of it.

So what do we need to do to be ready on day one? We need to be ready to manage customs – using electronic filings like VAT there is no reason why there needs to be searches or queues at Dover. We need to keep a positive relationship with France and make sure the border stays in Calais. This matters to the French as much as to us. For if the border gets weaker at Calais, then Calais will become an even bigger magnet for migrants.

We need to be ready on day one to take back control of our borders and end uncontrolled EU immigration. This means we need to invest in our borders and in systems that ensure we know who is coming here and keep out criminals. Moreover we need to use intelligence to help our border officers focus on persons of interest and reduce passport queues for the law abiding majority.

I have also set out a plan to solve the tricky Irish question and how we can make the most of our new freedom to trade around the world on terms that work for Britain.

Finally, out of the EU we can do so much more to stop the disgraceful tax dodging by big international businesses – and we can build a renaissance of the regions. A renaissance built on Coastal Enterprise Zones which are treated as outside the UK for customs purposes. And a renaissance built on the return of duty free. Everyone loved the booze cruise – and it was great for Dover. Out of the EU we can bring it back and bring a new boost to our area.

Brexit means Brexit and we need to get on with it. We could and should be ready on day one. That way we can end uncontrolled immigration sooner, increase trade around the world, bring back duty free and take forward a renaissance of the regions that will benefit places like Dover and Deal.

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15 AUG 2017

High speed broadband in every corner of Dover and Deal

I welcome a commitment to deliver high speed broadband to every corner of Dover and Deal.

My campaign for faster broadband in rural areas has gone on for some time. Villages like Lydden and Temple Ewell currently get internet speeds of less than two megabytes per second – ten times slower than parts of Dover town.

I met with residents in March and laid out the case for improved speeds, contacting ministers and BT executives. A street cabinet with new fibres is now being installed in Lydden.

And Government has since committed to delivering universal broadband – meaning every part of Dover and Deal should have access to high speed broadband by 2020.

These days internet is such an integral part of people's lives. Yet the service in some of our rural areas is shameful.

For small businesses in our regions to thrive, we must have better broadband. These excruciatingly slow speeds make a mockery of modern Britain.

That is why I welcome the Government's commitment. I keep telling ministers how frustrating it is for my constituents and I am glad they have acted.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 introduced the idea of a broadband universal service obligation – requiring providers to deliver minimum speeds of 10 megabytes per second.

BT has volunteered a proposal to deliver the obligation, which the Government will consider over the coming months.

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14 AUG 2017

Hundreds of local businesses will have rates reduced

Hundreds of businesses in Dover and Deal will have their business rate bills reduced after I put pressure on ministers.

A business rates revaluation took place in February, but several firms criticised suddenly increased hikes.

I held meetings with business owners in the Dover and Deal area and took their views to ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This week Marcus Jones MP, the Minister for Local Government, announced several relief schemes which 628 firms in Dover district qualify for.

The New Burdens funding comes through three schemes – the Supporting Small Business Relief Scheme, the Discretionary Business Rates Relief Scheme and the Pub Relief Scheme.

Dover District Council has been identifying eligible firms since March. Leaders have been told to provide the relief and rebill them "as soon as possible".

I was very concerned to hear of hefty hikes for some businesses in our area. The revaluation was cost neutral, but certain types were hit hard and it is absolutely right for them to be supported while they adjust.

I raised this point in strong terms with ministers several times. I'm really pleased to see they listened.

With corporation tax reduced dramatically in recent years, new firms have been opening in our district and across the country at an amazing rate.

It's clear the Conservatives are still the only party that will deliver for businesses, jobs and the wider economy.

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07 AUG 2017

Joining the fight to save Hougham village hall

The West Hougham community is fighting to raise up to £15,000 to save their village hall.

Villagers feared the building, which dates back to the 1930s, would be sold off due to a lack of use.

But after losing their village pub, post office, and bus service in recent years, residents rallied together to fight to save the hall.

In June the community formed an action group called Heart of Hougham – and the hall now has regular parties and functions. It also hosts tennis and gardening clubs and regular yoga and Zumba classes.

Heart of Hougham organisers invited me to visit the hall and offer advice on how to get funding to restore it.

I said I would back a bid for funding from the National Lottery. I have also written to Dover District Council asking if there is any cash available to help.

I was delighted to visit West Hougham village hall. It's a fantastic building and it's great to see it back in use again. We must do all we can to keep it running.

What impressed me most was the incredible community spirit in the village. They have rallied together and shown that people power really can make a difference.

It's exactly the sort of project the National Lottery should be backing. And Dover District Council should also see what they can do to help.

Residents also raised the issue of infuriatingly slow broadband speeds in the village. Mr Elphicke has taken up their case and written to BT and Kent County Council urging them to swiftly boost broadband in the area.

West Hougham village fete, organised by Heart of Hougham, will be held on the village green from 1pm on Saturday, September 16th.

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07 AUG 2017

Dover cheerleaders under threat

A hugely successful group of Dover cheerleaders may have to leave the district unless they find a new hall.

Some 200 youngsters from the Vista Twisters could be left without a place to practice when Dover Leisure Centre closes.

I met with head coach Ruth McDade at one of the group's practice sessions. She said that the club had so far been unable to secure space at the new leisure centre in Whitfield for their growing programme.

The group have been looking for alternative accommodation in the district. But they have not found anywhere suitable – and fear they may have to move to Folkestone.

I have written to Dover District Council, urging them to help the Vista Twisters find a new place to practice.

The Vista Twisters are a massive Dover success story. The council must do everything they can to keep this club in the district.

These youngsters always do the town proud when they perform in competitions across the country – and in tough European contests too.

We should be looking after them – and helping them build on their incredible success here in Dover.

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03 AUG 2017

Gridlocked again - why we must be Ready on Day One

Twelve months on from last year's disaster, the roads to Dover were once again in gridlock this weekend. The A20 had queues stretching back to the Roundhill Tunnels. While on the A2 traffic jams stretched back to Lydden. Cars and lorries started to pile through Capel and Folkestone Road on the B2011.

Year after year it is the same. Last summer the traffic chaos was caused by French border officers failing to turn up for duty. This weekend adverse weather conditions and a P&O ferry breaking down led to the tailbacks. It happens all too easily and all too often – and shows that our infrastructure is too finely balanced to cope properly. The people of Dover suffer every time – and so does the nation as delays at the port costs our national economy dear.

Action is needed now. We need more investment in the roads to the Channel Ports. The A2 needs to be dualled, the M20/A20 to be expanded and the lorry park to be delivered on time. The Government needs to be better prepared for French strikes, bad weather or ageing ferries conking out.

Very soon we will also face the challenge of Brexit here at the Dover frontline. That's why I have put together a detailed report with industry experts and business leaders on the action we must take now to ensure we are ready on day one for every eventuality.

Stories in the national press this week warned that we will be hit by huge border delays and suffer more than £1bn a year in economic damage when we leave the European Union. The truth is that Brexit can be a huge success for Britain and for Dover – but only if we are prepared. At the moment the Government is not doing enough to be prepared. So I am pressing them to get a grip and do better.

That includes accelerating investment in the technology and infrastructure we need to keep trade flowing freely through our ports. With fellow MPs I have been urging the Treasury to move faster in preparing our border for Brexit. Especially to take on board that for customs, the border is a tax point - not a search point - and that with digital borders customs clearance can be managed incredibly quickly. In Singapore, for instance, clearance takes less than a minute.

We have also been urging the Department for Transport to invest in roads and infrastructure to ensure Britain is Brexit ready on day one at Dover and the Channel Ports. It is concerning the Department for Transport appears more interested in Crossrail than cross-border trade. For too long Britain has worked for big cities like London rather than the towns and regions. This has to change. We need a renaissance of the regions.

With Brexit less than two years away, we must have real investment at Dover. There are huge opportunities to increase our trade across the globe when we leave the EU. We must invest in our borders now to ensure we can boost business from day one.

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02 AUG 2017

Migrant centres will not help Calais

I am not happy about plans to set up migrant centres in Calais. I worked very hard to get rid of the vast makeshift camp that had sprung up before. 

But now French courts have ruled that there must be facilities in place for 300 to 400 migrants in the area. There were many more of them last year - several thousand in fact - which proves we were right to have it dismantled. 

There is a real risk that setting up these two new centres will make Calais even more of a migrant magnet.

It means thousands more vulnerable people will be encouraged to make the perilous journey across Europe - with many falling into the hands of ruthless traffickers.

We cannot allow a new Jungle or Sangatte to spring up in Calais yet again.

Our border needs to be more secure than ever - particularly at the Dover frontline.

And the French must be on high alert to protect tourists and truckers from attacks by trafficking gangs.

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Why must there be facilities for migrants in the area? Why are they not sent back to the first country that they entered? What about lorry drivers who have to run the gauntlet of migrants trying to get tnto their lorries? What will it take? Maybe when a lorry driver is killed they might take notice instead of shirking their responsibilities.
- B.Harrison

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31 JUL 2017

Demanding faster and more frequent trains

The fast train should travel from Dover to London in sixty minutes and Deal needs two high-speed services every hour, I have told the Transport Minister. 

My "essential requirements" were included in a letter to Paul Maynard. Co-signed by 10 other Kent MPs as well as Bromley and Chislehurst MP Bob Neill, it comes in response to the Department for Transport's consultation on the South Eastern franchise. Operators are bidding to run the train franchise from 2018 to 2027.

The letter calls for extra carriages on overcrowded services during peak hours and expresses concerns over the quality of service offered to customers of Govia's Southeastern.

It says: "Passengers are dissatisfied. With insufficient room to stand at times and with some season tickets at more than £6,000 they feel they are not getting value for money."

We list several essential requirements that the new operator must put in place. They include:

Faster services to East Kent – in particular to Dover in an hour (Dover in 60), two trains to Deal and Sandwich every hour and a one hour service from London to Thanet; The modernisation of the points and signalling on the Kent Fast line to facilitate overtaking and faster services; Better connections with Gatwick Airport, in particular the restoration of direct services from Tunbridge Wells & Tonbridge.

The letter also sets out a number of essential requirements for Network Rail. They include:

Significant improvement in its contribution to train performance; A plan to further reduce journey times;Improvements to the Tonbridge to Hastings infrastructure for Kent and East Sussex; Capacity improvements at Ashford including connecting the high-speed line to the line at Rye and Hastings;Sufficient capacity at major stations to cope with the forecast growth in demand;Improvements in signalling on the route from Ashford to Folkestone, Dover, Deal, Sandwich and Ramsgate, and completion of the East Kent re-signalling scheme between Canterbury West and Ramsgate.

People said we would never get the fast train in Deal. Yet thanks to our community campaign it now sweeps into the station every hour of every day. Now we need to see the service improve – with two high speed services for Deal and Sandwich an hour.

And we need to see the fast train get to Dover in sixty minutes or less. Faster services will attract even more people to visit our stunning corner of Kent.

It's great that the Kent MPs have yet again united to fight for better services in our county. Together we make a powerful case and I hope the Transport Minister considers it carefully.

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Drop Ebbsfleet from the Kent Coast services. It serves no purpose on peak services as they are already full by Ebbsfleet, there are no people boarding/leaving on off peak services and it cuts at least 6-7 minutes from the journey by not having to slow down, stop and accelerate again. Ebbsfleet is served by more than enough HS trains without overloading the 6 car Kent coast trains. The two stops in Folkestone also needs looking at.. 2 stations 400 yards apart is pretty silly, and no new stops at Otterpool if it ever gets built.
- Steve Coleman

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27 JUL 2017

Our ports must be ready to thrive after Brexit

At a meeting with Brexit Minister Steve Baker MP on Wednesday (July 19th) Conservative MPs and I raised our concerns over preparations for Brexit at Britain's ports and discuss solutions to ensure that the UK's ports are ready to thrive after Brexit.

With both MPs and members of the European Research Group (ERG) present, we stressed the importance of protecting port-related jobs and preventing long queues of lorries.

The meeting came after Amyas Morse, Comptroller General of the National Audit Office, raised concerns over the Government's post-Brexit IT system to record declarations on imports and exports.

As we prepare to leave the European Union we need to make sure that we are in the best position possible to succeed and prosper in the world. A vital part of these preparations must be ensuring that our ports are Ready on Day One.

We all agree that is vital that Brexit is a success at our ports up and down the land – particularly at the Dover frontline.

Of course, we hope that a trade deal will be done with the EU that will enable tariff-free trade to continue. Yet if on day one no trade deal has been agreed, we must be fully prepared.

Gridlock at out ports will mean gridlock for the UK economy. Yet with proper planning we can not only be ready on day one – we can make Brexit a real success.

Together we can build a new Britain that is a great, global trading nation.

After the meeting Brexit Minister Steve Baker MP said: "The preparedness of our borders for success on day 1 of exit under all scenarios is a clear priority for the Government. Colleagues representing ports are doing a fine job of representing their constituents concerns together with potential solutions. We will consider these alongside our current, well-developed plans."

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27 JUL 2017

Remembering the brave members of the Dover Patrol

On Sunday I laid a wreath in remembrance at the Dover Patrol Memorial.

The service was held in memory of the members of the Royal Navy who risked and gave their lives defending our nation.

Around 2,000 members of the Dover Patrol died during the First World War.

We must never forget the great sacrifice members of the Dover Patrol made to keep Britain safe during the First World War.

I was proud to lay a wreath at the memorial on Sunday. It was an incredibly moving service.

It is so important that we remember everyone who lost their lives. We will never forget the sacrifices they made for our country.

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Charlie Elphicke

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