16 FEB 2017

We need to guard against a return of the Calais Jungle

At the Dover and Deal frontline, we have seen the true horrors of the Calais migrant magnet. This is why we fought to get the Jungle camp dismantled.

By the time the battle was won last autumn, nearly 10,000 people had been lured to Calais, living in conditions of appalling squalor – rickety shacks and tents. There was no running water and little sanitation. Just 22 miles across our English Channel, people traffickers roamed free, exploiting migrants – adults and children alike.

Dismantling the Jungle and moving the people there into safe reception centres far from Calais was a major step forward in weakening the pull factor people traffickers rely on.

This week the Government sought to tackle trafficking further – by limiting the number of child refugees Britain takes in under a scheme known as the Dubs amendment. People in Dover in Deal know the risk is that the good intentions of this scheme could cause the evil of the Jungle to return.

It sounds compassionate to bring in child refugees from Calais to Britain. Yet what would happen is that Calais would once again become a migrant magnet. The people traffickers would encourage families to make the dangerous journey to Calais. There they would once again be subject to horrendous conditions and terrible exploitation.

That's why the Government is right to be seeking to resettle people from war-torn countries like Syria. We have a strong record of making a difference. We took in hundreds of children from the Calais Jungle last year. We reunited them with their families already living in the UK – giving them a warm bed to sleep in and a roof over their head at Christmas.

At the Dover and Deal frontline we have been working hard to care for refugee children. In Kent we look after nearly 800 – almost a quarter of all child refugees in Britain. That's five times more than the whole of Scotland – and 12 times more than Wales. This has put real pressure on public services. It's incredibly disappointing that other councils and other nations fail to do their bit.

In Kent we are in a very real way at the frontline of this migrant crisis. It is we who see families shivering in the back of refrigerated lorries at Dover docks. It is we who see desperate migrants landing on Deal beaches in dinghies and claiming asylum. And it is we who see our resources stretched to the brink as we care for ever more vulnerable youngsters dumped on our doorstep by ruthless people traffickers.

This is why taking in more refugee children from Calais and the Dubs amendment system is the wrong answer. The right answer is to discourage people from coming to Calais at all. And to take the battle to the people traffickers and end their evil trade of modern slavery.

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13 FEB 2017

Calling for clean-up of site destroyed by fatal fire

I am calling for a Dover town centre site to be cleaned up 40 years after it was destroyed in a fatal fire.

The Bench Street building, formerly known as The Crypt, was erected in 1840. There were bars and restaurants on the lower floors and residential accommodation upstairs.

That was until tragedy struck on March 27, 1977, when seven people died after a devastating fire ripped through the four-storey building. Since then the shell has been left to decay in the heart of Dover town centre.

For decades the former Crypt site has been left to ruin. It's high time this area was cleaned up.

Work on the exciting St James scheme continues. Yet we must make sure Dovorians can be proud of every corner of the town centre. We need to build a better future for Dover and I have been urging the council to take action.

I wrote to Dover District Council, calling for work to begin soon. They said the owner will take down the scaffolding before a general tidying-up.

According to DDC, Historic England will then likely launch a consultation over The Crypt's future use.

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10 FEB 2017

Visiting a community asset run by volunteers

I found out about the hard work of volunteers during a visit to the Deal Centre for the Retired last week.

The Park Street building has become a community hub where older residents can relax, converse, play games and have meals. The volunteers also do a meal delivery service and organise other things like bathing and hairdressing.

I can see why for so many people the centre has become a sort of home from home. The volunteers are warm, friendly and incredibly hard-working. It was lovely to meet Andy and Mandy who run the kitchen, serving more than 40 meals a day in the dining room and sending out more than 50 meals a day via delivery.

I first visited the day centre to meet the retirees and chat to volunteers over a cup of coffee. I then saw the Norman Wisdom Dementia Suite, where music, films and activities are used to help those with memory issues.

The centre is a real asset to the community and I hope they continue their vital work.

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10 FEB 2017

Dover factory is already leading way in global trade

I was given a tour of a Dover factory already leading the way in global trade.

Gatic is a manufacturing firm supplying access and drainage products to infrastructure projects in 93 countries. I met staff and saw their products and machinery first hand at the Poulton Close site.

Gatic has forged a reputation by making products to an extremely high spec and as part of a sophisticated supply chain. It is more proof our area is ready to capitalise on the global opportunities that will arise post-Brexit.

But Gatic's competitiveness is under threat because of EU rules aimed at offsetting cheaper Chinese imports, another example of European red tape. They should not be punished for the failure of Europe to reform and modernise.

I am talking to HM Revenue and Customs to try to get them exempted.

Gatic's products are at the high end of the market but have to meet minimum performance characteristics set by the EU. The Commission says Chinese products were sold in Europe at heavily dumped prices, so they have imposed duties ranging from 43.5 to 81.1 per cent. It says this will prevent damage to European companies.

Peter Burnap, Gatic's managing director, told me it could have serious repercussions for their competitiveness in the market and employment implications for their workforce.

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09 FEB 2017

Fighting to fix our roads

People in Dover and Deal have felt let down by local roads for too long. It's time for Highways England to step up and deliver for our community.

This feeling was clear when I went to talk to residents of Shepherdswell and Lydden. They've been calling for the A2 to be dualled for decades. They see vehicles travelling too fast down a road not fit for purpose. Residents were even more concerned when faulty traffic lights caused more chaos on the carriageway in recent weeks.

Temporary lights were in place because of roadworks, but they went out of sync. There have been several cases of long tailbacks since – and a very nasty crash. I urged Highways England to send workers to fix the problems, but it was sadly too late for some.

In the long-term, everyone knows the two main roads which lead to Dover need serious attention. After plans to dual the A2 were axed in the late 1990s, I've been making the case to the Government to get the scheme back on the table.

Meanwhile, I was disappointed by Highways England's latest delay in making the 40mph limit on the A20 variable. They now claim they will have it sorted by June. It was meant to be this March, so we shall see.

Just look at how quickly the railway sea wall was completely rebuilt along Shakespeare Beach. It was a remarkable feat of British engineering. Trains were running from Deal and Dover to London again in just nine months.

Surely it's much harder to rebuild a sea wall than make a speed limit variable? I raised my serious concerns about Highways England with the Transport Secretary this week.

Highways England also need to look at litter which builds up on verges and creates the wrong impression of our wonderful area. We are steeped in history and surrounded by beautiful countryside. Yet the first thing visitors see is rubbish on the roadside. Dover District Council want to clear it up – but they need Highways England to give access to the road. Both sides need to work together to sort it out.

It's vital we fix our roads – not just for Dover and Deal but for the entire nation. Gridlock in Kent costs the country millions of pounds. The A20 and A2 are vital routes and I'm pressing our case for more investment.

We've come so far since 2010 in building a brighter future for Dover and Deal – with a new hospital, Burlington House down and high speed trains sweeping through our stations. It's time we had roads fit for a renaissance of our region.

The hard working people of Dover and Deal have run out of patience with the excuses. Highways England have let us down for too long. It's time they shared the urgency the rest of us feel – and made 2017 the year of action.

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03 FEB 2017

Joining drinkers at another fantastic festival

I opened the 24th White Cliffs Festival of Winter Ales on Friday - and once again what an event it was. 

Outside Dover Town Hall scores of beer enthusiasts queued in the street before the doors were flung open at 1pm.

This year's event – run over two days by the Campaign for Real Ale – featured 30 Kentish ales, 11 Kentish ciders and 31 beers from elsewhere in the country. Dover's own Breakwater Brewery sponsored the pint glasses, while money was raised for the Poppy Appeal. 

It was great to be back in Dover for a tasty pint of ale at another fantastic festival. The historic building, with its huge paintings and old weaponry on the walls, was the perfect setting for this hugely popular event.

Everyone was in great spirits and it was great to see Dover buzzing. We need to see more events like this. It was also a great chance to celebrate Dover's magnificent micropubs and breweries.

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Great comments on the beautiful Maison Dieu; just do NOT let it be turned into luxury flats! Excellent to know that the cider and ale production in our area continues to be feted! CHeers to all you drinkers!
- S.Purton-Smith

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03 FEB 2017

Meeting residents fed up with faulty traffic lights

On Friday I met with residents of Shepherdswell and Lydden plagued by traffic problems on the A2 in recent weeks.

Temporary traffic lights were placed at the top of Lydden Hill during repairs, but motorists said sequencing problems caused chaos.

One woman told me how she suffered broken bones in a nasty crash which knocked her child unconscious. Others said they were left queuing for hours when all the lights went red.

Highways England sent workers to the site and finally fixed the lights after I contacted them last week.

It's no surprise the community feels let down. The road hasn't been fit for purpose for a long time and the latest problems only add to the frustration.

If we are going to realise a better future for Dover and Deal, we need to see growth without gridlock.

Just like with the A20 speed limit, highways chiefs have got to get on top of these things sooner – and make sure the road is safe.

The traffic lights needed replacing because a lorry struck the poles in early December. Repairs were not completed at the busy junction until January 31 – six weeks after the accident.

Residents also spoke of problems caused by speeding along the road, which turns into a single carriageway at Lydden.

The upgrading of the A2 is long overdue. I've been working tirelessly to make this happen. Plans were scrapped by Labour in the 1990s but I've been making the case to get the scheme back in the programme

I raised the issue in a meeting with the Chancellor this week and I will keep fighting to fix our roads. 

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27 JAN 2017

In Calais four months after the Jungle was cleared

On Friday I went to Calais. I wanted to see for myself whether the French had kept their pledge to stop the Jungle migrant camp from returning.

For years they had allowed the camp to grow. By the summer of 2016 it was home to 10,000 people, including hundreds of children. And lurking in the shadows were criminal gangs preying on the vulnerable.

As the Jungle grew, so did the number of attacks on tourists and truckers on the approach road to the Port of Calais. Ruthless people traffickers, armed with anything from chainsaws to machetes, would launch burning trees across the road. They were putting people's lives at risk in reckless attempts to stop traffic so desperate migrants could clamber on board Dover-bound lorries.

No matter how many walls and fences were built, the problem never went away. It became clear the only way to tackle this problem would be to dismantle the camp for good.

So during the summer I fought harder than ever to get this done, working closely with the Calais authorities throughout. It was a long and hard battle yet we never gave in. And in October last year the French Government caved in and work to clear the Jungle finally began.

Britain took in hundreds of cold and starving children, meaning they had a roof over their head and a warm bed at Christmas. Vulnerable people living in the camp were moved to centres across France, where they have sanitation and running water in place of the squalor of the Jungle.

We also took action to tackle the number of people reaching our shores on small craft. Too often we saw migrants land on the beaches of Dover and Deal. Who knows how many were arriving undetected.

So security has been stepped up along our shore and the Jungle has been cleared. Yet the migrant crisis has not gone away. That's why I've been putting pressure on the French to make sure they stop any new camps from forming – before the first tent is pitched.

I was pleased to see on Friday that what was once a squalid camp of ramshackle tents and makeshift shops is now completely empty. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago, thousands of people were living here in awful conditions.

So far the French have succeeded in keeping Calais clear. Yet we must all remain vigilant. The Jungle must never be allowed to return.

And in Dover we must invest in building a modern border – fit for Brexit Britain. That means using state-of-the-art technology, data sharing and surveillance to tighten security while keeping trade free flowing.

My top priority is making Brexit work for Dover and Deal. We must start by strengthening our borders and working to make sure the Calais Jungle is gone for good.

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You should set that to Elgar
- Simon Finlay

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26 JAN 2017

From riots to a renaissance of our region

January 30th will mark a year since far-right thugs and violent anti-fascists turned Dover into a warzone.

Families were forced to hide inside their homes as chaos broke out along Folkestone Road. Bottles and bricks were hurled across the street. Market Square descended into mayhem.

Seeing these ugly scenes developing, I knew immediately this must never be allowed to happen again.

The officers on the ground had bravely tried to contain these thugs. Yet they did not have enough support and lost control.

Fast forward to April last year – and many of the mindless louts who had come to Dover simply to cause trouble in January were back, hoping for another fight. Yet following my demand for Dover to be protected, this time there were more than 600 officers waiting for them. Unsurprisingly, the thugs stopped coming back.

And Kent Police have kept up the good work since then. More than 60 people have been charged and several jailed. This is exactly the sort of no-nonsense response the people of Dover and Deal demand. Kent Police should be applauded for their swift and effective crackdown.

Booting these thugs out of town was one of several problems we worked hard to fix in 2016. Let's not forget that last year also saw Burlington House come down, the Calais Jungle dismantled and the Dover to Folkestone rail line fixed.

This was all vital work which we must now build on. And it's clear there are businesses in Dover, Deal and Kent that are desperate to expand.

On Friday, I chaired a Kent summit where we discussed the roads, rail and skills investment needed for our area to thrive. I was joined on the panel by fellow Kent MPs in front of more than 75 business leaders. This Kent and Medway Economic Partnership Summit set a clear strategy on the things our county needs to grow.

We need investment in Kent's roads and railways. The A2 must be dualled – and we need to get on with building the Lower Thames Crossing. We must act now to prevent gridlock and delays – which would affect the whole country, not just Kent.

Meanwhile, we must increase capacity on our train services to meet demand. And it's vital to support East Kent College in providing the lifelong learning needed for a modern economy.

Everyone knows Brexit will present challenges – but there will also be real opportunities to build the sort of Britain we want. A Britain where we take back control of our borders. Where we become the new business centre of the world.

If we make the right investment decisions now, I'm confident the entrepreneurs of Dover, Deal and Kent will lead the way. We must work hard to ensure that this time next year, we are moving forward with the renaissance of our region.

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20 JAN 2017

Meeting the new head of high-achieving school

I met the new headteacher at high-achieving Dover Grammar School for Girls.

Pupils achieved outstanding A-Level results in 2016, with 71.6 per cent of grades coming in at B or above.

New headteacher Robert Benson, previously deputy head of Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Faversham, took over from Matthew Bartlett in October.

He told me he wants to carry on his predecessor's good work, as well as see the standard of facilities match that of exam results.

It was a real pleasure to be shown around the school – a shining example of the brains and brilliance of young people in this area.But they need investment in their old buildings, so they are in an environment that reflects their ability.

The school is having difficulty getting planning permission because of the confined nature of the site and its listed structures. They want to replace old mobile classrooms with a new science block and sixth form centre.

Mr Benson is clearly focused on securing this and it was refreshing to hear his vision for the school. I will do all I can to help make their case for investment.

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Charlie Elphicke

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