The hard work of so many years is beginning to pay off in Dover & Deal. Burlington House has been demolished and we're steaming ahead in building the homes we need. Last week, Deal was named a top seaside town by The Times newspaper. Last Friday I held my annual Jobs Fair – more businesses than ever turned up looking for people to fill their burgeoning vacancies. Tilmanstone Salads alone told me they wanted to hire 200 people. It's amazing how far things have come since 2010.
The fall of Burlington House was the firing of the starting gun on the regeneration we have so long needed. Seeing the steelwork go up at the St James development gives us all a glimpse of the future that is now arriving. A cinema complex, Nando's, Marks & Spencer and much, much more. It will be in the heart of Dover – boosting the town rather than taking shoppers away. My vision is that this development should be able to cross over Townwall Street and join up with a great waterfront development. That may take time but would make Dover a truly great destination.
Meanwhile The Times newspaper hailed Deal as one of the 20 best seaside towns in Britain – placing the town at Number One. This is a fantastic accolade for what we all know to be true. Deal has the nation's best high street, bags of charm, wonderful old houses and a superb seafront. The fast train we all campaigned for now sweeps into Deal all day every day – it is the icing on the cake that makes Deal a top place to live. I hope we will see even more visitors coming to boost our local economy and fill the brilliant restaurants and shops.
Destination Dover & Deal has taken a giant leap forward in recent years. Yet there is still more to do. Renewal is not simply about town centres. It's also about building the homes we need. Bringing opportunity and starter homes to our young people really matters. This is why I have been strongly supporting the new building developments at Aylesham and pressing for them to build more homes there faster. It's also vital we see quality homes for families and first time buyers built at Connaught Barracks.
We also need more jobs. My Jobs Fair certainly showed how many businesses are recruiting locally. This is good news. Unemployment has plummeted since 2010, yet I want to see it fall even further – full employment is my aim so that everyone can get the best crack at life.
These are exciting times for our community. So much is happening. Yet we need to see more. There is increasing momentum in Dover & Deal. The future is looking brighter – but we need to keep going and see it through.
I welcomed more than 600 people to my fifth Jobs Fair on Friday. More businesses than ever set up stalls at the event in Dover Town Hall.
Jobseekers met with firms including P&O Ferries, DFDS, the Port of Dover, Coombe Valley Transport Ltd, Gomez and Kennedy Scott. Hundreds of jobs were on offer – with Tilmanstone Salads alone seeking 200 new employees.
My Jobs Fair shows how many businesses are recruiting locally. This is great news. Unemployment has plummeted since 2010, yet I want to see it fall even further. I want to see full employment so that everyone can get the best crack at life.
Youth unemployment in Dover and Deal has halved since 2010. More than 4,000 apprenticeships have been created. East Kent College and Hadlow College gave out advice and information on more local opportunities at the jobs fair.
I've been working hard to make sure we help young people in Dover and Deal get a foot on the ladder. It's great to see so many apprenticeships being created and I want to see this continue.
In two years we will leave the European Union. It is vital that we are ready on day one for whatever happens. I made the case in the House of Commons last week that the most important preparations of all will be at the Dover and Deal frontline.
Last summer we had a taster of what will come if we are not ready. We saw queues of traffic all the way along the A20, A2 and M20. Some say this was nothing compared with what will happen if we are not ready. That is why I am pressing for more and faster investment in our roads. For lorry parks off the M20. For dualling the A2. And for the Lower Thames Crossing.
There are some people who seem to revel in doomsday scenarios for Brexit. I take a different view. We need to be ready and prepared so that the worst does not happen. That means we must invest in the Port of Dover. Over the past few years we have handed over millions to strengthen Calais. It's time we put Britain, and Britain's border, first. We must invest in the Dover and Deal frontline.
Of course, the best case scenario is that in two years' time we get a good deal from the EU. I hope that we do – and I believe that Theresa May is the only leader who can deliver it. Yet as we are leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and ending payments to Brussels – we have to be ready if the EU won't do a deal. We must make sure we can maintain a seamless flow of trade. That is why I am working with industry experts on both sides of the Channel at how to keep traffic moving through Dover and Calais.
This is vital not just to Dover and Deal, not just to Kent, but for the whole nation. It will not be much good for Scotland if we have queues at Dover, because they will not be able to get their whisky out by road. It will not be good for the Northern Powerhouse if it runs out of power. The Midlands Engine will conk out if it cannot get the components it needs on time.
That is why it is of national importance that trade continues to flow freely through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel. It matters to the whole of the United Kingdom – and indeed to Europe. Brexit must work for the good of us all.
If on day one no free trade deal has been agreed, Britain must be prepared. I believe that we can, should and must be – for the good of Dover, Deal, Kent and of the entire nation.
I saw how technology is helping people back to work during a visit to Dover's Jobcentre Plus.
Staff explained how they are teaching people to use the internet, social media and other digital skills in their efforts to find work.
I visited the Maison Dieu Road hub ahead of the fifth Dover and Deal Jobs Fair later this week. Dozens of firms will have stalls at Dover Town Hall on Friday, March 17, from 10am to 3pm.
More jobs and money in our part of Kent is a priority for us all. My Jobs Fair is about putting this into action by bringing local jobseekers and employers together.
I'm passionate about getting people into work. Dover is full of talented, aspirational people. Many want to get a foot on the jobs ladder, find a new challenge or discover ways to help others and make the most of their skills. But taking that initial step isn't always easy.
The Jobs Fair gives employers and job seekers the opportunity to showcase themselves to one another in person, without all the paperwork and online form-filling.
Firms including P&O, DFDS, the Port of Dover, Discovery Park, Coombe Valley Transport Ltd, Gomez, East Kent College, Hadlow College and Kennedy Scott will have stalls. People will be able to get information on training, apprenticeships and full-time work in a wide range of industries.
I visited a local school recently ranked "outstanding" by Ofsted.
Touring the Kingsdown and Ringwould Church of England Primary School site, I spoke to headteacher Jo Hygate about their recent success of in achieving an "outstanding" grade.
I was deeply impressed by the children's enthusiasm and the outstanding teaching at the school. Staff told me how the Deal Learning Alliance has allowed local schools to share ideas and work together to improve. It's so encouraging to see schools in our area going from strength to strength.
I am also supporting Kingsdown and Ringwould Primary with their efforts to become part of a multi-academy trust.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. On 6 March 1987, the Herald of Free Enterprise sailed out of the Belgian port of Zeebrugge for what was fatefully to be the last time. The bow doors of the ferry were not closed. Water came pouring in. The ship capsized. 193 people tragically lost their lives.
This is the 30th year we have gathered together in Dover to remember the worst peacetime maritime disaster of recent times. We gather together partly so that those who live on and have lost their loved ones know that we stand with them. They will never walk alone – our community will always walk with them.
We gather because as Bishop James Jones movingly said in his address at St Mary's Church on Monday, we do not seek closure. We seek remembrance of those our community knew and we seek acceptance – to be able to live with the terrible events. We cannot change what happened but it is still so hard to accept.
We gather together because we know we must also remember. The lessons of this tragedy must never be forgotten. Since that fateful day, alarm systems warn if anything is amiss, crew regulations have been tightened, any water coming in is swiftly monitored, a more careful lookout is required and much more. Our ferries must not just be seen to be the safest in the world. They must be the safest in the world. There must not be any backsliding from the regulations that came in to see that this is so.
So many in our community were affected by this dreadful event. I was so moved to hear the heartrending stories of the survivors. How a little girl managed to get picked up in a boat when the people she was close to in the sea did not. How some, by chance of place, managed to make it to safety while others did not. And how still others should have been aboard but were not by a late change of plan.
It is the seemingly random hand of chance that caused some to live and others to be lost that so many find so hard to deal with. How can you ever hope to fathom meaning in that which has none? For so many that is what makes this terrible event all the harder to cope with.
For me, this is why Bishop James was right in saying we should not seek closure, but acceptance. We cannot change what happened. Yet with acceptance we can respect the loved ones who were lost and perhaps lessen the pain.
We will never forget the victims. We will never forget what happened. We will always be there to care for the families and loved ones who live on. This is why I am so proud of the timeless values of our community here in Dover and Deal.
I visited the Landmark Community Garden to get a taste of the Deal Hop Farm project.
The garden is one of hundreds signed up to the scheme, organised by local group Deal With It.
Volunteers distribute hop plants to members and give advice on how to look after them.
Later in the year the plants will be harvested and returned to the Ripple Steam Brewery – where the final product is made.
This is a fantastic project. People get out in the fresh air, make use of their gardens, learn new skills, and work together as a community. At the end of it all, we get to enjoy lovely local beer in some of our amazing pubs.
Deal continues to go from strength to strength and I applaud this latest brilliant idea from the Deal With It team.
I welcome a commitment finally being made to improve shameful broadband in parts of Dover and Deal.
Some residents in villages like Lydden and Temple Ewell get internet speeds of less than two megabytes per second – ten times slower than parts of Dover town.
I joined Lydden ward district councillor Mark Rose to speak with furious business owners and villagers. We have repeatedly called on Kent County Council (KCC) and BT to improve broadband speeds.
These days the internet plays such an important role in people's lives. Yet the service in some of our rural areas is shameful.
In order for small businesses in the regions to thrive, we must have better broadband. These excruciatingly slow speeds make a mockery of modern Britain.
KCC says a street cabinet with new fibres will be installed in Canterbury Road, Lydden, on the southern edge of Chunnel Plant Hire's depot. According to the authority, work will begin soon and finish by September this year.
We must not see any more delays. I will be pressing KCC and BT to stick to their timeframe.
More jobs and money for our area has long been a key priority. We've made real progress – unemployment has halved since 2010, with apprenticeships and young people being particularly successful. It's been great to see so many new businesses starting up or expanding.
In Dover Burlington House has come down. It took so long many doubted it would ever happen. Now new steel frames are rising up, giving shape to the cinema, shops and hotel that are being built. The £50m plus St James development will make such a change to Dover and provide real momentum to the renewal of the town.
In Deal, we fought hard to get the fast train. We succeeded and it's been a success. The prosperity it has brought the town has made a real difference - and Deal's high street is now one of the best in the land. Small surprise it won High Street of the Year and I hope it will soon do so again.
Down at the Port of Dover, they're handling record levels of traffic. This underlines the importance of our campaign to get the A2 dualled and the M20 lorry park built. The Western Docks revival is now moving ahead. A new marina and new jobs on the seafront should make a real difference.
We've done a lot, yet there is much more to do. So it was quite a surprise recently to see the new business rates revaluation. Every local authority area in Kent is seeing a fall in business rates of about 5%. Even swanky Sevenoaks sees falling business rates. So it was a shock to see the Dover district's rates pegged for a rise of 11%. How could this be when we have so much deprivation in East Kent?
Pressing the Communities Secretary on the issue, it's become clear this rise is due to a revaluation of the Channel Tunnel whose business rates are allocated to the Dover district. The Tunnel will see its rates go up a lot. This means that the rest of the Dover District will see a fall of 8% - a real boost to businesses in our community. It's also welcome that the Government plans to support smaller businesses which are affected by the ending of business rates relief.
The next key steps for our community will be to bring forward the homes we need. There are not enough homes to go round and our young people really struggle to get on the housing ladder. That's why I am working hard to support the building of the new homes our community needs – so long as they have the infrastructure to go with it.
There is a real sense that things are moving forward in our community. No doubt there will be bumps in the road, yet real progress is being made. I will do everything I can to make sure Dover & Deal continue to move forward in the years to come.
I visited the Western Heights and heard how the Citadel fortress could be transformed into quality housing.
The site was previously used as Dover Immigration Removal Centre until its closure at the end of 2015.
We need more housing in Dover and Deal if we are going build a better future for our community. In this project we have a real chance to preserve the historic character of one of Dover's great historic assets – and make use of it for the good of the town.
The development would follow a similar project at Connaught Barracks, where demolition work continues ahead of some 500 homes being built at the former army headquarters.
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