14 DEC 2018

Giving Teagan a chance

It's every parent's worst nightmare to see their child in pain. Yet this is the awful reality Emma Appleby has faced for so long.

Her beautiful daughter Teagan was born with the rare condition Isodicentric 15, a severe form of epilepsy. She is wheelchair-bound and can suffer up to 300 seizures a day. Earlier this year she required life-saving treatment five times in just eight days.

Emma had tried everything to ease her nine-year-old daughter's suffering, as any parent would. Yet nothing seemed to work. In July she got in touch with me to see if I could help.

Emma was fighting to get a license granted for little Teagan to have cannabis oil treatment. With known medication failing, the only other alternative suggested was for her to have risky procedures on her brain.

I felt strongly that Teagan should be given a chance. We were reading in the news of other youngsters being granted cannabis oil treatment. Clinical trials showed it helped dramatically reduce seizures. My view was that if we are prescribing patients morphine – which like heroin, is sourced from opium – then why should we not prescribe cannabis for medicinal purposes? This isn't about legalising cannabis for recreational use – that is just an unwelcome distraction. This is about helping children in severe pain.

That's why I urged the Home Secretary to intervene in Teagan's case. And in October he announced cannabis could be medically-prescribed by specialist consultants. Yet Teagan's treatment was still delayed, firstly due to restrictive guidelines drawn up by the NHS and then due to supply issues.

Without the help she needed, Teagan was soon back in intensive care suffering terrible seizures. I contacted the chief executive of the Trust which runs Evelina Childen's Hospital where she was being looked after. Kent-based GW Pharmaceuticals was eventually permitted to supply cannabis-based Epidiolex to Teagan's doctors.

Last week, I visited Emma and Teagan at their home in Aylesham to see how they were getting on. Teagan sat and watched Mickey Mouse on her iPad while Emma told me how she had been able to continue on the drug since leaving hospital. Things have definitely improved but Teagan is still suffering seizures during her sleep.

Emma's next fight is to get the stronger, THC form of cannabis treatment approved for her daughter, to see if that can put a stop to the seizures altogether. Emma hopes Teagan will return to school at the brilliant Whitfield & Aspen.

I was struck by how hard Emma has to fight, day in day out, for her daughter – and at times what a lonely and exhausting battle that must be. Yet her love for Teagan shines through. She will not stop until Teagan gets the help she needs.

I am determined to help. I will do everything I can to make sure the bureaucrats do not stand in Emma and Teagan's way. Common sense must prevail.

Teagan must be given every chance for a better life.

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11 DEC 2018

Plans to re-instate village bus services in Dover and Deal

Reinstating bus services in villages around Dover and Deal was top of the agenda during crunch talks with Stagecoach bosses. The firm's South East acting managing director Mike Watson and commercial director Matthew Arnold met with me to discuss recent changes.

Last year Stagecoach cut a number of commercial routes in rural areas. Kent County Council also announced that a further 78 subsidised services across the county were under threat. I led a campaign by Kent MPs against the plans. Council leader Paul Carter agreed to halt the proposals and launch a consultation.

Dover has now been selected as one of five areas for a new public transport pilot scheme – re-establishing regular services into Northbourne, Great Mongeham, Sholden, Ash and Staple from summer 2019.

We have had to fight incredibly hard for bus services in our corner of Kent. But it has paid off – because we are one of the few areas getting them re-instated. There is still a lot more to do. Stagecoach has been engaging well but I was clear I want to see more work done, particularly on services for Eythorne and between River and Canterbury. People in rural areas rely on buses to go to school and work and access vital services. The council must keep working with the bus companies to ensure people aren't cut off.

A new bus service will be created for Northbourne and Great Mongeham, connecting to existing services at Sholden and Ash along the main routes between Canterbury, Sandwich and Dover. New shelters will be constructed at Northbourne and Great Mongeham, with real time information departure boards. Timetables, routes and fares will be confirmed closer to the launch in 2019.

A KCC spokesman said the feeder service would be going out to public procurement. Stagecoach South East Commercial Director Matthew Arnold confirmed Stagecoach would be bidding for the contract.

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07 DEC 2018

Determined to be ready on day one

Ever since the EU referendum in 2016, we have been urging the Government to make sure we are ready for Brexit, deal or no deal.

We knew Brexit would present a challenge – and that nowhere would preparations be more important than at the Dover frontline. The Channel Ports account for around a third of the UK's entire trade in goods. It's in everyone's interests – the French's as well as ours – that traffic continues to flow.

However, there is of course a risk that the likes of President Macron may seek to punish us for daring to leave the EU. He may wish to make an example of us – in order to deter anyone else from having the courage to follow our lead.

That's why back in 2016 I got together with industry experts and worked up a plan to ensure we are ready on day one. Our blueprint set out how we could be prepared for every eventuality. Yet sadly the Government has so far failed to grasp the nettle and properly prepare for 'no deal' as they should have.

We are now leaving the EU in little over three months. It's crunch time. That's why last week I organised a 'no deal' summit at the Department for Transport with the Roads Minister.

It was great to get MPs, the port, police, Highways England, Kent County Council and Dover District Council round the table. There were a few things we made very clear to the Minister.

Firstly, that the Department's priority must be to stop port traffic from causing gridlock in Dover town. Secondly, that we have serious concerns about proposals to use Manston Airport as a lorry park. And thirdly, that we must ensure Kent Police have the funding required to handle any traffic queues in the event of no deal.

It was confirmed that Highways England's so-called Operation Brock will soon become a reality. Plans to erect steel barriers along the Londonbound carriageway between Junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 for the contraflow system will go ahead in February, deal or no deal.

I urged the officials to look at whether the Dover TAP cameras could enable an automatic number place recognition system to be used. That way any trucks caught skipping the queues would be sent all the way to the back or hit with fines.

Two days later I brought fellow Kent MPs along to the Port of Dover, so they could see first-hand just how vital it is that we keep trucks moving. This follows a visit from the Transport Secretary to the docks a few weeks before.

I am determined to keep up the pressure and so we can be prepared for every eventuality. We must have a clear plan for Kent – and to make sure our police and authorities have the resources they need to keep traffic flowing.

Of course, leaving the EU presents a challenge, particularly here at the frontline. But even though they knew it would be tough, 17.4 million people still chose to accept that challenge, including two-thirds of Dover and Deal. It's our job as politicians to take up that challenge too – and use all our energies to deliver for the people.

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I wonder what your opinion is on Highways England's proposal to seek permission to carry out surveys on private (green belt) farmland in Shepherdswell with a view to installation of a 1000 truck stop facility? We already know that the junction at A2/Lydden/Coxhill Road is dangerous and HE have no plans to adapt or make further changes to it. Coxhill Road is not suitable as an access road for HGVs to enter and exit the A2: which is HE's preferred option. We are already blighted by HGVs that come through Shepherdswell as a result of drivers following domestic sat nav devices and the construction of a huge lorry park in the vicinity of Shepherdswell will just compound this problem. We need our MP's support to stop this ill-thought out plan before surveys are even carried out.
- Ally Cooper

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05 DEC 2018

Children 'surfing' on Deal trains are risking their lives

Children are putting their lives at risk by "surfing" on trains departing from Deal station, staff have warned me. Station manager Kyle Miller said that anti-social behaviour was an increasing issue on the platform.

He said that the problem has recently escalated with teenagers "surfing" on trains on Saturday, November 17, and Sunday, November 18. The "surfing" involves the children grabbing on to the side of the carriages and holding on as the train starts moving. Mr Miller said the train drivers put the brakes on as soon as they spot the youngsters. As a result, delays are caused for passengers on board and further down the line.

This behaviour is incredibly dangerous and needs to stop now. These youngsters are putting their lives at risk. Staff are becoming increasingly worried about anti-social behaviour on the platform. British Transport Police need to increase their presence at Deal station and put a stop to it.

The surfing issue was revealed during a meeting Charlie organised with Southeastern to discuss sprucing up Deal station. I am backing the Deal Station Clean-up Crew, who he joined for a litter pick in October. He called for Southeastern and Network rail to get the station back on track.

Southeastern listened to residents' concerns and put in new bins in recent weeks – but the protective plastic covering has already been smashed. The responsibility for sprucing up the station's metal bridge and rusting signs lies with Network Rail. I am raising the issue with them once again, while also urging British Transport Police to tackle reports of anti-social behaviour.

Deal deserves better than this. We need a spruced-up station which residents can be proud of – and to crack down on anti-social behaviour.

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02 DEC 2018

The Port of Dover's White Cliffs Christmas launch

The Port of Dover Cruise Terminal doors swung open for the White Cliffs Christmas experience on Sunday. I was among scores of visitors at the official launch of this year's event, which runs until January 1 2019.

For the third year in a row, the Old Marine Station has been transformed into a winter wonderland complete with an ice rink, traditional Christmas market and Santa's grotto. I met up with organiser Amanda Stewart to discuss the "bigger and better" offer this year.

The historic building at Cruise Terminal One, Dover Western Docks, has once again been decked out with Christmas decorations, feature rides including bumper cars, Christmas activities, a new bar managed by locals Breakwater Brewery, a tea room and several food outlets.

There was a packed programme of entertainment for the launch from 10am until 8pm, including live music from local bands and Father Christmas' arrival on his sleigh pulled by real reindeer. Adding to the seasonal mood was the undercover real ice rink, which is larger than ever this year measuring some 400m².

It was fantastic to see so many local families getting into the Christmas spirit down at the port. A real festive atmosphere with lots of activities run by fantastic local businesses have made this event a huge success. It's getting better and better each year and everyone involved deserves huge credit.

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01 DEC 2018

Crunch talks with Roads Minister on 'no deal' Brexit impact

Crunch talks on how a "no deal" Brexit could impact East Kent were held at the Department for Transport this week. I organised the meeting on Tuesday (November 27th) with Roads Minister Jesse Norman so the Port of Dover and Kent Police could raise their concerns.

I told the Minister that the Department's priority must be to stop port traffic from causing gridlock in Dover town, and also raised his serious concerns about proposals to use Manston Airport as a lorry park. And I reiterated the need to ensure Kent Police have the funding required to handle any traffic queues in the event of no deal.

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale, Port of Dover chairman Richard Everitt, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott and Kent County Council leader Paul Carter also attended the meeting. We were also joined by Cllr Nigel Collor – a district councillor who also represents Dover Town at KCC – and Highways England's John Kerner, who is in charge of "Operation Brock".

The port's finance director Shaun Pottage and operations manager Emma Ward, along with Kent Police's assistant chief constable Peter Ayling and Department officials, were there as well. 

We discussed the plans for the contraflow system between Junctions 8 and 9 of the M20, known as "Operation Brock". The proposals would create 2,000 on-road lorry holding spaces on the coastbound carriageway. It was confirmed that plans to erect steel barriers along the Londonbound carriageway for the contraflow will go ahead in February, deal or no deal.

Other traffic management options in the event of queues at the Channel Ports include Manston, Dover TAP and parking lorries on the M26. I suggested that the Dover TAP cameras could enable an automatic number place recognition system to be used – so any trucks caught skipping the queues would be sent all the way to the back or hit with fines.

I called this summit in order to get everyone around the table so the Minister could hear the very real concerns we have here in Dover about stopping our town from being gridlocked. If the EU seeks to cause queues at Dover and Calais in the event of no deal – we need to make sure our local roads are kept clear. People need to be able to get to work and carry on as normal.

The Minister was left in no doubt of the serious concerns many of us have about using Manston Airport as a lorry park. We need a clear plan for Kent – and to make sure our police and authorities have the resources they need to keep traffic flowing.

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30 NOV 2018

My grave doubts about the Brexit deal

In the 2016 referendum, some two thirds of the voters in Dover & Deal voted to leave the European Union. The decision was clear – to take back control of our borders, laws, money and trade.

I have reviewed carefully the proposed EU Withdrawal Agreement. I have grave doubts about it for the following reasons:

1. In the EU we have a say and we can leave. Under this proposal we will effectively stay in the EU, but have no say and can never leave. It is like Hotel California – you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. Indeed President Macron is already looking to take advantage – warning the UK will be trapped forever in the so-called "backstop" unless we cave in on fishing.

2. This proposal fails to honour the referendum mandate. We will not take back control of our laws, waters, money or trade.

3. It fails to honour the Conservative Manifesto. We will not leave the EU's single market or customs union in any meaningful way. Nor will we make the Supreme Court supreme again as the European Court of Justice will still hold sway over us.

4. Northern Ireland would be treated differently from the rest of the UK. It effectively creates a border down the Irish Sea. This undermines our precious union which cannot be acceptable.

5. The Future Relationship political declaration is just that – a declaration not a treaty. Should £39 billion of your hard-earned money be spent on a promise rather than a legally enforceable trade treaty?

It would be better instead to enter a Canada style trade agreement with the EU. There is still time for the Prime Minister to change course and deliver a better deal for Britain. A deal that honours the referendum mandate and enables us to depart the EU as friends.

In coming to this conclusion, I have also thought deeply about the impact on our community. On the one hand I have a clear instruction for the UK to leave the EU. On the other many are concerned that if we leave the EU without agreement it would make trade across the English Channel harder. That the result would be queues of lorries across Kent and that cross-Channel trade and Dover would both suffer.

That's why after the referendum I called a summit of the ports and transport industry to see how systems could be devised to ensure the Dover-Calais route continues to be a success. Together we drew up a blueprint with a detailed plan setting out how we can be ready on day one, deal or no deal. Sadly, the Government failed to properly prepare for no deal as they should have. So 'no deal' could be challenging for our area in the short-term, if the EU try to punish us and take advantage of our lack of preparation.

This is an important time in the history of our nation. A time for political courage. We don't need to be bullied by the EU into this bad deal. Deal or no deal is a false choice. The Prime Minister should go and seek a better deal for Britain to become a free-trading, global nation once again. I believe our greatest days are not behind us – they are yet to come.

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I have questioned the government's resolve on the whole Brexit deal from day one.... Why agree a Divorce settlement fee before the rest of the divorce has been agreed.... You wouldn't do it if you were husband and wife so why treat this "deal" any different... If the EU want to play hard ball then we say the settlement fee is no longer on the table, oh hold on dont tell me this government has already signed the paperwork to agree we will give them the money no matter what!!!!!
- Ralp spicer

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27 NOV 2018

50 new border jobs coming to Dover

Fifty new jobs are coming to the HMRC site in Dover. The Priory Court building currently employs around 150 full time equivalent employees – but it will become the new Dover Specialist Site accommodating some 200.

It includes moving around 30 roles from Maidstone's Organised Crime and Mobile Enforcement Teams as well as 20 new specialist compliance roles, adding to the 120 already there. The staff will work in HMRC's intelligence teams – tackling fraud and assessing risk – in close co-operation with Border Force and the National Crime Agency.

It was revealed in a letter to me from HMRC's chief executive Jon Thompson, who made the case for more investment at the Dover frontline.

Fifty jobs coming to our area is fantastic news, especially when there had been fears the Dover office might close. Yet we made the case for Dover and HMRC listened. It means we have actually beefed up border security resources here at the frontline ahead of Brexit, which is exactly what I have been calling for.

"But I want to see even more investment. As well as extra staff, we need more resources and state-of-the-art technology to deliver the truly modern, secure border our nation needs.

In his letter, Jon Thompson wrote: "I am now pleased to be able to confirm that having considered options in the Dover area we will be retaining our existing site for the foreseeable future and that, from 1 April 2021, the site will become our Dover Specialist Site.

"Priory Court will accommodate around 200 full time equivalent employees, more people than we currently have based there, in specialist compliance roles within our Fraud and Intelligence and Risk and Intelligence teams.

"They will work closely with colleagues in Border Force and National Crime Agency who are also located on the site.

"It makes operational sense to have our Specialist Teams in one location. Dover is already an important strategic location for our Fraud Investigation Service and EU Exit makes it more important than ever to boost our presence there."

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26 NOV 2018

High streets expert discusses plans for Dover and Deal

Exciting and innovative plans for the future of Dover and Deal's town centres were discussed when a Government expert on high streets visited last week. I invited Cllr Graham Galpin of Ashford Borough Council, who sits on the Government's expert panel on high streets, to see what our area has to offer.

Dover District Council leader Keith Morris and head of regeneration Tim Ingleton also attended and discussed the authority's ambitious plans. We met at the St James development and then walked down Flying Horse Lane to Cannon Street and Biggin Street – which has been dubbed Dover's "old town" – and spoke to shopkeepers.

We then visited Deal, which won high street of the year in 2013 and has since gone from strength to strength following my campaign to bring the fast train to town. We also talked about bidding for the Government's new £675 million Future High Streets Fund, announced in the autumn Budget. Towns can bid for up to £25 million of cash – but need to present a plan on how they will change the use of empty commercial properties, improve transport access and boost footfall.

It was fantastic to discuss exciting and innovative plans for Dover and Deal with Graham and Keith. Our town centres have such huge potential. Yet it's vital adapt to the rise of internet shopping.

One idea people have suggested is for our high streets to become more residential, with more independent shops and cafes too. So we offer people the sort of experiences and community spirit which you just can't get online. I'm determined to work with the district council to help make our high streets the best they can be.

Early next year the Government is launching a High Streets Taskforce to support local councils – with initial bids for the Future High Streets Fund opening in Spring 2019. Cllr Galpin's visit comes as an application for a £3 million project by Dover Town Team to "revitalise Dover's Historic Market Square and Old Town" successfully reached the next stage. The team have until January 21 to submit their Stage 2 application and business plan to the Government's Coastal Communities Fund. Successful projects are set to be announced in Spring 2019.

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23 NOV 2018

Fighting for stronger borders

Fighting for stronger borders is one of my top priorities. For years ruthless people traffickers have been exploiting the Dover-Calais route in order to break migrants into Britain.

Things reached crisis point in the summer of 2016. By then 10,000 vulnerable people were living in the squalor of the Calais Jungle. Driving along the road to the Port of Calais was like running a gauntlet – particularly for truckers forced to dodge burning branches lobbed across the carriageway, as people traffickers revved their chainsaws at the side of the road.

Yet after a hard-fought campaign we got the migrant camp dismantled. Since then the number of migrants detected at Dover has plummeted by more than a third, from 792 in 2016/17 to 503 in 2017/18. Of course, we still hear some reports of trouble in Northern France. Yet the situation has vastly improved – and the people of Calais have got their town back.

But everyone knows the battle for stronger borders is far from over. Because these people are desperate to reach our shores – and they will keep trying by any means possible. Now we've cracked down on the number of clandestines smuggled in trucks, we are seeing increasing numbers arriving in small craft.
Just last week, 48 migrants were rescued from the English Channel in the space of 48 hours, in five separate incidents. We've seen this sort of thing before – but more sporadically, and very rarely during November. To see this number of brazen attempts to break into Britain, even as winter sets in, is unprecedented and deeply concerning.

One small, open boat even had a toddler on board, underlining just how desperate these people are. Clearly we must do more to deter them from making these dangerous journeys across the world's busiest shipping lane.

A damning report last week revealed that just two Border Force cutters are in operation to patrol almost 11,000 miles of UK coastline. This compares to 600 cutters patrolling the Italian coast, more than 3,000 miles shorter, and 147 covering Spanish waters, more than 4,000 miles shorter. Meanwhile, the number of hours our cutters spent at sea dropped from 11,137 in 2015 to 9,497 last year.

What's more, only two of the Home Office's eight Coastal Patrol Vessels purchased in 2016 are in operation. And 'Project Kraken', launched to improve intelligence gathering from people working in the marine sector, received just 49 referrals in 2016/17, with only two considered "actionable".

We must do more, with a clear plan for greater investment in securing our borders and more properly trained staff – not some sort of Dad's Army set-up.

Otherwise evil people traffickers will continue to exploit the situation and more and more people will break into Britain. The Home Office must not turn a blind eye to this growing issue. We must keep fighting for stronger borders.

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Charlie Elphicke

Here you can read about local news matters and what I've been up to. You can make comments too. I'd welcome your feedback, so please do feel free to comment!

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