What will our town be like in ten years? That was the subject up for discussion at Cheltenham Connect’s breakfast event last Friday, with input from a panel drawn from across different sectors of the town.
Naturally, the discussion was wide-ranging. I was invited as a borough councillor and as the main challenger at the next election to our MP. The debate was very healthy. My input focused on a vision of a town that was prosperous, green and healthy, with decent and affordable housing and good schools.
As a councillor, I led moves to secure the declaration of a climate emergency. We’ll be moving towards sustainable transport, more tree planting and renewable energy. We’ll also have to look at our housing stock to see how we can make it more energy efficient. The scope of the work is huge and keeping everybody in town up-to-date with what’s going on will be a big challenge. We’ll need support from other local authorities and the national government too, which was something set out in the council motion.
On housing, we’ll be investing £100 million in good quality homes. In an ideal world, some will be at affordable rent, some at market rent and others to buy. The aim will be to have a model that sustains itself, enabling further investment in more and more affordable homes over time. This is vital work. If we fail to provide the homes we need for our young people and families, local businesses won’t be able to find the workers they need.
The panel discussed education too. It’s clear that local state schools need more money. The schools cuts campaign, run and researched by teachers, tells us that all but one school in our town is worse off compared to 2015. That’s not sustainable, particularly with a rising population.
On the health front there was agreement in the room that further cutbacks at Cheltenham General’s A&E department are unacceptable. But if we’re to avoid that outcome, that’ll mean a change of direction in national NHS funding policy. We’ll all be watching closely.