Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon, Conservative) Maiden Speech 10/06/10
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. Although we are not quite neighbouring MPs, we share an excellent motorway, the M4, which connects our two constituencies.
I congratulate all those who have made some first-class maiden speeches today, two of which I shall highlight. My hon. Friend Tracey Crouch spoke passionately about her love of football-a love that I share but, the House will be delighted to know, not of the same team, Tottenham Hotspur. My hon. Friend Andrew Griffiths championed the sampling of the fine traditions of Burton's brewing industry. I am sure that all of us suffering greatly from nerves as we headed towards making our maiden speech would have formed an orderly queue to take up his suggestion.
Following tradition, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Michael Wills, who served the North Swindon constituency for 13 years. He had a reputation for meticulous attention to detail and worked extremely hard for my fellow local residents. On my first meeting with Michael, he assured me that one day we would both be in Parliament together. How right he was. I am sure that the whole House joins me in congratulating him on his elevation to the House of Lords, where he can continue to represent the people of Swindon in a different role.
I am a local resident of North Swindon and was a councillor for 10 years, up to the day of the general election. I am grateful that the local residents did not give me a huge amount of free time in allowing me to change roles. Earlier this week, on Monday, my hon. Friend Mr Buckland made an enlightening speech in which he set out the proud history of our town, covering its beginning as a small Saxon market town and its development through our proud railway heritage. Now, Swindon is one of the fastest growing towns in the country. In the spirit of teamwork that we show in having joint staff and joint offices, I shall not repeat the summary of history that he gave; instead, I shall focus on some of the more quirky and light-hearted facts that make our wonderful and unique town of Swindon so proud.
All maiden speakers champion the towns they represent, but I am delighted to say that I have some evidence that Swindon is as good as we all claim. In 2008, The Times said that it was the best place to buy a house-I welcome any Member who wishes to visit one of our local estate agents. We had the first example of a lending library, and I am pleased to say that two years ago we built a new £10 million central library on time and to budget-an aspiration for many Government Departments. I must say, however, that despite the fact that ours was the first lending library, it took us 40 years to replace a temporary set of portakabins, much to the annoyance of local residents. In addition, the much loved mechanics' institute was the first example of the basis of the NHS.
When I say that I am from Swindon, many people mention roundabouts, and we are indeed famous for "the magic roundabout". I assure those who have never embarked on the magic roundabout-a series of five roundabouts-that doing so is as daunting as making one's maiden speech. Those who know the music industry will know that, allegedly, the famous band Oasis named themselves after our very popular local Oasis leisure centre. I am proud that Swindon is twinned with cities such as Salzgitter, Ocatal, Torun, and Murcia. In addition, thanks to the endeavours and creative skills of local resident Rebecca Warren, we now have a formal twinning arrangement with Disneyland, so the magic of Disney is now being sprinkled across Swindon and our local paper finally has some colourful coverage.
In my role as a councillor, one of my main focuses was on leisure. I played a small part in addressing the subject of this debate-poverty-because I see how sport and leisure can play a big role in raising aspirations and providing opportunities for people. As a result of the excellent work of the sports forum that we set up, we now have more than 60 voluntary sporting groups that come together to share best practice, network and work together to create greater opportunities, as well as to leverage extra funding from external organisations and the council for that work.
Swindon is a thriving sports town. When researching all the different sports other than my main passion, football, I was surprised to find the following names that have all been adopted by local sports teams-I shall be testing hon. Members later. We have Swindon Wildcats, Flames, Sonics, St George, Supermarine, Robins and, of course, Swindon Town football club, which two weeks ago I was delighted to have the opportunity to cheer on at Wembley. I am afraid, however, that we did not quite overcome the final hurdle and make it into the championship, as we lost the play-off final, but I am sure that we have good foundations for next season. As a diehard blue Conservative, it is the only time people will catch me shouting, "Come on you reds!"
Turning from Swindon to the poverty debate with a rather tenuous link, I am concerned about the long-term quality-of-life issues arising from new build development. In the 10 years in which I was a councillor, I represented a predominantly new build area. When I was first elected in 2000, we had just 3,000 houses-I was very grateful when it took me just a few hours to deliver leaflets to all of them-but when I stood down, there were nearly 10,000 houses, and it took many weeks to deliver leaflets. I saw lots of examples of good development-I live in the area myself-but there were examples, too, of things that were not good, and we are storing up problems for the future, predominantly arising from the increasingly high density of new developments.
The first area of concern stems from the lack of open spaces and parks. That was partly down to the changing classification. Green space was taken into account, but it included hedges and heritage spaces-basically, places where people could not put down jumpers for goal posts. I have a great fear that future generations will miss out on the inspiration of sport. When I was young and Wimbledon was on for a fortnight, we would play tennis. When the Tour de France was on, out came the bikes. When the World and FA cups were on, out came the football. When the Ashes cricket was on, out came the cricket bats, and I was proud to emulate the failings often of some or our national sporting icons.
Without those open spaces, it is no surprise that child obesity has increased. Too often, we look at improving leisure centres, which is a commendable thing, but the lion's share of sporting activity takes place in open spaces. I am concerned that the lack of such space will fuel antisocial behaviour, as young people's endless, enthusiastic energy will not be burnt off.
Parking provision is another problem. It is understandable that the then Government should try to encourage residents to transfer to public transport-I support that principle-but local residents are far more creative than that and would find parking spaces on pavements and roundabouts, causing all sorts of problems, particularly for parents with pushchairs trying to get to local schools, as they had to go on to the road. All too often, emergency vehicles could not get access to roads, which was a serious concern.
The size of household gardens has shrunk by a third since 1960. In fact, 3.3 million people do not have access to their own private garden, so it is no wonder that the amount of time that children spend in their back garden under parental supervision has halved since the 1960s, fuelling child obesity. I enjoyed the outdoors, but too often children nowadays miss out on that.
I am concerned about unbalanced development. In theory, all developments are supposed to have a mix of family homes, private homes, affordable homes and retirement homes, but in my ward I kept seeing developers targeting family homes. We had a high concentration of young children, but despite the fact that every single primary school had expanded to the maximum capacity that the land would allow-and often beyond that-we still could not provide sufficient places in the most popular schools. We need a better mix of development so we can spread the burden on local infrastructure and services.
I sometimes question developer conduct-I certainly never received a Christmas card from developers in the ward that I represented, and I was quite proud of that-for two reasons. The first is their inability to adopt roads-I notice there is an Adjournment debate on the issue later-and the fact that they take far too long to do so. In particular, the moment the last house is sold, all too often maintenance falls away, much to the frustration of residents who are still paying council tax. Secondly, I am concerned about developers who create storage sites, which become an eyesore for local residents.
Sometimes in politics there is an element of luck. As I prepared my speech over breakfast the other day, I turned on the news only to see that the Government had announced that they were going to scrap minimum density targets and increase the power to protect back gardens. I was delighted to hear that and, as the Member for North Swindon, I will be a strong supporter of those proposals, and I will do all that I can to make sure that in future we have better developments that enhance the quality of life of people living on them.
You can also view the speech on Parliament TV:
It is around about 5 hours, 36 mins.