This year is the 175th anniversary of the first use of Morse code to communicate between cities. More importantly, it is also the centenary of GCHQ. So last week I led a debate in Parliament to mark that milestone - concluding my speech with the first ever Morse code message in the House of Commons...
I called the debate because I wanted to pay tribute to the intelligence work that goes on in our town. The stark fact is that there are people alive today - civilians as well as soldiers - who would not be able to go home to their friends and families but for the skill of those serving at GCHQ. Thousands of people have also been spared the trauma of becoming a victim of serious crime, and countless more have avoided the misery of seeing their livelihoods destroyed by the action of cyber gangsters and hostile state actors. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
You can click the photo below or HERE to watch the speech in full.
Here in Cheltenham, I was delighted to help open the £2m+ Apollo theatre at Cheltenham General Hospital. It's an amazing facility, as good as any you’ll find anywhere in the world, and includes a sophisticated ventilation system that pumps ultra-filtered air into the theatre, reducing the risk of post-operative infections.
The money comes from a £10m Government capital grant, over and above the £39m allocated to Gloucestershire Hospitals last year. I was asked by the Trust to help unlock that grant when progress with Department of Health officials stalled; it involved a lot of working behind the scenes at DH, but I'm delighted we heaved it over the line in the end.
There's other news below on the parking proposals (you can read my letter opposing plans to introduce charges at the previously free Pittville Pump Room, Sixways and Church Piece car parks). And there's news too on the scheduled opening of the Cheltenham Spa station car park.
Highlights of the last fortnight also include the ever-impressive Red Arrows' flypast over the Doughnut to mark the attendance of the Prince of Wales for the GCHQ Centenary. And I really enjoyed having a spin on the charity pop-up velodrome outside the muni - albeit wearing a suit, and on my fold-up Brompton bike...
I also wanted to say how wonderful it was, at the 80th anniversary celebrations for Hatherley Park, to meet someone who was actually there at its opening in 1939! Keith Jones can be seen, as a boy, in a contemporary photo playing on the 'witch's hat' apparatus (absolutely lethal, btw, and long since banned). It was so special to see him enjoying the picnic with everyone else.
Finally, I meet many inspiring people in this job, but I wanted to pay tribute to local resident Adam, who drove his wheelchair from Cheltenham to Northampton Silverstone (over 60 miles) on 11 July to raise money for the REMAP charity. A hugely impressive achievement. It's not too late to sponsor him HERE.
Many thanks for reading.
Alex Chalk MP
P.S Please note that these fortnightly updates are intended to be no more than an overview. If you would like an in-depth update on my various campaigns (from restoring night-time A&E services at Cheltenham General to adolescent mental health and cracking down on the town's 'grot spots') please do get in touch.
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I asked a question in PMQs about the London Bridge terror attacks. Despite the fact that the family of at least one of the terrorists received legal aid at the inquest, the families of the victims did not. Those relatives included my constituents in Cheltenham. It's an justice which needs to be put right. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO
CLICK ABOVE OR HERE to watch me tackling the Charity Velodrome on the Promenade in support of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Hospitals Charity's Breast Cancer Appeal
At PMQs, called on the Prime Minister to fix the injustice which saw a family of a London Bridge terrorist receive legal aid for the inquest, but not the (Cheltenham-based) family of one of the victimsREAD MORE HERE or WATCH HERE
Pushed for resources to be targeted at helping to train A&E doctors at Cheltenham General Hospital. Responding for the Government, the Health Secretary praised Alex as the “the best advocate for Cheltenham” who supports Cheltenham General "incredibly strongly" READ MORE HERE
Spoke out against the appalling and unfair practice impacting on some of his constituents who, as leaseholders, are trapped by doubling ground rents, and on occasion left unable to sell their property READ MORE HERE
Rejected SNP claims that the British Government has acted illegally in relation to the Chagos Islands (which include Diego Garcia)READ MORE HERE
Made a speech in Parliament in favour of additional schools funding for special needs. The Minister responding called Alex an “assiduous champion for school funding and schools in Cheltenham” READ MORE HERE
Called in Parliament for broader recognition in Britain of the contribution and sacrifice made by Polish airmen and women to the British effort in the Second World War
Backed the ‘One Last Push’ campaign in Parliament to eradicate polio worldwide. Alex decided to back the campaign after hearing the powerful testimony of a Cheltenham polio survivor
Attended the launch of the Conservative Environment Network manifesto, and made a contribution about the importance of international cooperation. Alex was a founding member of the caucus, and you can find the manifestoHERE
Attended military briefing with Air Commodore Simon Edwards
Met with Cancer UK’s ambassador for Cheltenham to discuss what can be done locally and nationally to help fight this devastating disease
Attended the NHS Parliamentary Awards in Parliament. Alex had nominated a local carer for these prestigious awards
Spoke alongside barristers and other legal experts at a Politea meeting about the future of human rights post-Brexit
Joined BBC South West for round table meeting with other South-West MPs. Alex joined other colleagues in expressing his concern about the decision to charge over-75s for their TV licence
Attended a GCHQ/NCSC accelerator ‘demo day’ at the Royal Society of Arts in London. Alex introduced local tech start-up Lujam
Backed Alzheimer’s Society’s campaign on dementia care meeting experts to discuss the future for care in the UK
Visited the Permanent Joint HQ in Northwood with the Parliamentary Armed Forces scheme, to see first-hand how overseas military deployments are supported from the UK
Met with representatives from Versus Arthritis
Welcomed a Cheltenham teacher to Parliament, who had accepted Alex's invitation to take part in the UK Parliament Teacher Ambassador Programme
Joined BAE at their parliamentary summer reception - BAE is a major Cheltenham employer
Attended the most recent APPG on Community Transport meeting to plan the future programme of work in Parliament to support this vital sector. Alex is a champion of Community Connexions in Cheltenham which provides affordable transport for some of the most vulnerable people in Gloucestershire
Celebrated Action for Children’s 150th anniversary at an event in Parliament
Provided PPS support at Defence Oral Parliamentary Questions. WATCH HERE
Welcomed another forty constituents to Parliament on another Constituency Tour Day. You can join one of these by responding to this email. Alternatively, if you’d be interested in watching proceedings from the gallery, please contact Georgie (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Joined medical staff for the opening of the newly refurbished £2 million+ state-of-the-art Apollo Theatre at Cheltenham General Hospital, funded by a £10 million Government grant. This funding is over and above the £39 million allocated to Gloucestershire Hospitals last year
Responded to Cheltenham Borough Council's 2019 Parking Consultation, objecting to the proposals for a further hike in parking charges, and planned introduction of parking charges at free car parks including at Whitefriars/Sixways, Pittville Pump Room and Church Piece. You can read more about the plans HERE and read Alex's letter of objection HERE
Welcomed, together with the Mayor, Director of GCHQ and hundreds of GCHQ staff, the Prince of Wales to Cheltenham for his visit to the "Doughnut"
Hailed a key step forward in his vision for Cheltenham as the leading UK cyber hub, with the announcement of a new partnership between Gloucestershire College and the University of the West of England, which will lead to the rollout of GCHQ-approved computing qualifications
Held talks with Great Western Railway regarding the station car park expansion works and the new cycle rail link from the station to Lansdown Road. GWR have written to Alex as follows:
''Work on the new spaces did get set back a little by the re-emergence of the Japanese knotweed in the high level car park near the large gas main. It was difficult to remove and that added about two weeks to the programme. It is now dealt with and we are on target to complete the new spaces in August as planned. I should note that we will be losing some more spaces from this weekend as work moves to form the new access in the boundary wall.
This is the first phase of the car park and forecourt works. Once that is complete we move on to phases 2 and 3, which will mean working on the old car park (North Side) and finishing off the forecourt. This work will be done during September and October. When complete we will no longer lose spaces for construction, and we will get the full benefit of the extra spaces and the better layout.
I can report on the A40 cycle link we have appointed designers to work up plans for submission to Network Rail for ‘Approval in Principle’.
This will need to be followed by more detailed design work, from which we can procure a contractor to build. We are also discussing the arrangements for ongoing maintenance and management with Network Rail and Cheltenham Borough Council. It is something we want to do, but delivery is subject to funding and securing Network Rail approvals.''
Took part in a panel discussion at the University of Gloucestershire with a group of Christians from Ramallah to discuss the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and beyond
Addressed pupils at Dunalley School to discuss his Net Zero Bill and campaign to address climate change
Completed a cycling time-trial on the Velodrome on the Promenade in support of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Hospitals Charity's Breast Cancer Appeal
Joined Kensington Avenue residents for a meeting with Great Western Railway about the ongoing car park expansion works at Cheltenham Spa station
Met a group of local Extinction Rebellion activists to discuss the Government's efforts to tackle climate change
Addressed pupils at Leckhampton Primary School about his work as an MP
Supported celebrations for the 80th anniversary of Hatherley Park
Met a local horse riding group to discuss how planned crossings of the new A417 Loop carriageway can be designed with horse riders in mind
Held a constituency surgery
Joined Dame Cheryl Gillan MP at Cheltenham Ladies' College as she addressed their Speech Day
Travelled to the home of an inspiring disabled Cheltenham constituent to discuss his epic 11 July Wheelchair ChallengeREAD MORE HERE
Volunteered at the Midsummer Fiesta in Montpellier Gardens
Visited Holy Trinity School Primary School to learn more about their Play Therapy sessions
Supported Teens in Crisis 25th Anniversary Celebration at Highnam Court
on 23 July, volunteers from local businesses will be undertaking a variety of clean-up works on Regent Street. The project is being coordinated by the local Business Improvement District
Cheltenham's annual Chilli and Cheese Festival will be returning to Sandford Park on 3 and 4 August. READ MORE HERE
IN THE MEDIA
Written two articles for the Gloucestershire Echo regarding the Bournside bus crash investigation and the opening of the Apollo Theatre at Cheltenhham GeneralREAD MORE HERE
Been interviewed by the Breeze regarding Cheltenham Borough Council's climate emergency declaration
Widespread national media coverage of Alex's parliamentary debate regarding GCHQREAD MORE HERE
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High Street, "Grot Spot" and Casework Update
Sought clarification from the Borough Council regarding their food waste disposal process, following media reports that much of the food waste collected by Councils is sent to landfill. The Council provided assurances that all waste in Cheltenham goes to Andigestion in Bishops Cleeve
Raised concerns about the state of the War Memorial in Cheltenham, following concerns about litter, dirt and other debris
Congratulated G Cafe in Springbank, which works with young people in the local community, for securing planning permission to create its own Community Garden READ MORE HERE
Written to the Borough Council to ask what support is available to residents who want to recycle their garden waste but lack the financial means to pay for the Council's subscription service
Established that revised plans for the Carlton Street Post Office have been submitted to the Borough Council for consideration
Written to BT Openreach regarding poor mobile phone signal in the Leckhampton area. Having visited the area to test the signal, BT discovered some faults which they have promised to investigate and resolve
Welcomed plans to resurface a significant section of Gloucester Road, near the junction with Tewkesbury Road, from 25 July to 13 August
Kingfisher Flooring are opening a new store on Bath Road. READ MORE HERE
Received the following update from the County Council regarding dangerous parking on the Lower High Street:
''We have been working hard to arrange for the relevant officers to agree a date for a joined approach to enforcement in this area. We are currently following up with police, the blue badge fraud investigation team and the Cheltenham Westend Partnership.
We have kept an eye on this area and the patrols are still being increased regularly. It is difficult to measure how many PCNs have been issued as the exact location, near to the Frog and Fiddle pub, as all PCNs and observations for the ‘High Street’ come under the same street name location as all other restrictions on the entire extent of the street (i.e. From The Strand to Poole Way).
As previously stated, we are aware of the parking issues in the Lower High Street section of the town, especially regarding traffic flow concerns for the bus services. We often experience difficulty issuing tickets where vehicles drive off before a ticket can be issued, although we try to issue ‘vehicle drive aways’ whenever possible''
At the newly refurbished £2 million+ Apollo theatre at Cheltenham General
Welcoming Alex's latest Cheltenham group to Parliament
GCHQ responding by Twitter to Alex's Morse code message
With the Defence Secretary, Penny Mordaunt MP and the Foreign Office Minister, Sir Alan Duncan MP, following Alex's GCHQ debate in Parliament
Speaking at the launch of the Conservative Environment Network manifesto in Parliament
Hearing from businesses vying to join GCHQ's cyber accelerator
Supporting the Fix Dementia Care campaign in Parliament
Alex is a strong backer of investment into cancer research