Mark Makes Maiden Speech to House of Commons

July 22, 2005 3:51 PM

Westminster Clock Tower Big Ben / Houses of Parliament [Photo: Emma Cooley]Mark Hunter made his maiden speech in Parliament as the Member for Cheadle on 21 July. Succeeding Patsy Calton, Mark spoke of her courage determination and commitment. Mark also spoke on a wide range of issues important to Cheadle including school and crime-fighting funding, the A55 relief road and local rail services.

Mark Hunter's Maiden Speech to Parliament in full:

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech to the House today. First, I add my congratulations to London on its successful bid to host both the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012. I am sure that London's Olympic bidding team must have taken great encouragement and inspiration from Manchester's tremendous success in hosting the Commonwealth games back in 2002. Members from across the north-west region will surely agree that those games were not just a great sporting spectacle, but succeeded in bringing together communities, including my own, in a way that few other events can do. The residents of Cheadle made up a considerable proportion of the vast army of volunteers whose selfless contributions made the Manchester games such a success. The community spirit and enthusiasm shown three years ago by my constituents is typical of the local population, whom I am privileged to represent.

It is also an immense privilege to succeed my friend and colleague, Patsy Calton, as Member of Parliament for Cheadle. Hon. Members will no doubt recall the courage and determination that my predecessor demonstrated only a matter of weeks ago in this very House. Having known Patsy for many years, I know that her qualities as a person and as a Member of Parliament were not defined only by the bravery and commitment that she displayed throughout her illness. She was an inspiration to and a great servant of the community in so many other ways. The drive and tenacity that she showed when assisting her constituents was matched only by her attention to detail and her sharp mind, which she employed in the House and in Committee. Her sheer work rate on behalf of the people of Cheadle will be celebrated for many years to come within the constituency and beyond. She came closer than most to bridging the gap between being a champion of the local community and a politician of national standing.

Let me take a moment or two to explain a little more about the constituency of Cheadle. It is located on the southern tip of the Greater Manchester conurbation, and many local residents consider their area to be part of Cheshire, as the constituency historically was. Even the briefest tour of my constituency amply demonstrates why residents feel this way. The word "leafy", used frequently to describe the constituency, simply does not begin to do justice to Cheadle. We are blessed with magnificent, award-winning parks and nature reserves, such as Bruntwood park and Gatley Carrs, and tree-lined streets throughout the local area. I would advise any hon. Member fortunate enough to be visiting the area that there are few better days out to be had than taking a trip to Bramhall hall, a magnificent 14th-century manor house and its surrounding park.

A number of hon. Members have probably visited my constituency over the past few weeks, and I hope that they all enjoyed themselves as much as I did. However, I assume that Members of the party to my right are unlikely to be putting in an appearance again for some considerable time. It is not just the precious green belt and open space that make our area so special. We have a number of district centres, all with unique characters, which serve to provide a network of villages and community centres across the constituency. Cheadle village, Cheadle Hulme and Bramhall are all distinct local centres with a range of amenities but which also face constant challenges from out-of-town retailers and other pressures.

Cheadle is considered a prosperous area and the statistics appear to bear that out. An initial assessment would show that local people, in general, are highly educated, highly skilled and relatively highly paid, particularly in a regional and sub-regional context-a typically affluent suburb, some might say. That broad-brush approach, however, does not tell the whole story. It does not, for example, take account of the large number of pensioner households in every part of the constituency. Nor does it take account of the pockets of deprivation that can be hidden from Government funding formulae. It also fails to recognise the needs and expectations of the community.

The dire funding arrangements for local services are the topic of debate locally. As leader of the local council for the past three years, I can say that there is a certain grim predictability about the financial settlement for local government every year. It leaves the council that is responsible for so many vital local services in an unenviable position, as both a low grant and a high council tax authority. It means that a two-pensioner household in Heald Green can end up paying more council tax than, say, a Cabinet Minister is expected to pay in a different authority area, although our council spends less per head than any other Greater Manchester authority. Moreover, all the current evidence suggests that the situation is likely to be exacerbated by council tax revaluation.

Currently, a pupil at King's Way school in Gatley in my constituency is funded at around £1,000 per year less than a pupil at a school just over a mile away, in neighbouring Manchester. Local schools already achieve excellent results, but there is so much extra potential that could be released if we benefited from a fairer funding regime. All the signs suggest, however, that the inequality will only get worse unless something is done.

The position is replicated across a range of local services. Indeed, not long ago my predecessor had to fight tooth and nail to retrieve £1 million of funding for Stepping Hill hospital that was rightfully its money. As for crime and antisocial behaviour, we are all familiar with the raft of legislation that has emanated from the Chamber in recent years. The sad reality is that, during the same period, my constituency has seen the closure of one police station and the failure to establish a long-promised police post in Cheadle Hulme to replace it. There is no shortage of legislation, but there is a pressing need for more police officers to enforce the law. The principle of fairness underpinned the Liberal Democrat election campaign in May, and I intend to pursue it in respect of the funding of local services in Cheadle.

I am sure I am not the only Member whose constituents need and deserve a vastly improved transport network. Fortunately, my constituency has a coherent strategy as part of the south-east Manchester multi-modal study. The strategy includes completion of the Manchester airport eastern link road, as well as construction of the Poynton bypass and the A6 Hazel Grove bypass. The current road network, involving the infamous "road to nowhere"-the airport link road-only serves to funnel traffic on to suburban roads in the Heald Green, Woodford and Bramhall areas, where the infrastructure is totally unsuited to coping with the volume.

I am not the first Member for Cheadle to refer in a maiden speech to the importance of delivering the A55 relief road scheme, but I hope for the sake of my constituents, and indeed neighbouring constituents, that I am the last.

While I intend all those serious issues and many more during the time for which local people allow me to serve in this role, I consider myself one of the most fortunate Members in the House in being given the opportunity to represent such an attractive, confident and cohesive community. It is therefore with sadness for the loss of my friend, but also with immense pride, that I have the privilege to serve the people of Cheadle. The constituency has seen some of the benefits that a major sporting event such as the Olympics can have for a community, in so many different ways. Other Members have said the same this afternoon. With careful planning, I hope that London can repeat that success in 2012 not only for the capital, but for our country as a whole.

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