Letwin visits Lowford Centre

L.R. Jordan Walsh (centre Manager) with Frair Burgess, Richard Robinson and Oliver Letwin MP

L.R. Jordan Walsh (Centre Manager) with Frair Burgess, Richard Robinson and The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP

With campaigning for EU elections and local Council elections now well under way, Eastleigh’s Conservatives were pleased to welcome the Minister for Government Policy today, the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, to the new Lowford Centre in Bursledon.

Also present at the reception, was one of the Conservative MEP candidates for the South East Region, Richard Robinson, and local Conservative candidate Frair Burgess, who is currently standing for election to the Bursledon & Old Netley ward of Eastleigh Borough Council.

The Minister was clearly very impressed with new Lowford Centre, not just the extensive ‘Green’ technology that has been installed there but also the nature of the collaborative project which has seen the Community Centre, a brand new Library, the Parish Council Offices, and a GP’s Surgery brought together under the same roof.

In his speech,  Oliver Letwin MP said;

 “I think it’s an absolutely wonderful thing that you’ve done here.”

“I saw a similar sort of thing in Chippenham just recently. More & more its going to be the way of getting these things to work properly.”

“What’s wonderful here, is that its all so voluntary.”

This is exactly the sort of thing that the ‘Big Society’ is all about.  It’s not about inventing brilliant new ideas. It’s really about doing ‘common sense’ things that people have always done, but trying to make sure that we do them as an idiom, and that they substitute for services that otherwise we wouldn’t have, as we’ve run out of money.”

“Everybody needs to find ways of making things work at a local level, without having to spend huge amounts of money.”

“My experience is very often that’s a much more efficient way of doing things.”

The meeting took place in front of a relatively small audience of 16 local Conservatives and their supporters, using the Willow Room at the  Lowford Centre.  It was thus an intimate meeting between like-minded Conservative’s, with little risk of disruption from members of the public or the opposition. Plenty of coffee was drunk, with Letwin later reporting it to be excellent.

Despite the nature of this meeting, the Press had been invited so Eastleigh News were there listening and observing. We can report that a lot of interesting things were said, on a number of topics. We were also given the opportunity to speak directly with Oliver Letwin and the candidates at the end of the meeting. I’ll report as much as we can here, in the interests of getting it into the public domain, though I will have to do this over a couple of stories.

On the subject of the local elections, Oliver Letwin MP started by referring to the Lowford Centre as a good example, saying;

“This is exactly the reason why we need to make sure that the local elections return people who will make things of this sort happen.”

“There’s a terrible tendency to think that the local elections are a national referendum. They’re not.  They’re actually about the people who are going to be making all sorts of important decisions about very local matters. We need to get that message across.”

“Getting our candidates to be local Councillors really does matter if we’re going to make sure that the sensible things are done.”

Letwin then observed that the EU elections were happening at the same time as the local elections, with polling due to take place on 22nd May, observing that;

“The EU elections were the opposite end of the spectrum, with 6.5 million constituents.”

At this point, there was some audience interaction and much laughter, as the constituency sizes were compared and contrasted. Letwin declared Frair Burgess’s 5,500 constituents to be

“A sensible number”

And added that 6.5 million was ;

“really quite an ask…”

The meeting in full swing, with lots of empty coffee cups.

The meeting in full swing at the Lowford Centre, with lots of empty coffee cups.

Letwin went on to say;

“The truth is of course, that the European elections do also matter, but very few of our fellow citizens will bother to vote in them, if we judge by previous elections.”

“The European Parliament, for better or worse…

…. you can take a view about whether it should have as much power as it does, but nevertheless  ….

…. it does have an awful  lot of power over our lives.

I find it constantly in my own job in Westminster.

I’m battling it, for example in the ‘Red Tape’ challenge. We’re trying to get rid of a large amount of the regulation that makes it so difficult for many of our business and social enterprises to do what they’re there to do.

We’ve made a very, very considerable difference in the last few years, at getting rid of many of the regulations that have been introduced domestically in the UK.

But, unfortunately, I keep on coming across cases where there’s a limit on what we can do domestically, because the EU has got its rules and we’re operating in many cases within those rules.

Agriculture is a classic case and the Habitats Directive is a very interesting example.

We are massively improving the guidance on the Habitats Directive, but you’ll be interested to know that at the moment there are 40 pages of specific guidance on how to handle Doormice. Whilst we can much contract this and make it more sensible, we can’t do anything beyond a certain point because the Habitats Directive is actually decided by the EU.

Therefore the people who are actually there [in the EU, as MEPs] regardless of their general ideaology, make a huge difference.

If they are the kind of people who try to prune them down and make them sensible, which is what Conservative people do, it really matters whether those people are really there or not…

I’m sure that if you walked out of this front door here, walked down the street, starting talking to people and asked whether they realised how important it is what the people in the European Parliament are going to do over the next four years, on the whole they would stare at you as if you were completely mad. They just don’t have any sense of this organisation being as important as it really is.

So that’s why we need to get this chap [Richard Robinson] in.

That’s my reason for being out there trying to maximise the vote. It isn’t going to be easy because of UKIP and because we’re still in the middle of a Parliament. We’ve yet to get through the last period, but things are coming right. Its a difficult moment, but we have to do our best to get the right people into the EU.

Oliver Letwin then started to wind down his main address, by playing for a laugh [which he got], by saying;

“Actually, I’m here because the Prime Minister forces us all out…!”

Concluding with ;

“I am delighted to be able, at the same time, to put in a word for the excellent local candidates. May I say how pleasant it has been and how great the coffee is…!”

Richard Robinson, one of the Conservatives MEP candidates for the South East Region, then spoke about the EU.  I’ll cover that properly in another posting on Eastleigh News, to follow later.

After the presentation and the photo-call, Oliver Letwin and Richard Robinson spoke exclusively to Eastleigh News, giving us some remarkably straight answers to my straight questions. I greatly appreciated their openness,  but I will save that interview for my next posting.

There are four candidate in the Borough election for the Bursledon and Old Netley ward of Eastleigh Borough Council, to be held on 22nd May 2014. They are;

  • Diane Andrewes – Labour
  • Frair Burgess – Conservative
  • Denise Evans – UKIP
  • Jane Rich – Lib Dem

Ray Turner

Formerly a Civil-Servant and IT Specialist at ONS, Ray is now semi-retired and spare-time self-employed. He contributes to Eastleigh News on a voluntary basis and is also an administrator for the site. 

  15 comments for “Letwin visits Lowford Centre

  1. Keith House
    April 28, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Shock as Oliver Letwin recommends Bursledon voters back the Lib Dems that got the Lowford Centre agreed and funded!

    ‘On the subject of the local elections, Oliver Letwin MP started by referring to the Lowford Centre as a good example, saying; “This is exactly the reason why we need to make sure that the local elections return people who will make things of this sort happen.”‘

  2. April 28, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Yes Keith, I thought that too when I heard Oliver Letwin say what he did, he was a little ill-informed there, but clearly he’s not going to be fully-up to speed on the detailed local politics whilst the local Conservative group and the BCA clearly regard it as a collaborative project (which it was, wasn’t it..?)

    There was no attempt at the meeting to knock the Lib Dems on local issues in my presence. Well certainly not over the Lowford Centre, though local planning did crop up in the Q&A.

    Everybody there was in agreement that the Lowford Centre is an excellent facility. I’ll let Frair comment in more detail for the Conservatives, if she wants to.

    The access we had to the Conservatives was great today and I hope they’ll feel that I’ve reported what was said accurately I extend the same offer to anybody else who wants to invite me for coffee…!

  3. The Sword of Truth
    April 28, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    A real pity that a successful cross party, grass roots initiative, such as the Lowford Centre has been hijacked to score cheap political points.

    What Oliver Letwin MP was referring to was this meeting, that started the whole project:


    Present :
    Cllr Misselbrook (Chair) – Independent
    Cllr Allen – Independent
    Cllr House – Liberal Democrat
    Cllr Lippold – Independent
    Cllr Millar – Liberal Democrat
    Cllr Moneypenny – Independent
    Cllr O’Sullivan – Liberal Democrat

    12.1 To discuss and approve possible CIP projects to be put forward to Eastleigh Borough Council.
    Cllr Misselbrook advised that an informal CIP meeting had been held for Members to put forward suggestions for CIP projects. It was suggested that Members consider CIP funding and Parish Council reserves being earmarked with a view to improving the Community Centre in Lowford, together with installing a medical centre and upgrading the car park, he added that this project would be subject to a feasibility study.
    Cllr House updated the Council on discussions taking place with local doctors to relocate from Manor Crescent and the potential to combine a surgery with a library facility adjacent to the Community Centre. The viability of the project is being tested over the coming weeks.


    • Keith House
      April 28, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      The key phrase in these Minutes is “Cllr House updated the Council on discussions taking place with local doctors to relocate from Manor Crescent and the potential to combine a surgery with a library facility adjacent to the Community Centre” which rather demonstrates the project was already moving.
      I wasn’t going to make the political point that the project had previously stalled for several years at that point due to Conservative politicking.
      The complete project value is over £4 million. Thanks Eastleigh BC!

      • The Sword of Truth
        April 28, 2014 at 11:30 pm

        One day people are going to wake up to the fact that the Lib Dems are bribing Eastleigh voters with their own money.
        Thanks Eastleigh BC!

        Now, haven’t you got a hotel to finish, Keith?

  4. Keith House
    April 28, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    BDCA have worked well with Borough that took the lead on this project: acquiring the next-door bungalow and funding the project, negotiating with the NHS to get the surgery agreed, with the County on the concept of a volunteer-led library, and bringing in the Parish Council too. The project has been fully funded by the Borough beyond a £50,000 contribution from the Parish towards its office. There has been no “politics” involved in recent years in Bursledon, indeed all three of the non-Lib Dem members of the Parish Councll hold or have held office within the Council since the Lib Dems won a majority in 2011. It’s a shame Hedge End is not so consensual!

    • May 3, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Actually Keith it felt pretty consensual when independent and lib dem councillors represented Hedge End Town Council at Hedge End carnival, but you weren’t there so you wouldn’t know. It felt pretty consensual when independent and lib dem councillors united to honour Hedge End’s war dead on remembrance day, but you weren’t there so you wouldn’t know. It felt pretty consensual when independent and lib dem councillors joined local residents at the Dowds Farm community tree planting, but you weren’t there so you wouldn’t know.

      What didn’t feel consensual was when lib dems rearranged a committee meeting without consulting other committee members so they could go to a lib dem party get together.

      • Keith House
        May 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm

        I won’t comment on things I have been at that you haven’t Keith but you make my point admirably. This sort of sniping doesn’t arise in Bursledon.

        • May 3, 2014 at 2:45 pm

          Touche here I think Keiths. Thanks for the comments…!

          Seriously though KH, what would be the chance of Lib Dems sitting down with representatives from local Labour, Conservative, UKIP and Independents, chatting things over and trying to work out;

          1. How we can achieve more consensual politics in Hedge End..?
          2. Encourage more people to come forward and stand for the Town Council, irrespective of their politics, so that the Town Council better represents the diversity of opinion across Hedge End…?

          I think that’s what everybody wants really, isn’t it…?

          • Keith House
            May 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm

            The Lib Dems in Hedge End get on fine with the other parties. I was only chatting to the Labour candidate in my ward yesterday. It’s only the Independents that snipe like this. I was surprised that only the Lib Dems and Labour put up candidates in the Grange Park by-election. I know the Conservatives tried but failed to find a Borough candidate in Grange Park. But it really is for the other parties to put the time in and work to find candidates Ray.
            My view has always been that everyone who makes the time to get involved in the democratic process has more in common with each other than those people who never vote. I keep saying on the doorstep “please use your vote”!

            • mm
              Eastleigh Xpress
              May 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm

              I was about to make a similar point on another thread. Activists are made from the same stuff.

            • May 3, 2014 at 3:35 pm

              Point taken Keith. Well, up to a point…

              I still think, HETC and the Lib Dems could do a lot more to encourage greater participation in local politics.

              Why not a page or half-page in the Hedge End Gazette, which invites local people to get involved in standing for election to the Town Council..?

              Why not also a page on the website that gives a lot more detail about how to stand for election, what we will need to do. Perhaps even some basic contact details (nothing more) for the local parties..?

              Why not a mailing list of people who are interested in standing for the Town Council, who receive co-option notices and notices of election directly from HETC, every time one of those notices is issued…?

  5. Rosie
    April 29, 2014 at 2:03 am

    I agree entirely about the Lib Dems, and now the Conservatives, trying to score points for the Lowford Centre. It should have been credited to the local Councillors, Community Association, etc, working together, without any political referencing. If political parties continue to play ping-pong with the Lowford Centre in order to try to score points, local residents will avoid using the Centre, which is already called the EBC Lib Dems’ “Town Hall”. Despite this, some Groups are using the Centre. The Library is doing very well already, thanks to a lot of hard work by a few individuals – who aren’t publicly taking credit for what they’re doing! – plus over 30 volunteers willing to give up their free time to serve their community.

    April 29, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Just to inform your readers of the origins of the ‘Lowford’ Centre, in Bursledon. I write to say that the project began in 1997, or thereabouts, when the Hedge End Library opened. I, as Bursledon & District Community Association’s Chair/Hon. Secretary, began negotiations with Richard Ward, Hampshire’s Chief Librarian, and Cllr Keith House, Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, to provide a library extension to Bursledon Community Centre. Fortunately, both were enthusiastic.

    The idea was that the Community Association (BDCA) would provide the land, the County (Hampshire Library & Information Service) would provide the library stock and shelves and Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) would build the library. The need for a library at Bursledon was widely recognised, especially by Bursledon schools, though there was some opposition from some local traders and some users of the Mobile Library Service.

    Gradually, the plans for the extension expanded to include a hall big enough to provide for the Short Mat Bowls Club. Dr Anne Bauchop was looking for new surgery premises and she asked me, as a Borough councillor, to investigate sites in Bursledon with her developer. He selected the bungalow site, adjacent to the Community Centre, that is now the new Medical Centre.

    Years passed as Dr Bauchop, BDCA officers and the Chief Librarian retired. EBC re-thought the project, assessed the cost and delayed the start, while gathering developers’ contributions for it. The access and parking for patients at the surgery in Manor Crescent became even more difficult. I wrote to our MP, Chris Huhne, and asked him to persuade the Primary Care Trust of the need for new surgery premises for the new doctor and that seemed to have the desired effect, as the various partners were re-convened to bring the project to fruition.

    The Parish Council became involved, contributing funds to the project. With Hampshire Library Service and Eastleigh Borough Council, they have brought the splendid new Library into being. It must be noted that, from the beginning, the library was seen as a community project run by the community. Even then, it was recognised that there would be no paid library staff. The volunteers, who have come forward to run
    the library, are not taking jobs from paid staff. Without them and their invaluable contribution, the library could not operate.

    Lots of people, therefore, have contributed to this amazing new asset for Bursledon. Their vision and contribution should be hailed as an example of what can be achieved when people work together for the benefit of a community. I have only two regrets: that the whole enterprise is not called the Bursledon Centre, bringing a much-needed focal point to the old settlement of Bursledon, and that BDCA seems to have lost many of the community groups that gave birth to the whole project.

  7. April 29, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Great comment with a lot of background that has long since been lost in the wash. Thanks Diane.

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