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South Cambridgeshire’s new Tory MP Anthony Browne says there’s a new mood of optimism in Westminster





South Cambridgeshire’s newly-elected MP said he is getting to work on his campaign commitments amid a new mood of optimism among his Parliamentary colleagues.

Conservative Anthony Browne, who has just turned 53, told the Cambridge Independent his party’s majority has completely transformed the atmosphere in Westminster.

Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26898952)
Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26898952)

“As I’m a new MP, it is a fascinating experience,” he said. “I used to be chief political correspondent for The Times so I’ve worked in Parliament, and I know my way around the building, but it is quite overwhelming.

“I had my first piece of constituency casework within three hours of being elected. The announcement was made at 3.30am and by 6.30am I got my first email from a constituent asking for help.”

Mr Browne overcame a strong Liberal Democrat challenge to keep the Tories’ grip on the constituency, previously held by Heidi Allen. Elected as a Conservative, she switched to the Liberal Democrats in October before announcing she would not stand again.

“I’m not inheriting the staff from the previous MP, which sometimes happens, so I’ve been setting up an office in the constituency and in Parliament, and hiring staff,” said Mr Browne.

“You get very little support from the Parliamentary authorities, which is quite extraordinary.”

From sorting out employment contracts to buying desks and setting up IT, there are some essential tasks to be tackled for new MPs.

“It’s basically like lots of little businesses setting up in Parliament, so it takes a while to get off the ground, and at the same time you’re overwhelmed with requests for help and support, and lots of campaign emails on particular issues,” he said. “At the same time, there is legislation and debates.”

Mr Browne, who worked with Boris Johnson when he was London mayor, said the Tories’ election triumph would unlock a dramatic new wave of activity.

“There is an amazing mood of optimism on the Conservative side in Parliament. We’ve had years of gridlock and deadlock and no-one being able to do anything on either side.

Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26898884)
Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26898884)

“Suddenly, now you’ve got a majority government that can do things – most importantly, the manifesto commitment on Brexit, but also we can move forward as a country on other issues.

“I’m new to Parliament, but the MPs who were there before say it is a complete transformation of the atmosphere.”

And he said he was keen to get going on the pledges that helped him get elected.

“I was elected on campaign commitments to help South Cambridgeshire and that’s what I’m starting to work on now,” he said.

During his campaign, Mr Browne brought George Freeman, the transport minister responsible for the East West Rail project to the constituency, to stress that a northern route, via Cambourne and the developing A428 corridor, made more sense than one through Bassingbourn.

“I want to make sure we get East West Rail into Cambourne, and to the right side of it, which will mean to the north of it,” he said. “And I’m pushing for Cambridge South station funding. I’ve been talking to the Department for Transport and the Treasury about that.”

While pushing for infrastructure improvements, Mr Browne has also repeated warnings he made in his campaign against over-development in the constituency, as consultation begins over the Greater Cambridge Local Plan.

He has expressed concern over early calculations that 66,700 new homes could be built in Greater Cambridge by 2040 – some 30,000 more than have already been earmarked with across developments including Waterbeach new town, Northstowe, Eddington, Bourn Airfield and Cambourne West.

“I’ve been talking to residents with concerns about bigger developments. I can’t, and shouldn’t, get involved in every planning application, but if there are big developments and on green belt land or on areas of beauty, then it is natural I get involved,” he said.

Mr Browne, who grew up on a small farm in Fowlmere, has indicated he will be protective of the constituency’s rural character.

And he said ensuring continuity for its farmers after Brexit is crucial.

“This is a very important sector for South Cambridgeshire and has been a very dependent on the EU in terms of Common Agricultural Policy subsidies and for exports.

“It’s critical they know the path forward and get a good deal. I’ve been talking to ministers at Defra. The new Agriculture Bill means subsidies will be paid for producing public good – such as improving animal welfare standards, or environmental standards, such as improving habitat and biodiversity.

“I want to ensure farmers get input into that and I want to set up a regular forum for farmers in the area so we can engage properly.”

Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26898903)
Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26898903)

During the campaign, he held the party line that the 2016 referendum result must be honoured, but Mr Browne said he was very mindful of its potential impact on the life science sector.

“That is huge in this area. Many will depend on the EU for research funding, or will be involved in the European pharmaceutical licensing regime under the European Medicines Agency, so will be very affected by the UK withdrawing from that,” he said.

“As the government negotiates the future relationship with the EU, we need to ensure the bioscience industry in South Cambs gets a good deal out of that and that it works for them by ending the uncertainty.

“We are in a transitional period now. That clearly creates a lot of uncertainty.

“Part of my role is ensuring the government creates as much certainty as it can and that the key sectors of South Cambridgeshire get an input into what that future looks like.”

Mr Browne’s other election pledges included improving access to GPs.

“I’ve already spoken to the health secretary Matt Hancock about improving that in this area.

“Over the coming months, I’ll be very keen to speak to constituents and doctors about what is needed here: Where are the real hotspots? What additional resources do we need? I want to talk to the health secretary and the Department for Health and Social Care about that,” he said.

He campaigned on bringing more police to South Cambridgeshire and improving community safety. And he pledged to fight for better education funding in a county that has historically received one of the worst deals in the country.

“The government announced an increase in education funding, which we particularly benefit from in South Cambridgeshire. But I’m going to push to make sure that is delivered properly and also push for more as it doesn’t go as far as we need. A lot of schools are very short of capital funding.

“I’ve already been contacted by various schools about the need for more money to improve their buildings, and also to repair and maintain their buildings. I’ll be working with them on that,” he said.

Mr Browne has held his first surgery in Sawston as he follows in the footsteps of Heidi Allen and Andrew Lansley in representing South Cambridgeshire.

And it looks like he will have plenty to keep him busy.

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