March 15, 2014 by combehavendefenders
Greg Barker, MP for Bexhill and Battle, and Minister of State for Climate Change, came to Sidley on March 14 for a public meeting organised by Heart of Sidley to address the concerns of local residents about the Link Road. Rolling up twenty minutes late, he chose to come in the back door – presumably in case there were hostile elements at the front.
No filming allowed
For one so high-profile, he was strangely shy, insisting that the meeting could not go ahead unless a local resident, who had brought his video camera in order to film the meeting for the benefit of people who couldn’t be there, stopped filming. In a display of astonishing petulance, Mr Barker said, “It’s my meeting, not yours”, which seemed a little odd as it was a meeting expressly for Sidley residents, of which the would-be cameraman was one. “Did you pay for the hall?” he asked (no, did you?).
Meanwhile his sidekick, Tory County Councillor Michael Ensor, put his hand over the camera lens. In a final – and somewhat puzzling – interjection, Mr Barker said that there could not be any filming because there were children present. One might speculate that in fact he didn’t want the meeting filmed because he didn’t want a record of any promises he might make and later renege on.
Eventually the camera and its owner left, and the meeting started. Stills cameras were allowed, with some reluctance. Greg Barker looked extremely uncomfortable about having his picture taken, and when someone took a picture of Cllr Ensor in full flow, he stopped for several seconds to glare at her before resuming his speech.
Frustrations for local residents
This was not a meeting to oppose the road, but to address the concerns of local residents. Strange then that the main speaker should be Greg Barker, who clearly knew next to nothing about what was happening, and deferred at every opportunity to Cllr Ensor.
Residents, many of whom were local traders, expressed many concerns about the ongoing work, which is causing huge traffic jams throughout Sidley. Many traders have seen their takings drop and some are struggling to survive. People complained of not being given any information and of there being no co-ordination between the various aspects of the construction work, leading to gridlock. A resident of Buxton Drive (which runs parallel to the new road, with many residents’ gardens backing onto it) said that work was going on 24/7, with complete disregard for the agreed hours of working. People asked why work had started on the Ninfield Road bridge before the new Woodsgate Park bridge had been completed, thus causing more traffic jams.
The strongest sentiment seemed to be frustration. People felt they were not being listened to when they raised concerns about the traffic jams, the construction work, the potholes caused by heavy machinery, the loss of trade, the hours it took to get anywhere. A local councillor gave an example of one of his constituents who had missed a hospital appointment because the hospital transport took so long to get to Sidley and back.
At every stage, Greg Barker made promises. He’d look into a temporary school crossing patrol (good luck with that: East Sussex County Council is cutting them as fast as it can go); he’d arrange a meeting with utility companies; he’d make sure there was better communication in future; he’d raise the issue of hospital transport with the Chief Executive of the Conquest; he’d redouble his efforts for Sidley traders. The promises were all vaguely worded, with no hint of when these things might happen.
He finished by saying that the Link Road would be a ‘fantastic benefit’ for Sidley. The question of how, or when, this fantastic benefit might materialise, was left hanging in the air.
Greg Barker, man of the people
As an aside: Greg Barker MP is a multi-millionaire, who used to work for various Russian oil companies. According to the Register of Members’ Interests, he has registrable shareholdings (that is, shareholdings valued at more than 100% of his MP’s salary, currently £66,396) in a number of companies, including various property companies, a company which operates children’s play centres in Ukraine, and Mottra, ‘purveyors of exceptional caviar’.
In a speech to the University of South Carolina in April 2011, Greg Barker boasted that, “We are making cuts that Margaret Thatcher, back in the 1980s, could only have dreamt of. Many government departments are seeing their budgets slashed by up to 30%… this is an unprecedented piece of good housekeeping in British history. And at the same time we’re going to slash that deficit, we’re also going to reduce business tax, we’re going to slash the rate of corporation tax and we’re also going to slash regulation. So reviving the private sector, getting government off the backs of business is the core mission.”