Starting on a regional level, Amber Rudd spoke of her campaigning support for the HS1 rail link from Ashford to Bexhill, hoping to achieve a commitment by 2019. This, together with improvements to convert the A21 to dual carriageway standard around Pembury, would help promote the regeneration of this area, Rudd said. Another initiative was government funding for a countywide road-mending programme, with £10m earmarked for spending on rural roads, including repairing potholes and ditch draining. Leader of East Sussex County Council, Keith Glazier, welcomed this although he ruefully acknowledged that 10 times that sum would be necessary to solve the problem adequately.
Rudd also referred to her work with the Local Enterprise Partnership – the Coast to Capital enterprise zone – which brings local authorities and businesses together to decide what the priorities should be for investment in roads, buildings and facilities in the area. More local to Rye was the opening by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, of the Studio School for students in the 14-18 age range. This educational experiment held great promise for developing student skills.
Questions and comment were invited from the floor. In response to concerns raised about the effect of quantative easing on pensioners’ incomes, Rudd replied that the Governor of the Bank of England had indicated that interest rates would be rising shortly. To the criticism that many Clinical Commissioning Groups allowed private contractors exemption from the requirement to respond to Freedom of Information requests, she stated that this practice was not mandatory. In a reply to a question about the EU, Rudd noted the promise by David Cameron of a referendum in 2017.
Rudd commended the work on the Rye Neighbourhood Plan, and agreed that car parking represented a major unresolved issue for the town. In answer to the question of why the government had not introduced some control of inward foreign investment that was driving house prices ever higher, Rudd replied that the rate of house building starts was at the highest level for six years. Furthermore the Help to Buy scheme was having a good effect and she pointed out that a higher tax rate of 15% had been introduced for property companies.
On the issue of immigration Rudd recognised that there were valid concerns regarding increased pressures upon infrastructure, hospitals and schools, and upon rural communities suffering unwelcome housing developments. The best way of reducing the inflow of skilled workers is to improve the education of young people, Rudd said, to enable them to acquire the necessary working skills.
The meeting, which had proved a well-balanced cross-party affair, concluded after an hour with refreshments.