Wantage parliamentary constituency stretches about forty miles across Oxfordshire.
From Acorn Bridge in the West where you can almost hear the train whistles of Swindon, it nuzzles Cotswold sheep along the North boundary before following the Thames’ wide lassoo around Cholsey in the East and completing the circuit along the chalky trail of the Ridgeway to the South.
Railway mecca Didcot is our biggest town. The bustling market towns of Wantage, Faringdon and Wallingford are orbited by pristine villages and hamlets that are connected by lanes that are worth getting lost in.
The constituency is blessed with some of the most wonderful countryside in the south of England which is best enjoyed by foot. We have the spectacular views of the White Horse Hill, or Faringdon’s Folly Hill, or following in the historic footsteps of King Alfred or John Betjeman in Wantage or Agatha Christie in Cholsey. The National Trust village of Coleshill is one of the many gems to explore by foot.
The winding lanes of the constituency make it perfect for cycling and although mostly flat on the Thames flood plain, there’s a challenge awaiting anyone who rounds off a route on Dragon Hill or goes into the wind into the Cotswolds. The White Horse Challenge (one of the toughest cycling sportives in the country) will be taking place in April, and I’m using the election as a very good excuse to avoid the pain (though I’ll be back into it by the time the Faringdon FollyFest Sportive sets off in August). Fortunately you can also enjoy all the breathtaking scenery from the road, though you need to keep your wits about you as you’ll get long odds on spending more the ten minutes on the road on a Saturday without seeing a group of bikes or horses enjoying the countryside.
Many people in the constituency commute into Oxford or via Didcot or Cholsey into London. However the science parks at Harwell and Milton Park provide large amounts of local employment and there are ambitious projections for more jobs to be created in the coming years. Meanwhile the market towns are seeing a hard-won resurgence with Wantage recently named Great British High Street’s Town Centre of the Year and Faringdon was named the third best place in the UK to bring up a family in 2014. The countless summer fairs, fetes and shows are testament to the extraordinarily strong community spirit in the villages and a burgeoning rural economy.
The positive economic projections for Wantage constituency have brought with them the challenge of accommodating a growing population. In particular, forecasts for growth have been swallowed whole by the local District Councils – Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire – who have presented plans for house-building on a scale never before seen in this area. Housing – whether you have it, need it, or are living near somewhere they want to build it – is a major issue for many people in the constituency.
The other major challenge facing the constituency is transport. There has been major investment in Didcot station in the past five years and the A34 is ear-marked for improvement. But a major bugbear for communities like Wantage, Grove and Faringdon is that the great western mainline slices through the western part of constituency without a single stop. The result is that the only transport options rely on the clogged East-West road arteries, particularly the A417 and A420. Major investment is required in road or rail infrastructure to let the oxygen of people flow freely to our economic organs of Milton, Harwell and Oxford. Also as services are increasingly centralised, the ability to travel smoothly along our roads becomes a lifeline in rural communities. Our town centres need investment in infrastructure to make sustainable transport options like cycling and walking a real option for ordinary people.
Wantage constituency is not without its challenges. As we grow we need to put the sustainability (economic, social and environmental) of our communities at the core of our thinking. If we can achieve that it can remain, as it is now, a wonderful place to live and work.