Another week of working from home with on-line Select Committees etc. I, like many of you, look forward to a more normal workplace. Whilst there have been some good points about virtual meetings, there are many more values to actual engagement with people and whether this is in Westminster or the constituency, I can’t wait.

Parliament runs in legislative sessions, and this one will have ended when you read this. Parliament will be prorogued on Thursday 29 April and reconvenes with the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 11 May.Prorogation is the term used to refer to when Parliament is suspended between sessions without being dissolved to cause an election. When I was elected in December 2019 there was a Queen’s Speech in the first week to set out the Government’s agenda for that session, on that occasion MPs were all crammed into the Chamber to be summoned to the Lords to hear the Queen. This time there will be a ballot to see which MPs can be present due to Covid restrictions, I await the result to see whether I will be able to be present.

Last week saw me at the BEIS select committee again, this time we were back in the discussions around decarbonising heat in homes. You’ll see much more communication on this subject as the race to Net Zero continues. Everybody is aware of the changes to electric vehicles and the desire to get petrol and diesel cars off our roads, but we also need to decarbonise the way we heat our homes. This will involve either different technologies, like heat pumps, or different fuels, like hydrogen, or a combination of these. 95% of houses will need to decarbonise their heating system to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.

I also jointly chaired a ‘Big Tent’ session led by Local Trust who are the secretariat for the Left Behind Communities APPG. This was entitled “Levelling Up ‘left behind’ Britain – the importance of a hyper local focus”. This was a very interesting session with some very inspiring speakers. Like many politicians I have also spent time out leafleting and talking to people about the forthcoming elections. As part of this I met the Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, at Ferryhill Station to show him the potential offered by the proposals to reopen the station. I continue to be encouraged by the engagement by ministers in listening to me and my colleagues on agendas we see as important.

When it comes to important agendas for Newton Aycliffe my current focus is on attempting to apply the Levelling Up Fund opportunity on Aycliffe Town Centre. I’m working with Durham County Council who would have to submit the actual bid, with my support. They are looking at the technical opportunities given that the Town Centre was sold to a private business several years ago. Despite what you may have heard from other nay saying local Councillors it is certainly possible that a plan can be created. Before going much further though I want to be sure that I understand what the people of Aycliffe actually want. That’s why I am delighted to work with the Newton News, who are also encouraging residents to ‘Shop Local’, on a questionnaire to help me get the right priorities. I would appreciate as many people as possible responding to help us get the best understanding. I have also started talking directly with a number of shopkeepers and will move forward with this over the coming weeks. As we continue to lift restrictions, and non-essential shopping is again available to us, please focus your support on local shops, they need, and will appreciate, your support.

Last month, the Government released details of the new Levelling Up Fund. The £4.8 billion fund will support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, cultural and heritage assets. I believe that the Levelling Up Fund gives us an excellent opportunity to accelerate discussions around what developments are needed in Newton Aycliffe Town Centre.

To start these discussions, here is a short survey that gives you an opportunity to let me know what changes and developments you would prefer to see in the Town Centre, if we are able. If you get an opportunity, please do complete the survey, preferably on-line, but if not, physically, as it will really help us formulate a plan for how we could potentially use the Levelling Up Fund and regenerate the Town Centre.

The number of vaccinations continues at an incredible rate and take up continues to be amazing with over 95% of those offered the 2nd jab turning up. This is so important as I understand that whilst the first jab is indicated to give 60/70% protection the 2nd increases this to 80/90%. I am also told that the Novavax vaccine, manufactured in Billingham and filled in Barnard Castle, has had the first production level to be made and these are being evaluated. Please take up your offer of vaccination when you get it and remember, even then, you need to follow all the guidelines.

In particular Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air. Stay Safe.

Paul Howell MP

Member of Parliament for Sedgefield