Weston-Super-Mare has 'so much potential' says town's 'biased' cheerleader

As candidates gear up for the upcoming general election, Weston-Super-Mare's incumbent MP is far from complacent. Despite being elected to represent the town three times since 2005, John Penrose knows not to rest on his laurels: "I never take anything for granted, I never have.

"When we first won the seat years ago now, we had a tiny majority. I always started by saying to everybody on my campaign team, 'we cannot assume anyone who voted for us last time will vote for us again, until we persuade them'. You need to make sure you are not taking anyone's support for granted."

The Conservative MP, who first campaigned for the seat in 2001 and lost by a margin of 338 votes, speaks fondly of the town: "It's home, I love it, it's got so much potential. We've come an enormously long way in the last little while, but there's just so much more to do."

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"Clean up or close down"

When quizzed on drug misuse in Weston-Super-Mare, Mr Penrose believed the quality of local rehabs may be key: "Good rehabs are fine, the problem is when they're less good. We've got a lot of drug rehabs in and around Weston.

"What we've managed to do with a series of campaigns between me and the local police and local council and local health officials is to take an integrated approach. We talked to some of the drug rehabs and said 'Look, we either need you to clean up or close down'. What we've ended up with over the course of several years is fewer, better rehabs in Weston."

Mr Penrose also shared his policy on crime: "We are, like anywhere else, vulnerable to county lines gangs. I have regular conversations with the Police and Crime Commissioner about trying to break up county lines drugs gangs and make sure they spend time at His Majesty's Pleasure. It's a never-ending problem but we have actually made real progress.

"You can't ever declare victory and stop worrying about these problems: they will come back at some point. When they do come back, you got to react promptly and you have to have the extra police on hand to help you react."

The environment was another important topic of conversation. Asked about concerns with Weston's water quality, Mr Penrose said that the issue was not, as some might assume, with the storm overflows. So what is the cause?

"I've been speaking to the Environment Agency saying 'if isn't the storm overflows, what's causing it?'. They are, to put it politely, sort of scratching their heads", he said.

"They are going round checking all the likely and unlikely things to try and work out what's behind it. I'm having regular updates with them as they try to do their Sherlock Holmes thing and track it down. They've found half a dozen small things and fixed them but it hasn't turned the problem around yet. There's no smoking gun yet! But when we have it, we'd like to stop it firing."

"Malfunction junction"

Mr Penrose was keen to talk about what he described as "malfunction junction", or, Junction 21 on the M5. Like substance misuse and crime, he once again stressed that efforts forward fixing this need to be continuous: "We still have problems with what everyone locally calls 'malfunction junction' which is horrible in the mornings and horrible in the evenings if you're commuting to Bristol. We need to carry on fixing that, and there's an awful lot of work that's going on on the slip road of the junction itself at the moment."

The MP, who has also served in various government positions such as Minister of State for Northern Ireland and Lord Commissioner of the Treasurer over the years, continued: "It's not just enough to fix the slip road onto the junction, you need to fix the roads around the junction as well, so we need to do more on that. We need to do more about the state of the roads because the potholes are terrible."

A fourth term?

Despite holding the seat for nineteen years, Mr Penrose faces stiff competition. It is widely believed that a Labour government will be formed this year, with Labour candidate Dan Aldridge campaigning to be part of the red wave.

The Liberal Democrats also cannot be forgotten after their impressive result in this year's local elections, with Patrick Keating running to be Weston's second Lib Dem MP. As for the Greens, they're hoping to make history after putting forward 20-year-old Councillor Tom Daw.

Despite the challenges facing Weston, Mr Penrose says he loves his constituency: "It's kind of my job to be the most biased person about Weston, but I find that quite easy, so that's alright!".

The General Election is set to take place on Thursday, July 4. Somerset Live will be interviewing other MP hopefuls in the weeks ahead, and has spoke to several other candidates in Weston-super-Mare already.