Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning has reflected on a ‘fantastic’ year for the town, and is looking forward to ‘much of the same’ in 2016.
Mr Penning, who himself lives in the Old Town, said: “It’s been a fantastic year, and I think that became clear when we had the anniversary event for Buncefield last month.
“There were a lot of people from different authorities there and they all told me they couldn’t believe how well Hemel has done.
“Buncefield was the catalyst for the redevelopment, and from the dying embers we have really come through.”
The dad-of-two says there is ‘a real buzz’ in the town, especially following the multi-million pound transformation of the town’s Jarman Park leisure complex, which is known affecionately as Wally World.
“One of my proudest moments was going up to the new IMAX at Jarman Park the other week, and saw thousands of people there enjoying themselves.
“I stood up there eight years ago and I said, it’s an eyesore – either regenerate it or knock it down.
“Now with all the new restaurants and the biggest cinema in the county, it’s an asset – not a liability.
“With the Old Town, I was screaming out for the work to be done there but even though there were teething problems and the work overran, it really is beautiful up there now.”
But what does 2016 hold for the politician? He said: “We need to build on the success of 2015 – I want the town to reach its full potential.
“This year is going to be really exciting for Hemel – we’re going to see the Marlowes redevelopment finished and two of our secondary schools rebuilt – both Longdean School in Adeyfield and Kings Langley School will be ready in the autumn.
“And at the new college, we will be able to offer academic courses to sixth formers for the first time – historically, you either had to go to Watford or stay on at the sixth form at your secondary school.
“Now our young people will have the choice to stay in Hemel to study at post-16.”
As well as education, Mr Penning – who is now in his third term as the town’s Conservative MP – says he will be working hard to encourage more businesses to move into the town.
He said: “Until recently, there were units up on Maylands that hadn’t been let since before I was first elected ten years ago – but I went up there recently and there is a lot going on.
“Wehave achieved 1.6 per cent unemployment – and I was told you would never get below three per cent.”
Mr Penning, who was appointed Police and Justice Minister in July 2014, says that while things aren’t perfect, the town has ‘moved forward’ in the last 12 months.
He said: “I’ve made mistakes, the council’s made mistakes, but we’re our own worst enemies. We criticise because we want more.
“I am very conscious of what people say about the town, but the odd number of people saying negative things is disproportionate, because we have people moving here in huge numbers – they are coming here for a reason.
“Really, my achievements are immaterial – we have Olympic champions in basketball and baseball.
“We have the most vibrant town and we should be proud of it.”