MP discusses vaccine programme and impact of lockdown in virtual Q&A

Bim Afolami. Picture: Martin Wootton

Bim Afolami. Picture: Martin Wootton - Credit: Archant

MP Bim Afolami praised the 'fantastic effort' of Harpenden's vaccine programme as part of a virtual Q&A session - in which he also criticised the government's tier system.

The sold-out event, which was hosted by the Harpenden Society, saw the Hitchin and Harpenden MP speak about the challenging year faced on a local and national level, as well as the impact the pandemic will have on living in and around Harpenden, before being asked questions on issues affecting the town and other areas in his constituency.

Opening the meeting, The Harpenden Society's chairman Phil Waters said that it is "vital that local communities have the chance to quiz their local MP on how their areas are being affected by the current crisis, and what the shape of things might look like as we hopefully emerge from the pandemic."

Bim Afolami Q&A

Bim Afolami MP spoke at a Q&A hosted by the Harpenden Society on February 25. - Credit: Maya Derrick

Mr Afolami first addressed the high praise he received on behalf of the people of Harpenden from Health Secretary Matt Hancock for their success in being one of the highest performing vaccination areas in the country.

He said: "It really has been a fantastic effort for the whole town, and I think the whole town should be proud of how everybody has come together to be so effective and efficient."

He continued to champion the reasonable shape of the town in the midst of the COVID crisis, and shared his optimism towards Harpenden's attractiveness as a beautiful environment with "wonderful people".

This paper asked Mr Afolami about his personal views on the pace and methods in which Hitchin and Harpenden - as well as the rest of the country - will emerge from lockdown, and if he remains optimistic regarding the current roadmap.

He said: "The tier system we saw last year, in the autumn, had certain problems. In particular, it ended up pitting area against area. I don't think that was necessarily brilliant for national cohesion. 

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"I think it is easier and clearer for people to know there is one rule across the country. 

He continued: "I do think, as one country we should do things together, although I do recognise the low rates in Hertfordshire."

Acknowledging the incredibly high vaccine take-up in his constituency, he added that "caution is quite sensible overall" when easing lockdown restrictions, but expressed his shared frustrations with the public.

"I am just mindful that we need this to be irreversible. And, as the vaccine roll-out continues, by mid-June, this country is going to feel back to normal."

Although the challenges of lockdowns have had a significant impact, he said that the legacy of the pandemic will be twofold; with people staying at home more and enjoying local amenities, and hopes to see increased local engagement and membership to civic organisations.

The hot topic of housing was also posed to Mr Afolami, as many constituents feel priced out, or that there is not a mix of housing required for the demographic of the area.

"Housing is a huge issue," he said.

"There are a couple of truths we have to acknowledge. Because Harpenden is very desirable place, and it has been for a very long time, it is an expensive place to live, and that is not going to change overnight. In fact, it may not change."

He hoped Harpenden will remain desirable for young families with the building of new infrastructure, which will "strengthen the glue that binds us all together as a community and as a society."

Other subjects posed to the MP included Luton Airport, the climate emergency, electric vehicles and Brexit. Debates around BLM and local access to healthcare for trans and non-binary residents were also addressed.

The Levelling Up Fund was also mentioned, which will support Harpenden's aim for greener local transport through the introduction of cycle lanes, connecting Harpenden to neighbouring villages.

Speaking to this paper after the event, Mr Afolami said: "It is always a pleasure to speak to residents and to openly discuss the various policy areas and local topics that people really care about. I am in touch with some of those who had follow up questions and will find out the specific information they wanted to know.

"I am extremely grateful to the Harpenden Society for organising the evening, and for their enduring enthusiasm to support our community in Harpenden."

The full recording of the public forum will soon be available on the society's website.