IT'S now over a year since we first entered into a national lockdown to control the spread of Covid 19, and I’m sure that many of year will have paused for a minute’s silence or lit a candle on 23rd March to mark the first anniversary.

Whilst we continue to make progress with falling case numbers and the successful vaccine rollout, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the loss that many will have felt.

I am acutely aware of the impact that a year of lockdowns and restrictions have had on our way of life, and the disruption that has been caused to jobs, business, education, travel, and our ability to connect with those close to us.

I know some people have expressed frustration with the roadmap that the Government has set out, but if we approach it with caution and ensure that the four tests are met at each stage, then I am hopeful that this current lockdown will be our last.

On 12th April we will enter Step 2, which will mark the return of gyms, hair and beauty salons and non-essential shops, and we will be able to enjoy hospitality again at our pubs and restaurants, albeit outdoors.

I want to thank everyone across Halesowen & Rowley Regis who is working hard to make their premises Covid secure ready for reopening, and I hope people will choose to spend locally to give our high streets the boost they need after a long and difficult winter.

Next month will see the return of local democracy, as Council elections and the contests for Mayor and Police & Crime Commissioner in the West Midlands take place.

Sadly these polls had to be postponed last year due to the virus, but I am pleased that they will be going ahead, albeit with Covid-secure measures in place. If you would usually vote in person but are hesitant about entering a polling station this year, you can apply to your local authority for a postal or proxy vote by 20th April.

I know that for many local people living at the southern end of Halesowen, the preservation of our local green belt land is a high priority, and local Councillors and I have regularly worked together over the last few years to fight plans to develop on it. I was pleased to hear Andy Street commit recently to a ‘brownfield first’ policy that sees old derelict sites used for housing ahead of our much-loved green spaces.

Local elections often see a lower turnout than general elections, but there is so much at stake for our local communities and the contests on 6th May will be no different. I would encourage everyone to use their vote and make sure their voice is heard.