image captionSt Neots is to benefit from a £12.8m investment in its High Street and town centre – and could soon have its own MP
For the first time in its 1,000 years of history, St Neots could get its own voice in Parliament as part of a reshuffle of constituency boundaries. What difference could it make for a town that is the largest in Cambridgeshire?
‘We need more opportunities for young people’
image captionAlex Hughes believes things are on the up and up for St Neots – and a new MP should seize the opportunities coming its way
Business consultancy owner Alex Hughes was born and bred in St Neots and is one of its biggest fans, describing it as a “beautiful place to live”.
“It’s perfectly connected and it’s got loads of investment going into it, both private and public,” says the 32 year old.
“I think the future is fantastically bright – it’s about time St Neots had a voice and it’s own identity.”
If Boundary Commission’s proposal comes to fruition, the town could become a new constituency named as St Neots by 2023, which would see it break away from Huntingdon for the first time since 1997.
Before that, it was absorbed by the now-defunct south-west Cambridgeshire seat, and further back still, in the 1970s and early 1980s was part of the Huntingdonshire constituency which in 1979 welcomed its new MP, John Major.
Major still held the seat during his time as prime minister from 1990 to 1997.
St Neots was originally called Eynesbury and renamed after Saint Neot when his bones were brought there from Cornwall in about 980 AD. It has been represented by the Conservative MP for Huntingdon, Jonathan Djanogly, since 2001.
With the town and its surrounding villages, including Cambourne, Fenstanton, Bar Hill and Swavesey, being the St Neots MP’s sole focus, what should they get their teeth into?
“We need to see more opportunities for young people, for work,” says Mr Hughes.
“There’s not a job centre, nowhere locally that connects communities, businesses and education.
“It’s madness that they have to get on a bus to Huntingdon to find opportunities for work.”
image captionThe future High Street fund includes the redevelopment of what was the Falcon pub, which has been closed for many years
The town, which is 45 minutes to London by rail, is getting a new bypass and is also at the centre of the new Cambridge to Oxford east-west rail link.
“There are phenomenal opportunities here for new business, all this this development is happening around us,” adds Mr Hughes.
“All the people who used to travel to London – because St Neots is a commuter town – during the pandemic, they’ve opened the door, walked into the town and realised there’s a wonderful bohemia here.
“We need to see the infrastructure built and nurtured to support communities thriving and local people finding opportunities locally.
“It’d be a massive shame if that activity was taken elsewhere.”
‘We need to put the town at the forefront’
image captionMs Rose’s cafe and bar is based in the old Bedford Cambs and Hunts Electricity showrooms
Naomi Rose, 37, moved to the town seven years ago and followed her dream of opening her own cafe bar – Elsie May’s Electric Lounge – in a former electricity showroom.
She’s all for the town having its own MP to help it thrive, especially on the back of a £12.8 investment by government and councils to redevelop the centre.
image captionThe town centre features familiar names but its fair share of empty shops
“I think it could be really beneficial to the town,” she says.
“There are so many vibrant things going on in St Neots and there are so much we could do to showcase what a beautiful town it is, I think it would really help to put St Neots on the map.
“They need to focus on the community, build up the events programmes to really benefit the town completely.
“We have a lot of independent businesses, and a lot of young people, and there’s a real opportunity to develop in this area, there’s a great vibe about the place.
“It’s an honour to get some dedicated attention – we are the largest town in Cambridgeshire – and to have that focus on the town is a real positive for me.”
‘We’ve got too many houses and not enough jobs’
image captionAmy Cope, pictured with son Bobbi, two, says she feels the town has enough new housing – with the focus needing to shift to schools, jobs, retail and leisure
Amy Cope, 37, has lived in St Neots all her life and says she feels positive about the town’s future and is full of praise for Stephen Ferguson, an independent councillor who was elected mayor last May.
“He’s turned things round and brought things to St Neots, like new businesses. A lot has happened since,” she says.
image captionThe centre includes many independent cafes, pubs and restaurants
Amy says having more things to do would be a key priority.
“I do think we need more shops, a shopping centre, as people go out of town for that, and more for children to do – we have the cinema but that’s expensive, and that’s it, so more entertainment.
“We’ve got too many houses, not enough schools, and not enough jobs for the people who live here, either.
“Where I live, they are building a new estate but they need to build schools and create jobs so people want to stay in those houses.
“Huntingdon seem to get a lot more than we do here – hopefully a new MP will move things forward.”
‘We have been overshadowed for generations’
image captionMuseum curator Liz Davies said St Neots needed someone to stick up for it on the issues that matter
Liz Davies, the curator of St Neots Museum, is unsurprisingly well-versed in the town’s history.
“Like St Ives and Huntingdon, it’s always been geographically important because it’s close to the A1, the Great North Road, and also it’s on the river [Great Ouse],” she says.
“Having its own MP is enormously important. This part of Huntingdonshire has been overshadowed by Huntingdon, and the borough and then St Ives for generations, since the medieval period.
image captionThe River Great Ouse has been vitally important to St Neots
“Since the end of World War Two, and then the London overspill, St Neots has been growing and growing, and with the new [housing] developments coming on stream, the town is growing enormously.
“It needs better representation so we can be sure the views of local people are being heard nationally.
“They need to listen more carefully to what local people want, we need somebody to fight our corner and put forward the views of people.
“We have this east-west rail link, where it’s suddenly been discovered that this raised section of railway could be going right by the town.
“We need somebody to stick up for us on issues like that.
“The future High Street fund is going to help us develop the High Street and Market Square, but somebody who could bring all that together and help to focus it would be really useful.”
‘We have long played second fiddle’
“This is an exciting and welcome change,” says St Neots mayor Stephen Ferguson.
“There is a feeling amongst St Neots residents that we have long played second fiddle to Huntingdon, the smaller town for which our current constituency is named.
“I think it’s a recognition of St Neots role as the third largest settlement in the county [after Cambridge and Peterborough], and presents a wonderful opportunity for us to elect an MP who truly represents our interests.
“I fully support the proposed changes.”