North Shropshire by-election: Boris Johnson makes transport pledge during Oswestry visit
Boris Johnson has said improving Shropshire's transport infrastructure is central to his "levelling up" agenda during a visit to the county.
The masked-up Prime Minister visited Oswestry on Friday afternoon, visiting the town centre on one of its biggest nights of the year at the start of the three-day Christmas Live event.
Speaking to the Shropshire Star, the PM said turning the A5 into a dual carriageway and reconnecting Oswestry to the rail network were major priorities during a visit to the town.
Mr Johnson said: "We need to look at dualling the A5 from Montford Bridge to Oswestry.
"I'm very pleased we are reversing the damage caused by the Beeching cuts, and looking at getting the Gobowen-Oswestry railway line reopened.
"I believe very strongly that transport infrastructure can make a huge difference to people when it comes to job opportunities, and helping North Shropshire achieve its massive potential."
His visit to the town was in support of Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst, the Conservative candidate in the upcoming North Shropshire by-election.
The former NHS surgeon, who trained at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital, has registered for the NHS Reserves to join the Covid ‘jab army’ and support the vaccination booster efforts in the wake of the Omicron variant developments.
The PM joined Dr Shastri-Hurst at Day Lewis Pharmacy on English Walls, where he met staff. He also spoke with members of the public attending for their next inoculation, and watched a couple received their booster jabs.
Mr Johnson also spoke of his sadness at the death of Sandra Francis from Oswestry, who died after waiting almost 40 minutes for an ambulance after suffering cardiac arrest.
He accepted that there were problems with ambulance response times, and said the main cause of this was ambulances spending too long waiting at hospitals as a result of increased patient numbers.
Mr Johnson said there was no easy solution to this problem, but said investment in hospitals and social care would reduce turn-round times at hospitals, freeing up ambulances for more emergencies.
"Because of Covid, over the last 18 months we have had hospitals really back up, the amount of ambulance arrivals at hospitals are running at 92 per cent capacity or more.
"It is going to take major investment to fix this crisis, and that is why we are putting £36 billion in.
"There are also many people who don't need to be in hospital, but the right care isn't there, there are 10,000 cases of delayed discharge. That is why we are reforming social care."
While in Oswestry, the Prime Minister said he hoped more would be known about the new Omicron coronavirus variant by the end of next week.
He also reaffirmed his hopes that Christmas would go ahead as normally as possible, and that that children should remain in schools.
"We are not telling people to cancel their Christmas parties," he said.
"What we are saying is that they should follow the guidance.
"I strongly believe that kids should be in schools, and that Christmas should go ahead as normally as possible.
"What we are trying to do is cope with the Omicron variant and that means having some tough measures at the borders and also some measures to make sure that people isolate if they come into contact with an Omicron case.
"Plus we're also toughening up on the masks, that's a balanced and proportionate approach to take with Omicron while we get to the bottom of the exact risk that is poses.
"But whatever the risk Omicron may pose or may not pose, the booster is everywhere and always going to be your vaccination's best level of protection."
Education Secretary, and former vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi also visited to discuss jabs with Dr Shastri-Hurst on the campaign trail.
Meanwhile, actor and Reclaim Party leader Laurence Fox was also in town, supporting his party's candidate Martin Daubney.
Mr Johnson's visit has come on the same day it's been confirmed that the Tories have held on to the safe seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup.
Yesterday's by-election in southeast London was prompted by the death of MP James Brokenshire in October, who had held a majority of almost 19,000.
In Thursday's by-election, local councillor Louise French won 51.5 per cent of the vote. However, the Tories' majority was slashed to just over 4,000, with Labour coming second on 30.9 per cent of the vote.
Earlier this week a leaked Lib-Dem poll suggested North Shropshire by-election could also be much tighter expected.
The party's internal polling, based on postal voting intention only, put Dr Shastri-Hurst 9.9 points ahead of Liberal Democrat challenger Helen Morgan.
The poll put the Conservatives on 47.7 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 37.8 per cent, and Labour candidate Ben Wood on 10.5 per cent. Green candidate Duncan Kerr polled 1.9 per cent.
Polling analyst British Electoral Politics said the survey should be treated with some scepticism: "Since it is an internal one, we can’t know the methodology so naturally it requires a pinch of salt."
But a spokesman added that a similar poll for the Chesham and Amersham by-election gave the Conservatives a lead of 23.8 points before the Liberal Democrats took victory.
Voters in North Shropshire will take to the polls on Thursday, December 16.