WHEN Janice Burkinshaw wrote to the Minister for Portsmouth asking for his help over the future of Milton, she at least expected him to know where it was.
But she was left shocked after Matthew Hancock’s office replied on his behalf and thanked her for her enquiry – about Milton Keynes.
Mrs Burkinshaw, chairwoman of Milton Neighbourhood Forum, turned to the Tory MP as she is concerned about the city council’s plans to earmark the St James’ Hospital site in Milton for hundreds of new homes.
She is now in disbelief that Mr Hancock’s advisors could not tell apart Milton in Portsmouth from the Buckinghamshire town 117 miles away. I couldn’t believe it,’ said Mrs Burkinshaw.
‘I downloaded my letter off the computer to see where I had failed to mention my enquiry was about Portsmouth.
‘My address was there and I started my letter off by saying I am writing to you in your role as the Minister for Portsmouth.
‘So it was disbelieving, and despairing, because what hope is there, who can we turn to?
‘This is a bigger issue than just “it’s going to be more houses down the end of my street”. It’s going to affect the whole city.’
As reported, Mr Hancock was forced to apologise on Thursday after retweeting an anti-gay message related to the Labour Party on Twitter, which he said was done in error.
The letter added that Mrs Burkinshaw’s enquiry would be passed to the department of local government.
Labour group leader, Councillor John Ferrett, said Mr Hancock’s blunder showed the Portsmouth ministerial position was ‘window dressing’ by the government.
‘The Minister for Portsmouth seems to just be a political duty and they don’t actually do anything for the city,’ he said.
‘It was all about trying to mitigate the effects of the shipbuilding closure, and now that shipbuilding has closed, the Minister of Portsmouth role has become even more sceptical.’
But Cllr Donna Jones, Tory leader of the council, argued it wasn’t Mr Hancock’s place to get involved in local planning matters.
‘As minister for the city, he is not based in the city, and I don’t expect him to have an accurate knowledge about every planning application going on.’
A spokeswoman for Mr Hancock said the minister did not sign off the letter and was investigating the error.
She said: ‘We are sorry about this mistake. It was a departmental error and the letter was not signed by – nor had it been taken to – the minister.
‘He is investigating this and, as with all Portsmouth related issues, taking a personal interest in Mrs Burkinshaw’s case.’