Karen Buck MP

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

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Short/holiday lets (and other aspects of the London housing crisis)

Thank you to the many local residents who completed this survey on line or by returning a newsletter.

The growth of the holiday/short-let sector is becoming a significant issue in London- and especially inner London- as figures collected by Westminster Council illustrate. Of course it is reasonable for people to be able to let rooms or their property for short periods without excessive interference. However, there are still rules which do need to be enforced. Short and holiday lets should not interfere with the right of neighbours to have the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, and care must be taken to prevent much needed residential property simply turning into an arm of the hotel industry.

I also asked a few other questions gathering thoughts on aspects of the housing crisis as it most affects us locally.

A summary of the responses are set out below. This information, and the additional detail many people provided, will be of great help when I attend the Greater London Authority summit on short/holiday lets, and introduce my short Bill in Parliament on the subject, so ‘thank you’ again, and please do feel free to keep your comments coming.

1.      Short/holiday lets 

I asked you questions about the impact of short-lets, including those advertised on platforms such as Airbnb, on your neighbourhood.

  • 80% (out of total of 218) thought that it should be easier to enforce the rules that properties should not be let out for more than 90 days (which currently requires planning permission).
  • 81% had experience of a property/properties near you being rented out on a holiday or short-let basis?
  • 55% had experienced problems.

Some of you questioned whether there is a “real, evidence based problem”. Another pointed out that there is a difference between short-term residential lets (more than 6 months) and Airbnb lets (which are often for holidays and for no longer than 6 months).

Some of you mentioned a positive experience of using Airbnb yourselves or Airbnb use in your building:
‘on a positive note, we have met some lovely people who have rented the flat!’

short lets are a…‘very useful way to get money in people’s pockets’

However, many of you have experienced serious problems with short-term lettings in your neighbourhood.  In brief, the problems include:

  • Noise – people arriving and leaving noisily in the middle of the night, loud parties, wrong buzzers being used at night
  • Security – short term occupants obtaining keys and security codes (leading to at least one burglary?)
  • Rubbish left untied, or left out on the wrong days or in the wrong place
  • Drugs and prostitution
  • Loss of community feeling

 You wanted better enforcement again to ensure holiday/short-lets kept within the law and didn’t cause wider problems.

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2. Foreign ownership of property in London [Q1]

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We are an international city and very much the stronger and better for it. Ownership of property will understandably reflect that fact. However, concerns have risen in recent years, and perhaps especially regarding the ‘off-plan’ purchase of new homes before they are even marketed in the UK. This lay behind Sadiq Khan’s decision to hold an inquiry and establish what impact this was having.  Of the 218 respondents a significant majority (84%) supported the Mayor of London’s inquiry into the impact of foreign ownership on the London property market. Around 70 of you wrote comments.

16 of these comments identified a link between foreign ownership and the high prices of properties and rents in London and a few want foreign ownership banned.

‘Foreign investment in London property is making the city unaffordable for anyone except the very rich.’

Some of you are concerned about the “luxury” developments which are aimed at the overseas market. You were also concerned the link between foreign ownership and money laundering, corruption and tax avoidance.

However, many of you felt that the shortage of affordable housing in Central London has many complex causes – planning restrictions being mentioned frequently.

It struck me that many of your comments suggested that the main problem was that property was being left empty.

‘There are new blocks of flats near me where almost no flats have lights on at night.’

One of you suggested that the Mayor’s inquiry

‘should be expanded to cover the impact of empty homes.’

 

3. Increasing access to affordable homes

I asked you whether London house builders should be required to ensure that at least 35% of homes in all new scheme are affordable.

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A large majority (76%) of you agreed with this question [96/127].

In your comments, many of you felt that “affordable” needs to be carefully defined.

Affordability should be related to earnings and not be a % of average rents.

By affordable, it should be within the actual pay range of most people which is 20 – 25K, not 32K.

These should also be properly “affordable” – when the average couple who are both working full-time can’t afford them, how are they “affordable”?

Some of you felt that 35% isn’t high enough and others felt that it was probably too high and would “disincentivise builders from developing”.

Whilst one regretted the disappearance of the “social mix that used to make London so successful” another felt that “people who can afford to live here [Westminster] should live here and those who can’t afford should live where they can afford”.

 4.      Changing the private rented sector

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A great number of you told me that you had wanted to choose all three options (and some of you said that you would have chosen two).

However, a few of you were opposed to all three options and concerned that these measures could limit the availability of property to rent. These comments give me a good indication of your views.

a)      Longer tenancies

Many of you supported the longer tenancy option, with some of you thinking that this would result in more stable communities. However, in your comments, a number of you questioned whether it was realistic.

‘Not all landlords will have enough confidence of their financial position in 5 years’ time to want to contractually oblige themselves for this period. Conversely, shorter lets (1 year) are favoured by a lot of tenants who want to retain flexibility.’

A few of you referred to the fact that other countries have a 2-year minimum length of contract. However, a number of tenants said that they would not want to be bound by a long-term agreement. Others felt that there shouldn’t be any restriction on a landlord’s use of their property.

b)      Limits on rent rises

Although many of you (but not all) supported limits on rent increases, very few of you expanded on this in your comments. A couple of you suggested that rent rises should be limited to RPI during a tenancy.

c)      Limits on estate agent charges

Again, this was supported by many of you, giving examples of “rip off” charges of £300 for reprinting the rental agreement.

Short Lets Report

Short/holiday lets (and other aspects of the London housing crisis) Thank you to the many local residents who completed this survey on line or by returning a newsletter. The growth...

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Karen Buck MP signs Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment

Signing the Holocaust Memorial Book of Commitment, a wonderful initiative by the Holocaust Educational Trust

Karen Buck MP signs Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment Read more

The independent House of Commons Library has analysed for me the changes in adult social care spending in every local authority since 2010.
As can be seen in the table below, Westminster has had one of the biggest reductions in spending, from £102 million to £66m (a fall of 36%). This is the 4th largest spending cut out of 155 Local Authorities.  
The lack of social care for elderly people who could, if support were available, be discharged from hospital, is one of the key drivers of this winter’s NHS crisis.

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Adult Social Care Spending since 2010

The independent House of Commons Library has analysed for me the changes in adult social care spending in every local authority since 2010. As can be seen in the table... Read more

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How the seeds were sown - the origins of the ideas responsible for our current housing mess

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Read more

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Parliament’s role in the UK’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council

Karen Buck MP

Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Day Reception

Monday 12 December 2016

These are challenging times for human rights.  Popular disaffection with politics is placing the laws and machinery that protect human rights under increasing strain.  The political consensus which underpinned those protections is evaporating fast and the international institutions which protect human rights face a resurgence of isolationist nationalism and a retreat from engagement.  Critics of human rights often complain about the lack of democratic legitimacy in human rights decision-making.  In the face of these challenges, it is more important than ever that Parliament gets more involved in debates and discussions about human rights.

Because of its constitutional functions of making law and holding the Government to account, Parliament is well placed to be an effective protector of human rights.  It can both prevent violations of human rights from arising in the first place, and it can act to implement recommendations where such violations are found to have happened, to prevent them from happening again.

But most importantly, Parliament is uniquely placed to confront directly the growing concern about the democratic legitimacy of human rights.  Elected politicians can feel disempowered if the guardianship of human rights is left exclusively to courts and lawyers.  The great challenge today is to find ways to ensure that democratically elected politicians have a meaningful role to play in the interpretation and application of human rights standards.

The UK’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council provides such an opportunity.  The first two reviews of the UK’s human rights record, in 2008 and 2012, largely passed our Parliament by.  There was no questioning of ministers about the UK’s draft Report to the Human Rights Council, and no scrutiny of or debate about that Report in Parliament before it was considered in Geneva. 

Today, the UN positively encourages parliaments to play a much more proactive role in the whole UPR process, realising that parliaments are important partners for the international human rights machinery.  In June this year, the Human Rights Council held a special session devoted to discussing the contribution of parliaments to the UPR process, and to identifying ways of enhancing that contribution in future.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, is currently doing some important work following up on the recent recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.  I hope that this work will lead on to detailed engagement by the Committee with the UK’s UPR in the new year.  Parliament should scrutinise and debate the UK’s Report to the Human Rights Council, along with the shadow reports of both civil society and the UK’s national human rights institutions including the EHRC, and that parliamentary consideration should inform the Human Rights Council itself when it conducts the review. 

I welcome the EHRC’s Report and I hope that the JCHR will do everything it can to encourage detailed parliamentary engagement with the important issues it raises. 

The EHRC’s report covers 12 priority themes on which it makes a number of recommendations to the UK Government and the devolved administrations.   I would like to comment on three of those themes, on which I think Parliament has a particularly important role to play.

(1)          Our human rights framework

The Government has created a climate of great uncertainty about the future of our legal framework for protecting human rights in this country.  It says that it still intends to repeal the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Brexit has compounded that uncertainty, causing widespread anxiety that legal protections for human rights in the UK will be seriously diluted.  Parliament must scrutinise both the Brexit process and any proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights to ensure that there is no watering down of the legal protections that human rights currently enjoy. 

(2)          Access to justice

Effective access to justice is one of the most important human rights, because often the protection of other fundamental rights depends upon it.  Yet all of the UN treaty bodies which have recently reported on the UK have expressed concern about the impact of the 2012 reforms to legal aid on access to justice in the UK.  Parliament must insist on there being an urgent review of the impact of that legislation on access to justice, and should rigorously scrutinise the impact of it on vulnerable groups such as children, disabled people and minorities.

(3)          Child poverty

Child poverty is an urgent human rights issue.  Every child has the right to an adequate standard of living and to social protection. Much evidence suggests an alarming increase in child poverty, yet the legal framework designed to reduce it has been seriously weakened, for example by removing legally binding targets which ministers must meet.  Parliament must insist on there being mechanisms capable of holding the Government to account in relation to child poverty.

The JCHR will, I hope, play its part in relation to these three themes, but this cannot be the job of one Committee alone: all Committees, and all parliamentarians, must be vigilant to ensure that no opportunity for scrutiny is missed. In these challenging times, it is no exaggeration to say that the long term survival of human rights protections depends on democratically elected politicians taking ownership of them and getting more involved in debates about their implications for law and policy.

My Speech at The Human Rights Day Reception

  Parliament’s role in the UK’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council Karen Buck MP Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Day Reception Monday 12 December...

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I share constituents concerns about the welfare of cats that are bought and sold and about the detrimental impact of poor breeding practices on the welfare of cats.


I believe it is vital that all breeders follow the high animal welfare standards enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) 2006, introduced by the previous Labour Government. The AWA, for the first time, embedded in statute clear standards relating to the welfare of animals. This Act makes owners and keepers responsible for ensuring the welfare needs of their animals are met and makes it an offence to cause unnecessary physical or mental suffering to animals, including cats. Under this Act, breeders of cats may be investigated by local authorities where there are welfare concerns. It is also the case that a business that sells cats, unless it falls within certain exemptions, needs a licence under the Pet Animals Act 1951. Local authorities have powers of inspection of pet shop premises.

However, I appreciate that while there is distinct legislation for breeding and for selling in the case of dogs, there is no equivalent legislation that regulates the breeding of cats. I agree that irresponsible breeding is a growing problem and I believe poor breeding practices contribute greatly to the number of abandoned animals rescue centres have to deal with.

At the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to improve protection of dogs and cats and my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are currently reviewing inadequate regulations on the breeding and sale of dogs and cats and are committed to ensure that animal welfare standards can be applied to modern trading practices such as online trade.

The Opposition will look to improve standards on the sale of kittens. The evidence shows kittens should not be sold under 8 weeks of age, and as with dogs, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are looking to see if requiring the kitten to be sold with its mother present will enable new owners to see the wellbeing of the mother. This would be one way of ensuring cats being bred are in good health and are not experiencing consequences of over breeding, like prolapse. The Opposition is also looking at how enforcement could be brought to the number of litters a cat has in any given year. I note the call for all cats to be microchipped, which has been introduced for dogs from April 2016. If this scheme delivers the desired outcome, I believe we should look at how this could be extended to other animals.

As you know, the current Government is reviewing animal establishments licensing in England and is looking at the Pet Animals Act 1951 with a view to updating the laws on the breeding and selling of pet animals. I welcome this review.

The Government has proposed creating a single "animal establishment licence" for dog breeding, animal boarding, riding establishments and pet shops. The Government has said that the law will be clear that online and home-based businesses must also be licensed and plans to update the legal requirements for each licensed activity. The Government consulted on this from December 2015 to March 2016 and in September 2016, published a summary of the responses it had received. The Government has said that over the next few months, regulations will be drafted regarding the specific proposals, which will take into account the views expressed in the consultation.

While the consultation included several proposals on standards around the sale of puppies, I understand that Cats Protection made a submission to the consultation and I hope the Government will carefully consider the charity's views when setting out its response. I also note that the Government has recently indicated that it will be looking, as part of the current licensing review, to make it a requirement that both puppies and kittens should not be sold if they are under 8 weeks of age. I am following developments on this closely.

I will certainly continue to support the improved protection of cats and press for the highest possible standards of animal welfare.

Animal welfare - protecting puppies and kittens

I share constituents concerns about the welfare of cats that are bought and sold and about the detrimental impact of poor breeding practices on the welfare of cats. I believe...

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The NHS is now experiencing the worse financial squeeze in its history, facing on present trends, a shortfall of £20bn by 2020-21.  We also now know that the money committed by the government for the NHS is less than was promised (and, of course, the ‘£350m a week for the NHS’ supposedly to be re-directed from our EU contributions post-Brexit was an outright untruth). NHS finances have been looked into in detail by the Parliamentary Health Select Committee, and I have copied details of their most recent findings at the bottom of this letter.

At my most recent meeting with our local hospital trust, Imperial. I learned that their 2016/7 deficit is projected to reach £52m, and in addition, they must find £54m in ‘Cost Improvements’. Our local Clinical Commissioning Groups are deemed to be ‘over-funded’ and will see their budgets fall by 10% over the funding period. Cuts to the community pharmacy budget could lead to many closing. At the same time, local councils, which have faced cuts of up to 50%, have been forced to slash spending on social care- the home and community based services which can help patients be safely be discharged from hospital or even prevent them from having to go in the first place. And all the while needs are rising, primarily, though not entirely, as our population ages.

As you may know, our health services are part of the North West London region, whose structure has been under consideration for some time as part of a process known as “Shaping a healthier future”. This strategic approach is intended to promote better integration of care and the reshaping of the health and social services to increase specialisms in some areas, and build up primary and community care outside hospital. This was the underlying philosophy of the Darzi review under the last Labour government, which envisaged a big expansion of diagnostic and treatment facilities at a more local level, and those ideas to some extent fed in to the ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ plans we now have before us. There is much that is sound and sensible about the approach. The concentration of London’s stroke services into a smaller number of highly specialist units, for example, has definitely saved lives and led to better outcomes, whilst offering some services that currently need a trip to hospital in an expanded GP surgery is more convenient for patients. It is, in my view, important not to lose sight of this agenda- to accept that not all changes are bad, that the NHS needs to innovate, that funding will never be unlimited, and choices do have to be made.

Yet when these plans were first being drawn up, the financial situation was very different from what it is today. Now we know that necessary improvements have to be funded at a time of unprecedented financial pressure. ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ for NW London (now effectively turning into our local Sustainability and Transformation Plan) envisaged the closure of a number of Accident and Emergency units even though demand is rising, and alternative community based services are not yet fully developed and tested. Meanwhile, the Better Care Fund, which is shifting some money from hospitals to the community, has also had to plug holes made by cuts in Westminster Council support for social care. We saw all this before, when long-stay hospitals closed in the 1980s without adequate ‘care in the community’ being available- the essence of a good idea undermined in practice. And even though we don’t (thankfully) face the prospect of losing our Accident and Emergency unit at St Mary’s, there are many other risks arising from a full blown financial crisis.

The NHS does need to continue to change- developments in treatment and changes in the population make that essential- but it will struggle massively without considerable extra investment, not only in acute/hospital services but in primary, community, social and mental health care services.  We also need to ramp up measures to prevent illness and promote well-being- from tackling air pollution and obesity to better mental health interventions, and give urgent priority to reducing health inequalities.  So it is particularly shocking that the public health budget has been raided to offset the funding crisis in the clinical sector, and that council services which play a valuable prevention role (youth, play, advice) have been reduced so dramatically and poverty and homelessness are rising again. The NHS has never existed in isolation from the wider social and economic context.

So I will continue to make the case and my colleagues and I will hold the present government to account- on funding, on the re-organisation, and on other policies impacting on health. Sadly, it is they who determine both funding and policies, but it is important that we expose their record and I am grateful for constituents willingness to join this campaign.

Funding crisis in the NHS

The NHS is now experiencing the worse financial squeeze in its history, facing on present trends, a shortfall of £20bn by 2020-21.  We also now know that the money committed...

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The Europe debate has taken an extremely disturbing turn in the last few days, and the first thing to say is that there is an urgent need to try and ensure the rhetoric is dialled down. Politics has been conducted in a particularly highly charged atmosphere since the beginning of the referendum campaign, and whilst it would be wrong to link any specific event to this, it is surely no coincidence that hate crimes have risen sharply since the spring. Inflammatory language, whether used by politicians, the press or on social media, has consequences and we all have a responsibility to conduct ourselves calmly.

The High Court judgement  recently, represented in some quarters as an attempt to ‘reverse Brexit by undemocratic means’ is, of course, no such thing. As the judgment itself makes clear, the case was not about ‘the merits or demerits of leaving the EU…which is a political matter….but whether the Government is entitled to give notice of the decision to leave the EU under Article 50 by exercise of the Crown’s prerogative powers and without reference to Parliament’.

Whether or not this position is right (I believe it to be so) or whether it is reversed on appeal, it is absolutely right that we all robustly defend the independence of our judges. They are not, and should not be, immune from criticism, but headlines screaming that judges asserting the role of Parliament are ‘enemies of the people’ are both disgraceful and dangerous.

On the substance of Brexit itself, I was amongst the many millions bitterly disappointed by the result, and the last few months have only served to confirm the risks for our country; to say nothing of the extent to which lies put forward by some parts of the ‘Leave’ campaign have been exposed. It is now clear that the ‘Leavers’ have no plan for the country, and that we face the possibility of an extremely damaging ‘hard Brexit’ --which was by no means what most ‘leave’ voters thought they were endorsing.

It would be wholly irresponsible of Parliament not to do its best to mitigate the negative consequences of Brexit, and not to fight for the best outcome for London and the rest of the UK. We need to have a clear idea of what the Government’s preferred options for the UK’s relationship with the rest of the EU are before Article 50 is triggered and the nation is locked into the inflexible 2 year exit period. The ‘leave’ campaign promised that quitting the EU would make us richer, safer and happier. It’s now up to them to demonstrate how they will make it so.

There is a world of difference between ‘thwarting the expressed will of the people’, which would clearly be wrong, and seeking a constructive way of implementing the referendum decision that takes into account the long-term interests of all the British people – both ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’.

I appreciate that the result of the referendum has raised uncertainty over the future rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU, particularly following comments made by Government Ministers which have suggested that this matter will form part of the EU-UK negotiations. This issue has been raised on a number of occasions with the Government in the House of Commons. On 6 July the Opposition put forward a motion calling on the Government to commit with urgency to giving EU nationals currently living in the UK the right to remain. I supported this motion and I am pleased that it passed overwhelmingly. The Government must now accept the decision of the House of Commons, end the uncertainty and confirm the legal status of EU nationals without delay.

My further response to Brexit

The Europe debate has taken an extremely disturbing turn in the last few days, and the first thing to say is that there is an urgent need to try and...

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It is clear that there is deep concern about this important service, as has been demonstrated by the number of letters I have received, the signatures on the petition and the attendance at the public meeting (on a dark winter’s night!)

There is understandable concern to protect rural post offices, on the grounds that they are important parts of a community and help sustain other services in a local area. However, I believe strongly that this argument also holds true in cities, where it is also essential to keep a local ‘heart’- Libraries, GPs and Post Offices all form part of that.

The Post Office are looking to cut another third from their budget, and it is cost that it driving these changes- whether they are closures or franchising. The question is, can any deal be struck between the Post Office, the staff and the Council who own the building in which the Post Office is currently located?         

I appreciate that the Council will also want to earn as much rent from the premises as possible, not least because of the massive cut in funding they have had to deal with.  But I would hope that a compromise might be reached in the fulfilment of the Council’s general duty to the community.

I have been speaking to the Council and the Post Office - and here is what the Post Office said just before the public meeting:

Dear Ms Buck

We are currently considering expressions of interest for a number of franchise opportunities, including St Johns Wood.  We will need to complete the detailed assessment of these before we are ready to communicate any firm proposals for the branch. Consequently if we were to attend this evening’s meeting we would not be able to discuss any potential franchise partner or potential new location of a franchised branch. As such at this stage there would be very little information we could share with customers beyond the fact that we have advertised for a franchise partner.

Once we have a formal proposal at St Johns Wood we will commence a period of public consultation. As part of this we will host a customer forum for members of the public, local stakeholders and other interested parties to speak to representatives of the Post Office so that they can better understand our proposals and how they can input to the public consultation.  We will also invite CWU to attend the forum. Our forums are held in a local venue and typically take place over a number of hours spanning the afternoon and evening to ensure they are convenient – we also publicise them via the local press and information in branch as well as alerting the local council and yourself as the local MP.  We have been running these forums for many years and find them to be the best way to engage with customers and others on these type of proposals.

Martine Munby
Public Affairs

Post Office Ltd

And when I contacted them again afterwards:  

Dear Karen

I do understand how important the Post Office service is to local residents and will of course keep you updated.  I can’t give you an indication of timescales yet but any franchise branch typically offers the same services as a Crown Post Office and we will run a public consultation when we have a proposal.  I’ll speak to the team managing this about your question around alternative sites for the Crown.

Kind regards

Martine

I can assure you that I will continue to make the case as strongly as I can - and we may need to move the campaign up a gear when we get a more specific proposal.

Thank you again

Karen Buck MP

In case you missed it, here’s the Wood and Vale’s coverage of the campaign from late September.

 

St John’s Wood Post Office

It is clear that there is deep concern about this important service, as has been demonstrated by the number of letters I have received, the signatures on the petition and...

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