Our job, as local politicians and those concerned with the community, is to strive to maintain the unique character of London's ‘ villages' , and the quality of life for residents, whist accommodating the changes essential in a healthy city. Locally, that has meant keeping a very careful watch on the trend towards de-regulated planning (such as the relaxation of Permitted Development rules allowing the conversion of shops to residential use), and its impact on areas such as Bayswater. Attending the Bayswater Residents' Association AGM recently, for example, it was clear that the problem of massive basement excavations remains extremely topical throughout the area, and such developments continue to cause misery for many residents.
Change of rules on short-term property lets
One particular issue which has caused concern is the floating by a Government Minister of relaxing the rules allowing short-term property lets. At the moment any Londoner wanting to rent out their property for less than three months has to seek planning permission, as this is considered a change of use under the 1973 Greater London Powers Act.
Recently, the Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said: "London is a holiday hotspot, with thousands of people visiting every year looking for somewhere comfortable and convenient to stay. Yet the capital's homeowners get tangled in red tape each time they look to offer their homes. This, and the wide range of property websites offering opportunities to advertise homes for rent, makes this law increasingly outdated and unworkable"
In areas such as ours, such a rule change could have a devastating impact. We already have the country's largest private rented housing sector and a significant problem with unauthorised short term lets and an explosion of (official) short-term lets risks undermining the residential communities in areas like Bayswater and Lancaster Gate. Of course, most short-term visitors are not in any way anti-social, but it is still true that neighbourhoods change when a very high proportion of people living in them are transient, and too many short-term lets can add to pressures on everything from noise nuisance to rubbish collection, as well as being closely linked to lower levels of civic participation.
I have been briefed by the Westminster Amenity Societies Forum on these issues and have written to the Department of Communities and Local Government to press their strong objections to any such relaxation of the rules.
Incidentally, I was very interested to see from a recent report by Knight Frank, the property agents, that there was a 7% rise in demand for corporate residential lettings in London last year, as multi-national companies bring skilled workers from abroad. Whilst we want to see business thriving, all this adds pressure to an already over-stretched property market, and reinforces the need to increase housing supply to meet domestic need.
Councils get powers to curb growth of betting shops
Although complaints continue to come in about the impact of massive basement excavations, and with Westminster's new guidance not due to come in for some time- there is come positive planning news, as new powers have been introduced to curb the numbers of betting shops. The government is creating a new planning class which allows Councils to vet applications more rigorously than is the case for other retailers. As is the case with basement excavations, the argument here is not against betting shops in principle. It is that Councils need the powers to protect their neighbourhoods and consider the cumulative impact of such developments.
Police numbers continue to fall
The ‘Local policing model' ,which replaced Safer Neighbourhood Teams last year, remains controversial, not least because it is much harder to get a clear sense of how local teams are resourced. Previously, each ward had a fixed number of police who could not usually be move away from the area, but this has now been largely replaced by a much broader ‘sector' team. All of this inevitably reflects the fall in police numbers generally. London currently is down by 3,111 (9%) compared with 2010, with Westminster down by 463 (28%) fewer than in 2010. Residents are clearly noticing that they see fewer police on patrol , which is particularly sad as we were told that the closure of our police stations was going to mean the opposite!
‘Walk away from the kerb' to protect yourself from air pollution
So serious is the problem with air quality in London that the Government's advisor has just suggested that Londoners should keep away from the kerb as they walk along busy roads to avoid traffic-polluted air blamed for thousands of premature deaths,.
Bayswater and Lancaster Gate are at the heart of a borough with exceptionally heavy traffic and we have a real problem with our air quality, which is linked to a number of health problems and causes of premature death. I am backing calls for the whole of Westminster to be included in the ‘Ultra-low' emission zone' and would like swift action to bring this into effect.
Hallfield estate- Major works problems continue
I attended the Annual Meeting again this April, and understandably, found the meeting dominated by various concerns about the aborted Major Works programme being carried out by the Council's housing arm, City West Homes. As is the case on almost every estate where works are taking place, residents (leaseholders and tenants alike) are hugely concerned about cost escalation, the consequences of further delays- especially for those properties plagued by condensation and extreme cold, and the quality of the works when they actually get started, including the effectiveness of project management on the ground. . This latest round of Major Works was being planned as long ago as 2009, so it is no surprise that residents are concerned and upset about the delay. Also, as in every other estate, not all residents have the same view as to what needs to be done, or to what specification, but it is surely the job of the Council to ‘hold the ring' and make sure a decision gets made?
As always, I look forward to the SEBRA summer party in a few weeks (Parliament permitting).
In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts on these or any other issues or problems:
Karen Buck MP, House of Commons, London SW1A0AA
Our job, as local politicians and those concerned with the community, is to strive to maintain the unique character of London's ‘ villages' , and the quality of life for...
Thank you very much for writing to me.
Firstly, I share the widespread regret that this emergency legislation has been brought forward so close to the Parliamentary recess, so that there is not the usual time to consider it. This follows the European Court of Justice ruling in April which, unless responded to by Parliament, means that the police and intelligence agencies will suddenly lose the ability to us vital information and evidence which is applied in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations. Yet whilst the judgment itself was in April, the legislation has been published just seven days before the end of the parliamentary session. As Yvette Cooper has said:
"The government should not have left this legislation until the last minute...by ducking the debate about what powers should be available to the police and security services and what safeguards are needed for privacy...they are undermining trust".
There are two issues which have to be considered in the aftermath of the European Court ruling.
• First, the European Court of Justice has struck down regulations enabling internet providers to retain communications data for law enforcement purposes for up to 12 months. Unless they have a business reason to hold this data, internet and phone companies will delete it, which would have serious consequences for ongoing investigations by the police.
• Second, some companies are calling for a clearer legal framework to underpin their cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept what terrorists and serious criminals are saying to each other. This is the ability to access content with a warrant
Although I regret the tight timetable, and want the opportunity to have a much wider debate about the proper balance between safeguarding individual liberty and maintaining the capacity to protect ourselves against serious crime, I accept the immediate need to bring forward legislation in response to these points, which will enable agencies to maintain existing capabilities, responding to the ECJ judgement on data retention and bringing clarity to existing law in response to CSP's requests.
However, Labour have also:
• Secured agreement from the government that this emergency legislation will be temporary - it will expire in 2016.
• And secured agreement to a major independent review of the legal framework governing surveillance (as we called for four months ago) so that there can be a proper public and Parliamentary debate over what the longer term legislation and arrangements should be. The Government has also agreed to a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Board.
Is essential is for the Act itself to have a strictly limited life- it automatically falls in 2016- and for there to be adequate safeguards on the powers it proposes. I welcome the commitment to conduct an independent, expert, review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which we have been calling for for some time. This legislation was drawn up in 2000 and is clearly now out of date. New technology is blurring the distinction between communications and content and between domestic and international communications, and raising new questions about data storage. We need to reconsider, therefore, what safeguards are needed to make sure people's privacy is protected in an internet age, and we need stronger oversight, too.
Previously the Government have resisted the proposal for a RIPA review, and I am glad that they have now agreed, although on our side we will continue to press for the review to be carried out with adequate resources and capabilities and expertise to be able to produce a thorough report which can recommend the kinds of reforms that we need but that can also give confidence to the process.
We also want to have reports every six months on the operation of this legislation while it is in force; a strengthening of the Intelligence and Security Committee so that it has the same powers as Select Committees to call and compel witnesses and by having an Opposition Chair, and for longer-term reforms to overhaul the commissioners to provide stronger oversight.
Over the longer term, I recognise that there is understandable concern that our personal privacy and freedom is not compromised by levels of actual or potential surveillance- surveillance which was inconceivable not much more than a decade ago.
Revelations about the scale of data collection undertaken by security agencies have underlined how vital it is to hold those agencies to account; and continually test their activities against other aspects of the public interest relating to civil liberties.
That is why I am my party were so critical of the Government's (subsequently withdrawn) Communications Bill. This was far too widely drawn, gave too much power to the Home Secretary and provided too little protection for people's privacy.
There can be no doubt of the strong public commitment to measures which enable the police and intelligence services to prosecute criminals and where possible, disrupt and prevent serious criminal activity.
Yet whilst an urgent, temporary response may be justified now, we need to take this opportunity to have a more wide-ranging public debate about the balance we need to strike between civil liberties and privacy, and the essential work of the police and intelligence services.
I appreciate all the comments being made on this important issue.
Karen Buck MP
Dear Constituent Thank you very much for writing to me. Firstly, I share the widespread regret that this emergency legislation has been brought forward so close to the Parliamentary recess,...
I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by breast cancer and I know that organisations such as Breast Cancer Campaign work tirelessly to help support people with breast cancer and to reduce breast cancer rates.
The previous Labour Government rightly made tackling cancer one of its priorities and in the last decade five year survival rates for nearly all types of cancer improved much faster than many other European countries. That progress was due to good planning based on the evidence about what worked and on investment in both prevention and in cancer treatment services.
However, while there has been some progress in the last decade, it is clear that much more still needs to be done to improve diagnosis, treatment, support and awareness. As the Spread the Word campaign highlights, around 12,000 women die from breast cancer every year in the UK and we lag behind much of Europe in key areas such as early diagnosis and the treatment of older people.
That is why I believe the Spread the word campaign is absolutely right to call for politicians to keep the focus on the fight against cancer and to put breast cancer on their agenda as the General Election approaches.
I know the Shadow Health Team are looking closely at how best to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and outcomes as part of their policy review. The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, has also stated that a future Labour Government will be bold and ambitious when it comes to fighting cancer.
I hope that the current Government also listen and respond to the very serious concerns that have been raised about this issue and the recent rises in cancer waiting times. Indeed, progress on early diagnosis is stalling under the current Government and the Government is now missing its target for cancer waiting times, which means that families are facing longer waits for treatment.
I can assure you that I will continue to bear in mind the points raised by the Spread the Word campaign and thank those of my constituents who have raised this important issue with me recently.
Karen Buck MP
Dear Constituent I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by breast cancer and I know that organisations such as Breast Cancer Campaign work tirelessly to help support people with...
While I support the principles behind TTIP - the free trade agreement that is currently being negotiated between the USA and the EU - as it has huge potential to create jobs, improve wages and deliver a better deal for consumers. It is also supported by the TUC, the CBI and many consumer groups and would strengthen the trade relationship between our two most important markets. (These negotiations also show once again how important our membership of the EU is for British trade, businesses and consumers and that the UK's national interest lies at the heart of a reformed EU). It is crucial, though that:
. the benefits of TTIP filter down to employees, small businesses and consumers,
. that the deal is open and accountable,
. that it respects environmental concerns
and that national Governments can still act in their own interests.
I also share the concerns that many constituents have raised about the impact that TTIP could have on public services - particularly the NHS - which would potentially allow investors to bring proceedings against any foreign government that signs the treaty.
I believe that the NHS and all public services need to be more, not less, integrated and I am concerned that including public services in the final TTIP could increase the fragmentation of health services that is already taking place under this Government. That is why I believe that the NHS and public services should not be included in any final TTIP agreement.
I also have wider concerns about the Government's recent changes to the NHS, which have increased competition and fragmentation in one of our most cherished public services. That is why I opposed these changes when they were debated in Parliament and why I welcome the commitment by the Shadow Frontbench that a future Labour Government would repeal the current Government's 2012 Health and Social Care Act.
I hope that the Government listen to these very serious concerns and ensure that this agreement can deliver real benefits for UK jobs, businesses, workers and consumers.
Karen Buck MP
Dear Constituent While I support the principles behind TTIP - the free trade agreement that is currently being negotiated between the USA and the EU - as it has huge...
Thank you for getting in touch with me about the Government's proposed legislation on the recall of MPs.
Labour supports the principle of recall, and included this in our 2010 General Election Manifesto. The Government has now committed to bring forward a Bill, and although this is late in the day, in the fifth year of Parliament, it is still welcomed.
We are now waiting for the details of their Bill, setting out how it would work in practice.
However, I would make two key points:
First, I am not in favour of a rerun of the proposals contained in Nick Clegg's draft Bill. This would have seen the recall process in the hands of Members of Parliament. There is a real risk that such a system will be seen as the political establishment closing ranks on the behaviour of a fellow politician and could lose the confidence of the public.
Second, any system of recall needs to be designed to avoid powerful vested interests kicking out MPs where no wrongdoing has happened simply because they dislike the way a politician has voted on controversial issues.
Recall could play an important role in giving people more confidence in the Parliamentary system, but we have to get the detail right. That's why we'll be closely studying the Government's plans as and when they are published.
I hope this is helpful and thank you again for writing.
Karen Buck MP
Thank you for getting in touch with me about the Government's proposed legislation on the recall of MPs. Labour supports the principle of recall, and included this in our 2010...
Thank you for contacting me on the issue of shale gas extraction and the government's announcement in the Queen's Speech.
We face three critical challenges, which we have to reconcile: ensuring a safe and secure energy supply; protecting our local environment against the risks of damaging exploitation and protecting our global environment against the threat of climate change.
Let me start with the first and last points before explaining what I think our safeguards should be.
Gas is a fuel which remains vital to the operation of our homes, services and businesses in the UK. 80% of our homes rely on gas for heating, while around 30% of our electricity comes from gas fired power stations. While low carbon power generation will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over time, we will still need flexible power to help manage peaks in demand. Projections from National Grid expect gas continuing to play a vital role in our energy system for many years to come.
While demand for gas continues to be high, our ability to source this fuel from within our own borders has been steadily declining. In 2004, the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time since North Sea extraction began. For those reasons, the possibility to source gas from the UK should not be ruled out without careful consideration.
Importantly, ensuring a domestic gas supply does not conflict with the critical task of de-carbonising the power sector. I am wholly committed to the development of renewable power generation. The Labour Party has pledged to continue with the implementation of the ‘Contracts for Difference' mechanism to stimulate investment in renewables and low carbon generation, and has committed to a 2030 target for the effective decarbonisation of our power sector. The Committee on Climate Change has also said that shale gas could be developed in the UK within our legally binding carbon budgets. Within that framework, fracking is unlikely to lead to an increase in the total amount of fossil fuel burnt for electricity generation- it is more an issue of where that supply comes from.
So if we need to maintain a gas supply from secure sources, and should not rule out shale gas extraction from the mix, but what safeguards need to be in place?
I am clear that shale gas extraction should only go ahead in the context of robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030.
The Government's Infrastructure Bill proposes changes to the regulations on fracking for shale gas.
Conventional oil and gas exploration and production mostly involves vertical or near-vertical drilling from one spot at the surface. A well for shale gas, however, will usually run vertically down and then extend horizontally for some distance - this could be as much as 2 miles, or even more. This would mean that companies would have to seek permission from a large number of landowners. As it stands, existing legislation allows coalmining, water, sewage and gas transportation pipelines to have underground access without needing the permission of the landowner, but it does not allow shale gas or deep geothermal development. In reality without bringing shale gas extraction legislation into line with that covering coalmining would provide an effective block on fracking activity and deep geothermal in the UK.
At the end of May the government published consultation on its proposed changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill. These changes will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments, they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more. I therefore do not oppose these reforms. However, the issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK's energy mix.
I am therefore determined that we should push for the environmental framework to be strengthened. In 2012 Labour set out six tough environmental conditions which should be in place prior to any shale gas extraction taking place in the UK.
• Evidence of seismic activity led to the suspension of operations in Lancashire in 2011. As Labour set out in an article for Business Green on 7 March 2012, baseline conditions should be assessed prior to any exploratory work with micro-seismic monitoring, in order to discriminate natural from artificially induced seismic events once the drilling begins. An early warning detection system should also be implemented, similar to that used in the Netherlands and Germany, which would allow measures to be taken before seismic activity has a noticeable impact.
• There has been a lack of transparency and control in the USA on exactly what is being used to fracture shale rocks and extract the resulting gas. In the UK, the chemicals used must be restricted to those that are proven to be non-hazardous. Further, there should be mandated disclosure of all the chemicals to be used in fracking, including their toxicity levels.
• The integrity of each shale gas well must be assured to prevent water contamination. An independent assessment of the well design, the cement bond between the casing and well bore, in addition to the composition of the casing to determine its ability to resist corrosion, is essential.
• The level of methane in groundwater should also be assessed prior to any drilling. Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, but there is concern from the experience in the USA that it may also occur as a result of fracking. In each case, that needs to be assessed prior to any activity, so that there is robust baseline information to monitor against.
• All potential shale exploration sites should be subject to screening for an environmental impact assessment - at present, those below one hectare do not need to undertake such an assessment. This assessment should include the amount of water used, how much can then be recycled and the general availability of water in each case.
• All of the monitoring activity referred to above should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration
While the government accepted four of the six conditions in December 2012, we still believe that the regulatory framework is not sufficiently robust. It is not currently agreed clear that the level of methane in groundwater should be assessed prior to any drilling. Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, so it is important that robust baseline information exists to monitors activity against. Neither has it been agreed that all monitoring activity should take place over at least a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration. I will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened in these areas and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely with the industry and not with the public purse or with homeowners. Many other concerns remain, particularly regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring process and the capacity of the relevant bodies to undertake that monitoring and enforce the regulations, and these must also be addressed.
I hope this is helpful and thank you for taking the time to write to me on this important issue.
Karen Buck MP
Dear Constituent Thank you for contacting me on the issue of shale gas extraction and the government's announcement in the Queen's Speech. We face three critical challenges, which we have...
Plans to re-develop the Warwick need improving,especially to offer more hope for local people in housing need
It is now only a very few short weeks before you will be asked to vote on Westminster Council's plans for the Warwick estate. After this one vote, there will be a major development of the area, which will have both good points and disadvantages. However, you will not be voting again on the individual parts of the scheme, so I think it is very important to get the best possible deal now.
Having been out speaking to even more residents recently, I remain concerned that many people are still not clear about the plans and what they will mean, nor that the Council is offering the best deal on affordable housing.
• On the one hand, there will be real improvements to the look of the area, with some new low-cost homes, and job opportunities and community benefits
• On the other hand, out of the 290 or so additional homes to be built primarily around the Harrow Road end of the Warwick, the vast majority will be for high-cost private sale, greatly increasing density, and involving around 5-6 years of building work in the area.
I estimate that only about 6 in every 100 households currently living in the Warwick Masterplan area would benefit from new affordable housing opportunities.
I have met with Westminster Council officers again to press the vital importance of making more homes truly affordable to rent and to buy, to help the many people on the Warwick who are in housing need. I have now written to them with a list of key points that have to be dealt with before the vote.
These should include a promise to at least re-house all those Warwick households currently registered as over-crowded. In addition, all the planned ‘intermediate' housing (that costs less than the full ‘market' cost but is dearer than council housing) should have rent levels that are within reach of local people who would benefit from it. At present only half will be available for households with incomes of between
£30-37,000 a year, with the rest aimed at a range of higher earners. With house prices increasing very fast, I am confident that the private home sales should make more profit to put back into increasing the amount of affordable housing, and have asked for further assessments of this.
I have also pressed Westminster on the guaranteed minimum money that will come back into the community for improved local services, and I want to see complete frankness about what the Council can guarantee (such as affordable housing) and what they can ASK for from private companies, without any guarantee (such as a supermarket).
Developments like this can greatly improve an area- but the offer to local people must be a good one.
I continue to welcome your views.
Karen Buck MP
Dear Resident May 2014Plans to re-develop the Warwick need improving,especially to offer more hope for local people in housing needIt is now only a very few short weeks before you...
Rough sleepers to lose their beds as West End hostels are closed due to cuts
More than 50 rough sleepers will lose their beds in central London when two hostels shut after their grants were cut by Westminster City Council. Despite figures showing homelessness in London is rising, Conservative-run Westminster said not enough people were using the hostels and the buildings were in poor condition. A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: "We have reviewed our hostels to ensure we provide services that are needed and help people move towards independent accommodation."
Green light for Westminster luxury flats
An office block within walking distance of Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament is set to be turned into a series of luxury flats after the scheme was granted planning by Westminster City Council. The former European Council for Foreign Relations building at 29-35 Old Queen Street is set to undergo a £100m renovation to turn it into 22 super-luxury apartments complete with rooftop gardens.
Rough sleepers to lose their beds as West End hostels are closed due to cuts More than 50 rough sleepers will lose their beds in central London when two hostels...
Kris Hopkins MP
the Department of Communities and Local Government
03 April 2014
Dear Mr Hopkins
RE: Review of Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector, Question 22
I have been contacted by the Westminster Amenity Societies Forum, a group representing all the officially recognised residents' associations in the City of Westminster, about your forthcoming Review of Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector.
In particular, the WASF have drawn my attention to Question 22, which raises the possibility of relaxing the London specific rules on letting residential property on a short term basis. As we are at the heart of London's tourist economy, unauthorised short term lets are a growing problem in Westminster.
Long term residents report feelings of loss of privacy and amenity of their own homes, anti-social behaviour and noise and other unneighbourly behaviour such as dumped rubbish. In several cases, local councillors have felt that the issue has become so much of a problem in their wards that they have allocated funds from their localised ward budgets to support Planning Enforcement Teams.
You will of course be aware that London, and Westminster in particular, also faces a serious housing shortage. Clearing the way for property owners to rent their flats out to tourists or business travellers, rather than long term tenants, will do nothing to alleviate this shortage and could well make it even harder for my constituents to find local accommodation in the private rented sector.
I would reiterate my constituents concern that the relevant provisions of the Greater London Powers Act 1973 not be updated, as least in so far as they apply to Inner London. I would appreciate your comments on this and on the contents of the attached letter.
Please respond in a way that I can copy to my constituent. Thank you for your assistance.
Karen Buck MP
Kris Hopkins MPthe Department of Communities and Local GovernmentEland HouseBressenden PlaceLondonSW1E 5DU 03 April 2014 Dear Mr Hopkins RE: Review of Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector, Question 22...