Karen Buck

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

Past Issues

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Easter E-Newsletter


Round up of the month

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There are few quiet months in politics these days, and March has been no exception.

I was one of a number of Labour MPs who joined the demonstration against anti-Semitism which took place in Parliament Square last Monday.

Anti-Semitism is racism, pure and simple, and has no part in my party, our politics or our society more generally. Anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise in recent years and there can be no equivocation in condemning them for what they are. It is deeply distressing to me that we have reached a position where so many Jewish people clearly feel unwelcome, uncomfortable or worse, in Labour, and where those speaking out on the issue risk being abused for it. That there is a problem to be dealt with can be in no doubt. I pledge my total commitment to ending this intolerable situation and it is right that we are now held to account for turning words into action. I am already an officer of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Jews and am signed up to the All Party Parliamentary Group against anti-Semitism, but I welcome further suggestions. We have a strong record of tolerance in this local community and I will do all I can to ensure that this is upheld.

In Parliament, I’ve been busy with the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We have just published a report on Free Speech in Universities, which you can read here.

We are also in the middle of an inquiry into ‘Attitudes to enforcement’. The United Kingdom has a proud tradition of respect for human rights. Those rights are supported by political parties, and such rights have long been an integral part of common law, as well as being enshrined in statute by the Human Rights Act 1998.

However, as much as rights may be recognised and protected within the legal framework, there can be barriers to achieving a culture which understands and respects human rights and practical barriers to those who wish to enforce their legal rights. You can find out more about this here.

I’ve also been involved into a number of Parliamentary Ministerial statements and debates, including in respect of the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, where I raised concerned about the death sentences against peaceful protesters; the impact of Brexit on the NHS, and Grenfell and Fire Safety. I’m happy to respond in more detail on these or other issues should you wish to follow them up.

I was in touch with our main local Mosques and with Westminster Police prior to the threatened ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ on April 3rd, after letters were sent to some of my Muslim colleagues in Parliament and to some individuals in different parts of the country. Thankfully, the day seemed to have passed without incident and I am not aware of anyone local having received one of the poisonous letters. Please do be sure to report any incidents of hate crime, as it is essential that the police and government have an accurate picture.

In the rest of this newsletter you will find information about more of the (mostly local) work I have been doing recently.


What a waste of public money as Paddington ‘Free School’ closes after just six years

The closure of the Minerva primary school in Paddington, which was set up under the government’s Free School programme - was announced this month, less than six years after it opened. The school was set up in one of the most expensive areas of the country, despite never being justified in terms of the demand for places. Even Westminster Council made clear that the school was not needed, saying now that “Data was provided at the time to the DfE that evidenced no demand for a new school”

Parents were expressing their dissatisfaction from the start, as the school has already had two temporary sites in its short life, with no outdoor space, never opened on the planned permanent site and has been operating only half full. Our sympathy is first and foremost for the parents and children who have faced all this disruption. However, the extraordinary waste of money involved in this example of a ‘schools free-for-all’ proves once again how essential it is that increasingly scarce public resources are planned and directed properly.

The West End Extra covered the story here.


…whilst our other schools face a cash squeeze

Meanwhile, many of our other schools - primary and secondary - are achieving great things whilst struggling with budgets as funding fails to keep pace with cost pressures. I recently met with the Westminster Secondary Heads group to discuss the local impact, but we already know schools and colleges are struggling to make ends meet. The Government’s real-terms cuts to education funding have seen £2.8 billion cut from school budgets since 2015. This is resulting in significant damage to the education our schools and colleges are able to provide.

Worse still is on the horizon with 17,942 schools (equal to nine out of ten) hit by a real terms cut in funding per pupil from 2015-19.

Class size increases

Research by the School Cuts coalition published on 8th March 2018 shows that class sizes are rising in the majority of secondary schools in England.

In Westminster North, secondary schools have an average of 1.4 more students in every class.

Larger class sizes mean less individual attention for children and young people.

Falling staff numbers

Further research published in February – drawn solely from Government figures – shows that staff numbers in England’s secondary schools have fallen by 15,000 between 2014/15 and 2016/17 despite their being 4,500 more pupils to teach. This equates to an average loss of 5.5 staff members in each school since 2015; in practical terms this means 2.4 fewer classroom teachers, 1.6 fewer teaching assistants and 1.5 fewer support staff.


Calls to stop the selling off of much needed homes

I have been objecting for some time to the sale at auction of much needed housing association flats in Westminster so I was pleased to be able to contribute to this article in last weekend’s Observer.


Access to justice

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As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Legal Aid group, access to justice is very dear to my heart. This month my main Parliamentary Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has been carrying out an inquiry into the barriers which may prevent people excerising their rights- including issues like legal aid, and we will be publishing a report soon. You can find out more about it here

I was also pleased to join the Law Society to back their campaign for ‘early help’ – access to legal advice at the earliest point for people with problems, which can so often prevent more complex (and expensive) problems arising down the line.


LOCAL NEWS ROUND-UP

It’s been another busy month for community events!

Paddington Waterways and Maida Vale Society

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I was delighted to be able to get to the AGM of the Paddington Waterways and Maida Vale Society, whose officers do great work contributing to planning considerations in the area, support the local police and much more. Discussions and questions covered planning and development, affordable housing and the problem of short-lets. I continue to urge local residents to join their amenity societies and help them help your community!

www.paddingtonwaterways.com


Paddington Law Centre

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Paddington Law Centre staff and volunteers do outstanding work advising and representing local people with employment, housing, welfare and other legal issues on an absolutely shoestring.

Last year the tiny team dealt with 2985 clients, including 1105 housing cases and 1414 benefit issues, such as helping people challenge the removal of disability payments.  A staggeringly high level of cases are won at appeal, showing just how flawed the system is, but that proportion falls when disabled people don’t get good help and advice, so the service the Law Centre offers is critical.

As (almost) always, I joined them for their Annual General Meeting, to say thank you for all they do.


Tollgate - residents having a tough time during the estate re-building

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I continue to hear from the residents of Tollgate House about concerns they have surrounding the ongoing development. Several residents have expressed their concern over the future of those who have been displaced by the development as well as current tenants in housing need. Westminster Council have clarified that priority will first be given to those residents who were displaced and then tenants in housing need before the social housing in the new development is opened to Westminster’s general register.

I have also heard from residents who objected to being charged for the cleaning of the communal areas of Tollgate House whilst it is effectively a building site. These photos taken of the lift and the terrace, showing the dirt and dust that residents are living with, were sent to CityWest Homes in a request to drop the cleaning charges. I was very pleased to learn that the Council and City West Homes have now agreed to do this and that residents will no longer be paying for a redundant service.

If you have any other concerns about the development at Tollgate House, please get in touch and let me know.


Meeting the Wheelchair Service User Group

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I caught up with the support group for wheelchair users recently, to discuss some of their concerns with the quality of the service, including delays in getting repairs and replacements. I’m taking up specific cases, but would be very pleased to hear from anyone else who has an issue causing them concern.


Dibdin House

Councillor Begum and I went along to a meeting of the Dibdin resident’s Association in Maida Vale, where there were lots of concerns raised about parking and noise nuisance. Polly Robertson does a fabulous job keeping the association together and getting the community hall back into use. She’s a real community champion.


Airbnb/’Short-Let’ accommodation

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This is going to be a running feature, I suspect, as it is being raised more and more widely in Westminster and beyond. I met with the Short Lets Association recently to hear their ideas, as the industry representatives. Whilst I welcome the fact that they are clearly seeking to hear and respond to, some of the concerns, it is worrying that the other main providers of short lets are not even signed up to Airbnb’s pledge to police the 90-day legal limit for such bookings. The sector is growing so fast that we have very little time to get to grips with effectively managing it, and the industry does need to take more responsibility than it has so far to make sure we tackle nuisance and avoid the loss of desperately needed homes to informal hotels.


Queen’s Park Community Day

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Queen’s Park Community Council will shortly be up for the first elections since it was set up in 2014. Whilst an ‘urban parish council’ obviously does not have the powers or the money to transform a local area - especially in the face of wider cuts to public spending - the Council and individual Councillors have done some great work, including the Summer and Winter festivals, the fireworks display, looking after Queen’s Park Gardens and more, whilst the Queen’s Park Hub has recently opened and there are lots of new sports activities and classes. I went along to the ‘Community Day’ to encourage people to take part, and it was great to see lots of people there.

If you are interested in the sports and activities running from the Queen’s Park hub, check this website.


Jamie in my office is running the London Marathon for The Avenues Youth Club

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James is a member of my team and he is running the London Marathon in 3 weeks for The Avenues Youth Project, who support young people in Westminster by offering help with schoolwork, sports, music, and access to their many other fantastic facilities. This is a charity I have supported for years because of the excellent help they offer children and young adults in the area.   

In the context of the recent Central Government cuts to Local Authority budgets, funding for all youth services was axed by Westminster Council. The Avenues Youth Project in Queens Park has been trying to continue providing support to young people in the area and because of these cuts, it will need more help to fund this. We now also know from statistics on child poverty rates for 2017 across the UK, that these were 6th highest here in Westminster (top 2%) making The Avenues' work even more important than ever.

James has been training all through this dreadful ‘Spring’ weather and he is running for a great cause so please follow the link below and donate whatever you can!

mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/jamesmcgowan1


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome. 

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk
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Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.

Easter E-Newsletter

Easter E-Newsletter Round up of the month There are few quiet months in politics these days, and March has been no exception. I was one of a number of Labour...

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February 2018 E-Newsletter


Sadiq Khan pledges 1,000 more police - but against a backdrop of much deeper police budget cuts

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There is little doubt that concern over policing has risen sharply over the last couple of years as the impact of cuts to police budgets bites harder, we have lost around 1 in 3 of our total policing strength since 2011 and levels of serious and violent crimes have risen across the country. Across London, officer numbers could drop below 29,000 by 2021 – the lowest level for almost twenty years. This means a 20% fall in the number of police per head of population since 2010, and financial pressures have been driving a further round of station closures (79 closed under the last Mayor, including St John’s Wood and Harrow Road) and the merger of Borough police commands in an attempt to cut costs whilst keeping as many resources as possible on the front line.

Westminster has a high level of overall recorded crime , and although this is, of course, heavily distorted by the impact of the huge rise in day - and night-time visitor populations, we are still an area under pressure. I am frequently contacted by residents wanting to know what more can be done, especially in respect of serious violent crime.  The Met Police have already faced more than £600 million in cuts to their budget in the last few years, with a further squeeze equivalent to £350 million still to come. With 70% of funding coming from the Government, the Mayor does not have the capacity to raise sufficient funds to plug that gap, but I am pleased to report that his budget plans, just announced, include the unusual step of using income raised from business rates in London to support funding an extra 1,000 police officers than would otherwise be affordable. The Met will still be severely stretched and savings are still needed, but it is still an important step.

Additionally, Sadiq Khan has set up a new fund to help young Londoners – particularly those who are at risk of getting caught up in crime. With Westminster Council having ended all funding for youth, play and after-school services in the last couple of years, this is very welcome. We need investment in preventive services as well as policing - and if the Council’s proposed 'Voluntary Contribution Scheme' puts something back in to replace what has been lost, this will of course be welcome.

I also appeared on the Sunday Politics London you can view my interview from the 38.52 minute mark!


Broadband in Westminster - still a problem for many

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Much of the coverage around broadband speeds tends to focus on rural areas, but in fact, Westminster ranks very badly.

Westminster North ranked 541st out of 650 constituencies last year for average download speed, and 646 for Superfast Broadband availability. (Cities of London and Westminster South ranked 647 and 595 respectively).

I have met/lobbied BT Openreach and recently spoke to the Council about this- there are issues around cost and planning constraints and here is the latest from Westminster and from Openreach.

Connect Westminster Voucher Scheme

Westminster City Council has secured £2.8m from the European Regional Development Fund to support SMEs to connect to gigabit capable connectivity. Over the course of the project, at least 1,250 businesses will receive grants of up to £2,000 to access affordable, future-proof connectivity.

As of the 5th February, 220 applications have been received by Westminster City Council. The average download speed for these companies is a dramatic 2,096% faster and the upload speed uplift, 15,719%.  This makes a significant difference to a business’ ability to operate - but perhaps also reflects how difficult the digital environment has been in Westminster.

Openreach Fibre to Premises

Westminster City Council is also working with Openreach to support the roll out of ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ Technology within Westminster. Although this is an outmoded technology because it is still partly based on copper rather than supported fibre, it is still more effective.

The council welcome any Openreach announcement of a switch to Fibre to Premises which is the global standard. 

As of October 2017, 107 of these cabinets have been deployed.  As a result, a total of 24,273 additional homes now have access to faster broadband.

Parking Bay Discounts

The cost of parking bay suspensions is a significant expense for broadband delivery all over the UK. The council has innovated to reduce these costs - broadband providers here are granted the same concessions as other major utilities. This is a suspension of bays for up to a maximum of three months. This scheme has markedly increased the attractiveness of deploying infrastructure within Westminster. Providers such as G.Network and Openreach have made full use of the offer to deploy more fibre in the area.

Coordinating Street Works

Westminster’s Street Works team has also long recognised its role in supporting network deployment, helping utilities undertake work with minimum impact on residents and road-users. While the City Council operates the London Permit Scheme to control works in the highway, the team has always taken a uniquely flexible approach to the implementation of the legislation.

While many boroughs strictly interpret the legislation, the WCC Street Works team take a different approach. In practice this means that rather than imposing strict 3-month notice periods for new major works in all cases, officers may agree earlier starts where there is limited impact on the roads or even an opportunity to phase the works to reduce disruption. This usually means that companies delivering fibre within Westminster can get access to the highway much more promptly than they would elsewhere in London.

The council has marshalled its convening and regulator power to create a conducive environment to the delivery of high speed broadband.  There is evidence this is attracting very significant new investment from the market, therefore making a material difference to connectivity speeds in Westminster.

It is true that Openreach often cite high costs and difficulties with planning as barriers to the roll out of superfast broadband in Central London and there are no doubt challenges in some conservations areas.  However, the emergence of new competition, the council’s leadership in managing costs and continuous pressure from residents and the business community are creating new opportunities for the delivery of broadband in the borough.

This is the most recent statement from Openreach (Feb 1st) in which they commit to an extension of the FTTP programme in London.

Openreach, Britain’s national broadband infrastructure provider, today announced an acceleration of its Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) build programme to enhance Britain’s digital infrastructure and to reinforce the UK’s position as the leading digital economy in the G20. Openreach is extending its current Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) build target by 50% to reach three million premises by the end of 2020 through its new ‘Fibre First’ programme2. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester make up the first phase of the programme which will connect up to 40 UK towns, cities and boroughs with FTTP3 with build starting in 2018. Openreach will also continue to focus on delivering FTTP to rural areas, in partnership with the Government, to make sure some of the hardest to reach communities in the UK get access to future-proofed, FTTP networks.

You can read the whole statement here


Winter pressures and an inspection at St Mary’s hospital

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Once again, NHS staff at St Mary’s and elsewhere rose to the challenge of exceptional pressures this winter, for which they deserve our profound thanks. Only one emergency bed was spare at St Mary’s over the Christmas period, representing one of the highest levels of bed occupancy in the country.  With the NHS in the midst of the deepest funding squeeze in its history, local managers also report increased demand, and the increased severity of the conditions with which patients are presenting in A&E , delays in transferring patients to Social Care outside hospital, including delays for mental health beds, difficulties with the transfer of patients from the Vocare run Urgent Care Centre to the emergency department at St Mary’s and estate problems that have led to temporary bed closures, such as in Thistlethwayte ward at St Mary’s due to a partial ceiling collapse.

In a statement in November, divisional director of medicine Professor Tim Orchard, who manages the “patient pathway” through the trust’s urgent and emergency service, said: “We’ve also already got a lot of pressure on our inpatient beds – partly as a result of estates problems causing wards to be out of action for repair work but also because we are seeing more urgent and emergency admissions – there’s been an 11 per cent increase since 2015/16."

I raised the issue of St Mary’s building conditions in Parliament in January - whilst planning proposals for the hospital re-build are going ahead, there is not yet enough money to complete them, nor are there sufficient funds to deal with what is the biggest maintenance backlog in the country. What can’t happen is nothing- either the funding gap for the new hospital has to be filled, or the existing building repaired before the situation gets even worse.

Care Quality Commission inspect St Mary’s

In late February, the Care Quality Commission re-inspected St Mary’s and upheld their earlier ‘Requires Improvement’  judgement. They found a great deal that was good about the hospital, but want to see further improvements in maternity, urgent and accident/emergency care and surgery. You can read their report here.

And the Standard coverage here.


Bayswater Children’s Centre ‘latest casualty’ of the squeeze on children’s services

Even though we know the value of ‘early help’ services for young people and families, a huge amount has been taken out of the budget in recent years- there have been £7.42 million pounds in early help cuts since 2015 (as part of more than £10m cuts to children’s services).

When traditional Children’s Centre Services and stay and play drop-in sessions were cut from Bayswater Children’s Centre in 2016 the Council promised that Government funded support for 2 year olds alongside maternity services, after-school services and other voluntary sector sessions would fill the gap. The Council have now confirmed that from summer 2018 the 2 year old provision will be moving to other facilities and the Council is now ‘exploring options for the site’. This is a Centre that was only opened a decade ago as part of the development of a comprehensive network of Children’s Centres!


The (continuing) rise and rise of short-lets

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As the scale of the short-let/nightly booked accommodation sector continues to increase, experience from cities abroad confirms that we in the interests of the wider community desperately need to make sure that it is properly managed and regulated. This is all the more the case as evidence suggests the sector is becoming increasingly commercialised and goes well beyond the informal ‘sharing economy’ in which owners let out rooms or their homes for short periods for some extra cash.

I am continuing to make the case for ‘light touch’ monitoring to enable councils such as Westminster to have a reasonable chance of effectively managing the impact of short-lets. I introduced a ‘presentation Bill’ into Parliament shortly before Christmas, which you can read on the ‘They work for you’ website.

I wrote this piece for the ‘ipaper’

and I also contributed to this piece written by John Harris of the Guardian.

and on Feb 19th, I took part in a Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ discussion on the issue.

This is not at attempt to ‘ban Airbnb’- just to make sure the interests of neighbours and communities are protected, we don’t lose too many valuable homes to the hospitality industry and councils don’t have to spend precious resources making sure the law is upheld.


Animal welfare

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I tend to receive more letters about animal welfare issues than almost anything, so here’s my party’s new manifesto on the topic. Comments are very welcome!

https://labour.org.uk/issues/animal-welfare-plan/

You may be aware that there is a campaign to ban the sale of electronic shock collars banned across the UK.  The Scottish and Welsh Governments have taken action to ban their use but they can still be used legally in England and only Westminster can ban the sale. I have signed the Parliamentary Motion supporting this, and you can add your voice to the petition

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/211524


Air quality

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Air quality issues are very dear to our hearts locally, as Central London is particularly badly affected, and as an officer of the Parliamentary All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Quality, it is very important to me. On 21st February 2018, the Government were defeated in court for the third time in three years after a case brought by Client Earth. 

The judge’s ruling was highly critical of Defra, pointed out that this was the third unsuccessful attempt by the Government to produce a plan to bring down air pollution to legal levels as quickly as possible, leaving people in towns and cities at “real risk” from air pollution. The judge said:

"The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough...and it seems the court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved."


Last chance to comment on the London Plan

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The London Plan shapes how London evolves and develops and is the framework for all planning decisions and local plans across London.

The current plan was adopted in 2016 but the Draft London Plan now under consideration is also a material consideration in planning decisions.

All comments on the latest draft must be received by 5pm on Friday 2 March 2018. You can see how to respond here.


What is driving child poverty in London?

I spoke in last week’s Parliamentary debate, picking up the particular issue of high rents in private rented and, increasingly, social housing, as a key problem.

You can read my speech here.


Calls for greater transparency over overseas company property ownership as figures show the impact in Westminster

London is an international city and that is part of its strength, culturally and socially as well as economically. But there are growing concerns over the scale of property ownership by overseas based companies, which, without proper transparency, can be a means of concealing offences such as tax evasion, money-laundering, theft and terrorist activities.

New research shows the scale of this ownership, which is heavily concentrated in London, and in high value areas such as Westminster. That’s why I support the Mayor’s call to speed up plans for a new public register of the beneficial ownership of overseas companies that own UK property. The Government is committed to producing a register, but it is still some years away from coming into effect.

Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, has said: “Giving the public transparency over the real owners of London’s multi-million pound properties would strike a huge blow against corrupt individuals who view our homes as nothing more than safety deposit boxes to hide their loot. Transparency International has been campaigning for the introduction of this register for over three years and with cross-party support there is no reason for any further delay. Nor should secretive company owners be given additional time to make their own arrangements - they have known this was coming for two years already. The Government should publish draft legislation before Easter, so that a Bill can be put before MPs in the current parliamentary session.”

You can see the map based on the BBC research here.


and some very local news…

St John’s Wood Society carry out air quality monitoring

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To their considerable credit, the St John’s Wood Amenity Society is taking air quality issues very seriously, and has been supporting monitoring of No2 emissions.

The results are worrying, with air pollution breaching legal limits in a number of places over the autumn and winter especially around the main roads. The Society wants to promote more discussion of the actions that can be taken at different levels to tackle this public health hazard, so if you live in the area, do join them and take part in the debate, link to website


Abbey Road Studios makes it to top 100 of Historic England’s irreplaceable places.

There may be mixed feelings about this locally, but I am sure it is of interest:

Dear Ms. Buck,

I just wanted to share the good news that Abbey Road Studios in your constituency have secured a place in Historic England's Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places.

Nominated by the public in the Music & Literature category, Abbey Road Studios were included in a shortlist we provided to our judge, writer and novelist Monica Ali, and were then chosen by her as one of the ten places.

I wanted to share this news with you in advance of the official announcement tomorrow, Tuesday 6th February, when we formally reveal the final ten.

We will make the announcement online as well as launch our new podcast series, presented by the BBC's Emma Barnett, which will discuss all ten places.

You can join the conversation on Twitter at #100Places.

Do let me know if you have any questions about 100 Places or about the work Historic England does in your local area.

Best wishes,

Merryn Johnson

Campaigns Assistant

Historic England

Of course, there remains a degree of controversy around the pedestrian crossing outside the studios, where Westminster Council once flagged up the case for a crossing guard. A number of residents have expressed concern to me about the impact of the tourists and the risk of accidents, but the Council is not unconvinced of the need for further action, especially given the pressure on resources.


Current status of the CS11 Cycle Superhighway

Contrary to some of the recent media reports, a decision has not yet been finalised over CS11, and specifically the park gate closures. Westminster Council recently wrote to the London Cycling Campaign to clarify their own areas of responsibility, and to confirm that they are not the agency responsible for the gates. Transport for London is in discussions with the Royal Parks, the Crown Estate Paving Commission and Westminster and Camden Councils, including over the exact scope for traffic reducing measures inside the park, which are widely recognised as being necessary. I have met with the Mayor’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner to discuss local concerns, and am clear that it is absolutely right to do what we can to promote safe cycling and improved pedestrian safety whilst ensuring that we guard against any risk of traffic displacement into residential areas.


Concerns over leaseholders and the Church Street masterplan

We (ward councillors and I) share concerns with regards to the content, the assumptions made and the likely implementation of the draft Masterplan policy.

The document claims that the “council is committed to working closely with leaseholders in a way suited to their needs”. This aim was completely undermined in practice when affected leaseholders were shocked to see the demolition of their homes announced as part of the masterplan without the Council speaking to them first. Even during the consultation period communication with leaseholders was very poor, particularly with non-resident leaseholders receiving letters very late.

The key issue as to when and how the valuation of affected homes will be set is not addressed. This is even more important as many leaseholders will soon be living in the middle of a major construction site, given the scale and timeline of the published masterplan. The Council, in its dealings with leaseholders generally and in the document, MUST clearly address the scenario that mass demolition and construction in the area will undoubtedly soon affect the market value of all properties due for demolition, no matter when it might occur.

The examples of property values in the renewal areas given in the document, at least for Church Street, are unrealistic to the point of being misleading. They do not at all reflect the differences between the prices of newly built homes and those of corresponding size in the existing council stock. Prices of new homes are likely to be up to 75% higher than the values of existing homes, not just 27% as the policy document states. It is therefore likely that the council contribution to the new property will commonly be much higher than indicated – and with it the equity shares the leaseholder will not own.

Considering that many leaseholders will not own their new homes outright or will have to resort to shared ownership, the fact that they will in any case have to cover 100% of service charges and full insurance costs (likely to be higher than before) will make ‘staircasing’, gradually paying off one’s equity loan, very difficult indeed.

Even if all financial advice is made available this will not be able to circumvent the basic fact that for almost all leaseholders concerned it will be much more difficult to raise a new mortgage under current lending conditions than those available at the time they took out their original ones. Many leaseholders – in particular elderly resident leaseholders who have lived in the Church Street area for many years – may no longer qualify at all for a mortgage under current conditions.

Given the points above, the Council’s offer to facilitate the purchase of another property from its own vacant stock should not just be offered in some cases, but as a regular option for the many who simply may not be able to purchase a newly built home.

If homes in new developments are sold off plan (before completion), leaseholders who lost their homes should be given clear and enforceable priority.

Of course, some leaseholders in Church Street who bought their property directly from the council would have benefited from the Right-to-Buy discount. Others, who had bought their property off another leaseholder, would not. However, the issue is that Right- to-Buy offered a price which allowed them to move into or stay in their area. This regeneration will offer a price that compels them to move out.

An estate facing demolition is generally the lowest-value housing in any given area, partly because councils will have let the buildings deteriorate, seeing little point in maintaining something that is going to be knocked down. And who wants to buy a home scheduled for demolition anyway?

Another issue facing these leaseholders is that once the council signals its intent to regenerate an estate, it kills the market in the area. That can happen years in advance of a compulsory purchase order being made. Instead, the “market value” becomes the price that leaseholders can get from a single purchaser, the Council, which is also their landlord, and the body applying for compulsory purchase.

Given the approach adopted by councils, it is obvious that the amount offered to compensate leaseholders for the loss of their homes will rarely, if ever, be enough for them to afford a home in the area. Unless they can raise significantly more cash to buy back into the redeveloped and more expensive estate, or to buy more expensive housing in the local area, they will be compelled to leave. It is “pay to stay” for leaseholders.

In theory, people facing compulsory purchase must be given the market value of their homes. But until now, local authorities, the Government and the Land Tribunal have all backed an approach that has compensated leaseholders based on the average value of homes on the estate to be demolished, not the average value of homes in the wider area. That approach comes with some obvious problems. Now, West End Gate development is part of the Edgware Rd Housing Zone along with Church St regeneration and a one bedroomed flat is currently on sale for £935,000 and if flats go at this level, it will peg all prices on further sales in the neighbourhood!

The fact that the Council reserves the right to amend the policy in any way in the future in its absolute discretion does not instil confidence for a regeneration scheme lasting 20 years or longer.

The Church Street Ward Neighbourhood forum strongly recommends that as a matter of urgency the Church Street Regeneration Team appoint a named Leaseholders’ Consultant, based at 99 Church Street with the specific brief to make the situation more manageable for all leaseholders. This could possibly re-establish lost confidence and help the situation constructively move forward. An approach to inform only on a block-by-block basis as the demolition schedule continues, if pursued, would fail completely to recognise that people talk to each other, and that painful rumours and anxieties are already rife.

Interested in even more local news? You can find the latest ward reports for North Westminster here.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk
Twitter: KarenPBuckMP
Facebook: KarenBuck4WN

Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.

February 2018 E-Newsletter

February 2018 E-Newsletter Sadiq Khan pledges 1,000 more police - but against a backdrop of much deeper police budget cuts There is little doubt that concern over policing has risen...

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January 2018 E-Newsletter


Make homes fit to live in - my Private Member’s Bill wins government support

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In England around 3 million people live in private, council or housing association properties that are unfit to live in. That is, they have one or more serious hazards like damp and mould or infestation which could affect their health and safety. Yet tenants have no legal right to a ‘fit’ home. They can turn to the council Environmental Health Department for help if they are private/housing association tenants (though not council tenants), but in many cases councils can’t or don’t enforce their rights. My Bill will strengthen tenants’ rights against the worst landlords.

Unusually, for a Private Bill by an opposition MP, the Government have given their support, so I am now hoping we can get this made law as soon as possible.

You can read a short article about the Bill and what it does here.

And an article based on Freedom of information inquiry to local councils which helps show why my Bill is needed.

You can read my speech here.

I also asked the Prime Minister for her support to make sure this Bill now makes swift progress and becomes law. You can see my question here.


NHS Winter Crisis

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The NHS in the middle of the tightest cash squeeze in its history, is gripped by a winter crisis. Despite the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff.

Nationally, the latest analysis of the weekly winter statistics published by NHS England has shown that so far this winter, 89,161 patients have waited between 30-60 minutes in the back of an ambulance, and 26,845 have been left waiting for over an hour, bringing the total number of patients to 116,006.

I have met with managers from the Imperial Trust (which includes St Mary’s and the Western Eye), Clinical Commissioning Groups and the Care Quality Commission to hear how they are coping, not only with the overall pressures but with specific problems such as with the St Mary’s Walk In Centre, loss of GPs and in some cases unsatisfactory Care Quality Commission inspections. Imperial have put in place a number of actions to maintain and improve services, but there can be no doubt about the challenge they face.

The information below is from the Imperial Trust (inc St Mary’s) briefing on the current position.

Our urgent and emergency care services continue to be under significant pressure. We’re seeing more patients, and sicker patients, which means more admissions to our wards. We also have more patients who, once they have been treated, need extra support to be put in place before they can go home or to community-based care, which often causes a delay to discharge from hospital. Many of our patients, and particularly those who endure delays in discharge from hospital, are older, frail people with complex health and care needs, including dementia, or people with mental health problems who need specialist mental health care.

Emergency attendances grew by 16 per cent between 2015/16 and 2016/17 then, for the first half of 2017/18 (April to September 2017), by a further 4.5 per cent.

There has been close to a 40 per cent increase in the number of recorded ‘blue-light’ attendances between 2015/16 and 2017/18, from over 2,900 to almost 4,100.

Emergency admissions increased by 3.8 per cent from the first half of 2017/18 compared with the same period in 2016/17. Admissions have been increasing more rapidly since September 2017. This indicates that while alternatives to hospital admission have had a significant and important impact on reducing the rate of increase in emergency admissions, they are not yet able to provide a sustainable reduction in demand for inpatient care.

I have been also been kept up to date with the challenging position regarding the state of the buildings at Mary’s and the Western Eye. We have the largest maintenance backlog of any hospital in the country, and the need for the hospital re-building programme is urgent - yet the financial pressures apply here too:

As well as the challenge of increasing demand, which is affecting all NHS hospitals to varying degrees, our Trust has a particular problem with an aging estate – a third of our buildings are over 100 years old. This is compounded by a general lack of space on our sites, especially at St Mary’s, which limits our ability to open ‘escalation’ beds.

A series of estates problems at the 147-year old Cambridge Wing at St Mary’s over summer 2017 resulted in the loss of 31 beds, as well as our birth centre. Following urgent repairs and structural improvement works, all of the beds were back in use by 3 January 2018.

In Parliamentary health questions I raised this issue of the building and the need for support to either allow the development to proceed urgently or to tackle the maintenance backlog. You can see my question here.


EU Citizens Survey

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EU Citizens Resident in the UK Survey – What We Learned

Following the Brexit vote in Summer I sent a survey containing 10 questions to Westminster North residents to gain an idea of the opinions and experiences of EU nationals in the borough. I am very grateful to the 1,170 of you who have taken the time to respond by post or online since July. This is nearly 10% of all the EU Nationals estimated to live in the Constituency. Here is a summary of all these answers and what we can learn from them.

Question 1 established that 95.29% of respondents identified as EU nationals, living in the UK. The remaining respondents identified as either a family member of an EU national, a friend of colleague of an EU national or none of the above.

Question 2 addressed the overwhelming majority of EU citizen respondents, asking how long the respondent had been living in the UK. Answers were broken into number of years in either less than 2 years, 2 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 20 or over 20 years. Only 6.35% had been in the UK for less than 2 years at the time of taking the survey. Answers were quite evenly distributed across the remaining 4 choices (20-25%) with the largest group of respondents having lived in the UK between 10 – 20 years (26%).

Question 3 was open-ended and asked respondents: “If you can, and without giving your name, please describe yourself in a single sentence.” The various personal answers to this question cannot all be included here as there were over 1000 of them.

Respondents told me “I live and feel as a part of the UK”, “I am an EU citizen, who considers the UK as my home away from home” and “EU national, finance professional, ambitious hard-working and positively contributing to my community”.

Questions 4 – 7 relate to the impact the referendum result has had on individuals. The average score for the negative impact the referendum has had on respondent’s health (0 - 100) was 31 and for the children of respondents this was 13. 

49.8% of people reported that the referendum result had no impact at all on their paid or voluntary work. However 46% of respondents have had a negative experience relating to EU nationality since the Brexit vote which ranges from hostile comments from co-workers to harassment for speaking a European language on the phone in public. 

Question 8 asked “in relation to EU nationals, how happy are you with the way the Government has handled the result of the Referendum?” We have found that a significant majority (64%) of respondents were extremely unhappy with the way the government has handled the result of the referendum.

Question 9 asked the respondents to answer yes, no, don’t know and/or leave a comment on whether they support the proposals made by the Government on June 26th about EU nationals. 68.77% responded no, indicating a large majority do not support the June proposals. 9.84% responded yes and 18.72% responded don’t know. The answers to this question indicate that a majority of EU nationals in Westminster disagree with how the Government intends to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.

Question 10 provided more detail of what exactly about the Government’s proposals respondents were not happy with. Amongst other issues, a majority of respondents (80.4%) were concerned about proposals relating to “the application for settled status” and 77.8% feared the “possibility of losing “settled status once it has been granted”.

Whilst this particular (and incredibly popular) survey is now closed, it has been fascinating hearing the individual stories and views of Westminster residents. If you have anything you would like to raise with me about the referendum and the ongoing negotiations, please feel free to get in touch.


More councils join the fight for properly managed ‘nightly lets’

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I’ve been joining Westminster Council in lobbying the Government for help to make sure people renting properties out on ‘nightly-booked’ sites such as Airbnb operate within the law. Now Kensington and Chelsea Council has produced a report showing that they too are having to spend scarce resources enforcing the law and dealing with nuisance arising from nightly lets.

No-one is against home-owners letting part or all of their property if they want to, provided they don’t exceed the legal limit of 90 days a year and don’t cause a nuisance to neighbours and others. However, Westminster alone is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on this issue, with 1300 properties being investigated for possible breaches.

I recorded a piece for the BBC, which you can view here


Westminster North ranks 15th (out of 650) in the country for children in poverty

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New figures produced last week by the Child Poverty Action group help explode a number of myths about Westminster. To many people’s surprise, 44% of children live in poverty, a higher proportion than in Leeds or Hackney. High housing costs, low pay and disability all help explain the very high level of poverty.

Sadly, so many of the services people need to support them - from holiday and after-school clubs to Children’s Centres and the youth service, have been largely or totally closed down in recent years. Westminster Council has seen its government grant halved - yet although money is very tight, it should still be possible to choose some different priorities and make life a little easier for those with the least.

You can read the full report here


Queen’s Park station needs step free-access

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Last week I joined Tulip Siddiq MP. Councillors and residents, in meeting Network Rail and Transport for London to lobby for step-free access at Queen’s Park station. Queen’s Park is a very busy tube and mainline station, so it is a shame to see how many people have to struggle with the stairs because of mobility problems or as they try and carry heavy buggies. There is a step-free access fund which has allocated around half of the money needed to install lifts at the station, and after this meeting, we are resolved to lobby for the remainder to be provided in the next round of allocations.

Let me know what you think. 


Merger of Genesis and Notting Hill Housing Trust

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I met senior officers of these two housing associations before the shareholders meeting which approved the merger, along with Andy Slaughter and Emma Dent Coad. This was an opportunity to raise two main concerns:

  • A high level of complaints from Genesis tenants (I don’t have many NHHT homes in the constituency) and how the proposed merger could improve services, especially given the fact that larger organisations have a tendency to be less, rather than more, responsive. I have picked up a particular problem with street properties in and around Bayswater recently, and am concerned that there seems to have an alarming lack of maintenance over some time. The associations have also, in combination, converted 1,322 social homes to much more expensive “affordable” rents from 2014 to 2016
  • Open market sales of desperately needed flats to fund development elsewhere. More than 70 properties have been or are being sold (not including those within the Church Street regeneration area). My argument is that Westminster residents’ housing needs are not being served by this and I want the disposals programme to stop.

I contributed to this story about the merger, which you can read here.


CityWest Homes

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City West Homes made a number of changes to their customer service last year, including the new call centre and the closure of a number of local estate offices. Local councillors and I have recently noticed a significant increase in the number, and in some cases the difficulty of complaints. 

You can read here a report on some of the worst cases that have been brought to councillors recently.

What has your experience been?


I’m supporting the ‘Blue Belt’

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More than a quarter of the world’s penguins are in British waters, and I want us to do all we can to protect their - and the wider marine environment. In January I went to the zoo to show support for the Belt Belt campaign to protect the oceans and their wildlife, including the scourge of ocean plastic.


In winter everyone’s thoughts turn to the cost of their fuel bills

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Turn2us has an excellent website full of advice and sources of help, including this one on how to find out about ways to help with energy bills. Worth a look.


Cyclists in Kensington Gardens

A number of my constituents have raised concerns about cycling in Kensington Gardens. Click here to read the response I received from the Royal Parks. 


In short…

Nothing new to report on the St John’s Wood Post Office yet, but I’m in regular touch with them…I’m meeting Transport for London this week to discuss latest developments on the Cycle-Superhighway proposals through St John’s Wood (CS11)…Mark Field MP and I jointly hosted our local advice agencies in Parliament to discuss preparations for the roll-out of Universal Credit locally (not now planned until early summer)…still picking up concerns about traffic speeds and road safety in different areas. Progress has been made with the 20mph zones and some improved crossings, but there is still more to do.

And finally...

Interested in seeing what North Westminster used to look like? On Twitter, @marymagstweets posts a constant stream of glorious old photos, from Maida Vale to Warwick Estate and beyond. They are fabulous. Take a look if you can.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk
Twitter: KarenPBuckMP
Facebook: KarenBuck4WN

January 2018 E-Newsletter

January 2018 E-Newsletter Make homes fit to live in - my Private Member’s Bill wins government support In England around 3 million people live in private, council or housing association...

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 December 2017 E-Newsletter


No help for policing in the Autumn Budget

Hard choices are being forced on the Met Police after no relief came in the budget to ease the budget squeeze. Since 2010, the Met’s budget has been reduced by £600 million. A further £400 million of savings have to be found by 2021, and unless the Government’s funding cuts stop now, officer numbers could fall below 27,500 by 2021 – a 19-year low.

I’ve been arguing for more support for London’s Police - but with shrinking budgets it is essential that everything possible is done to protect front-line services. Boris Johnson undertook a huge programme of station closures as Mayor - we lost Harrow Road, Marylebone and St John’s Wood stations under him. Now the choice continues to be - keep as many police officers as possible (though numbers are still set to fall further) with savings having to come from property disposal and considerable pressure to create larger command structures. As it is, we have fought to ensure that Westminster maintains a daytime facility in the north of the borough (in Church Street) as well as the single "24/7" station all boroughs will retain.

This week, I raised the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions. You can watch it here.          

You can sign the petition again the Police budget cuts here.


The EU Withdrawal Bill continues …

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News of the deal paving the way to EU trade talks has come through too late to add into this newsletter. The chaos of recent weeks obviously could not go on, so it is good that negotiations can move to the next phase. However, we’ve already had over a year of damaging uncertainty, not least for the millions of British citizens abroad and EU nationals in the UK, and so much remains to be resolved.

Hundreds of constituents have also been in touch with me in the last week regarding amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is now passing through Parliament. This is an exceptionally complex process, due to the sheer number of amendments, some of which are withdrawn or not pressed to a vote, and how the timing of key votes pans out. Inevitably, the process will be somewhat fluid and it may not, therefore, be possible to keep everyone updated on the details of votes over the next month or so, but please be assured that I will continue to vote as I have done previously, against a damaging ‘hard Brexit, against attempts by the Government to gather ever more executive powers to itself, without proper Parliamentary accountability, for a meaningful ‘final vote’ and against an ‘arbitrary ‘exit date’ on the face of the EU.

Keir Starmer: Tories must put national interest first and rewrite the Brexit bill

24TH NOVEMBER, 2017 8:30 AM

Over the past few weeks, MPs have finally had the opportunity to debate and scrutinise the government’s EU withdrawal bill line by line.

Labour has been clear from the outset that, while we accept legislation is needed to transfer EU law into British law before March 2019, the government’s bill is fundamentally flawed.

It would turn MPs into mere spectators, while handing huge and unaccountable power into the hands of ministers. It would put environmental protections and workers’ rights at risk, by removing their enhanced protection. It would weaken the devolution settlement, by hoarding powers in Westminster rather than devolving them to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. And it would increase the risk of Britain crashing out of Europe without an agreement.

That is why last month I set out Labour’s six reasonable demands for where the bill needs to change.

These were not just Labour’s demands. They were also the demands shared by many businesses, trade unions, campaigners and indeed some in Theresa May’s own party.

But instead of listening and seeking to improve the bill, all the government has done is to table deeply political and deeply flawed amendments of its own, such as fixing “exit date” on the face of the bill, which would not only tie the prime minister’s hands in any negotiations but also prevent Britain from agreeing appropriate transitional arrangements.

And in the first three days of debate Conservative MPs voted down Labour’s amendments to protect workers’ rights, safeguard environmental and animal welfare standards, legislate for strong transitional arrangements to prevent a cliff-edge for our economy, and to bring the Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law.

Time and time again the Tories have put party interest above the national interest. Ideological red lines above jobs and the economy. Politics above prosperity.

A Labour government would bring a different approach – one that puts jobs and the economy first and is based on our values of co-operation and internationalism.

An approach that protects rights and seeks to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union.

That’s why over the summer I set out Labour’s clear and agreed position to negotiate an early agreement for strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms as we currently have – by which we mean a time-limited period where Britain would remain within the single market and a customs union with the EU, accepting the common rules of both and retaining the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

I also set out that for the long term, unlike Theresa May who has ruled out any future relationship with the single market and the customs union, Labour would not sweep options off the table. On the contrary, subject of course to negotiations, remaining in a customs union with the EU is a viable long-term option for Labour.

Equally, we are flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained in the long term by negotiating a new single market relationship or by working up from a bespoke trade deal.

Crucially, Labour has made it clear that we have no interest in deregulating our economy, lowering standards or stepping of the level playing field.

A pragmatic approach in the national interest.

The government now has a week before the withdrawal bill returns to parliament for a further five days of debate, and just over two weeks until the crucial December EU Council meeting.

If ministers had the national interest at heart they would rewrite this bill and put an end to the ideological red-lines that are holding back talks with the European Union.

A new advice line has been set up for EU nationals concerned about their status – supported by Westminster Council, working with Westminster Citizen’s Advice and the Migrants Resources Centre, this service will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays from  11am to 2pm

The helpline telephone number is 020 7706 6019.


Should Oxford Street be traffic-free? Have your say on the plans

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Plans to remove traffic from part of Oxford Street to create a new landmark public space and world-class shopping destination in London have been unveiled for consultation.

The proposals would see the western section of the famous retail street transformed into a space for people, not traffic, by December 2018, to coincide with the launch of the Elizabeth line.

Under the plans, all east-west traffic would be restricted from entering Oxford Street between Orchard Street and Oxford Circus, with five north-south crossing routes maintained. Details include the creation of new public spaces, cycle routes in the surrounding area, wider pavements and expanded taxi ranks. An 800-metre-long work of public art as a centrepiece for the street is also being considered.

“This is a hugely exciting moment for the capital,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said. “In just over a year the iconic part of the street west of Oxford Circus could be transformed into a traffic-free pedestrian boulevard. Whether you’re a local resident, a business, or shop in some of the area’s famous stores, our plans will make the area substantially cleaner and safer for everyone, creating one of the finest public spaces in the world,” he said.

An initial consultation found 62 per cent of respondents in an online survey supported the principles behind the transformation of Oxford Street - although some raised access and congestion concerns. Westminster City Council and Transport for London staff have so far attended more than 50 meetings with residents, businesses and groups supporting cyclists and bus users, to address concerns as they develop the designs.

“We listened to what people said as part of the first consultation and we now want to hear from as many people as possible about what they think about the detailed plans before we take any final decisions,” said Councillor Robert Davis MBE DL, Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council.

“Protecting and improving the quality of life for residents in the surrounding area will be a key consideration. It’s crucial that everyone knows that we are listening and that they can help shape our plans,” he said.

Since summer 2016, Transport for London has cut the number of buses running along Oxford Street by 40 per cent, with even fewer buses to operate after the opening of the Elizabeth line. Oxford Street lies within both the new T-Charge zone, the world’s toughest emission charge for older, more polluting vehicles introduced in London to help tackle toxic air pollution, and the forthcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone, which will come into force in April 2019.

The public consultation closes on 17 December 2017.  

SEE THE DESIGNS AND HAVE YOUR SAY

london.gov.uk/city-hall-blog/plans-traffic-free-oxford-street-unveiled


Visiting Ethiopia in the November recess

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During the short parliamentary recess, I travelled to Ethiopia with an All-Party delegation, looking specifically at issues surrounding women’s health in a country where despite some considerable progress in recent years 13,000 pregnant women and 200,000 children die each year.

In Addis Ababa, we visited an over-flowing, but clearly much valued, facility for victims of sexual violence, and the only hospital in the country treating women with fistula- the injury that can be done to a women where obstructed labour goes untreated, and which can leave the women doubly incontinent, rejected by her husband and abandoned to a life of pain and indignity. In the UK, obstructed labour is dealt with by caesarian section, avoiding injury to the mother or the baby.  But where labour is obstructed in countries with no availability of C-section the woman- in many cases, given the reduced but still significant prevalence of child marriage, a very young girl- suffers days of terrible pain, still birth and life changing injuries. The charitable hospital we visited is transforming lives at the rate of over 3500 fistula repairs a year, but there is still a backlog of 39,000 women needing the surgery, with some women having lived with the condition for decades.

We also travelled to the North of the country to visit refugee camps. There are already 800,000 refugees in Ethiopia and rising, fleeing conflict in South Sudan, Eritrea and in the east of the country Somalia.  The refugee camp in Shire, Tigray that we visited is near the Ethiopian border with Eritrea and houses 13,000 Eritrean refuges of which 1,500 are unaccompanied children. At present, a substantial proportion of the number of refugees travelling through North Africa and attempting to make the sea crossing to Europe are Eritreans, so it is in all our interests to support the work being undertaken by Dfid in helping not just the refugees but the surrounding Ethiopian host communities with developing infrastructure and potentially creating work too.

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Ethiopia is a country of 100 million people - four out of five of whom live in rural areas - and whilst developing-it remains very poor. Yet, great strides have been made in improving health, through a network of 48,000 Health Extension-Workers who are out in communities advising on, amongst other things, contraception and abortion and referring women with complications up to the 3,500 local health centres, 30 general hospitals and 11 specialist hospitals. Though resources are often very basic indeed, with many shortages, the birth rate is falling, the number of unsafe abortions has halved in a decade. Contraceptive use has more than doubled and under five mortality has fallen by two thirds since the 60s, the fastest in sub-saharan Africa.

Sadly, one of President Donald Trump’s first acts was to bar US federal funds from supporting any organisation that provides or advises on, abortion, which has hit Marie Stopes International and others very hard as they do this work in partnership with the Ethiopian government and Dfid. The cuts in funding that flow from this decision are estimated to mean 88,467 unintended pregnancies, 27,425 abortions of unintended pregnancies, 15,822 unsafe abortions. MSI is set to lose £30m, representing 17% of their total income as a result of the Trump policy. MSI are working to make up the gap with additional funds (including from the UK and the Netherlands.)


Access to justice and the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act

As the Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, I am deeply aware of the importance of access to justice.

These figures show what has happened to legal aid work in Westminster since the LASPO Act came into force in 2013:

Type of case

2012-13

2016-17

% change

Family Mediation

227

26

-89

Family Legal Help

667

49

-93

Family Certificated

800

414

-48

Immigration

356

242

-32

Housing Legal Help

427

315

-26

Housing Certificated

301

148

-51

Welfare Benefits

190

0

-100

Community care

60

1

-98

Debt

91

1

-99

Mental Health

290

162

-44

Employment

54

0

-100

Education

8

0

-100

Providers

2012-13

2016-17

% change

Solicitor firms

38

23

-40

Not-for-profits

5

6

+20

Total

43

29

-32

Source: Legal aid statistics England and Wales provider and area data 2016 to 2017 (www.gov.uk/government/statistics/legal-aid-statistics-january-to-march-2017)

Last week we had a debate on legal aid in parliament as Ministers begin a review of the impact of LASPO, and you can read what was said here.


Westminster Council cuts another £30 million from the budget - Labour would make different choices

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Westminster Council has seen the level of government support cut by over half in recent years - one of the biggest cuts of any local authority in the county. As a result, the Council has cut £130 million in spending since 2014 alone. At the recent council meeting a further net figure of £30.8m in cuts and required new revenue streams was put forward, this included some money already identified. 

We are already seeing the impact of these cuts on the youth and children’s services, but the pressure is also on social care for older and disabled people, and on the enforcement needed to maintain a decent quality of life for all residents.

I support my councillor colleagues on Westminster, who, even in tough times, want to make some different choices. They are calling for funding to reinstate council support to Westminster’s Youth Clubs, though ongoing support to fund staff members and a one-off grant to the Young Westminster Foundation, more support for our Children’s Centres, for children’s stay and play sessions and for targeted outreach to vulnerable families. They also is want:

  • The council to invest more in adaptive technology to support the elderly and vulnerable to live independent lives, a move that also saves the council money.
  • Alternative ways to protect vital support to Westminster’s Rough Sleepers reducing cuts to outreach services and developing a new social impact bond to address the most important challenges facing people on our streets.
  • A cost effective way to support small businesses to comply with the London Living Wage by offering 500 independent firms a year who employ up to 30 people between a £250 and £500 business rate discount when they become accredited with the Living Wage Foundation.
  • Ensure the council continues to inform residents about planning and licensing applications by continuing to send written notices.
  • An emissions based resident parking charge scheme to help tackle the vital issue of air pollution in Westminster. 

Some of the savings suggested to pay for extra investment in children, young people and homelessness include £39,000 from providing private health care; £758,000 by reducing reliance on Temporary and Agency staff; £51,000 off Members’ allowances, to delete payments to Deputy Cabinet Members and £100,000 less money for the Lord Mayor’s budget.


The new draft ‘London Plan’ will help shape the city for the better

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I greatly welcome Mayor Khan’s commitment to help London pubs. We all know about the illegal demolition of the Carlton pub in Maida Vale, but many other pubs have closed or are threatened (most recently the Salt House in St John’s Wood)

standard.co.uk/goingout/bars/sadiq-khan-announces-plan-to-protect-londons-pubs-a3702481.html

Of course, not all pubs can or should be saved - our habits change and the city changes with them-but when property values and the potential gains from residential conversion dictate everything, we risk losing the services and amenities that keep our neighbourhoods alive.

The draft plan contains other ideas as well, including a crackdown on fast food shops near schools:

standard.co.uk/news/london/total-ban-on-fastfood-outlets-within-400m-of-london-schools

You can have your say on these ideas and many others- including how to boost the number of affordable homes here.


Preparing for Universal Credit

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As Universal Credit gradually extends to more working and out-of-work households across the country, concerns have grown about the hardship it is causing. Particular problems include: the length of time claimants have to wait for payments, rent arrears and the risks of increased evictions, and access to free school meals.

Some improvements were made in the November budget but there is still huge anxiety about it. I brought together the local advice organisations to discuss how we can prepare for the local roll-out next spring.

It is essential that anyone in difficulty seeks help as early as possible.

Thankfully, after a lot of pressure, the government’s Universal Credit helplines are now free:

Live service: 0800 3289344

Full Service: 0800 328 9344

Other ways to get help and advice:

Westminster Citizens Advice:

www.westminstercab.org.uk

0300 330 1191

Advice Local

advicelocal.uk

Advicelocal is a new postcode tool that can help with questions relating to seven areas of law - welfare benefits and tax credits; council tax; debt and money advice; housing and homelessness; employment and work issues; disability and social care; and asylum and immigration.

Advicelocal is easy to use. You just need to enter a postcode and choose an advice topic to find tailored information for your area, including key local authority resources and details of local independent advice organisations. 

You can also find them on Twitter @advicelocal and on Facebook @advicelocaluk


Around the constituency

St John’s Wood Adventure Playground

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St John’s Adventure Playground is London’s oldest, and It was a pleasure to join them for their 6oth birthday celebrations. Although there have been concerns raised about the possible redevelopment of the area, it is absolutely essential that we keep this playground! 

London Tigers

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The annual London Tigers sports and volunteering awards are always amazing! This year, the event was on home turf at Porchester Hall- for although the Tigers don’t have their own pitches in the area, they grew out of the Lisson Green estate and still provide local opportunities for young people. They have grown to be one of London’s most important community based sports providers, and the awards ceremony drew supporters from all over the capital and beyond.

www.londontigers.org

SEBRA

South East Bayswater Residents’ Association is one of the most active and effective amenity societies in London. As usual, the AGM was very well attended, with a lively debate covering planning issues, the Whiteleys re-development, the lack of affordable housing, policing and traffic issues.

Separately, I am also taking up the issue of cycling off the designated paths in the Royal Parks, which has been raised with me by residents.

Westminster Citizens Advice

Westminster Citizen’s Advice AGM took place in the swanky Exchange House building on the edge of Broadgate, but that couldn’t disguise a message of real hardship and growing demand for help. I was delighted to be able to go along and add my thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers who provide assistance to thousands of anxious and often desperate people facing debt, poverty, homelessness and other problems.

A new threat to All Stars Boxing club

The All Stars club has been training boxers for many years in this iconic, though sadly neglected, building in the Harrow Road. Now they are (again) fighting for their survival:

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*Stop press* News has just come in that All Stars have secured an injunction preventing the landlord from selling the freehold of the building...so discussions about the repairs can go on. A battle won, but support still needed.


The Salt House, Abbey Rd!

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Property values are such that there is increasing pressure on lots of non-residential amenities - pubs being a very good example. Of course not all pubs can or should be saved - habits change and the world changes with them - but neither do we want to live in an area stripped of all but luxury housing. With the support of the St John’s Wood Society, the Salt House in St John’s Wood is campaigning to safeguard its future. 

you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-the-salt-house-abbey-rd?bucket=&source=twitter-share-button

Please don't allow change of use of The Salt House, a beautiful local pub on the famous Abbey Rd.

Why is this important?

The Salt House has been a public house since 1872 and has now been sold to property developers who wish to turn it into luxury flats and offices.This is such a sadly familiar story in London. We have to stop developers tearing apart what gives London it's pulse and character.

The Salt House is one of the few remaining local pubs in the area and has many long term regulars who love it dearly. It is also home for the key staff members and their family who live above it and a secure job for many more. It would be a travesty if this beautiful Victorian pub was granted change of use and disappeared after over a century and a half.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk
Twitter: KarenPBuckMP
Facebook: KarenBuck4WN

Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.

December 2017 E-Newsletter

 December 2017 E-Newsletter No help for policing in the Autumn Budget Hard choices are being forced on the Met Police after no relief came in the budget to ease the...

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October E-Newsletter

 


Crime concerns

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There has been understandable concern about the surge in serious youth violence this year, and the spate of moped assisted crimes. Tragically, one such incident recently claimed the life of a local young man, a former Paddington Academy student, who was stabbed in the course of what seems to have been a robbery. I raised the issue of moped assisted crime and serious youth violence with Cressida Dick, the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, when I met her in the summer, and I have also met a Home Office Minister and, of course, local Police and other agencies. There has been a lot of activity on this front, and a number of arrests and prosecutions, but obviously more needs to be done. The Met can and does seek to respond to changing priorities as far as possible, and there are always measures that can be taken in response to new challenges. However, it remains true that the Met has already lost around £600m in central government support, and is due to lose a further £400 m over the next few years. We have much reduced Safer Neighbourhood Teams and overall, police numbers have fallen to the point where the increases in the 2000-2009 period have now been cancelled out. In addition, Westminster Council has cut spending almost in half in the last few years, and is having to cut a further £30m next year, so some of the capacity that used to exist - from CCTV to the youth service - is no longer there. I believe that we have reached the point where we cannot keep reducing the Police budget, especially if this also has to finally build in a pay rise above 1%. Having said all this, the Police are extremely focused on the issue.

                To counter this type of offending in City of Westminster (CW) we have been running the following initiatives

Operation Regent - This was a targeted Intelligence led operation that led to a 52% decrease across CW in Moped Related Offences. 16 offenders were arrested for a variety of offences. This was carried out in April and May 2017

Operation Goodthink - A 2nd intelligence led operation that has been running since June. We are seeing another decrease in offending of around the 40% mark. At present over 20 people have been arrested.

Operation Venice - This is the Mets response to Moped, Scooter and Motorcycle Crime. On CW  This involves our local neighbourhood teams delivering crime prevention advice to members of the public and patrolling around 'Hotspot' areas for this type of crime. This has included the NW8 and St  Johns Wood area.

In addition to the 2 Operations above the CW Crime Squad have been looking at offenders from CW (and neighbouring areas) who are targeting the borough. As a result we have had the following results.

2 males jailed for a spate of offences in February and March - One received 5 years and 1 10 years. 2 males jailed for a spate of offences in May, 4 males are due to go for sentencing in October that have been linked to over 100 offences across CW (including St Johns Wood). The handler of the phones has also been arrested which has led to a dramatic reduction in these types of offences. At one stage City of Westminster was having around 22 offences a day. We now have around 4 a day across the whole borough.

In respect of the concern that CCTV is to be relied upon, this does carry some truth. Vital intelligence can be gained from images obtained. Rarely is there any forensic evidence when a phone is snatched from someone's hand.

Those snatching the phones often wear gloves (as you can see by the pillion passenger in the image above) so CCTV is a big part of what we need. That being said, just because there may be no CCTV does not mean that we cannot do anything.

Invariably these offences are carried out in spates of 3 or 4 so whilst 1 offence might not have any, another may well do. Different officers attend different calls so sometimes an officer will not be aware that footage may be available at an offence elsewhere. It is only later, when the offence is picked up by a detective, that these offences will be linked (by proximity, description of suspect etc). These offences often lay on file until someone is caught in the act (as per the arrests mentioned above) where we will then look at things like phone downloads from suspects. Any images on their phones showing them wearing similar clothing to that caught on CCTV along with Cell Site submissions for the suspects mobile phones that often place them in the location of the offences, and any incriminating messages via text or social media therefore proving their involvement.

All of the above is just a snapshot of what is currently happening in Westminster.

You can sign the petition against the cuts to the Metropolitan Police here.


Brexit

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We were expecting to be into the committee stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill by now, but that has been delayed as the Government considers their response to the more challenging groups of amendments! In the meantime, I have supported calls for the publication of the Brexit impact studies that have been carried out, so we can work on a shared understanding of what may happen to our economy and the country as a whole. You can read the article about our letter to David Davis, the Brexit Minister, here.

Given the worrying degree to which our reaching March 2019 with ‘no deal’ is now being talked up, I used my slot at Prime Minister’s Questions to ask what would then happen to EU residents in this country. You can see the video here.

Responses to my survey of EU residents are still coming in in significant numbers, and I am incredibly grateful for that. I intend to close the survey and analyse the result at the end of this month.


The NHS in Westminster

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Urgent Care Centre found to be inadequate as St Mary’s faces winter pressures (and the latest on the ‘Paddington Quarter’ dispute)

St Mary’s hospital remains under considerable pressure as we go into another winter. Worryingly, the Urgent Care Centre, intended to relieve pressure on Accident and Emergency and which was put out to tender and awarded to a private contractor two years ago, was found to be inadequate after a Care Quality Commission inspection. The company has been given six months to turn the service around. St Mary’s itself has faced some huge challenges as a result of having some of the oldest buildings in the NHS estate, and these have led to extra costs and to bed closures. In May, part of the ceiling fell down in one part of the Cambridge wing! Even before the unexpected costs that arose as a result of the problems this summer, Imperial were spending £16 million this year to address the most pressing building  issues - now they have had to find another £1m.

In the longer term, much depends on St Mary’s being able to go ahead with their major development programme. However, the Trust continues to have concerns about ambulance access within the new scheme, which includes, of course, the controversial ‘Paddington Cube’. As they say:

“The Trust remained supportive of the Paddington quarter development, approved by Westminster City Council in December 2016, but the concerns raised by the Trust, London Ambulance Service and other health organisations, had not been taken effectively into consideration; even following multiple meetings with Westminster City Council, the GLA and TFL. These parties remained confident that the plan was safe, and the s106 agreement was likely to be signed in the near future. The Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities had also chosen not to require further scrutiny of the plans.

Westminster City Council granted full planning permission for the Paddington Cube development on 14th August following the signing of the section 106 agreement. The agreement sets out final planning conditions, including for all aspects of a new access road that forms part of the development. Our safety concerns over the new access road have still not been resolved. We have been continuing to engage with the Council to seek amendments to the section 106 agreement to address our concerns. But, as the deadline for applying to make a formal legal challenge was Monday 25 September, we felt there was no alternative but to make an application in order to keep all options open. We are still hopeful that we can achieve amendments that address our safety concerns without further legal action”

GETTING ‘WINTER READY’

Divisional director of medicine, Professor Tim Orchard, who leads the Trust’s Urgent and Emergency Pathway improvement programme, says:

“We are expecting this winter to be worse than usual for flu infection. We’ve also already got a lot of pressure on our inpatient beds – partly as a result of estates problems causing wards to be out of action for repair work but also because we are seeing more urgent and emergency admissions – there’s been an 11 per cent increase since 2015/16.

But I am confident we will continue to provide high quality care for all of our patients if we work together and make best use of all the planning and preparation that has been put in place. I would urge everyone to have a look at the checklists we’ve developed to be clear on what support is on offer and how it can be accessed, and what you can do yourself to get winter ready"

You can see details of the advice Imperial are giving to patients here.

BBC health tracker

The BBC have introduced a useful website to help people see what is happening to the local NHS over the winter months. You can find it here.


Fire safety

As action on fire safety starts to be taken across Westminster and the country as a whole following the Grenfell disaster, I have joined with local Labour councillors to ask the Government to fund the works, so that the costs don't fall on local councils. This would, of course, mean that those councils with the most high rise buildings are hardest hit - and if the money has to be found locally, it can only be met out of the budgets which would otherwise be funding repairs and maintenance and the building of new homes.

The full cost of implementing fire safety measures such as installing sprinklers in taller council blocks across the city and removing dangerous cladding from the towers on the Warwick and Brindley Estates could run up to £20 million. At the moment, this will have to be paid out of Westminster Council’s Housing Revenue Account, money generated from Council tenants’ rents and leaseholder service charges. This means that there will be a major impact on the number of new social or affordable homes the Council would be able to build and on its future ability to repair people’s homes.

Despite promising to do whatever it took to ensure that high rise buildings are safe, the government are clearly not intending to provide any financial help.


Universal Credit is coming

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I’ve contributed to the two Parliamentary debates in recent weeks calling for a halt to the rollout of Universal Credit in the face of growing evidence that the built in delay in paying claimants is causing hardship, arrears, evictions and greater use of foodbanks. I met with our local JobCentre Plus to hear how preparations are going - we are not due for the full service to begin until the spring - and I was impressed with their commitment to make things work as well as possible. However, those London councils where Universal Credit is more widely claimed have been experiencing massive problems.

If you have experience of this, particularly if you are having problems, do get advice as quickly as possible, such as from the Citizens Advice Bureau, or my office.


London Poverty profile

If you are interested in knowing more of the facts and figures about our area - facts which show that, despite the image of Westminster as just an area of great wealth, the newly published London Poverty Profile is for you! You can read it here


Local MP calls on FA to fill empty seats at England matches with free tickets for schools


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I’ve signed a letter calling on the Football Association to fill empty seats at England matches with free tickets for schoolchildren. The letter, signed by a cross-party group of 128 MPs was drafted by Shadow Sports Minister, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan and sent to FA Chair Greg Clarke. It states that the 28,000 empty seats for the recent England game against Slovenia represent ‘28,000 lost opportunities to inspire England stars of the future’. This letter represents agreement from a large cross-party group of MPs, that where they can foresee large blocks of empty seats at Wembley – they need to commit to giving these to schools across the country.

The 28,000 empty seats at Wembley represent 28,000 lost opportunities - for many young children across the country, seeing England play live at Wembley is a distant dream. The FA can turn this dream into a reality. The FA does some good work in communities across the country but there is more to be done. There are dozens of schools in our local area that would welcome the opportunity to send children to Wembley Stadium to see England play.


The new ‘T’ charge - how it works and how it will help clean up London’s air


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In last month’s newsletter I talked about the scale of the health crisis linked to air pollution, and the particular threat to children. Recent health data has shown 7.9 million Londoners - nearly 95 per cent of the population – live in areas exceeding the World Health Organisation guidelines on toxic air quality particles (known as PM2.5). It is estimated that air pollution contributes to thousands of premature deaths each year in London, as well as having effects over the course of our lives, from smaller lungs in our children to greater risk of dementia and strokes when we get older. This month, the Mayor of London brings in the latest measure to help improve the quality of London’s toxic air. The ‘T’ charge -‘T for Toxicity’- is the world’s toughest emission charge. Aimed to limiting the volume of older, more polluting vehicles that drive into inner London.

From Monday, October 23rd, older and dirtier vehicles will be required to pay a £10 charge on top of the congestion charge - with the aim being to discourage such vehicles from being driven in. It is thought this could affect around 34,000 vehicles a month, which do not meet the Euro 4 standards for both PM and NOx emissions. Such vehicles have made around 2.6m trips within the congestion zone areas since the beginning of the year, giving an indication of the scale of the problem.

Here’s the detail of how it works, and a link to check whether a particular vehicle may be liable for the charge:

The T-charge is the toughest enforced emission standard of any world city. Drivers of the most polluting vehicles (pre-Euro 4 vehicles) will pay the new T-Charge plus the Congestion-Charge (C-Charge) a total of £21.50 (£10 T-Charge and £11.50 C-Charge) every weekday they drive in the C-Charge zone from 7am-6pm. It will run continuously during congestion charging hours until the Ultra-Low Emission Zone is delivered.  To view the T-Charge compliance vehicle checker visit, tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/emissions-surcharge


Local round up

Woodfield Road two way
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Residents of Woodfield Road and the surrounding streets have been understandably aggravated by the introduction of the new 2-way scheme on the road. Many people raised concerns during the consultation and local councillors put these forward, but the Council argued that such fears were overblown and that their proposals would reduce traffic accidents. Now in place, the new scheme has seen gridlock at peak periods with reports of damage to cars, constant horn honking, potential road rage incidents and general disturbance to the local residents with little evidence that things are being made safer. We have been pressing for an urgent review of the scheme and on Monday the Council announced their plans to introduce a ‘point no-entry’ at the junction with Woodfield Road and Harrow Road. This was with a view to displace traffic and reduce opposing flows within Woodfield Road between Woodfield Place and Harrow Road. These plans have since been postponed to allow for the impact on pedestrian safety to be assessed. I will continue to monitor the progress of the plans, please feel free to let me know your thoughts.


Hallfield Estate update from CityWest Homes

I would like to apologise for the delay in getting major works to site on the Hallfield estate. This briefing has been prepared to help give you some of the background to this and help outline the way forward.

Pembroke, Reading and Tenby Houses (scheme V115)

Following the departure of the original contractor Mulalley and Company Ltd in 2013, we had decided to package the works into three blocks at a time. The first phase, known as V115, was to address works that were unresolved during time of the Mulalley’s contract.

The decision to defer the works to the term contract was made at a Cabinet Member meeting held in July of this year. Rather than go ahead and appoint Keepmoat, who was the remaining contractor in the process, a decision was taken to cancel the existing procurement as we now move towards the appointment of a contractor that will provide all major works for the next ten years.

Residents were notified of this decision on the 10 July 2017. A residents meeting was held on the 21 September 2017. There were representatives from the Lancaster Gate Ward Councillors and CityWest Homes project team. Eight residents attended.

Assuming the successful appointment of the new contractor in November of this year, the works to Pembroke, Reading and Tenby Houses should start in the New Year.

Works to the rest of the estate

Works to the rest of the estate are being carried out as four separate schemes and will be delivered by the term contractor. These are:

W104: Marlow House, Newbury House and Taunton House

X115 : Lynton House, Worcester House and Winchester House

X116 : Bridgewater House, Clovelly House and Exeter House

X117 : Brecon and Caernarvon House

We expect works to be delivered to all blocks by 2021


Church Street regeneration

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Westminster Council’s consultation on the Church Street regeneration scheme ends on October 29th - though there will be plenty of discussions going on after that! Here’s the letter I have sent to residents.

And here’s the link to the Council’s site


And in brief: 

Despite it being a very tough financial environment, some of our local groups still do their very best to survive and service the community. It was a pleasure to support Paddington Arts on the occasion of their 30th anniversary this year - they do such great work nurturing creative talent amongst our young people. I got along to the Annual General Meeting of Walterton and Elgin Community Homes - the largest resident controlled housing project in the country - and was once again impressed with the brilliant turnout of tenants and leaseholders they get.

At the annual meeting of the St John’s Wood Society we discussed air quality, short-lets, the cycle superhighway and the on-going negotiations about the future of the Post Office, which I am very heavily involved with, and am hoping to see come to a successful conclusion.

And it was great to bring together a number of the individuals and organisations working with young people in the area at a reception I hosted in Parliament. The youth, play and out-of-school budgets have all been taken away by Westminster Council, but we were able to celebrate the work that is being done against the odds, and do some useful networking. Some of those attending included the Avenues, Dream Arts, London Tigers, Westminster Youth Foundation, Lords, St John’s Wood Playground, Queen’s Park sports and Everyone Active.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.

 

October 2017 E-Newsletter

October E-Newsletter   Crime concerns There has been understandable concern about the surge in serious youth violence this year, and the spate of moped assisted crimes. Tragically, one such incident...

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September 2017 E-Newsletter

Contents

Air pressure - time for tough action to improve air quality
Stay in the single market - and last call for my survey of EU residents
The crisis in Myanmar
Winter is coming - so get your flu jab!
Your chance to comment on the Mayor of London’s housing plan
Check out this year’s Silver Sunday events
North Paddington Foodbank - demand is rising
Moped crime
Church Street - new regeneration plans published

This is, of course, just a selection of the issues that I pick up or which are brought to me by constituents, and I don’t try to cover everything every month. If there’s something you would like to ask or tell me about, please e-mail me at buckk@parliament.uk, ring the office on 0208 9687 999 or even write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.


Air pressure

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(Pic: NO2 Annual Mean in 2020)

Air quality is rightly moving up the political agenda, but we have a way to go before we can say we have tackled this public health emergency.

This month I wrote for Parliament’s magazine setting out what has to happen next:

What would any of us do with an extra 11.5 years of life? Cherish it and use it wisely, hopefully. But for too long, we have tolerated a hazard which shortens the lives of around 40,000 people annually by that much. Quite simply, toxic air is a killer- associated with the increased incidence of such potentially lethal conditions as heart disease and stroke.

Some people are particularly vulnerable, of course, and inner cities- which include many of our poorest neighbourhoods- are often most affected, but ultimately we all breathe the same air and none of us can opt out. As an inner London MP, this issue is particularly close to my heart, since we are one of the most polluted places in the country and it is here where the UK is most significantly failing to comply with EU pollution limits. This summer, the Mayor of London had to activate the capital’s emergency alert system as air pollution reached dangerous levels. However, other parts of the UK are not off the hook. The Government’s own statistics show that 38 out of 43 UK “air quality zones” are outside the legal limits for air pollution. From Middlesbrough to Southend, from Leeds to Guildford, towns and cities breach Nitrogen Dioxide levels-a total of 40 million people. Most disturbing of all, is the fact that hundreds and thousands of children are exposed to this danger, with schools in my constituency being amongst those facing the highest exposure.

The Government finally produced its air quality plan this summer, after taking a battering in the courts. Many of the proposals are welcome, including the banning of new diesel and petrol cars from 2040, and the announcement of some additional funding for local authorities, but still the package lacks sufficient ambition. We have both the need for, and the opportunity to, be a world leader on clean air generally and clean transport specifically.

This means a combination of incentives, education and advice, and penalties, backed by central government but with a key role for local councils, for it is as the very local level that support must be built, identifying local problems and designing solutions specific to individual communities. Westminster Council’s campaign to reduce emissions arising from engine idling is also to be commended.

City Mayors can give a crucial lead, as Sadiq Khan has done with his measures to tackle air pollution in the capital. These include the introduction of a charge on the most polluting vehicles from October this year, and an Ultra-Low Emission Zone from 2019, as well as boosts to cycling infrastructure and other measures.

At the national level, we need a new Clean Air Act to provide the coherent framework for, and raise the profile of, this issue. Transport is critical, of course, but so too is the built environment, in terms of the impact of both construction and heating.  Our national planning and infrastructure policies have to be geared towards achieving our goals and supporting the scale of the transition we need. And only national government can introduce a vehicle scrappage fund to enable owners of diesel cars and vans - many of whom bought diesel vehicles in the belief that it was a cleaner option than petrol - to retire them early.

The scale of what needs to be done in respect of low-emission vehicles alone is salutary. In May 2011 there were 57,000 such vehicles on our roads. By last year that had increased to 87,000 but the Government’s projection of 5% of all cars in the UK being ULEV by 2020 means that we need to have 1.6 million such vehicles by then.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution, established and chaired by Matthew Pennycook MP (and of which I am a Vice-Chair) has been reconvened for this Parliament. We want to hold the government to account on their vision and implementation strategy. Too much time has already been lost. Parliament rose to the challenge of the murderous Great Smog of 1952 by passing the Clean Air Act of 1956. Today’s air pollution may not look as dramatic, but its impact is even more lethal. We need a commitment and focus as great as that of 60 years ago to change our environment permanently and for the better.

There is, understandably, particular concern about the risks of polluted air to children. Clientearth are running a campaign focusing on the issue of schools air quality, which you can see here.                                                                                                                                                                      

We need to combine action at the local, London-wide and national level, with us as individuals changing our own behavior (no idling engines, not using cars for short journeys) at the same time as governments and business adapt to a shift to cleaner buildings and transport.


Stay in the single market - and last call for my survey of EU residents

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Over 1000 people have already responded to my survey of EU nationals living in the constituency, letting me know their thoughts and feelings about Brexit and their future. I’m leaving the survey open for another couple of weeks, so if you haven’t responded and would like to, there is still time.

You can go on to my website and take the survey here

Meanwhile, as the evidence continues to mount to indicating how devastating ‘no deal’ would be, I joined with a number of my colleagues in Parliament and elsewhere to back calls for our continued commitment to the single marker and the customs union. link here.


The crisis in Myanmar

Westminster has a large number of residents of Bangladeshi origin and I have been contacted by community representatives and many others about the catastrophic situation in Myanmar, and the violence and human rights abuses being perpetrated against the Rohingyar people by the Myanmar armed forces. I co-signed this letter calling for a suspension of the current training programme being provided to the Burmese military, commitments from the military to abide by international law and help with urgent new humanitarian needs.

Dear Foreign Secretary,

RE: Violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

We are writing to you today regarding our serious concerns over the unfolding crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar and the indiscriminate targeting of Rohingya Muslims.

The government of Myanmar has every right to take action to defend itself against terrorism, however, it appears that rather than seeking to arrest terrorists from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) involved in attacks against government buildings on 25th of August, the military is using the attacks as a pretext for the mass clearance of the Rohingya population from large parts of northern Rakhine State.

Based on reports from the United Nations, human rights organisations and Rohingya organisations, we are witnessing human rights violations on a scale extreme even by the standards of Myanmar’s history. Estimates of people killed range from official figures of hundreds dead, to estimates by reliable Rohingya organisations of between 2,000-3,000 killed. Eye witnesses describe civilians being shot indiscriminately, people forced to lie down in rows and then shot in the back of the head, beheadings, rape, rounding people up into buildings which are then set fire to, and deliberate shooting of children.

At the same time, ARSA appears to have been targeting ethnic Rakhine, the Mro minority and people of other races and religions, exacerbating communal tensions and violence. More than 10,000 people have been displaced by such attacks, with more than 140,000 Rohingya having arrived in Bangladesh and it is estimated at least as many again are displaced in Myanmar. A major humanitarian crisis therefore currently exists in Myanmar and in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The twin priorities are to do whatever we can to halt the military offensive against Rohingya civilians, and address the urgent humanitarian needs. While we welcome the statement the Foreign Secretary made earlier this week calling on Aung Sang Sui Kyi to use her position to stop the violence, we believe it is vital that greater pressure is brought to bear on Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of the military in Myanmar. It is he, not Aung San Suu Kyi, who has the power to order the military to halt their attacks. While there is no single measure which can persuade the military to halt its attacks, any leverage that can be used must be used.

We also request that the government review its current approach towards the Burmese military in light of the serious human rights violations which they are committing now and have been committed in recent years. We request that the current training programme being provided to the Burmese military is suspended and an evaluation is carried out to assess its effectiveness and value for money. Any resumption should be conditioned on commitments from the military to abide by international law and the government should halt the export of any kind of equipment to the military.

Furthermore, the government should support an urgent resolution on the situation at the new session of the Human Rights Council, and support a resumption of the annual resolution on Myanmar at the United Nations General Assembly.

Additional funding must be provided to meet urgent new humanitarian needs, rather than coming from the existing budget allocated to Myanmar.

Longer term solutions to address the root causes of the problems in Rakhine State will be hard to implement as long as this current crisis continues. In this regard, we welcome the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission led by Kofi Annan and urge the British government to work with the government of Myanmar, providing both financial resources and expertise, to ensure they are implemented as swiftly as possible.

The scale of the human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar is unprecedented in its recent history. It requires the attention of the British government at the highest level. We hope that as in the past, the government will show global leadership in support of the people of Myanmar as they face this new crisis.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Rushanara Ali MP

Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Burma


Winter is coming - so get your flu jab!

Vaccination helps the whole community resist disease, and when vaccination rates fall, outbreaks can occur with potentially serious consequences.

In 2017/18 the following individuals are eligible for a free flu vaccine. 

•  All children aged 2 -8 on 31 August 2017

•  All primary school-aged children in former primary school pilot areas

•  Those aged 6 months to under 65 years with a serious medical condition

•  Pregnant women

•  Those aged 65 years and over

•  Those in long-stay residential care homes

•   Carers

•   Frontline health and social care workers

•   The morbidly obese

•   www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pages/how-vaccines-work

If you are in one of these categories PLEASE do take action, and arrange to get your jab!


Your chance to comment on the Mayor of London’s housing plan

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From the crisis of affordability to conditions in the private rented sector to homelessness and the long, long wait for a council flat transfer- housing is always a priority issue. Sadiq Khan has just issued his draft housing plan for London, so do take and look and let him (and me) know your thoughts:

This Strategy has five key areas:

  • Building more homes for Londoners
  • Delivering genuinely affordable homes
  • High quality homes and inclusive neighbourhoods
  • A fairer deal for private renters and leaseholders
  • Tackling homelessness and helping rough sleepers

Draft Housing Strategy

Press release

The aim of this Strategy is to address the housing shortage through an intensive use of London’s available land, focusing on more genuinely affordable housing and providing help now for people feeling the effects of the housing crisis - from private renters to rough sleepers.


Silver Sunday

This Sunday, October 1st, is ‘Silver Sunday’, with a range of activities and events available for older people. I strongly support the work Westminster Council does to recognise the value of older residents and to tackle the scourge of loneliness. You can find out more about what is going on here.


North Paddington Foodbank

I was delighted to be able to speak at the North Paddington Foodbank AGM recently, and to congratulate the staff and many volunteers who put so much into collecting and distributing food for people in crisis.

Worryingly, demand is rising sharply, as these figures from their annual report show:

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So please do see if you can help, whether by dropping some items into the collection points, or helping out directly.

You can find all their details here.


Moped crime

After many years of (generally) falling crime, there has been a worrying rise more recently, and a number of constituents have contacted me with their concerns. Whilst the Police have been active on this issue and had a number of successes, the fact remains that police numbers are well down from their 2011 peak, and I am amongst those pressing hard for a re-think on the further £400m of cuts to the Met Police budget. I have discussed the issue of moped-enabled and other violent crimes with the new Met Commissioner and will continue to do so at every opportunity. In the meantime, the Mayor of London is working with the various agencies involved to develop solutions.


Church Street regeneration plans

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Westminster City Council recently announced new and much more ambitious plans for the re-development of large areas of Church Street.

These will affect pretty well everyone living in the area - some directly, as residents in blocks of flats due to be demolished and re-built, others because of the scale of the building work and the huge changes that will be made to the area over many years.

Many of the blocks due to be re-built were affected by the original, now much delayed, Futures Plan, which was backed by a vote of residents in 2012. However, this new plan brings in many blocks that were not included at that point. The Council is not planning any further votes on their new proposals.

•    This is the biggest and most ambitious regeneration scheme Westminster Council has attempted. The track record of delivery has not been great in the past and it is essential that lessons are learned and both the consultation with residents and the management of the scheme are better than in the past.

•    It is vital that all residents have a say in this process - asking questions and making their views known. Labour believes there should be a final vote on the revised scheme, but whatever happens the Council must ensure that the process produces a scheme that local residents actually want to see delivered.

•    Tenants (including some housing association tenants), leaseholders and private tenants will be affected in different ways. Proper and independent advice must be available to everyone to make sure everyone’s interests are properly served.

•    There is a strong case for re-developing a number of blocks in Church Street, and there has been support for this in the past. Some blocks were not well designed, and are desperately in need of improvement (and have been allowed to decline without investment in recent years). There is also a need for new homes, and we accept that in the absence of proper government funding some of these must be higher-value private homes in order to raise money towards extra council/housing association homes and community facilities.

BUT

Westminster has a bad track record on providing truly affordable homes, whether to rent or buy, and we need more of these, not just more expensive luxury flats.

AND

Pleasant open spaces are part of this vision, but they are not enough on their own. A densely populated place like Church Street needs good community facilities - not just school and GP places, but support for parents, activities for older residents and things for children and young people to do are essential. 

The exhibition is on line at churchstreetmasterplan.org.uk or on display at the Regeneration Base at 99 Church Street NW8 between now and October 29th. Please do, fill in the questionnaire, and talk to your friends and neighbours.


 Thank you for reading.

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Karen Buck MP

Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.

 

September 2017 E-Newsletter

September 2017 E-Newsletter ContentsAir pressure - time for tough action to improve air quality Stay in the single market - and last call for my survey of EU residents The...

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August 2017 E-Newsletter

 


From the crisis in North Korea to the horrifying behaviour of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, USA to the barbaric terrorist attack in Barcelona, it has been a dark and disturbing August. Here in the UK, the clock is ticking down to a Brexit which remains shrouded in uncertainty and absolutely fraught with social and economic risks. We will return to Parliament in September to consider the EU Repeal Bill, so there will be more to report then, but meanwhile lots of local issues continue to dominate my post bag, so this is a round-up of some local news and what I have been doing over the last few weeks.


Seeking the views of EU citizens resident in Westminster North

Westminster has the largest number of EU citizens of any local area in the country. Many come and go over the course of a few years, coming here to work or study. Many others have built a life here, whether or not that was the original intention- working, building businesses, marrying, raising families. I am carrying out a survey to find out a little more about their experiences since the Brexit referendum and their attitudes to the Government’s offer and negotiating position. There is no fixed cut-off date but I would welcome responses by the middle of September. The survey can be completed here.


The crisis in Yemen

There has been awful news from many corners of the world this year, but the appalling suffering of the people of Yemen continues unabated, and with relatively little attention being paid. I am pleased to add my name to an appeal issued by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, seeking special consideration of the conflict at the next UN General Assembly.

‘‘Dear Secretary General Guterres,

We are writing today concerning the ongoing crisis in Yemen.

As I am sure you are aware, we face a generational catastrophe in Yemen and all current efforts are insufficient in providing help to the Yemeni people.

19 million Yemeni’s are in need of urgent humanitarian aid however, as a result of the conflict this has been difficult for aid agencies to provide.

According to UNICEF a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from preventive causes, 3 million people have been displaced and 6.8 million are one step away from famine.

Cholera cases will reach 500,000 by September and have already caused the deaths of over 2000 Yemeni citizens. It is the children who are hit especially hard by this with 40% of new cases occurring in children under the age of 15.

Public services in Yemen have ceased to be paid in 9 months. Not only has this worsened conditions for ordinary Yemeni’s but it has created an economy where one of the few well paid jobs is taking up arms on one of the sides. Humanitarian abuses have occurred on both sides with war crimes and attacks on civilians.

Despite the UN fundraising that raised $2.1billion the only way in which we can abate the suffering of the Yemeni people is to push for a ceasefire through the United Nations.

I have attached a list of Parliamentary Signatures from the UK supporting adding Yemen and its conflict to the agenda at the next UN General Assembly on the 13th September.

Only placing Yemen on the UN’s agenda at the General Assembly and the Security Council  and working collaboratively to end the conflict will save the people of Yemen.’’


‘Reckless language could lead us down a dangerous path’

Those words are from an article published in the joint names of the Vice President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Director of Faith Matters/Tell Mama (the latter is a charity which monitors anti-Muslim attacks). They followed an article in the same newspaper, the ‘Sun’ which ended with a reference to ‘The Muslim Problem’- an attack on an entire faith and community, and one which, in the way it was written, echoed the use of the phrase ‘The Jewish Problem’  in the Nazi era.

I was also amongst the 100 MPs, led by Naz Shah, who signed a letter to the ‘Sun’ last week on this issue. You can read the report of this here.


Fire safety

Local councillors and I are in very regular contact with CityWest Homes over the steps they are taking to inspect high rise properties and make sure they are all safe. We are seeking greater clarity about the timescale for removing cladding on the Little Venice towers, and for other aspects of fire checks such as on Hall Place. We have also been talking to concerned residents on the Tollgate estate. Over the past two months many residents in multiple storey blocks have been in contact with me regarding fire safety, most recently including Tollgate House in Maida Vale, where residents have also raised concerns associated with the ongoing building works.

CityWest Homes have committed to providing residents with fortnightly updates on the works, the first few of which have been sent, and have also released separate assurances in relation to fire safety. I will be meeting with them again soon and would be happy to hear from residents about what has been helpful and what could be further improved.

If you have any specific concerns as a tenant or leaseholder, do please contact me directly.


Short Lets/Airbnb

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Every new piece of research into short-lets suggests a continuing rapid growth in the sector, especially here in Westminster. As I keep emphasising, this is not to object in any way to owners letting spare rooms or making some extra money by renting their home for a few weeks whilst they are away. The problem is the growth of whole property lets, increasingly commercial in nature – as we know from the fact that so many short-lets are owned by people or companies with multiple properties. The rapid growth of the short-let sector reduces the supply of homes for traditional lets (for people to actually live in), costs Westminster Council (and hence, taxpayers) considerable amounts in enforcement when rules are broken or nuisance is caused, and effectively extends the hospitality industry into residential areas with almost no regulation and no social contribution to compensate. Having raised this in Parliament and in the media on a number of occasions, I have now written to Westminster Council again for an update on the impact and measures we need to take in response.


St John’s Wood Post Office

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Last autumn, local residents packed into a public meeting to discuss the future of the St John’s Wood Post Office in Circus Road, NW8. The Post Office want to continue the service as a franchise, raising a number of questions about staffing and service levels, but it is also clearly important that a full service is maintained on that site, which is owned by Westminster City Council. As is often the case, there are commercially confidential aspects to the negotiations, which I will respect, but I am very concerned about how long this is dragging on for, and wonder in whose interests it may be for it not to be sorted out. I am in discussions with the Council and have now met with Post Office Ltd to try and find out why the delays are occurring and what can be done to move this forward and settle the future of the Post Office.


Stronger action needed to keep our streets clean

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I can’t remember a time when I had more complaints coming in about dumping, fly-tipping and the state of the streets generally.

One resident from Little Venice wrote to the council- copied to me- to say:

"My street is a perpetual rubbish dump and for years and years you persist in doing absolutely nothing about it I suspect that the offenders are the same people and so year in and year out they are not being prosecuted. As you can see from the picture, putting signs on trees is not a serious deterrent. The only course of action that will work is a serious fine and prosecution. You are evidently not doing this and so the residents of my street will have to continue to be surrounded by rubbish when they step out of their door. It is quite simply an absolute disgrace."

Another, also from Little Venice, has complained about abandoned bicycles near Warwick Avenue tube- removed a few months ago at my request, but now a new set lot are there, rusting away.

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We'd agreed with 'Westminster Council' that there would be regular visits to tag and remove the abandoned rusting bicycles. These bicycles limit the spaces available for genuine users. I imagine a lot of people have moved abroad etc I purposefully didn't report for six months, from Feb - July 2017. Unfortunately the situation hasn't improved after all. The bicycles have flat tyres and rusting chains. It takes around 5 months for a bicycle to get into this state. I do feel surprised that the Westminster team aren't keeping track of these. All the other racks are the same. I found another 10 abandoned rusting bicycle frames within 20 mins walk down to Marble Arch from Little Venice.

 In Harrow Road, a resident says:

"Recently in the vicinity of Fernhead road and Fordingley Rd there has been a regular spate of people dumping their rubbish on the street. Often one has to manoeuvre around fridges, sofas, clothes, pans, clothes horses, mattresses. It is becoming a real problem in the area. What can be done about this?"

I take these complaints up with Westminster Council, and staff do their best to help, but as the problems have been getting worse, there needs to be a more visible effort at enforcement against people (including those who have clearly been doing building or house clearance works) who fly-tip and dump rubbish in breach of the rules.


Chippenham pub

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It’s good to see some work finally starting on the illegally demolished Carlton Tavern. The former Chippenham pub may be less dramatic but is still an eyesore and a blight on the area. Together with Cllr Tim Roca, I have been pushing for enforcement action, and have been concerned as to how long it has taken Westminster to move. However, I am pleased to see that a formal notice ( under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act) has now been issued and the owners have to remove the steel shutters and improve the condition/appearance of the building.


Queen’s Park Festival

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Even though money is getting tighter year after year, neighbourhood organisations like Walterton and Elgin Community Homes, Westbourne Neighbourhood Forum and the Queen’s Park Community Council (amongst others) still put on summer events to build community links and offer something for children and families.


Concerns about moped-assisted crimes

I’ve discussed the rising level of concern about muggings/phone/bag snatches and moped-assisted crime before- and have been raising it with the Met Commissioner and the Borough Commander. This month I have had  further complaints from residents in  St John’s Wood and Maida Vale, with a lot of unhappiness being expressed about the absence of CCTV. Sadly there has been a rise in violent crime across London in the last year, but the Westminster Borough Commander has told me:

 “We have been targeting moped criminals and hotspot areas with some good success.  Where other boroughs have seen little improvement, Westminster has enjoyed a significant reduction in moped enabled crime.  My Crime Squad have arrested and charged some of the most prolific individuals in London”.

Please do make sure all crimes are reported, calling 999 in an emergency of course, and 111 in other cases. The MPS website contains lots of useful information on your local Safer Neighbourhood Teams, local crime statistics and contact information, as well.


Police latest on Carnival and on crime

Notting Hill Carnival is an important piece of our local history and loved by many, but we all recognise that it can be difficult (and sometimes an awful) experience for those who live on the route. This year, of course, the Carnival will take on a different tone, with a minute’s silence at three on both afternoons in memory of the Grenfell tragedy. Those attending are also being asked to ‘Wear something green for Grenfell’.

The Met have carried out a number of raids, as they always do, in the run up to Carnival, to take criminals off the streets and reduce the risks of trouble. They have also issued this note about both Carnival and London crime concerns more generally:

"Dear Londoners,

I wanted to update you on a few matters.

This weekend the Met will join with partners on the ground to help make Notting Hill Carnival as safe as possible. It is always a very challenging operation due to its scale, requiring us to draw on local officers from every borough.

We’ve worked hard this year with the organisers and others to try to develop the plans - taking into account the threat our city faces from terrorism and kind of criminals I'll talk more about below.

We want people to enjoy the weekend and so one tool we are trialling is facial recognition technology which we hope will alert us to known trouble-makers as they head towards the event so that we can intervene early.

We know that there are concerns about the use of such technology but I’m sure you would agree that we have to look at all possible approaches to make the event as safe as we can.

It has been a busy few month for us and much has already been said about how stretched the Met is following recent major incidents.

It is certainly true that the terrorist attacks at Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, together with the Grenfell Tower Fire in Kensington have put pressure on the Met in ways few serving officers have ever experienced.

And this pressure is not confined to specialist areas of the Met. Our response to both Westminster and London Bridge drew thousands of officers from across all parts of the Met. Indeed, your local officers will have felt the impact and many will have been involved themselves.

However, you will also be aware that over the past several months we have also been experiencing increased demand in many other ways that greatly concern us, our communities and no doubt yourselves.

Knife Crime 

First among these is the steady rise in knife crime. In the 12 months to the end of June we saw a 34% increase in knife crime. Knife enabled murders have increased by 40% from 60 to 84 over the same period. These figures include the victims from the attacks on London Bridge and Westminster but violence, in all its forms, is something we are tackling with urgency.

Although two-thirds of knife offences do not involve injury it remains very worrying. Particularly troubling is that one in ten knife crimes involve a child aged between 14 and 17 being robbed.

The Met is taking sustained and determined action. We are arresting tens of thousands of people and seizing thousands of knives every year. Over recent weeks we have started to see some reductions in offences and we are identifying those responsible for more of these offences than last year.

Nevertheless, we simply will not arrest ourselves out of this problem - we need everyone to play their part.

There is an important role for all partners in prevention and diversion and a shared opportunity to shape changes for the better in our society. Only by addressing the wider social reasons for the increased willingness of young people to carry knives can we effect a long term change in behaviours.

Our approach is rooted in London’s communities with borough police working closely with local partners, community groups and education but this need to be a broad approach, with London’s most affected communities working with police.

That’s why we have held a number of partnership events this summer - bringing together as many people and organisations as possible to co-ordinate effort. We are grateful to all those that took part.

Corrosive attacks

Some commentators have linked another criminal trend; that of so called “acid attacks”, to our increased enforcement and  tougher sentencing for knife offences. I don’t think the evidence is there to draw the link but there are undoubtedly some similarities.

Certainly the profiles of some of the criminals is similar, as is their willingness to resort to violence. However, there is little to suggest that people arm themselves with a bottle of bleach or acid out of fear.

To carry a corrosive substance without good reason shows, in my view, an undeniable degree of intent to do someone harm or to coerce them in some way. There are few, if any, examples of such a weapon being used defensively.

I was therefore pleased to see that our colleagues at the Crown Prosecution Service issued strong guidance this month which emphasised the importance of the circumstances in which such a potential weapon is carried when determining charges.

In the past 12 month this crime involving corrosive substances in London have increased by 16%, from 386 to 446. Most victims (80%) and most suspects (82%) are male. About two thirds are assaults, a quarter robberies and the remainder criminal damage. What is also clear is that very, very few of these offences are hate-crimes.

However, I think that there is more information we can capture about the use of corrosive substances and so we are beginning to implement better recording processes to allow us to more easily differentiate between offences where the substances is actually used, and those where it is carried or threatened – at the moment the offence data includes both and that doesn’t give us as clear a picture of the problem as we’d like.

We are also working with the Government and many other partners to find ways to make these substances harder to obtain and to shape future legislation in respect of offences. It is a complicated area; there are many substances which, like knives, are available to the public and businesses for very good reasons – they are useful in everyday life and in many professions. But like knives, they can also do terrible harm when misused.

Immediate and practical measures we have taken include kitting out our vehicles with large bottles of water and other equipment to allow our officers to help those who are attacked in this way. Further training will also be rolled out as we are frequently the first emergency service to respond to these incidents and time is a critical factor in minimising the harm these substances can do.

Moped-enabled crime

Last month we saw a series of offences which linked the use of corrosive substances to another worrying trend – moped enabled crime. Whilst I cannot say too much about these specific offences as criminal proceedings are ongoing I recognise that moped crime has been a matter of great concern for some time.

Criminals clearly find these vehicles attractive, both for committing offences and for fleeing the scene. It undoubtedly presents challenges for us in terms of catching and arresting them as we balance public safety with a duty of care to those who often ride with reckless abandon as to their own safety.

There are no easy answers in this regard. We do not have a “no pursuit” policy but equally we cannot disregard the dangers to those we are pursuing – even when the dangers are very much of their own making.

One measure we can all work towards is to improve the security of the vehicles themselves so they are harder for criminals to get hold of in the first place. We are working with bike manufacturers, as well as rider training centres. We recently launched a publicity campaign to encourage moped owners to lock up their bikes more effectively.

This is clearly needed. Nearly 15,000 were stolen last year representing a 30% rise. During the same period moped-enable offences nearly doubled to just over 9,000.

In simple terms, we recommend chaining bikes through the back wheel and taking at least one additional security measure. I’d ask you to think about whether there are steps you could take help bike owners make their vehicle less vulnerable such as more secure parking, better lighting or providing more ground anchors.

Stolen bikes are often used to grab phones from victims in the street, so we are also trying to encourage the public to make sure they are aware of their surrounding and take care when using their phones. At the same time we are building an intelligence picture of offenders, taking action against them, and trying to close their access to the market in second-hand phones.

Partnerships

I’ve said a lot here about partnership. This is quite deliberate. No part of the Met is more reliant on our relationships with other organisations than local policing. No area of policing is more important. It is the bedrock of our organisation and leading it makes me proud every single day.

But we really do need to work together. Our communities cannot succeed without effective and responsive policing. It is equally true that we will not be the police force London deserves unless we are deeply rooted in our communities. We share a responsibility to help shape our city, to make it better for all Londoners and I hope you will continue to help us do just that."


On the ground at Grenfell

I attended a screening of the new film "On the ground at Grenfell" at Paddington’s Frontline Club. It was made by a group of young people from, and around, the tower. A number of them had previously attended the Stowe Club in Harrow Road, and it was particularly harsh to realise that this important facility has now lost all its funding, given the amount of talent it nurtured and the important role it played in these young people’s lives. The film itself, including quite a lot of mobile phone footage, was very hard to watch, but it is essential that we don’t allow the terrible events of June 13th to slip out of our minds.


Building a city for all Londoners

The shortage of genuinely affordable homes is an acute problem locally, but it is made even more offensive by the fact that luxury housing developments get given the green light, often against the wishes of local residents, and with scarcely a nod towards affordable housing obligations. Here are a couple of shocking recent examples:

 The ‘Evening Standard’ reports:

 “The much-vaunted £1 billion regeneration of Queensway is shaping up to include almost no “affordable” homes for young Londoners or key workers.

In the latest example of a developer wanting to go against rules requiring affordable homes to be included in multimillion-pound developments, GMS Estates’ plan for an entire block next to Bayswater Tube is awating approval from Westminster council.

The developer is promising to transform a shabby street with new shops, offices, and 58 flats.

The council’s policy is that about a third of all new homes in the borough should be affordable and aimed at beleaguered first-time buyers and squeezed renters at below-market levels. But GMS Estates says that including any affordable homes at all would make its project financially unviable.

Westminster disagrees — but is asking that the developer builds four affordable homes — only about seven per cent of the total. Instead, it wants the company, which is spending £30 million on the project, to pay £282,000 into the council’s affordable housing fund.

GMS Estates says it has agreed to four affordable homes in the development and added that, since the homes will all be rented rather than sold, they will not go to absentee owners.

“With a private rented model we can be certain we will not be faced with the ‘dark flats’ that far too many new developments suffer from, and make a positive contribution to the redevelopment of Queensway.”

However, the level of affordable housing being discussed for this project flies in the face of a recent pledge by Nickie Aiken, leader of the council, to strictly enforce affordable housing quotas in order to stop Westminster becoming a “ghetto of the rich”.

Fergus Coleman, head of affordable and private sector housing at Westminster council, pointed out that to comply with council policy 16 or 17 of the flats should be affordable.

John Zamit, chairman of the South East Bayswater Residents’ Association, believes GMS Estates should be forced to include more affordable homes in its project. “They should not be allowed to get away with it,” he said.

Westminster recently gave Berkeley Homes permission to build 200 new flats at Paddington Green in W2 with only 32 designated affordable, or just 16 per cent of the total. The developer initially offered none at all, saying the scheme, an extension of its West End Gate development, would not be financially viable with cheaper homes.

The GMS Estates project is proposed at a time when massive regeneration is planned for Bayswater, currently a relatively affordable tranche of central London.

http://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/westminster-council-under-fire-as-1-billion-regeneration-of-queensway-may-include-only-four-a112756.html

In the light of this, my Labour council colleagues are asking Westminster to urgently adopt the recommendations of the Mayor of London’s new Homes for Londoners: Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) 2017. The Mayor’s approach requires that new housing developments which fail to provide at least 35% social or genuinely affordable housing on site, must produce publicly accessible viability information that is open to scrutiny. At present developers far too often erroneously plead commercial confidentiality and make it very difficult to challenge their dubious claims to unprofitability of schemes that subsequently generate them millions in profits.

Irrespective of what the council, Westminster Labour or others may like to see in terms of national Government reform of the viability system, Sadiq Khan’s approach provides a solution that can be implemented now. Especially given that Westminster will be required to adopt this approach in 2019 at the time of the new London Plan, the Council should get on and implement this approach to put real pressure on developers to meet their basic obligations to provide social and genuinely affordable housing.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.


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Karen Buck MP

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Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk

August 2017 E-Newsletter

August 2017 E-Newsletter   From the crisis in North Korea to the horrifying behaviour of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, USA to the barbaric terrorist attack in Barcelona, it has been a...

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July 2017 E-Newsletter


I wanted to write straight after the election to say how grateful I was to the voters of Westminster North for electing me to Parliament once more - and to the many volunteers who worked so hard during the campaign.  Tragically, only a few days later, the fire in Grenfell Tower not only took at least 87 lives in our neighbouring community, with which many residents have links, but forced a fundamental review of safety in other high-rises across the country. This has, inevitably, dominated, and cast a shadow over, the first three weeks - both inside and outside Parliament.


Grenfell Tower and fire safety issues

No-one can have watched any footage of the fire, or seen the burnt out husk of the building next to Latimer Road station, without reeling with horror. The fire is the worst of its kind since the Second World War, but its aftermath was made far worse by the near collapse of Kensington and Chelsea council and the inability of local and central government to provide immediate help for the survivors. What we did see, from day one, was a truly extraordinary rallying of community and voluntary support-donations, fund-raising, practical help, legal advice -  much of which is on-going. Mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, the Queen’s Park Community Council and many more, all rushed to give help on a scale I have rarely seen for a domestic crisis,  and they deserve huge credit for all their efforts. Too often, inner cities are regarded as unneighbourly and lacking in community support. The response to Grenfell proved the opposite.

Still, many questions have to be answered, by the inquiry, by the Council and by government. You can read some of the questions I have been asking, about testing for fire safety, funding for remedial works and leasehold issues below. 

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-06-21a.37.0&s=speaker%3A10075#g53.0

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-06-26a.346.5&s=speaker%3A10075#g359.4

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-07-03a.911.1&s=speaker%3A10075#g919.4

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-06-22a.165.2&s=speaker%3A10075#g185.0

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And my contribution to the Queen’s Speech here.

I also wrote an article for the Guardian on some of the issues arising from Grenfell, including some of the changes in the law which are now necessary. You can see that here.


Reassurance and action to ensure local fire safety

Local councillors and I have also been pressing CityWest Homes and Westminster Council (and local housing associations) for the quickest possible action to check the cladding and other fire safety arrangements in our high-rise blocks, and to give reassurance to residents as appropriate. We have met with the Council, and I attended the drop-in/meeting on the Warwick Estate last week. Obviously the situation is changing almost daily, as checks and remedial works are completed but you can read what we have been asking for here.

We will work with residents as issues arise, and of course anyone with specific concerns can contact me or a ward councillor, or attend one of our surgeries.


Spotlight on affordable homes (again) 

The Grenfell fire has also highlighted the extreme pressure on social and affordable housing in London- something that also fills my casework and advice surgeries. These latest official figures from the Government may help to explain why:

Affordable home starts         2009/10

Social Rent                          34,492

Affordable Rent                         ***

Intermediate rent                   3,581

Affordable Home Ownership 10,844

Total                                   53,917

=

Affordable homes starts      2016/17

Social rent                             944

Affordable rent                   26,716

Intermediate rent                      24

Affordable ownership          10,301

Total                                  37,985


In Parliament/ Brexit

The election was called by Theresa May in the belief that it would lead to a substantial Conservative majority. Instead it resulted in a hung Parliament, a £1bn deal to secure the support of the DUP and the ditching of much of the Conservative Party manifesto. The recent Queen’s Speech, which (unusally) sets out the government’s programme for the next two years, is now very light on everything apart from Brexit. We can therefore expect the Repeal Bill to take up most of our time in Parliament. I am, however in no doubt that concerns about a ‘hard Brexit’ are growing, and were a major issue in the election, especially in London, and certainly in Westminster North. Leaving the Single Market in particular, could be a huge blow to our public finances and make it far harder for us to be able to pay for vital public services.

This is why I backed an amendment to the Queen’s Speech and co-signed a letter setting out my reasons for a continued rejection of a ‘hard Brexit’ and my support for our remaining in the Single Market. You can read that letter here.

The Government have now also put forward their proposal for EU citizens living in Britain. I am in the process of preparing a survey to find out what people think of that offer, so please look out for it over the next few weeks. I really appreciate your views.


Local round up

Raising crime and policing issues

Along with other London MPs, I met the new Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, this week, and raised with her our local concerns about moped crime ( a particular issue at the moment around Maida Vale/Warwick Avenue, though Abbey Road residents have also now written to me about it), worries about the rise in hate crime, and serious youth violence. We also had a wider discussion about resources, counter terrorism and the impact on the police of serious mental health problems.

On present trends, the Met Police budget is set to fall by a further £400m , having already been cut by £600m, so the police service remains under real financial pressure. Although crime overall has been on a very long-term downward trend, the issues listed above are all very real challenges in London, which has seen a rise in violent crime in particular over the last year.


 

The state of our streets

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Regular readers/those who follow me on Twitter will know that I am obsessed with over-flowing bins, dumping and rubbish on the streets. Although there have been cuts to the service, it is also apparent that there is too little enforcement against dumping (such as after flat clearance) and there are definite variations in the service across Westminster. I will keep pressing on this, but do please keep contacting me with your examples!


Improving air quality

We need a new Clean Air Act to help us improve the quality of our increasingly toxic London air.  In the meantime, we can all get behind this important Westminster Council campaign:

I pledge not to idle

Did you know that by simply turning off your engine you can help to reduce asthma, heart disease and lung cancer?

Westminster is an amazing, vibrant place, with all the hustle and bustle you would expect at the centre of a truly global city. However, Westminster suffers from the worst air pollution in the country.

Car Idling contributes to premature deaths and health issues in Westminster.  If everyone makes a small change, it will help make a BIG difference.

Please sign the pledge on the right today to support the #DontBeIdle campaign.


Funding for local services

Increasingly, residents come to Councillors, or to me, to express concerns about the quality and availability of services. I share their frustration.  I thought it might be helpful to share this table which gives some context - the amount by which councils have had their government grant cut since 2010.

With funding set to fall further under current plans, it is no surprise that the Conservative Leader of the Local Government Association this week warned that “The money local government has for vital day to day services is fast running out”. These services include (or in some cases, included, past tense) Social Care and Youth Services, street cleaning and environmental health, libraries and Children’s Services. This decline is not healthy, right or sustainable.

England: Real-terms change in local government service spending by LA decile of grant dependence, 2009-10 to 2016-17

Figures in £s, thousands, 2016-17 prices

 

 

Local authority

Total service spending 2016-17

Total service spending 2009-10

Cut 2009-10 to 2016-17

City of London

                84,140

                84,083

0%

Westminster

              222,565

              413,130

-46%

Wandsworth

              219,308

              340,860

-36%

Tower Hamlets

              327,564

              450,205

-27%

Newham

              288,990

              417,948

-31%

Hackney

              279,090

              431,229

-35%

Southwark

              323,087

              491,567

-34%

Lambeth

              336,056

              458,868

-27%

Greenwich

              273,193

              372,590

-27%

Lewisham

              275,835

              409,459

-33%

Manchester

              429,312

              685,822

-37%

Barking & Dagenham

              169,424

              253,611

-33%

Islington

              249,418

              350,090

-29%

Hammersmith & Fulham

              185,085

              299,678

-38%

Camden

              245,919

              403,014

-39%

Brent

              276,281

              405,271

-32%

Knowsley

              135,402

              208,317

-35%

Waltham Forest

              228,724

              314,126

-27%

Haringey

              254,849

              387,121

-34%

Liverpool

              446,193

              605,856

-26%

Leicester City UA

              254,209

              310,236

-18%

 


Getting out and about at summer events

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Thankfully a number of local events have still been running over the last few weeks, and I’ve tried to get to as many as possible. These have included:

• The Interfaith Iftar at the Regent’s Park Cultural Heritage Centre

• The South East Bayswater Resident’s Association Summer Party

•  The Westbourne community festival

And maybe see you at the WECH summer festival this weekend.

Grenfell showed us the importance of being good neighbours and what communities can do working together. Let’s keep that spirit going!


 Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

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Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk

Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.

July 2017 E-Newsletter

July 2017 E-Newsletter I wanted to write straight after the election to say how grateful I was to the voters of Westminster North for electing me to Parliament once more...

Dear all,

Tomorrow is election day and this is just to remind you:

a)  You don’t need a polling card! If you have it, fine - but it is not essential.

b)  If you are not sure where your polling station is, you can search here

Six weeks ago I wrote to say what I thought this election was going to be about.

Called by the Prime Minister three years earlier than necessary, it was supposed to be all about giving Theresa May backing for her Brexit strategy.

The election hasn’t turned out the way anyone expected.

Despite the central importance of Brexit to our national story, and the huge damage a ‘hard Brexit’ will inflict on jobs and the economy, there has been too little time devoted to this topic.

Much of the early part of the campaign was dominated by the Conservative proposal for a ‘dementia tax’.

Then, inevitably and rightly, the horrors of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London have meant grief, outrage and a recognition of the need to look again at how we tackle violent extremism. It has been extraordinary to see the unity expressed across communities in both cities - exemplified in the leadership given here by Mayor Sadiq Khan - in the face of these attacks, rejecting extremism and intolerance. Action will need to follow, but specific policy responses are not best forged in the heat of the last hours of an election campaign.

One thing is clear - our politics may be far from perfect but we have a democracy worth cherishing. We have the right to choose who represents us, and to question and challenge our leaders. And it is absolutely right that there should be robust debate about the issues that matter to us.

I want to see a change of direction in our country.

I am strongly opposed to a ‘hard Brexit’ and believe our partnership with Europe is a force for good for this country.

I don’t want cuts to our school budgets or our youth service.

I do want to see genuinely affordable homes for sale and rent, not just more and more luxury flats.

I want a properly funded NHS, and social care which doesn’t involve only those unlucky enough to be affected by particular health conditions, like dementia, having to fund with their homes.

I want to support our police, security and intelligence services with the resources they need, and don’t accept that this means abandoning human rights laws that are central to our British values.

And even though I would love you to vote for me (obviously!), I hope you will take part tomorrow whoever you choose to support.

Best wishes,

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Karen Buck

Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Westminster North

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/KarenBuck4WN/

Promoted by Andy Whitley on behalf of Karen Buck, both at 4G Shirland Mews, London, W9 3DY.

A message from Karen Buck

Dear all, Tomorrow is election day and this is just to remind you: a)  You don’t need a polling card! If you have it, fine - but it is not...

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What this election is about

It’s about our future relationship with Europe- but much more besides

Here in Westminster North, electors voted to ‘remain’ by a margin of more than two to one. Since then local people have never stopped expressing their concerns to me- about the risk to jobs, businesses and prosperity of a ‘hard Brexit’ or, worse, ending up in 2 years with no deal at all, facing tariffs and other trade barriers with our nearest neighbours and biggest trade partner. I think Brexit- and in particular the most extreme and damaging version now being pushed- out of the single market, out of the customs union- is bad for our economy and our country. I understand, too, the reasons that drove many people to vote 'leave'- but of course no-one, whichever side they were on last year, voted to be poorer as a result.

Many people have been horrified by the plight of EU residents here and Britons living in Europe, who have built their lives on a foundation that’s now been removed from under them. These people should not become ‘bargaining chips’ in the EU negotiations. They deserve to have their positions settled as a matter of urgency. Sadly, there has also been a rise in hate crime and intolerance since last year; totally out of keeping with our values as an open, safe and diverse city, and that is something we can unite against and declare wholly unacceptable.

I voted against the triggering of the Article 50 Bill in Parliament because I was not prepared to accept the risks that Brexit poses for local people, who had, after all, decisively rejected this outcome.

Since the referendum I have also been supporting the case for:

  • Maintenance of barrier-free access to the single market;
  • Retaining all the rights - workers’, environmental and human - we currently enjoy as members of the EU;
  • The rights of EU residents in this country;
  • A close, collaborative future partnership with the EU;
  • A meaningful vote on the final deal at the end of the Article 50 negotiations- not a ‘take it or leave it’ vote which is no real choice

The Tories used their Commons majority to vote down our amendments to the Article 50 Bill, but I will continue to press these demands and to oppose a hard Brexit. 

Let be me clear, if the deal which will be negotiated over the coming 2 years does not deliver for the people of this country I will vote against it.

I’m willing to fight this election on the question of Europe and the crucial importance of not allowing what happens next to be waved through Parliament by an anti-European Conservative party.

But I also want it to be about more than that.

A society such as ours should be able to guarantee a decent quality of life for all and to make the investment- in educating our young people as much as in homes and transport- which will lay the foundations for the future. Of course, as the Conservatives have already threatened, turning us into a global tax haven and slashing protection for workers and consumers will permanently cut our ability to deliver decent services and support for the vulnerable. We must not go down that path. But even before we face any such choices, there are still decisions we can make about which way we want to go as a country.

Spending cuts hit schools for the first time in decades

Government plans to move education funding away from London, together with a funding squeeze overall, will take £7 million out of Westminster school budgets. Not every school is equally hard hit but many primary and secondary schools will lose huge sums. Westminster secondary school heads have written to me to warn, “many of the gains made in Westminster Schools will be at risk”.

London’s deepening housing crisis

Homelessness has risen 130% since 2010. That was not inevitable - in the previous ten years under Labour it fell by three quarters. But this is only the worst symptom of the housing crisis, which sees developers building luxury blocks for sale overseas, while local people cannot afford to rent or buy anything in the borough.

The government will not build affordable homes, will not give meaningful help to lower income people seeking to get onto the housing ladder and will not tackle the high rents and low standards in the private rented sector. All around we can see evidence of luxury flats under construction whilst long-term residents, including many doing the work that keeps the city going, are being priced out.

Our health and social care services

This has been the worst winter for the NHS in many years, as it suffers the biggest financial squeeze in its history. The Imperial Hospital Trust was deeply in deficit in 2016, and I am hearing more and more stories of lengthening waits and cancellations. The deep cuts to social care for elderly and disabled people - down by a third in Westminster - are trapping people in hospitals who should be able to be cared for at home, and this has backed up into problems across the whole hospital service.

And there are lots of specific local issues too.

As your MP I have never stopped campaigning and assisting local people with their concerns. In the last year alone I have responded to over 6000 problems or policy enquiries. And in the last two years I have worked on issues from the threatened closure of St John’s Wood Post Office to the ending of all council funding for Westminster’s youth service and after-school clubs, from fly-tipping to air quality, from basement excavations to the impact of short-lets and from support for our Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams to help for people facing the loss of disability benefits.

I’ll be out talking to residents from now till polling day, but you don’t have to wait until I knock on your door, though. Let me know about what matters most to you - I’ll be pleased to hear from you!

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk


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Spring Newsletter

What this election is about It’s about our future relationship with Europe- but much more besidesHere in Westminster North, electors voted to ‘remain’ by a margin of more than two...

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