June 2018 E-Newsletter
High rise fire safety - a year on from Grenfell
We have reached the first anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, and grieve again for the 72 people who died, as well as those who were injured and bereaved in the worst residential fire in modern British history. The horror of the fire, the shambles of the aftermath, the failure to adequately house all those made homeless is rightly the focus of our immediate attention. However, tens, if not hundreds of of thousands of people living in high-rise buildings nationwide have also been affected and, as it has become increasingly clear that many of the assumptions that had been made about fire-safety were wrong, the implications will be felt for many years to come. Thankfully, Westminster has taken action to remove cladding from the six 20-storey block Little Venice estate (which most of us know as the Warwick estate) but across the country, progress in removing cladding from tower blocks has been painfully slow. It was only last week - 12 months after the Grenfell disaster- that the government finally committed to providing money for cash-strapped councils to make progress on fire safety without compromising other vital repairs and maintenance work. Meanwhile, we *still* don’t how many private blocks are affected, nor where the (disputed) responsibility will lay for paying to remove cladding in leasehold blocks. Although we will not know for certain how the Grenfell fire spread in the way it did until the official inquiry reports, there is no reason to delay making progress either on improving fire safety in existing blocks, or making sure that flammable cladding is never again used in new buildings. Even the fact that this second point has to be made is astounding, yet the recent report into building regulations post-Grenfell by Dame Judith Hackitt did not go that far, prompting a storm of outrage, and a hurried promise by the Government to consult on a ban after all.
I wrote an article for the Guardian in response to the Hackitt report, explaining why a ban on the use of flammable building materials may not be enough, but is an essential starting point. You can read it here.
Along with ward Councillors, I have been kept closely informed of Westminster Council’s actions on fire safety locally, and have, of course, pressed the Government on funding support and clarity around the legal issues, such as those relating to leasehold properties and the installation of sprinklers. Do feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions I may be able to help with.
As I have said on many previous occasions, I deeply regret the outcome of the referendum and am absolutely clear that it is in Britain’s best interests to minimise the damaging consequences by negotiating to remain within the Single Market and the Customs Union. Worryingly, however, over the last couple of months, the negotiations over how we leave have once again become bogged down in attempts to finalise outstanding areas of disagreement in relation to the divorce settlement. The question of how to avoid a hard border in Ireland goes to the heart of the problem. It was set aside in March but the current impasse will have to be overcome soon if the negotiations are not to stall or even break down entirely. The EU has been clear that sufficient progress has to be made on the border issue by the EU Council summit in late June, in advance of a solution being agreed at the October Council summit. This is itself the final such summit before the draft withdrawal agreement must begin its process of ratification in both Europe and the UK.
There is no solution to the Irish border issue that does not involve some form of customs union between the EU and the UK. That is because without a customs arrangement that ensures no tariffs, differences in cross-border VAT, customs checks or rules of origins checks (as well as the need for regulatory alignment in other areas currently facilitated by our participation in the single market) infrastructure would have to be placed on the border. Imperilling the basis of the Good Friday Agreement.
In February, Labour put forward a new, comprehensive UK-EU customs union as a negotiating priority. But the Conservatives have refused to soften their red line in this area and are now gripped by an internal argument between two customs arrangement options that they first outlined in a ‘Future Partnership’ paper published on 15 August, but which we have known for some time are not feasible or practical. The first is a ‘customs partnership’ between the EU and UK. It is untried and untested. By the Government’s own admission, it would take at least five years to implement and it would be ripe for abuse. It was roundly rejected by the EU last year, not least because it would require EU member states to completely reconfigure their own national customs systems. The idea is not simply “blue sky thinking”, as the Secretary of State described it in September last year; it is pie-in-the-sky thinking. For once, Boris Johnson is right – the idea is “crazy”.
The second is a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” or what has recently been badged as ‘max fac’. This position would involve both sides agreeing to implement a range of measures to minimise frictions to trade, together with specific provisions for Northern Ireland. It would therefore require a range of measures, including unproven “technology-based solutions”. According to the Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it would take three years to put in place and would still result in friction on our borders. As he made clear recently when giving evidence to the Treasury select committee, it would also create extra bureaucracy that could cost business up to £20bn a year!
In her Mansion House speech in March, the Prime Minister claimed that both these customs arrangement options were serious and merited consideration, but they were nonetheless widely derided. The EU immediately ruled both out as non-starters which makes it even more incredible that the Cabinet continue to discuss both options as if they were realistic propositions. Meanwhile, time is running out- hence the suggestion that the Government may look to negotiate customs and regulatory alignment beyond the currently envisaged transition period up until 2023 – an option that was again immediately ruled out by the EU who maintain that a ‘stand still’ transition must be comprehensive (i.e. including continued participation in the single market and with full ECJ jurisdiction).
The truth is that the Government have absolutely no idea about what to do about the issue of customs and the Irish border. The fall-back that surfaced in the EU Commission draft legal text published on 28 February—namely, that Northern Ireland should go into a customs union with the south and that the UK border should be shifted to somewhere in the Irish sea—is clearly unacceptable. The Prime Minister quite rightly made it clear that no UK Prime Minister could accept such an outcome. Hence, the Irish border issue remains unresolved.
Last week, the Prime minister announced plans to publish yet another Brexit white paper, setting out for the first time in detail (and over a year after triggering Article 50) what Britain is seeking from its future relationship with the EU. That would suggest she finally plans to make a choice, but it doesn’t mean that the Cabinet is united on the issue, and there will first have to be agreement on what to put in the policy document, including a plan for a future customs relationship!
VOTING ON THE LORDS AMENDMENTS TO THE EU WITHDRAWAL BILL
This is how I have responded to people writing to me about the EU Withdrawal Bill - as of Tuesday afternoon!
The House of Lords defeated the Government fifteen times during the Lords stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, and it is these fifteen amendments we voted on this week. I supported them in the Commons. Many of the amendments build on those we pressed in the Commons during the Bill’s Committee Stage, including amendments relating to a customs union, enhanced protection of existing rights and protections, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, limiting the scope of the sweeping delegated powers in the Bill, and guaranteeing a meaningful vote on the draft withdrawal agreement. The most important one is, in my view, that granting Parliament a meaningful vote on the final deal in the autumn. We cannot be presented with a choice between a poor deal and a catastrophic ‘no deal’ scenario, for which the Government has not prepared and which would have devastating consequences for jobs and communities. Given the extent to which ‘taking back control’ was a key theme for those campaigning for a ‘leave’ vote in the 2016 referendum, I am less than convinced by those who now argue that Parliament should not assert its right to shape this most important of decisions.
I strongly believed that it is in our national interest to remain within the EU, and campaigned for that result in the referendum. The next best alternative is for us to remain part of the Customs Union and the Single Market, and I will be supporting those Lords amendments which come closest to securing those objectives, including the amendment on the EEA. The Government has proposed a compromise on the Custom Union to buy off their rebels, so it may be that the crunch vote on this will come later, when the Customs Bill and the Trade Bills return to the Commons in the next few weeks. It is worth saying, however, that the only way any amendment would be successful is if (almost) all opposition MPs and around 10-15 Conservative MP rebels vote in favour.
(NB Since drafting this, we have had the first batch of votes and lost each one. Importantly, the government appears to have made a concession to their backbenches regarding Dominic Grieve’s proposal for a version of the ‘meaningful vote’ in order to avoid defeat, and we can now expect a fresh vote next week. We will have to see whether it represents something substantial or whether the putative rebels lost their best opportunity earlier today..)
In addition, you may be interested to know that I raised these specific points on the two recent occasions on which I had a Question to the Prime Minister:
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)
Q14. We must continue to have the closest possible relationship with the single market if we are to avoid taking a major hit on our economy, but time is rapidly running out for us to negotiate a bespoke new deal. What possible reason can there be for the Prime Minister not giving Members of Parliament the earliest possible opportunity to vote in this place on the European economic area? 
The Prime Minister
This House has had and will continue to have many opportunities to debate these issues in relation to the European Union and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with it. There will be not only the meaningful vote that has been promised, but the voting on the European withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill that will come before this House and on a number of other relevant Bills for our Brexit.
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)
Q10. Ministers will today discuss the two customs arrangement proposals first put forward last August. The first is untried and untested. The second relies on unproven technology. In any event, neither will be ready by the time they are needed, and both have been written off in Europe. Why, with just six months to go before a draft Brexit deal is signed off, are the Government still considering options that we all know are not feasible? 
The Prime Minister
We are very clear that we are going to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. We will be leaving the customs union, and we want to ensure that we can have an independent trade policy. We also want to ensure that we deliver—we are committed to delivering—on our commitment to having no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union. There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered—[Interruption.] There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered, and if the hon. Lady is so interested in the whole question of a customs border, she might like to ask her Front Bench to come to a decision on what the Labour party policy actually is on this.
The secret life of London’s mega-basements
I provided some information and comment on this fascinating recent study into London’s mega-basements, by the journalist David Batty. You can read the story here.
Maida Vale Studios - join the campaign
The BBC is to withdraw from and sell the historic Maida Vale Studios.
The BBC's Maida Vale building was acquired in response to the rapidly increasing requirements of broadcasting in the early 30s. Built in 1909, Maida Vale Studios were orginally the home of the Maida Vale Roller Skating Palace and Club, seating 2,650 people and proud possessor of its own orchestra balcony. The Palace only lasted three months however, and for the rest of the decade the building was occupied by a variety of companies.
In the 1930s it became home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but was also a standby centre of the BBC radio news service during the Second World War. Like Broadcasting House, the site had to be repaired after taking a direct hit during the London Blitz. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, still uses the Maida Vale studios for both performances and recordings of classical music. It can hold more than 150 musicians, a choir of over 100 and an audience of 220. Overall, the building houses a total of seven music and radio drama studios. Outside its classical music remit, it was famously home to John Peel's BBC Radio 1 Peel Sessions, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, famed for its realisation of the Doctor Who theme tune. In 1994, the Beatles album 'Live at the BBC' was released, with most of the material having been recorded at Maida Vale. Several other albums, sometimes named after the studios, were recorded in studio MV4. Van der Graaf Generator released an album called Maida Vale in 1994. Portions of October 1990 and September 1991 sessions by Nirvana were released in 2004 on the band's 'With the Lights Out' box set. In 2006 the group Hefner released an album called 'Maida Vale', which was recorded here. The White Stripes included their version of the Dusty Springfield classic 'I Don't Know What To Do With Myself', recorded for The Evening Session in MV4 by Miti Adhikari on their album 'Elephant'. In 2002 Andrea Bocelli's 'Sentomento' was made here. The label Maida Vale Records, a subsidiary of Cooking Vinyl, has a policy of releasing material from various radio stations.
Westminster Labour launches campaign to save BBC Maida Vale Studios
From the beginnings of radio through to rock and roll, Maida Vale has been at the heart of the nation’s cultural heritage. From the Beatles to Beyonce, every significant pop artist has recorded here. Not only that, the studios also welcomed classical music, light entertainment and the pioneering Radiophonic Workshop. It’s no surprise that every mention of the studios begins with the words iconic or legendary.
Councillor Geoff Barraclough , Labour Councillor for Maida Vale ward said:
“We are concerned that the BBC will try and demolish the Studios to build yet another row of soulless corporate apartments.
We need to safeguard London’s heritage and Maida Vale Studios need urgent protection
- Westminster Council should immediately designate the building an Asset of Community Value
- Historic England should list the building as soon as possible
If the BBC really are to leave, it’s important that the building is preserved and renovated. It should be put to a new use that fits its historic place in British popular culture and enriches the area in which it stands. This is public land. So, if any part of the site is used for housing, at least 50% must be affordable.
We are calling for the BBC to run a full consultation on the future of the Studios, soliciting ideas from the local community as well as the world of arts, theatre and music to create a new use for Maida Vale. This should take the building’s story forward and build on its legacy to create an iconic and legendary facility for future generations.”
If you are interested in knowing more and joining the campaign to save the Maida Vale studios, please just e-mail me back saying:
Save Maida Vale Studios
You can sign the petition here
I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, and our last meeting was dedicated to the impact of financial pressures in the criminal justice system.
The rule of law and access to justice are towering pillars of a healthy and functioning democracy. Yet, these principles and every aspect of the criminal justice system is under threat. Each week, we hear news of another trial collapsing due to lack of resources or cases being adjourned because of problems with the courts.
In 2016, MPs were told by the Public Accounts Committee that the Criminal Justice System was at breaking point. It has faced huge cuts in the fixed fees payable to those defence barristers who carry out publicly-funded work in the Crown Court under the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS); cuts that, proportionately, have far exceeded those imposed on public service providers in any other sector. These are the very same barristers who are working tirelessly under an ever-increasing workload for fees that haven’t changed over a twenty year period. Without their commitment, and their continued goodwill, the system that we are all so proud of, will cease to function. The result is that there are now real and pressing concerns about the viability and sustainability of practice for many at the Criminal Bar, and about whether the Bar will be able to continue to recruit and retain the practitioners needed to do this vital work for the future. Those from less privileged backgrounds, from different ethnicities must be able to see a viable future, a life for them, at the Criminal Bar in order for our Justice System to work properly.
In 2015 the Bar started to negotiate a new scheme for payment of fees with this Government, asking at the outset for further investment to be made in Legal Aid. The Government insisted throughout on “cost neutrality with the result that there is no provision for payment for consideration of disclosure under either the old or the proposed scheme and by 2019/20 there will be a £600m reduction in an already meagre and inadequate budget for the Ministry of Justice. In planning more cuts and bringing into the force the proposed fee scheme, Ministers are further crippling a legal system already on its knees and are doing members of the legal profession and the public a huge disservice.
With dumping and over-flowing bins becoming almost a fixture in parts of the borough, and especially around ‘hot spots’ in Maida Vale, Harrow Road and Queen’s Park, it is clear that we need more effective enforcement. Some of this dumping is done by local residents, of course, but the nature and scale of the problem also suggests that flat clearances are also a feature, possibly linked to the high turnover in our large stock of private rented properties. I have been complaining and asking for help from Westminster Council since 2015, but whatever is being done isn’t working.
The local Labour councillors have now put together a ’10 point plan’ to curb the fly-tippers. Let me know what you think- about the problem and possible solutions.
Labour launches 10-point plan to tackle rubbish dumping in Westminster
Labour Westminster Councillors have launched a 10-point plan to tackle the current dumping epidemic across Westminster.
Labour say that the current Council approach to tackling dumping needs to change to respond to the massive increase in furniture, household goods and other material being dumped on the streets.
In no particular order, Labour’s 10-point plan includes:
- Better ways of reporting dumping - the current Council ‘Report It’ system doesn’t really work with a mobile phone. One resident told us his experience:
“A month or so back I tried to report a litter problem in Park Street. The system defaulted to Hyde Park Street and nothing could get it to change to Park Street. I even exited and started again with same result. Consequence is I've given up am not likely to try again.”
Another resident said:
“It has a number of very irritating rules about how good my password should be. It asked for my national insurance number. Not sure why. Then you try and add a “case" and you can’t. It’s terrible at the moment. Problem with launching it half-cocked is that people will try it and then give up and never try it again. As there is little upside to reporting it needs to be easy to do. In any event, probably ought to be iOS app so that location is automatically reported and you can add a picture.”
- Monitoring Twitter posts - Twitter has been full of examples of rubbish dumping pictures across Westminster, often with the @CityWestminster address. But the Council’s twitter account is not monitored so no action is ever taken as a result. So, how about a Council-monitored Twitter account?
- Better enforcement - the current policy of ‘warning people’ isn’t working. The City Inspectors should be able take a much harder line. Fines are only given on the second offence, but this is treated as a first offence so there’s a 50% discount. The Council should make it clear that there is zero tolerance for dumping and should levy fines on the first offence and drop the 50% discount
- Weekend working - City Inspectors work Monday -Friday yet there’s no doubt that offending goes up at the weekend at the same time as the Council’s ability to enforce dumping takes a couple of days off. The Council needs to think smart - Perhaps the Council could empower Traffic Wardens to take photos and issue fines for those seen dumping?
- Improved publicity – The current ‘warning signs’ are simply ignored. The Council should introduce prominent signs with the following message "3 people were fined £150 this month for leaving rubbish here - don't dump". This would get across the message that people do get fined for dumping.
- Use cameras to identify the dumpers – CCTV cameras located at dumping ‘hotspots’ do stop dumping. There was a long-standing furniture dumping problem at the corner of Harrow Road and First Avenue which was stopped by locating a CCTV camera there. This should be the norm at all dumping ‘hotspots’
- Introduce a speedier bulky goods refuse collection service – currently residents wait up to 10 working days (2 weeks) for a collection. One resident wrote:
“I am trying to dispose of large items legally and responsibly using the Council, it is most unhelpful. Not only do Veolia (contacted via the Westminster council site) charge over £20 but they then refuse to pick up for over a fortnight, even though they take full payment at time of booking. No wonder people leave their unwanted furniture etc. all over the streets.”
Another resident tweeted:
“Recently booked bulky pickup thru Westminster site. Two minute process Easy. Got multiple texts as reminder of pickup too. Only downside was 1-2 week wait for collection.”
Expecting people to store unwanted beds and fridges for two weeks before they are collected by the Council is totally unreasonable and impractical for the vast majority of people. Most people living in flats do not have the space to store bulky goods. And these days, people expect a much swifter service than the Council is providing.
- Cut the cost of bulky goods collection – it currently costs £24 for 5 items plus £5 per additional item. Introducing a ‘first time free’ policy would surely encourage more people to have their rubbish collected?
- Introduce a Saturday service - Westminster does not have a ‘municipal tip’ where residents can take their recycling or bulky refuse. The nearest ‘tip’ is in Wandsworth at Smugglers Way. And while it might be convenient for those living in south Westminster it is not convenient for residents of Marylebone, St John’s Wood and Paddington
The Council should introduce a Saturday bulky waste service to enable residents to take their waste to a parked refuse freighter at a number of locations across Westminster. There could also be a smaller vehicle to collect electrical items and scrap metal, household appliances like cookers, fridge/freezers, washing machines, TV's, monitors and computers.
- Introduce a Landlord service - With the growth of renting and increasing turnover of tenants, many landlords take the opportunity of redecorating and providing new furniture when leases come to an end. The Council should provide a paid-for service for landlords to enable them to dispose of unwanted items when tenants are moving out. The Council can promote this through managing agents, housing associations and City West Homes
“The increase in rubbish dumping on the streets needs to be tackled head-on with more use of CCTV and tougher action against those responsible, together with improved services to give residents more options for getting their unwanted furniture collected. The Council also needs to improve its on-line reporting options so that action can be taken to deal with dumping issues quickly and effectively”
Let us know what you think.
A large number of constituents wrote to me to express their horror at the killings on the Israeli - Gaza border during the recent protests. I raised this in the Parliamentary statement:
Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North
The Minister speaks of balance, but no balance has been expressed by the US Administration, who have rightly condemned Hamas but said nothing about the carnage unleashed on civilians by the vastly superior IDF. The Minister has said that the UK disagrees with the United States Government’s position, but will he undertake to convey to them urgently the fact that their failure to be unequivocal and make absolutely clear that the level of violence was unacceptable will simply delay any political solution to this crisis?
Local people lose out as Housing Associations sell homes at auction
My analysis of sales at auction by some of our local Housing Associations formed part of a major story in this week’s Guardian:
"Housing Associations have made at least £82.3m from auctioning homes in five London boroughs since 2013, according to figures seen by the Guardian. Analysis by the Labour MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck, shows that Westminster, Brent, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea sold 153 properties at auction through Savills estate agents – with more than half in Westminster where sales totalled £36.4m. The true figures are likely to be much higher as the data only covers sales made by one agency. The auctions are part of a wider trend of some Housing Associations selling off social housing in expensive central London to fund new developments, which tenants say are unaffordable or far removed from their families, schools and work.
Buck says: “I’m dealing with a family who are statutorily overcrowded and in the highest medical priority and I haven’t been able to get them moved in over eight years. That’s because Housing Associations [in general] say they don’t have the stock in the area and yet they’re still selling off homes.”
Nationally, sales of Housing Association social homes to the private sector have more than tripled since 2001, with 3,891 social homes sold in 2016. Overall, more than 150,000 homes for social rent have been lost since 2012."
You can read the whole story here.
Air Quality Ultra Low Emission Zone
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has confirmed the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone up to North and South Circular roads from 25 October 2021. Strict emission standards will also apply to buses, coaches and lorries across the whole of London from 26 October 2020. Both schemes will lead to emission reductions across London and more than 100,000 residents no longer living in areas exceeding legal air quality limits in 2021. The ULEZ is to begin in Central London from 8th April 2019. It will cover an area 18 times larger than the Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone and will affect large numbers of polluting vehicles that don’t comply with strict emission standards. It is estimated that 100,000 cars, 35,000 vans and 3,000 lorries might be affected by the expanded zone and tighter standards every day.
These bold measures will deliver a major improvement to Londoners health by reducing the toxic air quality that is currently responsible for thousands of premature deaths and other serious conditions. Research demonstrates these effects disproportionately impact the poorest Londoners.
Recent studies by the University of Oxford have shown the health damage from cars and vans costs £6 billion annually to the NHS and society, with the bill from London vehicles totalling £650 million a year.
Expanding the ULEZ beyond Central London and strict standards for heavy vehicles across London will result in more than 100,000 Londoners no longer living in areas exceeding legal air quality limits in 2021, a reduction of nearly 80 per cent compared to without expansion. All areas of London are expected to see reductions in pollution, including on the North and South Circular Roads and only 4 per cent of roads in Outer London are expected to exceed legal limits in 2021.
The expanded zone will be managed in the same way as the Central London ULEZ, which is being delivered in April 2019, 17 months earlier than planned and will operate on top of the Congestion Charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Drivers within the expanded zone using non-compliant vehicles will pay a daily ULEZ charge of £12.50, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These include:
- motorbikes that do not meet Euro 3 standards
- petrol cars and vans that do not meet Euro 4 standards (roughly the equivalent to not being more than fifteen years old for cars in 2021)
- diesel cars and vans that do not meet Euro 6 standards (roughly the equivalent to not being more than six years old for cars in 2021)
Across London diesel buses, coaches and lorries will need to meet the Euro 6 standard.
Following an extensive consultation, the Mayor will also tighten the standards for the most polluting heavy vehicles including buses, coaches and lorries across the whole of London from October 2020, using the same boundary as the existing Low Emission Zone.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Tackling London’s lethal air and safeguarding the health of Londoners requires bold action. Air pollution is a national health crisis and I refuse to stand back as thousands of Londoners breathe in air so filthy that it shortens our life expectancy, harms our lungs and worsens chronic illness.
“I promised hard-hitting measures to tackle our shameful air pollution and today City Hall is confirming the next stage of our plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone up to the North and South Circular roads.
“We’re doing everything in our power to tackle this issue and are starting to see improvements in air quality with the wide-ranging action we’ve taken already on tackling the most polluting cars, and cleaning up our bus and taxi fleet. An expanded Ultra-Low Emission Zone, in conjunction with the Central London ULEZ, will really help transform the air that millions of Londoners breathe.
“Some motorists will need help switching to greener transport options, which is why City Hall are urging Ministers to deliver a diesel scrappage scheme to get the dirtiest cars off our roads and offer drivers a fair deal, especially the many diesel drivers who brought vehicles thinking they were more environmentally friendly after Government advice.”
The public consultation on expanding the ULEZ standards was the largest ever recorded by TfL and showed staunch support for the Mayor’s proposals, with 56 per cent supporting or strongly supporting the expansion of the ULEZ boundary from Central London and 74 per cent backing the new London-wide emissions standards for heavy vehicles.
The Mayor listened carefully to feedback through the consultation and has decided to give disabled tax class vehicles and specially adapted private hire vehicles until October 2025 to replace their vehicles. This gives these vehicles an extra 6.5 years from the start of the central London ULEZ or 4 years from the start of the expanded ULEZ to comply. Similarly, charities have been given a longer period of time to replace existing minibuses. They will have a two-year sunset until October 2023.
Sadiq has already strengthened the ULEZ standards to include a particulate matter standard after recent health data revealed that every part of London exceeds recommended World Health Organisation air quality guidelines for PM2.5.
by a further 28 per cent across London, so this expansion is a huge step towards protecting the health of all Londoners.”
The Mayor is working with TfL to ensure London’s public transport lead the way in low emissions. TfL is no longer procuring double-deck pure-diesel buses and instead only procuring hybrid, electric or hydrogen buses, with all buses meeting the new standards across London by 2020. TfL will only allow new taxis in London that are zero-emission capable and newly manufactured private hire vehicles will need to follow suit from 2020.
The Mayor also announced he is supporting a major new study into the health benefits of reducing toxic air pollution on more than 3,000 primary school children in polluted areas of London and Luton. Research has found that some children in London are breathing in air so damaging that it is affecting the development of their lungs.
The study will test how policies like the Ultra-Low Emission Zone can improve the growth of children’s lungs and reduce chest symptoms, comparing London children whose schools are placed within the ULEZ zone with children in Luton whose schools are in traffic-restricted zones.
Local Round Up
Support your local youth services
Any donation you make towards the @AvenuesYouth79 between 11th (today) and the 15th (Friday) of June your #Donation will be #Doubled by @ChildhoodTrust as part of their #SummerGive18 #RT
Some of the other issues my staff and I have been dealing with recently include:
1. Taking up the concerns about the impact of delivery vehicles in Monmouth Road, Bayswater.
2. Illegal parking and inadequate lighting in Elmfield Way, where there continues to be a dispute between Westminster Council and the NHS over the ‘adoptions’ of the road, and therefore where the responsibility lies for management and upkeep.
3. The poor state of the playground in Alfred Road, next to Westminster Academy.
4. I joined the Paddington Law Centre on the annual ‘Legal Walk’, helping raise money for their essential advice and advocacy services.
5. The children from Edward Wilson school designed my Eid card for 2018 (they’ll also be designing my Christmas card), so I popped in to hand out some prizes and subject myself to a gruelling hour of tough questions!
6. The fourth of our ‘round-table’ sessions to prepare for the local roll-out of Universal Credit brought together housing providers, advice agencies, Shelter, the Council and the DWP to share contacts and try and iron out problems in advance. It’s going to be really important that anyone experiencing difficulties gets help as early as possible so please use my office as well as Citizen’s Advice, Z2K and others if you need assistance.
7. A trip last weekend to the ‘Kindred Studios’ open day was a revelation! This project has taken over the now vacant former City of Westminster College site in Saltram Crescent, W9 and opened their doors so local people could see the incredible work being done by small creative businesses. The founder/Chief Executive has now written to me with more information:
After a two and a half years in a 14,000 sq ft building in Ladbroke Grove, we lost our lease and moved our 90 members to a newly vacated site belonging to City of Westminster College. The new larger site offered the possibility to expand our project which now includes 175 artists (mostly living within a 2 mile radius of studios), a professional development programme for college students aimed at giving students hands on real life experience of the creative industries and a community engagement programme which involves our neighbouring families and schools.
We are now working with 4 local primary schools, offering a whole variety of very engaging hands-on workshops delivered by our own resident artists and are building a community garden in which we can further extend our educational offer
I have 850 applications from local artists and more coming in every day. Our mailing list is growing and we are attracting the attention of other creative businesses who want to support us. Maida Hill is, indeed West London is, a buoyant creative neighbourhood and I feel that what we are doing here is really needed on so many levels.
Wishing everyone celebrating today ‘Eid Mubarak’
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
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.
June 2018 E-Newsletter High rise fire safety - a year on from Grenfell We have reached the first anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, and grieve again for the 72 people...
April 2018 E-Newsletter
The treatment of the ‘Windrush generation’
Westminster is one of the most diverse areas in the world. Being both inner city and the heart of a successful global metropolis, it has always been one of the ‘areas of arrival’ for new communities - from Ireland, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh - and a place where people from all over the world base themselves for work, study and leisure. We have one of the largest numbers of nationals from other EU countries living here, and many people are here for both the short and long term from all points of the globe. Whilst no society is perfect, and the financial squeeze on public services and affordable housing has taken its toll, I think we can be genuinely proud of our history of tolerant co-existence, and recognise the massive benefits, economic and cultural - there are in being an open city. Amongst many other examples, our NHS and care services rely on the contributions of doctors, nurses and other workers from abroad and would not function without them.
Yet we do now also have to confront head on the fact that hate crimes have risen in the last two years, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia and that many EU nationals feel less welcome than before the referendum. Very recently it has also become clear that the government’s ‘hostile environment’ in respect of migration has led specifically to some shocking examples of deportation and denial of services to long-standing residents from the Caribbean (the ‘Windrush generation’) and more generally to a risk that people in need are being denied the ability to get health care, access housing and so on. There must be rules governing immigration and these should be enforced so people have confidence in them, but this needs to be done with sensitivity and common sense.
I am horrified by these developments, not simply because of the incredibly harsh treatment being meted out to many older people who have lived and worked in this country for years in the firm belief that this is their home, but because the signals are sending ripples of fear far wider and that is deeply sad.
- Supported the letter to the Prime Minister in defence of the ‘Windrush Generation’ which you can see below
- Contributed to the Parliamentary statement on Windrush
- Continue to be delighted to try and answer individual questions and wherever I can help people of all communities with concerns or practical problem
- I am also concerned that EU residents who have been seeking reassurance about their future status and the process of confirming this after Brexit, will be even more anxious and I will be raising this in Parliament as well.
I remain as concerned as ever - more so, as the clock ticks down - about the risks of a ‘hard Brexit’ and the damage this will do Britain. I have always been clear that there must be a meaningful vote on the final deal. That means it cannot be a ‘Hobson’s choice’/’take it or leave it’- the draft withdrawal agreement as presented or no deal, meaning the hardest of departures. If Parliament rejects the deal, Parliament must then determine the way forward in the first instance but this could well mean a further public vote, either in the form of a referendum or another General Election.
I believe as many options as possible should be left on the table to help us resolve this exceptionally difficult situation we are now in and I am absolutely not ruling anything out. It is, however, now hard to see when, practically, a second referendum could actually take place on the final deal. The Article 50 negotiations are likely to go down to the wire and we cannot have a referendum on a negotiation that is still taking place. Neither are the EU 27 going to give the UK an extra 2-3 months outside the Article 50 process to hold a second referendum (as you may know, I voted against triggering Article 50 last year because I was so concerned by the constraint it impaired). There will simply be no opportunity for a referendum to take place on the final terms of withdrawal before the UK has left the EU. It is my belief that only Parliament is in a position to have the final say on the final deal and, as a result of Amendment 7 being passed, we’ll now have one.
I would not support a deal which did not meet the tests we have set:
Our six tests for Brexit and the final deal:
- Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
- Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and the Customs Union?
- Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
- Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
- Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
- Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
Let me emphasise again I am absolutely not ruling anything out, and there must be a public say in what happens next.
Many of you wrote to me about the conflict in Syria and I have written a response which you can see here.
I also contributed to the Parliamentary statement pressing for tougher action to be taken against the Syrian regime and its backers in respect of sanctions and access to the international banking system.
I wrote about anti-Semitism last month, making clear that my view is that anti-Semitism is racism and has no place in our politics. I have now met with some of our local Rabbis to pledge my support to the community and to hear their concerns, and I am extremely grateful to them for this dialogue. I am pleased to serve as a Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Jews and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism. We have to be judged on actions not just words, but language does matter, of course, and I agree with what Jeremy Corbyn said in his Evening Standard article;
“When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties we must recognise them as we would those of any other community. Their concerns are not “smears”."
You can read the whole article here.
I took part in this ‘Radio 5 Live investigates’ special on short lets last week:
Holiday Letting Fire Safety
5 live Investigates
Senior fire officers are warning of potential safety risks as more and more people let out their houses to tourists through Airbnb and other short term letting websites. The National Fire Chiefs Council says fire and rescue services are not aware of how many short term rental properties are operating in their areas, making it hard for them to assess possible risks. It says some of these properties are being used in effect as small hotels, but if fire officers don't know where places are they can't inspect or give owners advice to ensure buildings are safe.
MPs have called for all properties operating in this way to be registered.
The Short Term Accommodation Association, the professional body for the short let sector, says it has adopted the safety standards of the residential long let industry. It says in instances where those standards are not being met it addresses them with urgency.
You can listen here.
I’m also about to host a roundtable with Airbnb and other providers to urge all those which don’t automatically enforce the 90-day limit on hosts to join Airbnb in doing so.
Tackling the latest rise in serious youth violence
There has been a sharp rise in violent crime and serious youth violence in the last year, not only in London but across the country. Worryingly, three young people have been stabbed in North Westminster in the last two weeks. The reasons for this, some 6 years after the last such peak, are complex- some of it at least may be linked to the development of ‘country lines’, which is the term used to describe how London-based drugs suppliers sell Class A drugs in other parts of the country. I attended, and contributed to, the City Hall summit with the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary, which discussed not just policing but prevention and access to mental health services for some very damaged young people. It would be wrong just to say that cuts, including cuts in policing - we have over 21,000 police in England since 2010 - are responsible for this latest problem, since we had higher police levels during the last crisis. However, I firmly believe that having reduced Safer Neighbourhood Police teams and Youth Services make dealing with it much harder.
Scandal of closed children’s centres
More and more evidence comes forward about the importance of ‘early help’ for families and children, and how it prevents problems further down the line. Sadly, our Children’s Centres have, like our youth clubs in Westminster, had their funding cut dramatically. This one in Westbourne is closed and padlocked, despite it having served one of the poorest wards in the whole country
Local round up
Several patients of this surgery contacted me about their concerns, including lengthy waits for appointments. I took this up with the Clinical Commissioning Group and have had this response:
The Clinical Commissioning Group are aware of issues at this practice, including in the recruitment of a salaried GP – an all too common feature these days I’m afraid because of the workload and day to day pressures, particularly in central London. They have followed up with the surgery who is fully aware of the problems with waiting times for routine appointments and is urgently recruiting a further salaried GP. Unfortunately there has been a combination of sickness absence, maternity leave and staff annual leave which together have all coincided to compound the staffing issues at the practice. The Practice Manager is confident that employing another salaried GP will ease the problems they are experiencing but the CCG will continue to monitor the situation. As in all cases, we do recommend that patients raise formal complaints with the practice, if this hasn’t been done already, so that these can be investigated and recorded. This also helps NHS England in its performance monitoring role of general practice.
Meeting the new Lords Chief Executive
I was really pleased to meet Guy Lavender, the new Chief Executive of the Marylebone Cricket Club last week. We talked about making sure the neighbouring community remains happy with the impact of the club, and the commitment to extending outreach and community access to sports facilities.
Lisson Green Estate Residents
Together with Church Street Ward councillors, I attended the annual meeting of the Lisson Green Tenant’s and Resident’s Association in early April. These meetings are always well attended, but unfortunately this year after the call centre was introduced last summer, the change in contractors and the closure of a number of estate offices, there were many more complaints than usual about City West Homes and the repairs service.
Supporting the Westminster Young Foundation
The Young Foundation was set up after Westminster Council withdrew all financial support from the Youth Service, and is exploring new ways to try and get investment into this vital area. I was delighted to co-host (with Mark Field MP) a reception for the Young Foundation in the Jubilee Room in Parliament, where businesses and funders were invited to hear about the good work being done and the very high levels of need in the borough.
Getting ready for Universal Credit
It’s been great to work closely with local advice providers and others to share information and try and get everyone well prepared for the roll-out of Universal Credit, the new benefit replacing many existing benefits this summer in Westminster. I’ve been organising meetings jointly with Mark Field, with the latest one also involving a number of housing providers, as the housing payments system has caused a number of problems in other areas as it starts and we want to avoid those as much as possible. We’ll be meeting again with the DWP soon to carry on this preparation.
It is absolutely essential that anyone moving onto Universal Credit who finds themselves in difficulties gets advice as quickly as possible and my staff and I will work together with the agencies involved to do all we can to help.
Westminster Citizens Advice Bureau
21a Conduit Place, Paddington, London, W2 1HS
Tel: 0300 330 1191
Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
For finance, benefits and debt advice
10 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0QP
Tel: 0207 2590 801
May 3rd is Local Election Day
Please don’t forget to use your (3) votes on Thursday May 3rd in the local council elections. These elections are crucial in deciding who represents you on Westminster Council so don’t miss your chance to have your say!
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY
April 2018 E-Newsletter The treatment of the ‘Windrush generation’ Westminster is one of the most diverse areas in the world. Being both inner city and the heart of a successful...
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 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
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
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!
Paddington Law Centre
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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!
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
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.
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...
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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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...
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 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.
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
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
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’
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
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
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
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.
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’
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
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.
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.
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.
Karen Buck MP
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...
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 …
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.
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
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.
Visiting Ethiopia in the November recess
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.
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
Family Legal Help
Housing Legal Help
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
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
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)
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:
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
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:
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.
Around the constituency
St John’s Wood Adventure Playground
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!
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.
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:
*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!
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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 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...
Air pressure - time for tough action to improve air quality
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 email@example.com, 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.
(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
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.
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
• Frontline health and social care workers
• The morbidly obese
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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...
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Karen Buck MP
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...
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.
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
Affordable homes starts 2016/17
Social rent 944
Affordable rent 26,716
Intermediate rent 24
Affordable ownership 10,301
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
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.
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
Total service spending 2016-17
Total service spending 2009-10
Cut 2009-10 to 2016-17
City of London
Barking & Dagenham
Hammersmith & Fulham
Leicester City UA
Getting out and about at summer events
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.
Karen Buck MP
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...