May 2016 newsletter

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20 May 2016

From this month, I will be resuming my regular updates about national and local issues which are likely to be of interest to constituents. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please contact me if there are matters you care about which are not mentioned in this update.

Work in Bristol East

Results of elections in Bristol

I am delighted to welcome Marvin Rees as the new Mayor of Bristol. I am sure that he will be great in this role, and we will now start to see real progress in our city on the issues which matter most to people, particularly housing, transport, education and inequality.

I look forward to working with the Mayor and all our councillors, regardless of party, on issues affecting east Bristol. With further government cuts to local authority budgets expected in this Parliament, it is vital that we work together to ensure that facilities and services are protected in areas which need them most.

St Anne’s Park railway station

In March, I held a successful meeting at Wicklea Academy with local councillors about a renewed campaign to have St Anne’s Park railway station reopened. This station, which was closed in 1970, would serve a similar number of people to existing stations in Bristol like Bedminster and Lawrence Hill.

East Bristol is generally poorly served by public transport links, with no active rail stations and bus services being unreliable, and I believe that reopening St Anne’s Park could go some way to tackling resulting problems like high levels of car use and congestion. Through the construction of a footbridge, this station could serve not only St Anne’s and Brislington, but also parts of St George.

Around seventy people attended the community meeting in March, and generally there was a lot of enthusiasm in the room for the idea of reopening St Anne’s Park. There were some understandable concerns voiced about issues like parking, and these will have to be carefully considered going forward.

In the last few weeks, I have been in touch with local rail campaigners and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) about the possibility of incorporating St Anne’s Park into future MetroWest plans. On 29th April, I also met with Network Rail and discussed this and related issues, like the future of Temple Meads and the Great Western electrification scheme.

I will be making further representations in the coming months, and working with local campaigners to put the reopening of St Anne’s Park station firmly on the agenda of the Council, LEP and Network Rail. If you would like to sign the e-petition about this matter, you can do here.

MetroBus construction works

MetroBus continues to cause disruption in east Bristol, despite the fact it will benefit very few people living here. The most significant issue which I have been contacted about is the closure of Stoke Lane to northbound traffic from 22nd May for an estimated period of 12 months.

I have written to both Bristol City Council and the MetroBus contractor, Alun Griffiths, to voice opposition to this one-way system. This scheme will cause untold disruption to people in east Bristol, particularly in areas like Fishponds and Stapleton, and I know many local residents feel they have not been adequately consulted about the changes.

In recent weeks, problems at Stapleton allotments because of the construction works have also worsened, with new plots becoming waterlogged as a result of drainage problems. I have been in touch with MetroBus to ask for urgent action to address these issues and for further information about how their reoccurrence will be prevented in the future.

My office has also written to First about how its services will be affected by the Stoke Lane closure, and what is being done to mitigate these effects.

Local planning issues

There are a number of planning applications in my constituency which have received quite a bit of attention in recent months.

In St George, there are proposals to convert an adult film studio on Ebenezer Street into a twenty bedroom HMO. Given that no addition parking spaces are being provided, and that parking is already a major problem in the local area, I am troubled by the effect these plans will have on surrounding residents.

I submitted an objection to the Ebenezer Street application in April, raising concerns about parking, noise, loss of privacy and the proposed development being out of character for the area. I understand that the case will be going before a Development Control Committee in the coming months, and I will continue to follow the matter closely.

Of course, I strongly support the construction of new housing in Bristol, particularly affordable properties, and regularly ask Council officers about brownfield sites in my constituency that could potentially be developed. It is vital, though, that any housing is built in a responsible way with adequate parking.

I have also been in touch with local residents in Eastville ward about the proposed conversion of Beechwood House into a rehabilitation centre. I have written to the Council to find out more about when a valid planning application for the property will be submitted, so the community can be consulted on changes to the residence.

We continue to wait for a decision by the Planning Inspectorate into the Fishponds Road McDonalds, which is scheduled for November. I hope the eventual decision will be to reject the application, which I do not believe is suitable for the site.

Visit to Growing Futures

Last week, I was delighted to visit Growing Futures, an urban food-growing enterprise in Hillfields. It was fantastic to meet the committed organisers of this project, and to hear about the work they are doing in the local community.

Growing Futures was launched several years ago to develop new and innovative ways of growing food in the city, and to teach local people about the importance of sustainability and ecological awareness. In addition to growing food, the enterprise is involved in bee conservation, and has educational and vocational programmes for young people of all ages.

In a Westminster Hall debate last year, I raised the importance of urban food-growing, whether in individual allotments, or community projects like Growing Futures. I think it is vital that we support such projects, and that the Council protects them in future development plans.

Work in Westminster

Queen’s Speech

This week, the Government announced what new laws it intends to introduce in the coming Parliament in the Queen’s Speech. Among other things, this included plans to force through academisation of schools, a consultation on scrapping the Human Rights Act, the introduction of a sugar tax, and the relaxation of planning regulations.

Notable in their absence were measures to address issues that matter most to people in east Bristol, such as the housing crisis, low wage growth, job insecurity, and poorly funded public services.

While there was little to be pleased about in the Queen’s Speech, I tentatively welcome plans to reform prisons to prevent reoffending. I do, however, feel that the Government must also address problems of understaffing and overcrowding in prisons if these reforms are to be successful.

EU referendum

The EU referendum has dominated the news headlines over the last few weeks, and I expect this will continue until the vote on 23rd June.

My personal view is that, while Britain could survive outside of the EU, our country is stronger by staying in Europe. This not only applies to the economy, but also in numerous other areas like international security, employment rights and cross-border justice.

I have a particular interest in the environmental protections which EU membership brings, and have been working with the Environmentalists for Europe group on these issues. The EU has banned pesticides which are harmful to bees, driven up animal welfare standards, forced action to clean up our beaches and waterways, and introduced measures to improve air quality in places of high pollution, including Bristol.

The EU is not perfect, but I think it is better to remain within Europe and argue for reform. Leaving the EU, though, would likely mean that we still have to abide by the majority of European regulations, but with very little say in their creation, as is the case for Norway and Switzerland.

Whatever your view on Britain’s membership, the most important thing is that everybody who is able to vote does so. This is a momentous decision which will affect generations to come, regardless of the result, and it is vital that everyone’s voice is heard.

Junior doctors

In recent weeks, I was glad to see the Government re-enter negotiations with junior doctors and the British Medical Association (BMA) over proposed contract changes. This has been a long and difficult process, and the Government has repeatedly failed to listen to junior doctors, nurses, midwives and other NHS staff who have spoken out about the impact the imposition of the new contract would have on their work. Forcing a contract on doctors would never have been the right solution, particularly one which would have inevitably damaged staff morale and patient care.

As you may know, in August 2015, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, announced that the new junior doctors’ contract would be imposed if the Government failed to reach an agreement with the BMA by September 2015. As a result of a vote held by the BMA in November 2015, junior doctors held four strikes between January and April. In the last few months, I have attended two rallies in support of junior doctors (I also spoke at one of these rallies), met with junior doctors, and visited both Southmead Hospital and the Blackberry Hill Hospital in order to hear how NHS reform is affecting them.

Thankfully, on 18th May 2016, the BMA and the Government reached an agreement on junior doctors’ contracts following eight days of talks. While this still has to be approved by BMA members, this a relief and I hope the Government will now endeavour to repair its relationship with NHS staff.

Refugee crisis

Labour MPs have continued to lobby the Government to make sure our country plays a full role in Europe-wide efforts to address the refugee crisis.

During the passage of the Immigration Act through Parliament, Labour MPs and peers supported a number of amendments, most significantly to provide for 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children to come to the UK from Europe.

The vast majority of refugee children in Europe live in awful conditions, and are often forced into child trafficking and illegal labour. It is deeply troubling that Europol estimates that 10,000 child refugees have already gone missing across our continent.

Following pressure from the Opposition benches, last month the Prime Minister agreed to accept an amendment to allow a set number of child refugees - expected to number in the low thousands – to come to the UK for refuge.

Any refugee scheme does, however, need to be managed in a responsible way. I hope the Government will be making support available for areas of the country which receive relatively high numbers of refugees, in order to limit the additional pressures put on local services.

At a wider level, UN figures show that EU-Turkey migrant exchange deal seems to be leading to a significant reduction in the number of refugees entering Europe. I do, however, believe that this deal must abide by international law, and understand Labour MEPs are continuing to scrutinise the scheme to ensure the rights of refugees are upheld.

Air pollution

Related to my role as Shadow Environment Secretary, I have been holding the Government to account recently on its failure to bring down air pollution levels to within legal limits. This is a national scandal which I feel gets relatively little attention, despite the problem leading to an estimated 50,000 early deaths in the UK every year.

Last April, the Supreme Court ordered the Government to bring forward measures to reduce air pollution and Ministers have now reluctantly announced very limited plans. They are focusing on just 5 cities and neglecting places like Bristol. Sadly, the Government is failing to take air pollution seriously and is not doing nearly enough to support local authorities to make our air cleaner and healthier.

In the last few months, I have raised this subject in the Commons on numerous occasions, with one of my most recent questions forcing the Government to reveal that Defra funding for air quality improvement has fallen by 84% since 2012.

The Government’s complacency on this vital issue is not acceptable and the Environment Secretary now faces further court action to force her to deliver the ambitious strategy we need. I will continue to call on ministers for urgent action to reduce the number of premature deaths from air pollution in this country.

As ever, please let me know if there are any local issues or personal difficulties with which I could be of assistance. I hold regular surgeries in the constituency to talk to people about their problems, so please get in touch if you would like to attend one of these in the near future by emailing, or phoning 0117 939 9901.


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