July 2016 newsletter

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19 July 2016
Introduction

Lots has been happening in the last two months since my previous newsletter, both at a local and national level. While the referendum result and Westminster politics has dominated the news headlines in recent weeks, I have remained focused on representing my constituents and making east Bristol an even better place to live.

Work in Bristol East

MetroBus works

In the last few weeks, a number of constituents have written to me about the MetroBus construction works in Stapleton. Many local residents are trying their best to adapt to the disruption caused by the one-way system on Stoke Lane, but there are concerns about the management of the surrounding works.

Earlier this month, several deer managed to enter the site near Stoke Park and became trapped, being forced to cross the M32 to escape – endangering themselves and drivers on the motorway. The destruction caused by the MetroBus works to local wildlife also seems more severe to local residents than anticipated, and some have reported that protected nesting birds have been disturbed.

I have since been in touch with Council officers and Mark Bradshaw, the Cabinet member for Transport, about this matter. They have looked into how the deer managed to enter the site, and are taking measures to try to ensure that this will not happen again. I have also been given assurances that the ecological plan is being followed closely, and that no nesting birds have been disturbed. I support calls for a group like the Avon Wildlife Trust to visit the site to confirm this independently.

I am scheduled to visit the MetroBus site at the end of this month to see the construction works first-hand, and to speak to Council officers about local residents’ concerns. My office is also in contact with First Bus about the bus services being provided to try to mitigate the impact of the Stoke Lane one-way system on commuters.

Scotland Lane flooding


I remain in contact with Bristol City Council and a number of Stockwood residents about the regular flooding of Scotland Lane. This road, which connects Stockwood and Brislington, has been flooded many times this year already, causing untold disruption for local residents.

Through correspondence with the Highways department and Cllr Mark Bradshaw, I understand that the Council now recognise that permanent measures need to be put in place to address this problem, rather than simply the regular remedial drainage works happening at the moment.

Bristol City Council is continuing to look at possible solutions, including the feasibility of a pump station to remove water, and is investigating why existing drainage pipes keep getting blocked. I can assure you that I will continue to put pressure on the Council to find a permanent solution to this problem.

Update on local planning issues

Since my last newsletter, the Council have announced that the application for an HMO on Ebenezer Street in St George has been rejected. As mentioned previously, many local people were opposed to this development, primarily on the grounds of insufficient parking and the development being out of character for the area.

Having submitted an objection to this application, I am pleased by this outcome. I will continue to follow closely if the developer chooses to take the decision to the Planning Inspectorate, or submits a new application with modifications.

Planning applications for Beechwood House in Stapleton, also mentioned in my previous newsletter, have now been subject to public consultation. These plans entail converting a large residential house into emergency accommodation, and the construction of a cottage to provide more space.

This is a complex issue, as emergency accommodation is direly needed in our city, particularly in east Bristol. I do, however, understand the planning concerns of local residents, and have submitted a comment on the applications to express these and ask for further clarification about a number of important points.

Little Hayes Centre

I was delighted to visit Little Hayes and Hillfields Early Days and Family Centre in June with Cllr Craig Cheney and Cllr Anna Keen. This organisation was originally set up as a nursery school in 1957, and next year celebrates its sixtieth year of service for the local community. It has expanded significantly in recent years, currently looking after 230 children, and with sites on Symington Road and Frenchay Road.

The group works with many organisations, including the local Cabot Learning Federation academies, and provides crèche facilities at Eden House, a support service for women in the criminal justice system.

Little Hayes is now looking to expand further, offering a childcare and family support service at Hillfields Library from October. Given the pressures on Bristol’s library services, with seven libraries being earmarked for closure last year (including Wick Road Library in my constituency), it is great to see groups like Little Hayes looking at ways to use existing facilities in innovative ways.

During the visit, I was delighted to meet with the enthusiastic staff at Little Hayes, and see how much the children enjoyed being there. I was particularly enthused by all they do to encourage outdoor play, learning and exploration, with a magnificent 500 year old oak tree, a vegetable patch, wild flowers, rabbits and chickens.

Dundridge Park

I am glad to see work getting underway on the improvements to Dundridge Park in St George. There are a number of projects planned for the park: a ‘wildlife path’ down to Conham Vale, a new play area, and a path to this play area.

Funding for these improvements has come from various sources: the St George Neighbourhood Partnership, the Tesco Bags of Help Scheme, the CORY Environmental Trust, and the SITA Trust. I was pleased to provide letters of support for several of these applications.

Work will begin on the wildlife path and new play area in the next few months. I look forward to visiting Dundridge Park when all these projects are completed.

Work in Westminster


Outcome of EU referendum

I have received hundreds of emails over the last few weeks about the outcome of the EU referendum. As many of you know, I was a strong supporter of Britain’s continued membership, so was extremely disappointed by the result. I am, however, proud that Bristol voted to Remain by a margin of 62% to 38%.

This outcome causes a great deal of uncertainty about our country’s future. The referendum result was a vote against the EU, rather than in favour of something. There are a number of forms which our future relationship with Europe could take, for example the Norway (EEA) or Switzerland (non-EEA) model, or some other arrangement.

Both the Norway and Swiss arrangements include freedom of movement, which would almost certainly be a condition of UK access to the single market – but is unlikely to be accepted by many of those who voted Leave. So the situation is incredibly muddled, and at the moment the EU will not negotiate with us until we trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will begin our exit from the EU.

It remains to be seen when Theresa May will trigger Article 50, what her negotiating strategy will be, and if she will seek a democratic mandate for both her leadership and the deal she gets with the EU.

The majority view of experts is that the Prime Minister will not need parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50, though there is talk of a legal challenge to this. At some point in the future, though, Parliament will have to vote on our disentanglement from the EU through the repeal of various laws, including the European Communities Act.

I was elected to Parliament to do what I think is best for the people of east Bristol, and what I believe is in the national interest. The majority of my constituents voted to Remain, and I firmly believe it in the national interest for us to stay in the EU. If the House of Commons is given the opportunity to vote on Brexit by the Prime Minister, I therefore think I should vote against.

I am saddened by the insecurity which the current situation is causing to EU nationals already in the UK. Earlier this month, I voted in favour of a Commons motion tabled by the Shadow Home Secretary calling on the Government to give urgent commitments that EU citizens already in this country are able to remain here following Brexit.

While this non-binding motion passed, it will still be up to the Government to secure this in future negotiations with EU member states. I can assure you, though, that I will continue to work with colleagues in Parliament to call for this commitment.

I have been deeply troubled by the rise in xenophobic and racist incidents since the referendum, with Avon and Somerset Constabulary announcing a doubling in reports of such events. I am meeting with PCC Sue Mountstevens in the next few weeks, and will be raising this matter with her.

New Prime Minister

The new Prime Minister Theresa May has now announced her Government’s Cabinet. I am troubled by some of her appointments – particularly Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary – and also by the abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change. This indicates that environmental issues, such as promoting clean energy sources, will not be a priority of her Government.

While Theresa May has pledged to reform our economy so that it works for everyone, I think that actions will speak louder than words. If she is genuine about this, the new Prime Minister will need to start by urgently tackling many issues which her predecessor left unchecked: job insecurity, the housing crisis, low pay rises, and the decline of British industry.

Labour Party

As many of you will have seen, on 26th June I took the difficult decision to resign from my post of Shadow Environment Secretary. I understand that a number of constituents, particularly some Labour members, were upset by my decision to resign.

I do, however, have a duty to my own conscience and all my constituents who need a strong Labour Party. I was disappointed by Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of leadership during the referendum campaign, and genuinely do not think he is the best person to lead the Labour Party through the difficult times ahead.

There will now been a leadership contest in the Labour Party, with the results announced on 24th September. I will be supporting the candidate most likely to unite the party, and ensure that we can be a strong and effective Opposition in the coming years.

Environment and Brexit

On 12th July, I took part in a debate on the future of energy and the environment in this country following our withdrawal from the EU. During the referendum campaign, I was closely involved with the Environmentalists in Europe group, and made efforts to point out the numerous environmental protections which EU membership provides: whether to do with air quality, clean seas and beaches, reducing domestic waste, banning harmful pesticides, or protecting habitats and endangered species.

During last week’s debate, I emphasised the importance of keeping these protections outside of the EU. You can read my contribution in full here. I also raised this directly with David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions at the end of June.

As with the Government as a whole, Defra had done nothing to prepare for Brexit – something which has been highlighted by the poor answers to my recent written parliamentary questions to Defra about the future of various environmental protections. I therefore have serious doubts about the ability of Defra to deal with Brexit, particularly in light of the recent cuts and further ones expected in this Parliament.

Chilcot Report

Earlier this month, Sir John Chilcot finally published the findings of his inquiry into the Iraq War. Among other conclusions, the report judged that the intelligence basis on which the decision to go to war was inadequate, peaceful alternatives to conflict had not been exhausted, British troops were ill-equipped, and post-war planning was insufficient.

There are many lessons for future governments to be taken from this report. While I was not yet an MP when the Iraq War received parliamentary approval, I believe that those who supported it did so out of genuine concern about Saddam Hussein’s regime. The evidence they based this on was, however, clearly flawed.

One of the main reasons I did not vote in favour of air strikes in Syria last December was because I was not convinced that the Government had a substantive plan for what should happen once the conflict is over. I think the Chilcot Report reinforces the need for such planning, and the importance of proper international collaboration in troubled areas of the world.

With 2.6 million words in total, I have still not been able to digest everything in the report, but expect that its findings will continue to be debated in the coming months and years. Last week, there were Commons debates on the issue, which you can read here and here.

Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill

I am pleased to have been asked by Anna Turley MP to sponsor her Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill, which calls for tougher sentences for animal cruelty crimes.

This follows a horrific case in Anna’s constituency, where two brothers who tortured a pet bulldog avoided jail. Andrew and Daniel Frankish from Redcar filmed themselves abusing their pet bulldog, Baby, repeatedly throwing her down the stairs, stamping on her head, swinging her around and head-butting her. They were laughing as they did so. Baby’s injuries were so severe that she was put down three months after the vicious attack due to loss of the use of her hind legs.

The brothers were sentenced in March to 21 weeks in prison, suspended for two years and a tagged curfew for six months. The case has received national attention with almost half a million people signing an online petition calling for their sentence to be reviewed.

I am shocked at the cruelty in this case, and the lenient sentences handed out. I have sadly had many cases of animal cruelty brought to my attention in the past, but this is up there with the worst.

While Private Member’s Bill rarely become law, they do serve as an opportunity to bring a subject to the attention of the Government and general public. I hope this Bill is successful in doing so.

Creative industries and the arts

In the first week of July, I spoke in three debates on creative/ arts-related topics. The first was a Westminster Hall debate on Expressive Arts subjects and the EBacc, and how important it is that we value learning and qualifications in more creative subjects – particularly in Bristol where 40% of jobs are in the creative/ digital sector (see here).

The second debate was on Artistic Remuneration for Online Content, where both Thangam Debbonaire (MP for Bristol West) and I spoke up in support of musicians and the need to ensure they can earn a decent living from their artistic output (see here).

The third debate was on the Creative Industries and the Economy, and I chose to focus on the impact Brexit could have on musicians and others involved in the arts (see here). There are so many unforeseen consequences of Brexit, which were not fully debated during the referendum campaign, and it is important now to try to ensure these issues are on the Government’s – and Labour’s – radar.


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 kerry.mccarthy.mp@parliament.uk, or phoning 0117 939 9901.


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