November 2016 newsletter

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04 November 2016

Introduction

This e-newsletter covers my work as your MP over the last two months since September. Now recess is over, I have been working hard in both Bristol and Westminster on the issues you care about. In addition to everything described below, I have also continued to hold my regular advice surgeries in the constituency to talk to people about their individual problems.

Work in Bristol East

Fishponds Road McDonalds


Next week, the planning application for a McDonalds drive-thru at 541-551 Fishponds Road will go before the Planning Inspectorate, with the hearing lasting from the Tuesday until the Friday. The outcome of the hearing is likely to be the final verdict on whether McDonalds are allowed to move forward with this development, following Bristol City Council’s original decision to reject the plans last year.

I have been opposed to the proposals put forward by McDonalds since they were announced in late 2014, and have submitted objections to the development at both local authority and Planning Inspectorate stages. I have been impressed by the way in which the community, working with local councillors, have mobilised around the No McDonalds in Fishponds campaign, which is now supported by thousands of local residents.

I will be speaking at the hearing next Wednesday, and will be raising concerns about the effect which McDonalds’ plans will have on congestion, pedestrian safety, noise, litter and health in the local area. I sincerely hope that the planning inspector will listen to strong objections which the surrounding community and local authority have about this development, and will uphold the Council’s original decision.

MetroBus

Earlier this week, I received an update from the MetroBus team about the situation in and around Stoke Lane, which has been closed to northbound traffic since June. You can read this update in full here.

Clearly, there have been some major deficiencies in the way in which Bristol City Council and MetroBus have communicated with the surrounding community. The one-way closure of Stoke Lane, and construction works throughout Stapleton, have caused immense disruption to nearby residents and commuters. MetroBus should therefore be properly engaging with people affected, and ensuring that everyone is kept updated about the progress of the project.

As you can read in the update, the local authorities are continuing to look at the best traffic management system to replace the one-way closure of Stoke Lane. I hope that officers will engage closely with councillors and the Stoke Lane Action Group on this matter, in order to find a solution which minimises disruption to local residents.

Bristol City Council budgetary proposals

The Council is being forced to make £92 million in savings by 2022 due to central government cuts. This is especially challenging given our city’s aging population, and the strains that many services are already under due to cuts in the last Parliament.

Mayor Marvin Rees has published the Council’s draft Corporate Strategy, which contains a number of proposals about to make these savings. People across Bristol will now be consulted about these suggestions, which are a mix of measures to increase revenue and reduce costs. You can read more about the strategy and how to have your say here.

St George in Bloom

I was delighted that St George in Bloom was successful again at the RHS Britain in Bloom awards this year, both at a regional and national level.

At the South West awards, the group received the gold pennant in the town/city category for the third consecutive year in recognition of their excellent work. The majority of allotments were also rated 'outstanding', Air Balloon Hill Primary School received the Clem Preece memorial cup for exceptional effort, and Friends of Troopers Hill was awarded The Sutton seeds cup for an outstanding area of nature. You can read more detail on the St George Neighbourhood Partnership site here.

At the Britain in Bloom national awards a week later, St George in Bloom also won Silver in the Urban Category. While some were disappointed about missing out of the top prize, this was still an amazing achievement given the competition the group faced from across the country.

I would like to congratulate all winners and organisers, particularly the chair Grenville Johnson. St George in Bloom does so much great work in the local area in bringing people together while improving allotments and unused spaces.

Housing developments

There are a number of housing developments in east Bristol which are attracting attention from residents in my constituency.

I share many local concerns about Bristol City Council’s plans for 300 properties to be built on Brislington Meadows. Not only will this development lead to a loss of environmentally valuable green space, but it will undoubtedly lead to significant disturbance for nearby residents, particularly due to increased congestion on Bath Road. I will be meeting with Cllr Paul Smith, the Council Cabinet member of Homes, next week to discuss these issues.

Plans by Galliford Try to build a large housing development on the old Blackberry Hill Hospital site, which is currently owned by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), have now gone to public consultation (Ref: 16/05376/F).

While I do think use needs to be made of this empty space, I am particularly troubled by the fact that the developer intends to provide no affordable housing at the location whatsoever. I met with Cllr Nicola Bowden-Jones, the Assistant Mayor for Housing, the developers and the HCA this week to raise concerns about this matter, and also the disruption caused by the construction to local residents.

In October, I wrote to the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, to support wider measures to improve planning law and increase affordable housebuilding in this country. You can read this letter in full here, in which I raise specific concerns about the lack of affordable housing at the Blackberry Hill site.

I have also received an update from Bristol City Council about the old Officeshop site at 493-499 Bath Road. This large warehouse has been empty for many years, and it is disappointing that the site has not yet been put to better use.

Council officers have informed me that the local authority is now in contact with a housing developer about making use of the site. This will be a mixed development, with a reasonable proportion of affordable homes. The Council is waiting for the developer to come forward with further details, and then the development will proceed to the formal planning process in the usual way.

M32 noise reduction measures

I have recently been in touch with Highways England for an update about the installation of noise-reduction barriers on the M32. This is an issue which particularly affects residents in Stapleton and Eastville, and Cllr Mhairi Threlfall and Cllr Sultan Khan have previously done a lot of work on the subject.

You can read the letter from Highways England in full here. In short, the organisation states that its officers are continuing to look at the best solutions to ensure that those affected most by noise pollution benefit from any improvements. Highways England hopes to be able to report back with more detail about its proposals by the end of November.

I will continue to emphasise the importance of these measures to people living near the motorway, and urge for barriers to be introduced to mitigate this problem as soon as possible.

Work in Westminster

Update on Brexit

After significant pressure, the Government has finally revealed a few small details of its plans around Brexit. Most significantly, the Prime Minister has announced that she intends to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017. Provided negotiations are not extended by unanimous agreement of all EU member states, this means our country will have withdrawn from the EU by March 2019. I welcome the High Court ruling today that Article 50 should not be triggered without a vote in Parliament, and I will be consulting widely before that vote.

Since the referendum result, I have been deeply troubled by the Government’s continuing attempts to shut down any parliamentary or public scrutiny of its approach to the difficult Brexit negotiations. While no one thinks there should be a running commentary on talks with the EU, the failure to reveal any details of the Government’s negotiation strategy is not good for either democracy or the economy.

BusinessWest, which represents 16,000 businesses in our region, released the results of its EU Local Business Survey Q3 2016 last week. It showed that over half of all companies that responded to this survey felt ‘moderate’ or ‘strong’ levels of uncertainty across at least 5 of 7 key areas relating to the British economy. These regional figures demonstrate the need for the Government to be more open about negotiations.

From recent statements by ministers, it now appears that the Government is opting for a ‘hard’ Brexit. I think pursuing such a strategy would be harmful to the British economy and, since Parliament has returned from summer recess, I have continued to draw attention to the need to maintain the vital protections which our current EU membership provides following Brexit.

In October, I also contributed to a debate about British agriculture and fisheries in the South West following withdrawal from the EU, in particular noting the importance of European workers in these sectors (see here).

Earlier in the month, I pressed the Environment Secretary on the Prime Minister’s commitment to improve food labelling following Brexit (see here). I am especially keen to see more information given on food packaging about the origin of products and the method of production, to allow consumers to make better environmental and welfare choices when buying food items.

Homelessness Reduction Bill


Last week, I was in Parliament to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill at its Second Reading in the Commons. This Private Member’s Bill aims to tackle homelessness by increasing local authorities’ duty of care for homeless people in a number of ways.

For instance, the legislation will increase the period over which local authorities are required to engage with people who are threatened with homelessness, expand the categories of people who councils must help to find temporary accommodation, and improve the access of citizens to free advice when they are threatened with homelessness.

Homelessness is a major problem in Bristol, with our Council now having the second highest number of rough sleepers out of any local authority in the country. Moreover, this is an issue which is only getting worse, with the number of homelessness families tripling in the last few years.

Action by local government is clearly needed to tackle this problem. I therefore was keen to be in the Commons on 28th October to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which passed its Second Reading. The Government has now announced it intends to support the legislation at future stages.

I do, however, understand the concerns of groups like the Local Government Association about the lack of funding to successfully implement the changes contained in the legislation. I therefore believe that central government should make additional resources available to local authorities proportionate to the extra duties introduced in this Bill.

Select Committee work

I now sit on two select committees which scrutinise government policies and spending in Parliament. I joined the Environmental Audit Committee in June, and last month I agreed to also fill a vacancy on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. This body is currently conducting inquiries into a number of issues, including flood protection, welfare of domestic pets, air pollution, and food waste.

In October, I was also chosen as one of the UK Parliament’s representatives on the Council of Europe. This supranational organisation, which was founded in 1947, exists to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law throughout its 47 member states.

With the Brexit vote and the Government's manifesto commitment to replace Labour's Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, there has never been a more important time to defend our international human rights obligations. I look forward to attending future meetings of the parliamentary assembly in Strasbourg, which take place four times each year.

Animal welfare

Earlier this week, I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on driven grouse shooting, which was held as a result of a parliamentary e-petition on the subject that accumulated over 120,000 signatures. You can read my contributions to this debate here.

As you can read, my concerns about driven grouse shooting are not only around animal welfare, but that it can also lead to loss of habitats, water pollution, and increased greenhouse emissions and flood risk. Grouse shooting is also associated with raptor persecution, such as the decline of the endangered hen harrier, with only three known breeding pairs left in England, when actually there should be three hundred.

I have also recently tabled a number of parliamentary questions about prosecutions of people breaching laws around wildlife protection (see here and here), and enforcement of animal welfare laws in slaughterhouses (see here).

Higher Education and Research Bill

In my last newsletter, I outlined the work I was doing to engage with the University of Bristol and UWE about the Higher Education and Research Bill, and wider issues affecting universities and students.

Following on from this, on 10th October I asked the Education Secretary Justine Greening about if students will be represented on the Office of Students (OfS), the main new body created by the Higher Education and Research Bill. The Secretary of State revealed in her answer that the Government will ensure students are represented on the OfS, which had not been directly confirmed before.

In my follow-up question, I raised concerns about other issues raised to me by student union representatives in Bristol, namely increases in tuition fees, the quality of teaching, and the scrapping of maintenance grants for less privileged students. You can read my questions and Justine Greening’s answers in full here.

Hinkley Point C


On 19th September, I visited Hinkley Point sites B and C in Somerset. This was shortly after the Government’s delayed decision to move ahead with the Point C project, a nuclear power plant which is due to start generating electricity in 2025. I know some constituents are troubled by aspects of the deal, particularly around the desirability of nuclear power and the financial cost of the project.

Over the next decade the supply gap between what electricity we produce and what we need could be between 40 to 55%, with the phasing out of coal-fired power and the closure of expired nuclear stations. I believe new nuclear needs to be part of the mix for now, to ensure an independent and low-carbon energy future for the UK.

I am, however, troubled by the high price that has been negotiated for the Hinkley deal. During my visit, I raised concerns with the company about the £92.50 per MWh strike price and how they can justify this. I have also asked the company for assurances that Hinkley Point C will be operating by 2025, when coal is no longer supplying the base load power we need – otherwise it would require building other power plants to fill the supply gap, while still having to pay EDF for energy we no longer needed.

In relation to wider energy policy issues, I have been dismayed that at the same time the Government was agreeing additional nuclear subsidies earlier this year, it was cutting support for more affordable clean energy technologies. I was also deeply disappointed by its completely incoherent changes to energy policy since May 2015, which have undermined investor confidence and growth in renewables.

Shockingly, the UK has now fallen out of Ernst and Young’s top 10 countries for attracting renewable energy investment, from 8th place in June 2015 to 13th place today. Its decision to cut support for solar power and end subsidies for onshore wind – two of the cheapest forms of clean energy – has led to job losses here in Bristol and across the country. You can see some of my parliamentary interventions on these issues here.

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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