Blue Finger/ Metrobus letter

A cross-party group of us has written to the Mayor, Metrobus, and the leader of South Gloucs council calling for a substantial rethink on the Metrobus project. Here it is.

From Kerry McCarthy MP, Charlotte Leslie MP, and Councillors Daniella Radice, Lesley Alexander, Estella Tincknell, Gill Kirk, Claire Hiscott, Bill Payne, Wayne Harvey, Rob Telford, Tim Malnick, Gus Hoyt, Charlie Bolton

We the undersigned call on you to reconsider elements of the Hengrove-Northern Fringe metrobus project.

We believe that low carbon efficient public transport AND local, accessible food and places to grow it, are both a vital part of the future to Bristol’s position as both a sustainable city and the ‘Green capital of Europe’.

We support any action that can be taken to ensure that Bristol and South Gloucester local authorities find innovative and collaborative solutions to transportation and congestion challenges, without compromising the excellent and valuable work that is producing food from some of our best land.

As such, we call on you to devise and implement alternative public transport solutions which will NOT result in the loss of ANY Grade 1 agricultural land along the M32 corridor, specifically at Stapleton allotments, Feed Bristol, Sims Hill, or on any former market-garden sites. Any proposed transport solution should look first at brown field sites, and should resolve rather than cause  congestion in the local area. It should not compromise the use of high quality agricultural land by important and effective charities, community groups and local people, for the benefit of all. We note the proposed changes you suggested at cabinet on 1st July but need to be convinced that these make any meaningful difference to the land affected.

We are also concerned about the proposal to run a section of the new road across Stoke Park. This historic piece of landscape is valuable not only as the ‘green lungs’ for North Bristol but also because it contains ancient woodland, rich meadows full of rare species and a number of heritage buildings.

We believe the loss of such land is utterly incompatible with Bristol’s ambitions to be a Green Capital, and we urge you to think again.

Glenda gives the Government a good talking to

There have been some excellent speeches from some formidable Labour women in today’s debate on “Chaos and Waste at the Department for Work and Pensions” (that was our title, it’s now been changed to “The Performance of….” But here’s the queen of them all, Glenda Jackson, on top form.

Today’s debate on chaos at the DWP

Later today I will be in the Chamber for a debate called by Labour on “Performance of the Department for Work and Pensions”. Here is the text of our motion, which we will be voting on at 10pm. It’s worth noting that usually the Government would table its own amendment in response to an Opposition motion, usually along the lines of ‘delete everything after “this House” and add glowing praise of the Government’s performance to date. They don’t appear to have done so today, so one can only conclude they agree with Labour on this occasion…

OPPOSITION DAY (3RD ALLOTTED DAY)

Until 10.00pm (Standing Order No. 9(3))

Performance of the Department for Work and Pensions

Edward Miliband

Rachel Reeves

Ed Balls

Ms Harriet Harman

Chris Bryant

Ms Rosie Winterton

That this House notes that after £612 million being spent, including £131 million written off or written down, the introduction of Universal Credit is now years behind schedule, with no clear plan for how, when, or whether full implementation will be achievable or represent value for money; further notes the admission of the Minister of State for Disabled People in oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on 11 June 2014 that over 700,000 people are still waiting for a Work Capability Assessment, and the report of the Office for Budget Responsibility in March 2014 that found that projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance has risen by £800 million since December; recognises the finding of the Committee of Public Accounts in its First Report, HC 280, that Personal Independence Payment delays have created uncertainty, stress and financial costs for disabled people and additional budgetary pressures for Government; further recognises that the Work Programme has failed to meet its targets, the unfair bedroom tax risks costing more than it saves, and other DWP programmes are performing poorly or in disarray; and calls on the Government to publish (a) the risk register and other documentation relating to the delivery of Universal Credit as a Freedom of Information tribunal has ruled it should, (b) the time in which it will guarantee that disabled people will receive an assessment for PIP and (c) a full risk assessment showing the potential impact of delays, delivery problems, contract failures and underperformance on (i) people receiving or entitled to benefits, (ii) departmental budgets and spending plans and (iii) the Government’s welfare cap.

 

Kafka’s “The Passport Office”

Someone has sent me a transcript of this conversation with the Passport Office.

Passport office: we can’t guarantee when your passport will be sent or when you will receive it

ME: what can I do?

Him: You can’t do anything,

ME: Can’t I pay to upgrade,

HIM: We can’t talk about that you have to ring this number…..

ME: But that’s your number

HIM: We can’t talk about it until you mention it.

Me: Ok I’m mentioning it and in fact I can categorically say I want it

Him: We can’t guarantee that they will do anything and they may not respond to you but you can then apply again for an urgent upgrade after that and you may be lucky that time…….

There was an Urgent Question on the passport chaos last Thursday, when I tried but unfortunately didn’t get called to ask the Home Secretary a question. Labour has now called an Opposition Day debate on it for tomorrow (Wednesday). I won’t be able to make a full speech as I have other meetings scheduled which can’t be moved, but I will be there for some of it. The Home Secretary announced last week that those who have to fast-track their applications because of delays won’t have to pay the additional £55 fee if their case is classed as urgent. She wasn’t able to say what guidelines would be given to allow staff to decide what is or isn’t urgent. She also wasn’t able to say how people will be able to convince passport office staff that their applications are urgent if they can’t get through on the phones (or if they end up in a conversation like the one above!)

Labour will be calling tomorrow for those who applied in good time, but have already been forced to pay the extra £55 to have their applications fast-tracked because of delays, to have that money refunded.

Here’s what the daughter of my 94 year old constituent – who we helped get her passport the day before she was due to go on a cruise, her first overseas travel for 20 years – had to say to the Daily Mail:

“Families hit by the passport crisis are being asked to pay £55 extra a person to save their summer holidays – on top of the £72.50 standard fee. Mrs May this morning admitted the Passport Office will put more staff and resources in place to deal with a backlog of applications caused by a surge in people wanting to go abroad.

Angry families said they were being held to ransom.

Audrey Strong, 67, from Timsbury, near Bath, said her 94-year-old mother paid the levy to be able to go on a cruise. She added: ‘They’re holding people to ransom. It’s disgusting – I don’t think she should have to pay all that money, but she did it because she would have lost her holiday otherwise.’”

 

 

 

The #SavetheFleece Campaign goes national

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have recently become a patron of the Music Venue Trust. They’ve emailed me today to say that they too have initiated a petition, this time directed at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, calling for a review of noise complaints legislation. As you will see from their email, this has in part been inspired by the potential threat to the Fleece.

It’s got some way to go before it gets as many signatures as the Fleece petition, which was at 36,000 the last time I looked, so I’d encourage you all to sign up to this one too. Here’s their email:

“I am writing to you to let you know that in response to a swathe of threats to small music venues from noise complaints, the Music Venue Trust has today launched a petition asking the Secretary of State for the Environment to carry out a review of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 that relate to Noise and the serving of Noise Abatement notices. The petition is online here:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65582

Within our campaign, we have sought to highlight the responsibilities of venues to be well managed and act with their local communities, respecting the rights of their neighbours. We feel that it is apparent from the recent experiences of the Blind Tiger in Brighton, the Night and Day in Manchester and now the potential threat to the Fleece in Bristol that some entirely sensible policies to protect those individual rights are, unfortunately, open to abuse for commercial gain by individuals and developers; in all three cases, a venue with a very good record and with no complaints has been subject to a complaint or potential complaint from a new occupier or developer. We think the existing Acts should be reviewed to see if there is any potential to add a “pre-existing usage and standard customs and practice” amendment.”

Saving the Fleece

This morning – after less than four hours sleep (memo to George: please send our electoral services people up to Sunderland to find out how they manage to count votes so quickly!) – I popped into The Fleece to talk about a current planning application which could threaten the future of the venue. There are plans to convert a nearby office block into flats, and the venue is naturally concerned that the new residents will, further down the line, despite having bought properties opposite a live music venue, start complaining about the noise. See here for their petition which already has over 21,000 signatures.

This is increasingly becoming a problem. I first got involved when the Exchange in Old Market got in touch, and venues in Manchester and Brighton have also come under threat. Night and Day in Manchester was served a nuisance notice threatening them with  a £20,000 fine – or six months in jail – unless they turned the music down. There was a massive campaign against this, fronted by the likes of Guy Garvey.

Some of these issues are coming to the fore because of changes to permitted development rights, which make it much easier for developers to convert office accommodation into residential accommodation. Obviously we need more housing in Bristol and as the former MP for the Redcliffe area (there were boundary changes) and a local resident, I’d love to see the long mooted idea of a “Redcliffe Village” reach fruition. But the developers can’t ride roughshod over what is already an established fixture in the local community, which has been there for decades but has recently taken several years of investment to resurrect as a live venue.

I asked about this issue (briefly) in Parliament last autumn, in an Opposition Day debate on the High Street. I intervened on Hilary Benn, who was leading the debate for Labour, saying I have been contacted by the owners of the Exchange, a music venue in Bristol—it is in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams). They took out new premises in a commercial area of Bristol, but have found out that there are plans to convert neighbouring properties into residential properties. They will therefore get noise complaints. They are concerned that, having invested in the new venture, they could be put out of business. Is that an example of what my hon. Friend describes?”

I wrote to the Planning Minister Nick Boles about it, but wasn’t reassured by his response; he seemed to think that market mechanisms would ensure even development (standard Tory response – leave everything to the market).The argument seems to be that the developer would take into account the noise potential when drawing up their scheme, and wouldn’t go ahead if they thought it would be a problem. What is more likely to happen though is that the developer will go ahead, and even if the initial residents can live with the noise of soundchecks in the late afternoon, gigs in the evening and club nights till 4am, eventually there will be some who complain.

 

I got a better response from the Council. An officer at the Planning Department was able to give some reassurance as to how future noise complaints would be handled by BCC – in particular, he said that they would “take into account the character of the area”. And in another email he also highlighted the need to enable a ‘thriving evening economy’ balanced against bringing new homes into the area. But it still leaves things open to chance.

 

Without going into too much detail about the intricacies of the planning system, here’s a brief guide to what the changes to permitted development rights mean for local communities:

 

A government statutory instrument, which came into effect on 30th May last year, changed planned permitted development rights (i.e. removed the requirement to seek planning permission before development can take place) in a number of ways including:

 o   Shops can become payday lenders or fast food restaurants for 2 years without planning permission

o   Offices can become residential accommodation without planning permission – allowing for a change of use from B1(a) office to C3 residential – whether this is suitable locally or not

Local authorities were able to put in a request for a ‘local exemption’ from permitted development rights. Bristol along with 164 other local authorities asked for exemptions but only 17 were granted (of these 11 were in London). This decision-making process completely lacked transparency – and the government has given no rationale or criteria by which they chose which areas to exempt – ie major cities also including Birmingham, Newcastle,  Leeds and Liverpool were denied exemptions in favour of rural locations such as the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire, Stevenage in Hertordshire, Ashford & Seven Oaks in Kent, East Hampshire (although Manchester City Council was given an exemption). Bristol CC decided against an Article 4 direction which is an alternative mechanism for returning this form of development to local authority control – as even the government recognises, many councils decide against using this because it can lead to further costs for them. This is eroding the powers needed by local authorities and local communities to shape their high streets and town centres to reflect local needs, demands and aspirations.

I am going to raise this with the current MP for the Redcliffe area, Stephen Williams, who also happens to be a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Fleece is not in my constituency, so I have no intention of fronting up the campaign, but I do want to support it as it obviously will affect people in Bristol East who like going to see bands there.

Just to reassure those who think this might be another example of a politician jumping on a bandwagon (well, there was one guy on Twitter who said this….) My interest in this is simple. I like going to see live music. I don’t get to do it as often as I like, and the Fleece has an annoying habit of booking bands I want to see on nights when I have to be in Parliament. I chair the All-Party Performers Alliance group in Parliament, which was set up by the Musicians Union (along with Equity and the Writers Guild) and I am a Vice-Chair of the All-Party Music Group too.

I’ve also recently become a patron of two music related organisations: Attitude is Everything,  which campaigns to ensure better access to live venues for deaf and disabled people, and the Music Venue Trust, which is about securing the future of small independent venues. 

So… those are my credentials. And at the risk of this becoming the longest blog post ever, here is the letter of objection I’ve just lodged with the Council. Technically the deadline has just passed but I’ve been told they will accept late submissions.

 

Ms C Sangway
Development Manager
Bristol City Council
Brunel House
St George’s Road
Bristol BS1 5UY

22nd May 2014

Dear Ms C Sangway,

APPLICATION REF. 14/01424/F – Site Address at 33-49 VICTORIA STREET, BRISTOL, BS1 6AD

I am writing to lodge an Objection to the above planning application. Please accept my apologies for submitting this letter after the deadline. I hope you will still consider submissions until the determination date.

I have a number of concerns about the effect of Government’s changes to permitted development rights which came into force on 30th May. This case demonstrates the adverse effect of the new regulations on existing businesses and illustrates how the process can undermine employment uses for buildings. The Fleece is one of Bristol’s main music venues being a key part in the vibrant music scene and cultural economy, attracting visitors into Redcliffe at night (from within and outside Bristol) and sustaining local employment.

In particular, I have become aware that these Government changes are having a negative impact on music venues. Noise complaints can of course cause real problems for well-loved music venues. For example, Night and Day in Manchester was served a nuisance notice earlier this year threatening them with a £20,000 fine – or six months in jail – unless they turned the music down. This is not a situation I would want to see arising at the Fleece. The incumbent music venue currently operates successfully and in harmony with neighbouring uses and its value should be recognised by the Council. Indeed, the introduction of apartments in such close proximity needs to be handled very carefully to ensure the Fleece is not penalised for simply continuing to exist.

I understand that the recent legislative changes to permitted development rights has made it more difficult for local authorities to shape city centres and high streets and to plan and manage development appropriately and evenly. In relation to a similar case in the city, I know the Planning Department was keen to sustain the “thriving evening economy” of the city centre, for example.

I would urge you to reject this application if the key flaws in it are not resolved. In particular, and set out in much greater detail and clarity by CSJ Planning in their letter of 12th May:

• I understand the applicant’s Environmental Noise Report has not captured the actual level of noise impact from the Fleece. It is critical that the developer gets a revised noise report which reflects the true impact from the noise. This would ensure that future development would include proper mitigation measures to fully noise proof the new homes, which would therefore most likely involve removing balconies and reducing bedrooms with windows on the St Thomas Street facade.

• In the event of approval, a condition should be placed upon the consent requiring acoustic testing of any sound insulation measures prior to first occupation. This will ensure these mitigation measures are actually effective and have been properly installed.

I understand that Bristol, along with 164 other local authorities, asked for a ‘local exemption’ from permitted development rights, but were refused. Only 17 were granted (of these, 11 in London).

I will be taking forward my concerns about the effect of these changes with the Government as well.

Thank you for your time in considering my letter.

Yours sincerely,

 

Kerry McCarthy
Labour MP for Bristol East.

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts on Bristol food policy

I don’t really have time to blog at the moment, what with it being polling day tomorrow. So see below for a copy of a piece I wrote for the Bristol Post last week. I raised all four issues with the Mayor when I met with him recently, and have followed up by email.

I have also added the stats about food standards (with apologies for the formatting, which looks OK in draft but publishes wrong – aaargghhh!!!! I will fix eventually, when I’m not in a rush). I think the stats for Bristol are quite shocking.

“It’s a great shame that when David Cameron was in town last Thursday during the Bristol Food Connections festival he chose to eat at Nando’s. If only we’d known we had a hungry Prime Minister on our hands, we could have shown him much more of what Bristol has to offer.

Last week I chaired a meeting of the All-Party Agroecology Group in Parliament, looking at how national and local government policies can support local food. Joy Carey from Bristol’s Food Policy Council gave a great presentation and the speaker from Sustainable Food Cities also gave us a glowing reference. The community growing project at Feed Bristol; the Get Growing Trail; the Gleaning Network; the pop-up food market under the M32; the ‘guerilla gardening’ of Incredible Edible Bristol; and of course Food Connections: there is so much good going on in Bristol at the moment.

 But if we are to build upon this good work, there are a few issues we need to address.

First of all, we simply cannot allow them to put a Metrobus junction on the Feed Bristol site. Not only would this bring little benefit in transport terms, if any, it would also mean tarmac going down on Grade 1 Agriculture Land. I would urge everyone who cares about protecting our natural environment – and who wants transport infrastructure money to be spent wisely and well – to submit a planning objection before June 2nd. More details can be found on the Blue Finger Alliance website.

Secondly, I was hugely disappointed to learn that Bristol had recently turned down the opportunity to be one of ten UK food waste cities. Council officers told me they want to concentrate on recycling waste, rather than on preventing it. Yes, Bristol has a pretty good record on food waste, but we shouldn’t be aiming to be ‘pretty good’. We should be aiming to be the best – especially if we’re EU Green Capital – and that should mean prioritising the most environmental solutions for managing waste.

Thirdly, Bristol has to improve its record on food standards. We are currently ranked an appalling 379th out of 395 town/ cities for interventions (ie “activities designed to monitor, support and increase food law compliance within a food establishment”). Manchester achieves 85% interventions. Liverpool nearly 82%. Bristol? A shockingly low 17.5%. We all remember the horsemeat scandal of last year and last week I met with Which? to discuss their recent report on food fraud. People have the right to know what is in the food they’re buying, no matter whether it’s locally-sourced grass-fed meat from the organic butcher or it’s a late night kebab from a takeaway.

Finally, we know that all the good work on local food, healthy living and sustainability isn’t reaching everyone. Too many people in the city don’t have access to healthy, fresh food, don’t have the budget to buy it, or don’t have the facilities to cook it. Or they might simply not be interested, yet. We have to make sure these great new initiatives aren’t just for the foodies and the environmentalists, but for everyone. I’ve spoken to the Mayor about this and I know that he agrees with me, so let’s all work together to make it happen.”

 

Council Total % of food standards   Interventions achieved (exc unrated) Total % of food standards   Interventions achieved – Premises Rated A Total % of food standards   Interventions achieved – Premises Rated B Total % of food standards   Interventions achieved – Premises Rated C Total number of samples for standards work
Bristol 17.59 46 16.03 23 133
Birmingham 74.57 58.82 71.22 77.39 0
Liverpool 81.83 100 82.21 73.91 70
Manchester 85.22 100 96.55 82.9 74
Newcastle Upon Tyne 40.96 No premises given this risk rating 25.4 54.48 76
Nottingham City 68.15 64.29 74.66 67.39 80
Sheffield 26.99 93.64 36.65 4.5 257

#SaveMeriam

My colleague Ian Lucas and I wrote to Baroness Warsi about this horrific case on Friday. Here’s our letter:

 

The Rt Hon Baroness Warsi
Senior Minister of State
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH

16 May 2014

Dear Baroness Warsi

Re: Freedom of religion in Sudan

You will no doubt be as shocked as we are to hear of the decision of a court in Sudan to sentence an eight months pregnant Christian woman to death by hanging for apostasy and to 100 lashes for ‘adultery’.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag is currently being held in detention with her 20 month old son. Her death sentence was confirmed yesterday after she was given three days to recant her religion but refused.

Amnesty International has declared Meriam to be a prisoner of conscience and described the sentence as “appalling and abhorrent”. News of the sentence has already attracted widespread condemnation from around the world.

The court has said that the death penalty will not be carried out until two years after her child is born, and the flogging will be carried out when she has had a chance to recover from the birth. We understand that she will be appealing to a higher court, but we would contest that it is the responsibility of the Sudanese government to step in and stop this.

We are writing to you to ask what representations the British government is making on this issue to the Sudanese authorities, and what steps are being taken to help secure the immediate release of Meriam and her child.

Meriam must be free to continue her family life, and to follow the religion she chooses, without fear of punishment or persecution.

We know that you have declared that protecting the freedom of religion or belief is a priority for you in your role as Human Rights Minister, and hope that you will be able to give this dreadful case your immediate attention.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Kerry McCarthy MP                                               Ian Lucas MP
Shadow Foreign Minister for Human Rights          Shadow Foreign Minister for AfricaImage

 

Great Strides 65

I somehow seem to have signed myself up to do a 65 km/ 40 mile walk this Saturday to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

I say “somehow”, actually I think it was my idea… I may regret it.

I’m doing it with my sister Emma, her partner Andrew and her friend Suzie, who runs marathons. Emma and Andrew have been in training by going for 20 mile walks. I’ve done nothing. We have also been advised to spend the week stuffing ourselves with carbs to build up our energy, which I haven’t quite managed either.

Emma has been planning for it with military precision: first aid kit, rehydration packs, torches, water supplies, enough vegan snacks to last a fortnight… You can tell she’s a mother of three kids. She keeps sending me texts with yet more arrangements and I just reply ‘Yes Mum’. Andrew is in charge of map-reading and the compass. I will be turning up with my walking boots on and some bagels, if I haven’t eaten them all by then.

We’re doing this because I have a 9 year old niece – Emma and Andrew’s daughter – who has cystic fibrosis, Her name is Maisie (pictured here with Mabel, their puppy). We were set an original fundraising target of £1000 but we’ve managed to exceed that and have now set a revised target of £1750 – though it would be great to reach £2000. Overall Great Strides has so far had pledges of £43,000, and they’re hoping to get to £50,000 to mark the CF Trust’s 50th anniversary year. Details of our fundraising here: www.justgiving.com/MaisieMiles.

This follows the amazing trek I did in the desert in Jordan in late February/ early March,  raised more than £3000, including Gift Aid. The terrain was rocky and hilly, and it was absolutely freezing in the desert at night, but I have a feeling this weekend’s walk will actually be far more taxing… We will have to set off at around 5am to get to Surrey in time, so that means getting up at the ungodly hour of 4am. Starters orders are at 7am and we have 17 hours – ie until midnight – to complete it. I’m told that there’s a pretty big hill – St Martha’s – right at the end. Obviously we’re really hoping it doesn’t rain, and I am really, really hoping there’s a low pollen count.

It should be fun – I think.

Image

 

We are about to prorogue – what does that mean?

So… I am in my Commons office after all the fuss over PMQs has died down, and the annunciator says “Sitting Suspended”, which means we are waiting for the Lords to finish up, and then we are going to prorogue. Someone just told me it will be at “about” 6.43pm.

Prorogation is a somewhat ludicrous business in the Lords which involves the Lord Chancellor dressing up in his robes, doffing his tricorne three times and someone speaking in Norman French. MPs, being generally inferior beings have to crowd in down the end of the Lords chamber if they want to watch it. I did it once, which was enough.

Once prorogued, Parliament won’t return till June 4th, for the State Opening of Parliament, aka the Queen’s Speech. It’s not like recess, when Parliament can be recalled if something urgent crops up, like the Syria vote last summer. There is no Parliament to be recalled.

Despite what you read in the press, this doesn’t mean MPs are on holiday till then. We weren’t actually expecting to prorogue until next week, so I’ve got meetings in the diary in Westminster tomorrow, and on Monday I’m speaking at Equity’s annual conference in London in my capacity as Chair of the Performers Alliance Parliamentary Group. Then it will be all-out campaigning for the local and Euro elections on the 22nd, as well as various meetings and events in Bristol. VegFest – the best Bristol food festival in my totally unbiased opinion – is the weekend after next, and I’ll be speaking at that too.

Prorogation also means MPs won’t be able to table any Parliamentary Questions for a good few weeks, and any of them that have already been tabled but haven’t yet been answered, will just disappear, and have to be tabled. The same applies to the 1337 Early Day Motions tabled over the past year. See here for details of the most popular – beer, badgers and disability benefits.

Something to look forward to when Parliament returns is the Private Members’ Bill Ballot, which will give a handful of MPs the chance of parliamentary time to take forward a bill of their choice. I am contemplating this – the Agroecology (Food Security) Bill – if I’m lucky enough in the ballot, which is highly unlikely – I hope if I don’t make the top fifteen then someone who does will take it up instead.

P.S. The bell has just gone to warn us of pending prorogation, which means my source was out by 1 minute. Sitting to resume at 6.42pm, when if we are so inclined we can traipse off to the Lords to watch the formalities.

 

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