Over the past few years I have been approached by a number of people with environmental concerns on the subject of aircraft noise over Henley and the surrounding area. To this has now been added similar concerns to do with the new third runway at Heathrow. During this period I have organised two meetings in Henley with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), NATS and Heathrow for people to be able to put their questions directly to those actively involved in dealing with these issues. I have also visited the air traffic control centre on the south coast to see for myself how this is handled. The fact remains that aircraft have to land into the wind which means that, when the wind is an easterly, planes turn over Henley to line up to land at Heathrow. Although the predominant wind is from the West there have been significant periods when the wind has come from the east. About 70% of the time planes work on westerly operations which is less noticeable in our area. The increase of late in the number of days of flying on easterly operations can be found at https://www.heathrow.com/noise/heathrow-operations/wind-direction
The second important point to bear in mind is, as has been pointed out to me, that many people in the constituency, and particularly in Henley, make their living from aviation either by flying as air crew, by travelling themselves or by working in support functions in and around the airport. There is a balance to be struck.
In addition to the meetings I organised, I have raised the issue with Ministers, have asked questions in the House and also spoken in debates on the subject. The bottom line is that the CAA and NATS have begun work on a comprehensive review of how we use airspace around airports. Better use of airspace, better use of new technology including quieter and more environmentally efficient planes, and changes to the height at which aircraft are brought in to land will all have a major impact on the level of noise over the constituency and could provide considerably more respite. To this mix has been added a third runway at Heathrow.
The combination of these two projects holds out the real possibility that the system of stacking aircraft around London can virtually be abolished. This has enormous potential for decreasing pollution and making communities on the flight paths much quieter. That is why I was keen to ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the relation between these projects was during the Statement on the third runway.
In his Statement to the House of Commons, the Secretary of State said specifically that the new runway cannot go ahead without demonstrating that it can follow air quality guidelines. He also pointed out the strong mitigations which would exist and the way that noise pollution would be tackled which is comparable with some of the most generous packages in the world. He also pointed out the intention to deliver on a six and a half hour ban on night flights. The fact is that new planes are cleaner, greener and quieter than the ones they are replacing. All this is in the context of a significant community engagement programme.
It is clear what we should be doing. We should first aim to participate in the airspace review to ensure that our needs are fully taken into account. Second, we also need to be heard as the project for the new runway develops to ensure that mitigation factors affect Henley in a positive way. Both of these are processes I have already started including within the House of Commons by asking questions of the Secretary of State himself. Thirdly, we need to ensure that the list of communities covered by the community engagement programme includes us.
I was pleased that so many people attended the open meeting in Sonning Common on Friday. The prime purpose was to find out what was on your minds. Some 70 of you came along on the Friday night and we had a very friendly discussion on a number of issues from planning to roads, housing to policing, and the environment to the NHS. There were a couple of points I said I would take away and feedback your concerns. I thought it helpful, though, to provide a few comments in the meantime on three of the biggest.
As I said at the meeting, I meet with the Area Commander from time to time to discuss the workload of the police and how they are tackling crime. We have seen a change in the nature of crime within the area and we have seen the prevalence of rural crime which, with the help of farmers, is being tackled. That still leaves the problems identified at the meeting of break-ins to cars and to vans. It is worth noting that crimes traditionally measured by the Independent Crime Survey for England and Wales are actually down by over a third since June 2010. I was really pleased that overall police spending has been protected in real terms until 2019/20, once local income is taken into account, which will enable the police to continue to adapt. This works out as an increase of £900 million cash by 2019-20. I welcome the fact that Police and Crime Commissioners are being given the flexibility to increase their funding by up to £270 million in 2018/19 by increasing the Council Tax precept by up to £1 a month for a typical householder without the need to call a local referendum. It is clear the police are seeing more complex crime, and here close to Oxford we have seen terrible crimes against children. All of this means that the police need to adapt.
I am fully committed to supporting the social rented sector. But here in this constituency there appears to be more of a need for affordable market housing. I agree that developers are simply not rising to the challenge on this. The issue of the socially rented sector was raised at a meeting inThame. We agreed that it was a good idea to come up with figures for the social rented housing need and I urge Sonning Common to do the same. Since 2010 over 357,000 affordable homes have been delivered across the country, including more than 249,000 for rent. I was pleased to see the announcement of an extra £2 billion in funding for the 2016-2021 Affordable Homes Programme, increasing the total funding to over £9 billion. The additional £2 billion is expected to provide around 25,000 affordable homes, including housing in the socially rented sector. It is also important that a stable financial environment is secured for both social housing providers and renters by setting out a long term rent deal. The proposal, which would grant social tenants the security and certainty they need, will be consulted on this year.
NHS future plan
The Prime Minister has made a commitment that the government will deliver a long term plan for the NHS, and that we would bring forward a multi-year funding settlement in support of it. We have committed £10 billion in new funding for the NHS since last November alone. But after the most challenging winter for many years, we can be in no doubt about the pressures in the system, nor the challenges ahead. We will be looking after a million more over 70's in 2020 than five years' before, while the number of over 85's will nearly double by 2035. But we need to move away from annual top-ups to the NHS's budget towards a sustainable long-term plan. This means building on the work of the Five Year Forward View but looking beyond it with long-term commitments which allow the NHS to realise greater productivity and efficiency gains. We will, therefore, come forward with a long term plan for the NHS, in conjunction with its leaders, clinicians and health experts. As the PM set out, our new plan must turbo charge progress in spreading the excellence which exists in parts of the system across the whole of the NHS. We also know that care is still not properly integrated for people who have both health and social care needs, that the system is often not accountable to patients or the taxpayer, and that citizens should be supported to take more responsibility for their health.
First, let me say that in my opinion the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway is very unlikely to affect Otmoor or other SSSIs in the constituency. The proposed Expressway is part of a wider project currently referred to as the Oxford - Milton Keynes - Cambridge Arc. It is a major project but one which is at an early stage. Much of the preparatory work for this was completed by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). This work is not Government policy and the Government has made no response to the NIC on its proposals. What it has done is to ask my colleague Iain Stewart MP, who has been appointed Government champion for the project, to make recommendations which is why I organised a meeting with him and 25 of my potentially most affected parish councils so that they could make their points directly to him. In addition, I hope to be making points on behalf of the constituency at a meeting with Highways England shortly.
For my part I have already had discussion also with the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that he is aware of the local issues and have also put these concerns in writing to him. I have also written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to try to include the A420 to Swindon within the project and I have pointed out the extent of Green Belt around Oxford. I am of the firm opinion that the route should utilise existing roads wherever possible rather than carve a new path through Green Belt land or damage other areas of environmental interest and I have suggested it needs to be routed to the west of Oxford,
I am sure you will be pleased to know that I have also raised concerns about the transparency of the work on this project. A project of this magnitude should have ready access to as much information as possible in the public domain. I accept that some competitive data needs to remain private but feel that the lack of information is adding to speculation. I have asked the Secretary of State to intervene so that as much information as possible can be immediately put into the public domain with explanation as to what is being held back and why. I have also asked him to ensure that there is full public consultation before a route is decided and not just on the preferred option. One of the recommendations of Iain Stewart MP is that the project needs considerably more public buy-in before it goes ahead.
I understand that Highways England are currently looking at possible 'corridors' for the road. They will decide which in the summer – no date has yet been given. Once the actual corridor is chosen work will begin to determine the route but this is unlikely to take place before the mid to late 2020s.
I would also encourage you to make your views known to the Leader of the County Council, Ian Hudspeth (email@example.com) and Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Local Economic Partnership (firstname.lastname@example.org). Although both say that they have not decided on a preferred route, both have influence on this through their work as part of the Oxfordshire Growth Board. It is important that they are aware of the views of our local communities. I understand too that other councils along the route have already engaged in public consultation.
I attach a letter and an email I have received from NHS Property Services about the parking at Townlands Memorial Hospital. They provide useful information about:
The email gives the details of who at NHS Property Services people should complain to.
I do not want anyone to be in any doubt about the right of the Windrush children who came to the UK between 1948 and 1971 to remain here.
We're not aware of any evidence that anyone has been wrongly deported. There have been a very small number of cases of former Commonwealth citizens who have the right to be here being subject to removal action and detention. This is not acceptable and should not happen again.
The Home Office is setting up a new dedicated team that will work across Government to help individuals identify and gather evidence to confirm their existing right to be in the UK. The team will include a dedicated contact point and aim to resolve cases within 2 weeks once the evidence has been put together. We recognise that some of these people may struggle to evidence when they arrived and how long they have been in the UK, so this dedicated team will work with other departments and any other relevant bodies to help people provide the evidence they need. They won't need to just rely on formal records. Any information they can provide, from schools they attended to places of work, family or former addresses will help build this picture.
No one should be left out of pocket as they go through this process.
Any thoughts that the UK is going to engage in a bombing campaign of the civilian population of Syria have been proved to be very wide of the mark. Theresa May took the decision to undertake a small, limited and targeted strike against the chemical weapons facilities of Syria. The decision has been supported by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the Prime Minister of Denmark, the Spanish Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister of Australia, the NATO Secretary General, the ...Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Prime Minister of Canada, the President of the EU Council and the Chancellor of Germany, amongst others. It was also spported by many Labour MPs. They have taken this view because I believe the evidence is very clear that the Assad regime was responsible for "the foaming at the mouth, the floppy bodies of children, and the particular terror those weapons deliberately inspire".
The UK has been operating in Syria with humanitarian assistance and will continue to do so, as far as it is possible. It is making a real difference, providing life-saving and life-changing humanitarian support to the people of Syria, and those who have fled to neighbouring countries. Since 2012, across Syria and the region, UK aid has delivered over 26 million food rations that feed a person for a month, 10.3 million medical consultations, 9.8 million relief packages, and over 8 million vaccines. In 2016/17 alone, UK aid reached over 5 million people with clean water. We are te second largest aid donor in the country. That shows a real concern for the humanitarian situation amongst Syrians.
I disagree with claims that more bombing of the type we undertook would increase the suffering of the Syrian people. I believe the limited and targeted nature of this bombing avoided this but still achieved our objective. We cannot sit by and accept the use of these vile chemical weapons simply because they run the risk of a confrontation with Russia. The lack of humanitarian concern that this implies would be surprising in the extreme. How many more children have to gasp for life in the face of these chemical weapons particularly as the regime prepares for an attack on Idlib. It also suggests that we live in a world where the Russians always have the whip hand.
The view that Theresa May should have sought the permission of Parliament first is more complex. This to some extent is an issue of judgement. Having listened to the Statement that the Prime Minister gave in the House, I believe the need to act with speed and to alleviate further humanitarian suffering were paramount. These happen to be the circumstances in which a Prime Minister is encouraged to act and I believe it was appropriate. It is sad to observe that the political and diplomatic route had failed. Attempts to involve the UN were frustrated by Russian vetoes, preventing any meaningful dialogue.
I have had discussion with the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that he is aware of the local issues and have also put these concerns in writing to him. I am of the firm opinion that the route should utilise existing roads wherever possible rather than carve a new path through Green Belt land or damage other areas of environmental interest. I do not agree with the idea that a southern route should be chosen to bring Aylesbury into the equation. Houses there would be a comuter belt for London rather than support the corridor.
I have also raised concerns about the transparency of the work on this project. A project of this magnitude should have ready access to as much information as possible in the public domain. I accept that some competitive data needs to remain private but feel that the lack of information is adding to speculation. I have asked the Secretary of State to intervene so that as much information as possible can be immediately put into the public domain with explanation as to what is being held back and why. I have also asked him to ensure that there is full public consultation before a route is decided and not just on the preferred option.
Iain Stewart MP has been appointed Government Champion for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc (as it is known at present) and I am in regular contact with him to try to make sure that we keep abreast of developments. I have arranged for him to visit the constituency shortly to meet with Parish Councils.
I would also encourage people to make their views known to the Leader of the County Council, Ian Hudspeth (email@example.com) and Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Local Economic Partnership (firstname.lastname@example.org). Although both of them have written to me to say they are not supporting a southern route, both organisations have influence on this through their work as part of the Oxfordshire Growth Board and it is believed that they favour a southern route. It is important that they are aware of the views of our local communities rather than simply passing the responsibility to Highways England.
I have held important meetings with Henley town council and with Thame town council separately on the question of revising or up-dating the Neighbourhood Plans. We have covered issues such as the purpose of Neighbourhood Plans, what work will be involved, how this relates to SODC and whether a Referendum would be required on any revisions.
Progress on the situation with parking fines at Townlands Memorial Hospital
I have had a letter back from NHS Property Services in reply to one of mine in which they say "the current situation is unacceptable and urgent changes are expected to improve the experience of patients." They also say that they have "interceded to ensure all those users who have been incorrectly or harshly issued with penalty notices have had them rescinded."
A good first step and I will shortly be posting here the name and address for people to write to seek the rescinding of their fines.
Smart Parking has treated people in an appalling way which is unacceptable.
I want to turn to a subject that can have a big effect on people – the Welfare System. The Welfare System that we have today has been over a century in the making and is the work of each political party that has held office in that period. The system has grown and adapted as society has changed and thus it is likely that it will always need reform to meet new challenges and circumstances. By and large, the system works well to help get people into work so that they can support themselves and their families. In this constituency, we have one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country. This does mean job opportunities for some and in-work benefits where necessary. It also means support for the minority who cannot work through sickness, disability or personal circumstances. It is a mark of a civilised society that we look after those who cannot look after themselves. This may be life-long support for someone or support through a temporary difficult time.
In recent months, I have been concerned with the operation of aspects of the current system, particularly Personal Independence Payments which are in a period of transition, and may not be meeting the needs of some people. Thus some of the very people we seek to support are falling through the gaps. For example, I am concerned at the time assessments can take and also at the quality of some assessments. Where there is a discrepancy in an assessment, I am concerned at the time it can take to raise a concern and for reassessment. I am concerned, too, at the difficulties that seem to arise when assessing medical conditions with debilitating symptoms that are intermittent or erratic and which may just happen not to be apparent at the time of assessment.
I am concerned that this may be failing some of the vulnerable people in our society and therefore I have raised my concerns with the new Secretary of State for Welfare as a matter that needs addressing urgently. I await her response.