I'm sure you will know by now that London is being moved into Tier 3 as of midnight tonight. Though I am, of course, worried about the impact this will have on local businesses, I have to support this move on the basis of the case rates across England, London and the two boroughs in my constituency.
We must get this wave of the virus under control as quickly as we can.
It looks like the rapid rise in infections is being driven by under-21 year olds, and especially secondary school pupils. Many of the schools in Richmond Park have confirmed cases and children and staff self-isolating. One secondary school has moved to online learning this week after consultation with public health and education authorities. There are no further school closures planned as of now.
The good news about young people making up such a high proportion of the case load is that infected young people are unlikely to become seriously ill. The bad news is that it's harder to track the virus and contain it when a high percentage of cases are asymptomatic. If you have secondary school pupils at home, it would be a good idea for them to avoid in-person social contact with other children between their last day of school and any Christmas visits with older relatives.
For all members of the household, of any age, I would strongly recommend trying to limit your contact with non-household members between now and Christmas. This will give you greater confidence that you are not putting older or vulnerable family members at risk by being with them.
The full rules for Tier 3 can be found here, but some key points include:
You should work from home if you can
There will be no indoor or table service in restaurants and pubs
Indoor entertainment will have to close
Retail and personal services can stay open
Everyone is encouraged to stay home as much as possible
PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE ON PLANNING REFORMS
Today I opened a Westminster Hall debate on the Government's Planning for the Future White Paper. I felt it was critical to debate this paper, which is problematic in a number of ways.
The paper proposes that property be divided into three types of zone: Growth, Renewal and Protected. Planning permission would be automatically granted in Growth and Renewal Zones. I am troubled by the proposal to take the power of scrutinising developments away from locally elected councillors, who are best placed to know, and to protect the needs of, their areas. Under this plan, no account will be taken of
the environmental impact of developments in Growth and Renewal zones, removing essential environmental protections.
This plan does not require homes to be built to net-zero carbon standards, an achievable goal crucial to decarbonising Britain. Homes that are built to a lower standard now will only have to be retrofitted later to meet future carbon
standards. As the regulatory framework for net-zero homes is ready to implement, there is no excuse for missing the opportunity to introduce it now.
It is past time for the Government to show it is serious about tackling climate change by revising these plans to better protect the environment. You can see some of my remarks in these video clips.
On Friday I went out to meet some local businesses and residents across Richmond Park. I had the pleasure of meeting the Barnes Town Centre Manager at the Barnes Christmas Festival (top left.) Emma is doing all she can to support Barnes businesses through Covid-19 and other challenges. I also met volunteers from the Barnes Community Association, and its Chairman Nicki Urquart, at the festival (top centre and right.) You can see more about their projects and history here.
I went to see Richmond Mind, the mental health charity, and really enjoyed their art exhibition Mindscapes: A Journey Through Mental Health, at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham (bottom left.) All of the artwork was created by their clients or their carers or supporters. Richard, Jill and Val told me about the work Mind does, including telephone support, their well-being centre, projects with young people and support for carers of people living with mental illness. If you want to know more about their work, have a look here.
I visited FiSH in Barnes on Friday too, (bottom centre) to thank them for the inspirational work they have done this year supporting vulnerable local residents. They are on course to deliver 100 Christmas dinners to elderly residents in the area this year, which is an amazing gift to the community. They are always looking for volunteers (and donations!) You can see more about their work here.
Lastly, I had the pleasure of speaking with members of St Mary's Church Barnes (bottom right) about their work and their Christmas plans.
CHRISTMAS TRAVEL INFORMATION
Transport for London has written to me to say that the majority of the TfL network will be operating as usual during the festive period this year, but customers are encouraged to plan early. Londoners should walk or cycle where possible and avoid busy times on public transport.
The network will be running every day between 23 December and 27 December, apart from Christmas Day. Public transport is likely to be busy throughout the day on 23 and 27 December. Roads are likely to be busy throughout the Christmas period, especially between 24 and 26 December. Passengers making long-distance journeys are asked to follow Network Rail advice on planning ahead and pre booking.
TfL has also shared the good news that changes to habits this year due to Covid-19 have seen the proportion of journeys made by walking and cycling increase significantly, from 29 per cent between January and March 2020 to 46 per cent between April and June 2020. Walking and cycling remained well above previous years even as restrictions eased and people began to return to public transport, with active travel accounting for an estimated 37 per cent of journeys between July and September. I am happy to see this cheering indication that Covid-19 has changed our long-term travel habits.
GRADUATE JOBS, PLACEMENTS AND APPRENTICESHIPS WITH NATIONAL GRID
National Grid, which owns and operates the electricity and gas transmission networks in England and Wales, and the gas network in Scotland, has written to ask me to let me young constituents know that they are in the process of hiring for their Graduate, Student Placement and Apprenticeship programmes. Successful candidates will have the opportunity to join a new generation of talent which will shape the future of energy in the UK, helping to make the UK’s net zero goals a reality. This year they are offering a new Gas Transmission Degree Apprenticeship, where apprentices will study for a Bachelor of Engineering as part of their role.
COUNCIL CHRISTMAS GUIDE
Richmond Council has produced a very useful guide to all the rules, support and other information you may need this Christmas, including a brief list of resources available to those in financial and/or physical need. You may have received it through your letterbox, but if not I am attaching it here. I strongly recommend keeping the guide handy throughout the festive period for quick reference. You can also find the Christmas waste and recycling collection days here.
NEW WINTER SUPPORT GRANT FOR STRUGGLING FAMILIES
A new £336k fund has been launched to help support hard pressed families in Richmond through the winter months. The cash will be used to provide assistance with food, energy and water bills, and other essentials like sanitary products, warm clothing, soap, blankets, boiler service/repair and the purchase of crucial household appliances like fridges and ovens.
Nearly half of the money (£146,000) will be used to provide Free School Meals for children in the borough over the school holiday periods (up until the end of March 2021). Children who currently receive free school meals will be eligible, along with other vulnerable 2-4-year olds. Families will receive £15 per week, per child, in supermarket vouchers over the school holiday period. Any family that believes they need this support but are not registered for Free School Meals should discuss this with their school for a referral to the service.
Around £110,000 will be awarded to local voluntary groups and charities, to enable them to provide food parcels, vouchers etc to those most in need. The Council is now inviting local groups and organisations to apply for this funding. If you are interested in applying, please click here.
If you are a local family or resident that would like to be kept informed of when this scheme will be ready to launch, please complete this form.
GRANTS FOR COMMUNITY CENTRES
Six community centres run by local charities have been awarded grants to help them purchase PPE and other items to help them be Covid-safe when they open. All local centres were invited to apply for funding to help them buy personal protective equipment, hand-sanitiser, client face masks, health and safety signage, Perspex partitioning and additional cleaning equipment.
Six local centres have been granted funding, including the Cambrian Community Centre, Castelnau Community Centre and Mortlake Community Centre.
KINGSTON COUNCIL ANNOUNCES NEW-BUILD COUNCIL HOMES PROGRAMME
Kingston council has secured £9.5m in funding from the Greater London Authority to support a scheme which will provide new build housing for households on the council’s Housing Register. All the homes will be low-cost rent for Kingston residents.
The schemes are designed to be highly energy efficient with significant reductions in CO2 emissions and other environmental features. Approval has been given for four local schemes, providing a total of 101 homes for residents. You can see more details about this exciting news here.
NEW KINGSTON COUNCIL WEBSITE
Kingston Council has launched an updated website, providing improved features, easier searching and greater accessibility for users with visual impairments. The new site makes it easier for residents to access information and interact with the Council. Some of the things you can do there include:
Registering a birth
Reporting fly tipping
Applying for a Direct Debit
Requesting help with noise issues
There are more updates coming throughout 2021 and beyond, and the Council will continue to work with residents to deliver improvements. Check out what they have done so far here.