On Tuesday I spoke in a House debate on the situation in Ukraine, keen to reflect the concerns that my constituents have been writing to me about. I welcomed this week’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the Homes for Ukraine scheme, because nearly a hundred constituents have contacted me to say that they are desperate to help, have space in their homes and want to accommodate Ukrainians.
The Government is not providing these constituents with a way to identify refugees whom they can sponsor. It is really important that we match their incredible good will with those people who really need it. The Government must do more to match refugees in Poland or other countries who need shelter with people here who are willing to help.
I am really grateful to a charity in my constituency called Refugees Welcome in Richmond, who came to see me last Friday. They told me about their work helping refugees find housing and giving them day to day support. I share their concern that the renewed focus on Ukrainian refugees will obscure the effort that is still going on to rehome Afghan refugees still living in hotels. I called for a renewed focus on getting them resettled in my speech in the House. You can see my contributions to the debate here and here.
FIGHTING UPWARD-ONLY RENT REVIEWS
My Private Members Bill on upward-only rent reviews was listed for its second reading in the House today, though we unfortunately ran out of time for it. This bill addresses a problem that has plagued many of the businesses in my constituency and across the country: increasing commercial rents year on year until their businesses are no longer viable. My legislation, if enacted, would be crucial in protecting the independent businesses of our high streets from unaffordable rent increases.
Last week, to raise awareness of my Private Members Bill, I visited Don Fernando’s restaurant in Richmond with Richmond councillors. Eduardo Izquierdo, the manager of this legendary Richmond tapas restaurant, recently announced that he will have to shut his doors due to the ever-increasing rent on his premises. I was heartbroken to hear that this local gem is the latest to fall prey to the practice of upward-only rent reviews. I will keep pushing for this change in law.
Many constituents have written to me about the DVLA since the first lockdown began, so the Times article today that revealed the problems there since the pandemic began did not come a surprise to me. The extent of the incompetence and indifference uncovered by the Times' investigation, however, shocked me enough that I immediately wrote to Secretary of State Grant Shapps about it.
In my letter I demand a full investigation into how the Department allowed this to happen. Many of my constituents were badly let down by the DVLA over the past two years, and we need to understand how this happened. I also asked him to share his plan to clear the enormous backlog of work at the DVLA so that it functions properly again. You can read my letter here.
VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING 30 MARCH - UKRAINE FOCUS
I will be hosting my next Virtual Coffee Morning on Wednesday 30 March at 9:30am. For this event, I am particularly interested to hear from people who have issues related to Ukraine that they want to raise. Please do join me for a brief update followed by questions and conversation with myself and others participants. All residents are welcome and you can sign up for the event here.
THAMES LANDSCAPE STRATEGY
I had an interesting visit last week with staff and volunteers of the Thames Landscape Strategy, a partnership with Habitats and Heritage. We met at the Kew meridian post, which has an open vista from the path to the Royal Observatory. The current project is to clear the haha along the edge of the road and build a natural retaining wall, as part of the management and rewilding of the flood plain. In future there will be an expansion of the wet woodlands that currently exist on this stretch (one of the few remaining in the country) and the creation of a reed bed which acts as a natural water purifier as well as capturing even more carbon than trees.
BARNES STATION ACCESSIBILITY PLANS
Residents who use Barnes station will be pleased to hear that London Assembly officers have written to tell me about updates to Network Rail's Access for All (AfA) schemes. The scope for each AfA scheme is to provide an obstacle-free, accessible route to and between platforms, thereby giving greater access to disabled passengers and those facing mobility restraints.
The outline design stage is due to be complete in the spring of 2022 for Barnes station. Detailed design is then scheduled for completion by the end of 2022 with work on site due to commence in early 2023 and to finish by the end of 2023. I was delighted to hear that we will finally be able to improve accessibility at Barnes station, and will continue to press for this to be rolled out to other inaccessible stations.
KEW ROTARY COLLECTION FOR UKRAINE
The Kew Rotary Club has set up a new crowdfunding site to contribute to the relief efforts for refugees from Ukraine. Rotary has generously agreed to match the first £10,000 of donations. Every penny raised goes directly to those in need. If you would like to help, you can see more information here.
BRITE BOX, VOICES OF HOPE GOOD FOOD CO-OP EVENT
The kind people of Good Food Co-op, who run the excellent Brite Box scheme, will be holding a Good Food Co-Op fundraising dinner at Kingsgate Church on Friday 22nd April, with all proceeds donated to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal and Refugee Action Kingston. More information about Good Food Co-oP can be found here.