Like the many constituents who have written to me about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, I have been deeply disappointed by the Government's failure to negotiate her release and get her home. I met with her husband Richard during his recent hunger strike and lobbied the Government once again to take action.
During Tuesday's Westminster Hall debate on Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's detention I took the opportunity to remind the Government that this is not just a game of geopolitical chess. This is the forced separation of a mother from her daughter for five years. The Government needs to bring this family together again. You can see my contribution here.
GOVERNMENT U-TURN ON HS2
On Thursday I challenged the Transport Secretary on the Government's HS2 u-turn this week. They have abandoned plans for the eastern spur of the line, which would have run from the Midlands to Leeds, as well as the proposed east-west line between Liverpool and Leeds. I am deeply disappointed by this hollowing out of their much-touted plans to re-vitalise the north of England with better rail connections.
We need to be doing all we can to encourage sustainable transport options, including improvements to rail services, if we are to have any chance of meeting our carbon reduction targets. With the Government cutting Air Passenger Duty, failing to deliver high speed rail, and failing to meet its own targets for converting the existing rail network to electric power, they appear to have no intention of meeting net zero goals at all.
I took the opportunity to question Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on this point in the Commons debate on the Government's revised plan. You can see a video clip of my question and his rather evasive response here. And you can see the full text of the debate here.
COVID-19 IN RICHMOND AND KINGSTON
Richmond and Kingston are currently two of the three London boroughs with the highest rates of Covid-19 infection. Rates are highest in younger age groups (10-14 year olds, then 5-9 year olds) and also quite high in the age group that would include many of their parents. Numbers of Covid-19 inpatients at Kingston Hospital have increased over the past month.
Our vaccination rates are also increasing, but we need to do more to get case rates down. I would include everyone who is eligible for one to prioritise getting a booster jab as soon as possible. This includes anyone over the age of 50 who had their second dose more than six months ago. You can now pre-book your appointment up to a month before your eligibility date.
Parents of 12-15 year olds are encouraged to book appointments for their first doses at vaccination centres instead of waiting for the school service, if possible. Anyone aged 18 and over who has not had a second dose is strongly encouraged to book one as soon as twelve weeks have elapsed since your first.
For anyone over 16 who has not had any Covid-19 vaccinations yet, I have been asked by the Chief Nurse of Public Health London to pass on a very important message. He says "it’s never too late to get vaccinated, and no-one will be judged when going for their first dose." Please do not hesitate to go for your first dose because you think you will not be received warmly. I can assure you NHS staff are eager to welcome you. NHS nurses on site at the vaccination centres will be happy to talk through your concerns and make sure you have all the information you need.
If you would like to hear advice on keeping yourself and your loved ones safe this winter, you can listen to Richmond Council’s Director of Public Health talking about on COVID-19 and winter health on the latest Talk Richmond podcast episode.
Covid-19 vaccines can be booked online, or booked by phone by dialling 119.
I also recommend that over 50s get the free flu vaccine at your local pharmacy or surgery. (You may even be offered it at your Covid-19 vaccination.) If you get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, research shows you’re more likely to be seriously ill. Being vaccinated against both flu and COVID-19 will protect you and those around you from serious illness.
VISIT TO KINGSTON COLLEGE
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Kingston College and speaking with Peter Mayhew Smith and Catherine Howett. They spoke with me about the challenges of teaching skills for new industries and technologies. Vocational training is even more important as we move into a green economy, with new skills to learn in everything from automotive repair to building design.
The introduction of new "T level" qualifications is causing concern for the college, though. They are not sure they are as well designed as the existing BTEC qualifications in terms of the students' transition into work. I am writing to the government about this issue; it is vital that we have the right courses for our students and our economy.
COOMBE COFFEE MORNING
I held the last of my autumn series of coffee mornings at the Albert pub in Coombe Hill on Monday. We had a fantastic discussion about a wide range of issues, including tree protection, the Kingfisher Leisure Centre site, pedestrian safety and Green Home Grants. As always it was both pleasant and illuminating to speak with a group of my constituents face to face. I will be scheduling more coffee mornings in the New Year across my constituency.
UPCOMING VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNINGS
In order to keep in touch with my constituents until the next round of in-person coffee mornings, I have scheduled two Virtual Coffee mornings at 10:00 on Wednesday December 8 and Wednesday January 12. If you would like to join myself and your fellow constituents for a brief update on what I am doing as your representative, and informal conversation on topics of interest to attendees, please do sign up here.
CONSULTATION ON LONDON POLICING AND CRIME
The Mayor of London is launching a draft Police and Crime Plan this month. I know that crime and policing are topics of the highest importance for my constituents; I strongly encourage as many of you as possible to participate in the consultation. You can share your thoughts with the Mayor's Office here.
RAISING ALCOHOL AWARENESS
To mark this year’s Alcohol Awareness week this week, Richmond Council is raising awareness of the affect alcohol can have on our relationships, health and wellbeing. Throughout this week they are encouraging residents to reach out for support if they need it.
Aside from the impact on physical health, drinking too much alcohol is strongly associated with causing or exacerbating problems with mental health. If a loved one is drinking heavily, it can cause huge amounts of worry for those around them. It is thought that 200,000 children in England live with an alcohol-dependent parent or carer.
If you think you need support, Richmond Community Drug and Alcohol Service (RCDAS) is here to help anyone over the age of 18. You can call the free support service on 020 3228 3020.
You can use the Council’s DrinkChecker website to help set goals to drink less, see how much you can save in money and calories by reducing your drinking, and find information about local support services.
If there is a young person in your life who might need support, the Young People’s Substance Misuse Service aims to provide specialist substance misuse treatment to young people aged 13 to 19 years and their families. You can contact the service by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 020 8547 6920.
LIME E-BIKE ARRANGEMENTS
Under the terms on an updated agreement, Lime e-bikes will now have designated parking places in Richmond upon Thames. Designated parking spaces will make it easier to find and park a bike, and Lime staff will be on duty in the borough to respond quickly to any issues that arise. The agreement between Lime and Richmond Council also makes more bikes available to use.
A map of designated parking spaces in the borough is available online and in the Lime app. The parking places are dual use – shared with the e-scooter trial. While Lime bike users can park outside of the parking spaces, they are encouraged to use the designated parking spaces when possible. If parking outside of the spaces, users must ensure bikes are not causing nuisance or obstruction. If you do see a Lime bike that is causing issue, please report it by emailing email@example.com or calling 0800 808 5223.
NEW KINGSFISHER LEISURE CENTRE PROPOSALS
Kingston Council has launched its last public engagement to share their updated designs for the new leisure centre with the community and hear feedback, before they finalise the proposals and submit a planning application early next year.
Their project website – www.transformkingston.co.uk – has been updated with revised plans and a new digital survey. Do take a look and share your thoughts. They want to hear from as many different people from across the borough as possible.
The Council will also be holding three public exhibition events to give local residents the opportunity to learn more about the proposals and speak to our Transform Kingston programme team in person. These events will be held on the following dates:
Thursday 25 November, 4.30–7pm – Baking Ideas, Tolworth Station, Kingston Road, KT5 9NX
Saturday 27 November, 10am–2pm – Market House, Kingston Town Centre, KT1 1JT
Saturday 4 December, 10am–2pm - Market House, Kingston Town Centre, KT1 1JT
They are also organising two public webinars, via Zoom, on Monday 22 November at 6-8pm and Tuesday 30 November at 6-8pm. Full details including how to register can be found here.
CHRISTMAS IN KINGSTON
Christmas in Kingston has begun! Kingston will not be having a light switch-on event this year but they are turning the town centre into a festive wonderland with twinkling lights and unique installations. With free kids' craft workshops, Christmas elf trail, a brass band, local choirs and circus and theatre acts throughout December, there will be plenty to keep the whole family entertained. You can enjoy mulled wine, hot chocolate and festive food in front of the live music stage at the Christmas Market or warm your hands by the firepit and watch the stunning vintage carousel. Find out what's on here.
SEWING ANGELS CHARITY STALL
The lovely volunteers at Sewing Angels will be hosting a Charity Christmas stall tomorrow, Saturday 20 November, from 10:00am to 3:00pm outside Spraggs, on the corner of Burton Rd and Kings Rd in North Kingston, KT2 5JE. The Angels have put together a huge range of beautifully handcrafted goods: Christmas decorations, gifts and Christmas cards. They will also be holding a raffle with three prizes donated by Porters, Websters and the Co-op - each accompanied by Sewing Angels products. All profits will go to Kingston Churches Action for Homelessness, MIND and BRaG charities. Card payments will be accepted, as well as cash.
Coombe Coffee Morning, November 15 2021