SOUTH WESTERN RAILWAY CUTS
On Monday, South Western Railway (SWR) introduced a reduced timetable attributed to Omicron-related staff shortages. I am really concerned by the new timetable, which has reduced peak-hour trains running from Mortlake to Waterloo from four per hour to two per hour. This is a service that is absolutely critical for many of my constituents. I have received correspondence from a number of constituents who are struggling to go about their daily lives because of the changes. My view is that with infection rates slowing down in many parts of London, we should also see staff shortages decline. The new timetable should not be needed.
I wrote to SWR last week, and yesterday, at a meeting between Twickenham MP Munira Wilson, Richmond Council Leader Gareth Roberts and South Western Railway's Managing Director, Claire Mann I was pleased to hear that several services have already been reinstated. I welcome their pledge to return to a full timetable following updated work from home guidance as it is clear that urgent action is required to address the enormous pressures Richmond residents are facing right now.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF AUSTRALIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
In Wednesday’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing we had the opportunity to question government officials about the Australia free trade agreement. In June 2020 a scoping assessment estimated that the deal would produce up to £900m of UK exports to Australia, but in December 2021 an impact assessment put that estimate at £6.2bn. This is an extraordinary rise and I would like to understand how it happened. I am not wholly convinced by the answer afforded to me by the Department for International Trade Permanent Secretary. I will, this coming week, meet with a number of department officials about this matter to gain a better understanding of what exactly happened to produce such an increase in projections. You can see part of my contribution here.
I would also like more information about the environmental impact of this trade deal. With imports of beef from Australia set to rise considerably, it is important to understand what kind of transport-related emissions increase we will see. I have submitted a number of parliamentary questions to find out whether the government has undertaken any analysis on this, and if so, when they will be publishing the results.
TRANSPORT IN LONDON
I recently submitted a parliamentary question to the Department for Transport about the status of KPMG’s independent report into TfL’s finances. Business leaders have long been calling on the department to publish the report – which cost the taxpayer £1.2m. I was keen to find out the cause for the delay as I believe this information should be made public.
The response I received was, unfortunately, quite disappointing. It belittled the mess the Government has made of TfL’s long-term financial viability. Short-term settlements will not be sufficient, and I think this may be exactly the conclusion the KPMG report reached. We need a fully informed debate around how TfL can get back on its feet and survive for years to come. That makes the release of the report, even in redacted form, absolutely essential. I subsequently spoke with the Evening Standard and was pleased they decided to cover it, as this critical issue for Londoners needs full attention.
I recently submitted a parliamentary question to the Department for Transport asking why, when they are contributing around 80% of the costs to the Third River Crossing at Great Yarmouth, they have only committed to contribute 33% of the costs to the stabilisation of Hammersmith Bridge. I received a response which explained, frustratingly, that the funding was part of the wider Large Local Majors road funding scheme, of which Hammersmith Bridge was not a part.
This week I wrote to both Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Baroness Vere, Department for Transport Minister and Chair of the Taskforce, urging them to provide an update on the status of the business case required for the Bridge’s £6m stabilisation plan. The last communication we received was in November. Like many of you I am eager to find out what progress has been made since.
VISITS TO VINE ROAD REC IN BARNES AND NPL
I enjoyed a lovely morning visit with the community gardeners at Vine Road Recreation Ground last Friday. Crispin O'Brien and Mike Hildesly outlined their plans for Vine Road and told me about some of the community gardening they hoped to undertake in the area. There are exciting plans for redevelopment in the works, with the addition of skatepark, a flood resilience project that will create a wetlands area, a new water play area and an educational programme.
I also met Andy and Matt from Regenerate, who run the Feel Good Cafe van in the park. Regenerate creates job training opportunities for young people, helping them grow in confidence and make the best of their lives.
Later that day I was pleased to tour the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, to learn about the vital and fascinating work they are doing there. Given the urgency of our net zero commitments, I was especially interested to learn about the work they are doing on hydrogen extraction projects and battery technology for the commercial and domestic use of hydrogen energy. They are also working hard on improving measurement of air quality to ensure that new technologies are having the desired effects.
It was a pleasure to return to my former workplace at the National Physical Laboratory.
TAMIL TEMPLE VISIT
I also had the privilege of visiting the beautiful Tamil temple in Stoneleigh last week to observe their Thai Pongal festival, at the invitation of Gaj Ragunathan. This temple has been serving the Tamil community in southwest London since 1973. They would normally have about 5000 members at the larger festivals, but due to the pandemic, many of their members cannot attend the temple in person. They have a YouTube channel now for the older members of the temple to still be able to take part. I was delighted, however, to be able to observe the service in their lovely space in person.
KEW ROTARY CLUB FOODBANK FUNDRAISING
Kew Rotary Club has written to say that due to the enormous pressures on food banks at the moment, their crowdfunding campaign for Richmond Foodbank will continue into February. If you would like join them by donating to this important local resource, please click here.
NOMINATE A COMMUNITY HERO FOR RICHMOND
Do you know an inspirational person, group, or business who has helped to make Richmond upon Thames and their local community a better place? You can now nominate them for the 2021 Community Heroes Awards.
The awards programme is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the people who go above and beyond to make a difference. There are various award categories including outstanding achievement by a young person, community group of the year and an award to recognise those tackling climate change. You can submit your nomination until Thursday 3 February 2022.
NOMINATE A COMMUNITY HERO FOR KINGSTON
Nominations are also open for the Mayor of Kingston’s Community Awards, which celebrate Kingston residents who have given up their time to help other people and the community. If you know somebody who deserves recognition for their community efforts or local achievement, please nominate them before 5pm on 27 January.
FUSE INTERNATIONAL YOUTH ARTS FESTIVAL - LAST CHANCE TO JOIN!
FUSE International is a multi-arts international festival which takes place in Kingston every summer and will take place this year from 1 – 10 July . The festival provides a supportive environment for artists at every stage of their creative journey, from experienced performers to those putting on their first show.
Applications for FUSE International have been extended to this Sunday 23 January, and the organisers are inviting young companies and artists under 27 to take part. If you are over 27 but creating work for young audiences, they would love to hear from you too. There is more information here.
WORK ON CANBURY GARDENS
As part of ongoing work to improve and enhance Kingston's green spaces, the Council will be resurfacing Canbury Gardens playground, replacing the benches and adding more seating into the area. To do this, the playground will be closed for 2 weeks from Monday 24 January to Monday 7 February. The nearest alternative playgrounds are Elm Road Recreation Ground and Latchmere Recreation Ground.