I was relieved to hear the Prime Minister set out a cautious approach when he presented his lockdown exit plan to us in Parliament yesterday. I believe we have been hasty in removing measures in the past and was pleased to see that lessons seem to have been learned.
I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right for schools open first, as part of a data-led relaxation of restrictions. We must prioritise the needs of our children, whose educational, emotional and practical interests are all served by sending them back to school. It is vital, though, that we give schools the guidance and support they need to reopen safely and stay open. This includes funding for testing, PPE and whatever staffing costs arise as a result of self-isolation alerts.
Hopefully we will get the testing programme in schools right this time. Secondary school pupils, who are more likely than younger children to catch and transmit the virus, are to be tested twice a week using rapid-response lateral flow tests, with positive results confirmed by the more accurate PCR testing. Teachers, including staff at private and voluntary nursery settings, will also be provided with bi-weekly tests to administer at home. I have been calling for this to be rolled out to nursery staff for months, and am relieved that this will now be offered to them.
Our vaccination programme is going well in Southwest London, with 288,000 residents vaccinated so far. The new vaccination centres in Twickenham and Kingston are working well and expect to be increasing their pace as we move into spring.
I would like to remind everyone that the current Covid-19 measures apply regardless of whether you have been vaccinated or not. Please continue to follow all guidance and practice good hygiene even after you have been vaccinated. This will help us get the numbers down as fast as possible.
Richmond's case rate is now under 100/100,000 again, and Kingston's is just over 100, so we are doing well here, but the rate of decrease has slowed and we need to stay our course.
URGING GOVERNMENT TO HONOUR FOSSIL FUEL COMMITMENT
I wrote to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today urging the Government to honour its commitment to banning UK Export Finance funding for fossil fuel projects abroad.
Despite announcing its intention to ban the practice in December 2020, BEIS has yet to implement the ban. As a result, 17 international projects remain under consideration and could be given UK financial backing at any time. This funding runs counter to the commitments made by our government when it signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015.
This year, we hold the presidency for COP26. The failure of BEIS to follow through with the ban undermines our authority on the international stage. I am urging BEIS to uphold the government’s Net Zero commitments and bring forward the ban on UKEF overseas fossil fuels funding. You can see my letter and more details about this issue here.
PREVENTING HOMELESSNESS BY PROTECTING RENTERS
I raised a question to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the House yesterday, asking whether the Government had assessed the impact of their plan to end protections for renters at the end of March. They must look at whether it will result in a wave of homelessness. It was apparent from his response that they have not done so.
I am deeply concerned that some of my constituents will be at risk of losing their homes once this protection is removed. I am disappointed that the Government does not seem to be aware of this possible consequence and is not addressing it robustly. I will continue to press them to protect renters and prevent anyone from being made homeless by the pandemic.
MANOR ROAD DEVELOPMENT
Today I also wrote to Robert Jenrick about his recent decision not to step in and review the proposed Manor Road development. I agreed with Richmond Council and local residents that the original scheme was far larger and denser than it should be. I was therefore appalled that the Mayor of London decided to increase the size of the scheme rather than reduce it. The Secretary has said that he is committed to keeping decision-making local, but this decision does the opposite, preventing the Council from standing up for the interests of the borough. You can read my letter here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE - FERRY UPDATE
Transport for London (TfL) has announced that it has received proposals from two bidders in its competition to provide a cross-river ferry service near Hammersmith Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists. City Cruises and Uber Boat by Thames Clippers are the operators who have submitted detailed bids. Both firms are experienced in providing passenger services on the Thames: City Cruises is a major tour boat operator here and Uber Boat runs the Thames Clipper water bus service.
The winning bidder is due to be announced in March, with operations to begin this summer. The delivery of the ferry service is dependent, however, on TfL securing agreement from Government on financial support. I will be urging the Department of Transport to confirm this immediately.
The proposed service is expected to carry around 800 passengers an hour and will run 06:00-22:00 on weekdays, with an off-peak service at the weekend. Fares are expected to mirror buses at £1.55 with a Hopper option and the same concessions accepted, subject to necessary approvals.
The news that the replacement ferry service will include a fare will be a tough pill to swallow for residents who have had their lives severely impacted by the bridge’s closure. Local residents may recall that the Taskforce ruled out plans for a temporary walking and cycling bridge at an early stage and have consistently refused to commit funding to pay for stabilisation works that would have allowed pedestrian access. Instead they opted for a ferry service that people will be charged to use. It is a failure of national transport policy and a dereliction of duty to the thousands of people who rely on Hammersmith Bridge.
I nonetheless welcome the encouraging news that two potential ferry operators have been shortlisted. It is good to see some progress at last.
One of my constituents in North Kingston wrote to me this week to tell me how much she appreciates the local business Fork Handles in Ham. She says the proprietor Malcolm "has kept his hardware shop going through lockdowns selling everything imaginable... He and cheery Joe are very special and deserve recognition and thanks." She also mentioned the outstanding community spirit of Peppe and his staff at the Cardinal Pub in North Kingston.
Peppe has been giving free pizza to NHS workers since the start of the pandemic, and made free meals for those in need, including on Christmas Day. He also collected toys for less fortunate children in a Christmas campaign set up by St Agatha's Church in Kingston. I was at Peppe’s last weekend – he’s running a great street food and vegetable market outside the restaurant on Saturdays. I chatted to him and learned that although he’s struggling he is optimistic for the summer.
Over the past year I have been in touch with many wonderful individuals, businesses, and organisations like Peppe and Malcolm who provide exemplary service to others. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the wonderful community in Richmond Park and North Kingston, and I want to thank the people who have worked tirelessly to make this pandemic experience easier for others. I invite you to email your suggestions for individuals, businesses, or organisations you would like to thank to my office at Charlotte.Weir@Parliament.UK. We look forward to reading your nominations.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE Q&A SESSION FOR RICHMOND RESIDENTS
Richmond Council will host a virtual public meeting for Richmond upon Thames residents to put their questions about Hammersmith Bridge to the Council Leader. Councillor Gareth Roberts will be joined by a panel of senior officers from the Council, who will be able to answer residents’ questions about the status of the bridge repairs and the measures Richmond Council are putting in place to lessen the impact of the closure for residents and businesses in Barnes and the rest of the borough.
The Q&A session will take place on Zoom, on Wednesday 17 March 2021, at 6.30pm. Residents must pre-register for the event by 5pm on 17 March. More information can be found on the booking page here.
WORLD HEARING DAY: Q&A SESSION FOR RICHMOND PARENTS ON YOUR CHILD'S HEARING
If you have questions about your child's hearing, whether you know they have a hearing impairment or are just concerned about about what they can hear, please join audiologists from the Paediatric Audiology Department at the Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare Trust for a virtual Q&A session.
The drop-in session will be held on World Hearing Day, March 3, from 4:00 - 5:00pm, via Zoom. The Zoom Meeting ID is: 935 8210 1009 and the Passcode is: HRCHaudio
RBKARES CHARITY SUPPORTING KINGSTON HOSPITAL STAFF
RBKares is a local charity that supports staff at Kingston Hospital. They recently distributed well-being parcels to the overworked nurses and other frontline staff at the hospital. You can see more about this thoughtful initiative in this article on their work, or see their Facebook page here, or make a donation to help them in their work thanking and supporting NHs staff here.
46 KINGSTON BUSINESSES NOMINATED FOR NATIONAL LOVE LOCAL DAY
An amazing 46 Kingston businesses have been nominated as most-loved businesses as part of national ‘Love Local Day’. The event recognises the UK’s most loved local businesses as well as those most loved within their wider areas. The event has been championed by ShopAppy.com – a digital platform and shop local campaign that is being backed by Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.