With the Met Office reporting the driest July in England since 1935, and warm, dry weather forecast for next week, I wanted to talk to my constituents this week about drought.
Most of England now has low river levels, impacting agriculture, leisure and wildlife. Dr Rob Collins from the Rivers Trust told the Guardian this week that the source of the Thames has shifted five miles downstream from Cirencester to Somerford Keynes in Gloucestershire. Farmers are worried about their crops and livestock and conservationists about the plants and animals in parks reserves. We can all play a part in mitigating the impacts of heat and drought.
Our village greens may be looking like village browns at the moment, but the Royal Horticultural Society says "In extended periods of summer drought, turf grasses turn brown and stop growing. This often looks a lot worse than it actually is, and the lawn will usually recover rapidly with renewed rainfall. It would take a severe drought to actually kill off the lawn." We do not yet have a hosepipe ban in this area, but in order to help prevent one, please do not water your lawn with tap water.
Young trees do need regular watering, though, so if any trees have been planted in public areas near your house please do give them a bucket or two of water if you can. You can even use "grey water" (tap water you have washed dishes or bathed in) to water trees and plants. A good tip I heard today is to stand in a plastic tub trug or other container when showering to collect the runoff water for garden use (being careful to use a non-slip mat under it!) You can see the Royal Horticultural Society's advice on using grey water in the garden here.
To make sure you are using as little water as possible both inside and outside you can see tips from water use charity Water's Worth Saving here. Thames Water also offers tips for saving water specifically in summer here. Looking to the future, keen gardeners might like to look at the Royal Horticultural Society's information page on drought resistant plants here.
RISING INTEREST RATES AND MORTGAGE PAYMENTS
This morning, the Bank of England confirmed that interest rates will rise to 1.75 per cent – the largest increase in almost 30 years. Research conducted by the Liberal Democrats has revealed that there are half a million homeowners in London and the south-east of England facing a significant hike in their mortgage payments as a result of this increase.
This will be particularly impactful on those who are about to see an end to a fixed rate mortgage. In my capacity as the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Treasury, I have called on the Government to introduce an Emergency Mortgage Support Fund, alongside cutting VAT and reversing the National Insurance hike, to support low-income households who may be at risk of falling behind on payments and losing their homes.
The Liberal Democrat’s proposed Fund would provide support payments to those in receipt of benefits to help pay their mortgage when they fall into arrears. Currently they are only entitled to an interest-bearing loan, rather than support payments. Further, our policy would reduce the waiting time for this first payment from 39 weeks to 13 weeks, enabling those families most in need of support to receive it quickly.
WIND FARM VISIT
I had the great pleasure of visiting an Thanet offshore wind farm last week, seven miles off the Kent coast. On commissioning, Thanet was the world's largest offshore wind farm with a capacity of 300 MW. It was fascinating to hear about the construction and operation and we also had the opportunity to learn about how the wind farm impacts the area community.
We must build up our offshore wind power generation at pace if we are to meet our net zero targets. I was very pleased to learn more about the challenges and benefits if offshore wind, and on a beautiful day to be at sea!
Earlier this week I was pleased to meet with a group of parents who care for their adult children on the autism spectrum. I was keen to learn about the challenges they face in supporting their children to live as independently as possible. They were kind enough to share the difficulties their children have in accessing services themselves, and parents' concerns for their future. I will be writing to the Government about addressing some of the issues raised and calling for more autism awareness training for civil servants at all levels of government.
I also had a meeting with constituent Katie Noonan, who is involved with a new charity called the Endometriosis Foundation. Endometriosis causes enormous suffering to large numbers of women of all ages, but remains understudied, underdiagnosed and poorly treated. Katie's new foundation aims to give women the information they need to advocate successfully for their health. You can see more here.
One of my constituents has written to ask me to highlight the epic efforts of Andy Spencer, proprietor of Hammertons Ferry. His father, Francis Spencer, the previous owner, passed away from cancer on 29th November 2020. Andy is doing a 'mile a day' swim to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, who helped the family through Francis' illness. Andy has set his sights on raising £50k by the time he completes the swim at the end of November. My constituent joined him for a mile of swimming in the river - she reports that it was hard work but she was inspired by Andy's commitment!
Hammertons Ferry has been a key community asset in the borough for over one hundred years, connecting Ham House with Orleans House and Marble Hill House. Francis Spencer was a familiar personality to residents of Ham and Twickenham. In addition to transporting people across the river, Hammertons Ferry continues to provide social cohesion in the community. If you want to help Andy reach his goal of raising £50,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support in memory of his father, click here.
The government has announced that everyone aged 50 and over, plus other specific groups of people considered to be at risk, will be offered another COVID-19 booster (and a flu jab) this autumn, as a result of plans to increase protection against respiratory viruses ahead of winter.
The NHS will announce when and how eligible groups will be able to book an appointment for their COVID-19 autumn booster. People are asked not to come forward until further information is announced. All eligible groups are encouraged to take up the vaccine when it is offered.
The Government has also updated its monkeypox vaccination guidance. Anyone who may be in a risk group is urged to see the latest information here.
MILLION MISSING MAMMOGRAMS
My fellow Parliamentarian Dawn Butler has launched a Million Missing Mammograms drive, which I thought my constituents would like to know about.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, breast cancer screening was effectively paused in the NHS. Almost one million women missed appointments. According to Breast Cancer Now, this means that almost 8,000 women could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer.
Dawn is on a mission to find these missing mammograms and help get breast cancer screening back on track. She is asking women aged 50-70 to book a routine appointment and get checked now. Dawn will be keeping track of how many people let her know they have booked their screening. You can see more or share on her web page here.
FREE SUMMER CAMPS FOR UKRAINIAN CHILDREN
Camp Beaumont is partnering with the charity Mail Force to offer 10,000 day camp slots to households hosting Ukrainian families this summer for free. A number of these camps are located in or just outside my constituency. Participation in this initiative will provide Ukrainian children with much-needed fun and adventure with opportunities to learn something new, practise English and make new friends
Camps run Monday to Friday and are packed with creative, sporting and adventure activities including archery, parachute games, tennis, trampolining and much more. If you are or know of a Ukrainian family in the area, please send them this link to sign up.
CHOOSE YOUR FAVOURITE VIEWS
Richmond Council is inviting individuals and businesses to share their feedback on a new Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), relating to the borough’s iconic views. The draft Local Views Supplementary Planning Document (Local Views SPD) sets out all the important views across the borough that the Council is seeking to protect, in relation to the impact of development and planning applications.
In addition to detailing views which already have protection, the Local Views SPD will outline "new" important views that the Council would like to define to ensure they are not adversely affected by any new development. The draft Local Views SPD identifies each view with a photo and map locating the view, as well as a detailed description.
You are invited to have your say on the views presented in the document. Your feedback will be used to assess whether any additional local views need to be included in the document.
PLAY STREETS - APPLY NOW!
Families in Richmond upon Thames still have time to plan to hold a play street on Saturday 24 or Sunday 25 September 2022, by closing their roads to through-traffic for up to four hours. It means children will be able to play outside, have fun with their friends, family and neighbours. To encourage as many streets as possible to take part, the Council is waiving the administration costs to the road closures.
To host a Play Street, residents need to get permission to have their street closed and will need to speak to their neighbours in case there are any objections. Residents will also be responsible for organising and supervising events, including ensuring someone is present to allow safe access if required for residents’ cars and emergency vehicles. Any street can apply, providing their street isn’t a main road, bus route or emergency vehicle route.
Click here for more information about Play Streets, or to apply. The deadline is Sunday 14 August.
KINGSTON HOSPITAL CHARITY WALK
Kingston Hospital Charity is hosting their first memory walk, Night to Remember on 10 September to raise money to extend support for bereaved families at Kingston Hospital. The money raised will go to Maternity, the End of Life Care Team and Chaplaincy. The walk starts at 8.30pm from marketplace in central Kingston and will finish there. There are two routes – five miles and 15 miles - to suit walkers of different abilities. Click here to learn more about the walk.
WORK BEGINS ON KINGFISHER SITE
Progress continues towards delivering Kingston’s new community leisure complex as demolition work starts on the old, unsafe Kingfisher building. This work will begin on site in August and is due to be completed by the end of the year, paving the way for construction to start next year.
The new leisure complex will feature a huge range of accessible facilities including 5-a-side rooftop football, two swimming pools with spectator seating, a children’s splash deck and climbing wall, flexible community spaces, a cafe and much more. You can see an architect's rendering below or a full video tour of the new facility here.