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Column: Let’s Seize This Opportunity for Rail Improvements

In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the need for improvements to rail services:

As the nights draw in, rail disruption on long, cold journeys home seems ever more frustrating.  Problems like the ones we experienced in Sevenoaks last week seem to happen all too often.

I regularly receive complaints about Southeastern’s performance and I recently joined other Kent MPs to press the Rail Minister for improvements.  I will be paying particularly close attention during the winter months.

Next year will see the start of a wider process to decide on the details of the new regional rail franchise from 2018.  For anyone who wants to see better services in Sevenoaks, this is an important opportunity to have your say.  There will be a consultation in the spring on what we want to see and I encourage everyone to participate.

My top priority will be the extension of the Oyster network to stations like Sevenoaks.  I promised to fight for this vital improvement at the election last year and I will be lobbying hard.  There are wider issues too, though, such as making sure there are enough trains and seats to cope with growing passenger numbers.

Securing all of these changes will only be possible if we push for them together.  I know some people think that things will never change.  I know they are tired of the old excuses for poor service and disruption.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for new solutions.  We have to seize this opportunity to secure the meaningful improvements we need.

In the meantime, I would like to wish all of my constituents a very happy Christmas and New Year.  In a politically eventful year, Sevenoaks and Swanley have continued to thrive and I am looking forward to continuing to serve as your MP in 2017.

Michael Welcomes Moorhouse Decision

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Michael joined local residents in September to protest against the application.

Michael has welcomed the news that DPD has withdrawn its planning application to build a delivery depot on the old Moorhouse Tileworks site near Westerham.  The decision comes after he worked with residents and their representatives in the area to lobby against the move.

Michael said: “This is fantastic news.  It is the result of the hard work of local councillors and campaigners in Westerham.  With Sam Gyimah, MP for East Surrey, I have been clear that the application failed to address concerns about traffic and air quality.  I welcome the developer’s decision to withdraw its plan.”

Michael Pushes for New Thames Crossing

The potential tunnel approach in Kent (Highways England, OGL)
The potential tunnel approach in Kent (Highways England, OGL)

Michael has called on the Government to announce its decision on a new Lower Thames Crossing.

In a letter to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, Michael has pressed for urgent progress following the consultation conducted by Highways England earlier this year.  With no announcement on the proposal in last week’s Autumn Statement and increasing pressure on the Dartford Crossing, Michael believes a decision is urgently required so that building can commence on the project as soon as possible.

Michael supports the easternmost route, option C, which was recommended by Highways England in its consultation.  This route would be the best option for his constituents, relieving congestion in the Dartford area and providing economic benefits across the region.  In his letter, Michael also emphasised the importance of properly connecting any new crossing into the wider road network.

Michael said: “The ongoing problems at Dartford are affecting the daily lives of my constituents so a new crossing is urgently needed.  I am calling on the Government to turn its welcome support for the principle of a new crossing into concrete, comprehensive action so that we can resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

New Money for Broadband Welcomed By Michael

Michael has welcomed the news that over £1 billion of new funding will be made available for full-fibre broadband.

The decision, which came in the Autumn Statement, means that two million more homes and businesses across the country will be able to benefit from higher speeds and more reliable connections, particularly in rural areas.

With the percentage of premises in Sevenoaks that can access superfast broadband predicted by the Government to reach 92.8% by September 2018, the news is a major boost to Michael’s successful campaign to secure better broadband for his constituents.

Michael said: “People throughout Sevenoaks increasingly rely on decent broadband speeds for work and leisure.  This new funding will build on the progress we have already made to make sure we have the digital infrastructure we need to prosper.  Together with extra money for grammar schools and measures to help hardworking families, everyone in Sevenoaks will benefit from these announcements in this Autumn Statement.”

School Bridge Players Visit Parliament

IMG_4423Michael today welcomed members of the Weald CP School Bridge Club to the Houses of Parliament.

Local volunteers have been promoting Bridge to pupils at the school for over a year.  The visit to Parliament celebrates the Bridge Club’s achievement of becoming the most successful school bridge initiative in Kent.  16 pupils in Years 4, 5 and 6 have already gained English Bridge Union (EBU) proficiency certificates and there are now plans to extend the programme into other schools.

IMG_4412Hosted by Baroness Henig, captain of the House of Lords Bridge team, pupils were given a tour of Parliament and had the opportunity to play Bridge with several members of the Lords before meeting Michael.

Michael said: “I was delighted to welcome the pupils to Parliament today.  They should be very proud of their achievement.  It is good to see that initiatives like this one are proving to be so successful in our local schools.”

Fun For All At Buzy Bees Soft Play Area

Michael with Vicky and Somerset, Manager and Deputy Manager at Buzy Bees.
Michael with Vicky and Somerset, Manager and Deputy Manager at Buzy Bees.

Michael visited Buzy Bees Soft Play Area in Ash on Friday to celebrate its first birthday under new management.

Buzy Bees offers children a fantastic soft play environment and Michael was delighted to see so many children enjoying the facilities.

As well as the soft play area, Buzy Bees offers an after school club and a holiday club for parents needing extra childcare.

Michael said: “It was wonderful to see the children enjoying the soft play area and to see their parents and guardians taking advantage of the on-site café.  This thriving local business is offering an invaluable childcare service to the local community.  I would like to wish Buzy Bees the very best of luck for the coming year.”

To find out more about these facilities, please click here.

Column: We’ve Beaten Mental Health Stigma – Now Let’s Finish the Job

In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the challenge of mental health:

For too long, mental health was a taboo subject.  But with MPs and celebrities speaking out about their own experiences, much of the stigma that used to be associated with mental illness has gone.

In its place, though, is a realisation of how significant this challenge is for our country.  One in four people experience a mental health problem each year, with myriad effects on their families, jobs and lives.

We have made a lot of progress already.  Mental health now has parity of esteem with physical health in the NHS; five times more people are accessing treatment for conditions like depression and anxiety than six years ago; and extra funding is being invested in mental healthcare over the next few years.

But more money and warm words need to mean something practical.  That means coming up with innovative and wide-ranging ways to make sure people get the help they need.

I have recently been meeting local organisations to discuss their efforts to meet this challenge.  Their work includes better liaison services in A&E, provided by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT).  Another improvement is cooperation between KMPT and Kent Police to give people the care they need, rather than a night in a cell because there is nowhere else to go.  West Kent Mind has always offered a fantastic service to our community that I have been proud to support.  Now it is also providing counsellors, alongside KMPT, to talk to vulnerable callers to the emergency services.

There is still a lot more to do.  People need to be able to find help more easily and the system needs to be simpler.

But with these organisations working together to find the innovative solutions we need, this is a challenge we can beat.

Michael Secures New Assurances on Oyster Expansion

Michael has secured fresh assurances about the extension of the Oyster network to Sevenoaks.

In two recent letters, the Rail Minister and the Deputy Mayor of London have both confirmed their commitment to the principle of expansion when the new rail franchise begins in 2018.

In a letter, Rail Minister Paul Maynard wrote ‘We are still considering a further roll out of Oyster to stations such as Sevenoaks.’  The letter also acknowledged that incorporating Sevenoaks into the Oyster zone system could ‘provide both savings and increased convenience for your constituents’.

In a separate letter, Deputy Mayor of London Val Shawcross assured Michael that under Transport for London’s (TfL) proposals for taking over London metro rail services, his constituents would be able ‘to use Oyster and contactless bank payment cards for journeys from Sevenoaks to anywhere in the London zonal network’.

Michael said: “This is important progress.  Whether under TfL’s proposals or the existing system, Sevenoaks’ passengers deserve the benefits that Oyster and contactless can bring.  I will continue to push for further commitments to ensure that this vital improvement is delivered as soon as possible.”

Michael Calls for Southeastern Compensation Improvements

Inspecting the work in progress at London Bridge Station
Inspecting the work in progress at London Bridge Station.

Michael has called on Southeastern to offer a new, more generous compensation system for passengers who have experienced delays.

The Department for Transport recently announced that rail passengers will soon be able to claim 25 percent of the cost of the single fare if their train is more than 15 minutes late.  This is a reduction from the current limit of 30 minutes.

Under current plans, Southeastern passengers are currently unlikely to benefit until 2018.  Michael has written to David Statham, Managing Director of Southeastern, to ask him to implement the improved ‘Delay Repay 15’ compensation scheme sooner.

Michael said: “With the disruption caused by work at London Bridge, my constituents should be able to benefit from this improved system right now.  I have asked Southeastern to work with the Department for Transport to introduce this enhanced offer as soon as possible.”

Michael Welcomed to Cottage Day Centre

Michael with Trustees and staff outside the Cottage Day Centre
Michael with Trustees and staff outside the Cottage Day Centre

Michael was welcomed on Friday to Rural Age Concern Darent Valley’s Cottage Day Centre in Fawkham.

Greeted by Chief Officer Liam Curran and Trustees including Cllr Madeleine Rogers and Cllr Faye Parkin, Michael met clients and heard about the charity’s exciting expansion plans.

The day came after his visit to Age Concern’s refurbished shop in the centre of Swanley in April.

Michael speaking to Community Warden Jackie West and Amy Clarke
Michael speaking to Community Warden Jackie West and Amy Clarke

Michael said: “I was delighted to meet clients and staff at the day centre.  It offers a vital service for older people living in rural areas in the north of my constituency.  We need facilities like this to be bigger and even better and I look forward to supporting Age Concern’s efforts to expand.”