Remembrance Sunday

Yesterday, Michael attended two services commemorating those who lost their lives in conflict as Sevenoaks and Swanley marked Remembrance Sunday.

He said: “I was proud to have laid wreaths in honour of those who lost their lives defending our country and our values.  It was a very moving day and a time to reflect on the freedom we enjoy because of their sacrifice.”

Pressing Rail Execs for Answers

Michael recently pressed railway executives for more improvements to local services sooner rather than later.

In a meeting held in Parliament, the Sevenoaks MP sought answers from the Managing Director of Southeastern, David Statham, and Route Managing Director (South East) at Network Rail, John Halsall, about a range of issues.

Having been underwhelmed by the May 2018 Southeastern Timetable, Sir Michael was pleased to hear that there are now 14 extra services and 37 extra quicker trains at peak times through his constituency.  Further, every train will now be at maximum capacity.

Mr Statham and Mr Halsall reported on the progress of planned regeneration at Bat & Ball station and Swanley Station, the rollout of on-board Wi-Fi and new fleet upgrades including carriage air-conditioning.  Sir Michael also raised specific concerns about smart ticketing and was reassured that the range of tickets available on The Key will increase.

The executives committed to remaining in close contact with the local MP and thanked him for his help in pressing the Government to help tackle these issues.

Michael said: ‘My constituents want to see improvements now, not later.  That’s why getting Southeastern and Network Rail in a room together was important.  I will keep in close contact with Southeastern and Network Rail to ensure commuters in my constituency get the best deal.’

Sevenoaks Preserved in Boundary Plans

Michael has welcomed the Boundary Review proposals that largely maintain the current borders of his Sevenoaks constituency.

Revised proposals for the shape of parliamentary seats were published Tuesday (17/10) by the Boundary Commission for England.  Under the new proposals, the Sevenoaks constituency will gain the Wrotham, Ightham and Stansted ward from Tonbridge, bringing the size of the Sevenoaks electorate to 72,561.

The review aims to make constituencies more equal in size.  Parliament approved the principle of reducing the size of the House of Commons in 2011.  If the majority of MPs support Tuesday’s detailed plans, the proposed new constituencies will take effect in 2022.

Michael said: ‘I warned the Commission about moving wards out of my constituency, and happily they have listened.  Instead of losing constituents, I am set to gain.  It is right that the fundamental shape of the Sevenoaks constituency is respected.’

The proposals are now open to a public consultation until 11 December 2017. Comments can be made via https://www.bce2018.org.uk/node/6488.

Michael will support the proposals, but once again he will also request that the name of the constituency be formally recognised as ‘Sevenoaks & Swanley’.

Michael Welcomes Local Plan

Michael has welcomed the Sevenoaks District Council’s Local Plan survey: an important planning policy which says what can be built and where, as well as what should be protected up to 2035.

The survey, sent to every household in the district, is the first step to forming the new Local Plan.  It asks residents for their opinions on early suggested options for dealing with anticipated issues the district will face.

In a comprehensive set of responses, the Sevenoaks MP indicated that he supports the Council’s overall strategy to promote housing choice for all whilst maintaining Green Belt protections.

‘Only 15 per cent of housing here is affordable’, he wrote.  ‘Older generations need options to downsize and younger; economically-active families need a chance to move in.’

The local MP supported the District Council’s approach to promoting environmentally-friendly improvements, but cautioned against developing renewable sites that diverge from the historic aesthetic of the district.

Michael said: ‘The Plan recognises that both ambition and caution are required to deliver for the next generation.  Residents must decide how best to solve the challenges we face.  I will continue to work with the Council.’

Michael Hails ‘Outstanding’ Local Police

Michael has hailed the ‘outstanding’ work of the local police force following a recent meeting with the new district commander for Sevenoaks, Chief Inspector Tony Dyer.

Kent Police have previously been awarded ‘Good’ in Effectiveness and Efficiency and ‘Outstanding’ in Legitimacy by HMIC inspectors.

In the wide-ranging meeting, CI Dyer reported on general crime trends, mental healthcare, speeding and specific operations relating to Michael’s casework.  Michael was pleased to learn that the force will introduce new innovative measures for tackling speeding in the future.

MF and CI Tony Dyer outside Swanley Police Station 1 22 Sept 17

Michael was also keen to learn more about recruitment following reports that the number of officers and PCSOs in Kent Police has risen earlier in the year.  CI Dyer reassured him that recruitment targets will be met.

Michael said: ‘Following a comprehensive meeting with CI Dyer, I am positive about the direction of the force, which has been recognised for its outstanding work, and its ability to maintain law and order in the constituency.’

Michael Time Travels for 100th Anniversary

Michael visited the Leonard Cheshire Disability care home in Chipstead last week to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of its founder’s birth.

Leonard Cheshire Disability is a major health and welfare charity working in the UK and around the world. It was founded in 1948 by RAF pilot Leonard Cheshire and works to move disabled individuals toward independent living.

Michael met Kevin Parkes, Service Manager, and Deputy Managers, Anne-Marie Pert and Shelley Conneely, who introduced him to the care home’s oldest resident. Staff were dressed in early 20th century attire in honour of the centenary and there were tea-dancers performing to live music.

‘This is a great example of what can be achieved through community effort’, Michael said. ‘The charity’s projects support the Government’s wider efforts to get more disabled people into employment. Together we will work to finally close the disability gap.’

Aiming for 100%

Michael has welcomed new figures released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that show current superfast coverage in the Sevenoaks constituency is over 92 per cent.

The Government funded BDUK programme has made superfast broadband available to 13,112 homes and businesses, and it estimates that 95 per cent of the constituency will have superfast coverage by the end of the year.

The Government is also introducing a Broadband Universal Service Obligation to give consumers the right to request fast, affordable broadband wherever they live and work.

This will mean that by 2022, everyone can request a connection of at least 10Mbps, which is around half the speed of superfast, but still quick enough to download a half-hour TV show in two minutes.  Currently, less than 3 per cent of premises in the Sevenoaks constituency receive below 10Mbps.

The availability of superfast broadband services for specific homes and businesses can be checked at http://gosuperfastchecker.culture.gov.uk/.

Michael said: ‘It’s good news that much of the constituency is already covered by superfast broadband.  But I won’t rest until we get 100 per cent coverage.  I will continue to work hard with ministers, BT and KCC to ensure constituents and businesses are getting the speeds they need.’

Michael Delighted with Charity’s Progress

 

Michael has expressed his delight at the progress the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) has made in the past year.  As the charity’s President, Michael recently met with the Chief Executive, Dr. Tom Pey, to discuss future projects.

In January 2017, the Royal Society for Blind Children and Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB), which was based in Sevenoaks, merged to create RSBC.  The new charity has the patronage of Her Majesty The Queen and employs 100 people.

At the meeting, Dr. Pey informed Michael that, by 2020, he hopes the charity will have helped 11,000 blind and partially sighted children and young people in England and Wales.  The charity recorded an annual turnover of around £3.7 million.

Dr. Pey and Michael reviewed the recent success of RSBC’s new social innovation organisation, Wayfindr, which aims to improve independent travel for vision-impaired people.  The new indoor-navigation programme, which was successfully tested on London Underground, is going global and has attracted the support from organisations such as Google.

Michael said: ‘With income up, more innovation, and ambition sky-high, it’s great to know such a vital charity is doing so well.  I am proud to be part of RSBC, which originated here in Sevenoaks, and commend Tom for all his hard work.’

COLUMN – Getting our Railways Right

It’s the summer of consultations.  The Department for Transport, Network Rail, Thameslink and Southeastern have all launched their plans for 2018.  I’ve responded to all four.  I hope to respond to many more in the future, because getting our railways right is important; especially now, before our young people start new jobs in the City, before school starts up again, and before families return to work.

In March, I made the case for passengers in Sevenoaks and Swanley to the Government consultation on the new South Eastern franchise.  It was a great opportunity to argue for more space on trains, improved compensation arrangements, an Oyster-style network, and an end to the unacceptably poor service many of us have endured for far too long.  This was accompanied by a lengthy letter I handed personally to the Transport Secretary, demonstrating to him my determination to ensure that passengers are finally put first.

I also helped draft a joint letter to the Rail Minister, which was signed by twelve other Kent MPs, calling for a major rethink of our rail strategy in the South East.  The more pressure we put on those in charge, the more likely we are to get results.

The Kent Route Study is not up to scratch.  Network Rail must consider further solutions beyond those mentioned in the draft in order to meet the projected population proliferation.  It’s crucial that our railways have the capacity to meet the increasing demand.  I responded to the consultation in June and have requested a meeting with Network Rail to discuss the proposals in more detail.

Whilst Southeastern’s 2018 timetable proposals are underwhelming, Thameslink’s new 2018 timetable proposals are more promising.  With plans to double the number of trains every hour from Swanley and introduce faster routes from Sevenoaks, it seems Thameslink are finally listening.

That’s why these consultations are important and that’s why I’ve taken considerable time to research and respond to them.  Now we need to ensure that the very best of the plans are delivered.

New Thameslink Rail Times ‘Positive’

Michael has responded positively to the second phase of the Thameslink timetable consultation.

The proposed timetable, effective December 2018, will double the number of Thameslink trains from two per hour to four per hour in the constituency. This will affect mainline routes from Swanley and Otford and metro routes from Swanley, Eynsford, Shoreham, Otford, Bat & Ball and Sevenoaks to London.

During off-peak periods, however, existing Thameslink services will operate between Sevenoaks and London Blackfriars only. Whilst reducing the number of London destinations may make trains more reliable, Michael wrote, the only way to ensure that passengers are not then inconvenienced is to install Oyster-style ticketing for whole journeys at all stations in Sevenoaks.

Journeys from Swanley to London Bridge, London Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras International and beyond to Cambridge will be faster. A direct train service between Sevenoaks and Welwyn Garden City will also form part of the expansion of the Thameslink network.

Michael said: ‘Plans to double the number of trains per hour show that the train operators are listening. That’s why engaging in consultations is important. Now we need to make sure that these plans are delivered.’

The consultation closes on 27 July. To respond, visit transformingrail.com.