Michael has pressed the government for answers following news that the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London due to start from December 2018 has now been postponed until at least December 2019.
The local MP submitted a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Rail Minister about the matter. The Rail Minister answered the questions last week, writing:
“Learning lessons from previous major changes and to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, the Secretary of State for Transport asked Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to propose options to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from the introduction of the Thameslink timetable and operational changes. GTR’s proposal increases the number of services through central London more gradually than had been planned, beginning in May 2018 and ending in December 2019.
The changes have been selected as the best option to benefit the most passengers across the wider south east network. The new Thameslink services from Maidstone East will now be delivered in December 2019.”
Michael has also written to the Transport Secretary for an explanation, demanding he provide reasons for not having consulted on proposals before having taken the decision.
Before writing to the Transport Secretary, Michael was informed by GTR that the decision had been taken by the Department for Transport.
Michael said: “This is not good enough. We need confirmation that operators will still achieve full capacity on this route, as planned, in 2018. I await the Transport Secretary’s explanation for not having consulted with stakeholders before taking this decision.”
Michael has signed a joint letter by 16 MPs across Kent to support the bid from Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent to establish a medical school in the Kent and Medway area.
As Christmas approaches, local health services are preparing for the challenges the winter period brings. Having discussed these challenges with many NHS and health organisations, Michael is aware that one of the main reasons local providers struggle is because they cannot recruit enough doctors.
Kent is one of the largest areas in the UK without a medical school. The letter therefore raises awareness of issues surrounding recruitment in the health sector. It also outlines the benefits a medical school would bring to the region, such as improving local people’s access to high quality healthcare.
The group of MPs add that a local medical school will attract newly qualified and senior doctors, thereby improving health outcomes for patients in Kent:
‘We face serious health inequalities across Kent & Medway, with life expectancy for males up to eight years lower in the most deprived areas […] we firmly believe that a medical school would be transformative for our local health services.’
Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s new Super-HERO service in a ceremony at the Housing Forum.
The Sevenoaks District Council’s current Housing, Energy and Retraining Options (HERO) service has received national recognition for its work. According to the Council, its HERO service has helped thousands of people with issues relating to housing, debt, mortgage and further education and employment options.
Super-HERO extends the decade-old HERO service to offer a more holistic approach to providing support. It will help people to live independently in their own homes, offering small home adaptations such as grab-rails and stair lifts to more technologically-based devices such as remote health monitors.
HERO officers will now work closely with GPs and provide relief such as a maternity package covering benefits, housing and debt service to vulnerable parents and people fleeing domestic violence.
Michael awarded the Council’s HERO officers with certificates as a mark of their achievement.
He said: ‘I’m pleased that HERO has evolved into a service that will now look beyond just housing, with health at its core. I refer hundreds of my constituents to Sevenoaks District Council services every year, and I see at first-hand the commitment and professionalism of its officers.’
Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s newly adopted Housing Strategy at this year’s Sevenoaks Housing Forum.
The launch, which took place on Friday (3), follows the completion of the Housing Needs Survey in winter 2016. The Housing Strategy document is the response to this survey.
The Strategy aims to tackle the shorter life expectancies associated with poor quality housing, using HERO officers to combat homelessness at an early stage and develop suitable housing options for young professionals and an ageing population.
With a focus on health, the document outlines a plan to support vulnerable people with mental or physical health issues, older people and military personnel re-adapting to civilian life.
In his address, Michael highlighted the ‘chronic issues poor housing causes’, particularly to individual wellbeing. He asserted that ‘growing up or getting stuck in unsuitable housing are injustices that we must address in order to build a country that works for everyone’.
Michael hopes the Strategy will stand the test of time. He said: ‘I’m delighted to support Sevenoaks District Council’s hard work to ensure our residents can access the housing that is right for them. I hope their strategy will become an example that is followed by other councils across the country.’
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.”
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.’
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.’
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 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.
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 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.’