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.’
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.
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 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.’
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.
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.’
Michael has written to Network Rail calling for more solutions to combat capacity strains on South Eastern railways.
In response to the South East Route: Kent Area Route Study draft consultation document, Michael said that Network Rail must consider further solutions ‘beyond those mentioned in the consultation draft’ to meet population growth forecasts.
‘It is crucial that the South Eastern rail network has the capacity to accommodate the increasing demand on its services’, writes Michael, who suggests this could be achieved by extending train carriages, increasing carriage size, and striking a better balance of seating and standing room for passengers on-board.
Further, improving connectivity on the South Eastern railway is important to Michael. ‘Rail services need to be reliable’, Michael says, ‘but during periods of unexpected disruption, crucially, passengers also need to be better informed.’
Michael welcomed the opportunity to discuss these matters in more detail with Network Rail during the next stage of the Kent Route Study draft.
One of my first duties as the newly re-elected MP, having sworn in on the day of the State Opening of Parliament, was to discuss the contents of the Queen’s Speech on BBC South East.
There are many great initiatives in the Queen’s Speech that will benefit our area, including extra investment in our transport, bills that champion equality, and a plan to protect our agricultural industry.
However, as many will have noted, there is one conspicuous exclusion: our election plan to scrap the current ban on building new grammar schools.
Having campaigned for so long for more grammar provision in Sevenoaks, I am disappointed that the current grammar school legislation will continue at least for the next two years. The constitution dictates that we must play the cards the electorate has dealt to us. So, with a minority Government, it is important that we put forward the best deal for Britain. That means amending slightly our manifesto commitments in the national interest to ensure they can be delivered in Parliament.
But rest assured, I remain committed to securing grammar provision here in Sevenoaks for boys, and we can do that without changing the law, by adding a boys’ annexe to the girls’ one at Wildernesse.
There is strong local demand for a boys’ grammar. Sevenoaks is the only area in Kent without a grammar school, and there is substantial pressure on local school places. Parents need more choice, and to travel back and forwards to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells wastes time and money.
Later this year, I will be welcoming a young constituent and his class from Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys to Parliament. I will be delighted to welcome the new class of girls from our Sevenoaks grammar annexe, too, after they start in September.
Michael recently met the youngest voter in the Sevenoaks constituency, Ciara Mcgauley, who turns 18 years old on Thursday 8th June.
Michael said: ‘I am delighted that Ciara will take time out from her birthday celebrations to vote on 8th June. Voting is an important part of our democracy, and a chance to have a say over the future of this country. It is heartening to see that voters as young as Ciara recognise this.’