Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter which gives me the opportunity to wish you a Happy Easter!
Space prevents the newsletter covering all of what I have been doing over the past month. However, hopefully it provides a flavour of some of the local issues I have taken up as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on local planning applications, legal aid for families of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
In Birmingham Northfield
New Inns Lane crematorium
A planning application for a crematorium off New Inns Lane on the Birmingham/Bromsgrove border has been rejected. Developers of the planned Waseley Hills Cemetery had submitted plans to Bromsgrove District Council in a third attempt to get permission for a crematorium. An appeal by the developers to the Government’s Planning Inspectorate to overturn the council’s decision to refuse planning permission was also rejected last August.
I was unconvinced that New Inns Lane was the right site for a crematorium, mainly due to the possible impact on existing traffic issues along New Inns Lane. As with the previous applications that were submitted, along with Birmingham Labour Councillors Andy Cartwright and Carole Griffiths, and Bromsgrove Labour Councillor Peter McDonald I made several representations to Bromsgrove District Council on behalf of local residents. I am pleased that Bromsgrove District Council have listened to our concerns and the concerns of local residents and have rejected this planning application.
Planning application for a discount supermarket at Longbridge Town Centre
Developers of Longbridge Town Centre, St Modwen have submitted a planning application for a discount supermarket on the site. Phase 3 of the Longbridge development saw planning permission granted in August last year for a leisure complex including a cinema and gym. However having failed to secure sufficient occupier interest to deliver that scheme, St Modwen are now pursuing an alternative project for Longbridge Town Centre.
The proposals for the discount supermarket include a 3,370 sq ft store with 110 parking spaces. St Modwen say the scheme is expected to create 40 full and part-time jobs.You can also view all of the documents related to the application on the Birmingham City Council planning website here. The application number: 2018/01697/PA. The deadline for submitting comments is 5th April 2018.
It is just over a month until local elections in Birmingham. On Thursday 3 May, voters across Birmingham will be going to the polls to vote on councillors to represent them on Birmingham City Council. Birmingham City Council is divided into small sections called wards which are represented by at least one elected councillor. The Northfield constituency that I represent in Parliament is also broken down into several wards.
Every ward in Birmingham will be going to the polls on 3 May which means that there are elections in all wards in Northfield. The way these votes are carried out is changing with changes in the size of wards across Birmingham. The Birmingham Mail have produced a helpful guide outlining these changes. As a result of these changes, the structure of your ward will have changed, although in some cases the title may be the same as before. You can find your ward and polling station here. This information will also be provided on your polling card. You must be registered by 17 April to vote in the local elections on 3 May.
You can check if you are registered to vote by calling the Birmingham City Council Elections Office on 0121 303 2731. Alternatively, you can register to vote here. Not surprisingly I am urging support for Labour in these elections. You can see Labour’s manifesto for Birmingham here.
Northfield Manor Memorial Garden opening
It was a privilege this month to join Year 6 pupils from Northfield Manor Primary Academy at the opening ceremony of a memorial garden they have created at Castlecroft Residential Care Home in Weoley Castle.
As part of their learning on World War II, the pupils have been working hard on a project to pay their respects to those who have died serving our country. The memorial garden the pupils have created is the result of lots of hard work and the pupils put on a brilliant and moving performance of music, song and dance in memory of those who have died at war. I am sure the residents of Castlecroft will enjoy the space that the pupils have created for them.
Legal Aid for families of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings
This month the campaign for legal aid for the families of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings came to Parliament. The families are contesting a ruling by the Coroner that suspects cannot be identified during the reopened Inquest into the Birmingham Pub Bombings. They won their case in the High Court. The Coroner has lodged an Appeal as he has every right to do. While the Corner will receive public funding to present his appeal however, the families are being denied Legal Aid to defend the judgement of the High Court.
The fact that different conclusions were reached by the High Court and the Coroner – himself a senior QC – underlines that the case raises difficult and complex legal issues. It can therefore only be in the interest of justice that both sides should have equal resources to present their respective cases. This is the point that I put to the Government when I led a debate in Parliament earlier this week on Legal Aid for the families of the victims. Irrespective of Party, speaker after speaker backed my call for equality of treatment.
Unfortunately, this seemed to be lost on Ministers who tried to wash their hands of responsibility, saying that the refusal of Legal Aid was all down to the Legal Aid Agency. They claimed that while Ministers are reviewing the rules for the future, they have no power to intervene now. That is not good enough. When families of victims of the Hillsborough families were refused Legal Aid for their legal representation, Minsters agreed to set up a special fund to cover their costs. They were right to do so. If Legal Aid is now not available to families of the Birmingham Fund Bombings victims, Ministers should set up a similar fund.
This month Parliament debated the hostile takeover bid of GKN by Melrose. GKN are an engineering group making automotive and aerospace components with a plant based in Kings Norton. I was among the MPs from different parties across the House of Commons who argued for Government to intervene in this hostile bid. In my speech I also outlined why I believe that this takeover would be bad for the UK’s aerospace and automotive sectors and bad for employees of GKN. You can watch that here.
Analysts have observed that a bid like this one would not be allowed to proceed in France or Germany where the rules governing takeovers are different. It is a yet another reminder that reform of the UK’s Takeover Laws is urgently needed to defend the public interest and safeguard the long term future of our industrial base.
Even our existing takeover laws, however, allow Government Ministers to intervene under Section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002 where a bid raises national security concerns. GKN Aerospace, including its Kings Norton plant, make specialist components for military as well as commercial aircraft so this bid does indeed involve issues of national security.
This week the Business Secretary Greg Clark wrote to Melrose to seek assurances on its proposed takeover. As I put to the Secretary of State, the assurances the Government claims to have secured are inadequate and short-term. The Government must intervene in this takeover to safeguard national security and put the long term health of British industry first.
The Rohingya Crisis
Earlier this month, the International Development Committee which I am a member of released its latest report as part of the Committee’s inquiry into the Department for International Development’s work in Bangladesh and Burma.
The focus of our latest report is on monsoon preparedness in Cox’s Bazar where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled across the border into Bangladesh in just six months since the latest military onslaught on the Rohingya people began.
As part of our programme, we visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The scale of the enormity of the humanitarian emergency has to be experienced at first hand to be fully appreciated. Here we heard first hand that the coming monsoon rains and the likelihood of cyclones will cause floods, mudslides and landslips that will simply sweep away many of the makeshift shacks.
It was clear from our visit that long term solutions are desperately needed to address this crisis. But they should not obscure the fact that the monsoon rains represent an immediate disaster and that time is running out to save lives from the coming monsoon and cyclone season. We are urging the UK Government to step up its effort to save thousands of Rohingya refugees from imminent landslides and flood disaster. I have further outlined why this is so important in an article that I wrote following my visit to Bangladesh.