Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter! If you think a friend or family member may be interested in receiving my regular updates they can sign up here.
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 unauthorised encampments, Brexit and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
In Birmingham Northfield
North Worcestershire Golf Course
Residents living close to North Worcestershire Golf Course will know that in August 2017 a renewed application by Bloor Homes to build 950 homes on the site of the old golf course was rejected by Birmingham City Council. Bloor Homes then lodged an appeal with the government in an attempt to overturn this decision. The Government’s Planning Inspector will now conduct a public inquiry into Bloor Homes’ appeal. The public inquiry will commence on the 2nd October 2018 and it is expected that the inquiry will last for approximately 10 days.
I am working closely with the newly-elected Councillor for Northfield, Olly Armstrong, to keep in touch with residents living in the area and it is clear to me that there is still considerable opposition to the current planning application. Earlier this year I wrote to the Government’s Planning Inspectorate to outline my concerns and the concerns of many local residents. I also set out my belief that Birmingham City Council’s Planning Committee made the correct decision in refusing this planning application as the proposed development does not constitute sustainable development.
A number of residents have approached me to ask who is responsible for maintaining the North Worcestershire Golf Course site and for site security. Even though it closed for golf some time ago, the North Worcestershire Golf Club remains in existence and is still the owner of the land with responsibility for site security. If residents would like to contact the Golf Club their e-mail address is email@example.com
As many local residents will personally know, the issue of unauthorised traveller sites has been a serious problem in Northfield and across south Birmingham in recent years. The encampments we have seen in the area have often been accompanied by anti-social behaviour and have created huge amounts of mess. This is made even more frustrating for local residents that too often the police and council undertake evictions, only for travellers to pop up 5 minutes down the road.
In the light of the scale of the issues we’ve been experiencing in the West Midlands I have been calling for a review of where police and local authority powers could be more effective. After considerable pressure from myself and other MPs, the Government announced a consultation on the powers for dealing with unauthorised development and encampments.
While I welcome this decision, any consultation must be a real exercise that brings forward proposals to address the issues we’ve been experiencing in the West Midlands. I have therefore joined the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and 14 West Midlands Labour MPs in writing to the Government to set out recommendations for stronger laws to tackle unauthorised encampments. We believe that these recommendations offer opportunities to reduce the harm caused by some unauthorised encampments and would benefit our region. You can find out more about our letter here. The consultation has now closed and the Government are analysing the feedback that they have received.
It in no way undermines the seriousness of this issue, however, to emphasise that only a minority of the travelling community cause problems and give the whole community a bad name. There must be a balance between the needs of both the settled and the travelling community, where the rights of one group do not negate those of another. Currently tensions, harm and costs relating to unauthorised encampments are excessively high which is why we are urging the Government to take meaningful action.
Northfield Suffragette Commemoration event
I was proud to attend the unveiling of a History Plaque to the Suffragettes and Suffragists of Birmingham at Northfield Library.
Northfield Library was set alight by the Suffragettes in 1914 and the plaque commemorates the role the Library played in the Suffragette movement and the campaign that won women the vote.
The Library was rebuilt in the same year, although the façade remained the same, and later became the first open-access lending library in Birmingham. I would encourage local residents to visit Northfield Library to find out more about its fascinating history and see the plaque to learn about the Library’s significance to the Suffragette movement.
The plaque was unveiled as part of the heritage strand of the Birmingham Civic Society’s Centenary History programme. 2018 is Birmingham Civic Society’s Centenary. This is also the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act which first gave women in the UK the vote. Even then, not all women were given the right to vote and it took a further ten years before that was rectified. But 1918 remained a landmark year in our democracy and I was pleased to be able to help mark the part Northfield library played in helping to bring about change.
Adi Group pre-apprenticeship graduation
I was delighted to be able to congratulate the first graduates of engineering firm adi Group’s pre-apprenticeship programme at their Kings Norton HQ.
I first met these students in September 2016 at the launch of adi Group’s Pre-Apprenticeship programme. Over the past two years, for half a day each week, these 14 to 16 year olds have been coming to adi, learning new skills, while completing GCSE modules, earning themselves an industry recognised qualification.
The programme offered by adi Group is the UK’s first pre-apprenticeship course and was specifically designed to give 14-16 year olds the opportunity to gain hands-on mechanical and electrical engineering skills. With the UK facing a shortage of engineers, the programme is a great way of inspiring young people into a career in engineering and several of the graduates will now progress on to a full-time apprenticeship at adi Group. Congratulations to all involved in the programme. Let’s hope other companies and schools follow their example.
Meeting with students from St Brigid’s school
I regularly visit local schools to discuss a range of issues with local pupils and teachers. In June I visited St Brigid’s Primary School in Northfield to take part in a Q and A session with the pupils and to find out more about a campaign that the pupils are running for a reduced speed limit outside of school.
The pupils had some really interesting ideas on how they can improve road safety outside of the school. I was pleased to be able to answer some of their questions, provide some guidance and wish them all the best in their campaign.
Whenever I visit local schools, I am always impressed by the knowledge and interest displayed by the pupils and students. My visit to St Brigid’s was no different, with pollution, genetically modified crops and Brexit just some of the excellent issues raised by the children at St Brigid’s.
European Union Withdrawal Bill
The past month saw key votes in the House of Commons on the kind of Brexit the UK Government should be trying to negotiate. These votes were not about whether or not Brexit takes place. Following the referendum, Parliament set that process in motion with the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty under which a Member State can give notice of its intention to leave the EU. Last month’s votes were rather about the type of trading relationship the UK Government should be trying to achieve in its Brexit negotiations. Some of the key issues under debate were whether, after Brexit, the UK should remain in a customs union with the EU, and whether we should remain able to participate in the Single Market, as well as the say that Parliament should have over the shape of Brexit.
All the evidence suggests that the terms on which Britain leaves the EU will be of key importance to jobs and living standards of people in the UK for many years to come and that the impact will be particularly severe if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal. It is only right that elected MPs, not simply Ministers, should have a meaningful say over the course of action that Britain should take both during the negotiations and at their conclusion. That is why I believe it is so important that neither Theresa May’s Government nor any other should be given a blank cheque to do as they please on matters so important to the future of our country. You can read my reflections on the key votes in Parliament on my website here.
Heathrow Expansion and Birmingham International Airport
Last month the House of Commons voted to approve the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Labour has long held that support for the construction of the new runway had to be conditional on the proposal meeting 4 tests – on capacity, on the UK’s climate change obligations, on air pollution, noise and other environmental factors and on how far the proposal would benefit the whole of the UK rather than the South East alone. Labour MPs had a free vote on the proposal and Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald recommended opposition to the proposal on the basis that Labour’s Four Tests had not been met.
As Labour’s Shadow Aviation Minister between 2015 and 2017, I was heavily involved in pressing the case for Labour’s Four Tests, and as a Birmingham MP I have always urged the Government to adopt a perspective on aviation policy that goes much wider than the questions of Heathrow and airport capacity in the South East. All too often Ministers give the impression that they regard airports outside the South East as second-rank, referring to them as “regional airports”.
But airports like Birmingham and Manchester are not simply regional airports. They are International Gateways to the UK in their own right. Indeed, with Birmingham International Station next door, Birmingham Airport is already at least as convenient a gateway to central London as Heathrow. HS2 will make it still more so. Airports like Birmingham and Manchester also have spare capacity that Heathrow and Gatwick do not have and they can play major roles in helping rebalance the economy to spread prosperity beyond the South East.
I remain in close touch with Birmingham Airport and will continue to press Ministers to be more proactive in supporting the airport to realise its potential to secure a wider range of direct international routes in the years ahead – whether or not a new runway is finally built at Heathrow.
Brake ‘Road Safety Champion’
Over the years I have campaigned for better road safety, both locally in Northfield and nationally. It was a priority for me during my time as Shadow Transport Minister and it continues to be an important issue for me now. I have also worked closely with the Road Safety charity Brake as a “Road Safety Champion” in Parliament.
Much has been achieved but every person killed or injured on our roads is one too many. The Northfield area is currently ranked 10% higher than the national rate for all casualties on our roads with pedestrians and motorcycle users at particularly high risk. That should remind us all of our continuing responsibility to identify what more we can do to make the vision of zero deaths and serious injuries on our roads a reality.
Brake campaigns to prevent deaths and serious injuries on UK roads and works to support the families of road crash victims across the UK. You can find out more about the work of Brake here.