Why We Need to Support Our Solar Industry

The government is proposing to cut the subsidy for solar energy by a shocking 87% in one go.  This is an irresponsible decision to make at a time when reducing carbon emissions in order to address climate change could not be more pressing.  The solar industry supports 35,000 jobs in the UK, up to 20,000 of which would be threatened by this proposed cut. I have written to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change asking her to think again about cutting the support for solar energy.  Please see the text of my letter below:

Dear Ms Rudd, 

CONSULTATION ON THE SOLAR FEED IN TARIFF (FIT)

I am writing in response to the government’s consultation on the feed in tariff scheme, and specifically the proposal to cut the feed in tariff by up to 87%, coming after the decision in September to stop pre-accreditation.  I have received a very significant level of correspondence in opposition to these proposals from my constituents, from local and national businesses and also have very strong personal concerns about these proposals.

The growth of solar energy has been a huge British success story since 2010 and installation costs have reduced by over 70%.  The Feed In Tariff has underpinned this success, providing 700,000 homes with low-cost, carbon free electricity and helping to create 35,000 jobs, almost all of them in small and medium enterprises.  There is little disagreement that the Feed In Tariff can come down as the cost of installing solar continue to fall, but I have very serious concerns about the extent and timing of the proposed reduction

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The government's cut to tax credits is unfair and unnecessary

Today the government will formally introduce its proposal to cut tax credits.  50% of families with dependent children in my constituency rely on tax credits, the majority of these are families in work.  On average, the cut will see over 3 million families, 7,700 of them in my constituency, losing £1,000 a year.

During the General Election campaign, the Prime Minister and the Conservatives misled voters across the country over tax credits, consistently denying that the £12 billion of proposed welfare cuts would affect tax credits.  The government’s justification for the cut to tax credits is the increase in the statutory minimum wage which will be introduced from April 2016 and phased in over four years.  The cut in tax credits is a one off cut which will be made next year.  The government’s argument that families will not be worse off as a consequence of the cut in tax credits because of the increase in the minimum wage is entirely false.

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My Views on the Assisted Dying Bill

Today, the House of Commons is debating draft legislation to introduce assisted dying for people who are terminally ill with less than six months to live, who have mental capacity.  Many constituents have got in touch about this Bill, expressing strong views – in relatively even numbers, both for and against.

This is an issue which I have thought long and hard about and which arouses very strong emotions.  I recognise that there are very strong arguments on both sides of the assisted dying debate, and I have carefully read every letter and email that I have received on this issue.  These include extremely harrowing accounts from people who have witnessed their relatives die in agonising pain, as well as heartrending letters from constituents who fear that if assisted dying is made legal, they would feel under obligation to make that choice themselves.

I have decided that I will vote against the Bill today.  This is not a decision that I have reached lightly, and it is not a clear cut choice, but I have tried to explain my reasons below.

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Syrian Refugee Crisis - a letter to the Prime Minister

Thank you to the hundreds of constituents who have written to me about the refugee crisis in Europe over the past few weeks.  The compassion and willingness of residents in Dulwich and West Norwood to help is very moving.  I am clear that the UK government must do more to help those fleeing conflict and persecution.  I helped to secure the debate which will take place this afternoon in the House of Commons, adding my name to the list of back bench MPs calling for the issue to be discussed in the Chamber.  This morning I took part in a moving vigil, attended by MPs of all parties, to remember the plight of refugees, and I have also signed an Early Day Motion which will be published tomorrow morning. 

I am unfortunately unable to take part in this afternoon's debate myself due to an important session of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee which I have to attend at the same time.  I have instead written to the Prime Minister, setting out what I would have said, had I been able to speak this afternoon.  Please find the text of my letter below:

Dear Prime Minister,

I have been contacted by hundreds of my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood regarding the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe and as I write the emails are still pouring in. They share my concern that the UK has so far not done more to support people in perilous conditions fleeing conflict and persecution, despite the fact that the scale of the crisis in Europe has been evident now for some months. 

The small number of refugees who have been resettled here under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme is in stark contrast to the clear leadership shown by Germany on this issue. The UK can be rightly proud of the role that we have played in supporting previous refugee crises and I would urge you to rekindle the spirit of the Kindertransport and help to demonstrate once again our leadership on the world stage.

The reaction of my constituents to the refugee crisis has been overwhelming and very moving. Many are offering space in their homes to refugees so that when they arrive in Britain they have somewhere safe to go. Local groups are organising collections of essential items to be taken to refugee settlements throughout Europe.

I welcome your change of heart on this issue in the context of intense public campaigning, and I am pleased that the UK will be accepting more refugees.  I also welcome your commitment to the provision of aid for the hundreds of thousands of refugees overseas who, although less visible in the media, must also remain a priority for us all. The images of the body of Aylan Kurdi are heartbreaking, but thousands of refugees have been in situations of comparable personal devastation and loss over many months, and it is deeply regrettable that you are only now taking action in the face of intense public pressure.  It is also regrettable that the language you have used to describe this crisis has sought to mask the individual, personal tragedies like those of Ayan Kurdi’s family, labelling refugees a ‘swarm’.

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My views on the Tories' welfare reforms

One of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government was the progress we made in reducing child poverty.  600,000 children were brought out of poverty through a combination of the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, increased employment, tax credits to support families on low incomes, an expansion of childcare and the creation of Sure Start.  You can only reduce child poverty if you measure it in the first place.  That is why I am deeply opposed to the government’s proposed abolition of child poverty targets in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.  It is also entirely wrong that the government is proposing to reduce the support available to sick and disabled people who are not fit for work, by reducing the level of the Employment and Support Allowance.  I am also opposed to a reduction in the benefit cap in London, when insufficient account is taken of the significantly higher housing costs which residents in London face.  These measures will make life worse for many people in my constituency and I am vehemently opposed to them. 

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill also proposes some measures which I agree with.  The Bill proposes to introduce 3 million apprenticeships and to create a statutory duty to report on their delivery.  There are young people in Dulwich and West Norwood who would dearly love the opportunity afforded by apprenticeships which are currently scarcer than they should be.  The Bill also proposes to provide additional support for troubled families.  I have seen many families in my constituency who need compassionate and intensive support to address issues and challenges which have devastating consequences for them.  And the Bill proposes to cut rents for Council tenants, many of whom have been hit by the rising cost of living under the last government.  While I believe that urgent action is also needed to address rents in the private sector and to change the definition of ‘affordable’ housing, I won’t argue with a proposal which provides a little additional help to Council tenants.  It is, however, imperative that the government provide full financial support to fill the funding gap left by the reduction in rent, otherwise this will merely translate into an unsustainable cut to the funding available to maintain existing Council homes and build new Council homes.

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Fracking

Several residents have contacted me to ask about my views on fracking in relation to a campaign being led by Greenpeace asking candidates to sign the 'Frack Free Promise'.  I am pleased to confirm that I have signed the Frack Free Promise and I have set out below my views in detail below. 

My day job for the past 17 years has been as a town planner, and I spent 18 months working on a major project which helped built environment professions to better address climate change.  It was a really significant project until the Tory Lib Dem government archived it in 2010.  Climate change and our response to it is a top priority issue for me.

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Calling on the Tory Secretary of State to Urgently Address Rail Chaos Locally

Passengers across Dulwich and West Norwood have experienced a completely unacceptable level of rail service since the start of the year.  The problems are particularly acute on the lines into London Bridge following the introduction of a new timetable to accommodate the major works to London Bridge station.

Problems are also being experienced on other routes as passengers seek to avoid London Bridge, resulting in already crowded services becoming unbearable, for example through Herne Hill and Loughborough Junction.  Every week, I hear more stories of passengers stranded, unable to get to work on time or unable to get home in time for their children's bedtime at the end of the day.  The situation is causing misery for everyone, but for passengers who are disabled or frail it has become almost impossible to contemplate a journey on our rail network, particularly at peak times.

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Dulwich Hospital Site Secondary School: UPDATE

I am delighted that the Charter School has recently been announced by the Department for Education as the provider of a new secondary school to be built on the Dulwich Hospital site.  There were two competing bids to run the new school, the other being from Haberdashers' Askes Federation.  Both bids had huge support from local parents and both played a very significant role in raising the profile of the need for a new school, and I am grateful to everyone, from both bids who worked so hard.

 

It is important that the Charter School is able to deliver the best possible school for local children with a full range of facilities, but there is still a risk that the government will force a primary school for Nunhead children, run by the Harris Federation, to share the site with the Charter secondary school. If the primary school is allowed to go ahead, it will severely compromise the secondary school.  Please find below the full text of the submission which I and my Labour councillor colleagues made to the Harris Federation, calling on them to withdraw their proposal for a primary school on the Dulwich Hospital site.
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Campaigning for a Fair Deal for Private Tenants

Private renters in South London have been hit by huge rent increases in recent years – to the point where many families are now spending around 60% of their income on rent. I have launched a survey to capture the reality facing private tenants in the area as part of a campaign for secure and affordable homes. 

London is facing the biggest housing crisis in a generation and rent in the private sector is rapidly becoming unaffordable for all but those on the highest wages. I speak with many people in Dulwich and West Norwood every week, and increasing numbers tell me they are fed up of rip-off charges from letting agents, huge annual hikes in rent and the insecurity of one year tenancies. 

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Crystal Palace Park

Bromley Council has recently announced that its exclusivity agreement with the Zhong Rong Group in relation to Crystal Palace Park has elapsed without a deal being reached. The announcement said that Bromley Council will continue to negotiate with Zhong Rong, but will also welcome approaches from other developers who are interested in this site.  In my view, the announcement once again demonstrates that Bromley Council is taking entirely the wrong approach to Crystal Palace Park.

The survey work which my Council colleagues Cllr Andy Simmons and Cllr Jon Hartley undertook of residents' views on the Zhong Rong proposals indicated that most residents were not completely opposed to the idea of a building being developed on the site of the former Crystal Palace, along Crystal Palace Parade.  However, our community is very concerned that any development in this area should be appropriate in its size and scale, complementary to the businesses within the Triangle and most importantly should reflect local needs and aspirations for an important and beautiful historic park.  There is currently no planning policy context for a large commercial building to be developed in an area which is designated Metropolitan Open Land, a very strong planning policy protection, equivalent to Green Belt.

Instead of continuing to negotiate behind closed doors, or putting the park on the open market, Bromley Council should engage with local residents and businesses on all sides of the park to develop a vision which reflects local views, needs and aspirations. A good starting point would be the masterplan for Crystal Palace Park which was developed through a detailed collaboration with the communities which surround the park and has been through a process of democratic approval, although it relied on funding to deliver it which is unfortunately no longer available.  Bromley Council and Boris Johnson should revisit the masterplan, look again at the sources of funding which could help to deliver it, and devise an incremental approach to delivery, so that we can start to make progress right away.  Only once we have a shared vision for the site of the former Crystal Palace should Bromley seek partners to help deliver the vision for our park.
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