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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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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Supporting businesses in the Brixton railway arches

The railway arches in Brixton have long been a place where businesses can set up with reasonably affordable rents and benefit from being in a vibrant town centre.  The Brixton arches are relatively unusual in that along Atlantic Road, Brixton Station Road and Popes Road, the arches face on to busy streets.  Many of the businesses which occupy the arches have become local institutions - it is hard to imagine Brixton without the A & C Continental Deli, Mash's fishmonger, S & S Textiles, M & M Foods, the Catwalk wig shop and many other businesses which are as much a part of Brixton's identity and community as Electric Avenue, Windrush Square, Morleys and the markets.

It is therefore really disappointing that Network Rail has announced its intention to serve notice on all of the businesses occupying railway arches in Brixton so that it can refurbish the arches and increase the rents.  Commercial property values in Brixton have been increasing in recent years, and it is good to see investment and new start ups contributing to the vibrancy and diversity of the town centre.  But we need to make sure that Brixton's character as a diverse, bustling town centre remains and businesses which have been here for many years and which serve their customers well are not priced out.

Network Rail is a public body not a private developer, and in refurbishing the arches it needs to pay better regard to the wider community of Brixton and the role that established businesses play within it.  Network Rail should make a much stronger commitment to existing businesses in the Brixton arches, offering a right to return, a phased approach to the refurbishment, support for businesses while the works are undertaken and a reasonable approach to rent increases - they shouldn't simply be cashing in.

See my interview on the arches with Brixton Blog here:


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Dulwich Hospital Site Update

NHS England has just announced that the health centre which is to be built on the Dulwich Hospital site is to be a new building, rather than a refurbishment of the old building, and that it will be built at the Melbourne Grove end of the site.  This is good news.  It means that we will get a modern, fit for purpose health centre and it also means that the area of the site which remains for a new secondary school will be maximised.

There is, however, more work to do on this issue.  The next step for the NHS is to prepare the business case for the new health centre, so that the funding can be agreed.  We know from previous experience elsewhere in the constituency, such as at Rosendale Road, that NHS England does not always understand local community needs and can be reluctant to agree funding for new build health centres, so we need to keep up the pressure to make sure that this process happens as quickly as possible.

The NHS also needs to prepare a planning application for the health centre and it will be really important that in doing so, they engage and consult with local residents, so that the new building is sensitively designed with consideration for its neighbours.

Finally, and as important as ever, there is the continuing campaign to ensure that the remainder of the site is developed as a new community secondary school, and only a secondary school - not the 'constrained site' primary and secondary schools as the Tories and Lib Dems would have there.  I am continuing to work with Tessa Jowell, Cllr Vikki Mills, both of the secondary school bidders and all of the Dulwich Labour councillors to lobby the government to drop the proposed primary school, so that we can have the best possible secondary school.

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Supporting the campaign for a cinema in Crystal Palace

As many of you will be aware, a planning application for the former bingo hall building at 25 Church Road is due to be considered shortly by Bromley Council. The current planning designation would allow the building to be used as a local cinema for our area. If the planning application is granted, it will give permission to the current owners to use 25 Church Road as a place of worship and the building would lose its current status as a community building.
I've always supported the campaign for a cinema in Crystal Palace, and hundreds of local residents who I've spoken to over the past few years believe that the best possible use for 25 Church Road would be to open it as a cinema which could be used by the whole community. Many people have been in touch over the past few weeks to express their concern that in this instance allowing 25 Church Road to be used as a place of worship would have significant impacts on the amenity of local residents, particularly in relation to traffic and parking with visitors traveling long distances by car; and would further reduce the likelihood of the long-held aspiration to open a cinema in Crystal Palace being realised.
For these reasons, together with my councillor colleagues Cllr Andy Simmons and Cllr Jon Hartley, I've written to Bromley Council to ask that the planning application is refused.  Please find below the full text of our objection which was sent to [email protected]:
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Please let me know the issues that matter to you

As the Labour Party's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Dulwich and West Norwood, my top priorities are representing everyone who lives and works in our area, and campaigning hard on the issues which matter to you most.  Please let me know your priorities by taking two minutes to fill out the survey in the link below: 

Thank you!

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