MP for Dartford
Reporting back from Dartford and Westminster - now reaching over 5,000 people in the local area
President Zelenskyy addressing the House of Commons Chamber on 8th March.
Update on assistance to Ukraine
More than 3.7 million items of medical supplies have been given to Ukraine by the UK to help the country cope with the emergency caused by the Russian invasion and to help save tens of thousands of lives.
Items including vital medicines, wound packs, and intensive care equipment donated by NHS England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have been flown to the region over the past few weeks, leaving from Stansted and Heathrow Airports, and RAF Brize Norton.
The 11th flight left from Heathrow on Monday 21st March carrying over 100,000 packs of medicine, including strong painkillers.
The shipment is delivering around 120,000 packs, more than 1.5 million doses, of vital medicines urgently requested by Ukraine. These will help to treat severe pain from serious injuries, as well as assist with intensive care procedures.
The UK Government has been working closely with Ukrainian officials to deliver targeted support to ensure medical items are reaching the people who need them most.
The milestone of 3.7 million medical items donated to Ukraine forms part of the Government’s wider humanitarian response to this emergency. The UK Government flew 21 children with cancer to the UK, who are now receiving life-saving treatment from the NHS.
These items include:
* nearly 3,000 adult resuscitators
* around 160,000 wound care packs
* over 300,000 sterile needles
* over 32,000 packs of bandages
* 1,600 pieces of equipment for ventilators
* over 54,000 cannulas
* 220,000 packs of medicines – around 2.3 million doses – including antibiotics and painkillers
* 72,000 packs of gloves
* 28,000 FFP3 masks
On 17th March, the Government announced that Ukrainians fleeing their home country will be guaranteed free access to NHS healthcare, including hospital services, GP and nurse consultations, urgent care centres and injury units.
To date, 21,600 visas have been granted through the Ukraine Family Scheme and, for those with valid Ukrainian passports, the Government has removed the need to attend an in-person appointment to conduct biometric checks before travelling to the UK.
Since 14th March, people in the UK have been able to register their interest to sponsor a named Ukrainian under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, with more than 150,000 people registering.
The Government has provided £400 million in humanitarian and economic aid to Ukraine and neighbouring countries since the Russian invasion started, along with defensive anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry.
Spring Statement 2022
In his Spring Statement 2022, the Chancellor announced the following:
* Fuel duty cut by 5 pence for 12 months.
* National Insurance personal threshold will rise from £9,500 to £12,570 from July. From July people will be able to earn £12,570 without paying any Income Tax or National Insurance.
* Scrapping VAT on energy saving materials.
* Doubling the existing Household Support Fund to £1billion. This fund is distributed through local authorities in England who then have discretion over how it is used.
* Raising the Employment Allowance to £5,000. This cuts employers' National Insurance bills.
He also announced that in 2024 the basic rate of Income Tax will be cut to 19 pence.
As a Lord Commissioner, I was pleased to sign the Statutory Instrument cutting fuel duty by 5 pence for 12 months, as announced in the Chancellor's Spring Statement 2022.
London Mayor scraps Greater London Congestion Charge in favour of expansion of the ULEZ
The London Mayor recently announced he has scrapped the idea of the highly damaging Greater London Congestion Charge. However, he now plans to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone to the whole of London which will mean Dartford residents will still have to pay or upgrade their cars.
The proposed border tax, dubbed Labour's Dartford car tax, would have charged all vehicles registered outside of London, a daily fee of £3.50 and up to £5.50 for the most polluting cars, every time they crossed the boundary into any London borough.
However, the Mayor's new plan is to extend the ULEZ London-wide to the London LEZ boundary, in 2023, subject to consultations.
This means that drivers of cars, smaller vans, motorbikes and other lighter vehicles travelling into London, which do not meet the ULEZ standard, will have to pay £12.50 per day.
For those who not own a vehicle compliant with the Ultra Low Emissions Standard, they face having to pay a hefty fee or buy a new vehicle in time for the changes which could start as early as next year.
Not only is the Mayor taxing people who do not vote for him, he will end up making those worst off, poorer. There are also no guarantees that the standard for meeting the ULEZ threshold will remain as it is and not be changed by the Mayor in the future. He has not ruled out applying this charge to all petrol and diesel vehicles.
As we know, the border around London does not run along major routes. Instead, it straddles residential roads. In Dartford, for example, there are residential roads located in Kent where it is impossible to drive out of the road without entering the London Borough of Bexley. With this daily charge in place, hundreds of my constituents could have to pay a fee just to drive out of their road.
In my campaign against the Greater London Congestion Charge, I put forward a Ten-Minute Rule Bill 'Road User Charging (Outer London) Bill: A Bill to provide that the Mayor of London may not impose charges for driving in Outer London; and for connected purposes'. Even though this Bill did not make it into law, it helped galvanise support against the Mayor's proposals and I hope that he will see sense over the expansion of the ULEZ.
London Resort theme park
We all remember, over ten years ago, when the proposal to build a theme park on the Swanscombe peninsular was first made public. I was initially excited at the prospect, encouraged by the benefits it could bring to the local area if the project was approached in the right way. It was essential that the developers, LRCH, fully engaged with local residents and brought people with them. This is something they have failed to do and I have therefore withdrawn my support for the theme park.
Over the last ten years, I repeatedly told LRCH they needed to immerse themselves in the local community and ensure people were fully aware of their proposals and how they would affect the local area, yet this did not happen. Instead, we saw endless delays and uncertainty for local residents and businesses in the area. Sadly, I have lost confidence in the ability of LRCH to build this theme park in a way that would enhance Dartford.
Added to this, I have also become increasingly concerned over the environmental impact of the project. We all know the traffic problems Dartford suffers from and I am not convinced the theme park's traffic can be adequately managed. I am also seriously concerned over the impact the park will have on the wildlife on the peninsular. This area is rapidly becoming a vital habitat for a wide range of birds and other animal species and any theme park will have a serious impact on this. In short, Dartford can do better than this theme park.
We can, instead, ensure the Swanscombe peninsular provides a wonderful wildlife haven here on our doorstep for us and future generations to enjoy.
I made my views known to the Planning Inspectorate prior to the Preliminary Meeting which was due to take place on 29th March. However, as you may have seen, LRCH have now withdrawn their application.
As far as I am concerned, this is the end of the project. After ten years, LRCH are still unable to submit an application for a theme park and they need to end the uncertainty for local businesses and residents by walking away completely. Thankfully, the SSSI status of the area and the nature of the land makes it highly unlikely that many houses can be built there, so we now need to secure the future of the peninsular as a wildlife park for local residents to enjoy.
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New ward at Darent Valley Hospital
Darent Valley Hospital is about to open a new ward, called Olive. It is a fully up-to-date, purpose-built hospital ward designed with the flexibility to accept patients with a multitude of clinical issues. The ward was built in an accelerated timeframe throughout the Covid pandemic using a modular building process with the majority of construction taking place offsite and subsequently craned into location. Olive ward provides up to 18 en-suite rooms.
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Lower Thames Crossing community video newsletter
This edition is presented by Nina, one of the new apprentices who joined National Highways after working for over 20 years in teaching, who gives an update on:
* Carbon neutral construction
* New or improved paths – plans for over 60km of new or improved paths for walkers, cyclists and horse riders
A new consultation will run from 12th May to 20th June 2022 for people to give National Highways their views on updated plans for a park in Tilbury and some changes to the design of the project. A link to more information can be found below.
Lower Thames Crossing - new consultation<[link removed]>
Kent County Council consultation on bus routes
Kent County Council is looking to reduce its £6m budget for the Supported Bus Services by £2.2m and so it is proposing cutting 48 contracts from its services Kent-wide.
In Dartford, the services under consultation are the 474/5 Go Coach Bluewater to Longfield service which runs Monday to Saturday, the 433 Arriva Bluewater, Longfield, Hartley to New Ash Green Sunday service and the 489 Arriva New Ash Green, Southfleet, Longfield, Gravesend Sunday service. The consultation is also looking at cutting the Kent Karrier for Dartford and Gravesham Districts.
These services have been supported by Kent County Council because they are needed by our communities but they are not profitable for bus companies. However, if these services are stopped, people living in villages like Bean and Betsham, will be isolated as they will no longer have access to a regular bus service. Whole communities cannot be left without a bus service so I would ask the council to look again at the money-saving options as it should not be isolating communities in this way.
Like so many things, bus usage has changed since the pandemic hit, with usage now at just 70% of pre-pandemic levels. However, these supported services, which serve communities that do not have access to alternatives, are greatly needed by those who use them.
I would urge everyone who uses these services to take part in the consultation and let Kent County Council know how vital they are.
A link to the consultation can be found below.
KCC Bus Funding Reduction public consultation<[link removed]>
Virtual Reality for STEM at St John's Catholic Comprehensive School Gravesend
I was recently contacted by a constituent, who is an Associate Professor at University College London. He has been piloting a Virtual Reality scheme at St John's Catholic Comprehensive School in Gravesend which can 'transport' students to his laboratories in ways which were previously unimaginable and allow them to touch and interact with the equipment, be shown around and see the research that is happening there.
I was invited, along with Gravesham MP, Adam Holloway, to visit the school and try out the VR and see the scheme in action.
After having a short induction by the students, we were given a tour of the virtual lab at University College London. This was followed by us taking part in a short experiment within the virtual environment. Afterwards, we were both happy take part in an interview for the school's newsletter, followed by some questions and answers with the Politics students.
The pilot scheme was reported on the BBC and the video can be viewed below.
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Virtual Reality pilot scheme at St John's Catholic Comprehensive School, Gravesend.
Walkabout with Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner
It was useful to meet up with Matthew Scott, Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner recently on a walkabout in Dartford Town Centre. We talked about local policing issues including the fact that Kent will soon have 3,970 officers, with a further 185 to be recruited by March 2023.
The county now has specialist teams working in both urban and rural communities, a dedicated squad to reduce burglary and another to tackle drug dealing gangs. These teams are producing results and the Commissioner wants to build on their success.
Visit to Delmergate Pharmacy
I was delighted to visit Delmergate Pharmacy in Castle Hill, which opened last June and meet Managing Director, Jayesh Patel.
Delmergate Ltd is a family run chain of 16 pharmacies based in Kent, established in 1986.
The pharmacy offers Covid vaccinations, travel vaccinations and a free NHS flu jab service to those that qualify. It also takes a lot of referrals from NHS 111. In addition, it provides a free prescription collection and delivery service as well as offering NHS services such as smoking cessation and weight management. The pharmacy is also equipped with a private consultation room.
Visit to Primark
I visited Primark at Bluewater recently and met Store Manager, Michael Hadley, together with other members of staff. I was shown around the store and told about Primark's wide-ranging sustainability strategy which is designed to reduce fashion waste, halve carbon emissions across its stores and improve the lives of the people who make its products.
By 2030, Primark will ensure all its clothing is made from recycled or more sustainably sourced materials. It will also make changes to its design process to ensure its clothes can be recycled at the end of their life, as well as improving their durability so they can be worn longer.
Alongside changing the way its clothes are made, Primark will work with its suppliers to cut carbon emissions by half. It will also eliminate single-use plastics.
Through the expansion of its Sustainable Cotton Programme, farmers will be trained to use more regenerative farming practices. It will build on its ethical trade initiatives and existing partnership with ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation). ACT is an initiative that aims to raise wages for workers across the garment industry. Primark is also investing in programmes that provide greater opportunities for women.
Down Syndrome Bill
I was delighted to add my support to The Down Syndrome Bill which is a Private Members' Bill on behalf of Dr Liam Fox. The Bill's first aim is to de-stigmatise Down Syndrome and to re-educate both the public and professionals about the advances, including in life expectancy, that have occurred in recent decades. The second is to ensure that current provision of services is improved, whether provided by health, education or local services, by ensuring that providers give due consideration to those with Down Syndrome when designing service provision. The third is to look ahead and deal with future issues, such as long-term care, in an era where, for the first time, many of those with Down Syndrome will outlive their parents.
Ebbsfleet Development Corporation
In 2015, the Government established the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation and tasked it with delivering a new community of up to 15,000 homes and many thousands of new jobs on brownfield land that lies within Dartford and Gravesham.
To date, nearly 3,000 new homes have so far been completed and occupied, making this one of the fastest growing new communities in the country. There are now three new primary schools, local shops, community centres and transport connections.
There is still much more to achieve to deliver the first Garden City in England for 100 years and regeneration and levelling-up requires long-term investment and change. The Ebbsfleet Development Corporation has therefore developed detailed plans for a further set of projects that are vital to creating a healthy and vibrant new community at Ebbsfleet.
[Gareth Johnson MP website]<[link removed]>
Gareth Johnson MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
Tel: 0207 219 7047
email: [email protected]
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