Reporting back from Dartford and Westminster - now reaching over 5,000 people in the local area
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Outer London Congestion Charge Petition
I continued to highlight the catastrophic effect of the Mayor of London's proposed Outer London Congestion Charge when I presented a petition in the House of Commons on behalf of the residents of Stonehill Woods Park in my constituency.
This proposed charge is aimed at vehicles registered outside of London and so will hit London's neighbours the hardest.
The proposed daily charge of £3.50 would amount to more than a thousand pounds a year for those crossing the border on a daily basis. The border with Greater London is not neat, it runs through residential roads and thousands of people would be hit by this charge just for driving out of their own road. This proposal would impose a form of taxation on people who have no say on who the London Mayor is, so it is quite literally a form of taxation without representation or accountability.
If you would like to see me presenting the petition, please click on the video above.
The Boundary Commission proposals
The Boundary Commission for England (BCE) is an independent and impartial non-departmental public body, which is responsible for reviewing Parliamentary constituency boundaries in England. It has the task of periodically reviewing the boundaries of all the Parliamentary constituencies in England and is currently conducting a review on the basis of legislative rules most recently updated by Parliament in 2020 which say it must make recommendations for new Parliamentary constituency boundaries by 1st July 2023.
Whilst retaining the overall number of constituencies across the UK at 650, the rules apply a distribution formula which results in an increase in the number of constituencies in England from 533 to 543. The rules also require that, with a few exceptions, every constituency should have an electorate that is no smaller than 69,724 and no larger than 77,062. This means Kent will change from having 17 constituencies to 18.
Dartford currently has over 83,000 electors so inevitably, it will have to reduce in size in order to meet the criteria.
The Boundary Commission has proposed that the constituency of Dartford is made up of the wards shown in the table below. This means that under its proposals, the wards of Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley, together with Darenth, will move into the constituency of Sevenoaks. It also proposes that the ward of Hartley and Hodsoll Street should move into the constituency of Tonbridge.
A consultation is being held on these initial proposals for an eight-week period until 2nd August 2021. Everyone is encouraged to participate and a link to the consultation can be found below.
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Roadmap out of lockdown - Step 4
We have reached Step 4 of the Roadmap out of lockdown and legal restrictions ended on Monday 19th July.
Limits on social contact have ended, meaning there are no restrictions on indoor or outdoor gatherings. Weddings, funerals and other life events are able to take place without limits or restrictions.
All venues that were closed have been allowed to reopen, including nightclubs, and there is no legal requirement for table service in hospitality settings.
The Government reviews into social distancing and Covid-status certification have also now concluded. The 1m plus rule has been lifted other than in specific places such as at the border to help manage the risks of new variants coming into the country.
There is no legal requirement on the use of Covid-status certification as a condition of entry for visitors to any domestic setting.
Two-thirds of adults have now received two doses of the vaccine and every adult has been offered a first dose.
The Government has also confirmed the rollout will accelerate further, by reducing the vaccine dose interval for under 40s from 12 weeks to 8. This will mean every adult has the chance to have two doses by mid-September.
All adults should take up the offer of two vaccine doses, to protect themselves and others against Covid. Analysis from Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge suggests that vaccines have so far prevented an estimated 8.5 million infections and 30,000 deaths in England alone.
The Prime Minister made clear that learning to live with the virus meant cases would continue to rise significantly, even if the success of the vaccination programme meant hospitalisations and deaths will rise at a lower level than during previous peaks.
The majority of legal restrictions have been removed and people are expected to protect themselves and others through informed choice. The Government expects and recommends that face coverings are worn in crowded and enclosed spaces, such as public transport, when mixing with people you don’t normally meet.
While the Government is no longer instructing people to work from home, a return to the workplace should be gradual and businesses should follow the published guidance.
Organisations and large events will be supported and encouraged to use the NHS COVID Pass in high-risk settings to help limit the risk of infection in their venues.
Positive cases and contacts of positive cases identified by NHS Test and Trace will still be legally required to self-isolate, to help break chains of transmission. There will be an isolation exemption for contacts of positive cases for under 18s and for double vaccinated adults from 16th August. School bubbles ended on 19th July.
To play the video, please click on the photo above.
The Queen's Platinum Jubilee gift
In 2022 Her Majesty the Queen will celebrate her 70th year on the throne and the Platinum Jubilee will be marked by national celebrations.
Both Houses of Parliament have contributed towards a gift for the Platinum Jubilee which has never been achieved by a Sovereign before.
The Houses of Parliament have a tradition in marking these events. In 1977 for the Silver Jubilee, the fountain in New Palace Yard was built, for the Golden Jubilee in 2002, it was the sundial in Old Palace Yard and for the Diamond Jubilee in 2021, the stained-glass window in Westminster Hall was commissioned.
The gift proposed for the Platinum Jubilee is a pair of unique bronze sculptures of the heraldic beasts of the United Kingdom, namely the Lion of England, the Unicorn of Scotland, the Dragon of Wales and the Irish Elk of Northern Ireland. These will be installed outside Westminster Hall in a location which links three of the four Jubilee gifts.
The lamps at the top will serve as beacons and symbolise the guiding light the Queen has been to the nation during her reign.
No public funds will be used in the commission of this gift - it is made up entirely of donations from MPs and Peers.
Above is an artist's illustration.
A2 Bean and Ebbsfleet junction improvements
A major milestone in the project to improve the Bean junction is to lift into position a new bridge across the A2.
To ensure the safety of both the public and our workforce, a small section of the A2 in Kent and the existing Bean Lane bridge will be temporarily closed from 10pm on Friday, 6th August through to 6am on Monday, 9th August 2021.
The closures on each carriageway are as follows (also see map above):
* A2 Coastbound – the A2 will be closed between the exit and entry slip roads at Bean only
* A2 London-bound – the A2 will be closed from Ebbsfleet to the M25.
To manage traffic and access around the bridge over this weekend, local and regional diversion routes have been set up.
Should events prevent work taking place, a contingency weekend is planned between Friday, 13th August and Monday, 16th August.
Pedestrians and cyclists
Access for pedestrians and cyclists will be maintained across the bridge. Cyclists will need to dismount and there may be a short delay for people to cross whilst the area is made safe.
A2 coastbound traffic
Exit the A2 at the Bean junction, take Bean Lane north to the A296, travel along the A296 Watling Street to re-join the A2
A2 London-bound traffic to M25 junction 1a
Exit at the Ebbsfleet junction, travel north along the A2260 to Northfleet, A226 to Swanscombe, then the A206 to access the M25 at junction 1a
Bluewater shopping centre exiting traffic to A2 and M25
Exit the centre on the eastside and travel north on the B255, at the first roundabout turn left onto the A226 London Road, then along the B2500 Watling Street to the A296 Princes Street roundabout
Bean village diversion (local traffic only from coastbound carriageway)
Use the A2 coastbound diversion up and over the Bean junction, then continue along the A2 and exit at Ebbsfleet. Travel down the link to Pepperhill, then use the roundabout to travel over the A2 bridge via Hall Road. Continue along Station Road and Betsham Road to access Bean village
J&E Hall is one of the oldest companies in Dartford and was established in 1785 when John Hall started his one-man workshop.
The company moved to manufacturing steam engines and gun carriages and in the late 19th century it manufactured a cold air machine that gained it a reputation for refrigeration innovation that still exists today.
I was delighted to visit J&E Hall recently where I met with the company's senior management and had a tour of the premises. J&E Hall has been awarded a major contract for the design, manufacture and installation of chiller packages to be used in cooling systems in Hinkley Point C.
The company also provides refrigeration services to a wide range of industries including oil and gas, brewing and pharmaceuticals. Its refrigeration and air conditioning systems can be found in many hospitals, universities and hotels, as well as ice rinks and leisure centres. J&E Hall also provides refrigeration for the food and beverage industry and the naval and cruise sectors. Its cooling systems are being used on the UK's newest aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
Dartford unemployment update
Since the pandemic began, a record number of people in Dartford have been put out of work. This has caused huge distress and uncertainty for many families. The positive news is that the number of claimants is now falling again and Dartford's employment rates are significantly higher than the national average. The latest figures for those claiming unemployment related benefits in Dartford can be found below:
* There were 3,510 actual claimants in Dartford constituency in June 2021, which was 4.7% of the population aged 16-64. The equivalent UK claimant rate was 5.6%.
* This was 250 lower than May 2021 and 1,875 higher than March 2020, before the first UK lockdown began. Note the majority of this increase happened in March-May 2020 at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
* There were 640 claimants aged 18-24 in June 2021, 45 lower than May 2021 and 320 higher than March 2020. This was 8.0% of the population aged 18-24. The equivalent UK claimant rate was 7.6%.
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