Reporting back from Dartford and Westminster - now reaching over 5,000 people in the local area
Swanscombe Peninsula confirmed as Site of Special Scientific Interest
Earlier this month, Natural England confirmed the Swanscombe Peninsula as a Site of Special Scientific Interest recognising its national importance for plants, geology, birds and invertebrates, including one of the rarest spiders in the country.
Natural England is the Government's adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect England's nature and landscapes.
A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is one of the country's very best wildlife and/or geological sites and includes some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats.
This valuable green space of 260 hectares is abundant in wildlife and forms a corridor of habitats connecting Ebbsfleet Valley with the southern shore of the River Thames between Dartford and Gravesend. It is comprised of an assortment of grassland, scrub, wetlands, grazing marsh and saltmarsh habitat, providing ideal conditions for a unique variety of wildlife.
The area is home to over 1,700 invertebrate species, which includes over a quarter of the UK's water beetle species and more than 200 species that are considered of conservation importance. It is one of just two places in the UK where the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider is found. The habitats on the peninsula also provide great conditions for breeding birds.
Natural England recognises there is interest in and consideration of potential development opportunities in the Swanscombe area. Designation of this site as an SSSI is an important step towards ensuring that its environmental value is recognised and taken into account in any future planning decisions.
I was delighted to visit the area in the Summer with the RSPB and there is no doubt this is an important location for migrating birds. I saw the work ornithologists were doing there in recording these migrating routes and the number of birds relying on the area.
This SSSI now makes it incumbent on London Resort Company Holdings to show how any theme park could be built without damaging this important site for wildlife or otherwise having an adverse impact on the environment.
Electric Fastrack buses for Dartford
I was delighted to see the Government announcement that Kent County Council's £9.5 million bid to introduce a new fleet of electric buses in Dartford, Gravesham and Dover, as part of the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA), was successful. This will see 28 new electric zero-emission buses begin operating along Dartford's Fastrack route in April 2023 and will cater for an expanded Fastrack timetable running both day and night.
The buses will be charged by electric charging arms known as pantographs which are being installed along the route. These will include two at Home Gardens.
An exclusive year-long trial of an electric bus will begin in Dartford at the start of 2022 on the Fastrack network.
This will transform our bus network into a service fit for the future. It will mean all the Kent Thameside Fastrack buses have zero emissions. These buses will not only improve our local transport network; they will help improve the air quality and the health of everyone living here in Dartford.
* 28 high-capacity single decker 'opportunity charging' buses will be procured for the Kent Thameside. A competitive tender will be released shortly to procure these.
* Six 450kw Opp chargers will be installed along the route.
* Installation is likely to take about one week for each site.
* Dartford's Fastrack proved to be the environment that yielded the best test results for Volvo's generation 2 electric bus that toured the country in 2018. As a result, they are exclusively showcasing their generation 3 'BZE' single decker bus on Fastrack from early 2022. Showcased to the world, this is a major coup for Dartford.
* Fastrack is forecast to account for 25% of local trips come 2025.
* Electric buses are at least 8 decibels quieter than the current fleet and will operate virtually silently through the night as part of the recently launched 24-hour service.
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UK Parliament Week took place from 1st-7th November this year. This flagship annual event invites people every year to find out more about the UK Parliament and opportunities to get involved in its work.
During the week there were UK Parliament Week activities in every UK constituency and local community groups, organisations and schools in Dartford signed up to be part of the week, including 1st Dartford Scouts.
As part of Parliament Week, I made a video for them which gives a glimpse behind the scenes. Please bear in mind it is not a professionally produced video but was made using an Iphone. It won't win any production awards but I hope you find it interesting!
I have also included a link below to a game 'MP for a week' which challenges young people to survive a week in politics keeping their party, their voters and the media happy. The game gives young people a virtual taste of life as an MP. Highlighting the range and value of MPs’ work, the game builds students’ understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament.
MP for a week<[link removed]>
A service of remembrance took place at the War Memorial in Central Park on 14th November and it was great to see this event reinstated to its former glory after a much scaled-down event last year.
Wreaths were laid by the Mayor, the Lord-Lieutenant of Kent's representative, me, the Leader of Dartford Borough Council and by the late Cllr Ann Allen's son on behalf of Dartford's Kent County Councillors. They were followed by The Royal British Legion, The Royal Naval Association, The Royal Air Force Association, Sea Cadets Corps, Army Cadets Corps, Air Training Corps and other local groups and members of the public.
Dartfordians gathered to take part in the service and pay their respects, remembering those who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today.
After the service, the parade took part in the march-past.
30th anniversary of the QE2 bridge
The QE2 bridge was built at a cost of £120 million and was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen in October 1991. It was the first bridge to be built at an entirely new location along the River Thames for more than 50 years. For a short time, it was also the longest single span bridge in Europe measuring over 2,872 metres long.
It took three years to build the bridge and there were many challenges and obstacles along the way. Beneath the waterline the bridge rests on two reinforced concrete foundations, each of which is the equivalent in volume to 400 double-decker buses and weighing a total of 85,000 tonnes. These were constructed at a dry dock in Holland and towed across the North Sea by tugs on a 150-mile journey to the River Thames.
The 84-metre-high pylons are located above 53-metre-high concrete piers, giving the bridge a total height of 137 metres. From these, the road deck is suspended by cables.
From initial estimates of 2 million vehicles per year, the crossing is now used by around 50 million vehicles a year.
The bridge has become synonymous with congestion and misery but its beauty and the engineering skills required to build it should not be overlooked.
More Southeastern train services from 12th December
Southeastern will be introducing more train services into their timetable from 12th December. The new timetable is already uploaded into journey planners and can be checked using the button below.
Capacity will increase with 22 additional train services in December and a further 6 in February which will mean 92% of pre-Covid capacity available on the network.
In addition, the Class 707 City Beam trains, new to Southeastern, will continue to be rolled out and will replace trains on routes between London and Dartford.
Southeastern journey planner<[link removed]>
Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card
The rail industry is encouraging jobseekers in the South East to boost their job searches by applying for the free Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card.
This card gives holders a 50% discount on journeys across Britain and anyone claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or Universal Credit for 3-9 months (18-24 year olds) or 3-12 months (over 25s) can apply through their Work Coach and local Jobcentre Plus.
Journeys using the card have dropped by 29,700 in the South East since the start of the pandemic and with new unemployment figures out which show joblessness at 179,000 in the South East, the Rail Delivery Group and Jobcentre Plus teams are working to further promote the card.
The latest unemployment figures for Dartford can be found below:
* There were 2,875 actual claimants in Dartford constituency in October 2021, which was 3.9% of the population aged 16-64. The equivalent UK claimant rate was 4.8%.
* This was 95 lower than September 2021 and 1,240 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 485 claimants aged 18-24 in October 2021, 30 lower than September 2021 and 165 higher than March 2020. This was 6.1% of the population aged 18-24. The equivalent UK claimant rate was 5.9%.
Darent Valley Hospital new ward expected December 2021
Construction of a brand new, 18 bed modular ward is underway at Darent Valley Hospital. The new ward will include 18 single rooms which are being built to the highest standard in the Module Co factory near Gloucester. They all have en-suite facilities and a special observation point so that staff can ensure patients are comfortable and safe. The ward has been designed specifically with the patient in mind and encompasses the latest technology to ensure patient care is optimised.
The new ward is being built at the east end of the hospital, next to Cherry ward and is expected to be finished by December 2021. Below are photos of the steel podium on which the ward will sit and the ward itself.
Lower Thames Crossing gives local businesses a head start
Earlier this month a new database of businesses, including 20 in Dartford, was handed over to the large construction and engineering firms bidding for work on the Lower Thames Crossing project.
In line with the Government's ambition, National Highways has set a target for £1 in every £3 of the project's main works construction budget to go to small and medium sizes businesses.
To help local businesses take advantage of this, National Highways created the Lower Thames Crossing SME Directory, which is a register of the skills, services and contact details of local businesses that the main works contractors will be expected to use to build a local supply chain.
Since December 2020, businesses ranging from caterers to accountants and builders, have signed up and whilst the first edition has now been issued to the shortlisted bidders for the main roads and tunnel contracts, it remains open for new entries.
A link to the Lower Thames Crossing website, where businesses can register their interest in working on the project, access training and sign up to the SME Directory, can be found below.
Lower Thames Crossing SME Directory<[link removed]>
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