Wednesday 30 March 2011

Yes, there is an alternative

On Saturday, I joined with hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people who peacefully marched through the streets of London to show that there is an alternative to the ideological driven cuts of David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

I joined members of Usdaw and can be seen pictured with Nic Dakin MP and Usdaw's National Political Officer, David Williams as we set out on the march nearby Parliament.

This coming Thursday, 5th May voters across the Wigan Borough go to the polls to elect local councillors - it will be an opportunity to send a message to this Tory-led Government who have inflicted £55 million cuts on our council, by electing local Labour candidates who will stand up and fight to protect our public services.

Monday 21 March 2011

Wigan's Draft Core Strategy and my response to proposals to remove Green Belt status located near to Jnc 25 M6.

My letter of objection to plans to remove Green Belt status from land located near Jnc 25, M6 is detailed below.

Ms. G. Bishop
Planning Policy,
Civic Buildings,
New Market Street,
WN1 1RP.

17th March 2011.

Dear Ms Bishop,

Wigan’s Draft Core Strategy (Proposed Submission version)

Further to my letter of the 3rd December 2010, I wish to object to that part of the Draft Core Strategy proposing to allow industrial and logistics development on land off junction 25 of the M6 motorway, South of Wigan.

I consider the Core Strategy is not legally compliant and is unsound because it is not justified or consistent with national policy.  I set out below my views in this respect:

1 – Not legally Compliant:

My concern in this respect relates to the poor notification of residents of the Council’s intentions. The junction 25 proposal was introduced to the Strategy at a late stage. Those who became aware of it were given short notice to submit their observations. Indeed, following my objection in this respect, the period was extended a little from the 30th of November 2010 to the end of December 2010.  Even so, of the considerable number of homes affected by these proposals estimated in the region of 9,000, only 500 homes received a consultation letter. This is my opinion falls short of what could reasonably be expected in these circumstances.

As the Member of Parliament for the area, I can confirm that the proposals only became apparent to a greater number of residents in November 2010.

This is when I was first contacted by constituents with their concerns. In addition to complaining about the proposals, constituents were and continue to feel strongly that the plan is being rushed and that they have not been given adequate time to organise their opposition to the plan.

2 -  Not Sound:

a) Not Justified:

Proposals in the Core Strategy must be founded on a robust and credible evidence base. With this part of the Strategy, the Council appears to be placing much store by a commissioned report from GVA aspects of which I believe to be flawed. For example, I do not understand on what basis the ratings given to measure the adverse impact of the Green Belt status removal  has been determined.

I am also concerned that there are no guarantees the schemes put forward will realise the development and achieve the objectives of the Local Authority. We could have a situation where the Green Belt Status is removed only to find the plans for development are not taken up as the Council would hope leaving the land vulnerable to alternative development. The credibility of the whole proposal is questionable.

In addition, there are other sites identified as suitable within the report. Indeed the junction 25 schemes are not the preferred option and therefore not the most appropriate strategy when considered against the reasonable alternatives. 

b) Not Deliverable:

Within the proposal the Council assumes that traffic will follow a ‘route of choice’ that will mitigate, for the local area, the very obvious disadvantage with this site that junction 25 is not a two way junction. This is naive at best.

Whilst the Council would like to see the heavy northbound traffic that would be generated by this proposed development travelling southbound from junction 25 to junction 24 and turning round, there is absolutely no guarantee this will happen and indeed is often likely not to. The areas of Ashton, Bryn, Pemberton and Orrell will certainly be affected as northbound traffic seeks alternative (other than junction 25) access through the local community to the M6. Direct northbound access to the M6 via junction 24 will involve travel through Bryn/Ashton and direct northbound access to the M6 via junction 26 will involve travel through Pemberton and Orrell. I believe the traffic impact will be considerable and unacceptable.

The above argument is supported in the GVA document putting forward this site on the basis that ‘it is fairly close to rail links at Bryn Station’  Use of the A49 is therefore obviously envisaged .

I am also bemused to discover the Council advising on this issue that ‘the majority of commercial traffic is likely to travel southbound to access major commercial markets, including most of the north of England via the M62. The Midlands, the South East and east and south coast ports’. This is just an assumption with no credibility.

The Council advises that the traffic impacts arising will be given careful consideration at the planning application stage but we are being asked to approve the proposal on the basis of the traffic situation as it exists. Without the construction of a northbound access to the M6 at junction 25, which is cost prohibitive, this problem will not be resolved however much the Council may try by other means to reduce the impact.

The Council promotes this scheme and its plans to remove green belt protection on the basis of its attraction because of motorway access but that very argument is compromised because the convenient access is only for southbound vehicles and the local community will therefore suffer in traffic terms reducing the ‘benefits’ of this scheme.

In addition to the above points, residents have also raised with me their concerns about noise, air quality, visual impact and traffic congestion/nuisance the extent of which cannot be underestimated with a development of this size. Distribution centres usually operate 24 hours a day 7 days a week and safeguards can only reduce, not alleviate the adverse amenity impact and disturbance for nearby residents. The Council’s promises to protect the community from these effects are not achievable.

c) Inconsistent with National Policy:

The site currently has Green Belt status for a reason, to prevent urban sprawl by keeping the land permanently open. It is currently a necessary barrier between the areas of Bryn and Wigan and to approve its removal would be to accept unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas, neighbouring towns/areas merging into one another and encroachment into the community’s green space. Removal of the Green Belt status to provide a large new development area would not encourage the Council to recycle existing derelict and other urban land. These issues are of primary importance to the local community taking precedence over land use objectives.

This Green Belt status is valued by the community and they have demonstrated their total opposition to its removal. For the community, any benefits of the proposed development will certainly not outweigh the harm caused by the Green Bent status removal. The GVA document on the Green Belt issues acknowledges the damage that will occur as a result of the Green Belt status removal in this area. This, together with the traffic problems already identified plus the hostility of the community to this development means that the overall harm of the proposed development is not capable of being outweighed by other considerations. The ‘special circumstances’ criteria for the removal of Green Belt status is therefore not met.

I need also to raise the point of setting a precedent in relation to all Green Belt land adjoining/off the motorway network and devaluing Green Belt protection of such sites. If approval is given to remove the Green Belt status of this site, to allow employment opportunities, just because of its location then this puts all other similar sites at risk.

I do not believe changes can be made to make this aspect of the Core Strategy legally compliant or sound.   I consider GVA’s documents and advice to be questionable and the only course of action available would be the removal of the sites off junction 25 of the M6 motorway, South of Wigan as an option for industrial and logistics development.

I do wish to participate at the oral examination to represent the views of hundreds of constituents who have contacted me with their objections to this proposal.

Yours sincerely,

Yvonne Fovargue M.P.
Labour Member for Makerfield.

250 Million reasons why the country cannot afford the Alternative Vote

Friday 18 March 2011

Students take up free 'proof of age card' thanks to CitizenCard

Together with CitizenCard, the UK’s largest ID & proof of age card scheme I visited Winstanley College today to promote a free CitizenCard for every student.

CitizenCard contains the PASS (Proof of Age Standards Scheme) hologram and a customised holographic overlay. UV (ultraviolet) marks also appear on both sides of the card providing certainty to retailers about whether a cardholder is over 18 years of age.

The Pass hologram means that each CitizenCard is recognised as valid ID under the law. For providing proof of age, it’s as legitimate as a photo-driving licence and more convenient than a passport.

Cardholders benefit from access to CitizenCard’s new ‘Lealta’ discount programme offering discounts at over 200 national brands including Asda, Debenhams, HMV and Top Shop. A further 20,000 local cinema, fast food and retail outlets are also offering discounts.

I was joined by CitizenCard’s Nigel Catlow and Wigan Warrior's Sam Tomkins to raise awareness of the CitizenCard and to encourage students to take up the free offer.

Young people are rightly concerned about taking their passport with them on a night out, due to the risk of theft or loss, and they require a reliable document. Retailers, Pubs and Clubs can be confident that the CitizenCard with its unique PASS hologram is proof of the age of the card holder.

Nigel Catlow, CitizenCard’s Marketing Manager said, “CitizenCards contain UV and holographic security that gives doorstaff, licensees and shop staff in Makerfield the reassurance they need that the cardholder is an adult. Our collaboration with Yvonne Fovargue MP means that young adults in Makerfield can save £15 and apply for a card free of charge.”

Each CitizenCard is issued only after the applicant’s identity and age have been rigourously checked. 14% of CitizenCard applicants are never issued as they fail the rigorous application process and in 4% of cases either the applicant or verifier are threatened with prosecution for suspected fraud (2006 UK Fraud Act).

A Free CitizenCard application form is available by calling my constituency office on 01942 824029.

Since 1999 more than two million cards have been issued at no cost to the taxpayer. Further information about CitizenCard is available here.    

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Wigan Fire Station

I recently visited the station on Robin Park Rd with Lisa Nandy MP to discuss the Fire Service Action Plan for the Borough for the next 3 years.

We met with Borough Commander, Steve Sheridan and his team and was struck by the professionalism and dedication to the safety of local communities and Business in the Borough.

The importance of prevention, can never be underestimated and the service provides a free home fire risk assessment. For further information call 0800 555 815.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Heroes Return Deadline Extended

A scheme to provide assistance to WWII veterans to take part in commemorative visits to mark the anniversary of events that led to the end of WWII has been extended to 31st January 2012.

This extension to the scheme is to be welcomed. To date over 50,000 individuals have undertaken personal battlefront commemorative journeys to the places they saw action.

Grants of £150-£5,500 are available and both war widows and widowers of veterans are also eligible for funding with support also available for spouses and carers to fund travel with veterans.
The extended deadline will mean the Big Lottery Fund is committing over £1million in extra funding to assist UK WWII veterans.

Every veteran in the Borough has their own story to tell. The Heroes Return scheme is a unique opportunity for them to return to where they served and recall the memory of the sacrifice they and their fallen comrades made.

For more information click here.                    

Monday 7 March 2011

VAT rise on Fuel should be reversed

Today, I am calling on the Chancellor George Osborne to reverse the government’s VAT rise on fuel.

The hike in VAT to 20 per cent in January has added nearly 3p to the price of a litre of petrol and will raise £700m for the Treasury, according to figures from the independent House of Commons Library.

Labour's Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls MP says the VAT rise should be reversed immediately on petrol using the £800m extra the government is now getting from the bank levy, compared to what it was expecting in the last Budget. 

I’ve consistently opposed the Conservative-led government’s VAT rise which has hit families across the borough and helped to push up petrol prices to their current record levels. It’s time the Chancellor George Osborne took immediate action on fuel prices to ease the pressure on families who are already facing a tough year and their incomes squeezed. He should immediately reverse the VAT rise on fuel, which has added nearly 3p to the price of a litre of petrol, using the extra £800m the Treasury will be getting from the bank levy.

And in the Budget later this month George Osborne should look again at the annual fuel duty rise due in April. The last Labour government often postponed planned duty increases when world oil prices were on the up - as they are now. The Tories promised a ‘fuel duty stabiliser’ to win votes before the election, but if they don’t deliver one it will just be another broken promise from this government.

The AA’s latest fuel price report shows that across the North West the average cost of a litre of unleaded petrol in February was 128.4p – up 6.7p compared to December before the VAT rise. And the current instability in the Middle East and North Africa is driving up oil prices around the world which means the price of petrol at the pump is continuing to rise.

Now is the wrong time to be making things even worse for hard-pressed families in Wigan by hiking up VAT, as this government has done. George Osborne should admit he got it wrong and reverse the VAT rise on petrol now.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has said the VAT rise on fuel is the wrong tax at the wrong time and is hitting families and businesses hard and I agree.

A Labour online petition is up and running and you can sign it here.    

Friday 4 March 2011

All Aboard the Guide Dogs' Talking Buses campaign

This week, I have called for buses and coaches to have audible and visual announcements about the next stop and final destination.

I have pledged my support for a campaign aimed at making bus travel easier and safer for blind and partially sighted passengers, and other sensory impaired people, at an event organised by the charity Guide Dogs’.

The Talking Buses campaign aims to get audible and visual (AV) information systems – which clearly tell passengers the next stop and final destination – installed on new buses across Britain.

Guide Dogs has found that many disabled and elderly people find it very difficult or impossible to use buses independently and with confidence for fear of being stranded at the wrong stop. They are often left feeling anxious and unsafe, and some give up using the bus altogether.

The charity is calling on the Government to make it a requirement for all new buses in the UK to have on board audible as well as visual information systems, as is already a requirement for trains and trams. It is also encouraging councils and bus operators to look at providing systems on existing vehicles to improve the accessibility and quality of service for local people.

In a YouGov survey, 66 per cent of respondents said they thought it would make bus travel easier if there were on-board announcements about where the bus is going and what stop is coming up.

A lack of information undermines the confidence and independence of vulnerable people who rely on buses to get around. Blind and partially sighted people, for example, cannot see where they are, and others including wheelchair users who face backwards on vehicles may not easily be able to identify their stop. These people risk ending up at the wrong stop.

As well as disabled people, Talking Buses would improve travel for all passengers – including visitors to an area.

Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign has the support of 35 national disability organisations including Mencap, RNID, Campaign for Better Transport and Leonard Cheshire Disability. You can find out more about Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign by clicking here.       

I am pictured with Transport Policy Officer John Welsman with his guide dog Sorrel.