LOCAL POST OFFICE CLOSURES
The Horizon Post Office scandal was addressed in Parliament yesterday. For those of you unfamiliar with this issue, dozens of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were wrongly accused of theft twelve years ago due to a computer error. Some were convicted of crimes and even jailed, having done nothing wrong. They have finally won their long battle for justice. You can see more about this here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54384427
During the debate, I raised the issue of the effect that this appalling treatment of our postmasters and postmistresses may be having on the efforts of the Post Office to keep local post offices open. Here in Richmond Park we have a number of closed post offices because no one can be found to run them. I am concerned that more may follow.
You can see my question for the Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and his reply here:
If you know of a suitable person or business who might be interested in running a post office here please contact my office on email@example.com.
EXPANSION OF ULEZ ZONE INTO RICHMOND PARK CONSTITUENCY
In October of next year, London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will expand to include all of London inside the North and South Circular, to improve air quality for the 3.8 million Londoners who live within the expanded zone, the great majority of whom are living with pollution that exceeds recommended limits.
Four in five cars on the road today already meet the ULEZ emissions requirements and will not have to pay the charge. Owners of the remaining 20 per cent have until October next year to consider replacing their vehicle or using other modes of transport. Scrappage schemes are available for low incomes households, disabled Londoners, small businesses and charities.
The expanded zone will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More information is available here: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/ulez-expansion
The expansion will bring part of Richmond Park constituency inside the ULEZ zone, including houses to the east of Mortlake Road/Clifford Avenue in Kew and to the north of Upper Richmond Road West in Barnes, Mortlake and East Sheen.
Richmond Council is in talks with TfL and the Mayor's office about the ULEZ expansion and the effect it will have on local residents and services. The Council has serious concerns about access to Townmead Road Refuse and Recycling Center, which will be inside the ULEZ zone, and is exploring ways to minimise the impact. They are also considering whether consultations over the introduction/amendment of Controlled Parking Zones will be needed near the perimeter of the zone.
The Council will be asking TfL to fund the costs of these mitigating arrangements. They have also criticised the abrupt withdrawal of TfL’s van scrappage scheme, which was a useful tool in supporting local businesses to shift to less polluting vehicles. I will keep you updated as the talks between Richmond Council and TfL on this issue.
BARNES BUS SERVICE UPDATE
I had a meeting on Friday with Transport for London to discuss bus services in the Barnes area. I know many people have been frustrated that it took TfL so long to add on extra buses after Hammersmith Bridge closed, and that there aren't more frequent buses. TfL has a finite number of buses across London and the closure coincided with the planning of their new school services. They needed to ensure they had enough buses to get London’s school children to school. The limit to bus capacity driven by social distancing has put a huge strain on the network, but they assure me they are doing all they can to find solutions to help improve connectivity in Barnes. Here are some details: 533 bus I understand many people are still experiencing long delays with this service as buses are filling up quickly during peak hours. TfL are looking into adding more services onto this route during peak times. They have also investigated if they can amend the route to make it suitable for double-deckers. Although double-deckers do pass under Barnes Bridge during night services and rail replacement services they are not safe during peak times because they have to move into the centre of the road. They also mentioned that when they tested the route, the driver noticed fresh paint on the underside of the bridge from vehicles scraping it as they passed. I am haunted by the images of the bus incident in Winchester where school children were seriously injured https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-54099591. I will challenge TfL to look again at trialling double-deckers on this route at peak times, but I will only support its introduction if I can be assured of its safety. In the meantime, I would like to encourage people who are able to to use alternative bus or train routes instead of the 533, which was meant to serve the less mobile. Instead of waiting for a 533, it may be quicker to change buses at Putney or use the tube or train network. 378 Bus I have received many requests about diverting the 378 up Lonsdale Road or Church Road to give a direct connection between Barnes and Putney Bridge Station. The difficulty with this is that it requires a left turn from Rocks Lane onto Mill Hill Road, which is currently deemed unsafe for buses. TfL is, however, conducting a study to work out if they can make this route feasible. I will update you with progress on this. 485 Bus TfL is also investigating extending this route to service Putney Train Station and East Putney tube. However, it would require an illegal right turn at the end of Lower Richmond Road. They are working on how they could potentially make this work in the future. 22 Bus Some people have asked if the 22 could be extended to Barnes to provide access to the tube and central London. TfL feels the other bus routes mentioned above would provide an easier and quicker route to the tubes and central London via the tube stations. Moving Forward TfL want to make it clear that they will keep working to improve connectivity while we wait for the river crossing situation to be resolved. To help everyone with their journey planning, I have asked TfL to provide an information sheet outlining all the recommended routes along with accessibility and frequency details so you can more easily plan your journeys. I am also going to write to the Department for Transport this week about funding for accessibility improvements at Barnes Train Station. It is vital that we ensure those less mobile have an accessible route into Central London from Barnes.
I’m frustrated that there are no simple solutions and I will continue to explore new and different options with TfL for better transport provision while the bridge is inaccessible.
371 BUS RETURNING TO SCHEDULED ROUTE THROUGH RICHMOND
Following a complaint from a Queens Road Estate resident, I also questioned Transport for London as to why the 371 bus was no longer stopping along Queens Road between Richmond and Ham. I was told that this was a temporary change due to gas works in Kings Road. Happily, TfL have now come back to say that the 371 bus will resume its scheduled route as of today, reopening the bus stops on Marchmont Road and Queens Road.
UPDATE ON SCHOOLS
Richmond's Cabinet Member for Education Cllr Penny Frost has written to me with an update on how Richmond schools are coping with Covid-19.
Cllr Frost reports that generally schools are coping incredibly well and are getting much better at knowing how to respond to a positive case of Covid, identifying the number of 'close contacts' that a pupil or staff member has had, and keeping those who need to isolate to a minimum. The focus is always on sustaining attendance and keeping the school open.
All schools have a clear protocol to follow as laid down by Public Health England and the DfE. Although these overall protocols are the same for all schools, their local management may slightly differ in respect of the layout of the school and its grounds. Their delivery of the curriculum is also a matter for each school Head and Chair of governors. If you have a specific concern, you should take it to your school Head and Chair of Governors. Here are a few other points of interest for parents and carers:
Problems with access to testing seem to have eased. There are increasing numbers of staff and pupils being tested, and, sadly, increased numbers with positive results.
Staff absence is likely to be an ongoing challenge, especially in primary schools.
There is considerable anxiety about the impact of Covid-19 on budgets, with increased cleaning materials needed, as well as supply cover for staff who are isolating.
Schools should have an online / remote learning offer ready to activate for any pupils who need to isolate. Feedback is that schools now have this well organised.
Most secondary schools are asking pupils to wear face coverings in shared areas. This remains a school-based decision linked to their risk assessment, and under review.
Schools have been careful to provide good ventilation and lots of outdoor activities since the pupils returned, but maintaining this will be a challenge once the winter weather starts to bring significantly lower temperatures, wind and rain.
School systems and protocols will continue to be reviewed and changed as the national and local situation shifts. Please note that following DfE advice, schools will not be open during October half term.
RICHMOND COUNCIL WINS £500k GREEN HOMES GRANT
Local people who are on a low income and live in properties with poor energy ratings will soon be able to apply for funding to improve the energy efficiency of their home.
Last week it was announced that residents could apply to the Government for a Green Homes Grant voucher to reduce the carbon footprint of their property. Alongside this, Local Authorities were invited to bid for additional funding to help improve the least energy-efficient homes in their boroughs. Richmond has been successful in its bid for £534,700 of funding and plans to set up a grant scheme for local home-owners in properties that are currently not very energy efficient with a household combined income of £30k or less.
Owner occupiers who meet the criteria will be able to apply for up to £10,000 of works on their homes. Where homes are rented from landlords, £5,000 will be available, with the landlord expect to make at least a 33% contribution on top.
To deliver the home improvements, the Council will work with a local retrofit provider who has extensive experience delivering energy efficiency and retrofit measures.
Information regarding the Council’s grant scheme will be announced in the next few weeks. However, to sign up to be kept informed, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
And to find out more about the voucher scheme go to: www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-the-green-homes-grant-scheme.
KINGSTON COUNCIL UPDATE ON ROUGH SLEEPING
The Council works with Kingston churches, SPEAR and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to offer outreach provision for rough sleepers and winter night shelter provision, early morning assistance, intensive support for those with complex needs and accommodation in shared houses.
Since the end of March 153 individuals have been provided with accommodation to prevent rough sleeping either for the whole period or for a short while. Some of these moved on to other accommodation and others made their own arrangements. As of the beginning of September 116 people were still being provided with accommodation.