The local Green Party, like many others, has formally objected to an extra runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow Airport. We pointed out that there has been no assessment of health impacts, there would be a definite increase in noise and that an increase in flights would make it impossible to meet our climate targets.
The Airport Commission’s evidence clearly set out many negative impacts associated with expanding either airport. I was shocked that neither Surrey County Council nor Reigate and Banstead Borough Council opposed doubling the size of Gatwick Airport. Our County Council’s fence-sitting is conditional on more money for expanding road and rail capacity if Gatwick is expanded. Meanwhile, the Borough Council has opted to remain neutral while accepting that the Airport Commission’s analysis that an extra 130 homes/year here would require ‘some’ building on the Green Belt.
Local MPs here argue against expansion in Gatwick while remaining relaxed about expanding Heathrow airport instead. MPs around Heathrow say the opposite. How selfish. Sustaining our quality-of-life is not more important than someone else’s right to a decent life. And how hypocritical for the UK to submit our draft commitment to reduce carbon emissions this month and then consider further aviation expansion after the election next month. Without words being backed up by actions then the world will see a UK posturing, not leading on climate change.
Choosing to expand aviation is part of a short-sighted economic strategy that depends on continually expanding the scale of everything – including inequality – at the expense of our communities and our local and global environment. Instead, we can make better use of what we have already got. This requires us to be better connected to each other – not have better flight connections to China. Bigger is not automatically better. That is why we remain opposed to runway expansion, not just at Gatwick Airport but elsewhere too.
On Tuesday, Surrey County Council voted to end provision of residential care in its last six care homes. These included the Park Hall Care Home in Reigate. The council received two petitions from over four and a half thousand people and their consultation with the public showed 87% of those responding wished the residential care to be retained for many different reasons.
I asked questions challenging Surrey County Council’s ending their last residential care provision. The question “How can Council ensure value-for-money for the private sector with the same degree of assurance without the hands-on experience and grasp of costs that comes from running the same services in house?” was not answered. When I asked whether the cost-benefit analysis, which under-estimated bed use, did not value that these sites co-locate residential with other care services, and over-estimated refurbishment costs (and impacts) – which justified the closure would be updated, I was told that, “it is not a financial case” that is leading to these homes being closed.
- If care really is cheaper in the private sector is that because staff are paid less or care standards are lower?
- Or if it is the quality of care that is important, much admired in these longstanding community care homes, then why did the question asked as to whether carers will follow those cared for, providing continuity when older people are relocated from their care homes, received no response at all.
But it is a private care home (Merok Park) muted as an alternative – not one of these six care homes – that was closed recently by the Care Quality Commission. If the ‘mum’s test’ (whether or not you want you mum to be in the care home) is the guide for quality we should replicate and improve Surrey’s care model, and make this choice available to more people across Surrey.
The real reason for this closure did appear to be financial. Outside the meeting pictures of the six care homes were displayed, showing how Surrey had failed to invest in these homes, including basic energy efficiency improvements – which the council cannot afford. Instead, with adult social care carrying a heavy burden of council budget cuts, some of these sites will be used to provide other services (proposals to come back to a future council Cabinet meeting). So at least the council did not decide to close all six entirely. Four of the care homes, including Park Hall, will be retained to provide social care in the community.
But still, for me this was soul destroying. When the investment in basic road maintenance is inadequate we resurface roads. When we fail to invest in our care homes they are shut. Yes the roads affect us all but its surely a question of priorities: I stand by those whose care has been cut by the council – whatever you do to the least of us, when we need care, you do to me.
This new year Reigate and Redhill commuters were greeted by higher fares, while engineering works until 2018 have led to fewer Redhill trains going to London Bridge. The improvements at London Bridge will improve Redhill’s train service when finished. However, in the short term the service from Redhill has become slower, with trains diverted to Blackfriars and London Victoria – while other routes (such as the East Grinstead line) continue to London Bridge unchanged.
The irony is that Redhill and Reigate are already paying over the odds, (compared to comparable rail journeys into London) so this would be an ideal time to freeze prices, while commuters experience increased delays, on a daily basis. The engineering works could have been the excuse for fairer fares. Instead train fares have continued to rise even as the engineering works leave a poorer London service for the next few years.
Jonathan Essex told the local website reigate.uk that the Government had to act to ensure that commmuters are fairly treated. He said “If our train service from Redhill to London Bridge was cut like this for just one day passengers would be compensated. Now this happens every day with Southern Trains new timetable penalising Redhill over all other routes.” “The government must ensure that passengers are compensated now”, he added.
The AGM of the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail User Association is from 7.30pm on 12 March 2015 in the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill. This is our opportunity to hear from and speak directly to representatives of Network Rail, Southern and Thameslink (now both part of the Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd, the UK’s largest train franchise). You can join as a member and attend the meeting for £3 on the door.
Commenting in this weeks Surrey Mirror on Redhill’s new two-way system. Why are there are still parked buses in Marketfield Way which block the view of oncoming cars as drivers exit the car park?
Borough councillor Jonathan Essex said: “At the bus station we have now, there isn’t enough space for buses to lay up. Therefore there can be up to five buses here. The bus station isn’t fit for purpose. It’s the biggest unfinished part of the sustainable transport scheme. If you could fit more buses in the bus station, you won’t need buses parked all along the road.”
I enjoyed an interesting afternoon sharing with the Link-Up group at Redhill Baptist Church (a social group for older people) about life as a local politician.
There were so many thoughtful questions – from challenging why potholes are only filled when they are 40mm deep to why we are not replacing empty offices with affordable housing in Redhill town centre.
I went around Redhill’s new two-way system with the Pedestrian Forum yesterday to check what issues still need to be finished off to ensure that the new traffic layout is safe for all.
Reporting on BBC Surrey News breakfast time I commented that:
“Surrey County Council promises that the new two-way system will be better for pedestrians, cyclists, and reduce congestion around the town. Generally I think this is a good move. But we need to make sure it doesn’t benefit us in the short term and then we find that the congestion just returns as we have more and more traffic in the future.
“We need to make sure all the cycle routes are joined up. That the buses have sufficient space to park in the bus station.
“At the moment the plans are to continue to park the buses along Marketfield Way. Which makes congestion worse. We could follow Sussex’s example and fit more buses into the bus station by allowing them to drive in and reverse out. If we want more people travelling then we need to make the ‘temporary’ bus station that was put in a few years ago better too. Let’s have a new way forward for public transport to make best use of the two-way system which has just been introduced.”
This morning I joined a march from Park Hall Care Home in Reigate – with those with family at the care home and others challenging the plans to shut the County Council’s last six residential care homes. Lots of beeps from passing cars in support as well as discussions on Reigate High Street.
The current set-up works well – combining day care, respite and residential care. Transferring these residents is not just a risk for them but will be a loss in accountability – as outsourced contracts are forced to choose between lower wages or less care to save money.