Category Archives: E-News

A Greener Gloucester

Litter picking, cycling and raising funds for St James’s City Farm Allotments

I’ve had a few emails recently effectively asking ‘how green is Gloucester and what more can we do?’ This is a good question not just for me, but for all of us.

So let me share some thoughts and wishes, and seek your views.

1. Recycling: better, but room for improvement
This used to be a delicate issue in Gloucester. Only ten years ago our recycling rate was 21%, but ten years on we’re in a much better position, at 37% and in the top 3rd of local authorities for recycling rates. But the best cities in the UK recycle around 66%, so we can do lots more.

Gloucester City Council has examined our contracts and changed our rubbish pick up lorries. The new trucks will accept more plastic and cardboard and this should increase our recycling. The new service also means 100% of what is collected kerbside is recycled into new products, will save us £250,000 a year and divert 2,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. This is an encouraging start.

2. An additional recycling centre off Eastern Avenue 
I believe we could drive up recycling volumes and reduce carbon emissions from journeys to the Hempsted tip by having an extra recycling facility on council land off Eastern Avenue, which would be closer to residents of Barnwood, Hucclecote, Abbey, Robinswood & Matson, Coney Hill, parts of Barton & Tredworth and Tuffley – probably half the city. The site wouldn’t be big enough to handle the full range of recycling at Hempsted, but it could still make a significant difference. Clearly making this financially viable is important.

3. Stopping the landfill at Hempsted
Since 1996 taxpayers have had to pay fines for putting waste into the ground, with Hempsted landfill costing more than £10 million last year. I don’t know anyone who thinks this is a good idea either environmentally or financially. Clearly there were different views about the Waste to Energy plant at Haresfield, but creating energy to power for 25,000 homes, reducing carbon emissions by 40,000 tonnes and stopping lorries from around the county delivering residual waste to landfill in Hempsted are huge benefits to anyone living in Gloucester. Now there is a chance for more creative recycling at Hempsted.

4. Sorting out traffic in the City 
The business of air pollution is mostly about car emissions in Gloucester. An idling engine can produce up to twice as much exhaust emissions as an engine in motion. We need to improve our traffic flow in the city centre to combat this, and in particular I want to see the jams in Southgate Street reduced by a proper pedestrian crossing at the CD Rack and a roundabout at the Trier Way/Stroud Road end of Southgate Street to replace the existing cross roads. This would then enable drivers to turn right to the Peel Centre and St Ann’s Bridge, rather than creating more traffic jams going through an absurd triangle around the Stroud and Bristol Roads. Peel has offered financial help and I would like to prioritise the blockages in Southgate Street after the county elections.

5. Progress on a mini-hydro at Llanthony Lock?
Seven years ago I brought the then-Water Minister to Gloucester to hear the Hereford and Gloucestershire Canal Trust’s idea to create a mini hydro at the Llanthony weir, on the edge of Alney Island. As I do, he loved the idea of creating energy from the water so close to the heart of the city centre. This could raise significant income for the Trust (towards buying the land to restore the Canal), but it’s complicated and is taking an age to actually happen. As Vice President of the Canal Trust I have to manage my natural impatience: the long term goal of producing our own natural energy from the River Severn is an attractive one.

6. Getting tough on fly tippers and reducing litter
The most immediate way any city is judged, as with people, is through our appearance. And whether it’s the A38 passing Kingsway towards Cole Avenue, or Metz Way bringing drivers over the Railway Triangle there is far too much rubbish on the side of the road. Some shocking corners have been much improved: I remember standing with the Rygor CEO beside a thick pack of dirty nappies dumped in the Railway triangle some seven years ago. That’s all gone, replaced by their sparkling new building. But there are several roads and streets in our city that could be better.

Our recent Great British Spring Clean did help, I think, because litter picking is for us all, not something to waste taxpayer money employing a council contractor to do more and more of. We can set an example and gradually change attitudes. So I’m grateful to all who joined in (in driving rain), and would love to see more community litter picking.

We also need tougher fines, and we now have them, thanks to the City Council. A maximum fine of £400 should make any resident think twice – but is it enough for those who fly tip commercially? I believe at the very least we should name and shame the frequent large fly tippers.

7. Improving our cycling routes and getting more people to use them
Apart from the benefits of a fabulous hill (Robinswood) in our city, and the HQ of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust there, we also have a canal whose tow path leads from the Docks to the Pilot Inn, on the Quedgeley/Stroud border. It’s a wonderful, idle 25 minute bike ride but not all of it is in a condition for, say, young children. I’ve met with the Canal and River Trust to get upgrading this path on their agenda, and this remains something to see through.

Likewise ensuring an upgrade for the cycle path through Alney Island to Maisemore and Over after it was blocked when flooding rotted one of the connecting bridges. The GCC has promised to fund sorting this later this year, which is good news. These are great scenic routes that I want everyone to explore and enjoy, and use their bikes much more this summer.

Of course there are other cycle routes which occasionally also need improvement, and I hope cyclists will take photos of any issues and mail them to me so I can forward them as appropriate. But some things again can be done by us as individuals. I often carry a pair of secateurs to deal with e.g. sudden growth on a bramble bush; as so often action by individuals and community groups can complement what councils do, so we can focus them on the most serious issues.

8. Community Groups leading the way
Community groups like the Friends of Alney Island, Robinswood Hill, Saintbridge Pond, Gloucester Park, KGV Park, Hillview Gardens and Barnwood Arboretum who all take real ownership of their area are making a huge difference. I would recommend joining them to everyone living nearby. The group planning to bring the Matson Angling Pond back to life are also showing great initiative so do support them too!

9. What else?
The environment is a huge subject, and everyone will have their different take on it. Dog poo, fly tipping and litter are incredibly irritating things and I get plenty of emails on all three. But I also hope that my constituents will keep a sense of adventure, and discover new walks – like the new balancing pond created off the ring road between the Elmbridge Court and C&G roundabouts – a wonderful place to see waterbird life. This also shows that measures taken for one purpose (successfully protecting Longlevens and Elmbridge residents from flooding) have great spin off benefits.

There is so much to encourage: the land around the Boating Park in Westgate is fun for dogs and children and could be much more: and every child should have the chance to see a sunset and the snaking silver river from the top of Robinswood Park, and explore its Jurassic rocks. There is so much to enjoy in our city.

What else do you think we could do to make Gloucester more environmentally friendly? Let me know at richard4gloucester@gmail.com.

Best regards

Improving our old estates

Parts of Matson and Podsmead look tired now

Churchill famously once said ‘we shape buildings and then they shape us’. The £1.25m Estates Regeneration award just won by Gloucester City Homes, with strong support from the City Council and I, is all about this dynamic.

Our physical goal is to transform the post war estates in Matson and Podsmead, two wards of Gloucester which will hugely benefit from new and better buildings, landscaping and overall look. I know GCH will respect key green areas and local priorities.

There are encouraging precedents: the micro regeneration of the sites of former pubs The Musket (Matson) and Jet & Whittle (Podsmead) by GCH and Green Square respectively have already shown that good value and good materials can go together successfully. And then the buildings have shaped a great sense of pride in surroundings.

I’ve wanted to see a transformation since I first walked around both wards ten years ago. I wanted to see the most made, especially of Matson’s, beautiful natural setting with a more attractive man-made contribution.

Now the combination of GCH’s new status as a stand alone company and the £50m housing debt write off I achieved from the last government, plus a good pitch by GCH to this new government programme, means transformation is now, at last, possible.

This is the next stage of GCH’s journey under Ashley Green: from managing city council housing stock to independent company driving housing regeneration in city and county.

As Citizen Editor Jenny Eastwood notes it’s a great win for all of Gloucester, because regeneration has to be spread everywhere across our city.

This is a good example of a new source of funding through the government. To succeed we need great ideas, and I spend a lot of time either thinking what we could do (like the major Blackfriars scheme or the new railway car park) or writing letters of support for others’ good ideas. The teamwork between MP and different organisations in our city is incredibly important and rating low on political squabbling is one reason we’re winning more bids.

But this is only the beginning of the estate regeneration. The detail is critical. We’re rightly sceptical of big promises in Gloucester and residents of Matson and Podsmead will want to know exactly what’s planned before getting excited about it. But residents have seen the good new housing in Painswick Road, locally designed by Aqua, and that should bring confidence that GCH will bring forward some good plans and designs.

Meanwhile I think we should be proud of our Housing company, and pleased that the Gloucester team is together winning funding for Estate regeneration, against competition from all over the country. Let’s now shape some great new housing and infrastructure – and then be optimistic about how it will then shape us.

A week after Gloucester won £1.49 million for cultural development from the Lottery Fund and the Arts Council, we’re continuing to surprise ourselves, positively.

Let me know what other regeneration initiatives would be positive surprises in our city at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

New GCH and Green Square homes in Matson and Podsmead

The why, what and how of the new School Funding Formula

The Government’s consultation on proposals for a new funding formula closes this Wednesday. This is both very important and very complicated – and whatever final proposal emerges it will be impossible to please everyone.

Let me try and explain the issue, the current proposal and where I think we go from here. Please do try and have your say included too.

The problem with our school funding is that no-one can easily explain it and it ends up with huge disparities in the amounts of funding for similar pupils in different parts of the country.

Basically this benefits metropolitan boroughs and cities, at the expense of poorer cities in well off counties, which is roughly our situation. This is unnecessarily complicated and certainly isn’t fair for much of the country. So the government made a pledge to resolve this with a simple new national formula which would explain clearly on what basis each school gets funded.

This required a basic level of funding for each child and then agreed factors, and weightings of those factors, for issues that influence children’s attainment at school to determine extra funding.

The government has proposed such a formula, and the main factors are low prior attainment, deprivation, mobility and English as a second language: alongside school and geographical cost factors.

It’s impossible to know exactly what income each school would get in 2018-19 as we don’t yet know how many pupils or eg how many are entitled to free school meals or have English as a second language in 2018-19. Extra or fewer pupils will change the figures: if a primary school, for example, is predicted to gain or lose £25,000 then 5 pupils more or less could see that change disappear.

However, based on this year’s entry, the estimates show that Gloucester will gain £58,000 for primary schools and £256,000 for secondary schools: an overall increase of 0.4%.

But within that figure, which is an encouraging start, there are of course winners and losers.

The winners are schools with lots of pupils with the characteristics that show they need extra help. So, for example Beaufort, St Peters and Severn Vale Secondary Schools are relative winners and the grammar schools relative losers. The primary schools which have the fewest pupils on free school meals and English as a second language tend to do less well: e.g. Meadowside has 1.9% of pupils for whom English is a second language whereas Widden has 78%. The challenges for those two schools are very different.

So if your school is a relative loser in year one or two, it is understandable if your Head encourages you to write to me: but some of the changes are not large as a percentage of turnover, and none over 3% per year. Many government departments (though not Health and Education at all) and all councils have had to reduce by much more.

As the son and brother of primary school Deputy Heads, I understand that you will fight for every penny: but I also have to look at the bigger picture and the underperforming primaries in my constituency who will benefit, which will increase the chances of those pupils succeeding.

Basically there are now 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools across the country than there were in 2010 and I would love EVERY primary and secondary in our city to be in those categories. There have been some great successes but others need more help to get there.

Some constituents have asked me why the government is cutting education. It isn’t. Health and education have been the most protected budgets since we inherited a public finance overspend of over £150 billion a year. The Government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, and this year over £40 billion is being spent on schools in this country. Any suggestion that we have ever spent MORE on schools is simply wrong.

Over time counties like ours will get more, and metropolitan areas relatively less. But that has to be done gradually, and there is no new money to make it easier – you know the pressures on other areas (whether health, social care, or welfare) while we try to get back to living within our means.

All of which makes for difficult politics in the Commons. Because there are many schools in the least funded areas which don’t see an immediate rise in funding, and some that do lose quite a lot, in my view there is not enough political support in Parliament at the moment to introduce the new formula.

Meanwhile the consultation isn’t closed until Wednesday evening (https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula2/). So you still have a chance to have your say on the consultation and influence the results. The government will analyse the results and decide how to respond (I imagine) in the summer.

My own belief is that the weighting of the factors in the formula could be altered slightly: it can be argued for example that deprivation is scored too highly once all the factors are considered. A similar point in another way would be to increase the basic figure to educate a pupil regardless of the pupil’s circumstance. And of course some extra transition money divided between eg the most poorly funded areas would be very helpful, although it’s hard to see where it might come from.

But we have to try and find a way through this if a) we want to fulfil the pledge and b) more importantly we want to prevent the inequality of the current situation from growing still further.

So I’ve had meetings with the other Gloucestershire MPs, the county council and also with Ministers trying to find possible ways of improving the formula and its implementation. And I’ll continue to do so. But I will also bear in mind that current proposals mean overall schools in Gloucester would see a slight increase in education, and that should continue to increase gently in future years.

So I’m balancing the views of those who are unhappy with those who are beneficiaries, the short and the longer term, and taking a view based both on the city as a whole and the national interest.

I await the analysis of the consultation and the government’s response with great interest and hope changes can be found to make this first ever national funding formula work for as many as possible of my and other schools.

Do give your reactions to the consultation before Wednesday evening and copy me in on any email responses you send (the consultation is also quite complicated) at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

No rose tinted specs – join the Great Gloucester Spring Clean

Litter off Barton Street last week

Yesterday a constituent who gets my regular e-news accused me gently of having rose tinted specs. Mary, who lives in Robinswood, said I always focused on the good news and wondered if we lived in the same city.

So we discussed Mary’s view of Gloucester. She’s retired, so she isn’t that interested in changes to employment, the growth in jobs and apprenticeships, or the 80% reduction in youth unemployment. New employers in growing sectors like cyber, nuclear or tidal lagoons don’t impact Mary: and she’s not very interested in Heritage or Sport either. New housing means construction and she’s not mad about the noise and change involved.

Mary hasn’t been to the Docks and Quays for years, and she doesn’t think whatever’s happened there is for people like her anyway.

No: Mary judges Gloucester by what she sees in her part of the city, where her daughter lives in Barton, and in the city centre. And she doesn’t like what she sees.

In Robinswood around her, Mary sees too many unkempt tenants’ gardens with brambles spreading over their fences. She points out a path where the contractors don’t keep the grass cut very well (she does it) and a tree where the conkers aren’t swept up. She sees far too much litter and dog poo everywhere.

Mary says the alley from Barton to Asda is ‘dreadful’, the litter on the verges of the roads that she sees from buses ‘shocking’ and young men in sleeping bags in the city centre ‘depressing’.

Mary would agree it’s not just a question of pointing a finger at the city council, their contractors or GCH – though there are times some or all need chasing. She’s worried about attitude. Too many rude, litter leaving individuals who just don’t care. And Mary has a point. So what can be done?

In my view, leadership means getting tougher on individual responsibility, and communities leading the way on improving local areas. One example of this, often discussed, is fly tipping. In Barton, residents, even some councillors, have told me for years it is because strangers drive into the ward and dump stuff there.

Well earlier this year Barton businessman Phillipe Lassey was ordered to pay over £2,000 for organising industrial scale fly tipping round the corner from his business on Barton Street.

Recently too, Kingsholm and Wotton resident Elias Mathai was fined £1,830 for dumping his rubbish on RSPCA property on Horton Road, around the corner from where he lives.

Neither case is about some outside person bringing rubbish into Gloucester but local, individual responsibility. How can you live or work in a community and treat it like this?

So we do need a tougher approach to fly tipping and I welcome Richard Cook and the city council increasing fines sharply and creating a site where you can put photos of people behaving irresponsibly and report them here.

But there are also some public places where the litter just needs cleaning up, like in the St Mary de Crypt graveyard, Tuffley Park, Blackbridge and Kingsway, where I helped teams of volunteers. If everybody gave half a day in the ward they live a year to clean up it would make a big difference.

The late Cllr Yakub Pandor set a great example, walking around with a litter picking stick. And Ivan Taylor’s brother-in-law Paul  does the same in the city centre (pipe, cap and broom). We should recognise those who clean up, selflessly.

So come and join me in the ‘Great British Spring Clean’ March 3 2017 between 10am and 3pm, at the Guildhall on Eastgate Street. 

Let me know if there’s a good clean up in your ward (like Kingsway) you want to highlight at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

Why I voted to trigger leaving the EU

Watch my speech in the House of Commons above

In the run-up to the referendum, I believed that the considerable short-term risks of leaving the European Union outweighed the unquantifiable future benefits, but I underestimated the deep mistrust of the European Union.

The people have decided to leave. I must respect that decision, and I will support this Bill.

The hard work now begins. For example, how do we access the benefits of free trade and the inspection-free transfer of goods from outside EU structures such as the single market and the customs union? Some believe that nothing is possible, but that the alternative to working for success is to hope that things go badly—even to will it—to be ceaselessly critical and, ultimately, to achieve only an echo of Private Fraser’s lament, “We’re all doomed.”

Although none of us has perfect foresight, I am absolutely confident that we will have much greater success in lining up future free trade agreements than some people have suggested.

The negotiations will begin soon. In my view, we need an agreement in which we are generous to Europeans living here, enthusiastic in our continuation of academic and research co-operation, and resolute in our solidarity with Europe on defence and security.

In that agreement, we must be practical about ways of controlling immigration but welcoming to skills, tourists and entrepreneurs; we must be free of the European Court of Justice, but never compromise on standards or the rule of law; and we must be adventurous in pursuing our own trade deals, but never underestimate the importance of free trade and easy customs clearance in all that we do with Europe.

That is what I hope the Government’s White Paper will lay out. I hope that it will bring our one nation of diverse parts together. Whatever our concerns about the journey, we should start positively, not cynically.

Do let me know what you think Brexit should look like at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.
Best regards

 

 

 

 

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Britain’s chance to create energy from the world’s first Tidal Lagoon

It may not hit the headlines when the media are focused on whether the Kremlin has compromising material on the new US President, but yesterday was I think the moment Britain got serious about creating a new global industry.

We were early movers in offshore wind energy, and we have an opportunity now to be the first mover in generating energy from tidal lagoons. There are tidal barrages in eg France and Russia, but no tidal lagoon – where a large wall is built around a bay, and an under water turbine captures energy from the twice daily movements of the tide – anywhere in the world. Yet.

Some time ago I opened the Gloucester headquarters of Tidal Lagoon Power plc (TLP), which proposes a series of tidal lagoons to harness the strength of the Severn Estuary tides and generate up to 10% of Britain’s total electricity needs. The technology is not totally new, but has never been deployed in this way before: and the size of even the first and smallest lagoon in Swansea Bay involves over eleven miles of wall. And although TLP has funding for the c£1.3 billion project, ultimately the taxpayer would subsidise the cost through the price paid by the National Grid.

In the wake of controversy about the size of the subsidy to be paid for nuclear energy from the new Hinkley Point stations, the government was cautious about the cost and last year commissioned a Review of Tidal Energy. Those who thought the aim was delay, prevarication and kicking the issue into the long grass will have been disappointed by Charles Hendry’s report, whose launch I hosted (as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Marine Energy & Tidal Lagoons) in Parliament yesterday.

Charles is a former colleague and Energy Minister, and although he started a sceptic hisreport  is absolutely clear about the scale of the opportunity and its importance to the UK. He described our tides as the greatest untapped source of energy in the country, and highlighted the Severn Estuary and the Solway Firth in particular. He sees a golden opportunity for Britain to be bold and seize first mover advantage in a new global industry, and in his 40 recommendations urges the government to reach agreement on a pathfinder by TLP at Swansea Bay as soon as possible. Why did he reach that conclusion?

The Hendry Review looked at four key questions – the security of supply, decarbonisation, affordability and economic gain (jobs). On all four it found strongly in favour of tidal lagoons. Their energy is domestically sourced and predictable, very low carbon (and supported by Greenpeace). The estimated UK content is 65%, with 50% likely to be sourced from Wales – not least manufacturing (including steel) and construction, but with huge tourism potential which Charles Hendry thought had been much underestimated, and compared to the Eden Project in Cornwall. And then there is the cost.

The report estimates that the cost of the Swansea pathfinder would be cheaper (through the Contract for Difference or CfD structure) than the nuclear subsidy, and over the lifetime of a tidal lagoon considerably cheaper per megawatt hour than offshore wind: less than 50p per household per year over the the first 60 years (after which the subsidy would end).

The Hendry Report makes 40 recommendations, many to government: including the creation of a Tidal Power Authority and establishing competitive tenders for future lagoons. The government will now study these in detail. So what happens next?

Last autumn I wrote a letter to the Chancellor urging him to look seriously at the Review when it came out because the 111 MPs who signed my letter all believed there were significant opportunities for Britain. As the Hendry Review has confirmed our instincts I will now write again, urging a detailed and formal response before the Budget.

In my view it would simply not be credible for the government to ignore or reject the general thrust of the recommendations. The Review and its author are too authoritative. It will have to look closely particularly at the structure and pricing issues, but the risk of the pathfinder at Swansea is really with TLP plc – they won’t receive anything until the electricity is in the National Grid, probably in 2022. And the support they have in Swansea, Wales and much more widely for this project is almost unprecedented.

I am also sure that an opportunity to buy tidal bonds with an income stream as steady as the energy itself would be well subscribed by both pension funds and retail investors alike. I want to see Britain investing in and owning our own infrastructure and this is our chance to show that we can and will do so. So much of our infrastructure from Camelot to most of Heathrow Airport is not owned by us – but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Which brings us back to Gloucester. What could be more exciting than to have a business based in our city construct the first of what I hope will be many tidal lagoons, all over the world. Our city has thrived on manufacturing innovation – whether Booth’s first vacuum cleaner, to the first flight of Whittle’s jet engine, Dowty’s landing gear and aviation instruments and the nuclear industry whose operations are all still run from Barnwood. Creating the world’s first tidal lagoon is in a great tradition – and I will do all I can to keep encouraging this bold step forward for Britain.

Let me know your thoughts and reactions on richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk

Best regards

Changing the law on stalking: a Gloucestershire and national success

You don’t get many chances to change the law of the land: many MPs never do so. I’ve been lucky – today’s Policing and Crime Bill, all being well, will be the second time that I’ve been able to play a part in doing so.

Both times I’ve been driven to action by something that happened in Gloucester, by trying to create something good out of something bad.

The first was a constituent whose death was caused by a very drunk, uninsured and disqualified driver, who received a risible sentence because the law didn’t allow for more. The government agreed to increase the maximum sentence in such cases. This time there’s a similar outcome but the journey has been more complex and much less predictable.

In May 2015 I read in The Citizen the comments of our Judge Jamie Tabor, who said in sentencing a stalker, Raymond Knight, that if he could have sentenced him for longer then he would. Judges don’t usually like increasing sentences, and Knight’s crime was only recently introduced – Theresa May as Home Secretary had rightly criminalised stalking in the last Parliament. So I decided to look closer. Little did I know what I was getting into.

Dr Eleanor Aston, a Gloucester GP who lived in Cheltenham had been stalked for 8 years. Raymond Knight had stalked her relentlessly at work, at home and at her daughter’s nursery group. He cut off the gas and slashed a water pipe at her home: he left messages on her telephone, car and in the surgery – and was suspected, but not proven, of burning down half of Dr Aston’s house.

Her life was cruelly damaged: she suffered from PTSD and had to give up being a GP. The whole family was in a nightmare that wouldn’t go away. No wonder Judge Tabor wished he could lock Raymond Knight up for longer.

So I decided to do something with my neighbour and her (Cheltenham) MP, Alex Chalk, a barrister. I suggested we aim to change the law and get more flexibility on sentencing. Judge and victim were supportive: and so we met Ministers in London.

Then Lord Chancellor/Justice Secretary Michael Gove encouraged us to do much more research into stalking: one case rarely made for good law. We went away and with the great help of our researchers talked to victims, research bodies, anti-stalking charities, and academic and police experts. Alex’s legal knowledge was crucial.

I was particularly moved by hearing the experience of Gloucester hairdresser Katie Price, who had also been badly stalked and later left our city to find peace elsewhere. Her daughter wrote a moving letter about the impact of stalking on the whole family.

Our report showed the size of the issue: one in five women are stalked in their lifetime, and one in ten men, and stalking often leads to violence.

So this wasn’t just about Dr Aston, but a much larger number of victims. In fact when we launched our report to the media, many journalists and MPs had experiences to share too. We recommended a doubling of the maximum prison sentence from five to ten years.

We discussed our report with then Sentencing Minister Dominic Raab and his officials and he joined us for its formal launch in London. There was talk of a Sentencing Bill in the Queen’s Speech.

I asked Prime Minister David Cameron for his support in PMQs. We had a Gloucestershire launch of the report, with the University of Glos and Nick Gazzard. And we created a petition, supported by nearly 30 MPs. Meanwhile Dr Eleanor Aston, supported by charities like Paladin, starred in a BBC documentary on the issue. Momentum was building.

Then the PM resigned after the Referendum and all the Justice Ministers were changed: back to square one.

Bismarck once said that the making of laws is like the making of sausages – you don’t want to know what goes into them. And so, after much discussion and many more meetings, Alex launched a 10 Minute Bill.

It was bound to fail unless supported by government, which was understandably cautious about increasing sentences and prisoners. But the Bill gave our cause more attention and so did the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders by Home Secretary Amber Rudd before Christmas. And immediately afterwards Gloucestershire based Baroness Jan Royall succeeded in an amendment in the Lords to the Policing and Crime Bill.

This helped focus the government’s mind on the case for an amendment. They have accepted our report’s recommendation and agreed to implement it – adding a doubling of religiously or racially aggravated harassment (from seven to fourteen years).

The new law will also pave the way for more remedial work as investment in specialist mental health training for prison officers increases to assess and treat these offenders.

The Minister will propose this amendment later today and I imagine it will sail through.

This is a wonderful New Year’s present for those who’ve been stalked, for campaigners, for women in general – and for Gloucestershire, which has led every step of the way.

It means that Judges will have the flexibility that Judge Tabor sought: that victims will, as Dr Aston has said, be able to sleep more easily when the worst stalkers are sentenced; and the stalkers themselves understand on the one hand the seriousness of the crime and on the other receive more help in resolving what is a severe obsession and mental health issue.

Of course this is not going to stop stalking. But it shows victims and Judges are heard, that MPs and ultimately the government listens and that laws can be changed – so that sentences better reflect the damage that a particular crime can inflict on innocent victims, most of whom (in this instance) are women. Ultimately, Justice is only as good as the laws we adapt, and how these are implemented.

It’s felt like a long and winding road, and I’m glad neither Alex nor I have kept time sheets, but changing the law within 18 months is in fact unusually fast.

Along the way I’ve learnt more about the value of legal research and much more about stalking: the known and unknown victims and the several charities; and the processes and bypaths of getting legislation changed.

There was one other unusual aspect of this campaign – Cheltenham and Gloucester working so well together. Neighbours and mostly friendly rivals, our City and Borough haven’t always had the same book open, let alone singing the same hymn. Well that’s changed. And although Alex and I won’t always agree about everything, Gloucestershire is the better for a much closer relationship between the Cheltenham and Gloucester MPs.

I want to finish this e-news about changing the law by coming back to where it started – the Judge and the victim in Gloucester Crown Court.

Thank you to Ellie Aston for inspiring us, being strong and having faith: to other victims for opening your hearts and sharing your stories: to the stalking charities like the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the Network for Surviving Stalking, Protection Against Stalking and Paladin, and to the Hollie Gazzard Trust, the Police and the University of Gloucestershire, which just happens to be a leader in research on stalking.

This part of a long journey for Justice is now close to over, but there’s always lots more to be done on this and other good causes.

Do let me know what you think about this at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

Winter – what do you see?

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I’m looking out of the window in a pale winter light, brightening a few remaining leaves on trees outside, modest Christmas leftovers.

Beside me, on my iPhone, are dozens of angry, frightened or frustrated messages – terrorists, Aleppo, treatment of Christians in Pakistan, beggars in our city centre, queues at Junction 12 on the M5, lack of broadband at home, numbers of staff in our prisons, health benefits or transport issues. There’s rarely a shortage of things that need to be improved.

But there is another way of looking at life. I’ve just re-read a poem its author, Jenny Lakin, read beside me recently at a dementia poetry group in Quedgeley Library. The poem describes the thoughts of a young daughter and her mother (the author) as they walk home from school. Today is a good moment for this poem:


Winter – what do you see?

I see grey, heavy clouds in dark dismal skies
She sees dragons chasing giants with big goggly eyes;
I see wet, endless pavements all dull and the same
She sees puddles to splash in, play hopscotch and games;
I see traffic crawling slowly, noisy and fumy
She waves at buses and bin lorries and anything zoomy;
I see bare, dead trees just waiting for Spring
She sees funny, knobbly branches and piles of leaves to fling;
I see anonymous people, heads down, trudging, harassed
She sees a bright bobble hat, a yellow umbrella, smiles going past;
I just want to go home, I’m cold, tired and snappy
She’s on an adventure, she’s endlessly happy.


It is the most lovely poem, isn’t it? And it’s hard to finish without a smile and a feeling that perhaps the world isn’t all awful after all. Does life have to stop being an adventure?

I will remember Jenny’s poem this long, mild winter through. Despite everything, there is a beautiful world out there. It just depends on how you look at things.

I hope you all have a very Happy New Year.

Best regards

Richard

What’s on this Christmas 2016

The Winner of my Christmas Card competition was Kinga Chabowska (Year 6, Widden Primary School)

The Winner of my Christmas Card competition was Kinga Chabowska (Year 6, Widden Primary School)

Here’s a quick guide to some of the best things this Christmas in Gloucester, and information on rubbish collection and health services. I hope readers all get some time off to enjoy some of these events and activities!

Open Air Ice Rink and Christmas Market
until 2 Jan | Gloucester Quays 
The Market closes on Christmas Eve, but the ice rink remains until the 2nd of January. So take to the ice at Gloucester Quays this Christmas.

Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre
Opening hours and ticket prices vary | Robinswood Hill | 
Whether you’re learning to ski / snowboard or getting in a bit of practice before your trip away to the snow, head down to our local Ski Centre. For more information call 501438.

Treasure Seekers Gift Shop Christmas Event
until 22 Dec | Treasure Seekers Shop, Westgate Street | Free 
Enjoy a number of late night shopping events: (1st Dec) Art Exhibition, (8th Dec) Cavern taster night, and (15th and 22nd Dec) live Christmas music with free mince pies.

Christmas Classics Film: It’s a Wonderful Life (U)
16 Dec 7:00pm | 17 Dec 2:00pm | 19 Dec 2:00pm and 7:00pm | Gloucester Guildhall | 
This year marks the 70th anniversary of this defining Christmas classic!

Christmas Panto: Cinderella
17 Dec – 20 Dec | Gloucester Guildhall | £10, £8 concessions
7:00pm, with matinees at 2:00pm on Saturday and Sunday
Gloucester’s most popular entertainment troupe return to put their spin on Cinderella.

Sail with Santa Cruises
17 Dec – 24 Dec | National Waterways Museum, Docks | £10
12:00pm, 1:30pm and 3:00pm each day
Step aboard the King Arthur to see Santa come down the chimney into his floating grotto and enjoy a 45-minute festive cruise along the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. Call 318200 to book.

Gloucester City AFC v AFC Fylde 
17 Dec | K.O. 3:00pm | Whaddon Road
The Tigers welcome AFC Fylde to Whaddon Road for their last game before Christmas.

Christmas Carols on the hour
17 Dec | Gloucester Cathedral | Free
11:00am, 12:00pm, 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm and 4:00pm
Come and enjoy Christmas Carols sung on the hour by Adult Choirs: each service lasts just 30 minutes

One Church Annual Carol Service
18 Dec | GL1 | Free tickets only
The fifth annual carol service is expected to sell out, doors open at 5:15pm for a 6:00pm start. Make sure to order your free ticket here.

Lift Up Your Voice: A Festive Recital
19 Dec 12:30pm | St Johns Church, Northgate Street | Free
Join Caroline Carragher (mezzo soprano) and Sue Honeywill (piano) for an evening of seasonal music.

Christmas Carol Service and Midnight Mass
23 Dec to 24 Dec | Gloucester Cathedral | Free 
A traditional service of readings and carols with the acclaimed Cathedral Choir with Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Find more information on Cathedral Christmas services here.

Last Chance to Visit Father Christmas
24 Dec 10:00am – 4:00pm | King’s Walk Shopping Centre 
Father Christmas makes a quick stop at King’s Walk shopping Centre. Bring your children to visit.

Gloucester Rugby v Harlequins
27 Dec | K.O. 4:00pm | Twickenham Stadium | Live on BT Sport
Watch Glaws take on the Quins in the Aviva Premiership.

Christmas Day Church Services
For details of all services click here.

Healthcare
Help for minor injuries, pain and coughs at the Gloucester Health Access Centre, open every day 8:00am to 8:00pm, in the city centre on Eastgate St.

The NHS non-emergency 111 and the Gloucestershire Out of Hours service 0300 421 0220 if your GP surgery is closed.

Rubbish Collection
See the City Council website for information: http://my.gloucester.gov.uk/mygloucester.aspxThe Hempsted Recycling Centre is open every day, apart from Christmas and New Year’s Day, from 9:00am to 6:15pm.

Happy Christmas and New Year, and thank you for reading and answering my e-news during 2016. Let me know at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk if there are issues you think I should cover in 2017.

Best regards
Richard

Vote for a Park

barnwoodparkEveryone wants me to write about the latest twist in our Brexit saga, and I will – but first I want to ask you to do something even more unusual than voting for or against the EU: to vote for a Park.

One of the joys of Britain is that every town and city has a park: and some are very handsome. But we have one uniquely special. In fact it doesn’t really fit the urban model at all.

This Park has a gracious collection, especially of hardwood, trees beside a gentle duck filled brook and its own arboretum, where fabulous new and old trees are nurtured. There are wild spaces sometimes grazed by sheep: a miniature Gothic former chapel, now a temple to the body (or gym): a great water meadow stuffed with buttercups at the right time of year; and lovely views towards St Lawrence’s church that no-one could imagine are part of a cityscape.

‘In the Cotswolds’, pronounce friends confidently when I show them photographs from this haven and invite them to guess where they were taken.

But I am of course extolling Barnwood Park & Arboretum, Gloucester, in the last century once a private preserve, then part of a mental hospital (where poet Ivor Gurney amongst others was incarcerated), and for a generation now a people’s park.

Barnwood Park is yet another little known secret of our great city, close to Ermin Street (Hucclecote Road), the Roman road that still links Glevum (Gloucester) and Corinium (Cirencester) – and not really signposted at all. Park by St Lawrence’s, cross the road and walk 100 yards to your left and you’re there.

Today the park is tended by the council and a small army of dedicated and fiercely protective volunteers and we have the chance to give it (and them) deserved recognition. It’s been nominated for an award in the Best Park in the UK competition.

Normally when I get involved in awards it’s to support them for individuals, buildings or charities. And if I’m seeking a vote it’s in a General Election. This is the first time I’ve appealed to you to vote for a Park, which might result in an award.

Apart from this candidate’s great qualities, she won’t make any promises, won’t cause any scandals and will still be here in a hundred years, giving us all pleasure from her nature in a still troubled world. I rest my case.

So please join me and vote for Barnwood Park & Arboretum before Wednesday the 9th November here: http://www.fieldsintrust.org/bestpark/southwest.

Best regards

Richard

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