My mailbag has been overflowing with letters and emails from residents right across Tandridge who are furious that the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is being extended to our border without us having a say.
Surrey County Council have been proactive in fighting this daily tax on drivers by refusing to allow Transport for London to erect ULEZ signage on Surrey’s roads, and I was pleased to see that they are one of five councils launching a judicial review against the expansion.
To continue to put pressure on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, I organised an open letter to him, co-signed by Tandridge District councillors. This will show that elected representatives across Tandridge stand resolutely against the scheme and the additional pressure it will place on people’s pockets at a time of high inflation. You can read the full letter on my website.
I have met some truly wonderful local champions recently. I popped over to local charity See Ability to discuss their work with people who have learning disabilities or autism who might also have sight loss. It was inspiring to see how they provide top-notch social care, eye care, and support for people who have limited vision – and how it really can transform their lives. We had a great discussion about how the system could be improved nationally too.
I also organised a meeting with parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities in Woldingham, who wanted to share their experiences and suggest ways that the system could be improved to deliver better outcomes for children.
I took their concerns to a meeting with Cllr Clare Curran and Liz Mills, who have responsibility for education and children’s services at Surrey County Council. It was really helpful to hear the first-hand experiences of local parents and I’m confident that an increase in the number of SEN caseworkers within Surrey will lead to better services for children and their families. As the minister responsible for this area I’ll soon be announcing our reforms, which will include the enforcement of stronger standards across the board.
We also had some fantastic news a few weeks ago, with the announcement that thousands of patients in East Surrey will get quicker access to life-saving tests, scans and checks thanks to a new community diagnostic centre that will be opening at Caterham Dene Hospital.
Once the new CDC is up and running it will deliver over 6,000 extra tests for residents in East Surrey each year – driving down waiting times for diagnosis and treatment.
Finally, alongside the ULEZ, planning policy is another major issue that I get letters about. I know that many of you are concerned about the pressure on local infrastructure and that you’re as passionate as I am about protecting our green spaces.
Having spoken in-depth to fellow Surrey MP Michael Gove, as Levelling Up secretary, I’m delighted he has abolished top-down housing targets from central government in favour of a more local-led approach to housing needs.
This means that areas like ours – with lots of Green Belt land, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest – will get greater flexibility so we can build the homes we need while also protecting our local environment.
There are other positive changes, such as reining in the Planning Inspectorate where they seek to override sensible local decision-making, and further measures to encourage development on brownfield sites using the Infrastructure Levy.
We’ve also had a long-awaited announcement that, from November, all new developments will need to put more into nature than they take out. This new requirement to deliver at least 10% Biodiversity Net Gain means we can all share the benefits of sustainable places that enrich nature, not deplete it.
I’ve long thought that communities should have decisions made by them, not for them, and all of these changes are about placing local people at the heart of a green planning system.