November 2021 Newsletter from John Howell MP for Henley

Last month I said that during the parliamentary recess I would be meeting with representatives from a number of parish councils across the constituency. This proved to be a helpful use of time and whilst there were several individual local concerns there were also some key themes emerging around transport, policing, health services and planning.

The lack of buses was raised in several parishes. I know that this has been a concern for some time, and I have met with bus companies to discuss possible strategies. In recent years there have been some good local initiatives to try to address this, but something more needed to be done nationally. The Government has indeed recognised the importance of the bus network and has published a National Bus Strategy which is an ambitious shake-up of the bus sector which is backed with a £3 billion fund to which local councils can bid to support local investment. I am pleased that the county council is now taking advantage of this Government Strategy and has established an Enhanced Partnership with local bus companies.

With policing there were several issues around visibility of a police officer and in several parishes it was felt that higher profile could be a helpful deterrent where there are local concerns over such issues as drugs trading. There are also several parishes in the middle of the constituency affected by leisure motorbikes with issues of speed and noise. I have met with the Police and Crime Commissioner to raise these concerns and he has committed to meet with those parishes concerned with the motorbike issues and to look into the other policing issues on our behalf.

There have been a number of concerns raised with me over local health services, particularly access to GPs which have also been picked up in the media. In response to these concerns I have recently met with some of our local doctors which proved very interesting. It is true that the pandemic has created a backlog at primary care level as well as in our hospitals. However there are ways of working in health that have been slowly changing prior to the pandemic which have been accelerated, perhaps too quickly, as a result of pandemic. This has meant that transitions have not been communicated and a mismatch in the availability of GPs and demand from patients. Things such as online consulting, the passing back of some functions from hospitals to local practice, and pent-up demand as a result of lockdown have put additional pressures on our GPs. The reality is that is it going to take some time to get back onto a level, but I am seeking meetings with senior teams in NHS Oxfordshire to discuss what can be done.

Last but by no means least there are concerns about planning and development. I am certainly very aware of these and there is no one answer which would address many individual issues. The planning system is complex and different issues need to be tackled in different ways. One issue is what is know as permitted development. This is where building or change of use can take place without the need for planning permission. Whilst the purpose behind this is well meant I do think that some carte blanche permissions, which have been of benefit in urban areas, have had an adverse effect in rural areas. Change of use of a building from business use to residential use is one such permission. I have recently raised this in debate in the House. Another concern is the cumulative effect of development on a community. In planning every application has to be considered in its own right, but where different developers bring forward parallel applications there is no means to assess the overall impact that together the developments would bring to a community and make provision for that within the planning system. Neighbourhood Planning can help with this, but I would like to see it being given more prominence in the process. Along with many others I am waiting with interest to see what the long-awaited planning reforms bring forward.

If there is an issue that concerns you please do let me know. you can email me at howelljm@parliament.uk or write to me at the House of Commons (House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA) or my constituency office (PO Box 84, Watlington, OX49 5XD).

If you would like to know more about my work on behalf of the Government and the Constituency please do look at my website which is regularly updated. The address is http://www.johnhowellmp.com. Further details of the work of Parliament is available on the parliament website at http://www.parliament.uk. As always, I am interested to hear constituent’s views on the proposals before the House.