Luton's Housing Crisis

Since being elected as your MP one of the most common subjects for constituents to contact me about is their housing situation. The issues range from the lack of available social housing, poor quality accommodation and high rents or house prices. One of the issues causing low-quality accommodation is the current planning laws. They allow for the conversion of retail units and office blocks into housing without the need to get planning permission from the local authority, this is known as Permitted Development Rights (PDR). It leads to poor quality unsuitable accommodation where no thought to the housing quality, the location and environmental and energy concerns amongst many other issues has to be considered. 

Many examples of this can be seen in Luton town centre with old office blocks being converted to housing in inappropriate locations next to main roads with little access to green space and no available car parking. I recently demonstrated this to Shadow Minister for Planning, Ruth Cadbury MP. I showed her first hand the impact that PDR has had on our town centre and the poor quality accommodation that has resulted. These housing units do nothing to tackle our housing crisis as what is needed most is affordable family homes. Yet this Government seems to be doubling down on their failed housing policies. Proposed planning reforms would further remove powers from local councils and severely restrict the ability of our communities to shape their local area. I recently introduced a Bill to Parliament to ensure that communities have the final say on planning permissions in their area, not the developers.  I also recently wrote about this subject in the first of my monthly columns in the Luton News, you can read it here.
Visiting the Mall

In August I met with the General Manager of The Mall, Roy Greening, to discuss how the retail industry is recovering from the pandemic and the importance of having a vibrant town centre. He told me that he was confident of a good economic and retail recovery and he was hopeful that new tenants would be moving into currently vacant shop units soon. Whilst all of this was encouraging he was also cautious about the fragility of the recovery. Many businesses are still paying back loans from the start of the pandemic and will struggle with increased costs, which is why many businesses are concerned by the Government's proposed increase to National Insurance. During a difficult recovery period, the Government should be supporting small businesses not burdening them and their workers with additional taxes; instead, they should be asking the wealthiest in this country to pay their share.
Elections Bill and Survey

I recently spoke in Parliament against the Government's proposed Elections Bill. I am opposed to this Bill for a number of reasons. One reason is the restrictions on campaigning that the Bill seeks to put in place on charities and trade unions campaigning about   issues that are important to them. Part of the  Government's plan to ask for photo identification before allowing people to vote. This is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. There was just one conviction for personation out of the 59 million votes cast in 2019. What the voter identification requirement will do is disenfranchise millions of people who do not have a  photographic ID. The Government's own research estimates that there are over 3.5 million people in the UK who don't have photographic ID. This includes a disproportionate number from ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled people, the elderly, the unemployed or those on a low income. Voting is a fundamental right for all UK citizens and should not be dependent on whether you can afford an ID card. You can see my full speech opposing the Bill above.

I want to hear how these changes may affect my constituents and their ability to vote. Please take five minutes to complete a short survey and share it amongst your, friends, family and community. You can take part in the survey here.
Building Safety Bill Committee

Constituents have repeatedly raised with me issues related to unsafe cladding and fire safety defects in buildings. I have repeatedly raised these concerns in speeches in the chamber and when questioning Ministers in committee. Despite this, the Government is continuing to press ahead with its Building Safety Bill which would mean leaseholders are still responsible for thousands of pounds worth of repairs and remediation that they were not responsible for in the first place. The Bill has already passed two votes in Parliament and has now progressed to the committee stage. I was selected to serve on that committee - the Building Safety Bill Committee. During this stage, a small number of MPs examine the Bill in detail and ask expert witnesses for their views on what it contains. You can find out more about how legislation passes through Parliament here. I will continue to pressure the Government to ensure that leaseholders are protected from all remediation costs and that our fire services are given the resources they need to fulfil the additional responsibilities given to them by the Bill.
National Insurance Increase

The has Government announced a rise in National Insurance contributions in order to pay for its NHS catch-up plan and social care reforms. This tax increase amounts to a tax on jobs and working people whilst some of the richest people in the country will contribute nothing extra. It amounts to the largest household tax increase for 50 years. If that were not bad enough, at the same time, the Government is still planning to take away £1,000 a year from the poorest households by cutting Universal Credit. We need a plan that would ask the wealthiest to contribute more and all forms of income must be taken into account, such as capital gains and rental income. Under this Government's plan, a landlord who rents out dozens of properties would not be asked to contribute more but the workers renting from them would be facing a 10% tax hike. I will continue to speak up for working families in Parliament and fight for a fair funding model that will deliver the social care reform we need.

Find out more

Universal Credit Cut

Since my meeting with Citizens Advice Luton last month many constituents have contacted me opposed the Government's proposed cut to Universal Credit. Recent press coverage has shown that Luton stands to be one of the worst affected towns in the country by the cut. On Wednesday I joined my colleagues in a vote calling on the Government to cancel the cut and prevent some of the poorest households losing the Universal Credit uplift. You can see my full speech here.
Fireworks in Luton

Over the past year, many constituents have complained aboutfireworks being let off at all hours of the night, disturbing residents sleep and frightening family pets. On a recent walkabout in Biscot ward, I saw the remnants of one of these ‘displays’. In order to tackle the problem, I was pleased to co-sponsor my Luton North colleague Sarah Owen MP's Bill. The Bill would allow fireworks to be purchased only for use in licensed displays. You read more about the Bill here.
Big Trunk Trail

I'm sure you've noticed that there havebeen a few vibrant visitors across the town lately. The wonderfully colourful elephants are part of the #BigTrunkTrail art event brought to the town by Keech Hospice Care. I was pleased to take part in spotting a few of them around town last month. Be sure to try and spot them all before the herd is due to move on 8th October. Find out more here. 

I was pleased to join the local celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence It was fantastic to see all of the performances, games and activities organised by the local community. It's always a pleasure to celebrate Luton's diversity and meet people from every part of our town.

Rachel Hopkins MP for Luton South