Metrolink Environmental Meeting

Last night I attended a meeting with local residents and councillors about the clearance of the Didsbury spur section of the Metrolink line. There is a lot of concern about the disruption to wildlife during the clearance of the line, and that the new habitats that are due to be established are not yet in place, as well as the number of trees that will disappear.
GMPTE have been told that they need to apply for planning permission to relocate a pond to the Albemarle Allotments. I have been encouraging them to get the application in as quickly as possible, but unfortunately they were saying last night that it is going to be at least another two weeks before the application is submitted, and then it might be a further eight weeks before planning permission is granted.
I think that some of the concerns of local people were dealt with last night, but questions remain over how many trees will be retained, and where replacement trees will be planted. There is also confusion over the need for a badger license and the most appropriate way to clear the area around badger sets. One thing is for sure - communication needs to improve to keep people informed and what is happening (and when). People should have been told that the Parrswood allotment site was going to be used for storing the trees and branches that were being removed, rather than leaving people to question why it appeared to have been converted into an illegal logging operation!

MI5 "Knew Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed was being tortured"

Not the Labour Government's finest hour. The Foreign Secretary David Milliband claimed that details couldn't be disclosed because of national security, but we all now know (thanks to the Court of Appeal) that it was just a cover up to try and avoid people finding out that the Labour Government knew that Binyam Mohamed was being tortured. Shameful. That's the only word for it.
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said "It has been clear for over a year that the Foreign Office has been more concerned with saving face than exposing torture. These embarrassing paragraphs reveal nothing of use to terrorists but they do show something of the UK government's complicity with the most shameful part of the war on terror."

AV - one small step forward for Democracy, just 12 years late!

Last night the Government finally came forward with plans to have a Referendum on changing the voting system to Alternative Vote (or AV). AV is different to the current method of First Past the Post used as it allows voters to rank their preferences 1, 2, 3 and so on rather than the current method of striking only an (X) next to your first choice.
The vote was won, and we suppported the proposals because they are a step in the right direction.
Most Labour and Tory MPs don't want a fair voting system, because they know that they would be the biggest losers. Gordon Brown's Government's death-bed coversion is almost certainly a sham, and I won't be holding my breath for the introduction of fair votes any time soon.

Transport Select Committee at TRANSEC

This morning The Transport Select Committee went to Transec (Transport Security and Contingencies Directorate) for a briefing on the current transport security situation, following the upping of the security risk to "severe".
There has been a lot of interest in the decision to make the use of body scanners compulsory.
This issue has been raised by a number of my constituents who are concerned about their privacy.
The Government's response has been that people do have a choice - you can go through the scanner or you can choose not to fly. Not much of a choice really, but at the meeting I asked what happened if a transit passenger came into Manchester or Heathrow and refused to go through the scanner. Clearly they couldn't choose not to fly because they were already in transit. No one was able to give me an answer.
I have submitted a couple of Parliamentary Questions to try and get some answers from the Secretary of State on this very issue and it will be interesting to see the response I get!

General Election Summit at the National Liberal Club

You know when the General Election is nearly here when you get an invitation to the "General Election summit".
The day started with a speech from Chris Fox, the Chief Executive, and then a rousing speech by Nick Clegg. I've been really impressed with Nick over the last few months - loads of TV and radio interviews, visit after visit to constituencies around the country getting the message across. I've no doubt that he'll do very well in the television debates with Gordon Brown and David Cameron, both of whom seem as though they've had enough of campaigning before the election has even started.
During the day we talked about the manifesto and getting our message across, with several of the shadow cabinet given a strict three minutes in which time they had to get across our key messages in their policy area.
The overall theme is "fairness"
1. Fairer taxes, including not paying tax on the first £10000, taking the poorest paid out of paying tax.
2. A fair chance for every child - more money for schools, and scrapping tuition fees.
3. A fair future - creating jobs by making Britain greener through investment in public transport, renewable energy and energy efficient homes.
4. A fair deal from politicians - make politicians accountable, and give people the right to sack corrupt MPs.
It is certainly going to be an interesting few months ahead and I am certainly looking forward to it!

Old Moat Ward Action Weekend

I spent a large amount of time over the weekend on our Old Moat action weekend.
We had a fantastic turn out at the weekend with over 60 people helping to knock on doors and deliver leaflets to support my campaign and also Rob Mackle's campaign to get elected to the Council.
Over the weekend we spoke to over 1500 residents which is fantastic. (I even managed to take time out Sunday morning to go and deliver some leaflets for Gerry Diamond in Miles Platting and Newton Heath, because I hadn't been able to make their action day).
Special thanks go to the students and the Heywood and Middleton team that came to help yesterday. Amazingly it didn't rain all weekend and we got a really positive response. Most of the issues that were raised on the doorstep were very local - from the closure of Ewing School to the condition of the roads and pavements and bin collection. But a number of people also wanted to talk about the outcome of the Thomas Legg inquiry into expenses, and the very large number of MPs that have had demands to pay back money, totalling more than £1m. I'm the only Manchester MP who has not been asked to pay back money.
The only dampener on the weekend was yet another rubbish away performance from City, going down 2-1 at Hull City, I expect better things at Bolton on Tuesday!

The Mysterious Mr Love, Burnage Garden Village Plays

Last night Catherine and I went to see the Burnage Garden Village Players perform "The Mysterious Mr Love".
Pat Burns does a great job of selling tickets - I've never been to one of the plays that isn't packed out, regardless of which evening I have been there!

I hadn't realised that there were only two characters in the play, and I tend not to like a play with only two actors, but I really enjoyed it. There were some very funny lines, but a very unexpected ending. I won't spoil the plot, but it's well worth seeing (or reading). Well done to Malcolm Cooper and Monica Vaness who both had to learn an enormous number of lines, and congratulations to the production team for another successful show.

Environmental concerns about the Metrolink extension

At lunchtime I met with representatives of GMPTE and the Metrolink contractors on site in West Didsbury to discuss concerns that had been raised over the unnecessary removal of trees and disturbance to wildlife.

National Apprenticeship Week

This morning as part of Apprenticeship Week I was invited to see at first hand the work that apprentices are doing on the Merseybank estate as part of the refurbishment of Southway homes. It was great to see young people from the local area getting the chance to develop new skills on the job and have a real prospect of long-term employment in the construction industry.

Brussels and the Transport Select Committee

In my capacity as Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson I was invited to Brussels with the Transport Select Committee and spent Tuesday and yesterday afternoon there.  We had a number of productive meetings, including one with Brian Simpson, the Labour MEP for the North West, and Chairman of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament.  We also met with the soon to be Transport Commissioner, and the Ambassador.

It was a very useful two days, discussing a wide range of issues from ports to aviation and rail to road pricing.

We also discussed the contraversial new full body scanners that have been introduced at Manchester Airport with the EU Transport Commisioner who didn't seem overly keen on the full body scanners and expressed concern that there wasn't a European wide agreed approcach.

There are certainly lessons that we can learn here in Manchester and I will ensure that these are fed back.

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