Soho Residents' Update

As the balmy days of what seemed like one of our hottest summer recesses in recent years fades into memory, Parliament is again in session and gearing up for what will be a crucial few months in the Brexit saga. I am sure readers will have little sympathy for parliamentarians having to return to their offices, though I assure you that in my case the work never stopped!

Over the recess, I made a six-country visit to Southeast Asia as part of my Ministerial responsibilities, with stops in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, taking in further trips to New Zealand and the remote, and incredibly small, island of Nauru. Despite my far-flung duties promoting political dialogue in a range of areas, keeping on top of constituency concerns remains the priority, and recent months have seen a number of Soho-related issues taken on by my team and me.

The fight to regulate pedicabs resolutely continues. These unlicensed cycles for hire continue to be the subject of much complaint and I have enormous sympathy with residents and businesses who endure the noise and disruption they create.

Encouragingly, the beginning of the year saw the introduction of a new Private Member’s Bill on this subject which is provisionally due for its Second Reading in October, though I hasten to advise caution before hopes of a long-overdue resolution are unduly raised. Setback has arisen at this juncture previously with the Bill being blocked from progressing, having been ‘talked out’ on a point of principle by my Party colleague, Sir Christopher Chope. In a bid to unblock this logjam, I attempted to approach Sir Christopher in the lobbies, while my office has also been in touch with his to discuss matters further. Regrettably, assurances could not be guaranteed that the Bill would be allowed to move to the Committee Stage ‘on the nod’ and the possibility it faces further frustration does remain.

Regulating pedicabs has thus far been an arduous process and I should not wish to speculate on when we might see it to fruition. What is clear is that this campaign maintains enough support from all sides to suggest that it is now just a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ it will happen, and I am reassured by Council colleagues that this issue remains at the forefront of their minds.

On the persistent problem of crime, conversations with councillors and correspondence from residents and businesses invariably express deep concern about its continued prevalence in Soho. Worryingly, there seems to have been a progressive increase in open drug taking and anti-social behaviour that has made living and working in the area an intolerable challenge for many locals.

On this, I am in close contact with the West End’s superintendent, Helen Harper, who is soon due to updated me on the police’s work in the area, as well as apprising me of the holistic approach officers across all portfolios are taking to tackle what is a multi-faceted problem. This wrap-around approach to crime reduction is mirrored in the Council’s own work and can be seen in the recent launch of its new multi-disciplinary neighbourhood teams which look to renew focus on close collaboration with community stakeholders, while taking decisive action to protect them from Soho’s unique crime challenges.

In addition to the police and Council’s encouraging work, as criminality in the West End becomes a cross-border issue, straddling Camden along Charing Cross Road and at Cambridge Circus, I met with my neighbouring MP, Keir Starmer, to discuss how we, our respective council leaders and borough commanders can all work together to coordinate and develop effective, practicable solutions. With Parliament now back in session, I expect impetus to return to this project and for our plans of action to be converted to visible results before long.

These are, of course, just some of the issues that my team and I have been working on.

Solutions to the long-standing problem of broadband connectivity continue to be sought through an ongoing dialogue with Openreach. Likewise, I maintain a watchful eye over developments regarding patient dissatisfaction with the Soho Square General Practice which, to the great disappointment of all concerned, was recently found to be ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission.

As the days begin to draw in, there is clearly much to keep me occupied in the constituency, Parliament and further afield with the Foreign Office. Meeting these challenges will not be simple, though I am in no doubt that with support of our councillors and the civically-spirited Soho community, positive progress can be made on most fronts in the months ahead.

Of course, I am always keen to work closely with residents and can only do so effectively when I know about the issues affecting their lives, so please never hesitate to get in touch to share your thoughts with my team and me via fieldm@parliament.uk.