Campaigns

Campaigns

Protecting the green-belt: opposing plans to build in the countryside

Rob is opposing proposals to develop a minimum of 200 executive homes on 60 acres of land off Lightwood Road and Woodpark Lane in Lightwood.

Campaigners fear the homes, which the developer says would be sold for up to £750,000 each, would destroy a valuable area of green-belt which is home to wildlife including badgers, hares, skylarks, foxes, bats, shrews, buzzards and great crested newts.

They are also worried about noise, light pollution and the effect on local infrastructure, including increased traffic.

Rob said: “I fully support residents’ concerns about these proposals, which I do not think are appropriate for a number of reasons.

“Whilst Stoke-on-Trent is clearly in need of good quality housing and we should encourage it wherever possible, this should not be a green light for development to take place at the expense of existing residents or the green belt.”

The MP has invited residents to sign a petition he plans to present to Parliament.

The petition states that residents are “deeply concerned by the proposals” which they “believe the infrastructure of the local area cannot support and would destroy a large area of green-belt land, despite more appropriate areas of land being available in the city.

“The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Communities and Local Government to intervene in this matter at an early stage to ensure a more suitable site is found for any development and any application submitted for a development on this particular piece of land is rejected.”

Rob said: “The petition cannot guarantee that the proposals will not go ahead, but it will be a powerful statement by residents that they oppose these proposals.

“No planning application has been submitted yet, and I hope that the developers may reconsider their plans if they see that local residents are vehemently against them.”

A wheely important cause: freight transport

Rob is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freight Transport (APPG).

An APPG is created when a minimum of 20 MPs and peers unite to declare an interest in a subject or issue. These subjects can range from beer to bicycles and the APPG Freight Transport is one such group.

It seeks to educate MPs on issues connected to the sector and to allow businesses to engage with Parliament. Functions of the group’s secretariat are provided by the Road Haulage Association.

Rob is a founding member of the group and wants to see it strive to achieve these goals:

1.    To improve knowledge of the logistics sector among parliamentarians by serving as a resource for MPs and lords;

2.    To promote dialogue between the logistics sector, Parliament and the Government at all levels.

The group believes that by working towards these goals the logistics sector, which is the lynchpin of the UK economy, will be able to flourish and support the growth of all the businesses that depend on it.

Working with representative organisations and individual businesses the group hopes a broad spectrum of the industry and the public will engage with it. 

Rob assumed the group’s chairmanship when he noted how the sector was misunderstood in Parliament. Businesses in Stoke-on-Trent and throughout the UK rely on the logistics sector to ensure shops are stocked and factories have the materials they need to operate.

Rob hopes he will be able to use his chairmanship to ensure the Government works with the industry when creating policy and that this will create jobs and grow businesses in Stoke-on-Trent. 

The group can be contacted by emailing Sam Hargreaves at sam.hargreaves@parliament.uk or by writing to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freight Transport, Room T-207, House of Commons, Palace of Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.

Fighting the good fight: recognition for munitions workers

Rob is secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Recognition of Munitions Workers, a group established in 2010 by MPs who had previously been working independently on local campaigns.

The APPG has one purpose: to seek recognition for the millions of people who worked in the munitions factories of the two world wars.

Rob and his colleagues are raising money for the installation of a permanent memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. They also want to provide all Second World War munitions workers with a badge and letter from the Government thanking them for their service and recognising their contribution to the war effort.

The APPG is also seeking to raise public awareness of this contribution.

At the former ROF Swynnerton site, staff and residents mark Remembrance Day by holding a service for former workers. They have also installed a commemorative rose garden.

Rob and his colleagues would like other people living on or near the sites of former munitions factories to do the same.

Hounding the Government: improving dog welfare

Rob is spearheading a campaign to tackle irresponsible dog breeders and owners as well as puppy battery farming.

Supported by at least 30 animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA, Blue Cross, the Dogs Trust, British Veterinary Association and Battersea Dogs Home, he is calling for measures including the registration of dog breeding; restrictions on breeding in social rented housing; improved education for children on pet ownership and animal welfare; and a ban on on-line animal sales.

Other measures Rob is demanding include an obligation on pet stores and online sellers to ensure parent bitches are seen by prospective buyers and classified; fines for people who break animal welfare conditions or who fail to declare income from dog breeding and puppy farming; the need to raise the media profile of dangerous breeders as opposed to dangerous dogs; and the re-introduction of dog licences.

Honouring history to build for the future: Fenton Town Hall

Rob has kept his promise to move his constituency office to Fenton Town Hall if the building - and its historic war memorial - were saved.

He and his staff relocated from Travers Court in autumn last year, just months after the town hall was sold to Justin Meath Baker, whose great-grandfather William built the red brick amenity in 1888 before gifting it to the community.

Rob had previously feared for the future of the former magistrates’ court after its former owner, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), put it on the market for £500,000 after its closure in 2012.

At the heart of his concern was the fate of the Minton tile war memorial inscribed with the names of 498 Fenton men who died during the First World War, from 1914-18.

Rob asked the Government to return the building to the people of Stoke-on-Trent or, at the very least, ensure it found a buyer prepared to safeguard the war memorial’s future.

Although the MoJ resisted mounting pressure to transfer the building to the community, Mr Meath Baker saved the day when he snapped up the town hall in early 2015.

His vision is to refurbish the Victorian hall and open a café and community library on the ground floor while turning former courts, cells and waiting areas into offices.

Rob became the first tenant in October 2015 by moving his office into a former court room and using adjoining rooms for storage and meetings.

Mr Meath Baker plans to restore the first floor ballroom and balcony by putting in modern partitions and removing false ceilings.

He also wants to install a lift to give disabled people access to the first floor, and to rip out dividing walls in the cells to create larger rooms.

Critically, the new owner has also promised to preserve the impressive war memorial.

Noise nuisance consigned to the scrap heap: European Metal Recycling (EMR)

Rob has solved a long-running noise dispute between ex-Weston Coyney scrap metal business European Metal Recycling (EMR) and residents from the neighbouring Park Hall estate.

EMR has ceased operations at its former base in Park Hall Business Village, in Weston Coyney, and agreed to move to a new site off Victoria Road, in Fenton.

The firm intends to sell its previous site to a housing developer.

Rob said: “EMR’s plan to move to a new site is fantastic news for the residents of the Park Hall estate, who have been plagued by noise from the firm’s operations for three years. This will make a huge difference to their quality of life.

“The Victoria Road site will be a far more appropriate location for EMR’s business, which will complement the two recycling operations already on that site.

“Residents living nearby should not be affected as the firm’s operations will be conducted inside the site’s natural bowl shape, which is also substantially shielded by buildings.“EMR has also pledged to work to ensure it does not simply transfer the noise nuisance from one site to another.”

The noise dispute began in 2010 when EMR bought the Weston Coyney site from Potteries demolition and metal recycling specialist Arthur Wright and Son.

Residents were plagued by noise, increased traffic, eyesore cranes and the smell of petrol.

They raised these issues with Rob, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the Environment Agency, which received almost 3,000 complaints.

A public inquiry was held in January 2013 after residents complained about a tower of steel columns, storage bays and buildings erected at the site without planning permission.

Months later the City Council rejected a planning application from EMR to install a seven metre-high acoustic fence intended to reduce some of the noise.

Creating a stink: vehicles transporting waste from animal by-products

Odour and spillages from lorries laden with waste from animal by-products have been a bugbear for constituents throughout Rob’s tenure as MP.

He has been inundated with complaints about the problem and has carried out research which has shown odour pollution from animal rendering businesses and vehicles blights other communities in the UK. The problem has also been raised in Parliament.

There is no industry-wide regulator for the rendering industry, which comprises nine rendering companies and 20 rendering plants in the UK. Larger firms are overseen by the Environment Agency while smaller ones are scrutinised by local authorities. A European Union directive says pollution guidelines require businesses to control odour.

Rob believes the responsibility for the regulation of vehicles used by the industry is not clearly defined.

He says: “I believe the transport issue has fallen between the lines, while abattoirs and rendering sites may be subject to regulation it is very unclear which agency is responsible for regulation and transportation.”

Rob has held a meeting with the Foodchain and Biomass Renewable Association (FABRA), the UK’s leading trade association for the rendering industry.

It is keen to improve the public’s perception of the rendering industry and is fully aware the odour pollution is a major cause of the industry’s poor reputation.

FABRA has been examining methods of mitigating the effects of the odour and spillages by using refrigerated containers and Rob is due to hold further talks with FABRA and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to discuss the way forward

He says: “I understand and recognise that a solution to this issue has to be a commercially viable one.

“That is why I believe that clearly defined and standardised regulation across the industry is key to combating this problem.”

Standing up for residents and wildlife: travellers’ site

Rob fought to ensure Stoke-on-Trent City Council did not allow a permanent gypsy and traveller camp to be established on a wildlife sanctuary near Astro Grove, next to St Thomas More Catholic College, in Longton.

He presented a 1,000-signature petition opposing the plans to the House of Commons and told MPs that his constituents were concerned that the land, given to Stoke-on-Trent City Council by the Highways Agency to compensate for public open space taken by the A50 when it was built, was under threat.

Rob wants the city council to rule out the land for possible future use as a permanent camp. The petition asks the House of Commons to ensure the land is not sold for development and is reserved for leisure purposes only.

City council bosses were considering establishing the camp by Astro Grove as part of their bid to comply with a statutory obligation to provide land on which gypsies and travellers can live permanently.

They were given a £1 million Government grant to pay for the development but in the face of mounting opposition decided not to carry forward any sites for the scheme and returned the cash to the coalition.

The authority is to hold another public consultation as part of a fresh search for a suitable site.

Back on the right track: Longton Railway Bridge

A focal point of the community for decades, this King Street viaduct became an eyesore due to half a century of neglect.

Eager to see the bridge restored to its former glory, Rob campaigned for its restoration from the day of his election in 2005.

He called on Network Rail, the Department for Transport and Stoke City Council to take action, circulated petitions among residents and asked questions on their behalf in Parliament.

Rob was backed by vocal protests from residents sick of seeing their famous old landmark reduced to nothing more than a dirty eyesore.

The pressure finally told in April 2013 when Network Rail agreed to complete the restoration. Bosses pledged to spend £1.6 million repainting the bridge and refurbishing its rusty ironwork – work deemed essential to maintaining the viaduct’s safety.

They began the project in summer 2013 and are due to complete it early in 2014.

Once the work is completed the bridge should not need further maintenance for 25 years.

Rob described the work as ‘a huge step forward for the people of Longton’.

He said: “The old bridge was an eyesore – rusty, dirty and in drastic need of attention. Today it is undergoing a fantastic transformation into a landmark the people of Longton can be proud of.

“I am delighted this project is finally going ahead and I believe it will inject a positive atmosphere into the area. The bridge is a unique, iconic and historic landmark which will now be a first-class gateway into Longton.”

Fuelling debate: Securing fair diesel and petrol prices for motorists and hauliers

Rob is a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers. The group’s aim is to investigate high diesel and petrol prices.

Rob believes drivers are being fleeced at the pumps because they are not benefiting in full from the plunging price of oil.

Although the global price of crude fell by almost 25 per cent in 2015, retailers continued to rake in bumper profits.

An analysis by campaign group FairFuelUK showed retail profits for petrol and diesel – net of all taxes – of up to 10.86p and 12.51p respectively. On average, profits were 5.64p for petrol and 8.55p for diesel.

Rob said: “These figures clearly show that motorists and professional drivers are being ripped off by racketeering on a global scale.

“The market isn’t operating as it should and there continues to be a yawning gap between the profit margins of petrol and diesel.

“My fear is that oil producers, refiners and wholesalers have a very cosy relationship that the Government should investigate without delay.

“I’ve pointed this out for months and months but ministers have failed to act. This must change so everyone gets a fair deal.”

High fuel costs impact negatively on the cost of living, business jobs and investment.

Rob therefore advocates a cut in fuel duty which he believes would boost economic growth, increase jobs, investment and consumer spending and decrease inflation.

Further information is available from Rob or the Fair Fuel UK Campaign, c/o 1 Rammell Mews, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 3BQ. Tel: 07515 421611. Email:howard@fairfueluk.com

Leading a key international fight for human rights: Justice for Colombia

Rob is a vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Colombia and a key supporter of Justice for Colombia (JFC), a British non-governmental organisation which campaigns for human rights, workers' rights and the search for peace with social justice in Colombia.

Established in 2002 by the British trade union movement, JFC was created in response to the appalling human rights crisis in Colombia, and particularly the abuses committed against trade unionists and other civil society actors.

JFC’s four founding aims are:

1.    To provide concrete support to trade unions and other civil society organisations in Colombia in their struggle for human rights, trade union rights, democracy, peace and social justice and to promote links between progressive organisations in Britain and Colombia;

2.    To campaign against the systematic human rights abuses carried out against trade unionists and other civil society activists in Colombia and to highlight the regular collusion between the Colombian state security forces and illegal paramilitary groups and the impunity which the perpetrators benefit from;

3.    To support and promote a peaceful politically negotiated settlement to the conflict in Colombia and express opposition to foreign military intervention in Colombia;

4.    To insist that United Nations and International Labour Organisation conventions and recommendations are implemented in Colombia in both law and practice.