There is real truth in the famous words of Albert Einstein, that “the only source of knowledge is experience”. I learned this recently as I took part in a local blindfold walk to better understand the daily trials vision impaired people are expected to overcome, getting out and about in their local community.
The challenge, organised by the charity Guide Dogs, took place in a typical residential area of Dunston in my constituency. Supported by a mobility instructor I took to the streets wearing a blindfold. It was a genuinely daunting experience, as time and again I was forced out on to busy roads by vehicles parked on the pavement. Obstructive parking coupled with overhanging hedges and wheelie bins (it was bin collection day), made it impossible to keep to the pavement.
Leaving the safety of the pavement, very often onto busy roads with noisy, fast-moving traffic creates a danger in itself, especially for those with sight loss, but also parents with prams, wheelchair users and many others.
Sixty three per cent of drivers in the North East admit they park on the pavement, however, nearly five out of 10 drivers who said they park on a pavement haven’t thought about the possible problems it causes to blind or partially sighted people. I don’t intend to present myself as a model citizen in this respect. I too have parked on the pavement many times, without thought for pedestrians. But this experience has really challenged my own behaviour.
I was pleased to be joined by two of my constituents who are guide dog owners Margaret Ambrasas and Laurel Holleran, who shared with me their difficulties when making what should be simple everyday journeys along the road in their local area. I will be calling on the Government to give Councils more powers to tackle problem parking, particularly on our narrow streets which were not designed for the amount of cars today.
The charity is campaigning for a change in the law – that pavement parking should be the exception, not the norm for motorists. It is time that Local Authorities are given real powers to properly tackle this problem. We need a clear law where drivers cannot park on the pavement unless in a specifically designated area, in line with London.
Back in Westminster I attended a presentation by Northumbrian Water which has, In a first for the water industry, committed to eradicating water poverty across its supply areas by 2030. They are working with Newcastle based charity NEA on the scheme to get the message out as widely as possible through a new Water Poverty Unit.
Water poverty refers to people who spend more than 3% of their income in their water bill, after housing costs. Industry regulator Ofwat estimates that as few as 10% of customers who are struggling with their bill currently receive help from their water company via a social tariff. They have launched a new social tariff for customers who are genuinely struggling to pay their water and wastewater bills, which now allows it to offer 50% discounts for those who need it most.
I think this is a really innovative and practical idea from Northumbrian Water and I hope that it becomes well known and very well used and I’m sure NEA will be effective in spreading the word. We are now a year on since the snap General election which saw the Conservatives, under Prime Minister Theresa May, lose their majority in Parliament. Her “strong and stable” strategy was a miserable failure and we now see the true nature of this Government – weak and wobbly.
It’s been a real privilege to represent Blaydon constituency in that year and I look forward to speaking up for my constituents in Westminster and here in the north east. I want to see change for the better and we need a Labour Government to do that.
From Brexit to the funding crisis in the NHS and schools, to the Windrush Scandal, housing shortages and the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, we have a decrepit, weak Government, unable to provide leadership at a deeply challenging time for our country. Who knows where we will be a year from now.