I congratulate my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry on securing this important debate about access to Beeston station and on highlighting the good work done locally to take the project forward. She is not only a powerful advocate for her constituency; I believe she also nurtured and supported the local action group, Friends of Beeston Station, and put it on the map. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Trish, Chris and Sarah—unfortunately I did not catch their surnames, but no doubt they will be watching this on the website or see it in my right hon. Friend’s newsletter.
In recent years, expectations about accessibility have changed, both among disabled passengers and in the railway industry. That is particularly so following the success of our transport networks in providing accessible journeys during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. As my right hon. Friend mentioned, the extra investment in our rail infrastructure has meant improved services and greater passenger satisfaction. Unfortunately, though, many of our mainline railway stations date from Victorian times. These 19th-century stations, including Beeston, which I believe opened as far back as 1839, were not built with the needs of 21st-century passengers in mind. Interestingly, I tried to look up who the MP was in 1839 and the computer said, “Do not know,” so maybe my right hon. Friend can let me know at some point. No doubt, the constituency did not have as strong a female advocate as it does today.
The Victorian stations have left us with a huge task in opening up the rail network to disabled passengers. Only around a fifth of stations have proper step-free access into the station and between platforms. Clearly, accessible stations make a huge difference to the journey experience not only of people with reduced mobility, but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, those carrying heavy luggage or pushing unwieldy pushchairs.
I understand how important stations are to passengers, and every rail journey involves at least two of them, but as well as providing access points to the network, they are often important to the wider community.
I am keen to improve access for disabled passengers across the rail network. The Department has therefore continued and, indeed, extended the Access for All programme. As my right hon. Friend will know, the inclusive transport strategy published on
It must be noted that the station has not been nominated previously. I know that my right hon. Friend is as curious about that as I am, and she may want to ask the train operating company why it is the case. However, we are where we are, and we have asked the industry to nominate stations for the new funding by