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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:06 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 6:06 pm, 5th February 2020

I recently raised the subject of public transport in north Staffordshire in my debate in Westminster Hall because, as our local newspaper, The Sentinel, highlighted, its decline in the Potteries has been faster than in England as a whole. Bus use in north Staffordshire has declined by more than 10% in the past year alone. The decline in public transport and the growth of congestion has seen us breach World Health Organisation limits for air quality. Our bus services are just not good enough.

In north Staffordshire, the journey time taken by a bus can be over double that for a car, sometimes easily treble or worse due to the loss of direct cross-city routes. Locally, Conservatives have plans to fix our poor public transport. Key to the plans for improved public transport in north Staffordshire is the superbus proposal. High-frequency, high-priority bus services would operate on a network of cross-city routes, creating a bus-based urban transport system. Travel costs would be attractive, capped at £3 for a day ticket.

With hard cash already promised from the Transforming Cities fund, we are looking at little short of a revolution in seamless public transport for north Staffordshire. An essential part of the Transforming Cities bid is improving interconnectivity between rail and bus, including at Longton station in my constituency, which will undergo major improvements if we get the full ask in the second round. I hope that we have the full support of Government. I am delighted by the new announcement of funding to reopen stations and rail lines. I am campaigning to reopen Meir station in my constituency, and there is a definite feeling that, as for Stoke-on-Trent itself, the trajectory for rail locally is on the up.

The economy in Stoke-on-Trent and wider north Staffordshire is now one of the fastest growing in the country, and needs comprehensive transport connectivity. I thank my hon. Friend Sir Robert Syms for his comments. If HS2 is given the go-ahead, it is essential that it serves Stoke-on-Trent. To remove the Handsacre link that facilitates services to Stafford, Stoke and Macclesfield at this point would be of huge detriment to what we have achieved locally.

HS2 should not just be about infrastructure and addressing issues of capacity. It should be about a step-change in those areas that have been left behind historically. If there is anywhere where the Governments agenda of levelling up resonates, it is Stoke-on-Trent. We are developing Stoke-on-Trent’s urban regeneration and inward investment strategies, and have received private investment on the assumption that HS2 will be completed in full. That investment has been made viable in the expectation that HS2 services will stop at Stoke, which has an extremely low-value property market. Our communities suffer from some of the worst levels of multiple deprivation in the country. Opening up our communities to new job prospects will help to improve life chances and living costs.

We have a strong vision for our area that builds on the economic resurgence we have seen under Conservative leadership, both nationally and locally. It is essential that we now deliver for the people who put us into government. The benefits of the Handsacre link, in terms of additional passenger capacity and unlocked freight capacity on the west coast main line, are clear. I urge the Government to back Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire by levelling-up our connectivity and connecting us to HS2. We can be one of the leading contributors to global Britain if our potential is unleashed.

In conclusion, improving transport in Stoke-on-Trent is critical for our economy and for opportunities for local people. Whether it is in respect of local bus or rail, or through HS2, we must benefit from the investment needed to revolutionise local connectivity. Conservative leadership has produced a clear vision, through initiatives such as the Transforming Cities fund and superbus. I hope that we will receive the Department’s and the Government’s support in levelling-up Stoke-on-Trent and ensuring that we can reach our true potential.