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Some 78% of people in Ellesmere Port and Neston use private motor transport to get to work, compared with a national average of 63%. Perhaps in a constituency known for building cars that is not so much of a surprise, but I think it is more a reflection of the poor public transport links we have. It seems that for much of the last decade we have, every couple of months, faced a battle to save bus services that are already inadequate. Sometimes we persuade the bus company to keep the route and sometimes it will retain the service with a slightly different route, but sometimes we lose the route altogether. We then see people who rely on a bus to get to work, to care for their family or to access medical appointments left high and dry, usually at just a few weeks’ notice.
We need to take back control of the bus network. We need a locally directed bus network designed to meet the needs of the local community, so that we are no longer at the mercy of commercial considerations and so that people, no matter where they live, are never too far away from a regular, reliable bus service. We can spend billions of pounds on shaving 20 minutes off the journey time from Crewe to London, but we still cannot guarantee the most basic bus service for many of our citizens. How are people supposed to be able to get work in certain places if they just cannot get there? How is one of the biggest employers in my constituency, Cheshire Oaks, expected to maximise the number of local young people it employs if they cannot get home from work after six o’clock?
This picture is repeated up and down the country; no wonder so many young people feel they have no choice but to leave their home town and venture into the city. It is no wonder that we have a chronic loneliness and isolation problem when so many older people cannot get anywhere because the bus service has been cut.
I look forward to hearing the Government’s decision on HS2 shortly. If it goes ahead, I have supreme confidence that it will eventually be delivered over budget and late; I have considerably less confidence in whether it will bring any benefit to the north, and my constituency specifically. We have a real chance of delivering real benefits to the north through HS2 if the project is accompanied by a meaningful rail investment programme across the whole of the north, alongside a concerted effort to attract new businesses to the north; otherwise, advertising the benefits of getting to London quicker will probably encourage more businesses to locate in London than the other way around.
My constituency is a perfect example of why rail investment must be matched pound for pound in the north. If I want to travel the 30 miles from Ellesmere Port to Crewe by rail, I have to get on three separate trains and the journey will take around an hour and a half. It will probably end up taking longer than the whole of the rest of the journey from Crewe to London.
Finally, in the time I have left I want to say a few words about the Mersey Gateway tolls. I make no apologies for raising this subject again because the same basic unfairness of that system is still there. We have repeatedly heard from Ministers about how tolls being removed can improve an area’s economic performance, such as in south Wales and Scotland, and there are no toll crossings in Northern Ireland and none in London either. Some 90% of road crossings are toll-free except in Merseyside. That needs to end.