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That is absolutely right. If there is one key to this, I would say that it is to engage the commitment of the local community—it does make a difference.
I am pleased to say that a second study has been funded as a result of the one I mentioned. That second study will be a strategic outline business case, which I believe will report within the next few weeks. I am now asking—please—for an early meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss how we can translate into reality the long-held dream of the people of Middlewich for their own passenger railway station.
Middlewich is the largest town in Cheshire without a railway station, and it is double the size of other towns, with a population of some 13,600. Construction would not involve a whole new line, because the existing line is still used for freight. Middlewich is very much a growth town. It has an exciting future, with £50 million committed by the Government to the Middlewich eastern bypass. Reopening the station is backed by Cheshire East Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council, and the local enterprise partnership.
If we are thoroughly to address the issue of congestion in Middlewich, we also need to look into having a southern bypass. I hope that Cheshire East and Cheshire West will work collaboratively on this with alacrity, and that this Conservative Government, who are very generous regarding local transport projects, will give us the same generous support that they have for the Middlewich eastern bypass. When I have that discussion with the Secretary of State, I would appreciate it if we could also talk about a southern bypass.
Let me touch on one other aspect of Middlewich transport, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis: buses. I received an email just a few days ago from a constituent saying that we desperately need more buses—and affordable buses—as well as a train station, and that they need to be integrated so that users are considered in the timetabling. I do hope that Cheshire East Council will respond to the many calls I have had from constituents to make funding available for local buses. Campaigning residents have saved the No. 319 Goostrey to Holmes Chapel via Sandbach bus, but may I put in a plea on behalf of residents for the reinstatement of the Saturday service?
Let me now turn to a completely different subject that I am also raising for a second time in the House: the concerns of residents on the Loachbrook estate, Somerford, about outstanding works on their estate. This estate was started over five years ago. The developers closed their sales office and moved off site last autumn. However, there are outstanding works to drainage, lighting, pathways, roadworks, surfacing and landscaping, and items have been left on the site following completion of the development by Bovis Homes—now renamed as part of Vistry Group—following completion of the houses.
I say that I am re-raising this issue because I presented a petition from residents about it on
What is now particularly frustrating residents is that the local authority appears to be simply—this is a word that it has used—monitoring the situation. As I say, I pay credit to the work that John Wray has done, but otherwise the local authorities are simply now saying that there is a dispute between the contractor that installed the drains and sewers, and United Utilities, the water company, which is refusing to adopt them because it is unsatisfied with the materials used by the contractor. Therefore Bovis is not completing the roads and other works, and meanwhile the council is not enforcing completion of the highway works.
Residents, meanwhile, are caught in the middle of a Catch-22 situation, living on an unfinished site and feeling that their questions and concerns—this is really what adds insult to injury—are being ignored. Communications to Bovis have not been replied to for several months now. One resident recently wrote to me:
“It is most frustrating that no one seems to have the authority to take any action against the developer.”
Another said to me at a meeting I had with them last week, “No one from the authority wants to come and look at the site and they give the impression they cannot enforce their own planning permission.” Another wrote to me:
“Cheshire East…say it is out of their hands.”
Another asked me:
“Why have planning conditions in place if they are not enforced?”
I hope that my raising this yet again in this House prompts action now by all concerned. Perhaps, at the very least, officers from the council could meet residents and me onsite to clarify why enforcement action cannot be taken to resolve these issues. I ask Ministers to consider, since I know that this is not an isolated issue—I have seen colleagues nodding in the Chamber as I have been speaking—what can be done to ensure that builders expeditiously complete landscaping, roadworks, common areas and amenities on new estates, and that local authorities promptly enforce planning conditions, and to consider what sanctions should be imposed if this does not happen. The current situation for residents purchasing new homes in my constituency such as those I have described is completely unsatisfactory.
Finally, I turn to yet another issue that I am raising in the Chamber not for the first time, as I have done so for many years—Congleton War Memorial Hospital. I am pleased to say that we still have this wonderful facility in my constituency, providing excellent local facilities for residents. As one wrote to me recently, it is a valuable local asset. It offers X-rays, ultrasound scans and blood tests five mornings a week, on many occasions efficiently processing over 100 people. It has a geriatric ward and manages various consultants’ clinics five days a week. There is a minor injuries unit.
Recently the hospital has had its difficulties with staffing—I raised this in an Adjournment debate in March 2019—but Congleton War Memorial Hospital is still very much serving the people of Congleton. Bearing in mind that we have an NHS long-term plan, people want to see a Congleton War Memorial Hospital long-term plan. We do not want to feel that we are continually fighting to ensure that these services remain in our local community.
I recently wrote to the chief executive of East Cheshire NHS Trust, John Wilbraham, to whom I have spoken many times over the years and who always listens. He says that he understands
“the desire to maintain local services and the trust continues to have a strategy of providing care as close to home as possible where services meet the expected clinical standards”—
I am pleased that he has reconfirmed that—and that he is
“working with health and care partners as part of the 5 year plan to set out how services will be delivered across Cheshire East into the future.”
May I, on behalf of my constituents, impress on East Cheshire NHS Trust and its partners, and also bring to the attention of Ministers again, the importance of retaining Congleton War Memorial Hospital and community hospitals like it, which really do provide an invaluable service for local residents?