Transport in Carshalton and Wallington

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:25 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport) 8:25 pm, 16th June 2020

A current councillor. He has been around a fair bit in his time, campaigning on these sorts of issues. It is really good to be able to have this joyous trip down memory lane and address the content of my hon. Friend’s excellent speech.

My hon. Friend talked about the tramlink extension that he would like to see—the Sutton link. As he said, transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London and delivered by Transport for London, so this matter is not actually within my portfolio. However, my hon. Friend has registered the importance of that extension to his constituents and his very, very strong ambitions in this area. He also talked about various bus routes. Some are currently paused because of the covid crisis, but fortunately many are still going. I know that TfL is listening to this debate tonight and I will ensure that they reply directly to the points he made that are within its auspices.

On rail—as the rail Minister, I can actually make some fairly solid suggestions—I can inform my hon. Friend that the Government’s priority is for the country’s trains to run on time and to drive growth across the country by giving local leaders a greater say in the running of their railway. That is why we are investing record levels in rail funding—the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century. In fact, we are spending £48 billion over what is called, in the jargon, control period 6, which runs from 2019 to 2024, to improve rail services for passengers and freight customers, while maintaining current high levels of safety and improving reliability.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Brighton main line upgrade programme—or, as we like to call it in the trade, the BMUP. My Department and I recognise the need to upgrade reliability, because we need to improve capacity on the line. It faces major performance challenges due to operational bottlenecks that currently prohibit additional capacity. In view of that, we have now committed over £50 million to improve the services on Brighton main line and it is connecting lines, which, if the upgrade scheme goes ahead, will benefit commuters in the region, including my hon. Friend’s constituents. Network Rail is currently working on the development of the Brighton main line upgrade programme, in which the main element would be a rebuild of the main line itself through central Croydon, comprising additional tracks, platforms and flyovers to deconflict train movements. A small number of supporting schemes elsewhere on the route are also included in the programme, one of which, the Wallington 12-car turnback, is very important to my hon. Friend. That element of the programme is to assist with the construction staging of Croydon, to facilitate a more frequent service between West Croydon and Wallington in his constituency, to improve performance by decongesting the constrained West Croydon track layout, and to aid Overground growth.

Network Rail is undertaking design work as well as land acquisition and extensive engagement on the Brighton main line upgrade programme, as my hon. Friend mentioned, and his constituents should absolutely get involved in the ongoing consultations. The outline business case is due with the Department next month, and in the subsequent weeks and months a decision will be made on whether to progress and fund the next stage of the rail network enhancements pipeline to the final business case stage—jargon for a very important gateway to investment.

The Department is currently considering whether Wallington, alongside some smaller Brighton main line upgrade programme schemes, should become independent of the Brighton main line upgrade programme in order to complete enabling work quickly. Should that be funded, the work in Wallington is scheduled to be delivered in the next three years.

My hon. Friend talked about Govia Thameslink Railway. In December 2018, the Department announced that GTR would contribute £15 million towards tangible improvements for passengers in reaction to the service disruption following the May 2018 timetable changes, which many hundreds of his constituents will have written to a former Rail Minister to complain about. GTR managed the engagement of passenger groups and stakeholders to determine what improvement schemes the programme would fund. The three-month stakeholder engagement programme ended on 31 July last year, and more than 4,000 responses were received to the surveys.

From that, funding for the following shortlisted schemes will be delivered in my hon. Friend’s constituency. At Carshalton Beeches, there will be toilet and waiting room refurbishments and cycle parking facilities—extremely important cycle parking facilities; I am also the Minister with responsibility for cycling. In Carshalton, there will be a new toilet floor, repainting of the waiting rooms, additional platform seating, cycle parking facilities —he might spot a theme—landscaping and new signage. At Hackbridge, there will be additional platform seating, a canopy over the ticket vending machine—that is actually unbelievably important for many of his constituents—and a new platform waiting shelter and signage. At Wallington, there will be a new platform waiting shelter and additional platform seating.

We expect the work on those schemes to commence in the next couple of months. Those are all stations I used when I lived in and around this area of London. I am not sure they have had much of a refresh since I moved out, so I am pleased that they are getting one now.

My hon. Friend will also be pleased to hear that GTR’s operational performance has improved in the past 12 months. Its current public performance measure—the percentage of trains that arrive within five minutes of their scheduled time—has improved by two percentage points to 85.6%, and its on-time performance has also improved. Performance has also improved more specifically in my hon. Friend’s constituency. These figures take into account Southern and Thameslink services. During the rail periods in the current pandemic, PPMs have improved even further; they are running at or around 96%, in delivery of a service that has allowed key workers to get to where they need to be—delivered to those places, actually, by key workers in the rail industry—in the last 12 or 13 weeks.

A further theme of my hon. Friend’s speech was that of accessibility. Delivering a transport system that is truly accessible to all is of huge importance to the Government, and of personal importance to me. An accessible transport network is central to the Government’s wider ambition to build a society that works for all. Many stations date from a time when the needs of disabled customers were simply not considered, and the situation at Carshalton Beeches that my hon. Friend describes is unfortunately far from unique. As he knows, the station was not selected for the last round of access for all funding. That was chiefly because the programme was amazingly heavily oversubscribed and there were many other nominated stations within the London area with higher footfall. I know that that was, and is, disappointing to my hon. Friend, who has actively lobbied me on many occasions about this. I hope he continues to do so in the future, but I would like to assure him that I take improving access seriously.

In 2018, the Government published an inclusive transport strategy setting out what we were doing to improve access across all transport modes, and we will continue to seek further opportunities and funding to make more improvements. Where we can, I am pushing my Department to do more, and more quickly. In addition, wherever infrastructure work is undertaken at a station by the industry, it must also comply with the relevant accessibility standards. My hon. Friend might therefore wish to contact Network Rail—I know that he already has, but it might be worth a further conversation—to see if any work is planned that might trigger these requirements. In the meantime, if a person cannot use the station, they can book alternative transport, which the industry is obliged to provide at no additional cost.

I shall conclude by thanking my hon. Friend for securing this debate. As I am sure he appreciates, rail plays a very important part in people’s lives across the country, and especially in his constituency. As I say, I used to commute from stations around there in my time. Today, he has brought up a huge, wide, diverse range of issues. I want to reassure the House that the Government are investing record levels in rail funding, in buses, in cycling and in a whole host of other areas including pothole filling, in order to deliver the best transport infrastructure we possibly can, and the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century. As I mentioned earlier, we have committed more than £50 million to improving services on the Brighton main line and its connecting lines. That is an upgrade that will absolutely improve the lot of commuters across the region, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.