It is a pleasure to serve under your leadership and chairmanship, Mr Gale. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise in Parliament the important issue of train station provision and rail travel in my constituency. The debate will focus particularly on the need to reopen a train station in the Ilkeston area. There is a proud history in Erewash of working on the railways. For generations, many engineers, construction workers and drivers have serviced the rail lines in the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area. Indeed, my late grandfather, who lived nearby in Nottingham, spent his entire working life as an engineer and fitter on the steam trains. In his later years, he was one of the few remaining experts on steam trains, and was able to offer advice on them well into his 90s.
There is a well-utilised train station service in Erewash. The station at Long Eaton provides regular local and national train services; indeed, the fast train to London now takes only one and a half hours. However, Long Eaton station is right in the south of the constituency, and there is a gap in provision in the north. Ilkeston is one of the largest towns in the UK without a train station. There used to be three stations in Ilkeston, but there has been no provision since Ilkeston Junction station closed in January 1967 as a result of the Dr Beeching report. The stations in Erewash were part of the Erewash valley line running from Trent junction up to Clay Cross and Chesterfield.
Any new station would in all likelihood have to attract the support of a train company running services north to Sheffield, which would also stop at Ilkeston. At the appropriate time, I will gladly make any necessary representations to train companies to highlight the benefits of stopping at Ilkeston. There is a gap in the provision of local services, and I seek progress from all the relevant authorities in making this much-needed service a reality.
Although I have been a supporter of this cause for the past three years, a campaign to reopen a train station in Ilkeston was up and running long before I was elected as the area's MP earlier this year. Indeed, local residents need to take credit for their persistence over the years. There is a hugely popular Facebook campaign, which lists many supporters. This year, the local newspaper, the Ilkeston Advertiser, also launched an excellent campaign backing the reopening of the train station, and supporters can write to the paper to express their support.
Although additional train services would in themselves assist in Erewash, the benefits to Ilkeston of a reopened train station go well beyond rail provision. Ilkeston town centre and market need as much support as possible to bring in shoppers and visitors. We have suffered the loss of a number of shops in the town in recent years, and the ability to draw people back to the area would be a real help.
From a social and economic point of view, the recent recession has had a disproportionate effect on Erewash. Residents experience relative geographical isolation from work opportunities, and that is compounded by significantly lower car ownership levels than elsewhere. Bus services are also a little limited. The decline in the manufacturing sector over the past 10 years and factory closures are also part of the background.
A recent report produced by Experian and commissioned by the BBC provides further evidence to demonstrate that Erewash is perhaps more vulnerable than other areas to economic pressures. Out of the 324 boroughs considered, Erewash was down at No. 251, although such statistics are a reflection not on the spirit and enthusiasm of the people of Erewash, but on the history of the local economy and, therefore, its ability to withstand an economic downturn.
I turn now to the unemployment figures for September 2010. Erewash borough has the highest rates of unemployment of the districts in Derbyshire. We need support and investment in our area. A train station would be just one element in bringing about that investment, but it would be a successful element and one from which the whole community would benefit.