London Bridge Station (Redevelopment)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:10 am on 27th January 2015.

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Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West and Penge 11:10 am, 27th January 2015

I will be as brief as possible, although given the volume of material that I have received from constituents about this subject, I could take up the rest of the morning, let alone five minutes. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) for sharing her time with us. The issue is critical for all of us in south-east London. As she suggested, I will concentrate on Southern services.

Rail transport throughout south-east London is particularly important. Of all 32 London boroughs, including the City of London, Lewisham has the highest proportion of residents who work outside their borough, so all public transport, and rail in particular, is evidently important to them. Transport is critical to the well-being of residents and the community at large.

Our recent experience includes the shambles that is London Bridge station and Southern rail generally, even predating this disruption. Network Rail states on its website that there are two types of disruption at London Bridge: “planned disruption” and “unplanned disruption”. I am not sure where the overlap lies, but the fact of the matter is that the travelling public pay the price and suffer the consequences.

Like my colleagues, I thank the Minister for her involvement and interest, right back to our immediate return after Christmas, and for organising last week’s meeting. I very much look forward to speaking to Southern Railway on Monday afternoon. Southern’s performance—certainly subsequent to 5 January, but previously as well—has been lamentable and shameful. It predates the problem with the Thameslink work at London Bridge by a number of months.

When deciding what to say in the few moments that I have, I thought that I could do no better than to repeat what some of my constituents have told me. A resident of Penge said of London Bridge station:

“The works taking place there caused constant delays and cancellations last year, and so far this year the station has pretty much ground to a halt.”

A resident of Forest Hill said that on the evening of 5 January they

“left London Bridge in tears having been crushed by the crowds being kettled into a small part of the concourse. Half empty trains left with us not being allowed access to them by Network Rail staff.”

The impact on services into London Bridge is reflected in the impact on services out for people travelling south. One constituent said on 7 January:

“Today the 8am, 8.30 and 9.30 trains were cancelled” between Brockley and Streatham Hill, with

“no excuses at all so I and my fellow passengers have no idea what the problem was. I really feel it’s just not good enough and I was told today that it’s going to be like this until 2018.”

Another constituent from Penge said:

“We’re only a week or so into the ‘works’ so I guess we need to see how it settles down but it’s apparent at this stage that the train companies, Southern, Southeastern, Thameslink and Overground have not planned adequately for these changes and made additional capacity available.”

That is the point that my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East and for Eltham (Clive Efford) were making about the rebuilding of London Bridge.

I speak as someone who started to commute into London Bridge station more than 50 years ago to get to my school at Stamford street, between Waterloo and Blackfriars road, so I know it well from the days of steam, amazingly enough—I am probably alone in the Chamber in remembering that. Even though there were southern electric services at London Bridge, steam trains still ran. It has always been a Cinderella station without the kind of impact of the other stations mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East, but it is a critical one. Those pictures of people walking across London bridge to get to the City are almost invariably of people coming from London Bridge station. It is a vital interchange and artery, but at the moment it is completely and utterly clogged up.

As I said, the problems with Southern trains predate the work that is going on. A constituent who lives a few doors from my constituency office carried out a survey of 19 journeys between 7 June and 1 August last year on services from Forest Hill to London Bridge. Seven of those 19 trains were on time, while the other 12 were between three minutes and 44 minutes late, and that is for a journey that should take only 16 minutes. That has been the standard for quite a long time now.