It is an absolute pleasure to speak under your chairmanship today, Sir David. It is also wonderful to welcome the Minister back to the Department. It is particularly good for me that Ruth Smeeth talked about the Government’s record in investing in infrastructure. As I alluded to earlier, in my tenure as the Member of Parliament for Burton I have seen more than £50 million of Government investment in the A50 upgrade. I was also lucky enough to receive some £6.1 million from the Minister. When I went to him with a proposal to upgrade St Peter’s bridge in Burton, he listened carefully and considered the case that I put to him. He got out his pen and wrote a cheque for £6.1 million, which has made a huge difference to St Peter’s bridge and helps with traffic flow in and around the town.
Although I am the MP for the constituency of Burton, I represent both Burton and Uttoxeter, or, as the locals call it, Utcheter, and I rise today to speak about the problems of transport in Uttoxeter. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North mentioned Uttoxeter racecourse. Uttoxeter is famous for many things. It is the birthplace of Dr Samuel Johnson and those mighty yellow diggers, JCB. It is also the home of Uttoxeter racecourse, one of the country’s finest. As Paul Farrelly said, it was formerly owned by Sir Stan Clarke. It provides a huge boost for the local economy in Uttoxeter. On midlands grand national days—if you ever fancy coming, Sir David, I would be delighted to host you—some 16,000 people descend on Uttoxeter to enjoy the fabulous hospitality provided by David MacDonald, who runs Uttoxeter racecourse, and his brilliant and dedicated team. With recent investment, the racecourse is going from strength to strength. We have regular meetings on Sundays that start at 1 o’clock. Racegoers are keen to attend the races, have a flutter and enjoy the day. With thousands of people wanting to attend, one would think they would be able to hop on a train and arrive at the handily located train station right next door to the racecourse: a 30-second walk. However, the first train to Uttoxeter on a Sunday is at 2.30, which means racegoers have already missed at least an hour and a half of good betting. That causes the racecourse great concern and racegoers great frustration.
I have been campaigning for some considerable time for improvements in the service. The problems with the single-carriage train that rattles along have already been discussed. Clearly, there is no way that that service adequately serves the numbers of people that want to come to Uttoxeter to enjoy our hospitality. When the earliest train to Stoke from Uttoxeter on a Sunday is the 1503 and to Derby the 1454, it is simply not sufficient. I have been banging that drum for some time and I had some good news. I am pleased to relay it to colleagues, who will be interested.
I wrote for the 20th or 30th time to the Minister’s predecessor and he wrote back in the summer to say that
“there will be an extra carriage (or carriages) operating on the route. This will be supplemented by additional early and late services and improved Sunday services.”
I was cock-a-hoop that the campaigning had led to a promise of increased services on a Sunday, so I wrote back to the Minister to see if I could winkle out a little more detail, and he wrote back:
“To clarify the position on Sunday services on the Crewe-Derby line, we have specified that an early morning Sunday service is to start from 2021.”
That is wonderful. Rather than, as we had hoped, modernised signalling facilities, what is being proposed is extra signalling staff to change the signals manually. That solution is very welcome. It will mean that my racegoers in Uttoxeter will be able to get there in plenty of time, perhaps to have a pint or two of Marston’s Pedigree, which is served at the racecourse, and enjoy the facilities. It will improve the service for residents in Stoke and Derby, too. Never completely satisfied, however, I have a question for the Minister: I am really pleased that the service is to be improved and that we shall benefit from that, but why wait until 2021? I urge the Minister to do as he did for me previously and get out his chequebook, and see whether he can bring the date forward a couple of years. Let us have a date of 2019 rather than 2021. If that happens, the Minister can come on the first service on a race day, and have a flutter with me. I will even give him a fiver for a bet.
I have met all three people who are bidding for the new franchise and have made the case for improved services. I think that if the Minister casts his beady eye over the bids and measures them against the requests that I have made for improvements in carriages, quality and punctuality, we can have an improved service. I know, given the rigour and commitment that he brings to his role, he will do that.
I have one further question before I conclude. It concerns the other of the two towns that I represent—Burton—and I want to talk about the station, maintained by East Midlands Trains. When I showed the former Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Paul Maynard, a picture of Burton train station he said it was the ugliest train station he had ever seen. He was being quite polite. It is hideous—an eyesore. The Prince of Wales would, I think, call it a carbuncle. It is important that the station, which is the gateway to Burton—and Burton is the gateway to the national forest—should be improved rapidly. We need to improve its aesthetics and quality. I am pleased to say that East Staffordshire Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council are committed to trying to improve the quality of the station, but we need a helping hand. May I ask the Minister whether he would be prepared to come to see for himself the wreckage that is Burton train station? Perhaps together we can put on a bit of pressure to make sure that Burton has the pretty and attractive train station it deserves.