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Public Transport: North Staffordshire — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:51 pm on 23rd January 2020.

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Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Conservative, Stafford 1:51 pm, 23rd January 2020

Thank you, Sir Christopher, for the opportunity to raise the concerns in my constituency. Local buses are a vital lifeline for the people of Stafford and provide a critical link for the most vulnerable individuals in our communities. I recently visited Winchester Court, in Weeping Cross in Stafford, and was dismayed to hear how local residents feel let down by the public transport system. Several elderly ladies explained their plight in great detail: they have to travel by taxi at great expense in order to get to church services, due to the lack of bus services on Sundays. It is a very simple journey for those who can drive, but those who rely on public transport face missing out on important local events. Other residents have raised with me directly the lack of frequent buses into town on busy routes, such as Cannock Road. Lack of access to the local community is leaving people at risk of suffering further problems, such as loneliness, and I am pleased that this Government are working hard to tackle those problems.

A regular and reliable bus service is very important for those of my constituents who live in villages, as those in rural locations rely on public transport to access important services, such as their GP. For example, the 841 bus service goes from Stafford to Hixon, but only on the hour. The last bus back from Stafford to the village is at 5.55 pm, so residents have told me that if they are doing a regular day’s work until 6 pm or would like to attend an evening event in the town, they are unable to do so without their own car. Some of the smaller villages in my constituency, such as Seighford, do not even have a direct bus service into town. That is why the value of rural public transport should not be underestimated.

Staffordshire County Council has managed very well under difficult circumstances, and I appreciate that the council and bus services face a challenging task in deciding which bus routes provide not only the most benefit for the public as a whole, but the best value to operate. Nevertheless, we must strive to provide accessible, affordable and reliable transport for every resident of Stafford: whether young or old, urban or rural, no one should be left behind. It is simply not good enough to leave residents without suitable transport just because running a bus route is not deemed viable.

As I said in my maiden speech,

“I believe that politics is about getting stuff done”.—[Official Report, 13 January 2020;
Vol. 669, c. 805.]

I would therefore like all parties to consider a middle-of-the-road option and find common ground. There is, in my opinion, an answer to this challenge. In the constituency of my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, the Moorlands Connect service, run in conjunction with Staffordshire County Council, is already up and running. Rural residents of north Staffordshire can, for a few pounds, use the service to arrange for transport that caters for everyone, from wheelchair users to commuters with bikes, allowing them to get into local towns and villages. With just one simple phone call, residents can visit local community hubs and have access to the vital services they need. That type of dial-a-ride service model is something that we should consider expanding across Staffordshire.

It is also important to recognise the vital role that public transport and, in particular, buses play in reducing the number of car journeys. It is vital that we all play our part in tackling climate change, and I back the Government’s commitment that the UK will reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. I am delighted that the Government are powering ahead with that world-leading agenda by hosting COP 26 in Glasgow later this year. It is therefore a tragedy that my constituents are forced to make so many journeys by car—vital journeys such as travelling to work, doing their weekly food shop or collecting medicine—because they have no other option. That is simply not good enough for rural residents in villages such as the Haywood, Derrington and Brocton. Local residents want to do their bit to tackle climate change without disrupting their daily lives.

The residents of the beautiful county town of Stafford are also concerned about congestion, which has been raised with me time and again when I have knocked on doors across the constituency. The negative impact of unnecessary car journeys on all of my constituents should not be underestimated, from the additional air pollution that is belching out of cars sitting in queues and being inhaled by all of us, to the hours lost every week by people stuck in traffic jams. Those wasted hours are not only reducing productivity across my constituency, but reducing precious family time. People have told me that they miss reading a story to their children before bed. That is time that people do not want to lose stuck in gridlock.

By re-evaluating the public transport offering in Stafford, we have the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives. These are the sorts of changes we should be making as modern, compassionate Conservatives. Regular and reliable buses are essential services for commuters and local residents in my constituency, so I urge all parties on a local and national level to investigate and expand upon this north Staffordshire initiative, to ensure we provide bespoke and adaptable transport for all of Stafford’s residents.