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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:57 pm on 23rd January 2020.

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Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme 1:57 pm, 23rd January 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), on having secured this important debate. He is right to say that our public transport in north Staffordshire is simply not good enough.

The market town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, which I have the privilege to represent, is not part of Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke-on-Trent has a unitary council, whereas we are administered by our borough council and Staffordshire County Council. However, the market town is very much part of the wider conurbation. We have the A500—or, as the locals call it, the D road—to separate us from the city centre, but many of the same issues that my hon. Friend has raised about bus services in Stoke-on-Trent apply equally to my constituency, and us all working together to press for the improvements we need is clearly the right approach.

On top of the similar issues we face with our bus network in Newcastle, we do not have a railway station of our own. Newcastle-under-Lyme station, which was on the old line to Market Drayton, was closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching axe. I believe that makes us the third-largest town in the country without a railway station of our own. Most of my constituents therefore rely on Stoke-on-Trent station for their connections to the main line rail network, but their having to do so is itself a contributor to the congestion that has been mentioned—particularly on the roads that link Newcastle and Stoke, one of which I will speak about shortly.

A number of my constituents in the northern parts of my constituency—the areas of Bradwell, Porthill and Wolstanton—use Longport station, which my hon. Friend referred to. That station is just on the other side of the D road. If Northern Rail would consider stopping its Stoke to Manchester services at Longport station, or if West Midlands Trains would consider stopping its Crewe to Birmingham, or even its Crewe to London, services there—both already stop at a number of similarly sized stations—that would be a major boon to those constituents, and encourage more use of Longport station.

Turning to buses—the primary topic of this debate—I was struck during the general election campaign by how often the issue of poor service was raised both on the doorstep and in correspondence. A particular concern is that a number of services simply do not run at all when constituents want to use them. For example, the last bus back up to Wolstanton from the town centre leaves at 6.25 pm and the Sunday service has recently been cancelled altogether. That is not the best way to support our Government’s agenda to revitalise our high streets and our town centres, and I fear it leads to a vicious circle. People stop using the buses because they are not sufficiently convenient or reliable, which in turn leads the bus companies to make further cuts to services, all of which leads to some very heavily congested roads in and around Newcastle.

I draw hon. Members’ attention to one road in particular, the A53 between Stoke and Newcastle—Etruria Road, known locally as Basford Bank. That road marks another edge of my constituency, and my hon. Friend Jo Gideon is responsible for the other side of the road, which takes people into Newcastle. The traffic jams on that road are legendary and the local newspaper The Sentinel highlighted just the other day its impact on air quality for local residents in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend and neighbour.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council has been asked to address the poor air quality on Basford Bank. Neither the council nor I believe that a chargeable clean air zone is the right approach, as it will simply shift the congestion and the problem elsewhere. The right way to improve our congestion problems and our air quality issues in north Staffordshire is through improvements to the pinch points on our roads and through cleaner and better public transport.

On pinch points, I welcome the proposed Etruria Valley link road—it is in the pipeline—which will connect my constituency better with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis). That link road was secured by our two councils, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent, working together, along with the Department for Transport and the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire local enterprise partnership. That cross-authority co-operation shows that the various local authorities in the area can and will work together to deliver infrastructure investment.

Another pinch point is junction 15 of the M6, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South has been campaigning in this House. Following my election, I look forward to joining him. The cramped design of the junction and nearby roundabouts contribute greatly to congestion on the A500 and on Clayton Road, my constituents’ main road out from Newcastle town centre to the south. Fixing that will go some way to addressing the concerns of my residents along Northwood Lane in Westbury Park ward, who have unfortunately experienced their road being used as a rat run because of all the congestion on the other roads.

Fixing our local road network is a major part of delivering better bus services. It will enable them to run to timetable and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South has said, to run through from one side of the town to the other. It will facilitate introducing the potentially all-electric super-bus network, as outlined by my hon. Friend. I particularly welcome the proposed line C that would link Keele University in the west of my constituency all the way through to Stoke-on-Trent station and Staffordshire University.

I am wholeheartedly behind the agenda outlined by my hon. Friend for a genuinely radical transformation of public transport across north Staffordshire, particularly in our conurbation. I look forward to working with him, other new colleagues and the Department to deliver on that.