Productivity: Rural Areas

Part of RAF Valley: Funding and Employment – in Westminster Hall at 5:09 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Robert Largan Robert Largan Conservative, High Peak 5:09 pm, 14th October 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann on securing the debate and the excellent case he made for the importance of infrastructure in reducing the rural productivity gap.

A good example of how to do that is the Hope Valley railway line that serves New Mills, Chinley, Edale, Hope and Bamford in my constituency. It is a popular service and arguably one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world, but in the period running up to December 2019 it scored only 52% on the public performance measure for train punctuality, making it one of the worst services in the country. One does not need to be a genius to realise the negative impact that has on our economic productivity.

I am pleased that we are making progress, with the modern class 195 trains recently starting service and phasing out the ancient Pacers. I am campaigning for an upgrade to the capacity on the line so that we can get more frequent services, which would make a huge difference to a huge number of residents in my constituency.

While on the subject of transport, it would be remiss of me not to mention the communities that are cut off entirely from the railway network and have extremely limited bus services. A good example is Gamesley, which by some measures is in the top 1% of the most deprived places in the country, yet many local residents are forced to pay for a taxi to get home, because the last bus finishes at 5 pm. We need a new railway station for Gamesley. I look forward eagerly to the Government’s national bus strategy, and I welcome the new X57 bus, which will provide a new service between Manchester and Sheffield. That will be a big boost for people who, like me, live in Glossop, and for those in Ashopton and Bamford.

I want to talk about poor broadband and mobile phone coverage, which holds back lots of areas. That is why roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband is so important. It is encouraging that we are finally starting to see full-fibre getting out to some of the hardest-to-reach places in High Peak, but we have to get it to the homes, not just to the cabinet, which makes a big difference to speed. Openreach has recently announced that it will be extending full-fibre to 11 Derbyshire market towns and villages, including Buxton, Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith, which I wholeheartedly welcome.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that improving rural productivity is a big challenge. There is no single silver bullet or single Act of Parliament, but if we work together, we can deliver for our constituents.