The speech made by Robert Largan, the Conservative MP for High Peak, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2022.
I want to talk about a few different issues. The first, which a lot of other Members have touched on, is reduced rail timetables as a result of covid. That is still significantly affecting communities across much of High Peak, particularly in places such as Glossop, New Mills, Buxton and Whaley Bridge, where we are seeing significant reductions in timetables that Northern has said are still due to covid staff shortages. The latest timetable reduction it has announced will continue all the way until at least December, which is very disappointing. The situation is especially difficult in the Glossop, Hadfield and Dinting area, where there are also major roadworks going on for 20 weeks on the main road out of town. The fact that those things are both happening at once is causing a lot of problems locally. There is a real need to get the full timetable back. Over 2,000 local commuters have so far signed my petition calling for Northern to restore it, so I hope we can get it back as soon as possible.
The second issue is the transport Bill that is coming forward and the Great British Railways reforms to try to sort out the fragmented franchising problems and get a better passenger experience across the country. I whole- heartedly welcome that.
In a similar vein, I also welcome the fact that Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, is finally starting to pursue bus franchising, five years after being given the powers by the Government. That is a very positive move and I support him in that. Given that Derbyshire County Council has just been given a significant sum of money by the Government to do bus improvement on our side of the border, it is important for those cross bus routes between Greater Manchester and Derbyshire that we get that right and work together properly so that we can see improvements, in particular restoring the 236 bus and the X57 buses, which have been lost, and trying to get a much-needed direct bus service through to Tameside Hospital from Glossop.
Next, I will talk about what is at the heart of transport, which is the desperate need to get transport right to fix the productivity gap in our economy. The Government rightly spend an awful lot of money and have put a lot of time, focus and effort into skills, and that is spot on, but in much the same way that record sums of funding into the NHS will never be enough until we fix the social care system, huge sums of money into skills will never be enough until we get connectivity and transport right. Much of the work I have been trying to do is about trying to bring employers together, whether that is the High Peak jobs and apprenticeships fair or the High Peak apprenticeship exchange, which I have been setting up. A huge issue that comes back from so many employers is that they cannot recruit, simply because people cannot get to those locations—they cannot get to college or where they want to work on time for 9 am.
All the money and effort going into apprenticeships and skills will not be enough unless we make the connectivity work, too. That is particularly important for addressing regional inequalities. Quite a few Members have mentioned Crossrail and the Elizabeth line opening, which is fantastic—it is a brilliant scheme—but we really need to see that in other parts of the country. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), who represents a London-based constituency and is not in his place, referred with slight distaste on his lips to having once ridden a bus in Manchester. For those Members who do not have the pleasure of representing somewhere in the north and midlands, the disparity between transport is absolutely enormous, and that is key to fixing the productivity gap. So many people are arriving late to work, or stressed and exhausted or are having to leave early as getting to work is so difficult, because the transport links are so poor. Fixing that is essential. How do we do that? It is about that focus on infrastructure and improving our transport.
The Government have done a lot of good things. Our bit of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project—the upgrade of the Manchester to Sheffield route with the Hope Valley line, where construction is already under way—will make a huge difference to passengers in such places as New Mills, Chinley, Edale, Hope and Bamford, but we also need to connect that up with bus services and active travel, which is why I am so pleased that just this month we have approved £120,000 of funding for the “Travelling Light” project for Hope Valley Climate Action, which I have been supporting. That will really help join things up, too.
At the same time, we need to get it right when it comes to road. Buses go on the road network, and if we are moving towards electric vehicles and low-emission vehicles, we have to get our road network right. We have the money committed and the contract signed for the Mottram bypass, which has been promised for more than 50 years. We need to get on and build it, and then build the second phase of that bypass around Tintwistle, too. Hopefully we can get that; I am very optimistic.
It is all well and good talking about improving rail, but whole swathes of rural areas have no access to rail. I have two examples I want to flag quickly. One is Chinley, where there is no step-free access. We have an “Access for All” bid that has just gone in, and I would love to see Transport Ministers come to the village and see just how important that is, because there is currently no step-free access in either direction. The second—I regularly get accused of being like Cato the Elder for mentioning this in almost every speech I make—is the desperate need to build Gamesley station. It is one of the most deprived areas anywhere in the country. It has very low car ownership. It was promised a station back in 1968 when it was built, and it was never put in. That station is badly needed to regenerate one of the most deprived areas. It would completely transform life chances for the residents there.
There are lots of positive things that the Government are doing, but there needs to be a much greater focus on delivering transport infrastructure, improving rail services and integrating it all together so that the smaller villages and areas that do not have their own stations can also access it.