It’s the summer of consultations. The Department for Transport, Network Rail, Thameslink and Southeastern have all launched their plans for 2018. I’ve responded to all four. I hope to respond to many more in the future, because getting our railways right is important; especially now, before our young people start new jobs in the City, before school starts up again, and before families return to work.
In March, I made the case for passengers in Sevenoaks and Swanley to the Government consultation on the new South Eastern franchise. It was a great opportunity to argue for more space on trains, improved compensation arrangements, an Oyster-style network, and an end to the unacceptably poor service many of us have endured for far too long. This was accompanied by a lengthy letter I handed personally to the Transport Secretary, demonstrating to him my determination to ensure that passengers are finally put first.
I also helped draft a joint letter to the Rail Minister, which was signed by twelve other Kent MPs, calling for a major rethink of our rail strategy in the South East. The more pressure we put on those in charge, the more likely we are to get results.
The Kent Route Study is not up to scratch. Network Rail must consider further solutions beyond those mentioned in the draft in order to meet the projected population proliferation. It’s crucial that our railways have the capacity to meet the increasing demand. I responded to the consultation in June and have requested a meeting with Network Rail to discuss the proposals in more detail.
Whilst Southeastern’s 2018 timetable proposals are underwhelming, Thameslink’s new 2018 timetable proposals are more promising. With plans to double the number of trains every hour from Swanley and introduce faster routes from Sevenoaks, it seems Thameslink are finally listening.
That’s why these consultations are important and that’s why I’ve taken considerable time to research and respond to them. Now we need to ensure that the very best of the plans are delivered.
Michael has said that he is ‘underwhelmed’ by the proposed Southeastern timetable effective May 2018.
The comment was included in Michael’s response to the Southeastern May 2018 Timetable Consultation, which sets out proposed changes to the timetable operated by Southeastern. The consultation is one of a series of rail consultations that have been live over the summer period.
Among the proposed changes are plans to reduce the number of London destinations at peak times in order to ensure a simpler and more reliable service. Whilst Michael supports the plan in principle, he warns that the redistribution of trains between Charing Cross, Blackfriars and Cannon Street must not come at the cost of lengthened journey times for passengers wishing to go to their original destination.
Michael said: ‘There are no major changes and the level of service will be broadly what it is today at a stage when a major rethink is required. My constituents require faster, more regular and reliable train services. Overall, I’m underwhelmed by Southeastern’s new proposals.’
Michael has hailed local business Winch Energy a ‘great local exporter’ following its success at prestigious award event.
Winch Energy, a global, off-grid renewable energy developer based in Sevenoaks, has been awarded ‘Export Champion’ by Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. It is among 29 other outstanding British businesses that have been selected for distinguished programmes.
The locally-based company, founded by CEO Nicholas Wrigley, provides electricity, electric water pumping and satellite connectivity to off-grid populations in Africa. It was founded in 2016.
Michael congratulates Mr Wrigley and Winch Energy employees on their impressive award. He said: ‘This is yet another example of business booming in Sevenoaks. Our local trades punch above their weight not only here in the UK, but also across the world. I am committed to ensuring that this business and great local exporters like it can seize upon the opportunities presented by Brexit and expand their global successes.’
Michael has signed a joint letter addressed to the Rail Minister, calling for a ‘major rethink’ of how rail services in London and the South East are operated.
‘Passengers are dissatisfied’, the letter reads, ‘[w]ith insufficient room to stand at times and with some season tickets at more than £6,000, they feel they are not getting value for money. […] It comes as very little surprise that very few customers have confidence in the operator being able to deliver the improvements that are needed.’
Sevenoaks and Swanley feature prominently in the letter, which is signed by 12 Kent MPs. In particular, the MPs support Michael’s campaigns for the rollout of smarter Oyster-style ticketing systems at all stations in the constituency and for Delay Repay 15 to be introduced before 2018.
The joint letter follows the personal recommendations Michael made to the Secretary of State for Transport back in March, in which he called for the new South Eastern franchise to ‘put passengers first’.
Michael said: ‘Signing a joint letter demonstrates the huge number of people affected by poor rail services. Two Cabinet Ministers have signed this letter, including myself. Getting a better deal for rail passengers is a top priority for me locally, and I will ensure it remains a top priority for this Government.’
Michael has responded positively to the second phase of the Thameslink timetable consultation.
The proposed timetable, effective December 2018, will double the number of Thameslink trains from two per hour to four per hour in the constituency. This will affect mainline routes from Swanley and Otford and metro routes from Swanley, Eynsford, Shoreham, Otford, Bat & Ball and Sevenoaks to London.
During off-peak periods, however, existing Thameslink services will operate between Sevenoaks and London Blackfriars only. Whilst reducing the number of London destinations may make trains more reliable, Michael wrote, the only way to ensure that passengers are not then inconvenienced is to install Oyster-style ticketing for whole journeys at all stations in Sevenoaks.
Journeys from Swanley to London Bridge, London Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras International and beyond to Cambridge will be faster. A direct train service between Sevenoaks and Welwyn Garden City will also form part of the expansion of the Thameslink network.
Michael said: ‘Plans to double the number of trains per hour show that the train operators are listening. That’s why engaging in consultations is important. Now we need to make sure that these plans are delivered.’
Michael has said discussions with Barclays regarding the announced closure of their Farningham branch have been ‘constructive’.
‘There is a regrettable trend away from high street banks to online banking, which is understandable but can leave local businesses and customers dependent on the bank with few other options’, Michael said. ‘That’s why it’s important that Barclays now support the community in delivering alternative banking provision.’
In their letter to Michael, Barclays said 74 customers have been identified as being dependent on the Farningham branch. Barclays have assured Michael that they will contact each of these customers to ensure they have a better understanding of the alternative banking options available.
‘I welcome the support Barclays plans to provide in our area during this transitional period’, Michael said. ‘Our job now is to ensure that customers and businesses do receive this support and that local premises that can offer full banking services for customers and businesses are able to do so.’
Michael has contacted Barclays for a further meeting. He hopes to organise an event in the constituency whereby customers dependent on the Farningham branch are trained in accessing alternative banking safely and securely.
Michael has written to Network Rail calling for more solutions to combat capacity strains on South Eastern railways.
In response to the South East Route: Kent Area Route Study draft consultation document, Michael said that Network Rail must consider further solutions ‘beyond those mentioned in the consultation draft’ to meet population growth forecasts.
‘It is crucial that the South Eastern rail network has the capacity to accommodate the increasing demand on its services’, writes Michael, who suggests this could be achieved by extending train carriages, increasing carriage size, and striking a better balance of seating and standing room for passengers on-board.
Further, improving connectivity on the South Eastern railway is important to Michael. ‘Rail services need to be reliable’, Michael says, ‘but during periods of unexpected disruption, crucially, passengers also need to be better informed.’
Michael welcomed the opportunity to discuss these matters in more detail with Network Rail during the next stage of the Kent Route Study draft.
Michael has welcomed the Government’s decision to implement a full ban on microbeads.
The announcement was made by the Environment Secretary on Friday 21 July after a public consultation on microbeads, which are found in a wide range of personal care products including toothpastes.
Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic that are proven to have entered the world’s oceans where they are then swallowed by wildlife.
The ban will prevent microbeads from being manufactured and sold in the UK. Legislation to implement the ban will be introduced later this year, with the manufacturing ban due to become effective from 1 January 2018 and the sales ban to follow on 30 June 2018.
The announcement comes after figures that show plastic bag usage has fallen 83 per cent since the Government introduced the 5p plastic bag charge.
Michael said: ‘The UK has always been a leader in environmental protection. We take our responsibility to marine life here and around the world very seriously. Whether it’s banning microbeads or reducing plastic bag usage, I support this Government’s efforts to keep Britain green.’
One of my first duties as the newly re-elected MP, having sworn in on the day of the State Opening of Parliament, was to discuss the contents of the Queen’s Speech on BBC South East.
There are many great initiatives in the Queen’s Speech that will benefit our area, including extra investment in our transport, bills that champion equality, and a plan to protect our agricultural industry.
However, as many will have noted, there is one conspicuous exclusion: our election plan to scrap the current ban on building new grammar schools.
Having campaigned for so long for more grammar provision in Sevenoaks, I am disappointed that the current grammar school legislation will continue at least for the next two years. The constitution dictates that we must play the cards the electorate has dealt to us. So, with a minority Government, it is important that we put forward the best deal for Britain. That means amending slightly our manifesto commitments in the national interest to ensure they can be delivered in Parliament.
But rest assured, I remain committed to securing grammar provision here in Sevenoaks for boys, and we can do that without changing the law, by adding a boys’ annexe to the girls’ one at Wildernesse.
There is strong local demand for a boys’ grammar. Sevenoaks is the only area in Kent without a grammar school, and there is substantial pressure on local school places. Parents need more choice, and to travel back and forwards to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells wastes time and money.
Later this year, I will be welcoming a young constituent and his class from Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys to Parliament. I will be delighted to welcome the new class of girls from our Sevenoaks grammar annexe, too, after they start in September.
Following the announcement that the Barclays bank branch in Farningham will close in September, Michael has written to the Barclays CEO expressing his disappointment at the decision.
Michael expressed his concern that his constituents may be left without access to the banking services they need, asking what consultations Barclays has held with its customers and businesses before announcing the closure.
‘I am concerned that my constituents have not been sufficiently consulted before the decision was taken by Barclays to close their local branch’, he writes: ‘a strong local economy needs the support of a good local bank.’
Barclays says that its customers have been informed and recommended customers use local Post Offices for their banking services. But Michael urges Barclays to ensure that the local Post Offices ‘meet the full range of customer needs’ for personal customers and businesses in his letter.
The proposed closure of Barclays in Farningham comes two months after Lloyds Bank announced that its New Ash Green branch would close in July. Michael sent a letter along with a petition opposing the closure signed by over 900 people to Lloyds Banking Group calling for answers.
Michael said: ‘This closure may have a huge impact on the lives of people and businesses in Farningham. We need answers from Barclays. I will continue to work with local councillors, businesses and residents, and the Post Office itself, to ensure that my constituents will not be left without the services they rely on.’