Michael has welcomed new figures released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that show current superfast coverage in the Sevenoaks constituency is over 92 per cent.
The Government funded BDUK programme has made superfast broadband available to 13,112 homes and businesses, and it estimates that 95 per cent of the constituency will have superfast coverage by the end of the year.
The Government is also introducing a Broadband Universal Service Obligation to give consumers the right to request fast, affordable broadband wherever they live and work.
This will mean that by 2022, everyone can request a connection of at least 10Mbps, which is around half the speed of superfast, but still quick enough to download a half-hour TV show in two minutes. Currently, less than 3 per cent of premises in the Sevenoaks constituency receive below 10Mbps.
Michael said: ‘It’s good news that much of the constituency is already covered by superfast broadband. But I won’t rest until we get 100 per cent coverage. I will continue to work hard with ministers, BT and KCC to ensure constituents and businesses are getting the speeds they need.’
Michael has expressed his delight at the progress the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) has made in the past year. As the charity’s President, Michael recently met with the Chief Executive, Dr. Tom Pey, to discuss future projects.
In January 2017, the Royal Society for Blind Children and Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB), which was based in Sevenoaks, merged to create RSBC. The new charity has the patronage of Her Majesty The Queen and employs 100 people.
At the meeting, Dr. Pey informed Michael that, by 2020, he hopes the charity will have helped 11,000 blind and partially sighted children and young people in England and Wales. The charity recorded an annual turnover of around £3.7 million.
Dr. Pey and Michael reviewed the recent success of RSBC’s new social innovation organisation, Wayfindr, which aims to improve independent travel for vision-impaired people. The new indoor-navigation programme, which was successfully tested on London Underground, is going global and has attracted the support from organisations such as Google.
Michael said: ‘With income up, more innovation, and ambition sky-high, it’s great to know such a vital charity is doing so well. I am proud to be part of RSBC, which originated here in Sevenoaks, and commend Tom for all his hard work.’
Michael has warned constituents of line closures on rail networks to London over the bank holiday next week and has encouraged them to ‘work out [their] Plan B’.
From 26 August to 2 September, there will be no Southeastern services at London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross. This means there will be fewer trains into London and they may be diverted to different London stations.
The disruption will be caused by improvement work at London Bridge station and track upgrades, which is designed to improve station space, reduce future delays, improve connections, and facilitate more frequent journeys.
To assist passengers, the Thameslink Programme communications team has developed a campaign microsite, which details station by station the planned changes during the blockade, what this means for passenger journeys, detailed travel advice and customer information resources. The site is accessible via the following link: http://www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk/2017-disruption.
In a post on his new Facebook page, Michael Fallon said: ‘These closures hit at a time when people are already back from holiday. So whether it’s changing the time you travel, finding another route, cycling to work, or working from home, you will need to work out your Plan B. I encourage everyone to visit the Thameslink Programme microsite and start thinking ahead.’
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.