In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the need for improvements to rail services:
As the nights draw in, rail disruption on long, cold journeys home seems ever more frustrating. Problems like the ones we experienced in Sevenoaks last week seem to happen all too often.
I regularly receive complaints about Southeastern’s performance and I recently joined other Kent MPs to press the Rail Minister for improvements. I will be paying particularly close attention during the winter months.
Next year will see the start of a wider process to decide on the details of the new regional rail franchise from 2018. For anyone who wants to see better services in Sevenoaks, this is an important opportunity to have your say. There will be a consultation in the spring on what we want to see and I encourage everyone to participate.
My top priority will be the extension of the Oyster network to stations like Sevenoaks. I promised to fight for this vital improvement at the election last year and I will be lobbying hard. There are wider issues too, though, such as making sure there are enough trains and seats to cope with growing passenger numbers.
Securing all of these changes will only be possible if we push for them together. I know some people think that things will never change. I know they are tired of the old excuses for poor service and disruption. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for new solutions. We have to seize this opportunity to secure the meaningful improvements we need.
In the meantime, I would like to wish all of my constituents a very happy Christmas and New Year. In a politically eventful year, Sevenoaks and Swanley have continued to thrive and I am looking forward to continuing to serve as your MP in 2017.
Michael has welcomed the news that DPD has withdrawn its planning application to build a delivery depot on the old Moorhouse Tileworks site near Westerham. The decision comes after he worked with residents and their representatives in the area to lobby against the move.
Michael said: “This is fantastic news. It is the result of the hard work of local councillors and campaigners in Westerham. With Sam Gyimah, MP for East Surrey, I have been clear that the application failed to address concerns about traffic and air quality. I welcome the developer’s decision to withdraw its plan.”
Michael has called on the Government to announce its decision on a new Lower Thames Crossing.
In a letter to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, Michael has pressed for urgent progress following the consultation conducted by Highways England earlier this year. With no announcement on the proposal in last week’s Autumn Statement and increasing pressure on the Dartford Crossing, Michael believes a decision is urgently required so that building can commence on the project as soon as possible.
Michael supports the easternmost route, option C, which was recommended by Highways England in its consultation. This route would be the best option for his constituents, relieving congestion in the Dartford area and providing economic benefits across the region. In his letter, Michael also emphasised the importance of properly connecting any new crossing into the wider road network.
Michael said: “The ongoing problems at Dartford are affecting the daily lives of my constituents so a new crossing is urgently needed. I am calling on the Government to turn its welcome support for the principle of a new crossing into concrete, comprehensive action so that we can resolve this issue as soon as possible.”
Michael has welcomed the news that over £1 billion of new funding will be made available for full-fibre broadband.
The decision, which came in the Autumn Statement, means that two million more homes and businesses across the country will be able to benefit from higher speeds and more reliable connections, particularly in rural areas.
With the percentage of premises in Sevenoaks that can access superfast broadband predicted by the Government to reach 92.8% by September 2018, the news is a major boost to Michael’s successful campaign to secure better broadband for his constituents.
Michael said: “People throughout Sevenoaks increasingly rely on decent broadband speeds for work and leisure. This new funding will build on the progress we have already made to make sure we have the digital infrastructure we need to prosper. Together with extra money for grammar schools and measures to help hardworking families, everyone in Sevenoaks will benefit from these announcements in this Autumn Statement.”
Michael has secured fresh assurances about the extension of the Oyster network to Sevenoaks.
In two recent letters, the Rail Minister and the Deputy Mayor of London have both confirmed their commitment to the principle of expansion when the new rail franchise begins in 2018.
In a letter, Rail Minister Paul Maynard wrote ‘We are still considering a further roll out of Oyster to stations such as Sevenoaks.’ The letter also acknowledged that incorporating Sevenoaks into the Oyster zone system could ‘provide both savings and increased convenience for your constituents’.
In a separate letter, Deputy Mayor of London Val Shawcross assured Michael that under Transport for London’s (TfL) proposals for taking over London metro rail services, his constituents would be able ‘to use Oyster and contactless bank payment cards for journeys from Sevenoaks to anywhere in the London zonal network’.
Michael said: “This is important progress. Whether under TfL’s proposals or the existing system, Sevenoaks’ passengers deserve the benefits that Oyster and contactless can bring. I will continue to push for further commitments to ensure that this vital improvement is delivered as soon as possible.”
Michael joined residents in Westerham on Friday to protest against the application for the redevelopment of Moorhouse Tileworks.
Accompanied by local councillors, campaigners and Sam Gyimah, MP for East Surrey, Michael listened to concerns and reaffirmed his opposition to the application to build a major distribution depot on the site.
Michael has already written to Tandridge District Council to oppose the plans, which would increase the number of vehicles, including vans and HGVs, and negatively affect air quality and pedestrian safety in the Westerham area.
Michael said: “Like the last application, this plan fails to address concerns about traffic and air quality. It would have a significant impact on the lives of my constituents in Westerham and I was proud to join local residents to make our opposition clear. I urge the council not to approve this development.”
Mr Fallon spent the remainder of his day in the constituency attending a fundraising event for West Kent Mind and meeting local councillors to discuss development plans and the latest progress on securing grammar school provision for boys in Sevenoaks.
Michael has demanded full, public information about the planned rollout of superfast broadband in Sevenoaks.
His call is the latest step in his campaign to secure better broadband for his constituents.
In recent meetings with BT and Kent County Council, which manages the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) public subsidy contract, Michael has set out the importance of giving people the ability to see when the rollout is expected to reach their area.
Michael said: “Better information is the first step to securing better broadband. Too often there is uncertainty and confusion about when people can access superfast speeds. With full public information, BT can be held to account for what they promise.”
Michael has warned commuters that more work is needed to secure the extension of the Oyster network to Sevenoaks.
At a recent meeting with the Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP, Department for Transport officials warned that the extension of the network, which had been due to take place in 2018, was not guaranteed.
Following recent reports about uncertainty over the future of the South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) scheme), Michael secured assurances that SEFT will be rolled out to Sevenoaks by the end of the year. SEFT will benefit season ticket holders, providing them with a single plastic card that will also work on TfL services.
Michael also received a guarantee that future decisions about bringing improvements like Oyster to Sevenoaks would not be affected by the installation of SEFT.
Michael said: “SEFT will be rightly welcomed by season ticket holders but it is no replacement for Oyster. Despite fresh uncertainty over a 2018 introduction date, this is not the end of the line. I promised to bring Oyster to Sevenoaks and that’s what I will do.”
Michael has helped to secure victory in the campaign to continue the use of vellum for printing Acts of Parliament.
On Wednesday evening, he joined MPs from all parties in supporting a backbench motion to oppose the decision by the House of Lords to unilaterally end the use of vellum. The Commons voted 117 to 38 to approve the motion.
Michael said: “I was proud to vote for this motion. Vellum is a vital part of our national heritage. The strong cross-party support of the House of Commons for its continued use is welcome. The short-sighted attempt to end this tradition must now cease.”
Local calligrapher Patricia Lovett, who was in Parliament to watch the debate, said: “The success of the campaign is an indication of how democracy can work. I am so grateful to Michael Fallon for the interest that he has shown in the campaign, his support, and the work he has done to ensure that the significance of vellum and the actual cost, £37,000, was made known in Westminster.”
Michael has launched a defiant defence of Sevenoaks Hospital following the announcement that King’s College Hospital Trust is to withdraw its services.
He recently demanded assurances that the hospital will remain open from the local Clinical Commissioning Group and Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, which operates the other services at the hospital.
In a response, Dr Bob Bowes, Clinical Chair of West Kent CCG, confirmed that all patients seen under existing arrangements will either continue to be seen at Sevenoaks, but by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust staff, or will transfer their appointments to Princess Royal University Hospital.
Dr Bowes also confirmed that Sevenoaks Hospital is part of a wider review of local health services. Michael is concerned about this process and will continue to watch developments closely.
Michael said: “I have always defended Sevenoaks Hospital against the threat of closure. I am as determined as ever to protect the vital services it offers for local people. I want to see more services in Sevenoaks, not less.”
Michael is currently awaiting a response from Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust and has requested a meeting with the Chief Executive.