On 13th April, Sir Michael attended the Valence School Hill Climb, a classic and vintage car show with a hill sprint, which raises money for extra resources and trips for the students.
Valence School, a Foundation Special School and part of the Kent Special Educational Needs Trust, is a school for children and young people who have physical disabilities and complex medical needs.
Sir Michael said: “I am a huge supporter of the work that Valence School does in enabling children with disabilities to lead more independent lives, and it was a pleasure to attend the Hill Climb to raise money for educational trips to supplement their learning.”
Michael has pushed for better access to Heathrow for the residents of west Kent as part of new plans to extend Crossrail.
Speaking in an adjournment debate on the possible Crossrail extension to Ebbsfleet, alongside Dartford MP Gary Johnson, Michael insisted that it would benefit the whole of Kent if residents could secure direct access to the UK’s largest airport.
He said: “Having direct access to Heathrow airport, which we currently lack, would relieve congestion in all parts of Kent considerably, not least on the M25. I would urge that the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission consider implementing these changes for the benefit of the whole of Kent.”
Michael has demanded the Transport Secretary’s assurance that the new Thameslink fast service will be delivered in full, following fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.
The new link – to run from Maidstone East through Swanley and Otford to the City – was set to begin at the end of this year. But the start date was postponed until at least December 2019.
Worse still, the Sevenoaks MP discovered that the tendering documents for the new South East franchise operator asked for a cost analysis of the “indefinite” delay of the service.
He warned that this spelled bad news for families and businesses in his constituency and requested an immediate meeting with the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which was granted.
Following the meeting, Michael said: “The Transport Secretary has committed to investigating why this paragraph was included in the Invitation to Tender. He has also undertaken to provide further reassurance that the fast service will commence in December 2019 and will not be further postponed.”
Michael has signed a joint letter by 16 MPs across Kent to support the bid from Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent to establish a medical school in the Kent and Medway area.
As Christmas approaches, local health services are preparing for the challenges the winter period brings. Having discussed these challenges with many NHS and health organisations, Michael is aware that one of the main reasons local providers struggle is because they cannot recruit enough doctors.
Kent is one of the largest areas in the UK without a medical school. The letter therefore raises awareness of issues surrounding recruitment in the health sector. It also outlines the benefits a medical school would bring to the region, such as improving local people’s access to high quality healthcare.
The group of MPs add that a local medical school will attract newly qualified and senior doctors, thereby improving health outcomes for patients in Kent:
‘We face serious health inequalities across Kent & Medway, with life expectancy for males up to eight years lower in the most deprived areas […] we firmly believe that a medical school would be transformative for our local health services.’
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 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.