COLUMN – Getting our Railways Right

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.

New Thameslink Rail Times ‘Positive’

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.’

The consultation closes on 27 July. To respond, visit transformingrail.com.

Kent Route Study Needs More Solutions

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.

COLUMN – Grammars Aren’t Gone

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.

Michael with KCC Project Manager Esther Larner, Weald of Kent Chair of Governors David Bower, Weald of Kent Headteacher Maureen Johnson, and Willmott Dixon Build Manager Alex Heath in 2016.
Michael with KCC Project Manager Esther Larner, Weald of Kent Chair of Governors David Bower, Weald of Kent Headteacher Maureen Johnson, and Willmott Dixon Build Manager Alex Heath in 2016.

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.

Michael meets youngest voter

Michael recently met the youngest voter in the Sevenoaks constituency, Ciara Mcgauley, who turns 18 years old on Thursday 8th June.

Michael said: ‘I am delighted that Ciara will take time out from her birthday celebrations to vote on 8th June.  Voting is an important part of our democracy, and a chance to have a say over the future of this country.  It is heartening to see that voters as young as Ciara recognise this.’

Michael Officially Opens The New Beacon Centre

Michael officially opened a new multi-purpose educational centre at The New Beacon preparatory school for boys on 26th May 2017.

He was invited to speak at the event by Headmaster Mike Piercy and was greeted by all the schoolboys and their parents outside the new Centre. Michael asked one of the boys from Reception to join him in cutting the ribbon and officially opening the new building.

Michael was then given a tour of the Centre, where the Headmaster revealed the results of an election poll he had taken with the schoolboys that put Michael and the Conservatives in the lead. This was followed by an hour-long Q&A session with the senior boys inside. Among many questions, the boys asked about Michael’s motivations to become an MP and his views on defence.

Michael said: ‘This is about you, the schoolboys, and the future generations. I’ve always supported this high-achieving prep-school and believe this new Centre will itself become a new beacon for other schools in our area to use.’

Michael Officially Opens Andrews Court

Michael recently officially opened Andrews Court, a new development of affordable rented apartments for the over 55s in Swanley.  New residents joined Moat representatives, local councillors and officers from Sevenoaks District Council for the celebrations.
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Michael addresses the staff and residents.
Delivered by Moat in partnership with Sevenoaks District Council, the Homes and Communities Agency and developer Jenner, Andrews Court is a redevelopment of the old St Andrews Court. The scheme includes larger dwellings, which allow easier access for people who may have wheelchairs or walking frames,  incorporating aspects of Dementia-friendly design – such as different coloured doors and carpets on each floor.
Michael said: ‘What’s important here is partnership; with Sevenoaks District Council and the Government.  These things don’t just happen.  They happen when there is genuine partnership involved.  This redevelopment is vital for the community because it is affordable and designed to ensure residents have the dignity of independence.
The residents here want to be looked after later in life, but they also want to be able to look after themselves.  For all those reason I’m delighted to be here to open Andrews Court.  I look forward to more of these developments coming forward here in Sevenoaks.’

Michael becomes official Conservative candidate for Sevenoaks

Michael has handed in his nomination form to become the official prospective parliamentary Conservative candidate for Sevenoaks.

At the event, Michael said: ‘This is the most important election for years. Over the next four weeks, I will be campaigning for live casinos Canada every vote in Sevenoaks, Swanley, Westerham and every village.’

The forms were handed to the Returning Officer, Dr Pav Ramewal, as soon as the nomination form collections opened.

Michael Welcomes New Local Unemployment Figures

Sir Michael Fallon MP has welcomed new figures showing that unemployment in Sevenoaks remains at an historic low.

The figures, released by the Office National Statistics and Nomis database, show that unemployment in Sevenoaks has decreased by 63 per cent since 2010 and 11 per cent since May 2015.  Sevenoaks has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Michael said: ‘These figures reflect a very robust local economy as we enter the Brexit negotiations.  A country that works for everyone enables people the security of employment and the ability to provide for their family.  I will continue to keep a close eye on our unemployment rates.’