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.

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.’

Launch of Swanley in Bloom

IMG_0156Michael helped to launch Swanley in Bloom on Saturday on a visit to the town centre.

He was accompanied by Cllr Victor Southern as he met local representatives and the team from Coolings Garden Centre, which sponsors the event.

Michael said: “I was delighted to help to launch Swanley in Bloom.  This event has a very important role to play in making local people proud of their community and getting people interested in gardening.  I look forward to hearing more about its progress in the coming months.”

Christmas and New Year Message

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Michael speaking at the Sevenoaks Chamber of Commerce Summer Reception.

In a sometimes unsettled year nationally, Sevenoaks, Swanley, Westerham and our villages have continued to go from strength to strength.  Unemployment remains at record low levels.  Our new grammar annexe is being constructed and will open next year.  Our local economy is vibrant and prosperous.

Building on this progress will require more work in the New Year.  Bringing fast broadband to all parts of the constituency is still a top priority.  We must also continue to work hard to protect our much-loved Green Belt from inappropriate development.  Most importantly, though, the spring will see consultation on the new rail franchise and I will use this opportunity to push for the extension of the Oyster network to Sevenoaks.

At the end of a successful year for Sevenoaks and Swanley, I would like to wish all of my constituents a very happy Christmas and New Year.  I am always proud to represent this constituency and I look forward to being as active as ever throughout the area in 2017.

Sir Michael Fallon MP

Michael Impressed By Progress At Teardrop Centre

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Michael with Bruce and Matt Hazell outside the Teardrop Centre. (Credit: Ben Cooper)

On Friday, Michael visited the Teardrop Centre in Swanley.

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Michael speaking to employees. (Credit: Ben Cooper)

The site, which was formerly derelict, has recently been brought back into use by Trimline Distribution Group.  Michael was shown around by Partner Bruce Hazell and heard about the progress that has been made to restore the centre.

He spoke to an assembled group of employees about the Government’s support for the economy and answered questions about his work as Secretary of State for Defence.

Michael Pushes for New Thames Crossing

The potential tunnel approach in Kent (Highways England, OGL)
The potential tunnel approach in Kent (Highways England, OGL)

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 Welcomed to Cottage Day Centre

Michael with Trustees and staff outside the Cottage Day Centre
Michael with Trustees and staff outside the Cottage Day Centre

Michael was welcomed on Friday to Rural Age Concern Darent Valley’s Cottage Day Centre in Fawkham.

Greeted by Chief Officer Liam Curran and Trustees including Cllr Madeleine Rogers and Cllr Faye Parkin, Michael met clients and heard about the charity’s exciting expansion plans.

The day came after his visit to Age Concern’s refurbished shop in the centre of Swanley in April.

Michael speaking to Community Warden Jackie West and Amy Clarke
Michael speaking to Community Warden Jackie West and Amy Clarke

Michael said: “I was delighted to meet clients and staff at the day centre.  It offers a vital service for older people living in rural areas in the north of my constituency.  We need facilities like this to be bigger and even better and I look forward to supporting Age Concern’s efforts to expand.”

Michael Opens Disability Friendly Swing in Swanley Park

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Mcihael with the Mayor of Swanley, Cllr Shanker Gaire, Kerry Rogers and her family.

On Saturday, Michael cut the ribbon on the first piece of disabled friendly equipment to be installed in Swanley Park.  He was joined by local councillors, the Mayor of Swanley, Cllr Shanker Gaire, and local resident Kerry Rogers and her family.

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Michael with Kerry Rogers and her daughter Maddison.

Michael said: “I was delighted to open the new piece of disabled friendly equipment at Swanley Park.  I am particularly pleased that even more children will now be able to make the most of what the park has to offer.  With the impressive fundraising efforts of the Mayor of Swanley, Shanker Gaire, and the hard work of local councillors, I am sure this will be only the first of many improvements.”

Swanley Town Council has committed to building an extension to the existing playground in Swanley Park which will provide disability friendly and sensory playground equipment.  Cllr Gaire’s fundraising efforts are supporting this commitment and the council will shortly be inviting companies to submit bids and design ideas for the extension.

 

Column: We Needs to Give Our Young People the Skills to Succeed

In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about helping young people to develop skills:

Last month, unemployment in Sevenoaks fell to its lowest recorded level.  Even more encouragingly, the level of youth unemployment in my constituency is now just one percent, down by over three quarters since 2010.

I am always impressed by the students I meet when I visit schools in Sevenoaks.  But academic achievement is only part of the story.  To maintain this employment record, our young people need to be given the chance to develop the skills and experiences that it takes to succeed.

Opportunities like National Citizen Service (NCS) are the best way to do that.  NCS has already enabled more than 200,000 teenagers, like those I’ve met from Sevenoaks, to take part in adventure challenges, skills development and social action.

Research has shown that nine out of ten participants find their experience worthwhile.  But it doesn’t just benefit them.  Getting involved is proven to make young people more likely to volunteer, more likely to vote, and more likely to be involved in their community.

Even on a smaller scale, opportunities like this can be found everywhere.

In June I visited Supajam, an innovative project in Swanley which is successfully helping teenagers who have struggled in formal education to learn about the music industry and through it to learn basic lessons in numeracy and literacy.  Instead of an uncertain future, the vast majority move into further education, employment or training when they leave.

Earlier this month I joined Westerham Sea Cadets for one of their regular boating sessions on Chipstead Lake.  The Sea Cadets offer practical training in the water and the confidence-building and self-esteem that comes with it, as well as valuable courses and certificates.

These opportunities are creating a new generation of well-rounded individuals with the skills they require to succeed.  But they also have huge social benefits – strengthening our communities now and into the future.