MP Demands Transport Secretary’s Assurance

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.”

Fresh Doubts over Thameslink Fast Service

Michael will meet Transport Secretary Chris Grayling next Tuesday after expressing fresh doubts over the deliverability of the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East yesterday morning.

During an interview on BBC Radio Kent, the Sevenoaks MP revealed he was “horrified” to learn that the Invitation to Tender document for the new South Eastern rail franchise outlines a hypothetical plan to delay the service “indefinitely”.

He said: “I’m now seriously beginning to wonder if this service will ever be delivered”.

The fast service was due to start in December 2018, but has been delayed until 2019 to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, according to the government.

Michael: “This is bad news for people in Maidstone East, but this also affects Otford and Swanley, because families, businesses, everyone has been looking forward to these regular express services to London for a long time.

My constituents in Sevenoaks have fast services to London through Southeastern.  The Thameslink trains from Maidstone East would balance the level of service in my constituency: that’s what we were promised, and that’s what we’re going to insist on.”

The Sevenoaks MP went on to say that while rail timetabling is “complicated”, local stakeholders “should at least insist that we have an hourly service, which would help reduce some of the peak capacity issues”.

Michael has lead the campaign to deliver the new Thameslink fast service in Kent.  He recently said the Transport Secretary’s decision to postpone the service betrays Kent commuters.

Kent MPs Signal Concerns to New Rail Minister

Michael has today (12) organised a letter to the new Rail Minister signalling concerns about the postponed new Thameslink fast service, which has been signed by four other Kent MPs also affected by the delays.

Following his representations to Govia Thameslink Railway about his alternative phased proposals earlier in the week, the Sevenoaks MP took the opportunity to put the issue on the new Rail Minister’s radar.  It is the first time the local MP has took charge of a county-wide campaign since returning to the backbenches in November last year.

The letter reads: “Many families and businesses have made long-term plans on the basis of this service starting in 2018.  Our constituents are therefore concerned that the services could be postponed further still, beyond 2019.

We are extremely disappointed at this situation, which has been taken without consultation, and would appreciate your time to discuss alternative phased proposals as soon as possible.

It is vital that the new plans avoid punishing businesses and commuters in our constituencies who have anticipated and planned for the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Click here to read the letter in full:      Page 1    Page 2

Michael at Royal Opening in Swanley

Michael helped officially open the new Swanley Citizens Advice in Swanley Shopping Centre with HRH The Princess Royal this month.

Citizens Advice is an independent charity that provides free, confidential and impartial advice and information for those who need it.  Its trained volunteers help with drafting letters, advocacy and preparation for tribunals.

As Patron of Citizens Advice since 1990, HRH The Princess Royal greeted volunteers and spoke to Michael about the importance of developing strong working relationships between MPs and Citizens Advice.

Welcoming HRH The Princess Royal’s comments, the local MP said: “Citizens Advice is essential to my work.  Its advisers are experts who are trained to deal with very difficult cases, so I am pleased that locally we have such a good relationship and look forward to our continued collaboration.”

Fallon Cross at “Betrayal of Kent Commuters”

Michael has expressed his “severe disappointment” at the “betrayal of Kent commuters” in a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling today.

The letter was sent in response to a letter Michael received from the Transport Secretary, explaining why the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London had been postponed until at least December 2019.

Having earlier contacted Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and the Rail Minister about the matter, Michael had wanted a comprehensive explanation from the Transport Secretary.  Instead, the reply failed to address two of his key concerns: why a consultation had not been launched and why a similar fast service will be delivered on-time in Sussex.

“Govia’s decision is a betrayal of Kent commuters and my constituents”, the MP said.

“This news means that there will have been a delay of over a year and a half from the originally-planned completion date.”

The Sevenoaks MP has called for an urgent meeting with the Transport Secretary and GTR to consider “an alternative schedule that avoids punishing Kent’s commuters.”

Seeking Stronger Ties with Swanley

Michael has recommended that the town of Swanley be formally recognised in the name of his constituency in his response to the Revised Boundary Proposals 2018.  Should his request be granted, the official name of the Sevenoaks constituency would become Sevenoaks & Swanley.

Revised proposals for all the parliamentary seats were published in October by the Boundary Commission for England.  Under the new proposals, the Sevenoaks constituency remains largely the same, but would gain the Wrotham, Ightham and Stansted ward from Tonbridge, increasing the size of the Sevenoaks electorate to 72,561.

The review aims to make constituencies more equal in size.  Parliament has also approved the principle of reducing the size of the House of Commons.  If the majority of MPs support the detailed plans, the proposed changes will take effect at the next election.

Happy with the boundary proposals, the local MP took the opportunity to recognise Swanley as a key part of his constituency.

He said: “My constituency is special because it is diverse.  The town of Swanley is very different from the town of Sevenoaks, and each contributes equally to the character of the constituency.  I refer to my constituency as Sevenoaks & Swanley, and I believe that now is the time that Swanley be recognised in its formal name.”

Fast-Service Delay ‘Not Good Enough’

Michael has pressed the government for answers following news that the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London due to start from December 2018 has now been postponed until at least December 2019.

The local MP submitted a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Rail Minister about the matter.  The Rail Minister answered the questions last week, writing:

“Learning lessons from previous major changes and to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, the Secretary of State for Transport asked Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to propose options to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from the introduction of the Thameslink timetable and operational changes. GTR’s proposal increases the number of services through central London more gradually than had been planned, beginning in May 2018 and ending in December 2019.

The changes have been selected as the best option to benefit the most passengers across the wider south east network. The new Thameslink services from Maidstone East will now be delivered in December 2019.”

Michael has also written to the Transport Secretary for an explanation, demanding he provide reasons for not having consulted on proposals before having taken the decision.

Before writing to the Transport Secretary, Michael was informed by GTR that the decision had been taken by the Department for Transport.

Michael said: “This is not good enough.  We need confirmation that operators will still achieve full capacity on this route, as planned, in 2018.  I await the Transport Secretary’s explanation for not having consulted with stakeholders before taking this decision.”

‘Small Businesses Saturday’ in Swanley

Michael took the opportunity to celebrate local businesses over the weekend in aid of Small Business Saturday – a campaign to raise awareness of small businesses and their importance to the economy.

He visited a number of businesses in Swanley and Westerham, ranging from hairdressers to retailers.  Feedback from those he met highlighted the innovation and creativity small businesses require in order to thrive.

Michael started the day outside Michael inspecting the ETMS lorry with owner, MartinSwanley Town Council, where he met the owner of Exhibition Traffic Management Services, Martin.  The company hires and trains local young people and helps the council with voluntary projects such as litter-picking.

The local MP then walked through Swanley Shopping Centre, where he visited Rural Age Concern Darent Valley, an independent charity, and RAW Hair, a hairdressers.  It was the tale of two businesses with plenty of customers but one struggling with high rent.

Walking down the High Street, Michael was struck by the number of empty lots where businesses have left and moved up into the Shopping Centre. The owner of Towes Convenience Store, Darren, said business was slower due to the traffic and restricted parking in the area.  He hopes his Hermes parcel collection system will help bring in more customers, and his array of Eastern European foods and drinks will keep them coming back.

Lastly, the local MP visited K2 Flooring – a company Sir Michael was pleased to discover has existed since the 1960s under the same family ownership.

Later in the day, the MP visited businesses in Westerham during Late Night Shopping and watched the turning on of the Christmas lights.

Michael said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy.  We could all learn from small businesses: they work hard and invest their own money to employ other people.  As we approach Christmas, I encourage everyone to think ‘small’ and support our great local businesses.”

Local MP Joins Kent Campaign for New Medical School

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.’

New Housing Strategy Launched

Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s newly adopted Housing Strategy at this year’s Sevenoaks Housing Forum.

The launch, which took place on Friday (3), follows the completion of the Housing Needs Survey in winter 2016.  The Housing Strategy document is the response to this survey.

The Strategy aims to tackle the shorter life expectancies associated with poor quality housing, using HERO officers to combat homelessness at an early stage and develop suitable housing options for young professionals and an ageing population.

With a focus on health, the document outlines a plan to support vulnerable people with mental or physical health issues, older people and military personnel re-adapting to civilian life.

In his address, Michael highlighted the ‘chronic issues poor housing causes’, particularly to individual wellbeing.  He asserted that ‘growing up or getting stuck in unsuitable housing are injustices that we must address in order to build a country that works for everyone’.

Michael hopes the Strategy will stand the test of time.  He said: ‘I’m delighted to support Sevenoaks District Council’s hard work to ensure our residents can access the housing that is right for them.  I hope their strategy will become an example that is followed by other councils across the country.’