Public Transport: Carshalton and Wallington Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

Public Transport: Carshalton and Wallington

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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Mr Deputy Speaker, as we approach the recess, may I wish you and all colleagues a very happy Easter?

Today, I would like to address the adequacy of public transport in my Carshalton and Wallington constituency, which is one of the worst boroughs for public transport connectivity in Greater London. Being able to move around quickly and conveniently, as well as easily to commute to jobs and businesses across London, is vital for a vibrant economy and community, and my constituents living on the edges of London and Surrey deserve the same levels of connectivity that the rest of our capital enjoys.

I would like to mention a variety of areas of public transport from trains to buses, the Overground and, of course, our roads. There are also areas where transport provision could be much strengthened, and I will no doubt touch on some of those a little later. My constituents in Carshalton and Wallington have been deprived of consistent and reliable public transport by the Mayor of London, backed up by a Liberal Democrat council. Rather than help improve our connectivity, the Mayor and the council have overseen the shelving of the tram extension; the scrapping entirely of the Go Sutton bus; the possibility of reducing bus services such as the 410; the scrapping of the 455, and replacing it with an inconvenient existing route; and all this while bringing in the so-called Superloop, which is just the rebranding of an existing bus route.

Before the pandemic, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) were keen to begin discussions on an extension to the London Overground from West Croydon to Sutton, but the sheer mismanagement of TfL’s finances by the Mayor means that is now unlikely. To almost no one’s surprise, the Mayor is asleep at the wheel, otherwise occupied with his vanity projects, and too busy imposing the ultra low emission zone on my constituents. He seems content to leave my constituency stranded without a public transport system that it can be proud of.

Since the pandemic, rail services to stations at Carshalton, Wallington, Hackbridge and Carshalton Beeches have been running at a reduced level. Regular, consistent services are vital to connect my constituents with employment, education and essential services in other parts of London, and of course Surrey. That reduced service means fewer trains from Carshalton to London Victoria. Indeed, something like half the existing services are running, which has meant a significant reduction in accessibility and convenience. Off-peak services from Carshalton Beeches and Wallington to West Croydon and beyond have been reduced from six to four trains per hour. Fortunately, Thameslink services to Blackfriars have remained unchanged, which offers some semblance of stability, but the overall picture paints a concerning narrative of dwindling connectivity and accessibility for my constituents.

I have long campaigned for, and been successful in convincing rail operators to restore, some of the peak-time services post covid, as well as extending the number of carriages on some peak-time services. However, those services are still too far from what they used to be, and my mailbag is often filled with correspondence from constituents who have been unable to board extremely busy weekend rail services made up of just four or five carriages. I would appreciate any support the Minister can provide to help convince rail operators to restore more peak-time rail services, as well as adequate numbers of carriages on trains and adequate weekend services.

Staying on the topic of rail, I wish to thank Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Rail, which operates Southern and Thameslink, for their continued engagement with me in a number of different areas. One of those is the southbound platform at Hackbridge station, and we have now secured funding to fix what I call the Hackbridge gap problem. That gap is a huge step down from train to platform. It is extremely dangerous, and many people have fallen down. The issue has become so serious that some people have had to travel on to the next stop at Carshalton, and come back to Hackbridge via the northbound line because they simply did not feel safe disembarking from Hackbridge station. I am glad that we have secured funding to do that, and I look forward to seeing the project get under way.

I have also been campaigning hard for step-free access to the southbound platform at Carshalton Beeches station. We have put in several Access for All applications over the years, and I hope that the Minister will give some indication as to when the next round might be available for comment. I sincerely hope that we will be successful this time round, so that once again people do not have to travel on to Sutton, the next station, and come back to Carshalton Beeches the other way in order to disembark safely.

Moving slightly outside my constituency, if I may, another area that would greatly improve transport for my constituents—indeed, this is probably the major sticking point when it comes to increasing rail capacity for my constituency and most of suburban London—is the Croydon area remodelling scheme, which is the major junction on the Brighton main line and the suburban rail network in south London and the home counties. The project does a number of things. It would upgrade East Croydon station and the surrounding rail infrastructure to enhance capacity and efficiency, and it encompasses several pivotal elements, including the revitalisation and renovation of the station itself, the remodelling of Selhurst junction, which is where trains are becoming congested, and the expansion of railway tracks north of East Croydon.

The capacity issues that that project would resolve are often the sticking point for running more rail services in the region. Indeed, GTR and Network Rail have spoken regularly about their ambitions to make suburban rail services a lot more like the metro system that we have on the London underground—a sort of turn-up-and-go system, rather than the strict and limited timetable we currently have.

By delivering on the Croydon area remodelling scheme, or the Croydon bottleneck, we would help alleviate the congestion, which would be good not just for my constituents, but for the majority of London and the south-east. It would unlock rail capacity all the way down to Brighton and parts of the south coast, as well as in the capital. In the words of the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman):

“In the current economic context, it is more important than ever for the enhancement schemes we take forward to be affordable and respond to changes in demand for travel”.

That is exactly what the Croydon area remodelling scheme would deliver.

Moreover, as we await updates to the rail network enhancements pipeline, it is essential to acknowledge the broader context in which the Croydon area remodelling scheme operates. The Government’s commitment to rail enhancements, shown through the Network North announcements, reflects an effort to modernise and expand railway infrastructure across the country, and they should be commended for that. The Croydon area remodelling scheme would bring a more efficient, sustainable and interconnected transport network to London and the south-east, and show clear improvements, not least to rail capacity, for my constituents in Carshalton and Wallington.

Finally, I want to talk about connectivity by road, which is still the most common form of transport in my constituency. The one thing that is attacking my constituents the most and causing them the most grief is the dreaded expansion of the ultra low emission zone. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), who brought in a Bill to overturn ULEZ. It was incredibly welcome that the Government gave it their backing, but very disappointing that Labour and the Liberal Democrats tried to prevent the Bill from progressing. In fact, Labour Members talked out the Bill to prevent its passage through this House.

As the Secretary of State has rightly said, ULEZ is a cruel form of taxation affecting the poorest in society and hitting heavily those who have older motor vehicles that they simply cannot afford to upgrade, with or without a scrappage scheme. My constituents regularly raise their concerns about ULEZ with me, and I completely agree with them. As I have stressed, the Mayor fails to acknowledge the poor connectivity of Carshalton and Wallington. On top of that, he has decided to tax the most hard-working, poorest Londoners. It is time that the pollution argument that is often made when it comes to ULEZ was eradicated. Genuine concern for the environment would involve a complete ban of non-compliant vehicles, not a charge to use them. Provided that Khan finds himself with an additional £12.50 per car in the TfL coffers, people can drive as they please.

The evidence is clear from the Mayor’s own impact assessment and assessments that have been done since that this is not about air quality, but about the Mayor’s inability to manage TfL’s finances. The expansion scheme was roundly rejected by the people of London, as can be evidenced through his consultation, yet the Mayor, backed by the Lib Dems and the Greens in City Hall, all gleefully voted in favour of it. In fact, the Lib Dems boasted that it was their idea in the first place. The Mayor went ahead with this tax on motorists, and he did not even mention it in his manifesto to get elected.

I urge caution to those voters who are now being told by the Mayor that he will not bring in any more charges if he gets re-elected—do not believe it. We know that the Mayor of London is currently looking, and has employed people in TfL to look, at a pay-per-mile scheme, which means that every single car driver in Greater London will be charged not only for using their car, no matter whether it is compliant, but for how long and how far they drive it. We must reject that. We must get rid of the Mayor of London on 2 May and replace him with someone who will not charge car drivers, and that is Susan Hall.

Between 26 September and 6 November, in the early stages of the expanded ULEZ, something like 2,700 fines were issued in Sutton, and nearly 100,000 in London as a whole, once again proving that ULEZ is simply a money-making scheme. I have heard from many of my constituents that they have not been accepted for the scrappage scheme. Only about a third of applications in my borough have been accepted so far, yet these people simply cannot afford to upgrade their vehicles. That places a huge burden on people and is a threat to their livelihoods.

The ULEZ charge means that elderly people are isolated in their homes because they cannot afford to get in the car and leave, and people are not coming to visit them. Small businesses either have to pass the £12.50 charge on to their customers or absorb it, at a time when they are struggling as well. It means the Royal Marsden cancer hospital has to refund cancer patients £12.50 a day to come to Sutton to receive treatment for cancer. The NHS should not be having to reimburse ULEZ charges to cancer patients. There should not be ULEZ charges on cancer patients, and yet that is the reality we live with in Sutton. Nurses, doctors, teachers, parents, charities and businesses are all being affected by the ULEZ charge, and hard-working Londoners deserve better.

To conclude, I ask the Minister whether he will continue to work with me to see what we can do to improve public transport connectivity at a time when the Mayor is clearly not interested in doing so, and when the Lib Dems gave up on my area a long time ago. I very much welcome the Minister. He has been a great friend to Carshalton and Wallington. He has visited before in other Government roles, so I would be delighted to welcome him back to see the transport opportunities in Carshalton and Wallington.

Will the Minister reiterate from the Dispatch Box that the Mayor’s unwanted ULEZ charge on Londoners does not help my constituents? Labour should have backed the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford last week. The ULEZ charge places a burden on people at a time when they can least afford it. We should be looking to increase the public transport connectivity of London, rather than attacking those who cannot change to an alternative.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call the ever-present Minister, Guy Opperman.

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Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend has brilliant eyesight, because he can see the highlighted passage I was about to read out, showing that 50% of police officers in the Metropolitan police area live outside the London boundary and commute in. The percentage for all emergency workers is probably not far off that. There is no doubt that there will be a recruitment issue in all those sectors. I have spent three and a half weeks of my life in St Thomas’ Hospital, requiring intensive care—and on not one but two occasions, because I am so accident prone. Someone may require overnight nursing care, for example, and a nurse coming into London from outside will be penalised on the day she comes in, and when she leaves her night shift she will be penalised again. She will be landed with a double whammy of a ULEZ charge—and then we are surprised that London hospitals are struggling to retain staff.

Is there evidence that ULEZ is making a dramatic difference to air quality? The evidence that has been set out in a variety of ways suggests that improvement is minimal in some respects, especially in the outer reaches. Is there an impact on the economy? Definitely: there is a negative impact. Is there an impact on public services, public sector workers and the low-income people who, according to the impact assessment, will be more affected by ULEZ expansion? There is not a shadow of a doubt that that is the case. I do not want to get too political on the last day before the Easter recess, but my hon. Friend asked what would happen in the future, and the idea that the present Mayor will not expand the impact of the ULEZ is for the birds. It is a bit like asking, “Are there moustaches in Mexico?” or “Do bears go to the toilet in the woods?” We both know that what the Mayor is proposing to do is to extend the present proposal in a variety of ways.

The key point that was made on Friday by my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French), my right hon. Friends the Members for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) and for Ashford (Damian Green), my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon)—from a sedentary position—and various colleagues from Watford was that great thought should be given to the benefits of this public policy as against the massive burdens that are being imposed. We must clearly consider why we are doing this on an ongoing basis.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington remains a massive champion of this issue, and I should be delighted to see the changes that he seeks. Of course, the Rail Minister will continue to work with him, and good work is being done. We want to continue to support him and his constituents. I commend him for bringing the debate to the House before Easter, and I commend his efforts on behalf of his constituents.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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On behalf of Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers, I echo the words of the Minister and Elliot Colburn in wishing a very happy Easter to everyone who works here to ensure that our democracy progresses. I hope that they will get together with their families and friends, and to those who sadly cannot do that because they are providing services to the rest of us, I say a great thank you on behalf of the nation.

Question put and agreed to.