Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
It is a great pleasure to put forward my case for some substantial improvements to Beeston station in my constituency. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will always be welcome to come to see me and, even more importantly, my constituents in Broxtowe. You are welcome any time, and I would urge you to catch the train and travel from St Pancras. You could come over from Chorley, but it is more likely that you would come up from St Pancras. You would then be able to come to Beeston station.
I have two stations in Broxtowe: Attenborough, which is just a few minutes away from Beeston, and Beeston station. I do not want it to be thought that Attenborough is not important, and that it does not require improvement and upgrading in its own right, but it is fair and true to say that Beeston is the more dominant of the two stations because it serves more than half a million people every year. It offers a greater service to many more destinations than Attenborough does.
Beeston is on the midland main line, one stop down from Nottingham on the way to London St Pancras, through stops such as Loughborough, East Midlands Parkway, Leicester, Market Harborough, Wellingborough, Kettering, Bedford on some occasions, and Luton Airport. The fastest service reaches St Pancras within one hour and 45 minutes. That is a huge improvement over recent years. It is primarily down to the hugely increased investment that has gone into the route thanks to the Government I am proud to support. The time that trains take to get down to London and, obviously, to come back again has really improved, but investment has also meant that the journey down is considerably smoother and more enjoyable.
I am not arguing for one moment that more improvements cannot be made to the service between Nottingham and St Pancras, of which Beeston is a clear beneficiary, and I shall address that in a moment. However, Beeston does not just sit proudly on the midland main line service. It is a stop on the service between Newark and Matlock, on the link into Leicester service, on the Nottingham to Birmingham service and on the Nottingham to Cardiff service. It is possible to get to a large number of destinations directly from Beeston, so it is also an important interchange and connection for a large number of passengers. As I say, well over 500,000 people use Beeston station every year. It serves commuters, general travellers, students at the University of Nottingham, tourists of course—why would they not want to come to Beeston to enjoy its many delights and those of the surrounding area—and the people who are doing business in the area, most notably with great Broxtowe-based businesses such as Boots.
Beeston station has a proud history. It was opened in 1839, so it is not surprising that it is a grade II listed set of buildings. Last year, after a lot of effort, we finally set up the Friends of Beeston Station. A band of keen volunteers has worked incredibly hard since they got themselves together last year to improve the station, and we can already see the huge benefits of that.
It is always difficult—I know that we are not really allowed to refer to props in this place, but if only I could then I would show everybody a photograph of Beeston station. Members would see its beautiful wood canopies, and the original wooden benches, but they would also notice that it is in need of improvement. The Friends of Beeston Station have played an important part in improving the overall appearance of the station, but they are not merely a great band of local people devoted to the station and to the sort of voluntary work that similar groups are doing in stations the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. They are also, quite rightly, a campaigning group and have, for example, produced the report that I have in my hand, which I cannot really flash around but which can be seen on my website—I am sure that you will want to see it, Mr Deputy Speaker. I urge everybody to look at it, as it shows the problem that we have.
The report not only shows the beauty of this great Victorian station, but enables people to begin to understand what the problem is. It is not only unacceptable but rather disgraceful that disabled passengers needing to get from platform 1 to platform 2 or from platform 2 to platform 1 are advised by National Rail to take a taxi. Indeed, East Midlands Trains used to advise passengers to get on another train, to go to Long Eaton in Derbyshire and to use the lifts there before getting a train back to the other platform. I have to say that that advice has now been removed from the website; I cannot imagine why. The problem is simply this: there are no lifts.
The exceptionally good report “Improving Access at Beeston Station”, to which I have referred and which was produced by the Friends of Beeston Station, shows the problem on its cover photograph. I shall describe the problem. At Beeston, there is obviously access directly from the road. Platform 1 has a car park near to it and people can literally walk on to the platform and catch a train that goes up towards Nottingham. The trains from platform 2 go down to St Pancras. Platform 2 has another car park, and it is right that improvements have been made to it. It could be better—the disabled access is not perfect—but it is better than it was.
If someone arrives by car and goes to platform 1 to catch the train to, let us say, Lincoln—an excellent journey and a great place to which to go—when they return, they will arrive on platform 2, so they will want to get their car from the car park at platform 1. If they are disabled or have a buggy or, indeed, if they have heavy luggage—fancy catching a train with luggage, Mr Deputy Speaker—the only way they can make the journey is up a very steep flight of stairs that go up on to the road bridge, then across the road bridge and down the other set of stairs to the other platform. If a person is disabled or has a buggy or heavy luggage, they cannot do that because they obviously cannot go up the steps; instead, they have to go all the way around. It is half a kilometre—it is 13 minutes on a mobility scooter—which is why the advice is to take a taxi all the way around to make the journey. That is clearly unacceptable. Of course, the other thing to do is to go all the way down to Long Eaton in Derbyshire. There is nothing wrong with Derbyshire—mustn’t be rude about Derbyshire—it is a great place, but the previous advice was to go down to Long Eaton on another train, cross using the lifts there and come back up to Beeston and then to the destination car park or wherever.
So that is the problem. Yes, we want to make improvements to Beeston station in any event. It needs more than a lick of paint; it needs improvements. There is a wonderful little footbridge at the other end of the platform that is certainly in need of improvement; indeed, FOBS has already done some work on it. Because this is not the usual half-hour Adjournment debate and I have the time, I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, what a great station Beeston is and why you might want to come to see it and enjoy it. It has a magnificent pub, the Victoria, with a gate that I think I am right in saying is now lawfully open. Someone can catch the train to Beeston station and have a pint of orange juice, or something else, in this fabulous pub. At the end of their time in the Vic, they can catch a train back to wherever they might be going. That just gives an indication of the station’s wonderful characteristics. It has fabulous Victorian history, décor and architecture; it also happens to have a fabulous pub literally off the platform; and, of course, it can take people to a huge variety of destinations directly, or they can go up to Nottingham, which is around five minutes, if not less, up the track, from where they can go onward to even more wonderful and exciting destinations throughout the United Kingdom. It is really important to make the point that people can get a direct train to Newark, which is on the east coast line, giving them even greater access to other parts of the United Kingdom.
In short, then, I am a fan, and it is not acceptable that users of the station—whether they are trying to cross from one platform to another or are coming back from a journey elsewhere so need to get back to the car park at which they started their journey—do not have the access that they should have. They have to make this long, circuitous journey around, which takes time and is not acceptable.
The solution is lifts. Earlier in my speech, I referred to the stops on the way down to St Pancras. I mentioned East Midlands Parkway, Loughborough and Leicester, all of which have lifts, which means that they are properly accessible, especially in this day and age. However, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am pleased to tell you that there is a solution to this problem. It is that old-fashioned thing called money. The Government have made available a very good access-for-all pot of funding for a programme to improve stations. I believe that it sits at record levels and that it is available for people to bid into every five years. Here is a surprise: the latest five-year tranche has very recently opened for new applications, so I am taking my chances by raising the need at Beeston. I know that the Minister is listening and I know that she will have to do things very fairly, but if she has anything in her box of tools so she can shove this up the list we would all be very grateful.
We can demonstrate existing footfall. We have obviously identified the problem. Half a million people are using Beeston station. We can also demonstrate that demand for the station will grow. Just by way of example, we know that 150 new homes are being built literally at the back of my office in Beeston. Another 200 homes are being built at the Myfords site and I think another 250 houses are planned at the Old Beeston business park, which is very close to the station, in the Rylands. We have Boots UK headquarters with all its attendant works and its 8,000 employees. There are other fabulous opportunities coming on stream at the Boots site, with more people and more housing also going into that mix. We have the University of Nottingham quite literally over my border with Nottingham South. That serves 33,500 students. The FOBS document argues that we could even put into the mix the Queen’s Medical Centre, one of the most marvellous hospitals in our country, which is also down the road and which arguably could be also well served by Beeston station.
East Midlands Trains told me that it shares the ambition to see the installation of lifts, but that it does not have the money, which I understand, and it needs to make the application. Sadly, it did not make that application in 2013, but we are in a very different situation now. I am sure that it will now submit an application and of course it absolutely has the support not just of me and the council, but of the wonderful Friends of Beeston Station. I have to mention—we do, rightly, give credit where it is due—people who have put in a great deal of time and effort not just in painting and taking the weeds out of the gutters, but in campaigning. I am talking about Trish Roberts-Thomson, who may be in the Public Gallery, but we are not allowed to refer to that, Sarah Hampton and Chris Palmer, who is himself someone who uses a wheelchair, so he absolutely knows exactly what he is talking about. Sarah and Chris cannot be with us this evening, but I know that they will be watching—or watching on catch-up. [Interruption.] One wonders why anyone would do that, but they are great people and I think they will. Anyway, I shall put it on my email newsletter, so people can watch the debate. Actually, I am not sure that that is always a good idea. It is much better to refer people to Hansard and hope that the Hansard writers are doing their usual great work taking out all the mistakes.
Anyway, I am digressing. This is a serious matter. In this day and age a station of this importance serving as many people as it does, with the potential to serve even more, really should have lifts in it so that it is properly accessible to everybody—not just to disabled people, but to people with luggage, pushchairs and all the rest of it.
We have a tram that goes into Beeston. It is highly controversial, but it is there. One of the big mistakes that was made is that, although there are quite a few tram stops in Beeston, there is not one at the station. [Interruption.] Mr Deputy Speaker, I can see your face and I heard what you just said. It is indeed absurd. If we are to make public transport absolutely work, it is critical that we have connectivity between different branches of a particular type of transport and between different modes and models of transport. That was not done, which, as I say, was a huge mistake. However, we do have a tram, which is not that far away, although not near enough to provide connectivity. We must learn the lesson from that.
I have to mention HS2, because it is important to this whole argument and some of the controversies around the midland main line. I like HS2 and am a big supporter of it. There is no debate in my mind about whether we should be building it; my only criticism is that we are not doing it more quickly. I and my constituents particularly like HS2 because we get the east midlands hub in Broxtowe, at a place called Toton Sidings. We know that HS2 is not about substituting for existing systems but about the additional capacity. It is not even necessarily about speed; it is about capacity and having more trains on the new line, serving different people.
One of the arguments made against HS2 is that it has been at the cost of the midland main line. There was a lot of disappointment when the Government rode back from full electrification all the way up to Sheffield, because frankly in a modern age we need electrified trains, I would suggest. Electrification delivers better, more efficient and smoother rail transportation. There was a lot of disappointment, but I give full credit to the Government, because there will be electrification at least up to Corby and Kettering. That will make a big difference. I need to be convinced about these biofuel trains, but there are two things that I do accept.
One is that, through the investment in our railways, the Government have ensured that the journey is not just quicker, as I identified earlier, but much more pleasant. For example, big bends have been taken out, so that people are not thrown around all over the place. The other thing that has happened is improvements to other stations on the line. It is just that we have missed out in Beeston. I am sure the Minister will do everything that she can to change that but, if we are to make the case to the public about HS2, it cannot come at the cost of great lines such as the midland main line. They, too, must have the investment that they need to survive.
In this modern day and age, with the footfall that we have and the even greater potential that we know is coming, it is just not acceptable for there not to be full access at Beeston station, so in addition to the improvements that we need in any event, what we want more than anything is lifts. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) on securing this important debate about access to Beeston station and on highlighting the good work done locally to take the project forward. She is not only a powerful advocate for her constituency; I believe she also nurtured and supported the local action group, Friends of Beeston Station, and put it on the map. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Trish, Chris and Sarah—unfortunately I did not catch their surnames, but no doubt they will be watching this on the website or see it in my right hon. Friend’s newsletter.
In recent years, expectations about accessibility have changed, both among disabled passengers and in the railway industry. That is particularly so following the success of our transport networks in providing accessible journeys during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. As my right hon. Friend mentioned, the extra investment in our rail infrastructure has meant improved services and greater passenger satisfaction. Unfortunately, though, many of our mainline railway stations date from Victorian times. These 19th-century stations, including Beeston, which I believe opened as far back as 1839, were not built with the needs of 21st-century passengers in mind. Interestingly, I tried to look up who the MP was in 1839 and the computer said, “Do not know,” so maybe my right hon. Friend can let me know at some point. No doubt, the constituency did not have as strong a female advocate as it does today.
The Victorian stations have left us with a huge task in opening up the rail network to disabled passengers. Only around a fifth of stations have proper step-free access into the station and between platforms. Clearly, accessible stations make a huge difference to the journey experience not only of people with reduced mobility, but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, those carrying heavy luggage or pushing unwieldy pushchairs.
I understand how important stations are to passengers, and every rail journey involves at least two of them, but as well as providing access points to the network, they are often important to the wider community.
I am keen to improve access for disabled passengers across the rail network. The Department has therefore continued and, indeed, extended the Access for All programme. As my right hon. Friend will know, the inclusive transport strategy published on 25 July included a commitment to extend our Access for All programme across the next rail control period, starting in 2019, with an additional £300 million of funding from the public purse. This funding is the most appropriate way to deal with the critical areas that she mentioned regarding accessibility challenges at Beeston station.
It must be noted that the station has not been nominated previously. I know that my right hon. Friend is as curious about that as I am, and she may want to ask the train operating company why it is the case. However, we are where we are, and we have asked the industry to nominate stations for the new funding by 16 November this year.
To be fair, the company has to prioritise the stations that it thinks are absolutely at the top of the pile. There is at least one station locally—Langley Mill, I think—where access is even worse, although it is difficult to believe how it could be. To be fair to the company, it had to put forward its top priorities, but I hope that Beeston—and, I think, Bingham, which the Minister will not know—are now right at the top of its list.
My right hon. Friend is being as fair as she usually is, but today we have put Beeston on the map.
The deadline is 16 November. Nominated stations will be selected based on their annual footfall, which we heard about, weighted by the incidence of disability in the area. We will take into account local factors such as proximity to a hospital or the availability of third-party funding for the project. We will also ensure that there is a fair geographical spread of projects across the country. I encourage my right hon. Friend to liaise with East Midlands Trains and ask it to put the station forward and, ideally, to seek a proportion of third-party match funding that will help to weight the business case.
This new funding builds on the success of the Access for All programme, which was first launched in 2006 as a 10-year programme, but which we have continued to extend. We are also pressing the industry to comply with its legal obligations to ensure that work at stations meets current accessibility standards, not just on flagship projects such as Crossrail or the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street, but as part of the business-as-usual work of their renewals programme—for example, by making sure that any replacement bridges have lifts or ramps. It is important that the industry meets its obligations to anyone who needs assistance, whether or not booked ahead of time. People should expect the best possible help to use the trains, particularly at stations that do not have proper accessible facilities.
My right hon. Friend has written to the Department several times asking for a Minister to visit Beeston station to see the fantastic work that has been carried out by Friends of Beeston Station, to admire its beauty and to see some of the issues that it faces. I am delighted to accept that invitation, and I look forward to visiting the station after the conference recess. I will work with my right hon. Friend to continue to help her to champion her constituency.
I am grateful to the Minister for being able to come up so quickly. I need to put it on record that the Leader of the Opposition approached me earlier today and told me that he was supporting my campaign and that of Friends of Beeston Station on the basis that he, too, has visited Beeston station and seen the problem for himself. I have suggested that he need not come up again to see it. I am delighted that the Minister will be coming up, but I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support as well.
My right hon. Friend is inundated with guests. No doubt, she will take care of me. I am keen to have a drink at the Beeston pub she mentioned, and maybe all the other guests could pop along, invited or not.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks on HS2. We had a powerful debate on it this morning. It is important to remember that it is about not just capacity, but ensuring that we have productivity and prosperity north of London.
I hope that my right hon. Friend and other Members have been reassured that the Government are committed to investment that will improve rail services for all. The Government will ensure that passengers continue to benefit from our record levels of investment. The Department recognises the need to look to the future, to ensure that the railways work for those who use them—passengers, freight and local communities. That means delivering the enhancements already on the way, as well as working with others to develop the next generation of improvements.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s invitation and look forward to visiting Beeston and seeing the application.