There are some positive items of good news that have emerged from Parliament in the last few days, which are worthy of mention and demand a bit of additional nudging. Good news for travellers on the Brighton Mainline? Last week a report was published that was commissioned by the Gatwick Growth Board and was published by Tessa Jowell and Steve Norris, ex Ministers from Labour and Conservative Parties. The report argues for the redevelopment of East Croydon Station in a way that would enable up to 8 extra trains an hour to run on the Brighton mainline. This would be something that most commuters would welcome, providing of course the organisation running the network can address the chaos which Southern is currently responsible for . The article also claimed that the changes would lead to the creation of 13,000 jobs, presumably mostly in the construction industry which is already struggling to attract the right skills in terms of engineering. Such a demand would need to be planned for and so we need our Government and education providers to participate in a meaningful discussion in an informed manner. Personally one of the details of such a proposal is the communication systems at a station which is already under great stress when trains occasionally arrive on the wrong platform and travellers are faced with a sprint from one platform to another. This is difficult enough for some of us, but impossible for travellers with mobility limitations. I may be being unduly pessimistic, but more platforms suggest an even more challenging environment. A few years ago I made a trip to East Croydon to meet with an executive at Southern Rail to discuss a matter which was of interest to me in my professional role. My task was to persuade Southern to consider a new public address system that has been developed and proven in Australia. The system uses well understood concepts to ensure that the sound on each platform is better contained, leading to an improved quality of sound for people on the platform, meaning that travellers can actually understand the announcements being made. This would help reduce last minute rushes. The system also reduces the amount of spill out to other platforms and outside of the station. Southern were interested in the idea and willing to introduce it on a station to trial out the technology. The obstruction then became Network Rail who took the view that their existing systems are adequate and they made it clear that they have no desire to look at new ideas that they have not developed themselves. If we are to see an upgrade to the mainline as a result of this report we need to ensure that not only are the Government willing to help fund it, that we have the right skills available to do the work, but that all of the obstacles presented by people such as Network Rail are addressed and that the finished system in quality as well as quantity for travellers than the existing arrangements.
Good news for rural communities? A second piece of good news that emerged from Parliament last week was the announcement of the election of the Chairs of the various Parliamentary Select Committees. These are recognised as very powerful roles outside of the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet. I am pleased that Nicky Morgan won the role as Chair of the Treasury select committee, beating off competition from Jacob Rees Mogg who would have been severely conflicted due to his outside interests. Another winner was Neil Parish, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton who was re-elected as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee. This role was contested by Zac Goldsmith who bizarrely had the support of several Labour shadow cabinet members. Zac has shown over the last couple of years that he has mixed views of what integrity means, resigning as a Tory on ‘principle’, standing as an Independent unopposed by the Tories and then rejoining the Tories less than six months later so he could get back into Parliament. Jeremy Leggett of Action in Rural Sussex tweeted his congratulations to Neil so that is a good sign, however he also called on Neil to focus on the needs of rural based young people as part of the work of the committee. This is a no brainer and it is vital that the committee does seek to address this issue. We are faced with a Government that has limited appetite for making meaningful changes outside of Brexit, it would be good to see change coming from the back benches. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that of 27 select committees, only 10 were contested. I had understood that Labour believe they are duty bound to fight every election that is presented to them?