Friday 2nd December 2016
As you open the second door on your advent calendar it is time for my latest update.
This week has been a busy one for me both in Torbay and Parliament which included the opportunity to present my first Private Member’s Bill. You can read below what happened in the House of Commons as MPs gathered to debate the three bills scheduled for discussion today.
Air Ambulance Groups from across the UK converged on Westminster this week for an exhibition of their work and to celebrate the good news of extra funding from Libor Fines that was announced in the recent Autumn Statement. As the photo above shows I was delighted to meet up with representatives of Devon’s Air Ambulance and to discuss their first few weeks of night flying, plus their recent landing at Torquay Coach Station.
Whilst I regularly raise issues relating to our transport network this week I have had the feeling of becoming a bit of a train buff. Not only did I meet with the Chief Executive of Crosscountry Trains to challenge their plans to cut services, I then received confirmation that a scheme to enhance Torquay Station will be carried out, plus a chance to get a later train from London to the bay is about to start. More on these below.
Here in the bay I was pleased to stop into the Market at Torquay Town Hall on Saturday where a range of stalls and goods were on offer. The market usually takes place on a Thursday and it is always good to see small businesses, market traders and local home based businesses doing well. Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday and I hope lots of readers will take the chance to visit one of the many unique businesses here in the bay to see what they have on offer. Shopping locally does not just help the business you use, but the whole bay as on average more of the £1 spent with a local business stays in our area than if spent in a national chain store.
Finally on Tuesday I met someone from the bay who also gets a chance to sit on the green benches in the House of Commons as Barclays Bank held an event at Westminster. There is more on this below, along with this week’s update which includes: Train Service Petition Launched, Paignton Healthcare Site Visits, Torquay Station Access Works Confirmed, New GWR Timetable Means You Can Stay A Bit Later In London, Vehicle Noise Limits Enforcement Bill, Aleppo Question, Sleeping Rough By-Law, Council Budget Consultation Continues, Changing Places Toilet, 89 Year-Old Jobseeker Aces Interview and finally……Que?
Train Service Petition Launched,
Over the last two weeks I have been campaigning to save our bay’s direct rail link to Birmingham, Manchester and the Midlands.
On Tuesday Anne Marie Morris, Richard Cuming from the ERTC and I met Crosscountry Trains CEO Andy Cooper to discuss their plans and make clear our views on them.
During the meeting CrossCountry unreservedly apologised for the poor way in which they have communicated their proposals to dramatically cut direct rail services to the Bay. In a frank and honest exchange of views however they were adamant that their proposals to cut the services remain unaltered.
Their justification for this was completely unacceptable, that overcrowding on other routes within their network must be addressed by taking rolling stock away from ours. Anne-Marie and I made clear that as local MPs we will lead a campaign against these plans and a petition calling for them to be scrapped has now been launched.
In barely 2 days, my team and the Herald Express have already obtained over 500 signatures from local people and commuters on our petition. If you have not signed it already then click here to do so.
Yesterday I stepped up the pressure on CrossCountry trains by tabling a series of hard-hitting Written Questions in Parliament, scrutinising the terms of their franchise and the way they have applied the rules in seeking to justify these draconian rail cuts.
I am confident we can make a difference on this issue, but it is vital we all make our voices heard on it.
Paignton Healthcare Site Visits,
Yesterday Dr Sarah Wollaston and I organised a series of site visits to view potential sites for future healthcare provision in Paignton.
The group included representatives of the local NHS, Paignton Community Partnership, Torbay Council, the local Ward Councillor, the Clinical Commissioning Group local GPs. At the start of the meeting Dr Sarah and I made clear our previously stated positions in relation to the services provided by Paignton Hospital and our view they must be continued. The trust in response stated that no decisions have been made yet.
The sites we visited included Crossways Shopping Centre, Paignton Library and Victoria Square. All have some potential for new development and to allow a combining of GP services with clinics currently provided at Paignton Hospital. I was particularly keen to explore how each site could be developed to provide bed based care as well.
The visits went well and we ended the tour with a meeting at South Devon College to discuss the future developments at their site, plus how they are looking to provide more training oppotunities for local people in key nursing and social care skills.
Whilst we await the final decision from the local NHS in relation to the overall consultation Sarah and I are continuing to push for alternative plans that preserve more services in Paignton.
Torquay Station Access Works Confirmed
The Department for Transport and Network Rail wrote to me today confirming that substantial investment will be coming to Torquay Train Station, under the Access for All Scheme designed to make stations more accessible for people with disabilities.
The funding for this had been in doubt following a recent review so it is welcome to get this news. The letter advises that Network Rail is currently developing options for the design of the work at Torquay Station, and construction will start as soon as possible with completion by 2019 at the latest.
This significant investment will dramatically improve disabled facilities at Torquay Station and remove the need for wheelchair users to use a nearby bridge to change platforms. This investment is welcome, particularly at a time when we are campaigning for real improvements in our rail infrastructure to reflect the growth of rail travel in recent years.
New GWR Timetable Means You Can Stay A Bit Later In London
A day trip by train to London from the bay is set to get a little bit easier when the new GWR timetable comes into effect.
The last train you can currently catch from Paddington that connects with a service heading to Paignton is the 19:45 departure. Yet this connection involves a 40 minute wait at Newton Abbot for the last train to the bay. This delay means many do not use it and instead drive to Newton Abbot, paying a fee for the car park on top of their fare.
Shortly after being elected I pointed out to GWR that the last train service for Paignton left Newton Abbot only a few minutes before the 20:35 departure from Paddington (The last non-sleeper service of the day from London to Plymouth) arrived. I queried if the Paignton train could be altered to leave a few minutes after this train instead to allow an easy connection.
They agreed and this change will shortly be made meaning an early evening event or business meeting in London should now involve less looking at your watch.
Finally if planning a train journey over the Christmas period do take time to check details of scheduled engineering work to ensure your route is not affected. You can find all the details on the GWR website by clicking here.
Vehicle Noise Limits Enforcement Bill,
I am currently guiding four Private Member’s Bills through Parliament and the first, the Vehicles Noise Limits (Enforcement) Bill, today came before the House for its 2nd reading.
My bill was the 2nd on the Order Paper, yet the first bill proposed by an SNP Member used up all the time available (The much referred to “talk out”) meaning that mine could only proceed if no-one objected to it when formally moved at 2:30pm. One Labour MP quickly shouted “Object” so the debate was then deferred to another day, in this case Friday 13th January.
You can watch this interesting bit of parliamentary procedure by clicking here. It follows the Minister’s contribution and fast forward to 14:30 for it.
Over the last week the images and stories coming out of Aleppo in Syria have shocked the world.
On Monday MPs questioned the Government about what can be done to finally bring an end to the conflict there and secure access for the most basic humanitarian aid. I spoke in the debate and asked Ministers what position the enforcement of international law is now in following such flagrant breaches of it in Syria.
You can read my comments and the Minister’s reply by clicking here.
Sleeping Rough By-Law,
A few residents have been in touch with me about the suggestion that a by-law might be implemented that would, in effect, make sleeping rough in the bay a criminal offence.
I have spoken with Cllr David Thomas, Leader of the Conservative Group on the Council, about it and South Devon’s Police Commander has also been in touch with me to express her views.
Cllr Thomas made clear that any new bylaw would need Councillors to support it. Whilst he could not prejudge a decision he did not see them doing so, not least given Police advice that they already have powers to deal with any genuine issues of ASB, such as aggressive begging and street drinking.
I have read the council document and the Mayor is proposing to carry out a consultation not just about a new by-law, but how the Council provides support to those who are homeless, with a view to tackling some well-known problems with it that can see some struggle to get help. You can read more by clicking here.
Whilst I support the Police and Council taking action to deal with nuisance behaviour and welcome efforts to improve support services for those who are homeless or face losing their home, making the actual act of sleeping rough a criminal offence would be the wrong move.
Council Budget Consultation Continues
The consultation on Torbay Council’s draft budget for 2017/18 is continuing and yesterday two public meetings were held to discuss the plans.
I attended the first meeting at 2pm, although had to leave before the end. The presentation given by the Council’s Chief Executive covered not just proposed savings, but proposals to raise revenue and areas such as Children’s Services that will see increased spending next year.
If you could not get to either of the meetings it is easy to have your say online. Just click here to be taken to the relevant section of the Council’s website.
Changing Places Toilet,
One review mentioned in the Council’s Budget Consultation relates to reviewing how the council operates public toilets across the bay.
Many of the toilet blocks operated by the council are in prominent positions near both beaches and the coast. Whilst the locations may be beautiful it is safe to say some of the toilets are not, with several needing major refurbishment.
One idea mentioned at yesterday’s meeting is to look at working with private developers to allow them to redevelop the sites for commercial uses, that also contain modern public toilet provision. Subject to appropriate agreements being reached this idea does have merit and might also allow a facility missing from our bay, a Changing Places toilet, to be created.
Yesterday I met with members of Torbay Mencap to discuss the lack of a Changing Places Toilet and will be raising with the council whether providing this facility could be included in their future plans.
89 Year-Old Jobseeker Aces Interview,
One local job seeker has been in the news after he secured a job following placing an ad in the Herald Express.
Yet Joe Bartley was no ordinary job seeker. He is an 89 year old Paignton resident whose advert started he wanted a job to “Save me from dying of boredom”!!!
Given his determined spirit it is no surprise that Joe quickly secured his first job interview and started work this week at the Cantina Bar and Kitchen in Youngs Park, Goodrington. You can read his story on the Guardian website by clicking here.
I usually end on a lighter note and this week is no exception, although it is tinged with some sadness.
Earlier today it was announced that Andrew Sachs, who played Torquay’s most infamous Spanish Waiter Manuel, had died aged 86. Whilst his career saw him perform a range of roles it was the Fawlty Towers series set in Torquay that he will be most remembered for.
Thankfully Fawlty Towers is no longer the reality of customer service in the bay, but many visitors still head to the site of the now demolished Gleneagles Hotel where it all started. I wonder if visitors phoning the Hotel to book a room ever had an interesting experience when doing so. Just click here to see what I mean.
That is all for this week and enjoy your weekend.