Public Forum on Local Transport
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert was in Storrington on Friday 24 October to take part in a public debate about local transport.
The Public Forum on Local Transport, organised by The Wiggonholt Association, attracted more than 30 people who heard contributions from a panel of politicians and experts. Members of the audience were also invited to speak and ask questions.
During the debate, Mr Herbert supported calls for a better rail service, saying: "We really should be expecting faster trains. The late Bill Deedes used to remind everybody that when he, in later life, took a train from his home in Kent to London, it was slower than the steam train that he had taken when he was young. Now that's absurd."
Mr Herbert recognised that this was primarily an issue for Network Rail rather than Southern, arguing that there was a need for long-term investment in the railway infrastructure.
Commenting on controversial changes to the railway timetable in December last year, Mr Herbert acknowledged that some of his constituents, particularly those who use stations in Ford, Amberley, Arundel and Pulborough, were disadvantaged by slightly longer journeys during off-peak times.
Although passengers had not seen a reduction in train services with the new timetable, Mr Herbert said that he would rather not see any disadvantage to his constituents and would continue to press for faster trains through the Arun Valley.
Mr Herbert confirmed that he had met with Southern's Managing Director Chris Burchell to discuss the issue and accepted that the firm's explanation for the changes was reasonable, agreeing that they offered significant benefits for his constituents in Barnham, along with residents in Chichester, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.
Mr Herbert continued: "I think that the disconnection of coastal communities, which are relatively close to London but with poor transport links, is one of the reasons why places like Littlehampton and Bognor have such significant social deprivation."
Commenting on the provision of bus services, Mr Herbert said: "People work considerably more varied hours now. I suspect that people, particularly in bad weather, will continue to want to use their cars. They are almost certainly going to have a car anyway, because it's impossible to get around in West Sussex if you don't.
"As we've heard, the costs of this kind of provision, running buses that may be empty, are huge. The figures are quite striking, that bus use has been going down by about ten per cent a year for the last two decades. And that's different to rail use, for instance, which has increased considerably in the last ten years.
"There are places that have bucked the trend, for instance in London, where more people are using the buses. But, of course, the conditions are very different in a large city.
"I think we have to decide - are we concerned here about public transport because we're worried about people who find themselves without a means to get about? That's frequently one of my concerns. Or are we trying to adopt policies for people who do have cars, which is the majority, but who we want to adopt greener lifestyles?
"It may be that, in the future, the kind of cars that are going to be produced, and the way in which they are going to be propelled, will mean that we are far less worried about the journeys that people are making.
"I just think that, in the debate going forward, we will probably have to be realistic about the amount of buses that we are going to be able to get running in rural areas.
"I think there are things we can do to increase the smarter use of buses. There are lots of interesting ideas to talk about but I just think you will not, in rural areas, go against this trend that more and more people have cars, and want cars, and want to use them. We should be concentrating on greener technology which makes cars cleaner."
During the debate, Mr Herbert called for more innovative ways to encourage car-sharing, spoke in favour of a new high-speed north-south rail link and sympathised with demands for more late night train services from London.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Herbert thanked The Wiggonholt Association for organising the meeting and said it had been "very interesting and informative".
Nick Herbert was joined on the panel by West Sussex County Council Group Manager for Transport Co-ordination Bill Leath and Southern Rail Market Development Manager John Oliver. The meeting was chaired by Horsham District Councillor Roger Paterson.
The Forum was held at Rydon Community College in Rock Road, Storrington.
Notes for Editors
1. The Wiggonholt Association is a local conservation group. For their website, visit http://www.wiggonholt.org/