08:24 Wednesday 12th September 2012
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: As we’ve heard from lots and lots of people this morning, public transport in the Fens is a bit of a disaster really. What can we do? Fenland the worst place in the country. .. Earlier we spoke to Joe Williams, Policy Adviser from Sustrans. He explained how this league table was calculated. (TAPE)
JOE WILLIAMS: It’s looking at where there are increasing levels of poverty, where people are a long way from bus or train stations, and a long way from amenities. Plotting those things together, we see a quite stark picture emerging across the country, and I think some of the areas in your patch are particularly badly affected. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well Councillor Kit Owen from Fenland District Council has been in talks with Network Rail recently, to improve rail services. Morning Kit.
KIT OWEN: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it going to happen?
KIT OWEN: Oh we hope so, in due course. We have a plan. We have a strategy. We haven’t got any money.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s the point then?
KIT OWEN: Network Rail …
PAUL STAINTON: What’s the point … whoah whoah whoah Kit. Kit. What’s the point in having a plan if you can’t put it into practice?
KIT OWEN: Because unless you’ve got a plan, you can’t say to people we want money for a b c x and y and z. If you’ve got a plan, you can make sure the money is directed at specifics. We are looking at .. I know you’ve got March Archer coming on .. and we’re looking very closely at Manea. He knows we’re looking very closely at Manea, trying improve the facilities there.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. You build a load of houses next to the train station, but ..
KIT OWEN: I didn’t build the houses. People built the houses. The train station wasn’t there .. or the train station was there when they were built.
PAUL STAINTON: You’ve got a plan though, haven’t you?
KIT OWEN: God, you’ll be saying people in Heathrow didn’t know airport was there next.
PAUL STAINTON: No, I’m saying Kit you said you’d got a plan.
KIT OWEN: We’ve got a plan. That’s correct.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. They go and build a load of houses next to a train station they can barely use.
KIT OWEN: Well I don’t see what connection you’re making.
PAUL STAINTON: Well, what’s your plan?
KIT OWEN: The plan is to improve the facilities at Whittlesea, March and Manea, to enhance the facilities available so people can use the railway. And increase the number of trains.
PAUL STAINTON: You mentioned Mark Archer. He’s with us. District Councillor for Manea. Mark, have you seen the plan? Are you happy with the plan?
MARK ARCHER: Yes, hello Paul. Yes I have seen the plan. No, I’m not happy with it. I’m signing up to work with the team on the plan, but the plan isn’t ambitious enough. They’re talking about perhaps having improved services in twenty years time. That isn’t going to help my village at all for the next twenty years. We have two and a half thousand people live in this village. And we have two trains a day stop. It’s a mainline station. The trains come through every fifteen minutes. There’s lots of excuses from the rail companies why they don’t stop the trains, but they can’t stop them. Every fifteen minutes a train comes through. What should happen is the franchise for this area is being renegotiated in 2014. The County Council and the Government should force whoever takes over this franchise to provide more services from the get-go. In 2014 we should have more trains stopping at Manea Station.
PAUL STAINTON: So the fact that you’ve got no money shouldn’t stop the plan being implemented a bit quicker. You’re going to get the money from the train operating companies?
KIT OWEN: Well I hope we’re going to get the decision of the train operationg companies. One of our main concerns to meet Mark’s aspirations is to get the line electrified between Ely and Peterborough. If we were able to achieve that, then we could have more trains that were stopping at Manea March and Whittlesey. At the moment, the diesel service, because of the speed it doesn’t move at, prevents more stopping at Manea. And I would like to improve that.
MARK ARCHER: All these things Kit is saying are true. These are excuses why the trains are not stopping at the moment. They could stop trains at Manea Station today, if they wanted to. They just don’t want to, and there’s not enough pressure being applied by the county Council and national government to make them stop. We have people living in my village who are on the dole, or unemployed, or on low wages, having four cars. They have to run cars. All their money is going. They have to run cars to be able to get to work, to get to the benefits offices, to get to amenities. People are actually living without food to run their cars.
KIT OWEN: Well we have other options apart from trains. We have a bus service. We have a taxi service, we have the F.A.C.T. service, we have the hospital car service, we have the car-care scheme. The F.A.C.T. service costs £5 a year. If you’re in receipt of a bus pass, after nine thirty that will take you doorstep to doorstep on a phone call the previous day. We’ve got a lot of transport facilities. It’s not just trains.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. But a train line is an artery that brings in investment as well, doesn’t it? There’s been much talk about opening up this train line to Wisbech as well. Is that feasible?
KIT OWEN: (LAUGHS) There’s a lot of talk about it. Yes.
MARK ARCHER: Paul, what should be happening is the central government and the Conservative-controlled County Council should be investing in rural transport, not cutting back funding for public transport. They should be diverting some of the tens of millions of pounds they spend on the infrastructure and the cities, and spend it in the rural community, which is the major part of Cambridgeshire.
PAUL STAINTON: Time for a debate guys. We’re having one this morning, and it’s going well. We should have a big big debate then with the County Council, should we?
KIT OWEN: Because we’re out in the Fens, so to speak, we tend to get ignored. They don’t bother about the infrastructure here so much as the other parts of Cambridgeshire and the rest of the country.