Monday, 23 July 2012

Railways: what is the Coalition thinking?

In this coming week's Cornish Guardian, my column will be about the lack of Government investment in Cornwall's railways. Set out below is the preview:

There was considerable fanfare to last week’s announcement that the Government planned to invest £9.4 billion into railways across England and Wales.

Government ministers described it as the “biggest investment in rail infrastructure for 150 years.” Prime Minister David Cameron said it was the "biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era" and that the investment would create "a truly world-class rail network" while the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, said the projects were "absolutely key to securing our country's prosperity in the decades ahead."

Proposals within the programme include improvements near Heathrow Airport and at London Waterloo; electrification schemes along the east coast of England and in South Wales; an “electric spine” from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to the south; as well as further improvements at Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and other cities.

But what about Cornwall?

The plans include no investment in any rail infrastructure to the west of Bristol and the Government has since unbelievably suggested that the number of direct trains between London Paddington and Penzance could actually be cut under a new franchise arrangement.

The Coalition has certainly united Cornwall in opposition to its plans and there is palpable anger that the Government’s aim to create a “truly world-class rail network" and achieve “prosperity in the decades ahead" does not stretch as far as Cornwall.

The Conservative Leader of Cornwall Council has said the cuts would lead to a “third-class rail system in Cornwall.” Coalition MPs have meanwhile demanded that the cuts be ditched, pointing out the potential damage to Cornwall’s "image, economy and tourism," and they have since had an emergency meeting with Government Minister Theresa Villiers.

From my perspective, I do not understand what is happening with the Coalition. All six Cornish MPs are members of either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrat party, but their political masters in London are simply not listening to their own MPs.

For example, Cameron and Clegg did not listen when they cut capital investment in Cornish schools and slashed funding for public services. They did not listen when they pushed forward plans for a Devonwall parliamentary seat and their ludicrous idea of a Pasty Tax.

And now, Cornwall is facing cuts to its rail network, while many parts of England and Wales will soon be enjoying significant investment.

It is necessary to ask why central government is not delivering a better deal for Cornwall and why it wishes to embarrass local MPs who seem to be continuously “fire-fighting” and distancing themselves from their own Government’s policies and initiatives.

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