Focus Article July 2018

It is an extremely busy period in Westminster at the moment but, I am happy to say, I have been able to spend additional time in Lancashire. 

While it is important to represent our Constituency in Parliament, it is essential to travel around the area speaking to residents to fully understand the local and national issues which are of concern to Constituents.

It will not come as a surprise to discover that my mailbox has been full of rail issues.  Firstly commuters have been quite rightly angry about delayed and cancelled train services especially between Blackpool and Manchester.  I use the train every week and share commuters concerns.  The disruption and inconvenience caused to passengers is completely unacceptable and avoidable. 

The new timetable was meant to be good news for passengers with new services and routes, but its poor start has undermined this.  Both Network Rail and Northern have failed passengers. 

I do believe that there are many questions which need to be answered and for that reason I welcome Network Rail and Northern’s decision to commission an independent report into the preparations and processes leading up to the implementation of the recent timetable and I will be paying close attention to their findings. 

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, and the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson MP, are determined that the problems be dealt with as quickly as possible and that the issues are not repeated in the future. 

I have spoken out about the failures in the national media and have written to David Brown, Managing Director at Northern Rail, urging him to take action to resolve this unacceptable state of affairs and to detail what compensation my constituents can claim for having their travel delayed.

Another area of concern in connection with rail travel is the direct Virgin service between Blackpool and London service. 

Although I welcome the introduction of 35 new services per week between Blackpool and London I am disappointed that these will not call at Poulton-le-Fylde.  The daily return service which does call at Poulton (the 5:30am) Blackpool – London and the 4:33pm London – Blackpool services) will remain. However, I believe that there is sufficient demand to justify further services calling at Poulton. 

With this in mind, I have recently written to Mark Whitehouse, Managing Director of Virgin Trains, putting a strong case for further services to stop at Poulton.  I have also asked him to explain what consideration was given to the additional services calling at Poulton and asking him to seek to add Poulton as a calling point on future timetables. 

On the subject of transport, I have previously written about the representations I had made to Lancashire County Council calling for the Council to fund the Sunday Knott-End to Poulton bus service. 

The County has now responded to me and refused to offer any financial support.  I do appreciate the impact the withdrawal of the service is having on residents who have depended on the route.  I am now seeking a meeting with the Leader of the County Council and the Cabinet Member responsible to call on them to intervene given that the service is not considered to be commercially viable.

I have had been made aware of constituents having difficulties with their applications for Blue Badges. 

Although the scheme plays a vital role in allowing 2.4 million people in England to maintain their independence and is a lifeline for many, in recent months many local people have raised concerns about their applications being refused, when they have a genuine need for a Blue Badge. 

When I met with the Chief Executive of Lancashire County Council I highlighted my concerns and she has assured me that she will investigate further. 

Earlier this year the Government held a public consultation on proposals to extend the Blue Badge scheme to include people with non-physical conditions.  I know these proposals will be welcomed by many of my constituents, particularly those who suffer from severe autism and their carers.

Recently I spoke at Wyre Council’s Local Plan hearing.  Like many of you I remain concerned about the housing need figures which the Local Plan is based upon, which I consider to be excessive. 

At the hearing I highlighted to the Inspector that as part of the Government’s consultation on ‘Planning for the right homes in the right places’ it proposed a standardised methodology for calculating housing need and published an indicative assessment of housing need for each local planning authority area. 

For Wyre the assessment of housing need using this new assessment methodology was 313 dwellings per annum for the period 2016 to 2026.  This is significantly lower than the figure of 411 which the Council is using. 

I fear that the Council’s methodology will lead to problems down the line, such as land banking and challenges to the Local Plan which result in development outside the areas which the Council is allocating for development. 

I also highlighted concerns with regard to individual areas which included Great Eccleston, Thornton, Poulton, Stalmine, Garstang, Hambleton, Inskip, Bowgreave and Catterall. 

I acknowledge that new homes are required across the Borough to ensure that young people are able to continue to live in the communities where they have grown up and that places are able to evolve.  However, I believe the Council has over estimated housing need. 

If the Government’s housing need calculation was used then 1960 fewer new homes would need to be developed over the lifetime of the Plan. 

I believe this would relieve many of the current pressures of proposed development.  Wyre faces many challenges in the future from flooding, highway constraints, changing economic and employment trends, an ageing population and it is vital that all these issues continue to be taken into consideration. 

The Plan also recognises that Wyre has a diverse economic base and our population is well educated and adaptable and I am pleased that the Local Plan seeks to support these factors to make the Borough attractive to employers.

I have mentioned the Safer Road fund in my previous articles.  You will recall that I wrote to the Roads Minister to make the case for the funding to be allocated for improvements to the A588. 

I am delighted to report that £1,904,000 has been allocated for the work between Lancaster and Skippool.  This is great news and proves that the Government are listening. I must congratulate LCC Councillors John Shedwick and Matt Salter for helping to make the case.

I continue to meet residents at my advice surgeries covering a wide range of issues. Please remember if you would like to attend one the most effective way to contact me is by e-mail, with a brief description of the issues you wish to raise and your contact details.  It is worth bearing in mind that I can often offer assistance without the need for a meeting.

If I can be of any assistance to you please ring my Office at the House of Commons on 0207 219 5804 or my Constituency Office on 01995 672976, email me at wallaceb@parliament.uk or write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.