Cornwall’s rail networks gets investment

The Government has announced today (officially that is) a series of major improvements to Cornwall’s rail network. This new funding totals £146.6m and the package includes £9m of funding  from the Department for Transport (DfT), £29.6m secured through Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), £103.5m from Network Rail and £4.5m from train operator First Great Western.

Considering more than 6.5m passengers use the rail network in Cornwall every year, this is excellent news for Cornwall’s rail network. This investment will see a major programme of signalling improvements starting five years earlier than planned, providing faster journeys between Penzance and Totnes. More importantly, these improvements will pave the way for the potential introduction of half-hourly services on the Cornish mainline. It is the half-hourly service on the mainline which have the most positive impact on an integrated transport system.

 The deal will also include the interior of the Night Riviera Sleeper trains will be completely overhauled. This service is one of only two sleeper services in the UK and runs between Penzance and London. Further to this, the Long Rock train maintenance site at Penzance will be expanded to maintain Cornwall’s sleeper trains. This will safeguard jobs and will create new training opportunities. So this is good news for Penzance.

Credit must go to all who worked towards this deal. It has been a long and complex process and I am glad in amongst all the cuts, there is still some good news to be had. Well done, well done indeed.

Keeping Cornwall on track

Talk To Me Young People Event

Last night I was invited along with some of my fellow Cornwall Councillors from the Helston and Lizard area to talk and more importantly listen to 14-16 year olds. Also in attendance were the Police and members of Helston Town Council. This event was hosted by Cornwall Council’s Youth Service. After a brief introduction it was down to business.

Each Councillor was given a subject to cover, and mine was ‘Futures and Opportunities.’ A rather open topic. Some of the other topics were education, employment, health, public transport, and social life. The young people then in a sort of ‘speed-dating’ style came to each table and talked about various issues. I must have talked to at least 30 young people during this process.

When I asked a question on do you see your future in Cornwall or out of it nearly all the young people replied “out of it.” I asked why, and the answer was the same, “better opportunities out of Cornwall.” I then asked them for reasons they saw their futures out Cornwall. These came firmly along the lines of poor wages, bad public transport, high house prices and lack of employment prospects.

Most of the 14-16 years old wanted to work to earn a little bit of money, but they said employers do not want to take them on because they have no experience, and when they do, they pay such a low wage (some said slave wage) it would not even cover the bus-fare to get to work. Buses got a lot of criticism on poor service, high fare prices and the general unreliability of trying to catch a bus that was on time, or turning up.

The event was not just to raise issues, but how these issues could be solved. No magic want can be waved, but all the Councillors present who took part in the event said more must be done, and Cornwall Council should be applying the pressure to companies and organisations to help solve some of these issues. For instance, concessionary fares for under 18’s, open Cornwall Council owned building in the evening for community groups to use, and helping young people find employment. These are just a few of subjects and topics that the council can and should help with.

I fear these young people are being damaged before they get into adulthood because of lack of opportunities at this stage of their life’s. After all, these young people are our future, and if they all see their futures out Cornwall that will be detrimental to Cornwall itself.

Furthermore, most said Cornwall would be a great place to retire to, and they would do so.  We must do more to stop the brain-drain of our young people and turning Cornwall into God’s waiting room.

 

 

Free Travel to College

The brutal cut by the current Government to EMA has had a very deep impact on people being able to attend college. Cornwall Council has by means of the Cornish Bursary tried to address this. Sadly, as with most things today, there is not enough money to fully solve this issue.

However, the good news is Cornwall College will now be able to offer free travel to students whose household income is under £31,000 per year. This offer from the college is fantastic news and has been helped by the money given to the college from Cornwall Council’s bursary project.

Hopefully the free travel will enable more people to access the courses and education that might not otherwise happen because not being able to afford to attend, or travel to college.

This bursary for travel starts September 2012. Hopefully other colleges will follow suit.

Concessionary Fares Inquiry – Update

I blogged this morning about my concern and unhappiness with the Concessionary Fares Inquiry Day being not open to the public. I felt this would not been the best course of action for the public. So much so, I wrote an email to the Chairman of the Committee asking him to hold the meeting in public.

I am now pleased to say the Chairman has agreed with me, and now the meeting will be open to the public. I think this is the right course of action, and I would further like to add my thanks to the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee for agreeing this meeting should be open to all.

Concessionary Bus Fares Inquiry Day Will Be Behind Closed Doors

I have previously blogged about the proposed Inquiry Day on concessionary bus fares. This inquiry will take place on the 19th of August. Sadly, this meeting will not be open to the public or the press.

I had hoped that this meeting would be web-casted because of the importance of the subject, but it will not, nor will anyone not included in the proceeding be allowed to attend. I am very disappointed with this decision because I really feel meetings like this should be open, especially as it could effect near 20% of Cornwall’s population.

The reason as to why it’s closed is:

“This is due to the likelihood, that commercially sensitive information may be discussed”

I find this a poor excuse, as for any really sensitive information you could stop the web-cast. I am also wondering what commercially sensitive information will be discussed. We know how much Cornwall Council spends on fares, and we know how much the Council wants to reduce it to. So who are we protecting, the bus companies?

The CCTV Inquiry Day was also behind closed doors, and look at the mess that turned into. If you allow the meeting to be open, the public will be able to understand what is going on, and more importantly, not think something underhand is taking place.

There is one saving grace, and that is any findings that come out of this Inquiry Day will be included in a report for E and E Scrutiny Committee which will take place on the 7th September.

Still, it does not make up for this meeting taking place behind closed doors.

Lastly, I have also blogged about the complex formula on concessionary fares HERE

Public Transport – A shock to the system

It’s been a long time since I have had to rely on public transport as luckily I have a car, but this week has brought home to me how difficult it is get around if you don’t have a car, or access to one. I have had to rely on public transport because my car is very poorly with its head gasket gone.

Because a lot of my work as a Councillor is not in my local area, I have to travel. The big drawback to this is without a car I have to use the bus. I would like to use the train, but the nearest stations in Penzance or Camborne are over 15 miles away. So I have to get a bus to get to the station. Porthleven is hardly what I call remote; I would say there is an hourly service to Helston, some 3 miles away. This bus travels from Penzance to Falmouth. So its not that bad as long as you have plenty of free hours to a) wait and b) the time it take to get to a place. It’s just if you need to get to other places a problem arises.

Take Truro, its the de-facto capital of Cornwall, but there is only one direct service in the morning, but as I was told by First’s customer service that college children get priority, so if that hardly a good start for a commuter trying to get to work. This bus leaves at 7:30 am and gets in around 9am.  If not, I was told I could get to Truro via either Penzance (requires two changes) or Camborne (requires 3 changes). If I had to go via any of them, I might as well get off and get the train as it would be quicker. There used to be a direct route from Penzance to Truro via Helston/Falmouth but this was stopped some years ago. I dread to think how difficult it would be to get to anywhere east of Truro

At a recent Community Network meeting we discussed transport and buses. Sadly at this meeting First (the bus company) failed to send any senior managers to answer questions, even though they promised, but at the 11th hour they sent one of the general staff who could not speak on anything because he was not really in a managerial role that would have access to that type of information. All he said (no fault on him) I will take that question back to my boss.

I would never expect a public transport service like you get in a large city (would be nice though), but it would be nice to get one that enables you to get around without spending many hours waiting and travelling around in the aim of trying to get to somewhere that is only 20 miles away. The Government and to an extent Cornwall Council bangs on about ‘Green Travel Plans’ and how people should stop using their cars, but what is the alternative? People are not going to stop using a car because the alternative is just not there.

As for the price of a bus ticket, this is more expensive that using a car. That just makes no sense at all. I travelled back from Helston (3 miles) with my son. It cost £3.90 for both of us one way. Hardly a cheap method to travel around. Its just not affordable to use a bus as a regular means of travel. Personally I would be more than happy to pay more in Council Tax, or dare I say it in parking charges if that money went directly to fund better public transport. I would not have a problem with that.

I have to say it’s not until you have to try something you really know how difficult it can be. For me, I am looking forward to getting my car back; as I don’t really think I could cope without it until things change in public transport.