Caroline Dinenage is the Member of Parliament for Gosport.
The past few weeks have shown a Labour party predictably unwilling to stand up to truculent union bosses who have no qualms with inconveniencing millions and bringing the nation’s capital to a standstill. They’ve also laid bare the incredible job that TfL do every day: London is booming, and its first rate transport network is what makes it one of the most successful cities on the planet.
Transport is essential to economic growth; hence HS2, the flagship infrastructure project designed to “rebalance the economy”, sending jobs and investment north of the Watford Gap. Meanwhile, huge drilling machines bore beneath the capital, creating new Crossrail tunnels that will ease the burden on London’s heaving transport network.
Yet while these grand projects are necessary to deal with immediate crises in capacity, remember that when you head south out of Waterloo, there’s an awful lot of England to cover before you hit the Channel – and the people who make this journey are stuck with some of the slowest and most overcrowded trains in the country.
The South West trains that arrive into Waterloo every morning include the second busiest train in the UK. And these are never quick journeys – it takes longer to get from London to Portsmouth than it does to get to Doncaster, a distance that is over twice as far. My constituency is home to Gosport, the largest town in the UK not to have a train station. To even get on a train, residents have to cross the harbour by ferry to Portsmouth or drive half an hour to Fareham – taking in the dreaded A32.
A modern transport infrastructure fit for the 21st century is crucial if the South is to recover from the structural changes which it is currently undergoing. Following BAE’s decision to end shipbuilding in Portsmouth, the Government has announced a welcome £900 million City Deal for Portsmouth & Southampton. In order to maximise the potential of this investment and the subsequent business opportunities, we need to improve both connections to the capital and links between towns and cities in the South.
The Southampton Nuneaton freight upgrade is of course welcome – and will certainly help to ease congestion on the roads. Yet all too often we Southerners get a raw deal. It’s assumed that proximity to London means that we too are enjoying the metropolitan highlife. Yet parts of the South suffer from shocking levels of deprivation; just last year a report showed that one-in-four children in Portsmouth are living in poverty. And with less than half a job (0.45) per working adult, my own town of Gosport is in real need of much improved connections. Better road and rail links are no vanity projects; they are essential to fighting the deprivation that is endemic in too many communities in the South of England.
New investment in our roads and rail would strengthen the ties between our southern hubs, and upgrade our connections to the world’s most successful city. They would help spread investment, create jobs and raise living standards. This Government has a good record on investment for London and the North – let’s make sure that every part of the country has a modern transport infrastructure that is fit to face the challenges of the 21st century.