My brief notes below from the Westminster Hall Debate that took place earlier this week regarding the lack of step-free access at Flitwick station:
~ Westminster Hall debates are an opportunity for MP’s to raise local or national issues outside of the main chamber and receive a response from a government minister who is present at the debate. These debates are open to the public and members of the Bedfordshire Rail Access Network were in attendance ~
Nadine Dorries proposed the debate and she opened it by discussing the history of Flitwick station and the experiences of one of her constituents who due to a recent accident had become severely disabled. Nadine said she will never give up the fight for step-free access for disabled people and those with young children who struggle to access the station.
Nadine then name checked the Bedfordshire Rail Access Network as well as the local Flitwick Town Councillors and went on to describe the problems disabled people have with taxis and the need to book 24 hours in advance. The challenge presented to station improvements by the layout and geography of Flitwick station was also discussed.
Nadine went on to say that everyone thought Flitwick station had an extremely strong case to receive ‘Access for All’ funding and was extremely disappointed when it was overlooked for station access improvements in Control Period 6 (2019-24). Further, many enquiries had been made but no answers given on the reasons why Flitwick was unsuccessful with GTR and the DfT blaming each other.
Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani then responded thanking Nadine Dorries for her campaign for step-free access at Flitwick and for her campaigning for accessibility across the UK rail network.
The Minister then described how there were many stations that applied for funding and unfortunately Flitwick, although a lot of hard work was put in, was unsuccessful in the last round.
The Minister stated that 6 out of the 8 stations in the Mid bedfordshire constituency were step free (more on this in another blog!) Nusrat Ghani advised Nadine Dorries to look to apply for the ‘Mid Tier’ funding which is a £20 million pot of money for funding improvements across the UK rail network. She also stressed the importance of ‘matched’ funding provided by Local Authorities and other sources.
At the end of the debate we introduced ourselves to Nadine Dorries and I pointed out that, although we were grateful she had mentioned us in her speech, she and/or her office had blanked ALL our previous approaches to work with her regarding step-free access in her constituency – this includes meetings with GTR and Network Rail.
I have to say the Bedfordshire Rail Access Network team were not aware of any previous campaigning around step-free access by Nadine Dorries in this area, but we are happy she is now on-side and her commitment seemed genuine – and we were very pleased she has highlighted the issues at Flitwick station.
It was disappointing that the hall was so empty for the debate, bearing in mind the huge effect the lack of step-free access has on so many disabled and elderly people and those with young children across Bedfordshire.
I asked Nadine and the Flitwick Town Councillors to work with the Bedfordshire Rail Access Network to help obtain the funding that stations like Flitwick and Harlington so desperately need. I discussed that we had liaised with Alistair Burt, MP for NE Beds, on the successful bid for Biggleswade station and will continue to work will people from all political parties for improved access across Bedfordshire.
Many thanks to my brilliant BRAN colleagues Ben and Sean who also attended the debate and so clearly set out to Nadine the many issues faced by disabled people attempting to access the transport.
Co-Founder Bedfordshire Rail Access Network