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Rail Franchises

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

12. What steps her Department has taken to publicise the consultation on the combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise. (114051)

The Thameslink consultation was published on 24 May 2012 on the Department’s website. On the same day, I wrote to the relevant MPs and a press notice was issued. On 13 June, Department for Transport officials wrote to MPs and local councils, further publicising the consultation document and details of the upcoming consultation events.

I thank the Minister for her response. May I encourage her, the bidders, Network Rail, London TravelWatch and Passenger Focus to redouble their efforts to raise awareness of the franchise renewal process and, in particular, the implications for Sutton residents, who may find that the through-trains from which they have benefited for many years stop short of Blackfriars, cutting their access to north London and Crossrail?

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that extensive advertising budgets are a thing of the past in the age of austerity, but we will do our very best to make sure that people are aware of the consultation. We are aware of his concerns about the Wimbledon loop; my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) barely gives me a moment’s rest on the issue. Network Rail has concerns about operational issues at Blackfriars, but those are not impossible to surmount. No final decisions have been made. We will consider all the representations on the Wimbledon loop and on all relevant matters in response to the consultation.

Page 28 of the Minister’s consultation document states that future Thameslink services may serve Sevenoaks as well as Dartford and Orpington. Will the rail Minister confirm that, if those services go ahead, they will include a stop at Lewisham, and will be in addition to, and not a replacement for, existing services that run from that station?

As I have said, no final decisions have been made on what goes into the ultimate franchise; that is what the consultation is all about. I will make sure that the hon. Lady’s representations are properly considered when the consultation closes.

Now that the consultation on rail decentralisation is drawing to a close, will the Minister or the Secretary of State devolve responsibility for south-eastern suburban rail services to city hall as a matter of urgency, so that it can drive up standards on the south-eastern suburban networks in exactly the same way as it did with London Overground?

This is an important issue. We are interested in ways of devolving more decision making about our railways, so that it is closer to the local communities served, but we have to make sure that we take into account the interests of all users of relevant rail services, whether they are within or outside the London boundary. We will make an announcement in due course on the results of our consultation on the decentralisation of rail decisions.