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Railway Stations (Disabled Access)

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015

7. What progress the Government have made in increasing access for disabled people at railway stations. (907141)

As well as access improvements delivered as part of projects such as Crossrail and the upgrade of Birmingham New Street station, Access for All has now completed 139 step-free routes and smaller scale access improvements at more than 1,100 stations. To build on this success we have allocated an additional £160 million to extend the programme until 2019.

I know that my right hon. Friend is very familiar with Lichfield Trent Valley railway station. I have plodded with him over the footbridge to try to get to the southbound access on the west coast main line while carrying heavy bags. Two platforms at Lichfield Trent Valley are not accessible by disabled people, or people with heavy bags. When will that change?

My hon. Friend may have plodded; I think I sprinted because I was late for the train. The simple fact is that, as he well knows, Network Rail is designing the project and is expected to start on site in the summer of 2016, which will, I hope, address some of the problems for his constituents that he has just outlined.

Physically disabled passengers and mothers with prams, for example, arriving at Amersham station have no real means of exiting the station. Work on the lifts was started and some groundwork was done, but it was taken out. The Secretary of State must know that Amersham station comes under Transport for London, and my constituents have no vote for that London authority, which has just received an extra £75 million additional funding to make the network accessible. What support can he give to me and my constituents, and campaigners such as Chesham and district transport users group, in getting this vital step-free access installed at Amersham station?

I am concerned if work that has been started on a project has not been completed. I will contact Sir Peter Hendy of TfL and write to my right hon. Friend.

Last week, a disabled passenger at Middlesbrough railway station was trapped on platform 2 because of the failure of the lift and had to travel to Saltburn at the end of the line to get to platform 1. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), encourage Network Rail to accelerate its programme of investment in Middlesbrough railway station, which is much overdue, and meet me to discuss the acceleration of the direct service from Middlesbrough to London? I wrote to her many weeks ago and I have not had a response.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be more than willing to meet the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the particular problem that he described today, obviously, when a lift breaks down it creates problems. That can happen occasionally and I very much regret it when it does. I think that Middlesbrough station will benefit from the new franchise that we have let, with more services coming to London.

At Hedge End railway station in my constituency there is the absurd situation whereby someone who is disabled has to travel in the opposite direction in order to cross in a lift and travel back to reach their destination, adding considerable time and inconvenience to the journey. Investment in a lift at that station has been refused on the ridiculous basis that not enough people use the station as a whole. Surely we should give priority to the needs of a disabled person,

I accept that there is a huge job to be done on Access for All. The programme was due to end in 2015 and we have extended that. As I say, 1,100 stations have already been served, but I am always interested to hear of other applications and positions on various stations. We have tried to concentrate on the busy stations.

If, as we have heard, the Government’s progress on rail access for disabled people has been questionable, what is their record on disabled access on buses? Twice last year Ministers ducked questions from me in the Chamber on why they are blocking mandatory bus staff training, as the Select Committee and disabled groups have urged. Then in a letter last May they proposed to review the matter again shortly, but eight months later nothing has happened. They are also ducking pressing bus operators to expand audio-visual technology, and instead they have school students competing to design a cheap alternative. Will the Minister confirm that the winning idea is to be announced only three weeks before Parliament dissolves? What message does all this buck-passing send to disabled people using our buses?

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman feels that way about access for disabled people. It is a matter that I take very seriously, and it is right that we do so. There is obviously a big problem in upgrading to allow access for all right across the public services but, as I pointed out, we have invested quite a lot of money. On his more detailed questions about bus access, I will write to him.

On disability, the abolition of the tax disc has been a challenge to local authorities, which want to know who is exempt from parking charges. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency was going to give information to local authorities about who was exempt, but because of complaints about it giving information about people on benefits and with disabilities, it has stopped doing so. Many of my constituents now have to pay or are being fined and have to fight with local authorities to avoid paying a £60 or £100 fine. Can we sort this out, as it is causing undue stress to many disabled people?

I will look into the points that my hon. Friend makes, which have not been made directly to me before. I am sure we can sort it out.