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East Putney Station: Step-free Access

Volume 673: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2020

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Eddie Hughes.)

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to introduce my first Adjournment debate. I also thank the Minister for being here to hear me put my case for step-free access at East Putney tube station.

This is an issue of huge concern to my constituents in Putney, and it reflects a wider problem facing disabled passengers and parents of small children up and down the country. East Putney is one of only two tube stations serving my constituency, and it provides a vital connection to the underground network and a transport connection to the nearby Putney train station. East Putney is a hugely important station on the Wimbledon branch of the District line, and it was built in 1889.

The latest available figures show a footfall of 6.18 million passengers a year through East Putney station, more than neighbouring Southfields and Putney Bridge stations. Despite that, there is currently no step-free access to the station platform. There are just two very steep, very high staircases. By the standards of normal staircases, they are relatively dangerous. This is more than just an inconvenience; it presents an insurmountable barrier to many disabled residents, parents of small children and those who are unsteady on their feet, and it potentially cuts them off from the underground network and from affordable public transport altogether. This is a basic equality issue, not just a financial or logistical issue, although I will make the case for those.

I have four children, and three of them were under five at the same time. With the baby and toddler in a double buggy and the four-year-old clinging on, I would not have been able to use East Putney station, meaning I would have been more isolated than I was during those years when I had small children. For many women who have small children, and it is mainly women, it means they cannot use their local station for their many needs.

I know of people in wheelchairs being turned away from the station, having not realised there is no lift. People who have had accidents resulting in mobility issues for a few weeks or months have had huge problems getting to work, or have not been able to do so. Elderly people can never use their station to get to appointments, to visit friends and family or to enjoy the rest of our wonderful city, so they are more isolated, which in turn brings about health problems.

Transport for London and the Mayor do an outstanding job of upgrading our underground network in very trying fiscal circumstances. I recently visited the District line signalling centre at Earl’s Court to discuss and observe the four lines modernisation programme, and I saw for myself the scale of the project it is delivering, which will have huge benefits for passengers. We need step-free access to go alongside that huge infrastructure investment.

Did you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that only 28% of London Underground stations are step free? We only reached that figure by virtue of the Mayor’s step-free access programme launched in 2016, which I warmly welcome. We must do better than 28%, which is why I was pleased when I heard that TfL will be upgrading a new tranche of stations by 2024, taking the total proportion of step-free stations to 38%. However, I was dismayed to learn that East Putney was not on the list, and nor are there any plans or timescales in place to deliver step-free access at East Putney before 2024.

I have asked TfL why East Putney was excluded from the list, and it informed me that the station did not meet the initial criteria for funding under the step-free access programme. I want to challenge that decision. The criteria for funding include factors such as: cost; opportunity; deliverability; how challenging the construction will be; and the strategic importance of the station, taking account of things such as targeting areas with no accessible stations or interchanges that will allow people to access different route options—this is the case at Putney. Although I recognise that installing lifts at stations is expensive, and that, given TfL’s tight budget, tough decisions have to be made, I feel that excluding East Putney is a huge oversight and this must be reconsidered. There are several strong arguments to be made on that.

The first is that putting East Putney on the list would be good value for money. I would like to see more of the financial justification for the decision. As I have said, East Putney station has 6.18 million journeys a year, according to the most recent figures. That is more than neighbouring stations, which either have step-free access, as in the case of Southfields, which has a footfall of 6.03 million a year, or are already on TfL’s list for upcoming upgrades this year, as in the case of Wimbledon Park, which has 2.18 million passengers a year. The estimated cost of the East Putney station upgrade is £7 million, for more than 6 million passenger journeys a year. The estimate for the Wimbledon Park upgrade is more than £5 million, for 2 million passengers a year, so East Putney station would be better value for money. Let me assure anyone listening in Wimbledon Park that I am not saying we should not upgrade Wimbledon Park station; I am just saying that the case for East Putney station is very strong.

Secondly, all 13 stations in the current wave of step-free work where upgrades are due to be delivered in 2020 have considerably fewer passengers than East Putney. North Ealing, on the Piccadilly line, has fewer than 1 million passenger journeys a year, compared with more than 6 million at East Putney. Let me assure people listening in North Ealing that I am not saying that we should not upgrade North Ealing; I am just saying that the case for East Putney is very strong.

Thirdly, a lack of step-free access significantly hinders successful transport integration in this area of Putney, in south-west London. Putney station is serviced by South Western Railway, and it is just a short distance from East Putney station. It had an extensive multi-million-pound modernisation just a few years ago, which included the installation of lifts, but those with mobility issues who use it are then precluded from going on to use the underground. We are missing a huge trick here.

Air quality is another factor in this, too. As Members will know, the Government are aiming to reduce air pollution nationally, including in Putney, which experiences some of the highest levels of air toxicity in London. Some 9,000 premature deaths a year in London alone are attributable to our poor air quality—this is a matter of life and death, and it disproportionately impacts disadvantaged families, many of whom are now unable to use their affordable public transport because of the lack of step-free access. This is an essential and easy win to clean up our air and improve our health.

There is a further, economic, case to be made. Analysis conducted a few years ago by the Department for Transport showed that for every pound invested in station accessibility, there was a £2.9 benefit for London’s economy, so this makes financial sense. From an operational and strategic perspective, it seems disingenuous not to grant East Putney tube station step-free access. Wandsworth Council is currently producing a feasibility study and is shortlisting achievable lift options for this station. When this study is published, the Government and TfL must engage seriously with the report and its findings.

As I said at the start of my speech, accessibility should not boil down simply to cost, deliverability and operationality; it is fundamentally an equality issue. As is often the case with this Government, equality has a price cap. The fundamental barrier to step-free access at East Putney tube station is financing—there simply is not enough money available—but it is unacceptable that a great many disabled and immobile residents and parents of small children in Putney are being denied access to the underground because of inadequate funding streams and bad luck in the postcode lottery. We cannot put a price on equality. Compared with the huge sums that are about to be spent on HS2, a new lift for East Putney station is small change.

Transport for London should not be forced, as it currently is, to pick and choose between where and who gets step-free access; it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that inclusivity and equality are embedded for every journey taken, but they are currently failing. Under the now scrapped Equality 2025 programme, the coalition Government had a target for disabled people to have the same access to transportation as non-disabled people by 2025. We are clearly way off that target. In the 2015 to 2019 rail investment control period, the Government cut £47 million from the Access for All funding stream, showing that they are not serious about step-free access.

After 10 years of Tory austerity, accessibility is one example of the hostile environment we have seen for disabled people. Only last year, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights concluded that cuts to Government spending on disabled people have violated the human rights of disabled people in the UK. The hundreds of train and tube stations throughout the country without step-free access are symptomatic of the hostile environment. We on the Opposition Benches hear a lot of talk from the Government about levelling up: levelling up should not just be applied to regions; it needs to be applied to people, too.

To conclude, I would like the Minister to join me this evening in championing the need for step-free access at East Putney tube station. I have two specific requests of him. First, I would like him to approach Transport for London and urge it to review and reconsider its decision to exclude East Putney tube station from the step-free access programme, in the light of the arguments that I have made and the upcoming publication of the feasibility study by Wandsworth Borough Council. Secondly, I would like him to urgently make more funding available to Transport for London for its step-free access upgrade programme, so that everyone in Putney can use public transport and have equal opportunities to get affordably to leisure, work, learning, and family and friends.

I thank the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) for securing this debate on an important topic. She is a new Member and is certainly starting with a very good cause indeed on behalf of her constituents. As a new Member, she might not know that a particular parliamentary tradition has been broken this evening, although not by her and not by me. I believe it is part of the Standing Orders of the House that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) should be present for every Adjournment debate. In my experience—I have been in the House since 2010—this is the first for which he has not been present. I thought he deserved at least an honourable mention, because I know he would have intervened with a salient point on this subject.

Step-free access to stations, and transport accessibility more generally, is of course vital, not just for London but for passengers throughout England, as the hon. Lady said. I believe strongly that everybody should have equal access to transport services and opportunities, and that access should be as smooth and seamless as possible for all. Transport is not just a key to economic opportunity and activity; it allows us all to explore, to meet friends, to go to see family and to do all the things that we all love to do. As a former chairman of the all-party group on learning disability, I am very aware of the power of the purple pound and how we need to work much harder to achieve a truly accessible railway and tube network for people with disabilities and, as the hon. Lady highlighted, mothers and anybody else who needs help with accessibility.

East Putney, like many stations across both the rail network and the underground network, dates from a time when the needs of the disabled and less mobile passengers were simply not considered. Thankfully, we now give these considerations far more thought. Of course, there is more to be done, and it is absolutely right that both Transport for London and the Department that I am representing tonight—the Department for Transport—do all we can to make the older stations accessible to all in a speedy and cost efficient manner.

As the hon. Lady knows, step-free access at East Putney station, as with all the stations on the underground network, is a matter for the Mayor and Transport for London. Transport for London has an ongoing programme to make stations across its networks step-free and more accessible for everyone. I understand that more than 200 stations on the TfL network are now step-free, including 79 underground stations. However, with a large number of old stations, it is both costly and time-consuming to make them fit for the 21st century, but the works must be prioritised. Transport for London has a range of criteria to determine which stations to next make step-free, including current access to step-free public transport, the number of journeys through a station and the feasibility of delivering step-free access at that station. Against these criteria, I understand that East Putney station has not been included, as the hon. Lady said, in the current TfL business plan under that programme, and that TfL is therefore unable to confirm a timescale for making the station step-free. I know from her speech that this is very disappointing for her and I do sympathise that, sometimes, Transport for London and the Department for Transport cannot achieve things for all of our constituents as quickly as we would like.

Despite this challenge, I am pleased that my Department works very closely with Transport for London, and I am glad to see that it recognises the importance of this work and of taking action for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.

I thought that I should say something about what my Department is doing. Obviously, my Department has no real say over what Transport for London does, but for our part, it is moving forward with delivering a whole inclusive transport system, and our inclusive transport strategy sets out the key policy and investment priorities to make that happen. We are making the rail network more accessible through the Access For All programme. This funding is part of Network Rail’s enhancements portfolio for control period six—Network Rail works in five-year control periods—and is therefore only available for mainline train stations. To receive funding, stations are nominated by the rail industry and then selected on a range of criteria, including their ability to provide value for money for the taxpayer.

More than 200 stations have been made accessible as part of the programme, and around 1,500 receive smaller-scale enhancements, such as accessible toilets or tactile paving and the like. I have been lobbied very hard by a huge number of Members of Parliament who have stations in their constituencies that do not have proper accessibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) behind me—I know that he is behind me because I can hear his breathing—has lobbied me very hard, because Beeston station in his constituency has not been included so far. In my own constituency, I have only one station, Long Buckby, and I know that it is very far down the list of making it truly accessible.

We have made £300 million available to add another 73 stations to the Access For All main programme. This is in addition to accessibility improvements delivered as part of other projects or as infrastructure renewals. On 26 February this year, the Department announced 40 projects covering 124 stations selected to receive smaller-scale access improvements, such as new lifts, accessible toilets and customer information screens.

In addition, we have been trying to bend the Chancellor’s arm and we are hoping—fingers crossed, touching wood and I am not pre-announcing anything because that will get me into trouble—that he might announce another £50 million to add another 12 or so stations to the main programme. Although London Underground stations are not eligible for this funding, numerous mainline stations in London have benefited from this programme in the past, and I am quite sure will do so in the future.

It is true that London no longer directly receives a revenue grant from the Government. However, the Mayor does now receive a greater proportion of business rates income to direct towards his priorities, and this funding forms a significant proportion of TfL’s overall income. I am glad to see that station accessibility appears to be one of his priorities.

I thank the hon. Member for Putney for raising this important debate. As I have said, I am committed to making transport accessible for all, but I have no doubt that this is a significant challenge. It will require all of us interested in transport to work together for the benefit of passengers. As ever, my Department wants to learn how we can do transport accessibility better, as well as sharing learning from our own projects.

The hon. Member wanted to challenge Transport for London on its decision not to include East Putney in its current step-free access programme, and she really did that today in her excellent contribution. She asked me to approach TfL, which I will happily do. I am in relatively constant contact with the organisation over a whole range of issues. When it comes to more funding for TfL, it is a devolved body that, as I mentioned, gets its money from business rates funding, but I will definitely and happily work with it because everybody wants better accessibility across the whole of our rail and tube networks.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.