It’s been one of the most important weeks in Westminster as far as Plymouth is concerned, for quite some time.
The week started with a deluge of rain, resulting in severe consequences for our rail-link, cutting us off again for 48 hours after flooding at Cowley Bridge. This had in some ways the unfortunate – but ironically timely – effect of delaying the team from the South West that was heading to London to deliver the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s report to No.10 Downing Street on Tuesday.
Like the water-levels around our railways, we have all reached saturation point with this issue. Time and again in Parliament this week MPs rounded on the Government about our railway resilience, and I have never been so confident that we are being listened to.
Urgent Questions are usually a mechanism for opposition parties to call a Minster to the House of Commons to give a statement about a particular issue. On Tuesday, I submitted an Urgent Question to the Government about our railway link to Plymouth. On Wednesday, The Transport Minister Chris Grayling was the most committed I have seen a Minister to this problem.
“The No. 1 priority is the sea wall and the cliffs at Dawlish…I am committed, as is the Chancellor, to making sure that it happens. It is a strategically important project for our nation—we cannot have a situation where the south-west can be cut off via its principal railway routes—so I assure him that we will move ahead expeditiously with it.
We’re all tired of promises, but I do genuinely think things are changing. And everyone in Plymouth knows that I would not say that unless I thought it to be true. Why? Because we are speaking with a unified voice. Council leaders, MPs, businesses and Local Enterprise Partnerships have come together to deliver the first strategic rail plan for our region. We are working as a team, for Plymouth – my number one aim when I was elected. Huge congratulations should go to the groups that put it together, and yes our MP’s who have worked on this for far longer than I have.
But yes, you are right, it is another ‘plan’. Our job now is to make sure it is delivered. It means nothing – it’s worthless without delivery, and I won’t let that happen. I said Plymouth deserved better and I meant it.
On the same day the House debated the South West Growth Agenda, a debate secured by Gary Streeter – an agenda put together at the recent South West Growth Summit was delivered to No.10. All three Plymouth MP’s were there to champion our great City. I talked about how as MPs in the South West we must know politics is a team game and whilst I support the Prime Minister in everything she does, our commitment to making the Government work for people in the south-west must trump everything else. The Minister’s response was not strong – he was clearly unprepared for the passion with which our case was put. Gary Streeter summed up perfectly when he responded to the Minister directly that “It is not good enough. The time for promises is over. The time for delivery is now.”
Plymouth is an ambitious City with gifted, ingenious people who can adapt like any other City to social and economic changes brought about as we shift from a dockyard-centred economy to a more diverse, resilient and self-sustaining one. To do that every population centre in the world needs infrastructure; getting this from Government is my totemic defining challenge as one of your MPs, and together with Oliver and Gary we shall not relent until Government starts to deliver.
Not plan, but deliver.
Our future could well be brighter than our quite brilliant history, not only in Plymouth but across the region. But it won’t just happen, we have to seize it. I hope we can make real progress in the years ahead.