Public transport is a passion of mine and something I feel strongly is of huge importance to Stoke-on-Trent. A healthy, thriving city has a full, efficient, and integrated bus and rail network; the lifeblood in the beating heart of the metropolis. There is much to improve in our work to level up Stoke-on-Trent, boosting buses and trains must be a vital part.
That is why the recent announcement of a national bus strategy ‘Bus Back Better’, is so welcome – with £3bn announced to achieve six key goals in the bus network right across the UK. This will include – simpler fares, better integration of bus and rail services, better information provided about and on services, contactless payments on all buses, improved access for wheelchair users, and greener more environmental buses.
Each local area will be getting £100,000 initially to work up our plans for future local transport and I will be working closely with the City Council so we get a good chunk of this investment from Government for Stoke-on-Trent.
This final point on more environmental transport is particularly important locally given the need to improve air quality. The large diesel engines in buses are some of the worst offenders for air pollution. Many of these buses are already being upgraded in Stoke-on-Trent and we will go further by switching to electric and hydrogen buses, with the aim being 4,000 zero emission buses nationally. Our aim is to make Stoke-on-Trent the first Hydrogen Bus city.
Stoke-on-Trent deserves better transport, with improving bus and rail services being one of our key commitments when elected. This will mean everyone in Stoke-on-Trent will find it easier to get about and use public transport, opening better opportunities for work and skills.
I was pleased to recently launch the Powering-up Stoke-on-Trent Prospectus with the Leader of the Council, Cllr Abi Brown and fellow Stoke-on-Trent MPs. This sets out our vison for Stoke-on-Trent, outlining our ambition for some of the key things we hope to deliver, which will enable our fantastic city to continue to improve and flourish. My focus in the section I presented was transport, with improved bus and rail at the core of our thinking.
Local rail travel is particularly poor and limited in North Staffordshire, a legacy of the Beeching cuts. Very few people get from one part of Stoke-on-Trent to another via rail as a result, meaning more cars on the road and making it much more difficult to get about. This leads to congestion in the key gateways of the city and slower travel times. Buses are a vital component of a city’s public transport network, but they cannot be the only method in a city as large and spread out as Stoke-on-Trent. This will become increasingly important given the expected continued growth of new homes and jobs across our city.
For far too many, public transport currently simply isn’t an option. Bus services can frequently take double, sometimes triple the time of car. Congestion has also meant the reliability of services has diminished and for many, services no longer exist at all. Over 80% of journeys in Stoke-on-Trent are by car, yet over 30% of households don’t even own one, in some areas this is over 40%. Public transport must change if we are to provide an effective alternative to car and improve life-chances for everyone.
It is therefore vital we expand our local rail network. I have talked before about plans for a new station at Meir and an upgraded one in Longton, both of which are rapidly progressing. We have also now recently submitted our plans to Government to reopen the Stoke-Leek line with a station at Fenton Manor and work is underway to look at options for reopening a station at Trentham too. I asked the Prime Minister about the Governments support for our exciting plans at PMQs earlier this month.
But perhaps I have not talked enough about how we will use these new services and the opportunities improved local connectivity can bring for all our communities. This will see not just an improved local bus and rail network, but also better inter-city rail and cycle/walking routes as well. It will make our city attractive to even greater investment, encouraging new development of homes and employment. A city which will become one of the best connected anywhere, with our people empowered to access the better skilled, better paid opportunities they deserve.
This is the ambition of our Power-up Stoke-on-Trent Prospectus, nothing can stop us or contain the huge potential in Stoke-on-Trent.