Months of severe weather have seen many of our homes, businesses and transport links severely damaged by the worst storm damage for over a decade; more severe weather is expected over the weekend. In this challenging time I am working daily with Ministers to secure the help my constituents need and I want to keep you fully updated.
What is being done to restore Cornwall’s rail links with the rest of the UK?
The sea’s consumption the rail tracks at Dawlish has severed the Penzance to Paddington line. On Wednesday night I attended an emergency meeting with Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP and the Managing Director of Network Rail to discuss what can be done.
The damage to the rail tracks can’t be underestimated. Around 80 metres has been affected, with the tracks suspended in mid air in many places. Repairs will be a matter of weeks or months.
It was agreed at the meeting that early repair work should focus on emergency defences, to prevent what is left of the track being washed away by another expected storm surge on Saturday.
Once this threat has receded urgent work to restore the tracks will be undertaken. Following Wednesday’s meeting Mr McLoughlin has offered the assistance of the army to Network Rail, to ensure that restoration is completed a quickly as humanly possible.
Whilst repair work is ongoing fast and frequent rail replacement coach services are being put in place to carry Cornish rail passengers to Exeter, to use mainline rail services from there.
Extra coach services have been laid onhttp://www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/dawlishseawall
Fly be are running extra flights from Newquay to Gatwickhttp://www.newquaycornwallairport.com/
Everyone is keen for train services to run again as soon as possible. Mr McLoughlin is heading up an urgent and rigorous review into alternative train routes that services could use to reach Cornwall. This work is essential and I will be pressing Ministers to think the unthinkable, and to do whether is necessary to secure a secure rail link, now and in the future. Cornwall deserves no less. The money is there, with Network Rail having a £38 billion budget for the next five years.
It is a start, but there is much more to be done. I will continue to press for the rail route to be restored as quickly as possible, and for it to be made more secure in the long term.
Update on travel:
On Thursday morning I received the following update from Cornwall Council on travel options for local residents:
Regarding the latest arrangements for travel into and out of Cornwall; First Great Western has put together a plan for the rest of the week, which is set out below.
Trains between Penzance and Plymouth will run as scheduled.
All Cornish branch lines will run as normal.
Trains from London Paddington to Exeter will run as per the amended timetable put in place due to the Whiteball Tunnel works.
All Devon branch lines will run as normal bar the Newton Abbot to Paignton line.
Subject to Network Rail confirming that signalling arrangements are acceptable.
A shuttle rail service run from midday tomorrow between Newton Abbot and Paignton and
A shuttle rail service will run between Newton Abbot and Plymouth.
Coaches have been ordered to provide services between Newton Abbot and Exeter, and Exeter and Plymouth. If we do have further large storms these may need to be suspended should road conditions become unsafe.
Sleeper services are suspended.
This will mean customers will be able to complete their journeys, although travel between Plymouth and Exeter will remain difficult.
Network Rail is currently estimating that the line will be closed for a minimum of six weeks. This is subject to their close inspection of the line at low tide, and any further damage from this weekend’s storms.
FGW are developing a further plan that will run from Monday. It is very likely to reflect the train plan above, hopefully with the inclusion of fast coach services between Tiverton Parkway and Plymouth to speed up customers travelling between Devon & Cornwall and London. FGW cannot do this until the work at Whiteball Tunnel finishes. This is currently on time and should complete at 0500 on Monday. However any issues with flooding over the weekend could also affect further train services next week.
We will keep you updated on what is a developing plan of action.
Customers who choose not to travel will receive a full refund.
Going forward FGW is looking at compensation arrangements for season ticket holders who will be affected by the six week closure of the line.
Is Cornwall going to get the funds it needs to clear up after the storm?
The Bellwin Scheme is the principle means by which Council’s are recompensed by central Government for storm damage to local infrastructure. In the past the structure of the Bellwin Scheme has discriminated against Cornwall Council as a joint fire and unitary authority, leaving the Duchy out of pocket whenever bad weather hit.
After repeated representations from colleagues and I the Government announced significant reforms to the Bellwin scheme on Thursday. These reforms mean that joint fire and unitary authorities like Cornwall Council will be able to qualify for funding as readily as any other council, and that the funding itself will be 15% higher than it has been in the past. This will help ensure that those communities worst hit by the storms will have the funding they need to repair the damage.
In response to a question I asked yesterday in the House of Commons Eric Pickles confirmed that the amount of money Cornwall will get under the new Bellwin scheme ‘will be an awful lot more than my hon. Friend would have got under the previous regime’.
Looking forward – a promise from the Prime Minister
On Wednesday David Cameron chaired a special meeting of Cobra, in order to personally co-ordinate the Government’s response to the storms. Commenting on the plight of the South West he said:
“Whatever is required, whether it is dredging work on the rivers Tone and Parrett, whether it is support for our emergency services, whether it is fresh money for flood defences, whether it is action across the board, this Government will help those families and get this issue sorted.”
The Prime Minister has backed this promise up with emergency funds, raiding a fund usually reserved for payments to Brussels to announce £100 million of extra cash to help flood-hit communities across Devon & Cornwall.
Over the days, weeks and months ahead I will be working with the Prime Minister to turn this promise of action into help for Cornwall.