General Election 2019: Hertford and Stortford candidates' views on trains, M11 and Stansted Airport
Bishop's Stortford enjoys a privileged position in the country's transport network and, as such, is a big draw for commuters.
For train passengers, it is 38 minutes from Liverpool Street on the London-Cambridge mainline; for motorists, it is just minutes from the M11; for fliers, it is five miles from Stansted, which serves more scheduled European destinations than any other airport in the UK.
We asked the six Hertford and Stortford candidates – Lucy Downes (Green Party), Alistair Lindsay (UKIP), Chris Lucas (Lib Dem), Julie Marson (Con), Brian Percival (Ind) and Chris Vince (Lab) – three questions on these burning local transport issues...
Q1. What specific measures would you as an MP and your party in government take to ensure an upgrade in train services for Bishop's Stortford passengers?
LD: Electrifying the trains would significantly improve the service for Bishop’s Stortford travellers. One of the new 745/1 EMU electric trains is destined to run the Stansted Express route, promised to be in action by this year. These are state of the art with 12 carriages, more seats, plugs and USB socket, free fast Wi-Fi, air conditioning, improved passenger information screens, low flooring for wheelchair access, bigger windows, disabled toilets and bicycle spaces. These are the trains of the future. The Green Party supports these electric trains, especially if the electricity is renewable and sustainably sourced.
AL: UKIP will scrap HS2. The estimated cost, at £100 billion, is unaffordable and will have a very adverse impact on the environment along its proposed route. The money saved from scrapping HS2 will be better invested in the existing railways to improve capacity and journey times – and that includes the service from and to Bishop's Stortford. A better rail service will encourage more people to leave their cars at home and off our already overcrowded roads.
CL: The Bishop's Stortford to Liverpool Street route has the fifth highest commuter price per mile in Europe. The Liberal Democrats would freeze train fares for commuters and season ticket holders for a parliament while we fix our railways. Furthermore, we plan to fund tram and light rail routes and extend the railway network. I would therefore, if elected, lobby for these extra routes to be put in, in Bishop's Stortford and its satellite villages, where so many people have little alternative to use their cars. We need to make it easier for people to make green choices, whatever their budget.
JM: I have used the train to commute into Westminster from Sawbridgeworth. The trains can often be overcrowded, expensive and late. The rail service is vital for people travelling to work and for pleasure, and that is why in our manifesto we have pledged to invest in train lines. I will build on the £1bn deal for all trains to be replaced from 2020 secured by Mark Prisk and meet with rail ministers and the train companies to ensure we get the best service possible. One thing I have heard time and time again on the doorstep is 'Can we please have pay-as-you-go ticketing?' and I will be pushing for this service to come to Bishop’s Stortford as soon as possible.
BP: At peak times there are eight trains per hour to London, two to Stansted, two to Cambridge and one to King's Lynn. Without building a new railway, I suspect we are close to capacity. Problems on the line lately have been blamed on signalling, trespass incidents, defective track, electric wires and fallen trees. The main complaint I hear most is the cost of train services. Perhaps the marketing budget for this line could be reduced and the savings passed on to customers. The multi-million-pound 'station upgrade' in Stortford took the form of a WH Smith and sidelined traders who had been operating there for years. I have found that the new Stansted Express rolling stock is good and comfortable.
CV: In the short term, I will call on the Government to freeze train ticket prices and introduce season tickets for part-time workers. I will work with Greater Anglia and the council to improve facilities for cyclists using the station. Parking charges need to be brought into line with those of town centres. But this is just part of Labour’s ambitious plans for our railways. We will bring the railways back into public ownership, which will enable us to make fares simpler and more affordable, rebuild the fragmented railways as an integrated public service and cut the wastage of private profit.
Q2. What specific measures would you ask the Government to implement to make the M11 a safer and more efficient main artery for the LSCC (London Stansted Cambridge Corridor)?
LD: Reducing the number of cars on the road through use of train and coach travel, or car pooling such as BlaBlaCar will reduce risk of accidents purely through a reduced scale of drivers on the road. This will reduce congestion and therefore the irritation some drivers experience. In the meantime, we need to have earlier and more frequent road signs, and to upgrade road markings and surfaces until the modal shift is completed. More speed cameras and police patrols will ensure that everyone is driving safely and within legal limits.
AL: The Lisbon Treaty gave the EU power over the UK’s transport policy and, although we cannot blame the EU for every pothole and congested road, it is the case that the policy of prioritising spending on alternatives to roads is driven by the EU. Clearly, as with so many other aspects of our daily lives, one EU size doesn’t fit all. Motorways are the safest type of road measured by passenger mile, but the M11 would be improved by widening the two-lane stretch between junction 8 and Cambridge to three lanes without losing the hard shoulder.
CL: The M11 has been renowned for safety issues for many years, causing loss of life and serious accidents on many occasions. It is a failure of government that this has not been addressed thus far. I would, therefore, ask for an urgent inquiry to be called to look into how safety can be improved on this vital route to London, Cambridge and Stansted Airport. Improvements were promised in 2017 at junction 8 and through a new junction 7a, but these have not come to fruition.
JM: Last year Highways England carried out a study of incidents on the M11 which showed a higher-than-average number of accidents involving three or more vehicles and that crashes were more likely to occur on the northbound carriageway at night. We need to ensure that the road is safe and its signage and surfacing are improved, and I would seek assurances from Essex Police on more patrols. I welcome the work that is being done to add a new junction 7a, linking Harlow and the M11, and the news that Essex County Council has planned an upgrade to junction 8 at Bishop’s Stortford as Stansted Airport expands. Hopefully, these measures will also help to make the M11 safer and more efficient.
BP: The stretch between Harlow and Stortford has become a problem point on the M11. We need to look at a way to deal with that. My specific measure would be to make the lane markings clearer on the Birchanger roundabout. I can’t think of a time where there wasn’t lane jumping on there as people realised they were in the wrong lanes. The signs on there are often shielded by lorries and the road markings covered up by the traffic in front.
CV: I acknowledge the work that outgoing MP Mark Prisk has done on this issue to address the serious level of accidents and closures this vital road has experienced in recent years. Highways England has got to deliver on the improvement work it has planned, including advance direction signs to give drivers a clearer indication of destinations and road layout ahead: better road markings; clearance of vegetation to improve visibility; closure of gaps between nearside verge sections of existing barrier to reduce the risk of a vehicle leaving the carriageway; completion of the new junction 7a, linking Harlow and the M11, and an upgrade to junction 8.
Q3. Should Stansted Airport be allowed to make full use of its existing single runway to safeguard its position as the area's largest single-site employer?
LD: No, this is the wrong environmental direction that the world is embarking upon. Stansted increased from 25m passengers to 35m and is consulting for more: 44m a year by 2030 – the same date set to reach our carbon-neutral goals. Flying is highly polluting, with the most greenhouse gases per mile of all our transport means. The short-term financial benefit for the few that will gain fails to take into consideration the environmental externalities which will be more costly to fix and will affect far more than the few that gained financially.
AL: Stansted has restrictions on its use at night and I support continuation of these restrictions. Noise is a real concern for the communities living in very close proximity to the airport, even though modern jet aircraft continue to improve their noise footprint ahead of stricter noise control. Some of the older cargo aircraft from foreign carriers do make more noise and these should be kept away from night-time operations. During the day, however, I am in favour of Stansted operating as Gatwick currently does, using just a single runway operation.
CL: Stansted is a major local employer and crucial part of the local economy in Bishop's Stortford, providing jobs and investment in the town. However, to achieve our net-zero climate target by 2045, Liberal Democrats would put a stop on the development of new runways (net) in the UK, including opposing any expansion of Stansted. We would further reduce the climate impact of flying by reforming the taxation of international flights to focus on those who fly the most while reducing costs for those who fly the least and introducing a zero-carbon fuels blending requirement for domestic flights.
JM: When we leave the EU, Britain will need to forge a renewed and reinvigorated place for itself in the world. We need to have the right infrastructure in place to build a global Britain to compete on the world stage, and airport capacity and expansion is an important part of that. Increased capacity at Stansted would offer more jobs and improve the prosperity of Stortford. We must, however, manage the impact of any expansion, such as demand for housing and pressure on already congested roads. It is also vital to assess and mitigate the impact on residents of any increase in noise and the environmental implications of expansion plans. I visited Stansted recently and met some of the wonderful staff, many of whom live in Stortford. I will seek to build on the links with management I have already made to press for the best outcomes for Stortford and our wider economy.
BP: I believe Stansted Airport is doing fine and doesn’t need safeguarding at the moment.
CV: No, not if making “full use of” means more late-night, early-morning and overnight flights. The residents of Bishop’s Stortford and the villages already face more than enough noise and disruption from the airport. Stansted makes an important contribution to employment and business in this area, but it needs to do more to be a good neighbour, particularly in terms of cutting down on nuisance holiday parking in the town. I recognise the pressures on airport capacity in the South East, but any expansion of airports must pass our key tests on air quality, noise pollution and climate change.