Monday 29th May 2017
Owen Paterson, Conservative MP for North Shropshire
At the last General Election, I promised to campaign to improve road, rail, broadband and mobile phone communications across North Shropshire.
Rural economies are diversifying fast and Government must work with all forms of providers to improve communications.
In the 21st century, broadband is as vital a public utility as power and water. New industries and businesses are now dependent upon a fast and reliable broadband service, in addition to a good mobile phone signal. I have many constituents complaining regularly that their broadband and mobile phone service is not just bad but actively deteriorating.
Last November, I had a very frank but constructive meeting with the chief executives of BT, EE and Openreach. They were all fully aware of the problems in North Shropshire because they said that I had written more letters to them than any other MP, raising issues in 71 postcodes. Clive Selley, the Chief Executive of Openreach, agreed to visit North Shropshire early this year to see just how bad the situation has become, and work on urgent solutions to the problems which my constituents and local businesses face.
We held a most productive meeting, which was well attended. Meeting and talking with local residents, businesses and councillors proved invaluable. Some problems are expected to be resolved in the coming months. However, I will continue to demand good broadband and mobile services in every part of my large rural constituency, as these are now vital to all.
In my first Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons, in November 1997, I described the deplorable state of the single track A5 north of Shrewsbury, which runs through my constituency. Since then, I have lobbied every transport minister to dual the whole road. There have been 1,785 casualties on that stretch of road up to the Welsh Border at Chirk since 1991, and 58 of these were fatal. Each death is tragic and each accident is appalling. The estimated cost to the public purse is a staggering £223.9 million. Many of those accidents could have been avoided by upgrading the road, starting with dualling it entirely.
Andrew Jones, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, visited in May 2016, while last month, I welcomed the Minister of State John Hayes to North Shropshire so that I could show him why it is imperative that the A5 gets dualled. The Department for Transport is setting out the process to develop the next Road Investment Strategy, making long-term improvements to major roads. Fortunately, the Department will be considering smaller projects such as our proposals, as well as larger ones.
I also took the Minister to see the A483 at Pant and Llanymynech, to discuss the longest running bypass campaign in the UK, which I have refused to allow officials to kill off. Although the proposal is currently dormant, we have had the second ministerial visit in ten months and he gave a clear promise to look at it again and work with Welsh colleagues. We now have active cooperation with Welsh Infrastructure Minister Ken Skates and Welsh Assembly member Russell George. That has led to the confirmation that the Welsh are able to contribute financially to cross-border projects.
The upcoming rail franchises provide us with the opportunity to improve local services, as well as connections to London and regional airports. I have made it clear to Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, that it is essential that all companies tendering for the InterCity West Coast Franchise are required to make proposals for the existing London to Shrewsbury services to be extended on to Gobowen, in my constituency, and then on to Wrexham and Chester. All local MPs support that and Ken Skates AM believes it to be strategically important for Wales. I have also spoken to numerous firms bidding for the new Wales and Border Franchise. I have made it clear to them that they should be required to propose services every half hour between Shrewsbury and Manchester Airport and from Shrewsbury to Birmingham Airport.
Rural economies will continue to diversify. We need to improve our infrastructure so that we will not only survive but thrive vigorously in an independent UK, which is eager to trade with the rest of the world.