Diary - HS2 gets the green light

Into the park for a run. Trawl through the papers and other correspondence at my desk and then off to PCH for the second meeting of the South Western Railway (SWR) APPG, chaired by the newly elected MP for W Dorset, Chris Loder, whose career to date has been on the railways. Attendance was high and today we listened to the interim SWR MD Mark Hopwood, his Route Director Mark Killick and a representative from Network Rail. Trains minister Chris Heaton-Harris also attended. As we all know, SWR has had its problems and patience among our constituents is running out. That point was made clear by all MPs. We were given a brief on what SWR management was doing to resolve the problem, but we remain cynical as we've been here before. The main problem is the hard Left element of the RMT union. One source - a union member - told me that many of them are only interested in bringing the Government down and could not care two figs about the passengers. Their strike actions - and they have a mandate for another - are nothing short of disgraceful and, in my view, strikes in vital public services like trains should be made illegal. Of course there should be a dispute mechanism whereby problems can be resolved, but striking and causing untold misery to tens of thousands of people should not be one of them. I was then in the Chamber by 1215 to listen to the PM's Statement on major infrastructure spending, including the controversial HS2 project. Mr Johnson, in characteristic jovial mood, told the House that £5 billion was being made available for new investment in buses and bicycles. He added there would be 4,000 brand-new buses in towns across the country, with more services in the evenings and weekends. Cyclist will get "hundreds of miles" of brand-new separated lanes. Then the PM promised road improvements to routes around the country and "new investments in the rail network across the North". Then, the PM moved on to HS2. He referred to the recent review by Douglas Oakervee about the need for HS2 adding that it "leaves no doubt of the clinching case for high-speed rail". "Passengers arriving from Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get to Heathrow by taxi," the PM said. He reassured newly elected MPs from the North by saying that he would be going ahead with Northern powerhouse rail. Castigating HS2 Ltd for a poor delivery performance to date, Mr Johnson said a minister would be appointed on a full-time basis to oversee the project. Mr Johnson ended by saying that for too long the UK has lacked ambition, and I agree. He ended by saying the UK must have the courage and vision to dream big dreams. He ended with a resounding cheer from our Benches. A meeting with Efra Secretary Thesesa Villiers had been postponed, so I remained in the Chamber to listen to another Statement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the coronavirus. He told the House that, as of today, eight people in England have been tested positive. He reaffirmed the new powers he has to enforce someone's isolation, if need be. His advice to everyone if they develop a cough, fever or shortness of breath is to call NHS111 and self-isolate for 14 days. To go to the doctor or A&E is NOT the right step to take because the virus is simply spread. Mr Hancock added that £40 million was being spent on vaccine research while we continue to work with our international partners. Finally, Mr Hancock said the Government had launched a capital facility to support any urgent works the NHS needs to do to respond to the virus. I did catch the Deputy Speaker's eye and my question and informative answer is on my website. Next up was an urgent meeting with Mr Hancock himself to lobby for some seed-funding for a new A&E centre at DCH. The hospital's very able CEO, Patricia Miller, and equally able Chairman, Mark Addison, came up to parliament to plead their case. The hospital's MP, Chris Loder, also attended. I was slightly poaching on hi patch, but all this started before he was elected on 12 December last year, so I had taken the lead. But, as many of constituents use DCH, the hospital is as important to S Dorset as it is to W Dorset. We had a good meeting and Mr Hancock was very sympathetic. He asked us to lobby the Chancellor hard for these monies and that we will do. A vote at 1900 ended a busy day.