2018 In Focus

 

Jan 9. BIM AFOLAMI MP HOLDS DEBATE ON LUTON AIRPORT EXPANSION IN PARLIAMENT and ACHIEVES SOME SUCCESSFUL OUTCOMES.

Bim Afolami MP held a debate in Westminster Hall on Luton Airport expansion, in response to the airport’s announcement last month that it plans to more than double its passenger numbers to 38 million per annum.
















Mr Afolami explained to the Minister and others present that the number of passengers per year has increased by 70% over the last seven years, and that noise complaints have increase 22-fold over the last two years alone. Night flights have increased by 25% in the last two years, and traffic through neighbouring villages is a worsening problem. He described how Luton is an unsuitable and unsustainable airport for expansion of such magnitude.

 

Mr Afolami highlighted the conflict of interest that exists as the airport is owned by London Luton Airport Ltd on behalf of Luton Borough Council, which is currently the authority responsible for setting passenger limits.

 

Mr Afolami said in his speech: “Luton Borough Council’s ownership of Luton airport, which generated a net profit of roughly £47 million in the last financial year, coupled with the huge increase in flight noise for many thousands of my constituents and across Hertfordshire, as I have already demonstrated, as well as with the huge increase in passenger numbers, leaves many of my constituents feeling that Luton Borough Council has one real interest: growing passenger numbers and therefore revenue for its airport. That interest has been pursued without any real consideration for the significant negative impacts on the people of Hertfordshire that I have outlined here today. As one of my constituents put it to me, Bedfordshire gets the gain, and Hertfordshire gets the pain.”


Anne Main MP (below) reiterated many of the same points on behalf of her St Albans constituents but added that the average noise levels used to record  flights over homes masked the real problem as at peak times the decibel levels were very high. Additionally LBC had failed to address many other issues raised by residents.

















Paul Maynard MP(above), a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Transport responded with a box ticking exercise justifying the current situation and the policies in force. He suggested that local groups and resident should consult with LBC on future actions AND then confirmed on behalf of the Government that the proposed expansion will be a decision taken by the Planning Inspectorate with reference back to the Secretary of State, and therefore that it will not fall to Luton Borough Council to approve the decision.


After the debate, Mr Afolami said: “I am very pleased to have had such a considered and helpful response from the Government on this important issue. I have written to the Minister to ask for clarity on exactly how matters will proceed and will continue to monitor the issue closely.”


WANT TO SEE THE PARLIAMENT DEBATE VIDEO?

Click on this link:  : http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/e08f0ef8-7a1e-4f0f-8eb7-03162020d676?in=11:00:03

Clearing the air - A report by Alan Bunting, editor of The Harpenden Society Newsletter

The Harpenden Society’s public meeting on Feb 8 was all about the degree of freshness of the air we breathe. The guest speaker Professor Ranjeet Sokhi ( below with Society chair Philip Waters) is director of the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Atmospheric Research at Hatfield. The rhetorical title of his talk, ‘Air Pollution – How Fresh is our Fresh Air’ served to highlight the growing concerns throughout the world, especially in urban areas, about poor air quality and its inevitably harmful effects, most obviously on human health.














   








He was keen to emphasise that contamination of the air in a particular location such as Harpenden High Street could not be blamed wholly on pollutants emitted from vehicle exhausts or smoking chimneys in the immediate area. Satellite observations had shown that concentrations of pollution could be moved vast distances across the globe, often affected by climate interactions.


    Instrumentation, including for example the use of lasers, for measuring pollutants, especially the tiny particles capable of penetration deep into the lungs, was continuing to advance.  It provided an ever greater understanding of cause and effect, when set against available health statistics.


    A World Health Organisation report in 2014 concluded that ‘air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk’ and it was estimated that seven million, or one in eight, premature deaths were attributable to air pollution. Meanwhile the numerous non-fatal effects included increased stroke, heart disease and respiratory disease problems.  In the UK, according to the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), polluted air shortened average life expectancy by about six months, the associated financial costs of which were estimated at some £16 billion.


    Particular mention was made by Ranjeet of the pollutants associated with diesel exhaust, namely nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM), though he acknowledged, during the meeting’s subsequent Q&A session, that today’s car and truck diesels, compliant with legislated ‘Euro 6’ emission standards, were among the ‘cleanest’ of road vehicle engines.  He added however ‘that there is no threshold below which health effects do not occur’.


    Agreed EU atmospheric quality standards were already in place in the UK, based on limits for PM, NO2 and Ozone (O3) per cubic metre of air, with a further limit for ultra-fine particles due for implementation in 2020. But, said Ranjeet, in reality they were targets rather than enforceable limits. The NO2 standard in particular was regularly exceeded in many places, especially in towns and cities, where it exacerbated breathing problems, most seriously for asthmatics.


    On a relatively positive note for Harpenden residents, although there were no monitoring points in the town, measurements taken across the county, including St Albans, showed a typical ‘low’ pollution level. On the day of the Harpenden Society meeting, a level 2 pollution – on a scale of 1 to 10 – was measured in towns within about a 10 mile radius.


    In contrast, a maximum level 10 had been recorded in the traffic-choked streets of Camden, north London, on a day in February.  It had been shown however that around two-thirds of London’s airborne pollution originated elsewhere, and was then carried in by climatic activity, most obviously wind. 

 

    Monitoring of average air quality in the St Albans area over the past seven years had shown a downward trend in NO2 concentrations.  Ranjeet pointed out however that it was greatly influenced by the weather. Rain cleaned the air, while cold dry conditions allowed pollutants to remain airborne.

    

    Tests undertaken by the University of Hertfordshire team in the tunnel underneath the Galleria at Hatfield had shown that fewer airborne particles came from vehicle exhausts than was often supposed – only about a third.  The remainder came from road surface and brake wear detritus and ‘resuspended’ matter, thrown-up by vehicle movement turbulence.


    One conclusion drawn from those results was that adoption of electric cars in place of diesel or petrol would not reduce real-life PM levels in the air very significantly.  Another conclusion from the team’s researches was that ultra-fine particle concentrations in the air were heavily affected by the distance of the site from a road travelled by motor vehicles and of course the density of traffic along that road.


    Global warming, although a largely separate issue from air quality, was touched on in Ranjeet’s presentation.  He pointed out that carbon dioxide (CO2) was not the only potentially harmful emission.  Others included most notably methane, widely generated by agriculture, albeit with a shorter-term effect than CO2. Black carbon, a key constituent of exhaust particulate matter, had also come to be recognised as a contributor to global warming and, as such, doubly undesirable, especially as, together with ozone, it can inhibit plant growth and therefore agricultural productivity.


    What can be done, at a practical level, to cut air pollution and also combat climate change?  Ranjeet put forward a number of measures, in approximate order of value: 1) Move from private car use to public transport (ie bus and train); 2)  Promote healthier diets by moving away from meat towards more plant-based foods; 3)  Reduce solid fuel (eg coal) burning; 4) Tighten vehicle emission and fuel efficiency standards.


    Though it is no excuse for complacency, Ranjeet pointed out that while ultra-fine particle air pollution in London was much worse than in Harpenden, the concentration measured in Karachi, Pakistan, was more than six times greater than London’s!

END

WANT TO KNOW THE DAILY AIR QUALITY:

.https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/forecasting/

Farming's brighter future. Rothamsted Research comments on today's speech from Environment Secretary Michael Gove who set out his views on the direction of travel for the farming industry at the NFU Conference 2018.


Director and Chief Executive, Achim Dobermann

"Environment Secretary Michael Gove sets out a compelling vision for a future in which we protect the health, beauty and permanence of our countryside. At Rothamsted Research, we have developed rigorous, science-based systems that can help to evaluate how best to preserve natural capital whilst producing healthy food. Our work comparing grazing systems for livestock production and for a new Long-Term Experiment to explore crop rotation in the landscape are just two examples that can help to underpin the thoughtful approach Mr Gove sets out."


Michael Lee, Livestock Scientist, Head of Sustainable Agricultural Sciences at North Wyke Farm Platform, and Leader of the Institute Strategic Programme, Soil To Nutrition, at Rothamsted Research

"The support for UK Agriculture exemplified in Environment Secretary Michael Gove's speech is timely and reassuring, as our farmers face unprecedented challenges in the face of Brexit. We need to value and support our farming community to produce the high-quality food and landscape that we, "the consumer", sometimes take for granted. Our ruminant livestock industry is at the heart of rural life in the UK, providing high quality food in a world-leading animal welfare setting. The industry also provides jobs for rural communities and for a blossoming UK food sector, and protects our countryside, which we can all enjoy. Without support now, we run the risk of losing this vital industry that is the heart of the UK. I look forward to working with my colleagues at Rothamsted Research and the wider scientific and farming community to help realise Mr Gove's ambition of FEB 20."

Soil cannot halt climate change

Unique soils data from long-term experiments, stretching back to the middle of the nineteenth century, confirm the practical implausibility of burying carbon in the ground to halt climate change, an option once heralded as a breakthrough.

 

The findings come from an analysis of the rates of change of carbon in soil by scientists at Rothamsted Research where samples have been collected from fields since 1843. They are published today in Global Change Biology.

 

The idea of using crops to collect more atmospheric carbon and locking it into soil’s organic matter to offset fossil fuel emissions was launched at COP21, the 21st annual Conference of Parties to review the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in 2015.

 

The aim was to increase carbon sequestration by “four parts per 1000 (4P1000)” per year for 20 years. “The initiative was generally welcomed as laudable,” says David Powlson, a soils specialist and Lawes Trust Senior Fellow at Rothamsted.

 

“Any contribution to climate change mitigation is to be welcomed and, perhaps more significantly, any increases in soil organic carbon will improve the quality and functioning of soil,” he adds. “The initiative has been adopted by many governments, including the UK.”

 

But there have been serious criticisms of the initiative. Many scientists argue that this rate of soil carbon sequestration is unrealistic over large areas of the planet, notes Powlson: “Also, increases in soil carbon do not continue indefinitely: they move towards a new equilibrium value and then cease.”

 

The Rothamsted scientists used data from 16 experiments on three different soil types, giving over 110 treatment comparisons. “The results showed that the “4 per 1000” rate of increase in soil carbon can be achieved in some cases but usually only with extreme measures that would mainly be impractical or unacceptable,” says Paul Poulton, lead author and an emeritus soils specialist.

 

“For example, large annual applications of animal manure led to increases in soil carbon that continued over many years but the amounts of manure required far exceeded acceptable limits under EU regulations and would cause massive nitrate pollution,” notes Poulton.

 

Removing land from agriculture led to large rates of soil carbon increase in the Rothamsted experiments but doing this over large areas would be highly damaging to global food security, record the researchers.

 

Similarly, they add, returning crop residues to soil was effective at increasing carbon sequestration but, in some countries, this is already done so cannot be regarded as a totally new practice.

 

“For example, in the UK about 50% of cereal straw is currently returned to soil and much of the remainder is used for animal feed or bedding, at least some of which is later returned to soil as manure,” says Poulton. “In many other countries, however, crop residues are often used as a source of fuel for cooking.”

 

Moving from continuous arable cropping to a long-term rotation of arable crops interspersed with pasture led to significant soil carbon increases, but only where there was at least 3 years of pasture in every 5 or 6 years, record the researchers.

 

“Although there can be environmental benefits from such a system, most farmers find that it is uneconomic under present circumstances,” says Powlson. “To make this change on a large scale would require policy decisions regarding changes to subsidy and farm support. Such a change would also have impacts on total food production.”

 

The authors of this study conclude that promoting the “4 per 1000” initiative as a major contribution to climate change mitigation is unrealistic and potentially misleading.

 

They suggest that a more logical rationale for promoting practices that increase soil organic carbon is the urgent need to preserve and improve the functioning of soils, both for sustainable food security and wider ecosystem services.

 

For climate change mitigation through changes in agricultural practices, they point out that measures to decrease emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas almost 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, may be more effective.

 

Sept 10.

Community Meeting Point

to close down









CMP is Harpenden’s local mental health day centre, offering support for adults whose lives have been affected by mental illness. The service hosts social and therapeutic activities and has an associated charity shop, all run by a small team of onsite staff and a very loyal and dedicated group of volunteers, who have understandably found this news very upsetting.

 

Hightown Housing Association has run CMP for several years, which agreed with the previous trustees that it would take on the lease for the CMP premises and employ the staff. Hightown has been able to support CMP through many challenges; however, the recent funding loss means that Hightown cannot continue to manage the service.

Hightown is keen to talk to any organisations or individuals who can offer CMP leadership and help it to find a sustainable model for the future.


Daniel Revell-Wiseman

Head of Care & Supported Housing

daniel.wiseman@hightownha.org.uk

01442 292290

WHAT”S been happening so far.

NEW FLIGHTS

As part of the existing expansion plan SIX NEW destinations have been added:

WIZZ have daily flights to the Slovakian capital BRATISLAVA and 4 days a week...to BARI in southern Italy.

EASYJET have flights to DALAMAN in Turkey; PALERMO in Sicily; REUS in Spain and GENOA in northern Italy.


NEW TECHNOLOGY

3D sensors are being installed to measure queue length and improve  processing time.

NEW RETAIL UNITS

16 more units have been introduced since the start of 2018

NEW access route via rail - the DART

17 April marked the official start of works on the state-of-the-art £225m Luton DART fast transit system, linking London Luton Airport with Luton Airport Parkway railway station. It will take passengers less than four minutes to connect from Luton Airport Parkway to the airport terminal via Luton DART, improving rail access from central London to UK's fifth biggest airport in 30 minutes by the fastest train.

“The Luton DART will benefit not only airport passengers but also the people and businesses of Luton in that it supports our ambitions to secure long-term economic growth and ensure local people have access to high-quality employment opportunities. We are all looking forward to the Luton DART opening in 2021," Coucillor Hazel Simmons said.


The project has full planning permission from Luton and Central Bedfordshire councils, and is on track to be ready for operation by spring 2021. It will create 500 construction jobs over three years, 30 apprenticeships, and 17 permanent positions.


The Luton DART (BELOW LEFT) will be a double-shuttle, fully-automated people-mover (APM) based on latest system technology and design innovation, and capable of operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The cable-driven system is energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

The 2.1km route will run between two purpose-built stations at Bartlett Square and the airport terminal, crossing a new gateway bridge over Airport Way. In peak time, a service will leave each station every four minutes.

Sophie Dekkers, Director, UK market for easyJet, said: “easyJet welcomes the new direct rail link connecting Luton Airport Parkway train station with the airport for the enhanced passenger experience it promises to deliver. We already encourage our passengers to travel by rail and we hope the number of easyJet passengers who arrive by rail at London Luton Airport will increase with this new, faster and easier link."











REDUCING NOISE LEVELS

LLA noise contours; a graphic representation (ABOVE RIGHT) of the sound level distribution across a given area, for a defined period. In the case of the planning conditions it refers to our 92-day summer contour. PLUS they have also introduced portable noise monitors in the community. Alongside fixed monitoring terminals they are constantly measuring noise levels from departing aircraft. They have also committed £100,000 per year to insulate local properties, including installing high performance glazing and ventilation units. But they are always looking for new ways to do more.




NB. The project’s civils works will be undertaken by VolkerFitzpatrick-Kier joint venture and the transportation system by Doppelmayr Cable Car UK Ltd.


 

MAY 16. Past and present honoured at opening

of apartments

Two low-rise blocks of 48 studio flats and communal facilities earn an award, honour achievement and offer crucial support for the science campus of Rothamsted Research


















Award-winning accommodation for visiting students and staff at Rothamsted Research opened formally today in honour of two of the institute’s most illustrious figures whose careers span opposite ends of the past 100 years and represent the broad range of Rothamsted’s interests.


Ronald Aylmer Fisher, an outstanding statistician of the first half of the nineteenth century, revolutionised experimental practice; John Ailwyn Fellowes, 4th Baron de Ramsey, is a farmer who was the Environment Agency’s first chair and a board member of both Rothamsted Research and the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT), which owns the site.


The new Fisher and De Ramsey Courts are two-storey buildings that provide six different styles of accommodation from single rooms to studio apartments to a unit that offers wheelchair accessibility. The studios have their own kitchenettes, and there are common rooms and a communal laundry.


Lord de Ramsey “cut the ribbon” at today’s ceremony before a large crowd of guests, current board members and staff: “One looks with admiration at the choice of young people who are going to take on the mantle here...to be able to be involved in nurturing that is a real treat for me.


“It’s not very often in life that one gets the chance to be involved, and then to have your name on it as well. This is an honour, to have our family name here, on site, alongside Russell, Lawes and Gilbert; that’s more important to me than being a member of the House of Lords, and I really mean that,” added de Ramsey.


“On behalf of the Fisher family, the Fisher Memorial Trust committee is delighted that this new accommodation block has been named in honour of R.A. Fisher, the first statistician at Rothamsted, appointed in 1919,” said Andrew Mead, a current Rothamsted statistician and FMY committee member.


Mead added: “The centenary of Fisher’s appointment, and the contribution of Rothamsted scientists to the development of modern statistical science, will be celebrated during the International Biometric Society Channel Network Conference being held at Rothamsted in July 2019.”


The new accommodation has been awarded a Certificate of Merit by the Harpenden Society for the quality and finish of its construction. Phil Waters, the society’s chair, presented the certificate to Graham Birch, chair of the LAT board.


The new development cost around £4.5 million, provided mostly by LAT with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which funds the strategic research programmes at Rothamsted and other associated resources. Rothamsted Manor previously housed students; it is now an events venue.


“The primary purpose of the buildings is to accommodate staff and students of Rothamsted,” says Peter Oxley, LAT’s Executive Director and Company Secretary. “As part of LAT’s Objects, we support Rothamsted by providing cost-effective accommodation to enable those on scientific salaries to be able to live and work in Harpenden, which is a high cost area.”

Photo. L2R. Peter Oxley Exec Director and Company  Secretary LAT; Professor Achim Dobermann Director of Rothamsted Research; Lord de Ramsey; Graham Birch, chair of the LAT board.

Vociferous disparagement of the proposal to more than double Luton Airport’s passenger handling capacity and number of flights came from some 130 local residents at a public meeting in May convened by the Harpenden Society. Their almost universal condemnation of the plans was directed at three Luton Borough councillors who sit on the board of London Luton Airport Ltd, (LLAL) following their detailed presentation of the expansion project. 


    The audience in Rothamsted Research’s Fowden Hall heard Hazel Simmons, leader of Luton Borough Council – the airport owner – LLAL chairman Andy Malcolm and chief operations officer Robin Porter, outline its ambitious and far-reaching plans for the next three decades.


    Ms Simmons asserted that the airport ‘wanted to be a good neighbour’ to surrounding communities and to that end it would be expanded ‘sustainably’, without the need for either a second runway or a lengthening of the existing runway. She maintained that the planned expansion, at a cost of some £1.5 billion, would bring more prosperity for the whole area, not just for Luton, claiming that the airport already supported, directly or indirectly, some 30,000 jobs.

     

    Mr Malcolm said 16 million passengers passed through Luton Airport in 2017, of which, incidentally, catchment area surveys had shown, about 5 million were from London and some 3 million from Hertfordshire.

















The airport was therefore approaching its present theoretical capacity of 18 million passengers per annum (ppa), a level expected to be reached by 2021.


      Luton Airport’s vision for the decades up to 2050 was for passenger capacity to increase to between 36 and 38 million ppa. The job of the airport management team was, declared Mr Malcolm, ‘to actively manage the environmental impacts through responsible and sustainable development’.  But it was clear from the Fowden Hall’s audience reaction that his assertion was widely regarded with disdain, one resident claiming that ‘aircraft noise already made life a misery’. 

  

    He hastened to remind them however that the proposal to at least double the airport’s capacity was, for the first time in its 80 years of growth, contingent on planning approval, not from the local authority – with its built-in vested interest as the airport owner – but from central government.  The Secretary of State for Transport’s remit would necessarily involve an enquiry on meeting predicted long-term civil aviation demand for all of the Greater London area, with the mooted third runway at Heathrow an inevitable contributory factor.


A planning timetable had been established.  A 10-week ‘non statutory’ stakeholder consultation would begin this summer, followed by a statutory consultation scheduled for June next year, leading to the submission of an application to the Secretary of State in late 2019, with the ‘hope’ (Mr Malcolm’s word) of securing planning consent some time during 2021. David Williams, leader of Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) and a Harpenden Town councillor, speaking from the floor, gave an assurance that HCC would be closely involved in the planning consultations.

    

    Mr Porter alleged that the projected doubling of flights and passenger numbers could be achieved with minimum additional aircraft noise or road traffic disruption – something disputed vigorously by many in the audience, based on today’s local airport-related headaches.

They cited regular noise disturbance, especially at night, and increased congestion on routes to and from the airport, notably the A1081 and Lower Luton Road through Harpenden, as well as the current crowding on Thameslink trains – before any further airport expansion.


    While admitting that airports were, by definition, ‘smelly and noisy’, Mr Porter said the noise issue in particular was being addressed through a number of measures. There had recently been a narrowing of flightpaths that were routed over less populated areas, and a requirement for today’s (less noisy) aircraft, after take-off, to climb more steeply, reducing their noise ‘footprint’.  Planes taking off to the west would be required to reach an altitude of 1000ft by the time they crossed the Thameslink rail line.


    Meanwhile, he added, a new three-minute rail link costing £225 million, connecting Thameslink’s Luton Parkway station to the airport terminal was under construction. It was designed to encourage more passengers to arrive and leave by rail rather than by car. The airport was liaising with Thameslink to improve capacity of trains serving Parkway station.

  

   However, few in the audience above appeared convinced that the planned airport expansion over the coming decades would yield worthwhile benefits for those living in its hinterland, despite Ms Simmons’ ‘good neighbour’ pledge. WRITTEN BY ALAN BUNTING, Editor The Harpenden Society Newsletter.

LUTON AIRPORT EXPANSION PLANS

Learn what it all means for Harpenden from the Airport Owners - A report from The Harpenden Society on the meeting with Luton Borough Council on Thursday May 17 Rothamsted Conf Centre.

ONGOING CHAOS ON THAMESLINK TRAIN SERVICES

SEPT 26  Letter from Harpenden Thameslink Commuters


Dear Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP,

Re: Harpenden Train Cuts

Thank you for your letter of 5 September (MC/231549), replying to my letter from 2 July.

Whilst I appreciate receiving a reply, unfortunately it did not respond to the substantive points from my original letter where I was clear that we are focused on the service which operates following the current and on-going failure of GTR to deliver the full (inadequate) May 2018 timetable.

Additionally, your letter made a number of claims and assertions which many Harpenden commuters would consider are not based on the reality we face on a daily basis.

I will deal with the statements in your letter of 5 September first.

ANALYSIS

You repeat that “The planned May timetable provides Harpenden passengers with two fewer trains in morning peak.”

This relies on a definition of peak travel times which suits the railway industry to manage demand through ticket pricing but bears little (or no) relation to genuine commuter need – i.e. trains which allow people to get to work on time. Your definition ignores the high levels of demands earlier in the morning and relatively light usage in late “morning peak”. The key morning period for Harpenden commuters is trains which depart Harpenden between 0630 and 0830. These enable workers to be at their desks in time for work. A service arriving in London at 0955 is not an equivalent of a service arriving at 0755.

As the data we provided you with clearly shows, one third of key services have been removed from this window. By contrast by using the time window of London arrivals 0700-1000, GTR:

include two services which used to depart either side of 0700 which have been moved to 0839 and 0909 – which are of little use to regular commuters

“adds” a service which used to depart from Harpenden at 0632, now leaves 1 minute later (0633) but has an extended journey time (without any additional stops) so it arrives in London at 0702. The old 0632 was a 12-car train, the new 0633 is an 8-car train. However, the analysis contained in your letter treats this as an additional 8 carriages whereas there is, in fact, a reduced service and a therefore a net difference of 12 carriages compared to your analysis.

I’m sure that these two examples, on their own, cause you deep concern about the way in which statistics are being misused and presented to you. The reality for hard working people in Harpenden is that services during the most important part of the morning are now less frequent, take longer and are more overcrowded.

We now have gaps in service of 18 minutes, 17 minutes, 16 minutes from 0633, 0704 and 0734 respectively. These are longer gaps than Thameslink used to have during its day time off peak service. Under the old timetable the longest services gap in this vital part of the day was 12 minutes with an average gap of 8 minutes.

I am sure you appreciate the damage it does to the perception of Government and our political discourse, when officials and monopoly deliverers of public services (such as train companies) make statements which are so at odds with the personal experience and knowledge of those using the services.

You state in your letter that as a result of the 15 July timetable, Harpenden has lost an additional 40 carriages but ‘only’ 12 from fast services.

As I have demonstrated above, 8 carriages within your window were as a result of the 6.58 services now arriving at 7.02 (and as such not additional) so the loss is at least twice as great as you claim.


The number of fast/semi fast services in the key period in the July 15 timetable is 11. This is a 42% reduction of services compared to the pre-May timetable

Services calling at West Hampstead – a key interchange for the Jubilee line and London Overground – have been slashed from 9 trains to 5 with service gaps of 12 minutes, 48 minutes, 31 minutes and 14 minutes, making this an unsustainable option for many commuters.

Once again, your letter fails to appreciate that most commuters cannot catch services which would get them to work after 0930.

IRRATIONAL SERVICE SCHEUDLING

In the evening the situation is similarly indefensible – with a gap of a full hour from 1707 for West Hampstead to Harpenden services and a 30 minutes gap in services from central London following the 18:36 service.

The 30 minute gap at 1836 is a particularly powerful demonstration of the disregard shown to commuters, not just in Harpenden but at other stations such as Flitwick. This gap is caused by GTR’s dogmatic insistence on running every “Bedford Express” service with a minimal stopping pattern and the cancellation of the 1854 service in the July 15 timetable. During the period where there is effectively no services to Harpenden and many other stations north of St Albans two fast trains run to Bedford – one Thameslink and one EMT.

GTR accept that there is no justification for the 1850 Bedford Express and have recently announced that they will add additional stops, including Harpenden, from December. However, the fact that this demonstrates this change is technically possible; the 30 minute gap in peak services, and; GTR’s ongoing failure to run the 1854 means there can be no justification for running the 1850 as an “Express” for another day, let alone a further three months. I therefore request that you instruct your officials to require GTR and NR to facilitate the additional stops on the 1850 service with immediate effect rather than waiting for December.

USAGE AND JUSTIFICATION

In your letter you state that you “do expect GTR to keep the timetable under review and to identify any particular issues and make amendments, as appropriate, balancing the overall interests of passengers across its network.”

GTR have informed St Albans District Council that they are reviewing ridership of the Bedford Express services and that their initial research suggests that some services are being used by as few as 80 Bedford passengers.

Could you confirm that if their analysis demonstrates that the usage of the Bedford Express does not justify the significant loss of services to passengers elsewhere on the line (such as, but not restricted to, Harpenden) that your Department will facilitate the reprofiling of the Express stopping pattern accordingly as soon as practical and in any case no later than the May 2019 timetable change.

We continue to note with concern and bemusement that whilst Harpenden and other stations suffered further cuts in the July 15 timetable, every Bedford Express service was retained in the July 15 timetable despite the disadvantage to many thousands of customers at intermediate stations and the light loading of these services north of St Albans. I would be grateful if you could let me know whether there is any agreement, understanding or other commitment/obligation to Bedford Borough Council, Bedfordshire County Council or other authority with regard to the running of the so-called Bedford Express services and the details of any such arrangement.

INCREASED SAFETY RISKS

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the impact that the Bedford Express trains are having at St Albans City station with respect to safety.

St Albans station is not designed as, or suitable to be, an interchange station.

However, the introduction of the Bedford Express has led to many passengers for Harpenden and Luton Airport Parkway using it as an interchange, particularly in the evening. In addition, the decision (which again was not consulted on as legally required to do so) to start services on the Sutton Loop from St Albans rather than Luton again forces people to change at St Albans.

I am told by GTR that the problems of overcrowding and safety at St Albans were so bad even prior to the new timetable that St Albans was already regarded as second only to Clapham Junction in requiring remedial action. Thameslink have confirmed in a letter to St Albans District Council that the stopping patterns for the Thameslink Express and the passenger behaviour which this drives increases the risk of an accident at St Albans.

Many Harpenden commuters are deeply concerned that the cocktail of a station unsuitable for interchange use exacerbated by the Bedford Express stopping patterns and the termination of other services at St Albans rather than Luton combined with narrow platforms particularly around the stair case on the island platform adjacent to fast running EMT services will lead to an accident causing serious injury or even fatality and I would like to take this opportunity to make sure you are personally aware of this risk so that you can take this into account in your decisions.

SOLVING THE PROBLEM

In conclusion, despite the evidence and constructive suggestions we continue to make we do not believe that your Department understands the very real harm the May 2018 timetable is having on Harpenden – and will continue to have even if GTR operate all services.

It is clear that all these issues could be resolved if your Department were to instruct East Midland trains to restore stops at Bedford. The current situation is deeply flawed and disadvantages many tens of thousands of individuals every day – including people who need to commute to Bedford from the north.

As we face the uncertainty and opportunities of Brexit we need to maximise the efficiencies of our economy. The current solution, allowing EMT to ditch Bedford, is clearly not in the best interest of “balancing the overall interests of passengers across the network”. The events in recent months have demonstrated that the rail industry has failed – it now needs your intervention and, if necessary, instruction to unwind the mess that has been created and for EMT to restore Bedford services forthwith.

Yours sincerely,


Emily Ketchin

On behalf of the Harpenden Thameslink Commuters’ Group

Cc Bim Afolami

OCT 22 report.

The government will decide "within weeks" whether to strip Govia Thameslink Railway of its franchise, the Transport Secretary has said.


On Monday Oct 22 Chris Grayling  answered MP's questions about  a timetable change that has caused chaos this summer.

He told MPs on the Transport Select Committee there was a "systemic" problem and he wanted to see "wholesale change in this industry, we need to be much more joined up".

Mr Grayling said: "They clearly have not met their contractual requirements. We are finalising the action we will take."

“It could involve penalising [or] taking the franchise away."

But he cautioned that it would have to be on a "legally sound basis" and in passengers' best interests.”

Deflecting the blame

Mr Grayling also told the committee that London mayor Sadiq Khan's decision to freeze single fares across the Transport for London (TfL) network left the body in "deep financial difficulties".

"The problem with a fares freeze - if your costs continue to go up every year, if you're continuing to pay more to your staff - is that you build a long-term and growing underlying problem within your own finances," he said. "The only way of counteracting that is people who don't travel on the railways have to pay more and more in taxes."


AND AN ARTICLE  Written by: Chris Grayling MP for The House Magazine. Posted on: 22nd October 2018

I am convinced that this is the time for change. An independent, honest assessment of our railway can ensure the government and industry work more closely and collaboratively than ever before for one overarching aim – better passenger service.

The Rail Review will be public-facing, transparent and dedicated to building a network that puts its users first. Overseen by Keith Williams – formerly of British Airways and now Deputy Chairman at John Lewis Partnerships – it has a leader who brings real insight and experience to the role.

Having directed globally recognised businesses that put the workforce central to the success of their business, I am confident Keith will offer a compelling vision for the future. At a time when public confidence in our railways is low and too many regular users feel their services simply do not work for them, he is the right man to help put passengers back at the heart of our rail network.

Keith is backed by an expert panel of industry leaders, regional champions and passenger representatives, ready to share knowledge, interrogate the existing systems and structures and propose bold and ambitious reforms.

I expect recommendations to be brought before the House with a White Paper in 2019, and we will begin reforms the year after. I want passengers right across the country to see a revolution in their journeys.

I am one of those passengers; a rail commuter for over thirty-five years. I see the frustration and disappointment when things go wrong and am determined to drive forward change.

I am proud to be part of a government that is investing in our railways for the benefit of passengers - and to have launched a review that will rebuild trust, confidence and pride in one of our greatest institutions.

END.


PLUS. A wide-ranging review into the railways is welcome, but will a potentially costly and lengthy review reveal anything that myself or my constituents don’t already know? My hope is that the review will come up with what myself, neighbouring MPs, and our constituents have been calling for over such a long period of time.

If a review is necessary to formally gather the evidence for the much-needed action to be taken, then of course I am in favour of this and hope that it really does bring about the changes across the country to make sure that our railways can be depended upon for commuting and travelling for leisure.

Maria Caulfield is Conservative MP for Lewes