I have always taken a keen interest in transport.
I’ve mentioned in this column on many occasions and made speeches in the House of Commons on the importance of having a good, integrated, co-ordinated, affordable and reliable transport system.
It seems an obvious thing to say, but transport links need to be matched to where people, business and public services are. That is not always the case.
I’ve also said on many occasions that Hartlepool should have an excellent transport system.
The town is relatively small and compact, with most of our population in the urban core.
We have outlying villages that more or less circle that urban centre. Combined with relatively low car ownership, I can see the potential of a great transport system, based predominantly on buses.
Moving further afield, there should be more opportunity to link Hartlepool with other parts of Teesside and the North East.
We have a good railway station that could be utilised a lot more, providing more services to more places.
The second platform at the station could be brought back into regular use.
In looking to the future, I see no reason why Hartlepool could not become a key transport hub, linking an extended Tyne & Wear Metro to a Tees Valley Metro, making the North East have a truly ambitious and co-ordinated light railway and metro system, which could generate more economic activity, more jobs and greater prosperity for our town.
On Tuesday, there was a short debate in Parliament on transport in Teesside and I made a contribution.
I mentioned two things. First, I stressed how the Pacer trains, used on the Northern Rail service which many people in Hartlepool use to get to work in Newcastle or Middlesbrough are simply unacceptable.
They are the oldest trains currently being used in the country – no other part of Britain would put up with it. They need to be replaced with modern rolling stock.
The second thing I mentioned was the nature of the bus system.
I don’t think we will have a good and co-ordinated bus service until we have re-regulation of the bus market.
Darren Hankey, the Principal of Hartlepool College, contacted me this week to say that many students and potential students find it difficult to access the college, either because the transport links aren’t there or because students cannot afford the bus fares to get to and from college.
Education Maintenance Allowance, or EMA, introduced by the last Government, provided 16 and 17 year old with a small sum of money, precisely to help with this sort of difficulty with transport costs, but EMA was scrapped by the present Government.
I think it is a huge concern that students will not be able to go to Hartlepool College because of a lack of basic transport provision and affordability issues.
Their potential career – and the future prosperity of the town – is being compromised by a basic failure in transport.
Going further afield, bus and other transport routes do not match modern places of business. We have on our doorstep the largest concentration of chemical engineering businesses in Western Europe at Wilton.
These provide good jobs and are providing apprenticeship opportunities which I would like young people in Hartlepool to take advantage of. However, this is probably impossible because of poor transport links.
I say that Wilton is on our doorstep but if you don’t have a car have you ever tried to get there? A 16 or 17-year-old apprentice from Hartlepool would find it incredibly difficult to get to work and therefore would be denied a career opportunity.
That can’t be right. That’s why transport policy and routes in our area need to be matched much more closely with where jobs and businesses are.