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That the Government's plans to merge and centralise the Staffordshire ambulance service will lead to a poorer service, undermine morale and increase costs. The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons opposes the planned merger of the Staffordshire Ambulance Service into a regional West Midlands Service.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Five days ago, in business questions, I flagged up the parlous state of many students of nursing and midwifery, and I am here tonight to present a petition that has been compiled by my constituent, trainee midwife Andrea Simpson of 20, The Green, Donington le Heath, Coalville. The petition states:
To the House of Commons: the petition of 2,947 residents of north-west Leicestershire and other areas declares that there is a persistent and growing problem of student debt, particularly among those training in nursing and midwifery, as evidenced by a Royal College of Midwives survey showing that over 20 per cent. of such students, many of them more mature ones, do not complete their studies due to financial hardship.
The petition notes that student midwives are sometimes taking out overdraft facilities, remortgaging their homes, cashing in endowment policies and buying food on credit cards in attempts to make ends meet.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Health to work with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to examine the possibility of ensuring that all NHS Students of Nursing and Midwifery receive a non-means-tested bursary of £10,000 per year for their course, to enable them to train for their chosen career.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): I am delighted to have secured this Adjournment debate regarding the behaviour of Network Rail towards my constituents in Sutton Coldfield. I have been in extensive correspondence with Network Rail and its chief executive, John Armitt, since 13 October 2004 regarding a line of grey stainless steel fencing that has been erected along a section of the freight line at East View road in my constituency. That fencing is ugly, does not fit in and is an eyesore.
This is a story of arrogance and insensitivity, but, above all, of a complete lack of corporate accountability. East View road is a residential area in the green belt, located next to the picturesque New Hall Valley country park. It is an environmentally sensitive area and, although my constituents accept that they live next to a freight line and that line security is important, they do not accept the kilometre of monstrous, ugly grey steel fencing that has been erected. They want it to be replaced by green powdered fencing, which would be more suitable for the area. Network Rail has been asked to replace the grey fencing that it erected with more appropriate green fencing, but it has refused point blank.
My constituents have been pursuing this point with Network Rail since March 2004 and I took up their case in October of that year. We have since been in frequent correspondence, and held a series of site visits and meetingsall to no avail. Network Rail has never truly engaged with the complaint or displayed any signs of sympathy towards the case. The arrogance and lack of interest that my constituents' complaint has received has been truly insulting. We can only conclude that Network Rail, although it states that it has an interest in being a responsible neighbour, has no intention of being anything of the sort. I therefore have no alternative but to highlight this sorry case to the House tonight. Network Rail has, through its behaviour, clearly demonstrated that its publicly stated environment policy and improved customer relations objectives are nothing more than box-ticking exercises. They hold no currency in the day-to-day business of Network Rail.
Network Rail's published environment policy, which was signed by John Armitt, the chief executive, in March 2003, claims to offer environmental safeguards. Its stated vision is to "achieve environmental excellence" by engaging in dialogue with stakeholders and to seek continual improvement in its environmental performance. The company claims:
John Armitt is coming to the House next Monday to hold an MPs' "surgery" over line-side issues. I am sure that he is coming with every intention of promoting Network Rail's neighbourly credentials. However, if he did not feel that it was worth accepting my invitation to visit the East View road site and was unable to use his authority to address my constituents' problems, why should we think that that surgery is anything other than just another tick-box exercise, a cynical stunt straight from a public relations textbook?
When one of Mr. Armitt's staff came to meet my constituents, after many requests, he was reduced to an embarrassed silence and was unable to defend the actions and attitudes of Network Rail in any way. He promised to go back to Network Rail to try to ensure that a fair and equitable solution was agreed. Nothing of the sort occurred. The subsequent letter that I and my constituents received was a muddle of smug, complacent bureaucracy that addressed none of my constituents' arguments.
The views of the residents of East View road are being swept aside by the over-mighty Network Rail and their line-side issues simply ignored. Network Rail did not engage in any dialogue prior to the erection of the stainless steel fence, either with the local residents or the city of Birmingham planning office. The residents' first knowledge of Network Rail's plans to construct the fence was when they awoke to the sound of workmen cutting back trees, removing bushes and digging up the undergrowth before hastily putting up the fence. The residents of East View road only received correspondence from Network Rail after they had vociferously complained. A request for a temporary halt for a meeting to discuss the issue was rejected out of hand.
Despite representations made by my constituents, Birmingham city council planning office and me to request the use of green fencing, it has refused in a most uncompromising, unsympathetic and offhand manner. The current grey fencing is acknowledged to be environmentally insensitive and completely inappropriate for areas in or around the green belt. At other locations in Sutton Coldfield, more suitable fencing of the green powder-coated variety is used. The question from my constituents is: why cannot they be treated the same as others and have appropriate fencing?
Frustratingly, my constituents and I have no recourse to pursue Network Rail for breach of the local authority planning regulations, as Network Rail does not come under its jurisdiction. Birmingham city council planning control office confirmed on 22 June 2004 that the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 allows Network Rail to carry out permitted work on its land without planning permission. Fencing does not therefore require planning permission, and Birmingham city council, whatever its view, has no power to intervene.
Had the residents tried to put up such a fence, Birmingham city council would have insisted, due to the environmentally sensitive nature of East View road, as made absolutely clear by the city's planning policy, that the fencing must be green. There are innumerable examples of Birmingham city council having erected the sort of green powder-coated fencing that my
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constituents are seeking. For example, at the nearby Bishop Walsh school, which is also adjacent to the railway line and New Hall Valley park. The city council granted planning approval subject to the condition that the fencing would be powder-coated green. The reason for that condition is to
"the area does contain an historical legacy that is probably unique in the city. This centres on New Hall Valley and its listed buildings which represent a microcosm of a centuries old rural landscape and way of life".
"Any Development proposed within the green belt will be strictly controlled to protect the character of the area and will only be approved if in line with the city council's more detailed guidance for green belts set out in the Birmingham plan."
According to the Walmley plan, any security fencing that is erected should be green, and whoever at Network Rail made the decision to use galvanised steel fencing had no regard for the local neighbourhood or for its own environmental policy. Birmingham city council did try to seek a voluntary solution, without success, finding Network Rail
Network Rail has made a gross error of judgment in not treating the location with sensitivity and respect, and in not rectifying the clear errors that it made at the outset. It has been unable to give my constituents its reasons for not installing a green fence, despite having installed green fencing in other locations around Sutton Coldfield, including Mulroy road and Four Oaks station. Network Rail says that
In August 2004, Network Rail suggested a compromisethat the residents paint the fence green themselves. Network Rail agreed to provide the paint, but the offer was later withdrawn on health and safety grounds. My constituents sought to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain more information about Network Rail's green fencing policy, only to find that Network Rail was not classified as a qualifying body under the Act. However, the rail regulatorthe Office of Rail Regulation, as a qualifying bodyoffered to try to obtain the information on behalf of my constituents.
The ORR was told by Network Rail that it was under no obligation to release any information under the Act, and it therefore arrogantly refused to release any
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information relating to my constituents' request. My constituents asked the ORR whether it could force Network Rail to install green fencing in environmentally sensitive locations. The ORR explained that while it was sympathetic to the cause, it only set the contractual and financial framework within which Network Rail operates and was not involved in the details.
This is a very difficult situation for my constituents. The residents of East View road have the impression that Network Rail is an uncaring, unaccountable and faceless organisation that can exercise its powers without challenge and in an arbitrary way, while ignoring any local resistance to its actions. The ORR has no direct control over Network Rail; it only provides a framework. The local planning authority has no powers, as Network Rail has permitted development rights. My constituents are unable to refer the matter to any third party for a review. They cannot refer it to an ombudsman, to an appeal body or to a judicial review. As for the Network Rail environment policy, it is policed by Network Rail itself and cannot be challenged. The key objective of improved customer relations set out by Network Rail has also been ignored. Network Rail has simply not listened to its stakeholders.
It that context it adds insult to injury for my constituents that John Armitt, chief executive of Network Rail, received a salary of three quarters of a million pounds in 2005£754,757, to be precise. If it goes up any more, we shall soon be talking serious money. His bonus was presumably not linked to the company's environmental policy targets.
It is my strong contention, having regard to the sensitivity of the location, and in line with Network Rail's fencing policy in Mulroy road, Wylde Green road, Station approach, Bowlas avenue and Lichfield road close to Four Oaks railway station, that the fencing in East View road should be fully replaced with green powder coated fencing. However, I acknowledge that there are significant cost implications. I want to be helpful, constructive and suggest a compromise solution. Instead of removing the whole fence and the posts supporting it, which is where much of the expense would arise, it should be perfectly feasible to remove just the panels themselves, which are simply bolted on, and it would take just minutes to remove each one. The original support posts could remain and new green powder coated panels bolted on. The existing silver grey fencing could be reused elsewhere, although only where appropriate and not in an environmentally sensitive area such as this.
Network Rail should put an end to the sorry situation and work with the community in East View road, respecting their environment and their opinions to find an acceptable solution. No MP would stand for such arrogant treatment of their constituents, which is why I bought the case to the House.
We look to the Minister, who has in the past shown sensitivity on these issues, to call in the chief executive, to remonstrate with him over the way in which my constituents have been treated, to remind him and Network Rail of their environmental obligationsnot least those obligations set out by Network Rail itselfand to make it clear that, as the Minister responsible for
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Network Rail, he does not expect to see that high-handed and arrogant behaviour replicated anywhere else.
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