Last week I invited the General Secretary of the rail union RMT to the Commons to discuss the latest condition of industrial strife in the Southern region with MPs from all parties. Mick Cash hardly drew breath in half an hour but by the end of it none of us were any the wiser why his members were still planning to strike against the new On-board Supervisor role for which they had all signed contracts back in January and which have actually been working quite well since.
I have tried to be as even handed as possible throughout this interminable dispute and have repeatedly said that the Department for Transport and Government, the GTR management and the unions are all to blame and none of them come out of this well. We probed what safety consideration the unions still have but the evidence is just not there that trains with a safety trained OBS looking after passengers is any less safe than a guard operating the doors.
The fact is that very few Southern trains have left without a second staff member on board under the new arrangements and indeed there are now more OBS staff on the payroll and being rostered than ever before. There are some remaining issues around disability access of which I have first-hand experience but again with a bit of goodwill these could easily be resolved. Next week we have ASLEF coming in, having refused to attend the same meeting as the RMT. What hope for getting everyone around the same table at the same time to settle this unnecessary dispute anytime soon?
It was a particularly busy farmers’ market street surgery on Saturday in Shoreham with lots of people wanting to know about likely timetables for forthcoming planes for the New Monks Farm development next to the Airport and the upgrading of the A27. We are waiting the full proposals for the former but I know many residents share my concern about the potentially horrific traffic impact of the planned IKEA. We have yet to see the traffic assessment which must accompany the planning application and were hoping to discuss this at the latest meeting of the A27 Working Group this evening (Thursday.)
Cleary the plans for the A27 and New Monks Farm are closely interlinked. I will be doing everything I can to make sure constituents have a full say in both and to that end we will be distributing a survey on both proposals across parts of the constituency soon. As promised I will be holding a series of consultation meetings involving local councillors too. It has now been confirmed by Highways England that they will be hold a public consultation on their initial plans for the A27 around Worthing, Lancing and Sompting starting on July 19th and running to September 12th. Full details are on my website and I have already complained that spanning the summer holiday is not the best time to gauge local views. Watch this space.