Better transport links vital for city’s prosperity says MP
16 December 2015
Improoved transport links and connectivity are vital for Portsmouth’s future productivity and prosperity, MP Flick Drummond told business leaders at a Hampshire Chamber of Commerce breakfast briefing in the city.
The Portsmouth South MP said faster rail links to Southampton and Portsmouth were absolutely necessary if the ‘southern powerhouse’ Solent region was to get on track and compete with the rest of the country.
And she promised delegates at the city’s Holiday Inn she would take concerns and ideas directly to the Chancellor in advance of consultations prior to Stagecoach’s South West Trains franchise expiring in February 2017.
Mrs Drummond, who was elected in May, said “The Government is investing £61 billion in transport infrastructure during this parliament. Places like Portsmouth – really a northern city in the south – need a lot of extra investment.”
The Conservative MP, who succeeded controversial Mike Hancock, said the ‘big ticket’ she was concentrating on was fast trains and better connectivity, both to London and within the region.
“My great plan is to have the fast train coming via Southampton Airport then round to Portsmouth – 40 minutes from London to the Airport, then 20 on to Portsmouth. ‘Solent 60’ is the thing I am really aiming for.”
Mrs Drummond told her audience of Hampshire Chamber members that while Southampton already had a 60-minute service, Portsmouth was really missing out.
“It would make a massive difference to productivity and business in the area –and ease the clogged up M27. It would cost a lot of money, but nothing like HS2 as it would use existing tracks.”
Mrs Drummond, who said railway land at Eastleigh earmarked for homes would need to be utilised, described the fast train service as her ‘legacy project’, believing her long term goal would not be achievable until up to 2030.
Another main theme of her speech was local authority devolution. She hoped devolved authorities would be announced in the next few months and was excited at the prospect of Hampshire being able to plan its own budget and keep all of the £750 million generated annually in business rates, rather than relying on the Government.
She also promoted the need for more apprentices, citing the shortage of skilled workers in many industries, particularly construction, engineering and childcare.
“We have got to build 45,000 new homes in the Solent region and there is a massive shortage of skilled workers. A lot of companies would benefit from having apprentices, possibly linking with Highbury College, which is fantastic.”
Mrs Drummond, who set up a Small Business Forum to help local retailers and businesses, said there was increasing confidence within small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with 15.6 million people involved in them and Hampshire SMEs leading the way with exports.
Hampshire Chamber CEO Stewart Dunn said: “We were delighted to welcome Flick Drummond to our meeting. It was fascinating to hear her views on Transport links, business rates, local government devolution and the skills shortage.
“I believe she is going to be an excellent constituency MP, fighting for Portsmouth and selling it to the world. I urge members to contact her with any issues, because it is as much up to businesses as politicians to ensure Portsmouth realises its full potential.”
Hampshire business leaders took the chance to question the MP with Rico Harris, of chartered accountants Grant Thornton, keen to see train ticket prices not increased. Mrs Drummond said she hoped faster trains would not lead to fare rises and called for more flexibility on season tickets.
Susan Turner, Managing Director of Portsmouth-based Elephant in Scarlet community interest company, asked whether there was an opportunity for the return of trams to Portsmouth, saying the city once had a ‘remarkable network’.
Mrs Drummond, who agreed such a scheme would work brilliantly, also called for fewer cars in the city and better use of park and ride facilities – even for those people living in Portsmouth who could park outside and get the bus home.
Portsmouth University’s Peter Hooley said more space was needed for business start-ups to expand and Andrew Prismall of conveyancing company HantsWight Searches pleaded the case for more superfast broadband.
Roger Salvetti, of solicitors Biscoes, said if Portsmouth wanted to be a world class waterfront city it needed great businesses and for youngsters to be aspirational. And Paul Hartley, of Geteck LED, warned that stamp duty rises on buy-to-let properties, as announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, would lead to rent rises.