Cheltenham is on the up. Our secondary schools have more funding; our GCHQ-backed cyber innovation centre is transforming the town into a powerful tech brand; our festivals are going from strength to strength; and new restaurants and businesses are opening.
But there are warning lights flashing too. One is the issue of our rail connectivity. Despite the fact that Cheltenham is far and away the most popular station in Gloucestershire (2.4m passengers annually compared to Gloucester’s 1.5m) connectivity to the south-east is dire. The fastest GWR service takes around 2 hours 15 minutes to cover the 93 miles. Bath, 116 miles away, takes just 1 hour 31 minutes. Even the journey from Exeter (around 200 miles) takes just two hours.
The GWR line feels like a clogged artery.
And it’s only by clearing that blockage that we can unlock a flow of opportunity for our young people. We can attract highly-paid, productive jobs to Cheltenham and boost local incomes. And we can make the most of our once-in-a generation £22m opportunity to build our cyber future.
The good news is that later this year we’ll be getting new IEP trains which will cut journey times. But now is our moment to go one better: that’s because the current GWR franchise is under review, allowing an opportunity to shape the service.
I have met with Chris Grayling, the Transport Minister, to press my vision for better Cheltenham transport links. But it will strengthen my case if I can show what local residents want too. So please let me know so I can lobby hard. What is your priority? Cheaper fares? Better Wi-fi? More direct services?
I’ve launched a two-minute survey and have already had a great response. You can find it on FB or at the following URL https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LR97STD
Please note, this is entirely separate from the issue of the diabolical station parking situation. After endless badgering, GWR have promised me that 2018 is the ‘year of delivery’ on additional parking capacity and other improvements.
I will be holding them to it.