Council rejects move to help commuters

RAIL travellers in Suffolk will suffer from plans to revamp the network and the franchising process of the new regional service is "a complete and utter disaster", it has been claimed.

RAIL travellers in Suffolk will suffer from plans to revamp the network and the franchising process of the new regional service is "a complete and utter disaster", it has been claimed.

Conservative Guy McGregor called for Transport Secretary Alistair Darling to review decisions made by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to create a single franchise for East Anglia and to exclude First Great Eastern from the bidding process.

But the councillor's motion, which urged a rethink of the policies to benefit commuters, was defeated at a meeting of Suffolk County Council yesterday after opponents attacked it for being "too vague".

After the meeting, Mr McGregor, who represents Hoxne ward, said: "This administration has yet again failed to stick up for the people of Suffolk. We are very disappointed."

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The Tory told fellow councillors he was concerned about the SRA's decisions, and feared the current "happy mix" of a major InterCity service and commitment to rural services would be lost.

He said he was "astonished" when First Great Eastern was excluded from the bidding and added: "The whole process of franchising has been a complete and utter disaster."

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Mr McGregor also accused the SRA of a "lack of vision" for putting on hold plans to improve rail links between Felixstowe and Nuneaton.

But Julian Swainson (Lab, Oulton Broad) said: "Where were you when the rail industry was privatised? We are not uncritical of the SRA but we believe we should be working with them."

The motion called for the Transport Secretary to review the decisions and "to encourage the SRA to adopt policies which better reflect the aspirations of the travellers and businesses in Suffolk".

David Thomas (Lab, Normanston) said it was "one of the woolliest proposals I have ever seen in all the years I have been in politics" and added: "I cannot support this. There's nothing to it."

But Stefan Oliver (Con, Southgate and Westgate) said the Labour councillors were criticising the motion to score "cheap political points".

Some councillors expressed frustration they had not seen a consultation document on SRA plans for the rail network in East Anglia.

Others spoke of concerns the new timetable would mean more station stops and longer journey times for travellers from Suffolk, with the number of off-peak trains between Ipswich and London reduced from four to three.

The motion was defeated by 38 votes to 17, with five members not voting.

Trevor Garrod, chairman of the East Suffolk Travel Association, said: "While we didn't actually support the idea of a single franchise because we felt the present system had brought considerable advantages to East Anglia, I think we now have to accept that it's going to happen.

"What we do want to see though is, within the franchise, a separate business unit for the rural end of the region which is currently operated by Anglia Railways.

"That will work to the advantage of rail users in Suffolk rather than having everything controlled from Liverpool Street. Whoever does get the franchise, we expect them them to establish just such a business unit and we understand the Strategic Rail Authority itself accepts that argument."

BRYONY Rudkin was officially confirmed as the new leader of Suffolk County Council at yesterday's meeting, taking over from Jane Hore, who held the post for 18 months. Mrs Rudkin is leader of the Labour group, which rules the authority in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Helen Whitworth, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Thredling, was elected as council chairman with Ron Snell as her deputy. She takes over from Harold Mangar.

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