ONE of my key focus areas since becoming the MP for Sedgefield has been transport. This starts from a need to join our communities back together and create opportunities for all.

While we have seen major changes in the use of public transport due to Covid, I am convinced this will largely unwind and we will see demand returning over time. If we are to achieve our carbon reduction targets, we need transport to contribute and increased use of public transport is a key part of this.

The All Party Parliamentary Group that I chair on Left Behind Communities has seen how critical it is that all communities can connect physically and digitally with each other, but if you don’t have a car the options can be severely restricted.

The Government is working to improve this through the strategic bus review and the Restoring Your Railways (RYR) fund.

People in London and other cities barely look at the times for trains and buses because they are so frequent that if you miss one then another is on the way. The opportunities for such a travel infrastructure in towns and villages are more challenging but this should be our aspiration. The National Bus Strategy, launched last Monday and backed with £3bn, will require councils to work together with operators to improve passenger numbers, reliability, and passenger satisfaction.

It will provide £25m to deliver simpler fares, better information, modern payment methods, easier access for disabled passengers and greener buses. This cohesive and integrated strategy joins up the pieces and provides a real route forward.

Locally, we need investment in reinstating key elements of our passenger rail network like the Leamside line from Ferryhill and this bus plan should create a bus network that can be complemented by rail.

The RYR is mainly focused on local railways that were mainly removed by Beeching in the 1960s. We have three local projects.

First, Ferryhill Station which focuses on reinstating a passenger station and upgrading the Stillington Spur that runs south east into Teesside. This would deliver a critical connection so people from the Ferrryhill area can access jobs, and the introduction of the freeport should increase these opportunities.

This project has won feasibility funding and we are working to a delivery of the options in the summer.

The second and biggest project is the “Leamside line”, which would see northbound connections from Ferryhill through Washington and links to Newcastle and Sunderland. It also delivers major capacity improvements for the East Coast Main Line through the diversion of local passenger trains and freight.

The third project is the Weardale line. This is about joining Darlington to Weardale using the Bishop Line and the Heritage Railway to connect the dales to the town and vice versa, helping access to jobs and tourism.

Trains, though, take time and huge sums of money. Quicker and easier are buses. My hope is that we can create public transport integrated to “last mile” options like walking and cycling, led by buses and then complemented by rail that connects all of us to where we need to go for whatever we need to go for.