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Transport Innovation Fund

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2006

2. What role the transport innovation fund will play in tackling road congestion through demand management. (76575)

Up to £200 million a year of the transport innovation fund has been made available to support local packages of measures to address congestion. Those include demand management measures, such as road pricing, as well as investment in public transport to ensure that our towns and cities support the long- term economic success of the UK.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that Bristol is one of the local authorities that is bidding for funds from the transport innovation fund to run a road pricing pilot. What support will the local authority be given from the Department for Transport in that bid?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We have already given the greater Bristol area £1.5 million of so-called pump-priming money to support the development of a potential bid for the transport innovation fund. The four unitary authorities in the area are working together to investigate the potential for using demand management and road pricing to address the problems of local congestion. I would expect to receive the first scheme proposals next year, with pricing pilots possibly going live in four to five years.

Will the Secretary of State say whether he expects any bids for money from the transport innovation fund to be successful if they do not include an element of congestion charging or road-user pricing?

Those issues are covered in the guidance notes. We have made no secret of the fact that we think that there is considerable potential to learn useful lessons from the pilots, but that is one element of the opportunities that are available to local authorities, given that there have to be local solutions that work in local areas.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s inclusion of the west midlands conurbation area in the feasibility study to bid for money from the transport innovation fund. What consideration has he given—perhaps with his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry—to how initiatives such as the transport innovation fund can be used to maximise the technological, industrial and employment potential of different kinds of traffic management schemes, as well as reducing road congestion?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the west midlands, which is one of the seven areas that are benefiting from the pump-priming money, as I described it. The broader relationship between transport and economic growth will be addressed by the Eddington study, which was commissioned jointly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my predecessor. The study should come to us later this year and will address exactly that type of relationship.

First, I welcome the Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box for the first time in his new job and congratulate him on his promotion to the Cabinet. I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) on her promotion. It is a shame that they come to the Dispatch Box on a day when the Government have cut back the time that is available for Transport questions, which demonstrates what a low priority transport is for this Government. In the Secretary of State’s first speech, he confirmed plans for a national road pricing scheme. He has made reference again today to the concept of pilots by 2010 in areas such as the west midlands and Bristol. Does he yet have an idea of what form the pilot will take? In particular, will it involve only vehicles registered in the area covered by the pilot, will it be fiscally neutral for those involved and what technology will it use?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, in relation both to me and to my ministerial colleague. I said in the speech that I wanted to make a personal priority of taking forward the debate on a national road pricing scheme. We need such a debate, partly because there are genuine questions in the minds of motorists and other members of the public that need to be addressed. We would aim for a national consensus, and I hope that we can secure it over the months ahead, or at least begin to unbundle some of the questions that have been directed at me today. I make no secret of the fact that genuine technological questions need to be addressed. I hope that the local pilots will help us to answer other questions, which is why I think that it is sensible to have a graduated response that shows the benefits of road pricing in areas in which that can be seen to be an effective solution to congestion.

I was interested to note that the Secretary of State was not able to give specific answers to my questions. I have talked to people in the west midlands and Greater Manchester who are involved in the potential pilots and they have no idea of what is going on, what the technology involved will be, or what the pilots will look like. When will they get some information about what they should expect?

Business cases are being worked up and it is important that those responsible for the areas themselves work out a solution that works for them. I have examined the matter quite carefully in recent weeks. The hon. Gentleman puts his points to me, but I have no idea whatsoever about his position on the questions that have been asked. We will bring forward detailed proposals from the seven areas, and that will be the basis on which we can examine the range of alternatives that, in turn, will inform the thinking that we develop on national road pricing.

My right hon. Friend’s predecessor assured the House on many occasions that road charging would not be a condition for future funding of the tram system in Manchester, yet we appear to be entering into a competition for transport innovation funds between Manchester and Birmingham that will almost certainly require road charging. Does my right hon. Friend agree that rather than getting into such a destructive competition, it would be much more sensible to use the TIF money to lever in private sector funds, or as a basis for prudential borrowing, so that Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol—all the cities—can have the tram systems that they require?

I pay tribute to the leadership role that my hon. Friend has played in Manchester over a number of years, both in local government and now here in the Commons. Within days of my appointment as Secretary of State, I travelled to Manchester and reiterated the commitment that my predecessor had given on the funds available for the Manchester Metrolink. Discussions continue with the Manchester authorities and I hope that we can bring them to a conclusion relatively quickly. I understand that in addition to those discussions, consideration is being given in Manchester to the applicability of TIF funding in the future. However, in the weeks ahead, I will not in any way resile from the commitment given by my predecessor to Manchester.