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Birmingham New Street

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

Network Rail and Birmingham city council have been developing a scheme for the redevelopment of the station. My Department is assessing whether it addresses future needs and represents value for money.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response. She will be aware that Arriva Trains Wales, which links mid and west Wales and Shropshire with Birmingham, has frequently had to terminate services at Wolverhampton because of lack of platform capacity at Birmingham New Street station. In view of what she has said about the discussions between Birmingham city council and Network Rail, can she confirm whether platform capacity, as opposed to the necessary improvement of surroundings, will be a part of the discussions? There is a great need for that, because many of my constituents think that they receive a lamentable service.

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. I know that there have been reliability problems with the Arriva Trains Wales service and I urge him to take up those concerns with the Welsh Assembly Government, because ultimately the Aberystwyth line is their responsibility. He mentions capacity at Birmingham New Street station, and that is an issue with which I am familiar. Clearly, capacity will be one of the major priorities of the forthcoming rail White Paper and, given the central importance of Birmingham New Street to the rail network, it will clearly be one of the issues in my mind as I go forward.

I also welcome my right hon. Friend to her new post. From the fact that this question comes from outside Birmingham, she will be aware of the importance of the regeneration of New Street station nationally and not simply to the city of Birmingham and the west midlands. She mentioned discussions: does she need any further information from any of the partners involved to convince her just how vital that project is to the country as well as to the region?

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. I know that he, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and others in the region have been championing the cause of New Street station, not just in terms of passenger capacity, which is clearly needed, but because of the regeneration potential of the plans. My Department has been liaising with Birmingham city council and challenging it to come up with plans that represent clear value for money.

We are currently in a process of iteration, and the local council still has significant work to do to prove its case. I can pledge to my hon. Friend that I will give the issue my close attention and focus especially on the value for money case, while understanding that value for money will include any potential regeneration benefits.

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new role and wish her success in curing the nation’s transport problems. Seven years ago, in the 10-year plan, the Government promised to tackle the very bottlenecks that she has been talking about, but they persist. The real progress in reducing train congestion and increasing capacity at New Street will be secured by the £500 million station upgrade that we all expected to hear in the high level output statement, which was expected yesterday. Was the HLOS delayed because of the emerging crisis in the Underground public-private partnership or the embarrassment caused to the Government by First Great Western and TravelWatch’s performance review at the weekend? When will the Government announce something to help west midlands commuters—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled only to one supplementary question, even if I get his name wrong.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and I congratulate him on his creative efforts in his questioning. I am sorry that they were not more successful. He is right to say that we have to think about Birmingham New Street station and the capacity issues. I understand that the issues include pedestrian access as well as rail connections outside the station.

One thing that I have not mentioned to colleagues so far is that the recent award of the Cross Country franchise will, I hope, make a significant difference to reliability across the whole network, including at Birmingham New Street station. If trains on that franchise are able to run on time and carry more passengers, that will also help all other trains leaving and arriving at that station.

I should like to welcome my right hon. Friend to her new post, and I am glad that she is aware of the congestion problems in the west midlands, especially at New Street. The proposed redevelopment, whenever it takes place, will not help that problem, so will she speak to the rail operators with a view to taking some of the congestion away from the station? Tamworth is the crossroads between the main lines to the west coast and the north-east. Will she consider making it a hub station, as that would reduce people’s need to go into New Street during the reconstruction period?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I plan to meet the train operating companies next week, when we will discuss their plans to tackle capacity problems at stations around the country. It has been made plain already that many passengers are forced to change at Birmingham New Street station, and that different options are needed. One of the merits of the recent award of the Cross Country franchise will be that fewer passengers will be forced to change at New Street station, but we keep such matters under constant review and they will inform the contents of the rail White Paper to be published shortly.