Skip to main content


Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2008

7. If she will take steps to reduce the gap between the per capita spend on transport in London and the rest of the English regions. (180541)

Transport spending per person for the English regions outside London increased by 78 per cent. between 2001-02 and 2006-07. Spending for London is higher per resident but that is because it is generally more expensive to provide services in London, and millions of people throughout the country benefit from investment in projects such as the new St. Pancras station.

Five years ago, spending in London was 80 per cent. higher than in the English regions, but that gap has widened to 150 per cent. How can England’s great regional cities compete and contribute to the UK economy if they are relatively starved of investment?

Funding for local transport in the north-west has increased from £95 million in 2001 to £213 million in 2007. I would not call that starvation. Moreover, the Department has plans for 36 major road and transport schemes by 2015-16, at a total cost of £1.27 billion. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the feasibility study that has been commissioned on increasing rail capacity in the wider Manchester area, and more than £8 billion has been invested in the west coast main line between London and the north-west in the past eight years. I do not call that starving the north-west of funds; it is good investment that is leading to real improvements for the north-west.

Will the Minister accept that the per capita investment in London’s rail network must ensure value for money for passengers? Will she look at the disgraceful muck-up that happened the day after new year’s day, when Liverpool Street station failed to open despite the commitments that had been given? That caused massive disruption for constituents of mine who were trying to get to work in the capital.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I appreciate how incredibly irritating the problem must have been for people trying to use the station and the lines into it. The matter is being investigated by the rail regulator, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), will take note of the findings and report back to the House.

I appreciate that per capita spending is not the only measure of what is going on, but serious problems of overcrowding on the rail system into Manchester affects the whole of the Greater Manchester region, and the economy of the entire north-west. It is therefore imperative that parts of the country other than London get their fair share when the new rolling stock becomes available. May I take it that the answer that my right hon. Friend gave earlier was a green light on this matter, and that there will be equity in how the rolling stock is distributed?

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. Further announcements about the allocation of rolling stock will be made later this year, and I am sure that what he has said will be taken into account.

Some £3 million was wasted when the Government binned the Leeds super tram. The Yorkshire Post’s “Road to Ruin” campaign has highlighted the chaos that is this Government’s regional transport policy. What meetings has the Minister had with the new regional Ministers to discuss infrastructure issues—or have they been too busy in marginal seats to engage with that important matter?

The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South, recently met the regional Ministers to discuss rail issues. The hon. Gentleman needs to take on board the fact that we believe a lot of these schemes can help but, obviously, not at any price. It is vital that we get value for money. When the prices of such schemes escalate, there sometimes comes a point at which a decision must be made on whether they are still the best thing for the people in the local area. If he does not understand that point, he will find it difficult to say what he thinks the priorities for his region are.

When the north-east remains cut off from the nation’s motorway system; when it is more than 22 years since the last major improvement to the Gateshead western bypass, which is our region’s most congested road; and when the Department continues to pour cold water on the idea of a high-speed rail link, does the Minister understand why there is more than just a raising of eyebrows when we see billions of pounds being invested in transport infrastructure in London?

I am well aware of the strength of feeling in the north-east. When I met my hon. Friend and colleagues up there, they put their points very well. However, I think my hon. Friend also recognises that the system for deciding priorities in the region through the regional funding allocations, which have been vastly increased in recent years, is the right way to go. Overall, departmental spending in the north-east has increased by more than 80 per cent. in the past six years. Some £457 million has been provisionally allocated to fund major schemes in the north-east. We recently announced £245 million of funding over the next three years for local authorities throughout the north-east region. We are illustrating a commitment to the people of the north-east through increased investment and modernisation.

Is the Minister aware of the absurd revisions that were recently published to the so-called regional spatial strategy for the south-west? They remove entirely any reference to what we have known as the second strategic route, which most people refer to as the A303, in favour of amorphous improvements in city areas. If the south-west had the same sort of investment as the London area, would we have at least some improvements to our infrastructure?

The hon. Gentleman will be meeting my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary fairly shortly to discuss that specific issue. Through things such as the spatial strategy, it is important that regions themselves decide how they want to plan for the future and what schemes they wish to include in it. Spending on road and rail in the south-west has more than doubled over the past six years. Some 35 major road and public transport schemes are planned to be funded, and £951 million has been provisionally allocated to the region from 2005 to 2015. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there has been massive investment in the area.