It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr. Chope, with you in the Chair. However, there is a common error in the title of the debate, because it should be about Yorkshire and Humber. Humberside ceased to exist some 12 years ago and it is little lamented, not least in east Yorkshire.
I am delighted to have secured this debate and to have the opportunity to speak about an issue of great importance to my constituents and to the wider community of people across the Yorkshire and Humber region. It is a pleasure to stand opposite the Minister, with whom I debated in Westminster Hall when there was a rather unpalatable situation with community hospitals. However—thanks, doubtless, to the Minister and her colleagues—there were subtle changes in the Government position. I hope that today’s debate can similarly engender subtle changes in their position to the betterment of transport in Yorkshire.
In June 2006, I introduced a debate on the A1079 corridor between Hull and York. I argued that that road is dangerous, congested and cannot support a powerful, dynamic growth area. I could have expanded my arguments to include other roads, bus routes and train journeys affecting the whole region that are no longer fit for purpose and risk holding the county of Yorkshire back from the future growth, prosperity and success.
I shall discuss first the contribution that Yorkshire and Humber have made to the country’s economic development, especially over the past 10 to 15 years, then focus on the economic and social transformation that will be at risk unless improvements are made to the region’s transport infrastructure. I will then focus on what the region’s Members of Parliament, together with groups such as Yorkshire Forward and the Yorkshire and Humber regional assembly want to see from the Government in funding and support. I will also consider two specific issues: the A1079 road and the proposed reopening of the Beverley to York railway line. I am happy to give way to hon. Members from other parts of the region.
The basic position is that Yorkshire and Humber has, over the past five years or more, been at the bottom of the table of funding on transport. The Minister will tell us about the increases in transport spending overall and I do not deny that there have been increases. However, I am here to ask the Minister what the rationale is for Yorkshire receiving less per head than any other region in the country. I shall lay out the various areas where our transport infrastructure has been found wanting. Almost every part of the community recognises that that is so, and they have data to back it up. That brings into question any argument that says that giving the least spending to Yorkshire makes any sense.
Yorkshire and Humber is performing strongly. With a population of 5 million, the county ranks alongside Ireland, Greece, Norway and Singapore in population. Some 279,000 businesses contribute to an economy worth in excess of £80 billion. Growth in Yorkshire’s gross domestic product has been above the United Kingdom average for the past six years, and above the European Union average for the past four. Manufacturing is predicted to grow by more than 12 per cent. over the next 10 years, and five of the world’s top 10 companies have a base in the region.
In the East Riding of Yorkshire, where my constituency is located, business investment has grown significantly, and more people are moving to the area than ever before. The city of Hull has a successful port that caters for more than 1 million passengers a year and can handle up to 80 million tonnes of freight annually. Some £72 million has been spent on Hull’s infrastructure since 1990, and it supports a work force of many thousands.
The region as a whole is ideally located in the centre of the country. It supports two of the country’s three busiest motorways—the M1 and the M62—and the east coast main line, now under the National Express franchise, runs up to 800 trains a day, including 200,000 tonnes of freight. Hull Trains, which runs up to seven services a day between Hull and London, is a regional success story. It was established in 2000 with just three services a day.
In Halifax we are campaigning for a direct line from Halifax to London. Perhaps in highlighting the benefits of the direct line from Hull to London, the hon. Gentleman might say how important such lines are for the social and economic benefit of towns such as Hull and Halifax.
I agree with the hon. Lady. The direct line has had a positive impact on Hull, and I am sure that similar services could do so for Halifax. The Hull Trains service has received many accolades, including the prestigious Guardian/Observer/Guardian Unlimited travel award for the best train company. I hope that one day a Halifax train company will vie with Hull Trains for that award.
Yorkshire’s strong economic performance has been achieved in spite of, rather than because of, regional transport infrastructure. Let me read the concluding remarks from a recent report by new Labour’s pet think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, which looked into the state of transport links in the north of England in general:
“The North lags behind in some key dimensions: the northern regions receive less public funding for transport per head than other regions and their roads are in worse overall condition than anywhere else in England…high levels of traffic congestion and declining bus use mean that substantial investment in transport infrastructure and reform to transport governance will be required to deliver world-class transport services in the North of the future."
I do not always agree with IPPR reports, but this time it hit the nail on the head. Hon. Members will be aware of the problems facing their local areas. Overall, road traffic usage in the region has increased by 20 per cent. in the past 10 years and, according to the regional assembly, journey times are expected to increase by 30 per cent. by 2012. According to the RAC Foundation, the A1/M1 between south Yorkshire and Leeds, and the M62 in west Yorkshire are both likely to be gridlocked by 2041.
On the railways, the region has seen a 50 per cent. increase in rail passenger numbers since 1996. Again, according to the IPPR, the main rail links in the north of England, particularly those between Manchester and Hull, and Leeds and Sheffield, are no longer “fit for purpose”. The east coast main line, although it is performing strongly, is now at capacity, and there are no specific funding commitments for that line for the period between 2009 and 2014. The situation is so bad that, when surveyed by Yorkshire and Humber chambers of commerce in November 2007, 60 per cent. of businesses said that they were losing income because of the region’s transport infrastructure—up 21 per cent. in just one year—and only 14 per cent. felt that the transport system in the region met their needs, compared with 17 per cent. nationally. The Hull and Humber chamber of commerce said in a recent briefing that
“businesses believe that poor transport infrastructure is holding the region back and making it harder for them to compete with other UK regions and internationally.”
In east Yorkshire, the cities of Hull and York—two of the big five urban areas in the region—are let down by appallingly bad transport links. There is no direct rail link for passengers, who must go instead via Brough and Selby—an absurd route, which probably adds 45 minutes to each individual journey.
The A1079 is used by an estimated 15,000 vehicles a day. However, just 4.5 km of that road is dual carriageway, with the remaining 39.5 km being single carriageway. It is one of the most congested roads in the region: the journey times even from Beverley to Hull are creeping towards 45 minutes during peak times. It is one of the most dangerous roads, not just in Yorkshire but in the country as a whole. Since 2002, 25 people have been killed in traffic accidents, and 1,037 have been injured, which averages out at more than 200 year. This problem affects the whole region. According to figures released by the Department of Transport, 21,009 road accidents were recorded in Yorkshire and Humber between March 2006 and March 2007. A vast number of people have been hurt. Overall, only the Metropolitan police recorded a higher number of road casualties during a 12-month period, at 21,781.
These grim accident statistics are hardly surprising when we consider that almost one third of Britain’s most dangerous roads are in Yorkshire and Humber. According to a recent assessment report by the European Road Assessment Programme—EuroRAP—of the 17 sections of road that present a persistent medium to high risk to users, six are situated in the Yorkshire region. The most dangerous road in Britain is the 15-mile stretch of the A682 between junction 13 of the M65 and Long Preston. Also on the list is the A62 between Diggle and Huddersfield, the A644 between Dewsbury and junction 25 of the M62, and the A1079—specifically the stretch between Hull and Market Weighton.
I hope that the Minister will not suggest that there is some special situation in Yorkshire, or that there is a benign state that means it does not need the investment required in other areas; there is no case to be made along those lines. The East Riding of Yorkshire council deserves to be congratulated on taking steps to reduce the number of accidents on the A1079. Two years ago, it installed up to half a dozen speed cameras, which appear to have had an impact. Some 154 people sustained injuries on the road in 2006, which is down from 255 in 2003, but accidents continue to happen. Earlier this month, two men were treated in hospital for serious multiple injuries following a car crash at Wilberfoss near Pocklington. The men had to be freed by firefighters using hydraulic rescue equipment before being taken by RAF helicopter to York hospital. A few weeks before, a man died following a collision with another car near the village of Shiptonthorpe.
Put simply, the A1079 is in urgent need of improvement. The East Riding of Yorkshire council has clearly stated that fact. In 2006, it claimed that the road was operating
“near to its theoretical capacity for a single carriageway of its width and characteristics.”
The main problem for the road is the number of heavy goods vehicles that use it every day—up to 10 per cent. of the total number of vehicles on the road. That is not ideal, particularly because most of the road is single carriageway.
After much local campaigning, the council agreed to undertake a feasibility study for a bid to improve the A1079, which was considered by the council at a cabinet meeting in December. However, the decision on whether to conduct a study was pushed back until the summer, because there is limited money available, and the A1079 is behind two other major development projects in priority. Such projects are worth while. For example, improvements to the A164, which runs between Beverley and the Humber bridge, will make access to that strategic hub much easier, and the Beverley and Bridlington integrated transport plans will make traffic and congestion more bearable for local residents.
If Yorkshire did not receive such a poor share of the transport budget compared with other Government regions, many more improvements could be undertaken, including to the A1079. The same could also be said for the Beverley to York rail link, which was closed in 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts and has never been reopened. Public pressure for the line to be restored led to the appointment of a consultancy group to conduct a feasibility study by the East Riding of Yorkshire council. The group concluded that up to 622,000 journeys a year could be made on the line, provided that two trains an hour were operated, with journeys extended to and from Leeds. As ever, the sticking point was the estimated cost, which was projected to be up to £239 million, with a cost-benefit ratio of between 1.26 and 2.04 over 60 years. Although there is a positive cost-benefit ratio, the chances of the line seeing the light of day in the next 10 to 15 years are slim.
As I have said, the crux of the issue and the main reason for initiating this debate, is to ask why Yorkshire receives less money than any other region. As hon. Members will know, when Department for Transport funding is distributed, our region sits at the bottom of the pile, although this year, it has crawled up slightly from the very bottom. In 2001-02, Yorkshire and Humber received just £140 per head in transport funding, which compares with £323 for London and £171 on average in England. As a percentage of the English total, our figure was 81.9 per cent. of the average. In 2006-07, funding for Yorkshire and Humber increased to £215 per head. However, in London the figure was £614, and in England overall it was £305. For some reason, over the past six or seven years, our figure has dropped to 70.5 per cent. of the English total. Again, the people of Yorkshire and Humber want to know the rationale behind that cut in relative spending.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. It is important to acknowledge the work that the Minister and the Department have done to reimburse local authorities for the damage caused by the flooding last summer. Sheffield has just received more than £9 million—£10 million in total—to repair the damage done to local roads by the floods. We should at least acknowledge what has been done while making the case for what has not been done.
The hon. Lady is correct; where things have been done right, that should be acknowledged. On the floods, the Audit Commission considered the financing of local government in relation to floods and emergencies, and described the situation as incoherent, overlapping and very poor—that is not an exact quote, but I think it was the conclusion that was reached. To put those figures in context, the insurance companies have spent in excess of £3 billion, on which they are forced to pay VAT. The Exchequer has therefore received hundreds of millions of pounds as a direct result of the flooding. The sums it has put back do not adequately compensate councils, such the East Riding of Yorkshire, for the damage that has been sustained, not least to the highways. The sum will emerge over the next couple of years, but we should put it in context. I completely agree with the hon. Lady; justice should be done and recognition should be given where it is deserved.
Nobody is saying that the region should have parity with London, which is a major international city and finance centre with specific needs, but what is the justification for Yorkshire doing so badly compared with other regions? A number of recent reports have set out in detail the economic rewards that the region would gain if more money were invested in transport infrastructure. A report from the think-tank Centre for Cities suggests that if the necessary investment was made in its public transport infrastructure and a park-and-ride scheme, the local economy in and around Leeds would benefit to the tune of £68 million a year. The report concluded that improvements to the trans-Pennine rail link and to the M1 and M62 would benefit the cities of Manchester and Leeds to the tune of £225 million a year. The Northern Way report, “North-South Connections”, published in August 2007, states that investment in north-south and east-west rail links would benefit the economy by up to £10 billion. The Institute for Public Policy Research states in its report that
“two of the northern regions—the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber—appear to lose out significantly from the current distribution of public investment in transport: the Department for Transport should review its future funding allocations to make sure that these regions get a fair share of funding”—
whatever that funding is. That goes to the heart of what hon. Members from all parties and I want to say to the Government today: we accept that increased investment has been made, but we would like an explanation of the rationale involved and a fair share of the investment made nationally, according to a criteria that we, as Members of Parliament, can understand.
I would also like to raise the issue of the Humber bridge and its tolls. The Minister will know that the original quote for building the Humber bridge—we all know why it was built at the time of a by-election in 1966—was £28 million. As a result of Government procurement and management—or mismanagement—that figure trebled while the bridge was being built. Over the years, in the hands of Governments of all parties, the debt has been left to sit on Government books, although I pay credit to the Government for writing down some of that debt in the Treasury’s books. The debt in public accounts is now £300 million more than the original quote of £28 million to build the bridge, as it is £333 million. It is my constituents and the constituents of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) who are paying for that, as they pay the highest toll in the country to cross the bridge. The tolls also have an economic impact on the region. I would like to inform the Minister, if she does not already know, that the local authorities will produce a report later this year that will consider the economic impact of the Humber bridge tolls. I hope that I have readied her for receipt of the report later in the year. Removing the tolls could have a positive economic impact.
I have come to the end of my remarks within the 20 minute margin. The Minister has influenced community hospital policy to the betterment of my constituents, so I hope that she can influence Government and that, particularly as the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber, she can concentrate on representing Yorkshire in government rather than the other way round. I trust that, with her talents and arts of persuasion, she will be able to do precisely that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) not only on securing this important debate, but on the excellent panoramic view that he has given of transport issues in the region. I shall try not to reiterate the bevy of statistics that we have all come to the debate suitably armed with. It is not my intention to be too parochial or to play beggar-my-neighbour in the debate, but all of us will put our constituencies forward as perfect examples of the transport challenges that the hon. Gentleman described. Key roads in my constituency are often choked with traffic. Rail is affected by overcrowding, and buses have been hit by the effects of deregulation, higher car ownership and usage, and congestion.
Normally, my eyes glaze over when I see a document that contains the word “strategy”. I like to wait for the action plan that follows it if there is one, but an exception is the 25-year Leeds city region transport vision and investment plan—that is a mouthful—because it is a cogent and coherent document. I can extrapolate from that strategy, contrary to other strategies, what the benefits advocated by it would be for my constituency and constituents, as well as for the rest of the Leeds city region. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the document, because we exchanged views on it in a fairly recent Adjournment debate that I secured on transport issues affecting my constituency. It is an excellent analysis of the needs and, I submit, a modest document in terms of the finances that would be required to realise the proposals.
Rail plays a crucial role in my constituency. We have taken some years to recover from the effects of privatisation. I am thinking of the time when the first franchisee—MTL—got rid of 80 drivers, with all the concomitant unreliability and cancellations of services. In addition, a huge proportion of the extra investment that the Government have allocated to rail has gone into maintenance and safety issues in the wake of the Hatfield disaster, which has deflected that investment away from the more visible and tangible aspects of rail provision—that is, extra rolling stock.
Northern Rail data show significant overcrowding problems affecting most services into Leeds during peak times. The main examples are the three lines that run through my constituency: the Airedale and Wharfedale line, the Harrogate line and the Caldervale line. At peak times, each of those exceeds 135 per cent. of seating capacity, which is generally regarded as the maximum practical load. That lack of capacity and the poor quality and reliability of services, particularly into Leeds, are already discouraging trips at peak times. It is no surprise that the 25-year strategy regards improvements to those lines as key measures.
I recognise that, under the present Government, there have been improvements to all three stations in my constituency: Horsforth, Guiseley and New Pudsey. We have seen new 333 class rolling stock on the Airedale and Wharfedale line. We have seen the £150 million upgrade of Leeds City station, which has increased its efficiency and reduced the waiting times that used to typify services going into the city. Last year, a partnership of Metro—the West Yorkshire passenger transport executive—Yorkshire Forward and Northern Rail increased capacity on lines such as the Caldervale line, but unfortunately unreliability has led to a continuation of major complaints from passengers about overcrowding at peak times. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) may have comments to make about the fact that, often, trains that go through Burley station in his constituency have been filled at the previous station by my constituents, if they are fortunate enough to get on the train.
The proposal in the White Paper, “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”, to deploy 1,300 extra carriages and the recognition that a fair proportion of those should come into the Leeds area are welcome, but we need the carriages very soon and we need as large a proportion as possible. It certainly needs to be at the higher limits of what has been envisaged by the Department for Transport. The 25-year Leeds city region plan proposes extending the electrification measures that have been so successful on the Airedale and Wharfedale line. That example demonstrates the value of extending them across the area.
Bus deregulation has been a disaster for many communities throughout the country, not least communities in my area. Since deregulation in 1986, fares in Pudsey and west Yorkshire have gone up by more than 50 per cent. in real terms. Passenger numbers have declined by almost 40 per cent., which equates to 100 million passenger journeys. As in many areas, services are chopped and changed, missing, late or unreliable, and passengers, if they have an alternative, simply vote with their feet, or rather with their cars, with all the attendant problems that that creates: congestion, pollution and rat running and speeding through residential communities.
When we appeal to First Bus when it takes a service off the timetable because it is not profitable, we get what I call the two-fingered response, if you will excuse the gesture, Mr. Chope. The first part of the response is that the service is not profitable, and the second is, “Go away to Metro and get a subsidy.” Part of the problem with that is that, although all the figures show that the Government have been making more and more finance available to PTEs to subsidise services, we have not been getting a commensurate increase in the services provided.
All hon. Members could cite a litany of service cuts down the years in their areas. I am thinking of services such as the 97, 647 and 651 in the Guiseley and Yeadon areas. We are currently having battles over services such as the 966 in Yeadon and over cuts to the 81 and 82 services serving Pudsey and Horsforth. Some communities, such as Farfield and Hough Side in my constituency, have simply been cut off; they have ceased to exist as part of a bus route. People cannot get to key facilities such as the newly rebuilt Wharfedale hospital, which, although it is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West, serves a large number of my constituents, too.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s comments and hope that the Local Transport Bill will offer us the regulation that we need to sort out the problem. Yesterday in The Guardian, there was a report that bus operators may try to challenge the national concessionary bus pass scheme for the over-60s, because they say that they will lose out with that. Will he join me in being critical of that move, given that the bus operators have done very well out of deregulation over the past few years and that that bus scheme is one of the best things that has been done in the past few months by the Government?
I absolutely agree. It would be a shame if bus operators seek to challenge the scheme, because there is a suspicion—I put it no more strongly than that—that they have been jacking up their standard fares to maximise their income once the nationwide concessionary fares system comes into operation. It is absolutely right to say that the deregulated system has given them a licence to print money and they make profits even when they are not providing a decent service.
We know all the environmental benefits of rail and buses. The Tyndall centre for climate change research has given us many insights into that, although I will not go into the details. The plan for the city region envisages more quality and accessibility improvements, including the holy grail of integration—integrated ticketing—better passenger information, the extension of existing guided busways, which have been so successful in certain parts of Leeds, and high-frequency bus rapid transit corridors to complement rail corridors.
I welcome the Local Transport Bill and the easing of requirements on quality contracts, but as the Minister knows, I, together with others, still have reservations about the process. I do not intend to go into those in detail now; I will share them when the Bill comes before this House.
As the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness rightly indicated, most of the strategic routes in Yorkshire, certainly those in the city region, are congested at peak times, including the motorways. The A65 and the ring road in my constituency is a good example of a route on which people experience increasingly lengthy peak-time delays and congestion. The worsening congestion has led to a deterioration in the reliability of journey times. As a result, peak periods are simply growing like Topsy. Some drivers re-time their journeys to avoid the worst congestion, thereby further extending the peak period.
I do not intend to reiterate the hon. Gentleman’s points. At the end of the day, the question, as always, is how we pay for the improvements that are envisaged in the plan. As my right hon. Friend the Minister will know, the estimated cost is slightly more than £4 billion in 2006 prices, although that will increase by £500 million when the so-called optimism bias is factored in—I shall not bore hon. Members with a description of that because most of us will have come across it at some point. The good news is that the sum includes funding that is already committed for transport in the city region. Around £1.75 billion, which is 40 per cent. of the necessary funding, has already been committed, and a significant part of the remainder does not require new funding sources. Unidentified funding currently totals about £1.8 billion. The plan is explicit on the wide range of possible funding sources that could be used to make up the shortfall, which includes the transport innovation fund, train operator investment, section 106 contributions from developers, additional funding from local authorities, and the Northern Way growth fund and its successor.
There has been significant real-term increases in funding for transport in the region, which was welcome—I am pleased that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness acknowledged that in his balanced contribution. However, at the end of the day, we are asking for a much fairer share of the larger cake—I can put it no more starkly than that. I was going to go through some of the statistics that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but I shall not waste time doing so because other hon. Members wish to speak. I share his analysis. The case is indisputable and the cost is modest compared with the benefits and certainly the consequences of not meeting the challenge. As I said, we need not only a fair wind from the Minister, but fair funding.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this debate—there can be no better time to discuss the matter. As he made clear, and as I am sure we all agree, transport infrastructure is vital to growth and development in any area or region. It supports economic renewal, contributes to environmental sustainability, and tackles social exclusion by linking deprived areas at risk from marginalisation to key services and the new opportunities that are created by the kind of regeneration and growth that we all want. However, investment levels in Yorkshire and the Humber on transport infrastructure are a concern—I shall speak particularly about Leeds.
My Leeds colleagues will agree that the city is in many ways a huge success story, but equally that a lack of investment in transport infrastructure is, simply put, holding back further growth and, indeed, costing us further inward investment. Yet again, in 2006-07, for the third year in a row, Yorkshire and the Humber came bottom of the Government expenditure league table—a position that we are not prepared to accept, and nor should we. More worryingly, the gap is widening dramatically compared with transport spending in London and the south-east in particular. To demonstrate that, in the five years from 2000-01, our region went from receiving just less than half the per person spend in London and the south-east to less than a third in 2005-06. That could not be more starkly shown than by a graph of the increasing gap. The Minister should address that gap by increasing the per person spend in Yorkshire and the Humber in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, the pattern at the moment shows little sign of change. In 2006-07, the spend was £215 a head in Yorkshire, compared with the £614 per head enjoyed by those in London—nearly three times as much.
As the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness mentioned, the chief economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, Howard Reed, highlighted the matter. He said:
“Major investment in the rail network, bus services and upgrades to the North’s road network are crucial … It is imperative that the resources that are available for transport investment are allocated to where they can be most effective”.
That sentiment is strongly echoed by the Leeds chamber of commerce on behalf of the Leeds area. Ian Williams, the chamber’s executive director of policy, said:
“Funding is everything and unless we increase the level of overall transport funding, we will always be on the back foot, we will always be at a disadvantage compared to other regions”.
The chamber points out that, despite the fact that Leeds is a key driver for the economy in the region, and thus supposedly a key focus of Government policy, it actually receives only 24 per cent. of the regional transport budget. It argues, quite sensibly, that transport investment is needed in the areas where it will deliver the greatest return and that, therefore, there is surely an argument that cannot be ignored to invest further in the Leeds city region.
Of course Leeds needs more investment, but it is not the only economic centre in Yorkshire—York’s science base is also extremely important. We should not get into the business of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Rather, do we not need to fight for the region as a whole?
The hon. Gentleman is right to stick up for the wonderful city of York—I spent a very happy five years there. Of course, York is a vital hub for the region, as is Leeds. I am not talking about competing for a limited pot; indeed, the hon. Member for Pudsey said that we are trying to get a bigger slice of the cake. My point, with which the hon. Member for City of York will probably agree, is that because cities such as Leeds, Hull, York and Sheffield make such a contribution to the region’s economy, it surely makes sense to invest in them rather than pouring so much money and such a proportion of the cake into the south-east, which is already over-developed. Doing so would provide a win-win solution. However, the Department for Transport is increasingly fixated with the south-east, and it continues to ignore such a solution.
We have already heard about capacity on the railways. To add to that, there was an extraordinary revelation from the body responsible for promoting public transport—Metro is the West Yorkshire passenger transport authority—a few weeks ago. It said that it was unable to promote the benefits of peak-time train travel in the region because the trains were bursting at the seams and it simply could not accept any further capacity.
We all know that the issue goes back to the short-sighted decision to award train franchises on a no-growth basis, which still detrimentally affects us. We also know about the 60 to 90 extra carriages proposed by the Department for Transport. However, that will not be enough—Metro estimates that we will need 135 extra carriages simply to meet current demand, not including the capacity necessary for park-and-ride facilities and the like, which we will need if we are to get more people out of their cars.
To echo the hon. Member for Pudsey, around 15,500 passengers arrive at Leeds on local services in the morning, about 15 per cent. of whom do not have a seat. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of 135 per cent. of capacity. The Leeds-to-Harrogate line, which runs through my constituency, is one of the worst, with 133 per cent of capacity. Actually, the busiest train on that line operates at 213 per cent. of capacity, which is exceeded only by the extraordinary 274 per cent. of capacity on trains coming into Leeds from Castleford and Knottingley.
Incidentally, I should point out that the hon. Member for Pudsey and I share Horsforth station—we have a platform each—and I can only claim half of Burley park station because the other half is in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), who is also behind the campaign to get a better funding deal for the region. The Harrogate-to-York line, which is linked to my area, goes through the magnificent Bramhope tunnel, which was finished in 1849, an era in which we in this country invested in public transport. Yet today, the Government do not provide enough carriages to allow people to travel in comfort through the tunnel. How far back have we gone regarding investment in public transport? Yes, there has been investment, but the Government have spent 11 years tinkering around the edges in Yorkshire and the Humber and the situation has got worse.
I turn to the subject of congestion. Several sections of the motorways around Leeds—the M1, the M62 and the M621—are operating close to capacity. Between junctions 5 and 6 on the M621, average speeds during the peak hour are as low as 20 mph. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) may smile, but I suggest that he visits us to see the reality of the situation.
We have two of the most badly congested roads in the country—the A660, which runs like a spine through my constituency; and the A65, a section of which I share with the hon. Member for Pudsey, though he has the bulk of it. The situation is not getting any better. The Government say that they cannot find £500 million for the Leeds supertram scheme, yet they can find £16 billion for the Crossrail scheme in a city that already has an integrated and extensive public transport system.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the difficulties with Government plans is their failure to honour and deliver on previous promises? Promises made in the transport 10-year plan in 2000 were not met. In the 2002 spending review, the then Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, promised that
“55 strategic road schemes are now being progressed through the Targeted Programme of Improvements, and around 100 more will be added as the programme of multimodal studies moves towards completion over the next two years”.
That was a tremendous soundbite, but the Department for Transport’s annual report in 2006 stated that only 36 strategic road schemes had been completed since 2001, which is a failure.
The supertram experience has left a bitter taste. The Manchester and Nottingham extensions and the Edinburgh scheme have been given the go-ahead, despite similar costs and a significantly worse cost-benefit ratio, so it is clear when it comes to decisions on transport that it is one rule for some regions and another for Yorkshire.
We are united across the political spectrum; indeed council leaders from all parties and all the city’s MPs have made the same case, but all we hear from the Minister is that small is beautiful. I am disappointed. Unlike Ministers for Health, whose job is clearly to promote health, it seems that the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber is not meant to promote Yorkshire—she represents the Government to Yorkshire, not Yorkshire to the Government. That is extremely regrettable.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, when are we going to get a fair deal on transport in Yorkshire? Secondly, when will the Government take seriously the transport issues that are hampering regional development? Thirdly, when will we stop being bottom of the league for transport spending? We are not prepared to put up with that, and we will keep saying so until we get the fair deal that the people of Yorkshire and the Humber deserve.
I challenge two myths. The first is the myth in parts of the road transport lobby that building roads is the only answer to congestion and the second is the myth from parts of the environment lobby that investment in roads is bound to be bad for the environment. I congratulate the universities of York and Loughborough, Imperial college London and a number of transport companies for winning £4 million of Government investment to research solutions to road congestion. Among other things, the research will use military situation awareness technology; QinetiQ, the defence research company, is one of the partners to the consortium. It will seek to be able to tell drivers not only where there is a traffic jam but how to avoid it; and it will tell transport managers what the causes of congestion are and what needs to be done about them.
It is important to realise that technology has as much to contribute to reducing congestion as tarmac. Reducing congestion is important, because it leads to better safety on the roads. It also leads to less pollution. Vehicles queuing up with their engines running are going nowhere, but they have a severe environmental impact. Transport is the one sector of the economy in which carbon emissions continue to rise, and we need policies to reduce those emissions.
The view that all road transport investment is bound to increase pollution is wrong. A good example of its wrongness is the investment in York park-and-ride schemes over the years, which has hugely reduced the number of car journeys in and out of the city centre. City of York council is bidding for funding for improvements to York’s northern ring road junctions, and for additional park-and-ride facilities.
Last year, we faced a large number of manufacturing job losses; Nestlé, the chocolate manufacturer, and British Sugar both announced redundancies, following the previous year’s announcement that Terry’s of York was moving out. One reason given by the companies for cutting manufacturing in York was road congestion; they blamed it for the length of time that it took to get the raw materials into the factory and the goods out. If, as a result of manufacturing closures due to road congestion, manufacturing moves abroad—perhaps to eastern Europe, as was the case with Terry’s—the road miles used in the making of the food and the chocolate bars would be enormous. A modest investment in roads in the United Kingdom could lead to huge environmental benefits.
I seek Government support for three schemes about which City of York council and I spoke to the Minister on 4 February. The first is the council’s bid for funding for three new park-and-ride sites. The first such site to be constructed was at Askham Bar, the Leeds gateway to York, just off the A64. That is now used by 600,000 passengers a year. The site has room for 550 cars; it is normally full by 10 am, and drivers are rerouted to other sites, thereby lengthening their journey. The idea is to replace that site with one nearby with space for 1,250 cars. The second change would be to construct a new park-and-ride site where the A59 crosses the northern ring road close to Poppleton, and to change the junction to improve traffic flows on the ring road. That would provide space for 750 cars. Thirdly, there would be a 750-space park-and-ride site on Wigginton road, with additional bus priority measures from there into York.
Secondly, I would like the Government to support the Highways Agency’s bid to the regional transport board to upgrade the A64 Hopgrove roundabout, where the A64 branches off the ring road towards Scarborough. Finally, I notify the Minister that, later in the year, City of York council will be making a bid to the regional transport board for additional improvements to the outer ring road, in order to improve traffic flow. There has been much debate in York about dualling the ring road, but the bid is not for dualling but to make the existing road work better. I shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) a little time to contribute to the debate.
Thank you, Mr. Chope, for calling me to speak in this debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this important debate and I am glad that he put on the record that Humberside no longer exists as an administrative area.
Other hon. Members have already mentioned this, but I would also like to say that I welcomed the Minister’s announcement yesterday of money to repair roads damaged by floods. North Lincolnshire council will receive £1.5 million from the Government to assist it in road repairs, so I thank her for that.
I want to set the scene a wee bit. Everyone today has been talking about Yorkshire and we have this little bit added on to the name of the region, called the Humber, which is actually the name of a river. The area that I represent is, in fact, in Lincolnshire, so I want to set the scene about that part of the region.
The port of Immingham is the transport hub of the area. About 64 million tonnes of cargo go through Immingham every year. Twenty per cent. of the UK’s freight begins or ends its journey on the south Humber bank. The south Humber bank is also an industrial area with many major British industries involved there. It also contains most of Britain’s oil refining capacity. We also have Grimsby docks adding to the trade that is going in and out of the area, particularly with cars being imported and exported.
That description should give hon. Members a bit of an idea of the pressure on transport infrastructure in the area. The main east-west route, linking the docks to the A1 and M1, is the M180/A180. That road has a concrete surface. As the Minister will know, roads with a concrete surface are very noisy and, with the increase in volume of heavy goods traffic on that particular road, the noise is getting worse. The Government have resurfaced part of it. However, because that resurfacing has been so successful, local people are lobbying to have the rest of the road resurfaced. I recently met the Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss the issue, so I would appreciate an update on the timetable for the rest of the resurfacing.
Leading from the A180 to the port of Immingham is the A160 road, linking to all the oil refineries in the area. However, that small section of road is single carriageway and it needs to be dual carriageway. I was told by one truck driver that it is possible to drive from Sicily all the way to north Lincolnshire on motorway or dual carriageway until the point where vehicles come off the A180 on to the A160 and then it is a single carriageway road.
Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and my hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), I led a delegation from North Lincolnshire council to meet the Minister’s officials and we were told that her officials were looking favourably on getting the A160 dualled. Obviously, as the whole Humber estuary is a global gateway, particularly Immingham, I would certainly appreciate an update from her about the funding for that work.
If that work can be completed, it will have a knock-on effect on the town of Immingham itself, because heavy goods vehicles regularly go through the centre of the town at the moment. If we can sort out the transport infrastructure in the area, particularly the roads, that will take such heavy traffic out of the town and that can only be good for Immingham.
I would like to talk about the Humber bridge, a subject that was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. If he cares to go to my website and read the section called “The River Humber - the curse of the crossing”, I think that he will find out some more facts about the subject. The high cost of getting across the Humber has led to complaints as far back as I could go. In 1316, people were complaining about the halfpenny charge for pedestrians and the one penny charge for equestrians on the Barton to Hull ferry. Daniel Defoe was not terribly fond of crossing the Humber either and referred to it as
“an old fashioned dangerous passage”.
He went on to describe
“a ferry over the Humber to Hull in an open boat, in which we had about fifteen horses and ten or twelve cows mingled with about seventeen or eighteen passengers, we were about four hours tossed about in the Humber before we could get into Hull.”
So there have been problems getting across the Humber for quite some time.
The story that I really like is that of a bit of a fight about the ferry between Jimmy Acland, who was from Hull, and the Hull Corporation in 1831. Again, that conflict related to the cost of crossing the Humber. The Hull Corporation kept bunging up the charges on the ferry to cross the Humber and Jimmy Acland, who was the editor of the Hull-based Portfolio newspaper, started a campaign against the high ferry charges, to such an extent that he purchased a boat. He called his boat “The Public Opinion” and it was up against the Hull Corporation’s boat, which was called “The Royal Charter”.
Both boats competed with each other. Jimmy Acland went back in time, as it were, and charged one penny, which was the 1316 charge, for anyone who wanted to cross the Humber. That led to fights between the two boats.
It certainly was a ferry war. People would try and cut the moorings of the rival boat and local thugs would try and block people from getting on to the ferries. All that, and many other wonderful tales about crossing the Humber, can be found in that section of my website.
To bring matters more up to date, to be fair to the Government they have made some progress. Going back to shortly after the 1997 election, following representations from all MPs in the area—those representing the south bank of the Humber and the north bank—the Government wrote off about £64 million of the debt that had been built up by the Humber Bridge Board. Another £16 million has been written off recently, and there have been commensurate reductions in the interest rates. I welcome those moves.
I met my right hon. Friend the Minister recently to discuss the issue of tolls, because I believe that tolls are a thorn in the side of economic development in the area. Tolls act as a barrier, rather than linking both sides of the Humber. We have these bustling, busy ports and industrial development on both sides of the river, but the high tolls to cross the river act as a barrier. Recently, North Lincolnshire council commissioned a report to examine the effect of the tolls on economic development, and that report is welcome. I hope that the Minister will look at what it says.
Continuing with the tolls issue, what really upset local people is that the reorganisation of cancer services in the area meant that some of my constituents and other people on the south bank of the Humber had to travel north for cancer treatment. If someone is having cancer treatment every day, or every other day, and they are paying the toll, the parking fees and other transport costs if they are driving, because there is only one bus linking Grimsby and Cleethorpes to Hull, it becomes very costly. Consequently, many of us in the area have been campaigning for some sort of concession.
I must say that we have found the Humber Bridge Board to be not very receptive to that idea of a concession, to such an extent that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole tried to introduce a private Member’s Bill on the subject. When he became aware that he could not follow that through, I introduced a private Member’s Bill and I know that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness was a co-sponsor. All parties backed the Bill as a way of trying to find a solution to the problem. I hope that, in her roles as a regional Minister and a transport Minister and also with her background at the Department of Health, the Minister will understand that particular problem and do all that she can to try to bring all the disparate groups together to find a solution to it.
Very quickly, I would like to talk about an issue that is related to access to hospital treatment, which is bus passes for pensioners. I raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, saying that I have one local authority that imposes no restrictions on travel for pensioners; pensioners would be able to use their passes all day, including before 9.30 am. The neighbouring authority is imposing restrictions and it will not allow people to travel before 9.30 am. As I have said before, there is only one direct bus link from Grimsby to Hull. So, for people going to hospital, that is a very serious issue. Pensioners from Immingham who have to get on the bus before 9.30 to access hospital treatment have to pay full fare, but pensioners who live a mile down the road, across the border between the two authorities, in villages such as Killingholme, get to travel free.
We must resolve that issue, because it is almost creating apartheid in terms of access to travel in our area. I hope that the Minister will be able to do something about that, because I have looked at the figures, and North East Lincolnshire has had sufficient funding to allow pensioners to travel free before 9.30 am. I would therefore appreciate it if she could have a word with the council.
[John Bercow in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to a debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing it.
For reasons of time, I shall restrict my remarks largely to public transport matters. Let me say at the start, however, that investment in transport infrastructure is self-evidently vital to the economic growth of any region, but particularly those regions that are some distance from the capital. The further away they are from London, the more important good transport links with the capital and the rest of the country become. We rely on good transport links not only to move goods around, but to create trade links with the rest of the UK and the wider world, allow workers to get to their jobs, bring together rural and urban areas, access shops and culture and allow children to get to school. The list is endless, but the point that I seek to make is simple: good transport links are essential to our everyday lives.
Transport is the backbone of our economy, and it is a generally accepted fact that the state of any area’s transport network relates directly to its economic and social success. Many hon. Members have referred to IPPR North’s recent paper on the subject, which argued convincingly that the lack of investment and improvement in transport—particularly public transport—in northern England is one of the biggest checks on the region’s economic growth. Like many others, including Yorkshire Forward and just about every hon. Member who has contributed to the debate, IPPR North remains concerned about the level of investment in the region’s transport.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) referred to the figures supplied to us by PTEG, which show that Yorkshire and Humber received only a third of the public expenditure that London received in 2006-07. My region, the north-west, was not much better off, receiving £276 a head, which is less than the average for England, at £305 a head, and considerably less than London’s £614 a head. Of course, the difference in investment between London and the north will not come as a surprise to any of us, and we will all have argued in relation to our own constituencies that funding seems all too often to be skewed in favour of the south. Obviously, we understand that London is the capital and therefore a special case, and all that I am arguing is that the north also deserves a transport system that can support its economic growth and its citizens’ social needs. Is the Minister therefore considering reviewing the funding allocations for transport to ensure that all regions get their fair share?
The lack of investment in the region’s public transport is particularly worrying. I have listened to contributions from hon. Members both sides of the Chamber, and it seems to be universally accepted that significant investment must be made in the region’s train services. The IPPR North report stated:
“It is widely recognised that the main rail links between the North and South of England are not likely to be adequate to support sustainable growth over the coming decades”
and that rail links in the north are not “fit for purpose”. As I mentioned in questions to the Secretary of State for Transport just last week, it is a fact that, on too many train journeys, people are left without a seat, certainly in the Yorkshire and Humber region. As in the north-west, overcrowding is a significant problem on trains. According to PTEG, and as we have heard, a quarter of all local train arrivals at Leeds in the morning peak period have passenger loadings in excess of 135 per cent. of seated capacity.
If we want to encourage more people on to public transport, it is pretty obvious that we desperately need extra capacity, because no one will want to travel by train if they know in advance that the likelihood of getting a seat is remote. Therefore, there needs to be an urgent assessment of rail services in the north and of the introduction of high-speed rail services to London. That should be looked at as soon as possible, and I ask the Minister to address that question specifically in her response and to tell us if and when a proper cost-benefit analysis of such schemes will take place.
More specifically, I understand that First Group, which runs the trans-Pennine service, is in negotiations with the Government to add a fourth carriage to its trains to increase capacity by 20 per cent. and that that would be in exchange for an extension to its franchise. I also understand that it is looking to buy new rolling stock, but that it needs the go-ahead from the Government before it does so, so that the stock will continue to be used if the franchise changes hands. Will the Minister update us on what stage the negotiations with First Group have reached and give us an assurance that the Government are committed to working with First Group to ensure that capacity is increased on the trans-Pennine service?
One problem with transport is that it is nearly always more efficient in cost-benefit terms to create services in city regions than in rural ones. In particular, bus services for countryside communities often suffer first when funding is tight, because they do not make as much money as urban transport services tend to. There are not many rural areas that will say that their bus services have not been reduced in recent years. That is certainly no less true of the Yorkshire and Humber region, and we must ensure that rural bus services in the region are protected to reduce social exclusion.
One possible way of increasing bus passenger numbers—I say this in reference to the point made by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac)—would be to introduce a system that allowed passengers to travel more easily between different areas. We could have a cross-regional smartcard system similar to the Oyster card in London to encourage more people to use buses and, I hope, ensure that more of the region’s bus services remained sustainable. Perhaps the Minister could also touch on that.
Obviously, we need to keep in mind at all times the need to ensure that all forms of transport are sustainable and to help move England towards a carbon-neutral future. As we know, transport contributes highly to greenhouse gas emissions, and we must ensure that improvements and extensions are not accomplished at the expense of the environment.
The transport system in the Yorkshire and Humber region obviously needs significantly increased investment to support economic growth, reduce social exclusion and improve environmental sustainability. With a population of 5 million, the region is a vibrant, successful and hugely important part of the UK, but it deserves better. I very much hope that the Minister is listening to the concerns of the region’s residents, as they have been expressed today, and I look forward to her response.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this debate on transport spending in Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire.
I stand corrected.
The picture that my hon. Friend painted has certainly been reflected in contributions from all parts of the region. The picture of under-investment over a long period, with our region being bottom of the list, seems to have hit home. My hon. Friend specifically mentioned the A1079, which I drove down last Friday, and the road is a story of congestion and carnage.
I was very pleased when the right hon. Lady was appointed Minister for the region. I am not sure what influence she will have over other Ministers in the areas of health and education, but when it comes to transport, she will be able to lobby herself. I hope that she will quickly respond to many of the concerns that have been expressed. In particular, I hope that she responds to the “Road to Ruin” campaign run by the Yorkshire Post, which has highlighted some of the points very clearly.
The figures speak for themselves. In 2006-07, per capita spending in our region was £215. In London, the figure was £614, and for the UK as a whole, £319. As the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) said, we should have a fairer share of the cake. How can the Minister justify the continuation of this sorry state of affairs? She cannot pass the buck because she has a dual ministerial responsibility.
Mention has been made of the IPPR report. On 28 February, Howard Reed, its chief economist, wrote that such effects could be transient given the existence of large projects in the pipeline to widen the M1 and the M62. However, last week, along with the announcement that the hard-shoulder running pilot on the M42 was to be extended, came the announcement that the widening of the M6, M62 and M1 was to be scrapped, which many people did not notice. Will the Minister assure us that such schemes will still go ahead? At the Dispatch Box last week, the Secretary of State was less than clear about those other motorways.
As shadow spokesman for Leeds, I do not get such a big bit of the region to represent. I am particularly concerned about the transport problems in Leeds. Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a light rail or metro system. For example, Frankfurt has a population of 650,000, compared with 725,000 for Leeds. Yet Frankfurt has 63 km of tramway and 56 km of underground. Even without additional unplanned intervention and investment, the Leeds city region economy is forecast to create 65,300 net additional jobs, and for gross value added to increase to £53.3 billion by 2015. The promise of a super tram in Leeds was axed by this Government. Some £39 million, which had been spent planning for that scheme, has been wasted. That is money down the drain. Leeds is now considering a trolley bus scheme—a second best scheme—which will share the same infrastructure as the cars and buses.
When I was invited by the leader of my party to take responsibility for both Leeds and transport, he made it clear that he wanted to see the north get a fairer share of the cake. I suspect that the overall transport spend will depend on the mess that we are left with when we once again form a Government. No doubt we will learn more about spending during the Budget speech tomorrow. I am also concerned that many of the projects that the Government have encouraged local authorities to take up through the transport innovation fund often have strings attached. I am concerned that in order to access funding, congestion charging schemes may be forced on councils and communities against their wishes.
Last Friday, I was in the city of Hull, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I had been invited there by businesses and local councillors to see Castle street, which is at the end of the A63. I was told that Hull had a booming economy, with its new marina development, The Deep, which is a fantastic tourist development, a new freight terminal coming on stream that will increase the capacity of the port by 1.2 million tonnes, and the Princes Quay shopping centre. We have 9,000 jobs in that area involved in making caravans and mobile homes. Some 1.2 million passengers pass through the port of Hull on to P&O ferries. I was told that if one wishes to make a journey with an HGV from Liverpool to Leningrad, there are only five roundabouts on the route, and they are all in the middle of Hull. May I invite the Minister to visit Hull—
I have been there already.
She has been already. Perhaps she can look at that particular problem because it is a regional priority. I was very impressed to see that Hull was catching up with cities such as Leeds and Newcastle. For far too long, Hull has been the poor relation. I am pleased to see that it is catching up, but it needs infrastructure investment.
I could not speak on this subject without mentioning my own constituency and the A64. A number of employers constantly lobby me about the lack of investment on that road. Recently, we had some very bad news. The printing company, Polestar Greaves, which had recently secured European funding for a new plant in Sheffield at the heart of the motorway network, closed its plants in Scarborough. One of the reasons it cited was the problem getting heavy print in and out of Scarborough.
As for rail, we have an overall problem with overcrowding. Overcrowding levels, to which the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) alluded, are worse in Yorkshire than the south-east. The rate of passengers above capacity in London and the south-east in the morning peak is 5 per cent. In West Yorkshire, it is 9 per cent. in the morning peak and 5.3 per cent. in the evening. So we need to look at our rail infrastructure. All too often, Ministers talk about investment when they mean investment and spending. It is important to make a clear distinction between subsidies paid to railway companies and investment in new infrastructure and improvements. I met the boss of Northern Rail, who told me that on her entire network, which covers much of our region, for every pound that she gets in the fare box, she gets another 80p in subsidy. It is important that we see what we are getting in addition to those subsidies that will contribute to an improvement in our rail system.
I pay tribute to Hull Trains which, as an open-access operator, is providing an excellent service from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). Also, dare I mention Grand Central, the new open-access operator that runs from Sunderland, through York to King’s Cross, which offers a non-stop service four times a day from York. It offers passengers a 50 per cent. refund on the price of their ticket if they cannot get a seat on the train. I have been on that train a number of times; there is not much chance of not getting a seat at the moment. As word spreads on those good deals, however, that may change. It is a very good initiative and it would be interesting to see whether other rail operators follow suit.
Last April, the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), was on the record saying that there must be a shift in focus on transport spending from the south to the north and plans to extend rail. My hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) are undertaking a feasibility study with industry professionals of the possibility of building a high-speed rail network in the UK. Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds are the cities in line to be connected into that network, as well as other north-south options.
This Labour Government have seen many lost opportunities. When they came to power, they followed the spending commitment in total, but they axed the road programme for three years and diverted that money to other objectives. Wherever we are now, we are three years behind where we could have been. They squandered the economic legacy of the last Conservative Government. As we will hear tomorrow in the Budget, the party is over and the future is not so “Rosie” in regard to additional money being available. We will be seeing additional cuts all over the place. The problem with transport is that it is easy to cut because one only has to nudge that spending into the next year’s budget. Labour has dominated much of this region over the past 10 years, so why have we lost out so much? The “Road to Ruin” campaign by the Yorkshire Post has highlighted that. Could it be that the lack of regional vision and commitment will put the Government on the road to electoral ruin in 2009 or 2010?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow. I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this debate and on the way in which he conducted his opening remarks. I can assure him and other hon. Members who have contributed, especially the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), that I am aware of the level of interest in transport in Yorkshire and the Humber, not least because of my role as a regional Minister. Transport and skills are two of our highest priorities for ensuring the economic competitiveness of our region.
I want to emphasise what the Government have done to increase investment in transport in our region—a subject on which the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) asked me to touch. In fact, spending on road and rail has nearly doubled from about £330 million in 2001 to almost £600 million in 2007-08. At the end of last year, we announced £469 million-worth of funding over the next three years for local authorities across the Yorkshire and Humber region to invest in highway maintenance and small schemes, such as public transport projects and town centre improvements. That represents a total allocation for 2010-11 that is 12 per cent. higher than current levels. In July 2006, we announced plans to fund 31 major road and public transport schemes in Yorkshire and the Humber from the £927 million allocated over the next 10 years in response to regional advice about priorities in the region.
I must challenge very clearly some of the points made today about Yorkshire and the Humber being at the bottom of the list of spending priorities. Total funding per head in Yorkshire and the Humber, when we combine the local transport plans and the regional funding and road safety allocations, is the third highest of all the regions. The hon. Members for Beverley and Holderness and for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) referred to the A1079 and the Leeds supertram respectively, funding for both of which would have to come out of those allocations. Opposition Members are wrong about Yorkshire and the Humber being at the bottom of the scale for allocations for those schemes. Spending per head and the allocations in our region, from which funding for those schemes would come, are the third highest of all the regions.
It is important to remember that the region has a very clear way of deciding its priorities. We devolved to the regional assembly an allocation of £927 million of regional funding, so that it could decide its own priorities which, after much hard work, it did. However, owing to ballooning costs of the supertram, it became very difficult to sustain that project through the regional funding allocation. Funding for the A1079 also comes from that regional pot. The priorities are being looked at to ensure that they are right. Furthermore, headroom for additional spending is being considered.
It was worrying that the Leader of the Opposition went to Yorkshire and said that before the next election he would produce a list of bypasses and road schemes for Yorkshire that might well completely overturn all the decisions on priorities made through our regional assembly and transport board. Where will that leave many of the proposed schemes, on which much work has been done? Opposition Members ought to think about that. In his rather mean-minded speech, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West asked me three questions, but I ask three of him: does he say that the Leeds supertram will go ahead? What cost is he prepared to pay for it, and what other schemes would he sacrifice in the region to pay for it?
I am not quite clear, but I think that the Minister suggested that we are all mistaken in thinking that Yorkshire and the Humber has received the lowest transport spending over the past five years. Will she confirm whether cumulatively we have had less spent per head than any other region over the past five years? If that is not the case, I must have looked at the wrong tables, and the whole premise of this debate is unfounded. Given that I have taken my numbers from Department for Transport figures, I would like her to clarify the position.
I know where the hon. Gentleman got his figures from, but that expenditure includes projects such as the channel tunnel rail link, the King’s Cross refurbishment and Crossrail. If we include major national schemes, it is true that there has been greater spending in London and the south-east. However, we must consider the benefits that they bring to the national economy and the fact that our constituents will travel down to London and make use of things such as the channel tunnel rail link and refurbishments of stations such as King’s Cross and St. Pancras. That is where the distortion occurs. As I have said, all the schemes to which he has pointed, particularly for the A1079, come out of the regional funding allocations. When those are combined, Yorkshire and the Humber is third in the list, not at the bottom.
I want to address the very positive speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who encapsulated what we need to do in the region, which is to consider strategic plans and to ask what changes we need to make in the Leeds city region—for example, those changes that will make a real difference to the economy. His is absolutely the right approach. My hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) discussed concessionary fare schemes, the importance of ensuring that they work and that councils do not use them as an excuse to cut services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes and the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness talked about the Humber bridge. Both quite rightly said that we have made attempts to restructure the debt. My hon. Friend made a particular point about health, which I hope to work on with the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), who happens to be here, which is very handy. I hope that we can look at some of the challenges facing cancer services in the area that she mentioned. I shall come back to her on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) talked about the positive approach that he and partners in York are taking to look at the challenges facing development in the centre. It was good to see the meeting that he organised to look at that positive way forward. Again, that needs to go to the regional transport board, which will consider whether it is a priority in the area for making the economic improvements that are necessary. He referred to the changes that we discussed yesterday and the funding that we have allocated, from which I am glad that York will benefit. He was absolutely right to ask what technology could be used to enhance our transport systems.
We are all aware of the importance of assessing demand more easily, considering alternative traffic routes—that is the important point about the route in Leeds—and managing congestion more effectively. That takes me back to points made by the hon. Members for Cheadle and for Scarborough and Whitby: the important question of whether widening roads or hard shoulder running would be most effective in the region. I can assure hon. Members that I am very committed to ensuring that Yorkshire and the Humber has a good transport system. We are investing more money. We need to recognise that and take the region forward.