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Local Transport Plans

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 22 April 2008

4. What guidance her Department has issued to local authorities on the development of local transport services through local transport plans. (199758)

The Department for Transport issued guidance to local authorities about local transport plans in December 2004. It also issued advice in 2007 about reviewing progress on delivery of transport plans.

I thank the Minister for her response. May I say, on behalf of the people I represent, that they are very glad that, at long last, they are going to get back some local control over public transport services? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives oppose these plans simply because they would still rather put private profit before public services?

My hon. Friend is quite right to express amazement at the fact that the Conservatives decided to vote against the Local Transport Bill on Second Reading. All Labour Members appreciate the need to improve our bus services, to increase the integration of public transport and to improve community transport. It is beyond belief that the Conservatives do not support those principles. I also believe that they are completely out of step with Conservative local councillors whom I meet around the country, who say that this is exactly—

Order. Perhaps we can have ministerial answers now. We can talk about ministerial responsibility.

May I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to Gwyneth Dunwoody? A corner of this Chamber will be for ever Gwyneth’s.

I invite the Minister to explain the role of regional development agencies in strategic transport planning, in particular for roads such as the A64 between York and Scarborough that have a strategic role but are inherently unsafe. Between us, we need to find the money to improve that road.

The regional transport board has responsibility for prioritising the regional funding allocation and it decides the priority for allocations to roads such as that mentioned by the hon. Lady. In the proposals on the sub-national review, transport comes under the auspices of the regional development agencies, and the agencies and the regional assemblies are responding to those proposals and determining how they would like such strategic transport issues to work. The consultation on that closes in June, and the hon. Lady will no doubt wish to respond to it herself.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that local authorities retain a role in planning local transport services to ensure that buses cannot be removed or rerouted because they are deemed to be unprofitable, regardless of their value to local residents?

My hon. Friend is quite right. That was why the Government introduced local transport plans—for which, incidentally, funding has doubled since 2001—which made local authorities responsible for taking an integrated approach on local transport. The Local Transport Bill, which is now going through Parliament, will give local authorities more powers to introduce quality partnership schemes and quality contracts, which have been widely welcomed by local authorities in all parts of the country, and, incidentally, by all political parties. During our discussions on the Bill, I hope that we will be able to persuade Conservative Front Benchers at last to support these proposals.

Following the opening of the new railway line between Kettering and Corby later this year, there will be a danger that the bus service operating between the two towns will be lost. It provides an important service for local people, particularly to the local hospital. Will the Minister encourage, through her departmental guidance, the relevant local authorities to retain this important bus service when the rail link is established?

We ask local authorities, when framing their local transport plans, to look into how to integrate their transport services. The Local Transport Bill will give local authorities greater powers over bus services, so the hon. Gentleman might like to talk to his local authority—and, perhaps, his Conservative councillors—about what plans they might like to bring in under the Bill and then perhaps persuade Front Benchers to support them.

May I pay my tribute to Gwyneth Dunwoody, who will be sadly missed by all who knew her and who worked for her?

Does the Minister agree that the best way to achieve successful local transport plans is to ensure that transport authorities continue to be made up of democratically elected and accountable local representatives?

I know that my hon. Friend will be feeling very deeply the departing of Mrs. Dunwoody? I know from my most recent appearance before the Transport Committee that he was with her when she was conducting its inquiry into blue badges.

On having elected people on passenger transport authorities and the future integrated transport authorities, it is true that we want to give local areas the right to co-opt other members—for example, representatives of passenger groups—on to those authorities, if it is felt that that would be helpful. However, we have said very firmly that the majority of voting members must be elected councillors. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.

I, too, would like to pay tribute to Gwyneth Dunwoody. Indeed, it seems very strange to be here at Transport questions without her watchful eye over proceedings.

Will the Minister tell us what guidance has been issued on light rail, with particular reference to light rail in Merseyside?

Recent guidance has been issued—I understand that it is available on the Department’s website—setting out the Department’s exact views on light rail schemes and how to take their construction forward.