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Community Rail Projects (East Midlands)

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

8. What recent assessment has been made of the viability of community rail projects in the east midlands; and if he will make a statement. (282105)

Community rail projects bring together local communities and the appropriate train operators. We do not expect any issues with the viability of the three main projects in the east midlands.

The rail renaissance since 1997 has led to peacetime record numbers of passengers, which demand some attention on the constraints on capacity. Will the Minister discuss with me the “Connecting Communities” report from the Association of Train Operating Companies of earlier this month, which identifies the Leicester to Burton line—the national forest line through North-West Leicestershire—as having a good benefit-to-cost ratio? Might we have a look at that on site in order to correct the earlier impressions of Lord Adonis, who was rather lukewarm about community rail in the east midlands?

I am, of course, happy to speak to my hon. Friend about the scheme, but it is primarily a scheme of regional significance, and therefore the capital cost of the national forest line would need to be funded through the regional funding allocation. Unfortunately, the east midlands region has not seen this project as a regional priority for funding through that route, but any initial subsidy would have to be funded by local authorities for at least the first three years, although the Government would consider taking the service into normal franchise arrangements once there was a sound business case.

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker?

Does the Minister think that a community rail project could further improve the long-term viability of a reopened Beverley to York rail line, and will he accept an invitation from local campaigners for the reopening of that line to come to our area to hear the arguments in favour of it and the benefits it would bring?

As part of our general commitment to the development of the railways, we are always keen to hear of proposals, but the Government have made significant funds available through the regional funding allocation schemes, which are essentially a regional concern, and proposals do need to be prioritised through those mechanisms to ensure that they genuinely have the support of people in regions such as that which the hon. Gentleman represents.

May I ask the Minister to look again at the ATOC report to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) referred, and to recognise the powerful case it makes for the Leicester to Burton line? That is one of a number of similar schemes throughout the country that are not only of local significance, but also potentially of considerable national benefit. I ask him to look again at this, and to recognise that national benefit and also the need for Government investment to achieve that benefit.

I can assure my hon. Friend that I have looked at the ATOC publication, “Connecting Communities”, which came out this month. It looked at the opportunity to provide better transport connections for communities that have grown in recent years, but which do not necessarily have good access to the rail network, including connections on the national forest line.