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Local Transport Plan

Volume 497: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009

5. If his Department will amend the local transport plan criteria to allow local authorities more discretion in approving transport schemes. (294797)

No. Local authorities already have almost complete discretion to invest in transport as they see fit. They are obliged to seek approval only when they are bidding for additional funds from the Department—for example, for major schemes of more than £5 million.

The truth is that there is a box-ticking mentality in the Department, whereby local authorities have to comply with central Government criteria when allocating road improvement funding. Will the Minister accompany me on the protest march along the Berrow coast road this Saturday, when we will be campaigning for the so-called missing link, where there is no footpath or cycle way at all, in aid and support of local democracy over central Government control?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman made a similar allegation last year about the DFT interfering with what Somerset county council wanted to do, and he was wrong then, too. There are a number of ways in which one can obtain funding for transport projects. First, there is the £1.3 billion of capital funding, which has no strings attached whereby we could stop local authorities from doing what they want. Secondly, there is the revenue support grant: again there is no ring-fencing, and no project is subject to criteria. Thirdly, there are local transport plans. The right hon. Gentleman would expect us to be responsible to the taxpayer for contributions of more than £5 million. This is not about box-ticking; it is about ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent properly and we get value for money. I am sure that he would welcome that approach.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) pointed out, it is to this Government’s continuing shame that they are killing off so many innovative local transport schemes by national diktat. When will they do what they have done in so many areas of transport, not least in relation to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers)—drop their policy, follow our policies, and allow local authorities to make truly local decisions?

One of the problems in doing what the hon. Gentleman claims to want to do is that his party in Westminster disagrees fundamentally with the Mayor of London on so many issues, whether it be Crossrail, an estuary airport or speed cameras. On funding, the hon. Gentleman should be aware—if he is not, I am again happy to undertake to write to him to educate him—that any major funding scheme below £5 million needs no approval from the Department for Transport. It is right and proper that we have a duty to taxpayers to ensure that money is spent properly, but there is a light-touch approach. When a major project is submitted to the Department, we work with those involved to ensure value for money and deliverability. I do not apologise for ensuring that every penny of taxpayers’ money is spent properly.