Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am very grateful for this opportunity to raise issues that concern not only my constituents but the wider Greater Nottingham conurbation and our region. May I say what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair today? I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for coming along to lend me their support.
Nottingham is very fortunate to have one of the best integrated transport systems in the country, but that did not happen by chance. It happened because there was political will, because the city council worked closely with partners in the county and with local businesses, seeking to build consensus wherever possible, and because we are fortunate to have great people working in the city to deliver our collective vision.
Indeed, the Department for Transport has designated Nottingham as a centre of excellence for local transport delivery. More recently, the council received a comprehensive area assessment green flag for public transport improvement and was described as “getting better and better”. However, it is not those warm words that I want the Minister to attend to today, but the real achievements that make Nottingham’s case for further investment compelling.
Over the past five years, Nottingham has contained traffic growth and congestion levels. There has been increased public transport use, fatal and serious accidents have been reduced and we have encouraged many more people to walk or cycle rather than to jump in their cars. I am proud of our record, but we know that there is still much more to do if we are to have a transport system that is fit for purpose in the years ahead—one that supports economic growth rather than hampers it and encourages greener, eco-friendly choices.
When it comes to investment in infrastructure, short-termism just will not do. We have to think and plan for the long term, and that is why Nottingham has been developing three key capital projects to make the city an even better place to live and work, to attract inward investment, to create jobs and to get the local economy moving. These projects will regenerate neighbourhoods, link socially disadvantaged communities with training and job opportunities, improve the environment and cut carbon emissions. I know that they are not just objectives that the Minister will welcome but the stated priorities of the coalition Government, so I am very hopeful that he will give a positive response.
Let me say a bit more about the three projects on which I am anxious that he should focus. The A453 links Nottingham to the M1, the A50 and East Midlands airport. It is the main trunk road from Nottingham to Birmingham and is a vital link in our transport network. According to the most recent data, the A453 is the most congested road in the country. Delays are particularly bad at peak times and the 9-mile stretch between Nottingham and Kegworth is rated as the worst section of the national strategic road network, with the average vehicle delay doubling in the last five years. Delays can be expected of almost 15 minutes per 10 miles travelled outbound and more than 10 minutes per 10 miles travelled inbound. In 2007, the East Midlands Development Agency commissioned a study that found that the cost of congestion to Nottingham businesses came to £160 million a year, so it is no surprise that three years ago partners in the region agreed that it was the top priority for regional funding allocation. That was confirmed again in 2009.
There is also a human cost to the congestion. Driving through Clifton, one sees far too many flowers at the roadside that are a reminder of the A453’s terrible safety record: accidents are 33% higher than the national average for rural roads and 23% higher than the national average for urban roads. Between 2003 and 2007, there were 167 personal injury accidents of which two were fatal and 31 serious. Residents and business leaders, city councillors, district councillors and county councillors, and Members on both sides of the House all agree that the A453 desperately needs improvement.
Nottingham has been waiting almost 30 years for something to be done. The latest scheme will provide a “civilised road”—one that provides extra capacity, but is sensitive to the needs of Clifton residents who live alongside it. Planned improvements have been delayed twice before and we need it more than ever—so please, Minister, do not disappoint us again.
I read in the Nottingham Post that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has already, as he put it, “had a go” at the Secretary of State for Transport regarding this matter. I hope that the Minister will work with his colleagues in the transport team to secure the scheme’s future and, if necessary, to make representations to the Treasury on behalf not just of the 270,000 people who live in the city or the 750,000-plus people in Nottingham’s travel-to-work area, but of the people who will be filling the 20,000 new science and technology jobs that we hope will be created in the city by 2020.
The second element of Nottingham’s plan for a modern, integrated transport network that I want to raise with the Minister is Nottingham express transit phase 2—turning our tramline into a tram network. Tramline one opened in 2004, and its success has exceeded expectations, attracting 10 million passengers a year. Yes, it required considerable investment, and, yes, the construction work was disruptive, but I urge the Minister to come for a ride across Nottingham on the tram to see at first hand what a difference it has made. I urge him to come and see the park-and-ride sites, including those at Phoenix park and Forest recreation ground, which are full to bursting every day. Some 3 million car journeys have been removed from the city’s roads and there has been a 30% increase in public transport use in the north-west corridor of the city. I like our buses, and they are a vital part of the mix, but on their own they cannot achieve that level of modal shift—getting people out of their cars and on to public transport. For the A453 scheme really to work, even with a widened A453, we need a significant proportion of the people who are coming towards the city to transfer to public transport at a park-and-ride site on the edge of Clifton.
I urge the Minister also to come and see the regeneration, inward investment and sustainable development that have been achieved along the line one route. Perhaps he will even share my enjoyment regarding the inspiration it has provided to small local businesses. I admit that every time I pass the snack bar in Hyson Green called Tramwiches, it makes me smile.
My hon. Friend mentions Hyson Green in my constituency. Does she agree that as phase 2 of the tram project is a private finance initiative, funded in part not so much by grant but by revenues generated from some quite tough decisions having been taken about workplace parking levies and so forth, it is potentially less burdensome on public borrowing levels because of the re-phasing potential? As a consequence, it might be a good candidate when ranked against other schemes that the Minister is considering.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention.
NET phase 2 received approval because it will deliver for the city and the conurbation. It will take a further 3 million car journeys off our roads and will provide at least 50% of the additional capacity needed to avoid the transport gap that threatens the economic vitality of the conurbation. There will be 2,500 extra park-and-ride spaces, better integration with the railway station and hugely improved access to and from the south and west of the conurbation. It will link people, some of whom live in wards in which 60% of the population do not have access to a car, with the Queen’s medical centre, which is the city’s main hospital, as well as with both our universities, with local college campuses and with 2,000 workplaces, including 20 of the city’s 30 largest employers. It will also promote equality of opportunity, as line one has done, by improving transport access for the elderly, the disabled and those on low incomes.
The wards are those such as Clifton South in the city and places such as the Meadows, which I wanted to talk about. The Meadows and Clifton are two areas of my constituency that suffer from significant social disadvantage, including high unemployment, low skills and low educational attainment. Clifton also has a disproportionate number of pensioner households and a large retirement village. The tram will transform those communities, regenerating their neighbourhood centres and offering full accessibility for people with mobility difficulties, including wheelchair and motorised scooter users, and it will provide a vital link to workplaces and training providers. But most importantly, it will bring jobs. The Centre for Economic and Business Research projected that between 4,000 and 10,000 new jobs would be created by NET phase 2. All this, and a hugely positive impact on the environment—cleaner air and a healthy cut in carbon emissions—make this scheme well worth investing in and excellent value for money.
I am delighted to know that the Minister is a fan of light rail, and I know that he is fully briefed on Nottingham’s tram. I certainly welcomed his comments earlier in the week at the parliamentary tea for light rail when he said that local funding was a matter for local people. He knows that the local funding for Nottingham is secure. The mechanism is in place. So I hope that he will give his backing and the backing of his Department for this exciting expansion of light rail in the UK.
Last but not least, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the Nottingham hub—the £67 million station improvement project to be jointly delivered by the city council and Network Rail to transform our railway station into the sort of modern transport interchange that the city needs. Everything is in place between the city council and Network Rail. The only piece of the jigsaw that is in doubt is the contribution from East Midlands Development Agency. We in Nottingham value EMDA and the important role that it has played in the city and the region. Securing its future is a discussion for another day, but we hope that the changes to regional development agencies will not be allowed to undermine this project and the opportunity to create a wonderful new entrance to the city.
Earlier this week the Prime Minister spoke about the review of spending commitments and said:
“Projects that are good value for money and consistent with the Government’s priorities will go ahead.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 868.]
I know that we in Nottingham can demonstrate that our plans meet this test. Can we afford to go ahead with these schemes? The real question is, “Can we afford not to?” and the answer is most definitely no. These transport schemes are absolutely vital to the economy of Greater Nottingham and the East Midlands region. They will deliver on jobs, on regeneration, on cutting unemployment and on improving access to training and skills. They will help us to meet the targets for a greener low-carbon future. They represent excellent value for money. If we need to be a bit more flexible on what we are asking for, tell us. We will be, but do not leave us stuck in the slow lane when it comes to economic growth. It would be short-sighted and very costly to delay these well-thought- out, well-planned projects for the sake of small savings now.
As I draw my remarks to a close, I would like to ask the Minister the questions that people in Nottingham are asking me. Have the Government produced an analysis of the impact that delaying or cutting these projects will have on local and regional economic growth? What criteria will the government use to assess which major projects to continue funding? When will the decisions be made and who will be making those decisions?
Finally, will the Minister accept my invitation to come to Nottingham to see the congestion we face on the A453, to enjoy a trip on the tram, to look at the exciting plans for the railway station and to hear from residents, businesses and councillors from all parties about why investing in our infrastructure is vital for the future of Nottingham?
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) on securing this debate on transport infrastructure for Nottingham and the surrounding area, and on the comprehensive and persuasive way she put her case this afternoon. I am aware that she made her maiden speech in the House a few weeks ago and mentioned both the A453 and the Nottingham tram. I am now pleased to be responding to her first Adjournment debate on a subject that is clearly of great importance to her, to other hon. Members and to her constituents.
No one doubts that an effective and efficient low-carbon transport infrastructure can help to support economic development and help to tackle climate change. Unfortunately, securing these outcomes in our current economic climate is challenging to say the least, but I am confident that we can meet these challenges and still deliver transport infrastructure that works for economy and the environment. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the coalition Government’s statement, to which she referred in her opening remarks, in which we have made clear our commitment to a modern low-carbon transport infrastructure as an essential element of a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy. She may also have noticed that light rail is specifically mentioned in the agreement. But we have also identified the pre-eminence of the deficit reduction programme at this time. The decisions that we take and the speed with which we are able to implement transport improvements will need to be determined in the light of the comprehensive spending review.
The hon. Lady asked about the criteria for assessing major projects, and I shall come to that point in a moment. She asked when and who will make decisions. Initially, the Treasury’s comprehensive spending review will tell us how much money the Department has in crude terms, and we shall then use the criteria to take the decisions. I am conscious of the uncertainty not just in Nottingham but across the country. We want to get a move on and give people clarity as soon as we possibly can.
The Department for Transport is playing a full part in the spending review that will report in the autumn. We have already announced a range of measures aimed at delivering reductions in spending. On 24 May, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury gave details of savings of £6.2 billion in Government spending in 2010-11. The Department for Transport is contributing to those savings, which has meant taking difficult decisions on funding and deferring decisions on schemes, including the A453, until after the outcome of the spending review.
Last Thursday, the Department for Communities and Local Government published further details about local government savings, including £309 million that the Department for Transport had identified in respect of local transport. In making those reductions, however, we have maximised flexibility for local authorities to reshape their budgets according to local priorities and to identify where efficiencies can be found. Given current financial constraints, it is essential to ensure that any new infrastructure is affordable and offers value for money.
On the criteria for assessing major projects, the hon. Lady may be interested to learn that my Department is committed to reforming the way decisions are made about which transport schemes to prioritise across the country. We are looking at the formula used to assess transport schemes so that the benefits of low-carbon proposals are fully recognised. We hope that work will be complete to coincide with the outcome of the comprehensive spending review so that we can take sensible decisions at that time.
Before I respond to the hon. Lady’s specific points, I acknowledge Nottingham city council’s high reputation as a transport authority. It has successfully managed major innovative projects, including the building of the tram. It is a beacon council for accessibility and has taken great strides in managing congestion in the area, as the hon. Lady pointed out. By August 2009, vehicle journey times during the morning peak had been reduced by almost 7% on baseline figures.
The Greater Nottingham transport partnership provides a good example of bringing together the private and public sectors to promote understanding of and support for the integrated vision contained in the joint local transport plan. From that partnership has come the “Big Wheel” marketing campaign, which has worked successfully to influence the use of sustainable transport options.
Nottingham City Transport picked up the winning new customers award at the 2009 UK bus awards, and in May this year the biggest, and first area-wide, statutory bus quality partnership was launched. Nottingham has seen year-on-year increases in bus and tram use. There are now 47 million bus passengers per year in Nottingham and 10 million tram passengers. With that base from which to work, I am confident that Nottingham City Transport is in a strong position to respond to the difficult financial climate we are now facing.
I understand the concerns expressed on both sides of the House about the decision to defer spending for the A453 scheme until the next comprehensive spending review period. I do not want to introduce a note of discord, but I point out gently to the hon. Lady that the previous Government had 13 years to do something about the road, but did not. She might bear that in mind as we consider how to go forward.
Following consideration of the scheme orders for the A453 at the public inquiry in 2009, the inspector’s report was submitted to the Secretary of State for consideration. However, no decision on the inspector’s report and the scheme orders can be made until there is clarity about the availability of funding for the scheme following the forthcoming spending review. As the scheme is subject to statutory procedures, I hope the hon. Lady will understand that I cannot, for reasons of propriety, discuss the merits of the A453 project in the Chamber this evening. I can assure her, however, that the scheme will be given due consideration alongside other proposals. Her comments and those of other Members are noted.
On the proposed tram extensions, the Government announced last week that we would consider schemes funded through the regional funding allocation process as part of our commitment to review the way funding decisions are made on which transport projects to prioritise. However, as the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) said—I nearly called him the hon. Member for Shipley—the Nottingham project is slightly different. The extensions to the Nottingham express transit tram scheme are proposed to be funded almost entirely through the private finance initiative. The Government, through the Treasury, plan to make an announcement shortly on how we are dealing with PFI schemes, and it may be that more clarity can be given on the tram scheme at that point.
I would just say that the feeling I have picked up from speaking to Members on both sides of the House is that whether people were for or against the tram, there is acceptance—the route has been planned, it has been accepted, it has been established, and the issue now is really one of cost and finance rather than anything else.
It is entirely correct that it feels very much as though we have come so far—on the planning process, the commitment of all the legal fees and the consultancy fees, getting through the planning inquiries and so on—that it would be such a shame to decide not to progress at the eleventh hour, particularly when, as I said before, this scheme may not be so burdensome in its public borrowing aspects as perhaps others would.
I do understand that point, and I am sure it is frustrating for Members all across the House, looking at various schemes in their own patches, to see this delay. I stress that it is a delay, rather than a cancellation—simply a deferral of schemes. We do want to get decisions as soon as we possibly can on all these schemes, but as to whether the PFI is good value for money, that is above my pay grade. It is a matter for Treasury Ministers to decide, although obviously the comments that the hon. Gentleman and others have made will be picked up and relayed to my colleagues in the Treasury.
I should record that the tram has been successful, carrying 38 million passengers—well above the projected figures. That is also a matter to take into account in looking at the future. So I can assure the hon. Member for Nottingham South that the Department understands the potential for trams, in the right conditions, to deliver a high-quality public transport alternative to the car. I believe that, as she rightly says, we have underplayed the potential of trams, and light rail in general, in this country. I am conscious that proposals have failed in the past, usually on the basis of high cost. She may like to know that I have asked officials to look at the reasons for the high cost of tram schemes, and to see whether there are any ways to reduce those costs to make trams a more affordable option in the future, particularly given the likely pressures on budgets following the spending review. That work is being carried out in the Department, coterminous with the work carried out in the Treasury, so that when the smoke has cleared, light rail will be in a position to benefit, potentially, from the new arrangements post-review.
As I mentioned earlier, the Department is taking forward work to deliver the coalition agreement commitment to ensure that low-carbon benefits of schemes are fully recognised in the transport appraisal decision-making process.
The hon. Lady mentioned the workplace parking levy, and of course it has been seen that the tram extensions proposed are closely linked to the plans for a workplace parking levy to be implemented in Nottingham, although of course there is no requirement for them to be so and it is open to the city council, if the tram did not go ahead, to introduce that levy if it wished to do so. Workplace parking levies are one of a range of measures available to local authorities for improving local transport and tackling congestion. Nottingham city’s plan to implement a levy is very much in accord with the coalition’s localism agenda, and I want to make it quite clear from the Dispatch Box tonight that whatever individuals in the House think about that levy, our view is that it is entirely a matter for the local authority to decide whether that goes ahead or not; it is not a matter for the Government to intervene in.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the Nottingham rail hub and improvements to Nottingham station. I know that work is in hand to develop plans and prepare for improvements in Nottingham railway station and the surrounding areas under the Nottingham hub scheme. That includes work to complete the necessary agreements to enable the scheme to proceed. I should deliver the usual health warning about the current financial climate, which the hon. Lady is well aware of, and the fact that we cannot offer assurances at this particular time about taking forward a scheme, although, as she referred to the contribution from the regional development agency, I would just say that obviously if the scheme could be reduced in cost in some way, that makes it more likely to proceed. I hope she might take that message back to colleagues and others in Nottingham. We in the Department do believe, however, that it is a good scheme, which has the potential to deliver wider benefits, including the regeneration and employment benefits that the hon. Lady mentioned, in addition to improving transport links in Nottingham.
It is clear that we face a challenging period. Tough decisions to tackle the UK’s budget deficit have been necessary, and they are ongoing. I appreciate, however, that it is not easy for people to see schemes with considerable local support, that have been in development for many years, being put on hold and given an uncertain future. The Government have identified that the most urgent priority is tackling the deficit, and the Department for Transport must play its role in that process. The Department will be in a position to identify major investment that can be supported only after the Government’s spending review has been concluded. In a period in which we face tight financial restraint, it is essential that we take a step back and consider which schemes should be prioritised. That is the only way we can put ourselves in a strong position to make the best use of available funds and to establish a strong base for the future development of the transport system.
I would not want the hon. Lady to go away from the debate with a negative impression, however. We face challenges, but we have a strong approach to address them, and the Department wants to work to deliver outcomes that meet national and local needs, and to improve the country’s transport infrastructure. We are keen to use whatever tools we can to achieve that.
I thank the hon. Lady for the invitation to visit Nottingham, which I shall be happy to accept, because a tram ride with her is an irresistible suggestion. I look forward to seeing some of the excellent schemes that Nottingham city has been delivering.
Question put and agreed to.