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Highway Infrastructure (Funding)

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 28 October 2010

9. What recent representations he has received on his Department’s proposed funding for highway infrastructure; and if he will make a statement. (19920)

We have received a number of representations from hon. Members and members of the public regarding investment in major road schemes since the spending review commenced in June. In terms of specific representations, we have received 25 from hon. Members and 73 from members of the public. In addition, I have held meetings with a number of key stakeholders during which the spending review was discussed.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Will he take a further representation from me here and now to review the cancellation of the A1 scheme from Leeming to Barton? It goes to the heart of the economy in the north of England, supporting my constituency and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and it is key to the economic growth of north Yorkshire. Will he reconsider the cancellation of that scheme?

As I said when I made my statement on Tuesday, we have sought to take some hard decisions, and some of the schemes that were being taken forward by the Highways Agency had no realistic prospect of being funded in this spending review period or the next one. In those circumstances, I have taken the view that it would be wrong to continue to spend money on development of a scheme which is unlikely to be built in the foreseeable future, and therefore the scheme had to be cancelled. I am sorry to have to disappoint my hon. Friend.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State and the Chancellor for their support for the Mersey Gateway. However, construction can start only if funding is in place and we know when that will be released. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman the same question that I asked him on Tuesday? Subject to agreement on funding in January, as per his report, can he tell us if construction will begin before 2015? In other words, will the money be released to allow construction to begin before 2015?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the money will be released for construction to begin before 2015. Of course, this is a local authority-led project, so the local authority will ultimately determine how quickly the project can proceed, but both the capital allocation sum that we have made available and the private finance initiative credits will be released for use before 2015.

I know that many Members in the Chamber and drivers across the country are disappointed with the announcements that the Secretary of State made on Tuesday, but surely sending his Minister with responsibility for roads to Russia this week was a little steep. Is it not the case that for many of the yet unconfirmed schemes, local authorities are being asked to shoulder more of the burden at a time when they are facing a 28% cut in their funding? Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel a little like a car dealer who says to his customer, “You can drive away with any vehicle you choose,” before slashing the tyres of every single car in the showroom?

I suppose the simple answer is no. The hon. Gentleman might be interested that the Minister with responsibility for roads has gone to St Petersburg to join in an international conference on road safety. With reference to the local authority schemes in the development pool that I announced on Tuesday, what we have said is that local authorities need to look at ways of improving the benefit-to-cost ratios of the projects that they are promoting. In some cases, that will involve getting in third-party contributions, particularly developer contributions. Some authorities may wish to increase their own contributions. All authorities should be able to reduce cost.