[Relevant document: uncorrected oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on Wednesday 24 November 2010, on Transport and the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review, HC 630-i.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Newmark.)
I am delighted to have this opportunity to discuss the outcome of the comprehensive spending review in relation to transport. I am pleased to see the Minister of State, Department for Transport, in her place this afternoon. I look forward to hearing her comments and, hopefully, her replies to the questions that I raise. I am also pleased to see here today my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), and I congratulate him on his new position as shadow Transport Minister. He will bring to the post considerable expertise in the transport field.
I welcome the Government’s recognition that transport infrastructure is vital in supporting economic growth. The Department has described it as an engine for growth. Repeated statements and announcements have emphasised the Government’s commitment to transport, and long-term investment in transport, in supporting our economy. Indeed, good transport links are essential to the movement of goods and people both locally and around the country. We cannot have a successful economy without a good transport infrastructure. However, we need good infrastructure throughout the country. Although I support continued investment in transport in the south and south-east, it must not be at the cost of investment in the north and other parts of the country. I will return to that theme a little later on.
I support what the Government are saying about the importance of investing in transport infrastructure for our future. Looking at the detail of the comprehensive spending review in relation to transport, however, it is apparent that there are many important questions that need to be asked and pursued.
In relation to rail, I am pleased that some commitments previously entered into have been maintained; indeed, it would have been very difficult to abandon them. I am particularly pleased that the allocation to Network Rail and to rail, 2009 to 2014, has been maintained, and that the essential part of the investment in Crossrail has also been honoured. A saving of £1 billion has been found. None the less, that cannot disguise the fact that there are to be major cuts to the transport budget.
According to the Department for Transport’s own figures, the overall cut over the four years of the comprehensive spending review comes to 15% in real terms overall. Capital spending is down 11% and resource spending down 21%. Those are major cuts and come on top of the in-year cuts in 2010-11.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. The Labour party submission to the comprehensive spending review suggested that cuts in unprotected Departments such as transport should average no more than 20%. Actually, they have averaged out rather less than that and the Department for Transport significantly less. If she is arguing for even lower cuts in transport budgets, which Departments does she suggest should make greater ones?
The purpose of today’s debate is to focus on transport and the implications of the comprehensive spending review for transport services. Indeed, that is the remit of the Transport Committee, so I am concentrating on transport today.
According to the Passenger Transport Executive Group, capital funding for local transport outside London was cut by 19% in 2010-11. It is true that the outcome could have been worse, and comparisons have been drawn with other Departments, but that does not hide the severity of the cuts that will be put in place. There are to be new funds from which transport projects could be supported. The regional growth fund, which started off as a business fund to replace the budgets of the regional development agencies, has been expanded to include transport and some housing projects, and there is to be a local sustainable transport fund. There is no way in which those two funds can even start to replace some of the major cuts that are contained in the comprehensive spending review figures.
At the moment, my Committee is considering the relationship between spending on transport and economic growth. One issue it is considering is the distribution of transport investment around the country. Three times as much transport investment per head is made in London and the south-east as in the northern regions and the midlands. How will the comprehensive spending review impact on the distribution of that transport investment? Will such disparity be reduced or increased? I am very interested to know the answer and whether such an assessment is thought to be important. In relation to budgets, it is extremely important to consider the impact on places around the country as well as nationally.
Many transport schemes are strategic rather than local in nature. In the past, business-led regional development agencies, working with Government offices for the regions, have enabled local government, working with business, to decide on regional priorities and to make representations to Government. That will end. The Secretary of State for Transport has made it clear that the proposed local economic partnerships will not be sufficient on their own to replace those arrangements. He told the Transport Committee only yesterday that he thought that local economic partnerships—I do not know whether he knew exactly how they would be put together—would need to work together, or some other arrangement might be required to look at those very same projects. To my concern, he also said that he did not think that that would be achieved until the end of the Parliament. If those alternative arrangements happen and they do not take place until the end of the Parliament, will the Minister tell us how regional rather than local priorities will be determined? Will the decisions on such projects become centralised? What are the arrangements to be? We cannot wait until the end of the Parliament to know the answers.
Let me turn to roads investment. There are some big questions to raise on the implications of the Budget on roads. The budget for road maintenance is to be reduced by 20%, which is a big reduction. We are told that that will be achieved by efficiency savings rather than by cutting back on important maintenance. We all know that if routine maintenance is not done when it is required, a lot more will be required to be spent at a later date. What kind of mechanisms are in place to monitor how that reduction is to be met? Will it be through efficiency savings or will it mean that important maintenance on our roads is simply not done?
The Highways Agency’s capital budget is to be cut by around 50%. That is also a matter of great concern. Seven schemes have been cancelled and the much needed upgrade of the A14 has been sent back to the drawing board. Does that mean the end of major new road-building in Great Britain? It would be helpful to know whether the major cutbacks in that sector are to do with the problems of our times—the Government’s wish to move very quickly to remove the deficit—or a basic change in transport policy.
It is important to keep a balance in spending. I certainly support continued and, indeed, increased investment in public transport. However, there may be particular road schemes that are very significant to particular areas or that are important to strategies to support economic development in certain parts of the country. Therefore, I would not rule out any particular type of investment, but I am certainly a supporter of investment in public transport.
The Secretary of State announced that 66 major local authority road schemes, which are due to cost £1.7 billion, are competing for more than £900 million-worth of funding. Will the Minister tell us what kind of result she expects to come from that great reduction in funding? Will priority be given to strategic schemes? If so, how will that be assessed and monitored?
Rail is a great success story. During the last decade, rail patronage has increased in a very dramatic way. More and more people want to use rail. Unfortunately, rail’s popularity has not been matched by the provision of sufficient or adequate rolling stock to meet that increased need. Therefore, while we have more and more people using rail, we also have more and more overcrowding and I think that we have seen the development of a rather complacent attitude to the health and safety issues related to that overcrowding.
This week, discussion has focused on the concerns raised about the proposed increase in train fares. The coalition agreement spoke about the need for
“fair pricing for rail travel.”
It now seems that that “fair pricing” means that regulated fares will be increased in the future not on the basis of the retail prices index plus 1% but on the basis of RPI plus 3% from 2012 onwards. The Government tell us that that is in order to fund much needed investment in rail.
The Association of Train Operating Companies presented such increases as average increases. However, average figures are meaningless to the individual wishing to embark on a rail journey. Already, increases of 13.8% and 9.3% have been reported as planned increases when the new policy comes into force. A lot more should be done also to provide much greater clarity about rail fares, with much greater openness about how cheaper fares can be obtained without the complexities and difficulties of interpreting the rules of different train companies on what constitutes peak-hour travel, so that travel can be made easier for more people.
There is a consequence to increasing rail fares beyond the difficulties it causes individuals, for example in getting to work. The Campaign for Better Transport estimates that fares could be 31% higher by 2015 than they are today. One result of what may well be pricing people off the rail network is that more people may go back to their cars, at a time when we are trying to encourage people to leave their cars and make use of public transport. Indeed, the Government estimate that there will be 4% fewer trips by rail than there would otherwise have been as a direct consequence of the planned fare increases.
Our concern is partly about the economic impact on individuals, including the specific difficulties that individuals may experience in getting to work, but we also have growing environmental concerns. The Climate Change Act 2008 has targets to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. In 2009, the transport sector accounted for a quarter of domestic carbon dioxide emissions, with 90% of those emissions coming from road transport and 55% from domestic cars alone.
Why, at a time when we are so concerned about environmental issues and when we now have the Climate Change Act, would we deliberately want to price people off rail and encourage them to get back into their cars? Furthermore, are we really so certain that the Government’s claim that those increased fares will lead to better investment and improved facilities on the rail network will actually become a reality? The rail structure is very complex and there are big questions to be asked about whether all of us—the traveller and the taxpayer—are getting good value for money from the investment put into rail.
Sir Roy McNulty’s report on the rail system and value for money issues will be very important, as will the decisions about rail franchises for the future. If we are to get value for money for the essential funding that goes into rail, it is extremely important that we look carefully at what emerges from Sir Roy McNulty’s study. Although I know at this stage that some preliminary conclusions have been drawn, there is no full report yet. I would be pleased to hear from the Minister her understanding of what Sir Roy McNulty might say and what she thinks might be the policy implications of his report.
I welcome this morning’s announcement about rail investment, particularly the commitment to electrification of the line between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool, and the electrification of the Great Western line. However, I want to be quite sure that that electrification will go together with increased provision of rolling stock and carriages on those lines, and indeed on other overcrowded lines. I would also like to know what kind of monitoring will take place of the promises that we heard this morning—promises about other schemes, as well as the two I have mentioned—to ensure that the investment goes ahead as planned and that we have more capacity, more efficient and environmentally friendly rail travel and better value for money at the same time.
I also welcome the Government’s statement on their commitment to High Speed 2 and the funding for it. However, it is very important that the benefits of HS2 are maximised and that there is no neglect of investment in the classic network.
Rail freight is also very important. Freight moved by rail accounts for about 9% of all goods moved in the UK and I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving investment in rail freight links, specifically those between Southampton and Felixstowe. When the Transport Committee visited Hull recently, to take evidence as part of our inquiry into transport and the economy, we were told about the importance of relatively minor improvements that could enhance access to the Humber port. I hope that those improvements can go ahead and indeed I hope that similar improvements can be made in the Merseyside area. When we talk about rail investment, that debate is often dominated by discussions about passenger rail. We should always remember the importance of freight on rail, too, and the importance of investing in it.
It is also important to look at investment in buses. Indeed, more people travel on buses than on any other mode of public transport. In 2009-10—the last year for which we have figures—5.2 billion passenger journeys were taken on local bus services in Great Britain. That compares with 1.3 billion passenger journeys on rail.
I am extremely concerned about the implications of the comprehensive spending review for funding local bus services. The bus service operator grant will be cut by 20%, local authority revenue for bus services will be cut and we do not yet know how effectively the Local Transport Act 2008 will work to ensure good value for money. We are awaiting the results of the Competition Commission inquiry into the setting of bus fares.
The Government say that they believe that the cuts in the bus service operator grant and other local authority funding, which could have an impact on support for local buses, will have a low impact on services. I am mystified by that and would like to know how the Government arrived at their figures. It seems to me that a 20% reduction in the bus service operator grant, a 28% reduction in local transport revenue funding and the removal of ring-fencing puts a big question mark over how many services that are essential to local people but not necessarily profitable for individual bus operators will be able to continue. I would be grateful for a response.
It is welcome that this Government are honouring their commitment to maintain the national concessionary fares scheme introduced by the previous Government, but the administration of the scheme has changed, and there are now queries about whether the funding for that scheme will go directly to the transport services. Again, I would be grateful for a response on that from the Minister.
Road safety is an important issue that is perhaps not discussed enough—it has not been discussed sufficiently in relation to the comprehensive spending review—but one of the successes of the past decade or so is the reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. In 2009, some 2,222 people were killed on our roads and more than 24,000 were seriously injured. Behind every one of those numbers lies a tragedy, and often a broken family, yet the figures represent an improvement on previous years: 38% fewer people were killed on our roads than in the late 1990s. More progress must be made. I am concerned that the reduction in local funding, combined with the abolition of ring-fenced grants for road safety, will halt the progress made and the decline of deaths and injuries on our roads.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Will she join me in recognising the value of free advanced driver training from organisations such as the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which is available at very little cost to drivers, in raising driving standards and improving safety?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I recognise the value of the training that he mentions, but the reason why we have made such progress in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roads, although those numbers are still far too high, is that combined efforts have been made not only to improve training but to improve road design, increase publicity through campaigns, reduce speeds and improve enforcement. It has been a combination of efforts by individuals and organisations, led by strong Government focus and guidance. I am concerned that those things might now recede into the background. That must not happen. I welcome an assurance from the Minister that transport safety, including road safety, will be high on her agenda.
Hidden within the comprehensive spending review are decisions to cut funding in important security areas such as aviation security and major changes, also involving funding reductions, to TRANSEC, which is responsible for security in transport. It is not clear what those changes will mean. When the Select Committee on Transport questioned the Secretary of State for Transport about it yesterday, he said that some of the responsibility for funding aviation security would be transferred from Government to the aviation industry. He also said that he could not say a great deal more about changes to TRANSEC. My concern is that we lack information and clarity about what is happening. It is important for us all to know what is being planned. Is the policy change an effort to increase the effectiveness of security, or is it driven by a wish to reduce costs? Transport security could be put at risk at a time of heightened concern. We need to know more about what is happening.
I also draw attention to concerns about the future of passenger representation. Passenger Focus has done an excellent job of drawing attention to the needs of passengers and travellers. It started with excellent work on the rail industry and has recently been given new responsibilities relating to bus travel, yet the Government’s quango hit list stated that Passenger Focus was due for significant reform and changes to its core tasks; I think that those were the words used. How are those core tasks to be defined? Do the Government want to change Passenger Focus’s funding and remit because it has been too successful in representing passenger needs? However committed any Government might be to public transport or indeed anything, it is essential to have an independent body that can speak out for the public about those services. I would be concerned if passenger representation were downgraded.
Finally, questions must be asked about the proposed cut of more than 30% to the administration of the Department for Transport and its agencies. First, what does it mean? Is it about being more efficient, or does it mean that the Department and its agencies will not be able to deliver what they are required to deliver with such significantly reduced funding? What does it mean for the Department’s agencies? We have already heard about cuts to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, including the removal of emergency vessels, which it appears is being done without prior consultation. It is unclear what it is all about, and it is concerning. Such drastic reductions in the administration of the Department and its agencies must ring alarm bells. Is it about being efficient—will services be delivered—or is it about more hidden cuts, particularly to those agencies where what is happening is not always immediately apparent?
In conclusion, I welcome the Government’s stated commitment to investment in our infrastructure and recognise, looking at what has happened to other Departments, that the cuts could have been much worse. However, great concerns remain about the impact on transport of the comprehensive spending review’s cuts. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the points that I have made and assure her that the Select Committee will be pursuing the issues in the months ahead. I hope that she will be pleased to receive an invitation from us before too long. We will be pleased to continue this discussion in another room.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) on securing this debate. I do not intend to speak for very long, as the hon. Lady has comprehensively covered the issues that the Select Committee on Transport is considering and, as a member of that Committee, I do not wish to go over the same ground. For the same reason, I do not intend to comment on the specific projects announced in the comprehensive spending review or subsequent announcements.
I welcome the success of my right hon. Friend the Minister and her colleagues in securing the assessment in the comprehensive spending review. I have to say that I feared it would be much worse and that transport would be one of the easy victims of the cuts that, sadly, must be made. By their very nature, transport projects are long term. If cuts are made, the impact is not always immediately felt. It was very bold and brave of the Government to give priority to the schemes that are for the long-term benefit of the country.
I want to focus on what follows the CSR period. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside mentioned, one of the Transport Committee’s current inquiries is into transport and the economy. As we are in the middle of that inquiry, I do not want to prejudge its conclusions, but I want to put on the record my concern and desire that we should take a longer-term perspective on transport planning in this country. We should take a more strategic, joined-up view. We have had plenty of laudable policies, schemes and reviews of individual modes of transport, whether rail, aviation, roads or maritime. However, historically, we have not taken a joined-up view and considered different modes of transport and how they fit together.
High Speed 2 is a classic example. I will not revisit the debate we had in Westminster Hall earlier this week, but we should not consider that sort of project in isolation. In considering the economic benefits, we look solely at what High Speed 2 can deliver, but such projects should be considered in conjunction with a long-term aviation policy for the United Kingdom. Before we fix the route of High Speed 2, we ought to consider how it should join up with airports in the south-east and the rest of the country. Germany has a multiple airport hub that is well connected by high-speed rail services. High Speed 2 is a multi-billion pound, long-term project and we will get one shot at making it right. Before we commit to a specific route and a vast sum of public expenditure, we ought to make sure that it is thought through strategically.
The hon. Gentleman makes the valid point that the project needs to be carefully considered in a strategic context. However, if the logic of high-speed rail is, among other things, to compete with aviation and draw people away from aviation to reduce carbon emissions, surely there is not a terribly strong strategic logic to the scheme making it easier for people to get to airports.
I am afraid I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. There will be competition between high-speed rail and short-haul aviation, and I would like the United Kingdom to be part of a Europe-wide high-speed network, so that it is feasible to travel by rail from Birmingham to Paris or Frankfurt. However, it is an inescapable fact that the demands on medium and long-haul air travel will increase and, until an engineer comes up with a solution, we cannot yet take trains across the Atlantic or other expanses of water.
As part of the Transport Committee’s inquiry, we visited Birmingham airport a few weeks ago. The people who work there are excited about the High Speed 2 line, because the journey time from the London area to Birmingham airport will be less than 40 minutes. That opens up the prospect of having longer-haul flights from Birmingham and relieving the capacity pressures on south-east England airports. That might not be the only answer, but it is the sort of long-term consideration that transport planning should include.
Can I take it from the hon. Gentleman’s remarks that he accepts the principle that the UK needs an international hub airport, as well as airports that function for shorter haul, and that he believes Heathrow is very important to the UK economy?
The United Kingdom certainly needs a hub airport in the broadest sense. I will not go into the relative merits of all the options in this short debate, but if my right hon. Friend the Minister wishes to promote me to the Government, I would be happy to make such decisions. At the moment, I am afraid such decisions are above my pay grade and that of the hon. Gentleman.
We need to think strategically about what we want the long-term aviation policy of the United Kingdom to be. That might involve Heathrow—although from all the evidence I have seen, I suspect not—or a broader south-east hub and Birmingham, Manchester or other airports in the United Kingdom. The point is that such a long-term view should be considered in conjunction with other strategic projects, such as high-speed rail.
If I may anticipate the comments that I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) will be sharing with us in a short time, we should consider specific transport projects in different locales around the country. There are exciting projects in the Leeds area involving trolley buses and other local schemes, which should also be factored into this country’s long-term planning. As a small aside, I shall mention that it is my hon. Friend’s birthday today. As a birthday present, perhaps the Minister can announce something helpful on the Leeds trolley bus scheme. However, I shall not press that matter any further.
In this country, we are poor at long-term transport planning. Part of the problem is that the tenure of Secretaries of State in the Department for Transport has been very short. Let us consider the average time for which Secretaries of State have served in the past. In the 18 years of Conservative Governments between 1979-1997, there were 12 Secretaries of State for Transport. Under the previous Labour Governments, there were seven Secretaries of State in 13 years—they did not last much longer on average. Transport needs to be pushed up the priority list in government. Again, it is way above my pay grade to determine ministerial appointments and tenure, but I hope that an individual is given the necessary time in post and the flexibility to develop a long-term view.
Those are the main points I wish to put on the record. I have the great pleasure of representing the Transport Committee at a European conference on transport and infrastructure this weekend. I am not a great fan of most things European, but Europe has had a comprehensive, strategic transport plan since 1990. I would like us to replicate that domestically in the United Kingdom. The settlement that my right hon. Friend and her colleagues have secured is, as I have said, very welcome in the context in which we operate. I hope that it will be a sound basis on which we can build a truly long-term national strategic transport plan.
It is a pleasure, Mr Gray, to serve under your chairmanship in this debate on transport and the impact of the comprehensive spending review. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) on the excellent way in which she opened the debate.
I want to talk about the proposals made by the Highways Agency to add an additional lane to the M60 between junctions 12 and 15 near Worsley. The decision announced in the spending review to go ahead with that scheme is wrong because it is not a safe option, it will damage the quality of life of my constituents and it does not represent value for money. By going ahead with the scheme in the current restrained financial climate, the Government are opting for what was described by Highways Agency officials at a residents’ meeting as a “cheap and cheerful option,” rather than making a proper assessment of the causes of the congestion that the additional lane scheme purports to solve.
There are several reasons why the scheme will not improve that stretch of the M60 for motorists. It will also create many issues that will affect my constituents’ quality of life. First, the additional lane will not be effective in relieving the congestion on the M60 at peak times. The current congestion is caused not simply by a lack of capacity but by the number and poor design of the junctions in the affected area. On that short stretch of motorway, the M60 interfaces with the M602, the M62 and the A580 East Lancashire road. Traffic on the motorway has to slow down significantly as other traffic weaves across lanes to enter or exit at the junctions. The distance between junctions 12 and 13 is less than half a mile, and on that short stretch, motorists heading into Manchester city centre and or to the busy Trafford centre nearby must cut across each other to get to the right part of the motorway.
Secondly, I believe that the plan itself will put motorists at serious risk. That stretch of the M60 is already dangerous—I will give some statistics later—given the number of closely spaced junctions and the prevalence of heavy goods traffic heading to Manchester city centre and the nearby Trafford Park industrial estate. In fact, the number of large lorries is already set to increase because Peel Holdings, a local firm, has been given the go-ahead to build a large traffic venture called Port Salford at Barton in my constituency. The Highways Agency’s proposals will make that stretch of motorway more dangerous still, because the additional lanes scheme will create four much narrower lanes with no hard shoulder. My constituents are very worried about that. As one wrote to me:
“There is very little margin for error when driving alongside a huge transcontinental lorry. What will it be like with narrower lanes?”
Thirdly, the Highways Agency has failed dismally to take into account the views of local residents on the proposals. The M60 passes extremely close to the homes of my constituents in Worsley, Roe Green and Barton, and even minor motorway works or changes in patterns of traffic can have a major impact on their lives. That stretch of road was not originally a motorway, or even an outer ring road. It started as the Stretford bypass, but residents now have a three-lane motorway, with the threat that it will become a four-lane motorway. Something that starts as a bypass should not end up as a four-lane motorway without much consideration being given to how it will affect local people’s lives.
I will come on to that point later, but it is difficult to see how any motorway, with increasingly heavy traffic thundering by at various times of the day, can be anything but noisy, so I sympathise with that problem.
The initial consultation run by the Highways Agency was dreadful. Having heard nothing at all about the scheme as the local MP, I received a leaflet on a Wednesday informing me that the consultation was due to start on Thursday and would run only until Saturday morning. Most of that short consultation time was during the working day, and across just two days, so most local people could not attend. Hardly any of the residents affected heard about the consultation or were able to attend at such short notice, and there are around 800 households right next to the motorway. Indeed, the few people who were able to attend were shocked to discover, having talked with the engineers present, that the project would entail significant work to move service cables and take the traffic physically closer to their homes and gardens.
We managed, at my insistence, to get the Highways Agency to attend a packed meeting of hundreds of residents. Indeed, we had to turn people away because it was not judged safe to let many more into the hall. The meeting turned into a series of angry exchanges, and the quality of information given by the Highways Agency was very poor. Residents were left feeling confused and with no information. That situation occurred under the previous Government, and I was as critical of the Transport Ministers then as I am now about the scheme, so it is in no way a partisan point. Since then, the Highways Agency has promised regular newsletters, but only one has emerged. It was initially delivered to entirely the wrong residential area, reaching none of the people who will be affected by the changes.
For my constituents, the environmental impact of the widening is a big worry. They are worried not only that traffic will be brought close to their homes but about what will happen to existing measures to deal with noise. There is an acoustic fence and a narrow barrier of trees at different points along the motorway, but that is all that stands between my constituents and all the traffic on the motorway. Indeed, the acoustic fence was installed only after much campaigning by my predecessor, Terry Lewis MP. Any changes to that fence or to the tree barrier would leave local residents much more exposed to noise and to visual and atmospheric pollution, which they do not want.
One resident has already experienced a distressing accident in which a heavy goods vehicle ploughed through the acoustic fence, down the bank and into her garden, killing the driver. She must now face the fact that it is planned to bring that traffic even closer to her home and garden. Another resident was concerned about the impact that the additional lane of traffic would have on the safety of his young children playing in the garden or on the street. Indeed, I understand that a sloping grassy bank with mature shrubs at the end of one small street will be replaced by a vertical brick wall.
Order. The hon. Lady will forgive me, but perhaps she would return to the effect of the comprehensive spending review on the Department for Transport. I know that it is a general debate and that she is describing important constituency matters, but perhaps she would come back slightly to the topic of the debate.
Indeed. What I am seeking to show, Mr Gray, is that the scheme, which was authorised in the spending review, represents very poor value for money and that the decision should be reversed. I know that there are many such schemes across the country for which Members are seeking to find funding. I suggest that the scheme for the M60 is of such poor quality and represents such poor value for money in the spending review that it should be changed. As I have mentioned, the scheme is currently priced at between £43 million and £50 million, which is to be spent on development such as replacing the grassy bank with a vertical brick wall. That would be a major change, as many of the residents have rooms that face the motorway.
With regard to whether that decision, which was taken in the spending review, is the right one, I am most concerned about the safety of residents who live adjacent to the motorway. Why does the consideration of reducing congestion not also have to take into account the safety of those who live nearby? Without a hard shoulder, as I have mentioned, traffic will be closer still to residents’ homes and gardens, and there has already been more than one incident in which vehicles have ploughed through fences and trees and ended up in gardens, much to the distress of local people.
Statistics on safety from the House of Commons Library show that between 2005 and 2009 there were 189 accidents, involving 310 casualties, between junctions 12 and 15 of the M60. It seems to me that any scheme that causes traffic to speed up in the narrower lanes of that busy stretch of motorway will increase that danger, particularly because it will bring traffic closer to residents’ homes.
I believe that the Government need to take a longer-term view and wait until funding is available for a proper and fundamental redesign of the key motorway junctions, because that would deliver a longer-lasting and safer solution for the area. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) said that we were poor at long-term planning. The proposed scheme is not a good example of any sort of planning. It is unpopular with local people and will be an expensive white elephant, because it will be dangerous, noisy and polluting and will not solve peak-hour congestion problems on the M60. The Government should not be wasting scarce resources on it but should use the money for the many bypasses and much-wanted schemes put forward by hon. Members in various areas of the north-west and throughout the country.
As it happens, a constituent sent me an e-mail today at 1.25 pm, stating:
“At question time in parliament yesterday the MP for Glossop was seeking funds for a bypass scheme in his constituency, which he said would improve the lives of his constituents. Why is the above scheme going ahead, which not one single constituent wants, and which would make life for the likes of me intolerable during the construction phase and render the value of my property considerably less?”
When I asked about the scheme at Transport questions, the Minister replied that there would be a consultation and that residents could express their concerns. I hope that she is listening today and I urge her and her ministerial colleagues to withdraw the scheme and use the funding elsewhere.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak. Some of the decisions that affect transport infrastructure are particularly important to my constituency.
Cleethorpes is, as hon. Members will appreciate, the premier resort of the east coast. However, they should also be aware that it takes in the major ports and industrial complexes of Immingham, and the area along the south Humber bank up to Barton-upon-Humber, where the Humber bridge crosses the estuary. I shall return later to the subject of the bridge, and the problems caused by heavy tolls.
First, I welcome the Government’s approach within the comprehensive spending review. Despite the difficulties, they have recognised the vital role of transport in allowing business to flourish and bringing growth and employment throughout the country. Public transport of course plays a vital role in the city regions by connecting local people to jobs and other opportunities, including health care and leisure. It ensures that business has access to as wide a labour market as possible. The depth of labour is a critical competitive advantage in the city regions and it is essential to maximise the level of investment and, hence, employment in the economy in the years ahead.
Although investment in transport infrastructure takes a long time to implement, starting now on schemes that will be completed in a few years will not only create much-needed employment at a time of recession in the engineering and construction centres; it will mean that new and improved opportunities are available as the economy improves. Improving the quality, scope and performance of local transport systems is critical to supporting recovery and growth, since competitiveness, and especially the labour market, depend on them. To ensure that city regions retain their cohesiveness and underpinning opportunities, it is vital that we boost the connectivity between the secondary centres. I welcome the Government’s increased attention to more effective transit-oriented development, which links spatial, economic and transport strategies. Research has shown that better co-ordination and integration of transport networks can have a sustained impact on economic performance.
Despite a CSR that has been, on the whole, much better, as other hon. Members have said, than was perhaps anticipated, there have been some disappointments in my constituency, particularly over delays to the A160 upgrade and the A18-A180 link road. The A160 upgrade is the link between the M180 and Immingham docks. It has long been a national priority to improve access to our major ports. Measured by tonnage the Immingham-Grimsby dock complex is the largest in the UK. The Humber bank is an established centre for energy refining and chemicals and is ideally placed to become a hub for the renewable energy sector following the granting of planning permission for the south Humber gateway project, which will provide about 4,500 jobs in the first five years and the prospect of many more in the following decade. Access via the A160 has, as I mentioned, been delayed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and I met senior executives from the developers, Able UK, only yesterday. They remain optimistic, and reassured us that there will be no delays in their plans, but they would like reassurance from the Government that if their development proceeds ahead of schedule consideration can be given to rescheduling the A160 upgrade. I appreciate that the Minister may not be able to give an assurance on that today, but I want to flag it up as one of the points that will be raised when a delegation meets one of her colleagues in a couple of weeks.
I welcome the increased investment in the Yorkshire and Humber region, although it still falls behind that in many other regions. There is general acceptance, however one calculates the figures, that spending in our region has, measured on a per capita basis, been well below that in other regions. That is even more true for those of us on the periphery of our region. The Lincolnshire part of the Yorkshire and Humber region has every justification to think that it has not been well served by various Departments and agencies. Only yesterday, my constituent Steve Ashton drew my attention to the Government publication “Transport and the Economy” which gave the 2008 figures as £248 per head of population for Yorkshire and Humber, compared with £259 in the west midlands and £287 in the north-west. Needless to say, there were very much larger figures for London and the south-east.
Not only is my constituency located at the edge of the region; it is also on the boundary between the east midlands and the Yorkshire and Humber region. Both regions have suffered over the years from reduced spending. We would benefit from the upgrading of the A46 from Lincoln through to Cleethorpes, and the extremely dangerous A15 between Lincoln and Scunthorpe. I accept that that is not an immediate prospect, but I want to flag it up for the future because it is vital for the tourism and industrial sectors.
I welcome the answer that the Secretary of State gave yesterday to the Select Committee on Transport, when he said that the Department had made a significant contribution to the regional growth fund and mentioned his hope that transport projects will benefit from the fund. That is clearly a possible funding stream for the very modest £8 million A18-A180 link road that would increase access to Immingham docks, and relieve congestion, giving much relief to Immingham residents.
To turn to the subject of rail services, earlier this week my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole and I met executives from Alliance Rail, which is an open access provider looking to introduce four direct services per day from Cleethorpes, via Scunthorpe, to King’s Cross. That is extremely helpful. Many of the established franchise operators tend to want to increase capacity by just increasing the number of services on existing well-served routes, whereas the open access providers, as has been demonstrated by Hull Trains, Grand Central and so on meet areas such as mine, on the coast, which are not on the direct services.
Finally, perhaps I may remind the Minister, as I said I would, about the problem of Humber bridge tolls. She visited the area about this time last year, and the Treasury-led review that she promised then has now come to pass. I plead with her to do all that she can to ensure that a sustainable result comes from the review. We have had years of tinkering, which has helped at the edges, but we urgently need the job opportunities that will open up to local people without that barrier between them.
I welcome the Government’s decision taken in the CSR, which has proved to be much better than we hoped. It would be much appreciated if the Minister would consider those of us on the periphery.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) on securing the debate.
I shall try to keep my remarks short, because other hon. Members want to speak, but it is important to remember the context of the debate. There is no doubt that we are living in incredibly challenging times and the debt that we had was spiralling out of control. When we look further afield, particularly at Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain, we see that dealing with the debt is a necessity. The deficit reduction plan is not easy but, for the sake of future generations, it is our duty and responsibility to deal with it. Despite the fact that we face that huge challenge, I, like my hon. Friends, welcome the fact that the Department for Transport has managed to limit the reduction to about 15% in real terms. That is quite an achievement, given the severity of the economic situation, particularly as the Labour party had plans for a 50% reduction. That plan would have meant many more projects falling off the list. It is a testament to the Department’s hard work that we have achieved this settlement.
The importance of the transport infrastructure cannot be overstated. It is one of the keys to growing our economy in these difficult times and it enables people and businesses to travel effectively and help the UK become even more competitive.
Transport really does provide the crucial links that allow people and businesses to prosper. As a Northern MP, I am acutely aware of how important it is, particularly if we are to encourage growth across the country and ensure that the increased prosperity that we hope will come spreads beyond the south-east.
I have long campaigned and complained about the lack of a fair settlement for Yorkshire when it comes to transport, at the same time recognising that investment in London and the south-east encourages more economic growth for the whole country. However, Yorkshire has had a poor deal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) said. Not so long ago, Leeds and Yorkshire and Humber had £100 a head less spent on transport compared with the national average—not just London but the national average. As a result, we have been left with congestion and overcrowding problems.
Leeds has enjoyed a renaissance over the past 20 years, but our transport system has been struggling to cope. The increased economic activity over those years has resulted in people from all over West Yorkshire travelling in and out of the city and clogging up the roads, particularly the M62. I am therefore delighted that the Transport Secretary announced additional capacity on the M62 near Leeds around junctions 25 to 30. That will help enormously in moving traffic from the north-west into Yorkshire and back.
I also welcome the fact that the Department and Ministers have secured funding for south access to Leeds railway station. That station is one of the busiest in the country, but it is accessible only from the northern side. The south access will mean that journey times for the southern part of the city will be cut. At the same time, it will offer an opportunity for economic growth in that part of the city, which has lagged behind the rest of Leeds.
One of the most significant announcements that we have had from the Government was about High Speed 2. It is no exaggeration to say that people and businesses in Yorkshire are delighted with the decision, particularly the decision in favour of the Y route. There was a great deal of concern that the Government might have gone for the other option, which would have involved sending us all to Manchester before sending us on to Leeds. I would not be as complimentary to my right hon. Friend the Minister if she had come to that decision. I am very grateful, and I want to put on the record the thanks of the people of Yorkshire and the north-east.
In fact, HS2 is a real chance to break down the north-south divide, which has been a problem for successive Governments of all parties. That, coupled with the announcement today about investment in our railways, is considerable news, given our hopes for a better economic climate.
There are also several projects in the development pool and, if Members will indulge my continuing to be a little parochial, I would like to mention two. The first, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) referred, is the New Generation Transport trolley bus. Leeds has been led down the garden path over many years. We were promised a supertram, millions of pounds were spent preparing for it, and then the rug was pulled from under us. We were told to go back to the drawing board, and now we have come up with the trolley bus scheme. One of the big problems that people face and businesses complain about is the fact that there is no integrated transport in the city of Leeds. This project will really help to get people around the city once they are in it.
We look with envy at the transport systems in cities such as Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham, and are simply asking for a bit of the cake. We recognise that more work has to be done, and people on the city council and in Metro are working incredibly hard—they have done a tremendous amount of work, it has to be said—to try to make the scheme affordable. I commend their work.
Another scheme in the comprehensive spending review is the Leeds city region rail growth package. There is no doubt that Leeds and Yorkshire as a whole would benefit greatly from it. Improving access to the region’s wider rail network will provide capacity for future demand while reducing congestion in city centres and major transport corridors. The package represents strong value for money. It would make best use of existing infrastructure, and fill gaps and pinch points.
Under the proposals, there would be two new stations: one at Kirkstall Forge, to be delivered in early 2014, and the other at Apperley Bridge, to be delivered 12 months later. Those two stations are of particular concern to my constituency.
To give a bit of background, there were many mills in my constituency over the years; sadly, they have gone. In their place, we have many new residential developments, but there has been no investment in infrastructure to cope with the increased population. As a result, the one main road that takes people from the north side of my constituency into Leeds is heavily congested. Those two stations would offer a real solution to getting people in and out of the city effectively, sustainably and, obviously, in an environmentally friendly way.
What is good about the project is that 17% of the costs will be met by the Commercial Estates Group and its investors—well over the minimum requirement of 10%—and stakeholder support has been secured from Network Rail, Northern Rail, CEG, Bradford city council, Leeds city council and Metro. The Kirkstall Forge station would bring numerous benefits to Leeds, with £350 million of investment flooding into the area. Approximately 1,100 homes, flats and duplex apartments are included in the scheme. The impact on employment in the area would be significant: it is estimated that approximately 2,400 new jobs will be created. There would be a £4 million contribution from CEG’s investors to delivery of the rail growth package, which will cost £23 million. I cannot emphasise how important both the stations would be to our city, but particularly to my constituency.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South was kind enough to mention earlier, it is my birthday. I do not want a card or a cake, but if I can have two stations, I would be very happy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I, too, commend the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) for leading this debate.
The overall context of this debate is the comprehensive spending review and the need to tackle the country’s deficit. The overspend inherited from the previous Government is so great that one could cut the entire Department for Transport budget—every penny of Government money spent on buses, trains, roads, tube lines and so on—10 times over and still be overspending. That is the scale of the task faced by the Government in trying to rebalance the economy.
In that context, for the Department to have achieved a cut of only 15% over four years is to be genuinely celebrated. It is well below the average for Government Departments, and is reflective, I hope, of a good and robust case put to the Treasury. It certainly reflects the importance of transport to this Government, which is very much to be welcomed. From a Liberal Democrat perspective, the importance of transport is that it will help to improve the economy again, and it will also help us to achieve the boldly stated aim of being the greenest Government ever. Those two in combination should lead to a model of more sustainable prosperity, which is very much to be desired.
Some of the expectations of the comprehensive spending review have genuinely been confounded. We spoke a little about the bus service operating grant. Any cut in it is to be regretted, and I am sure that Ministers regret it as much as I do, but it was widely discussed as potentially 50%. A cut of only 20% is relatively benign, and I believe that bus service operators have assured Ministers, including the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), that it can be absorbed, hopefully without increases in fares. I shall return to the bus service operating grant later.
Comment in the transport press has been favourable. Local Transport Today, a newspaper that I am learning to read avidly, commented in an editorial:
“Philip Hammond will be a happy man this week...The DfT’s 15% budget reduction over the next four years is lower than the 19% Government average and the Department’s reduction in capital funding (11%) is far better than the 29% average.”
That is all to the good. As part of the package, there are new Government funding lines that are particularly to be welcomed. The local sustainable transport fund of £560 million over four years reflects the importance of localism to this Government, and has an explicit link to the reduction of CO2 emissions, which is very welcome. I hope that grants made under that scheme are for measures to increase the importance of cycling and walking at a local level, as well as for more traditional travel projects.
As the Secretary of State confirmed in an answer to me earlier today, there is also the use of the new methodology for calculating the future cost of carbon. One of the most disastrous calculations by the previous Government was their use of an adulterated version of what was recommended by the Stern review to calculate the future cost of carbon emissions, which is, in effect, the value of future lives lost by climate change. They so heavily discounted that rate that projects such as the third runway at Heathrow looked economic when the cost of climate change was taken into account. It took only a change in the calculation for the idea of a third runway to look as bad as it does, and for the project to be rightly stopped. I am pleased that the new methodology will be adopted in calculations relating to all future projects.
Notwithstanding how carbon is calculated—I do not for a second accept that the methodology was in any way, shape or form flawed—does the hon. Gentleman actually believe that if Heathrow ceases to be a hub, aviation will decrease? Does he not accept that logically Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt would become the European hub, which would probably be welcomed by Brussels, and that the UK economy would then be in disbenefit?
I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the methodology was not flawed. It was changed in March, and the now leader of the Labour party, the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, rightly presided over that change, which this Government, who took office shortly afterwards, took up. I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to be careful about his calculations.
As far as the other airports are concerned, it is very important that aviation is constrained across the European Union, and indeed around the world, as part of our assault on the threat of climate change. Unless the hon. Gentleman is challenging the methodology used by Sir Nicholas Stern—now Lord Stern—in his review, which was commissioned by the previous leader of the Labour party and Prime Minister, he will have to explain what methodology he would use to reflect the true economic cost of the threat of climate change. The methodology has been widely accepted in business and by investors and is now part of business calculations, and the use by the previous Government—until they changed their mind at the very last minute—of an incorrect and adulterated version of the cost of carbon, deviated from good business practice, apart from anything else.
On assessing project impact, I recommend that Ministers look carefully at the new approach to appraisal—NATA—assessment framework, and ensure that environmental and quality-of-life benefits are properly reflected. My noble Friend Lord Bradshaw in another place has made some very valuable and typically learned critiques of NATA, and I commend them to Ministers.
On railways, Ministers can be very happy indeed. The overall balance of investment in the Department will shift from 49 to 60% for rail by 2014-15, and that is exactly the right direction of travel. I am delighted that major projects such as Crossrail, Thameslink, the tube upgrades and, of course, High Speed 2 are all secure and that High Speed 2 in particular will, assuming that it is extended to Scotland, in the very long term deliver substantial reductions in aviation within the UK. I take the points made by other hon. Members on this earlier, but High Speed 2 is a very important contribution to rebalancing and making more environmentally friendly our whole approach to transport; that has been the experience of high-speed rail wherever it has been introduced around the world in competition with aviation.
Today, significant investment in new rolling stock was announced, with 600 new carriages for Crossrail and 1,200 for Thameslink, which in turn will free up hundreds of electric carriages for redeployment on newly electrified routes elsewhere and help to make the case for those new routes economic, which is very important. That, in turn, will free up diesel rolling stock for other routes, and help to support their economics. We have had additional announcements on developments at Reading, Birmingham New Street and other stations, on the east coast and midland main lines, and in Manchester and south Wales, and the confirmation, which is very important to colleagues in Scotland, that the inter-city express programme has been narrowed to two options, both of which include absolutely through services, and do not therefore raise the prospect of parts of Scotland being cut off by the need to change trains.
I would also welcome the schemes previously announced by the Department, which are reflected in the settlement for light rail, trams and ultra-light rail schemes. Those mentioned are Greater Manchester Metrolink, the Blackpool and Fleetwood tramway upgrade and the Tyne and Wear metro upgrade, and there are plenty of others that we could consider. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) made a very powerful case for Leeds, and the Leeds new generation transport scheme is in the development pool, which means that it has a fair chance of success. I wish him well in putting forward a strong case for the Leeds light rail system.
There are other schemes even further into the future, and I must mention the ultra-light rail system being fought for in Gloucestershire. We recognise that it is a long way off in terms of public funding, but important steps can be taken to support it. Most obviously, since it is intended that the system will reuse railway lines that were closed down by Dr Beeching, Ministers could look, perhaps with the Department for Communities and Local Government, at the new planning framework to ensure that nothing is done that prejudices such development. That would be an important way to support the future development of ultra-light rail.
On roads, I welcome many of the announcements, including the confirmation that support for electric car-charging infrastructure will go ahead. With the possibility of “hybrid hybrid vehicles”—those that run on electric batteries until the batteries run out and then revert to more conventional hybrid vehicle technology—we might be within sight of escaping the chicken and egg situation, in which the car-charging points cannot be rolled out until the electric vehicles are there to produce the demand for them, but the demand for the electric vehicles cannot be there until there are charging points. There is now the prospect of beginning to move forward in the electric car market, and the Government’s clear support for that is very important.
I am pleased that the main focus of the Department’s spending is shifting more towards maintenance and away from new roads, but the Liberal Democrats might have gone further and looked rather more critically at many of the other new road projects. I was very interested in what the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) said about the M60 project. It certainly sounds as though the Highways Agency’s consultation process has left a very great deal to be desired in that case, and could be critically looked at again. I also suggest that Ministers cast a particularly critical eye over the suggested upgrade of the junctions between the M4 and the M5 in my part of the world. I travelled the M4 and the M5 recently by car, and found no particular problems at the junctions or with the interaction between the two motorways, so I am not sure what the justification for the project is. I urge Ministers to keep all new motorway projects under very close review.
Not all road projects are bad, however. The Mersey gateway bridge project, which is in the supported pool and is therefore certainly being given a fair wind by the Government, could substantially reduce carbon emissions by increasing walking and cycling and considerably shortening car journeys in Merseyside. It would obviously also bring economic benefits. One last comment on roads is that with snow and ice possibly being a topical issue even before the end of the week, it is very welcome that the Local Government Association reports substantial extra investment in the provision of grit by local authorities, but I urge Ministers to keep a weather eye on that because we have seen some disasters in the past, when grit has run out. Grit suppliers particularly need to be encouraged to maintain supplies to local government as a high priority.
I am concerned about buses. I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, who emphasised the importance of the number of bus users in the country. Some 5 billion to 6 billion bus journeys are undertaken a year. The bus sector faces a potential triple whammy from the CSR. There is an admittedly modest reduction in the bus service operator grant, but the maintenance of the concessionary fares scheme is an important political commitment, which I support in principle. In fact, I should like it to be extended to 16 to 18-year-olds, in line with the policy of the UK Youth Parliament. That scheme is imposed on local authorities in a way that is inflexible for them and they have no way to control its costs. Its incorporation into the formula grant in future will lead local authorities to make some difficult choices about how to spend money locally. Since local authorities also subsidise many bus routes, those three things could combine and put a lot of local bus services at risk. That would damage our commitment to public transport and greener transport and would put rural bus services in particular at risk, which would not be welcome. Will Ministers meet their colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government and local council leaders from the Local Government Association, urgently to discuss the likely impact of the CSR on the bus sector?
Some responses could be made to the threat to the bus sector that do not involve spending large amounts of public money. It is instructive that bus journeys in London are on an upward trend, whereas bus journeys in the rest of the country are on a downward trend. Those of us outside London might mention the probably well deserved but quite generous subsidy that public transport in London gets relative to the rest of the country. But we could also mention the Oyster card and the use of smart technology, which makes it easier for people to use buses in London and the enormously better marketing and provision of information about routes in London at every bus stop and online. Certainly, that is in sharp contrast to the situation in Gloucestershire and many other parts of the country, which makes buses virtually incomprehensible and difficult for consumers to use reliably.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the distinction between the rise of bus services in London and, until recently, reduced use in the rest of the country is attributable largely to the fact that deregulation was never applied in London in the same way as it was in the rest of the country? Does he agree that the provisions in the Local Transport Act 2008 to give local authorities more powers over bus operators must be implemented?
Deregulation played a role. In terms of the co-ordinated provision of information and marketing and selling bus transport to local populations, it is much more difficult in areas where buses have been so comprehensively deregulated. I do not think that the renationalisation of bus services nationwide is likely. Much as I would love to overturn some of Mrs Thatcher’s legacies, we probably should not concentrate on that one.
My point is that there are solutions to trying to support commercially viable bus routes, or making those routes more commercially viable, that do not necessarily involve large sums of public money and might be about smarter and more intelligent policy locally.
I should like to highlight two local issues. On the Dartford crossing, a small but locally important part of the CSR will maintain the toll regime for its 150,000 users a day. I understand the Government’s case for that, because it is part of an investment in future transport provision in that area and traffic management will be improved, and so on. But the original idea was that the toll would cease when the Dartford crossing had been paid for. I am afraid that it has now been paid for, so there is some fairly justifiable anger locally that this is continuing.
The Minister knows that none of my speeches are complete without a reference to the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble line in the south-west of England. That is potentially the only rail project that the Government might cancel, which would be regrettable. It is important to the west of England and south Wales, and to Welsh Members and, I suspect, to my neighbour the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael).
My hon. Friend is an excellent neighbour. We both make the same point, which is that the Stroud-Kemble line should be redoubled, if at all possible. The case for that is strong both in terms of business and tourism. It is a good idea to encourage people to use the rail system by ensuring that the magic figure of less than two hours for a rail journey from Gloucester to London is achieved.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case that all Gloucestershire MPs from all parties agree with. Even when there were Labour MPs in Gloucestershire, they agreed too and strongly supported it. That project would increase the reliability and the number of through services in many ways, which is important for Gloucestershire and for the rest of the network in the area, not least because of what one Welsh Assembly Member described as
“an insurance policy against interruption in the Severn Tunnel.”
The Swindon to Kemble line has regional implications. It was, I think, a strange aberration by the Office of Rail Regulation not to include that line in the Network Rail major investment plan. I hope that the Government will see a way to rectifying that mistake.
Overall, the picture from the CSR, as the dust settles on the battleground, shows that the Government have secured substantial investment in transport, particularly shifting the balance of investment towards more environmentally sustainable forms of transport, which is important for the period of the CSR and for future generations for many years to come, and I congratulate Ministers on achieving it.
It is a great pleasure to contribute to this debate, because I represent a constituency that is at the heart of the logistics sector and for which the transport infrastructure and its efficiency is essential.
At a time when the public purse is under such pressure, the Government’s determination to protect spending on transport infrastructure should be commended. I congratulate my colleagues on securing what was, in the end, a good settlement for the Department. However, the pot of money is finite and a number of road projects have had to be shelved. Naturally, I understand the need for that, but I am mindful of the overall need to encourage growth in our economy so that we can repair the state of our finances. The Government have made the wrong call in respect of the proposed improvements at junction 30 of the M25, which have been postponed. This is not a parochial point, for reasons that I will explain.
The M25 is by far the busiest stretch of road in our country. It is also a vital element of our national road infrastructure and an essential artery for the lifeblood of our economy. It was therefore essential that the Government proceeded with the widening of the M25, recognising that too long had been spent talking about that project but not enough had been said about its delivery. The Government have shelved planned improvements to junction 30 until later than 2015, which will cause disadvantage not only to my constituents, but to the business community across south Essex and to UK plc.
For colleagues who do not appreciate the geography of my constituency, let me quickly explain. Thurrock is adjacent to London. The M25 runs through the western part of my constituency and joins the Dartford crossing, which the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) mentioned and which starts southbound at Purfleet. The A13 is the main arterial road, running from London through the borough of Thurrock and intersecting with the M25 at junction 30. Junction 30 is also adjacent to 31, which is where the M25 intersects with the old A13.
Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but can I ask her to keep her comments to the CSR as it affects public transport? Of course, almost any transport project is affected by the CSR, and I understand that, but perhaps her points could be general rather than particular.
Thank you, Mr Gray. I have come to the end of the geographical comments. The point is that junction 30 is the place where so much traffic is impeded. It serves the Lakeside shopping centre and the port of Tilbury, which obviously needs access to transport goods around the country. About 92% of people travelling to the Lakeside shopping centre by car use that junction, and hon. Members will understand the impact of that volume of traffic. The traffic often spills on to the local road network and causes congestion, as well as going on to the M25 and, of course, the Dartford crossing.
We have a considerable number of local businesses which, as I mentioned, have an impact on UK plc. We must tackle junction 30 to enable south Essex to grow and business opportunities to expand. If I may crave your indulgence, Mr Gray, I will give two examples: the supply of Fairy liquid for the whole of Europe is made in my constituency, as is every jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. That needs to be transported around the country, and one can see the importance of West Thurrock as an industrial hub.
I have spoken with local businesses about the impact of junction 30 and congestion at the Dartford crossing on their business. Carpetright has its corporate headquarters at West Thurrock; 80% of the carpets that it supplies to the nation are cut on that site, generating £212 million. It told me that there are 3,500 lorry movements a year, which will have to attack the M25 via junction 30. It also estimates that 100 man hours a week are lost in traffic delays. Charles Gee, a local haulage firm, concludes that congestion around junction 30 and the Dartford crossing increases its fuel costs by £35,000 a year. That is the overall picture. I firmly believe that the congestion at junction 30, where the M25, the Dartford crossing and the A13 intersect, causes serious problems for local businesses and inhibits their opportunities to grow.
The hon. Lady makes a strong case about junction 30 of the M25. Does she find it as puzzling as I do that, to take two congested stretches, the scheme that she mentions is shelved and does not go ahead, despite the strong case that she makes, but the totally unwanted scheme—the additional lane on the M60 that local people do not want at all—is to go ahead? I would generously offer up our scheme for the one that the hon. Lady wants.
I hope that the Minister was listening to the hon. Lady; I was struck by what she said. When I hear the business community in my constituency crying out for increased local investment and telling me that their biggest concern is the poor transport infrastructure, I am sure that such a plan would be welcome. It would be interesting to know why such a conclusion has been reached.
Let me set the record straight after the comments made by the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). The project under discussion has not been “shelved”; it is in the programme that we hope to take forward post-2015. There has been a postponement, but not a cancellation.
I am grateful to the Minister. The point is that for my business constituents, the improvements cannot come soon enough. That brings me to the point raised by the hon. Member for Cheltenham about the Dartford tunnel. As I said, we are at the northbound point of the Dartford crossing. There is light at the end of the tunnel for the funding of improvements to junction 30, and that is the Dartford tunnel. As the hon. Gentleman said, the CSR proposed a 66% increase in tolls, and there is a lot of local anger about that. The deal was for the tolls to be cancelled once the crossing had been funded, but we have long passed that point. Having said that, my constituents are really quite hacked off with the number of times that they get caught on the local road network, and they would take it on the chin if the tolls were increased as long as they got something out of the deal. If we are looking at where funding from that increase in tolls is to be spent, I hope that my corner of south Essex gets its fair share.
Let me re-emphasise the need to invest in improvements to junction 30. I would also like to see the proposals in the CSR for an additional crossing brought forward sooner rather than later. The congestion on the M25, and the crossing in particular, have been neglected for far too many years. We must have a consensus on where an additional crossing should be constructed. As we know, traffic volume continues to grow exponentially and we are always playing catch-up with such things. I understand that revenues will be hypothecated for transport investment, and my plea is for Thurrock and south Essex to be looked on favourably. That would be good not only for my constituents but for UK plc and the businesses that I have mentioned.
I am delighted to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) on securing this important debate.
I am going to echo many of the remarks already made by colleagues. Given the economic situation that the coalition Government inherited, we might have expected a transport settlement that was significantly grimmer than turned out to be the case. I congratulate the Department for Transport on doing so well in difficult times. We can all be relieved, to say the least.
I speak as a London MP, and I will unashamedly limit my remarks to London. Hon. Members will be glad to know that I also intend to keep my remarks brief. In my view, London has done rather well out of the transport settlement: Crossrail, tube upgrades, Thameslink and extra rolling stock are all good announcements for London. I know that hon. Members from other regions often view London as being rather greedy in its funding needs. However, I must point out that London is our capital city, and it will be one of the great driving forces behind getting back to economic growth. I cannot resist the danger of irritating hon. Members even further by directing their attention to an interesting article in The Economist that points out that investment in capital projects such as those in transport in London and the south-east tends to get a much better return than investment in other regions. Investment in transport projects around London is always money well spent.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that additional helpful remark. Crossrail has always been a huge issue for my constituency and it sits at the heart of our plans for regenerating Ealing and Acton town centres. We hoped so much to get the news that the project would definitely go ahead, and there was a huge sigh of relief around my constituency once that announcement was made in the comprehensive spending review. We hope that Crossrail will bring greater numbers of visitors to both town centres. It will be our task to find ways of persuading people off the Crossrail trains and into those town centres, where we hope that they will spend considerably more money. I understand that there may be some time slippage in the Crossrail project, but I suspect that that may also be due to tunnelling problems that have been encountered. Nevertheless, it is great to know that the project is going to go ahead in its entirety.
I have a plea for the Minister. Ealing Broadway station is one of the busiest transport hubs in west London. It is also one of the most hazardous, with steep stairs, no disabled access to the platforms and a small ticket hall that becomes crowded to an incredibly dangerous degree. Can work be expedited at that station, if at all possible? I hate to say this, but it is an accident waiting to happen.
The problem has been that people living in Ealing have been told for so many years that they cannot have any improvements because Crossrail is just round the corner. As we all know, however, Crossrail has been just round the corner for decades. Now that it really does seem to be on the home straight—in sight—please can there be no more delay for Ealing Broadway station? We have been waiting somewhat impatiently for the option designs for the stations, but I am now hoping to have a meeting with representatives of Crossrail in the next couple of weeks, so that we can see those more detailed options.
The London tube upgrades are another essential investment that will now go ahead. All of us experience the London underground at some stage as we spend time here in the capital city, and I think that all of us would say that the London underground broadly delivers a reasonable service, albeit that we sometimes feel like we are being herded into cattle trucks, particularly at certain times of the day. The problem is that there are continual and frequent problems on all the lines at one stage or another.
The signal box at Edgware Road is a good example. I am reliably told that it dates back to the 1920s. It sits across some incredibly busy and important lines. When we consider that so many passengers are under the control of a signal box that goes back that far, we recognise the importance of getting the London underground up to date if London is to retain its position as one of the world’s premier cities, and as we move back towards economic growth.
I was delighted to hear that the Thameslink programme had been given the green light, so to speak. That will be great news for taking pressure off many of the other services going through London and into and out of London. I was particularly pleased to hear today the announcement of extra rolling stock. West London services are very congested for quite a lot of the time, particularly during peak hours. A recent survey conducted by a local transport group showed that a very large percentage of passengers going in and out of central London from all the stations across Ealing have been finding not only that the trains are impossibly crowded, but that quite often they cannot get on them at all. First Great Western has been putting in bids for extra rolling stock for some time. I hope that as the extra rolling stock is rolled out, the Minister will have a particularly keen ear for the bids from First Great Western for extra help on some of those west London services.
Obviously, the less popular flipside of the coin is the fare increases. There is no doubt about this. No one likes having to pay more for a journey that at best is only ever the same, but quite often seems to be getting worse as the carriages get more crowded or there are delays or other problems. Clearly, however, a balance must be struck between the interests of taxpayers and of passengers. That is always the problem.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside says that she fears that higher fares will encourage more people off public transport and back on to the roads. I accept that that may well be something to be concerned about, but surely it is equally true that only if we can provide new, modern, improved public transport will we encourage more people to use public transport. That is where the difficult balance lies. It always has to be a balance, and that balance has to be set, of course, in the context of what the public purse can afford.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. This is the first time that I have spoken from the Opposition side of this Chamber. I would naturally rather be where the Minister is and I certainly was there for a couple of years. It reminds me of the question asked by many people about what it is like being in opposition after 13 years. As a former Minister responsible for road safety, I use a roads analogy. I tell people that it is like when they go to Europe for the first time and drive on the right-hand side of the road. It is strange, but I get it; I know what I am supposed to be doing. However, every junction and every occasion have to be approached with additional care.
Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), on securing the debate, on the way in which she introduced it and on the way in which she leads her Committee. She is very highly regarded in the House, as all new Members will quickly come to realise, if they have not already.
Conservative Members may not be surprised to hear that I do not accept their rosy view of the impact of the comprehensive spending review on transport. The CSR settlement will mean a scaling back of Labour’s plans for transport infrastructure and a significant increase in the burden that falls on passengers through increased fares. I shall try to comment on hon. Members’ contributions later in my remarks.
The Department’s budget has suffered a 15% cut in real terms. That includes not only savings of 21% from the resource budget but, more worryingly, an 11% reduction in capital spending. The implications of that will be felt not just by the travelling public. Because investment in infrastructure projects is vital to growth, it will also affect the recovery, manufacturing and jobs.
The Budget produced by the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member put in place a predicted 50% reduction in capital spending. In the light of that, is it not the case that an 11% cut for transport is really not a bad result in comparison with what other Departments are subject to?
I do not for a second, in any way, shape or form, do anything other than congratulate the Ministers on fighting their corner for transport, but when I explain later why I am disappointed with the outcome, the details of the position will become clearer.
The Secretary of State has been over-spinning his settlement as a great success when it is nothing of the kind. Even the Institute for Fiscal Studies listed the Department for Transport as a “loser” in the CSR. Combined with the huge reductions in funding for local government, the impact will be felt by passengers throughout the country.
The Government are trying to get away with these myths: that Labour was planning a much bigger cut in capital spending and that the present Government are proceeding with even more spending on capital projects than was planned by Labour. Both claims are not true. First, the Government have set out spending plans to 2015, for the whole five-year Parliament. They are therefore never comparing like with like. That is classic smoke and mirrors, and I cannot believe that any Government would get up to such tricks.
Secondly, the Government insist on changing the point that they use as their baseline to suit their case. The reality is that even before the CSR, the Government had made £683 million-worth of spending cuts, including £309 million from local transport grants—made up of £61 million from major local authority schemes, £151 million from integrated transport block grant, £8 million from the urban congestion fund, £17 million from the road safety capital grant and £20 million from the road safety revenue grant—£108 million from Transport for London, £100 million from Network Rail, resulting in the scrapping of the better rail stations programme to upgrade 10 key national interchange stations judged the worst in the country, £54 million by deferring schemes and £112 million in internal cuts from the DFT, including staffing.
The hon. Gentleman is identifying certain cuts that he alleges are being made, which clearly he is concerned about. If he will not accept reductions in certain transport programmes, where does he expect the reductions to come in order to tackle the deficit that the Government he was a member of left to us?
We do not accept for a second, as was clearly outlined by my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor in a speech only last month, that it was a Labour deficit. The deficit was created by an international banking crisis that started in the US. Most other countries copied the UK Government’s solution in restabilising their financial institutions and trying to ensure that the economy was in a position to recover.
We accept that cuts have to be made. We do not demur from that in any way, shape or form. I shall come to that in a second.
No, I do not accept that position either. The year before the crisis hit, we were borrowing 2.4% of GDP, compared with the 3.4% that we inherited from the previous Conservative Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). Almost all our borrowing financed capital investment in schools, hospitals, road and rail.
The second myth about our record is that even if the public finances overall were under control, we were spending too much. We do not accept the allegation that what we were spending on schools and hospitals was excessive given the size of our economy. It was in line with other industrialised countries.
The facts show that from 2002 onwards, Labour Chancellors were £30 billion short of what they were spending. Whatever they were spending money on, they were spending too much. From 2002, we were running a £30 billion deficit year on year. That is how we got to the level of debt that we now have, regardless of the breakdown of the banks.
I will do my best to close that down and get back to my text, which I assure you, Mr Gray, is focused on the CSR.
To respond to the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), spending under Labour was not out of control. It was strongly supported by both coalition partners at the time. Indeed, there were criticisms from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Chancellor when they were in opposition that we were not spending enough. I therefore do not accept the hon. Lady’s argument.
To follow your admonition, Mr Gray, and return to my text, the shadow Chancellor has proposed additional taxation on the banking industry that would raise £7.5 billion and enable us almost to halve the Government’s cut of a third to infrastructure spending. As I have said to the Minister, there would have been cuts under Labour, but they would not have been so severe and the burden would not have been put on passengers through huge hikes in fares.
As an aside, the UK Chamber of Shipping president, Mr Jan Kopernicki, was recently quoted as saying that not bringing forward the new Type 26 frigates from 2020 to assist in dealing with piracy would cost the UK economy and endanger British and other shipping. I ask the Minister to pass that message back to the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence.
In government, Labour delivered major improvements to our rail network, resulting in greater reliability, faster journey times and more passengers than at any time since the 1940s. We set out an ambitious long-term vision for conventional rail alongside our ambitious high-speed rail plans. Our plans included new capacity, better infrastructure and a strategic freight network. We had no plans to make passengers pay more for less, because if people see fares increasing when plans for new capacity and infrastructure are being cut, fewer people travel by rail and there is increased congestion on our roads.
I welcome the fact that the Government have changed their position and now support the Labour Government’s proposed route for High Speed 2. That was more of a Y-turn than a U-turn. There are clearly splits in the Cabinet over this issue and even, we read, threats of resignation. I assure the Minister that the Opposition understand the economic importance of the project. It will bring the west midlands within about half an hour of London and deliver journey times of 75 minutes or less from Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester to the capital. Connections to existing tracks will enable direct high-speed train services to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Liverpool.
We also welcome the Secretary of State’s confirmation this morning that some of Labour’s plans for additional investment in rail infrastructure will go ahead, including electrification projects, new carriages and station improvements. We do not welcome the delays and reductions in vital projects such as Crossrail, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton. Crossrail will make journeys across London faster, allow direct access from Heathrow to the City, enable 200 million passenger journeys a year, add 30,000 high-value jobs to London in the first 10 years of its operation and add an estimated £20 billion to the UK’s GDP.
I had hoped that the shadow Minister would recognise that it is a great result that we have been able to save Crossrail despite the crisis in the public finances. He should also acknowledge that the lengthening of the delivery time for the central section was the result of an engineering-led review on how to deliver the project in the most cost-effective way for the taxpayer.
I do not want to be churlish and I fully welcome the commitment to Crossrail. This project has been on the stocks since about 1880. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton said that it had been decades, but it has actually been planned in one shape or form for more than a century. I hope that the Minister will be generous enough to congratulate the previous Prime Minister, who ultimately grasped the nettle and said that the project must go ahead, in conjunction with the Mayor of London, the City and the CBI. I would be grateful if she updated us on the time frame for the completion of the branches of Crossrail to Shenfield, Maidenhead and Abbey Wood. I am not sure whether it is on track to meet the time scale mentioned by the Secretary of State this morning.
We oppose the Government’s decisions on fares. They have made two decisions that we believe will drive people off the railways and back on to the roads, increase congestion and hit competitiveness and growth. First, they chose to reverse the decision that Labour took in government to require train companies to apply fare limits to all fares equally, rather than hike some significantly and offset that by making smaller reductions on others. This week, we have seen the result of that change, with commuters being stung by rises of well over 10% on some routes, just at a time when families are being squeezed by wage freezes, the coming VAT increase and cuts to tax credits and child benefit.
Secondly, the Government decided to make things even worse for rail passengers by allowing fares to rise by 3% above inflation. Since 2004, the cap on increases to regulated fares has been RPI plus 1. From 1999 to 2003, it was RPI minus 1, and from 1995 to 1998, it was equal to RPI. The Secretary of State keeps claiming that increases across the CSR period will be only 10%. By our calculations, RPI plus 3 delivers a cumulative increase of more than 30% on the inflation forecasts of the Government’s Office for Budget Responsibility. The Secretary of State’s constituents will see their annual season ticket from Weybridge rise from £2,272 to more than £3,000. As shadow Secretary of State for Transport, the Minister warned that such a rise would price people off the railways. Her Department has confirmed that it expects that passengers will opt for other forms of transport. That is a betrayal of passengers by the coalition, which said in its programme for government that it was
“committed to fair pricing for rail travel.”
It is an even bigger betrayal by the Liberal Democrats, who pledged a real-terms cut in rail fares in their manifesto.
Not only rail passengers but bus users have been hit by Government. The cut to the bus service operators grant, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, will have a devastating effect on many local bus services, particularly in rural and remote areas, which will not survive without subsidy. The BSOG is a subsidy to bus operators that covers most of the cost of fuel duty. It helps operators to keep fares down and to continue running less profitable or unprofitable services. According to Department for Transport figures, without BSOG we would see a 6.5% increase in fares and a 6.7% fall in bus usage. The social and economic effects would be even greater. With more services becoming unprofitable, more would be taken off the road.
The Government are telling people to get on the bus to find work, but people have to be able to afford to do so. The impact of this cut will be felt especially by those who are out of work and looking for a job. Two thirds of jobseekers do not have a driving licence or access to a car. Research by the social exclusion unit discovered that 38% of jobseekers found that transport was a major obstacle to finding work. People should be getting on the bus to find a job, but there must be a bus there in the first place.
The impact of the CSR settlement on local transport spending will soon be felt by the public. Labour doubled investment in local transport between 1997 and 2010 because we understand how vital local transport schemes are to reducing congestion, to making city and town centres more accessible, and to the creation of local and regional economic growth and jobs. The £309 million a year cut to local transport grants will be followed by significant cuts throughout the spending review period of 28%.
The Secretary of State has cut the number of transport grant schemes from 26 to four under the guise of simplification. We support making the system simpler, saving councils time and money on bids to different funding streams, but he knows that the cut is being used to disguise the significant reduction in the funds available to local government.
Road schemes are being hit hard. We were clear that we would have had to make reductions in the road budget. The Government, however, have pushed back many schemes that we would have taken forward, and even the money allocated to fund the schemes that have been given a green light will require major cuts of, on average, 25%.
Finally, there is real concern at the impact of the cuts on road safety. Cuts to road safety grants to local authorities were part of the Department for Transport’s in-year savings announced in May—£17 million from the road safety capital grant and £20 million from the road safety revenue grant. Following the reform of transport grants to local government announced in the spending review, there is now no specific grant funding for road safety.
Local authorities, facing cuts to their budgets of a third, will be under pressure to cut the funds for road safety and for speed cameras. Only this week, research has shown that 70 more people will die and 700 more will be injured if speed cameras are removed. It is staggering that the Government have admitted, in answer to a parliamentary question this week, that they carried out no assessment of the impact on road accidents and deaths of the decision to cut road safety grants and to end funding for speed cameras.
We have not seen so far the publication of an updated road safety strategy—a parliamentary answer that I received this morning said that it would be published early in the next year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the Chair of the Select Committee, remarked, we have seen a gradual and significant 20-year decline in the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I hate to say it, but that trend is in jeopardy as a result of some of the decisions.
On aviation, the coalition is poised to add further increases to air passenger duty. Does the Minister realise that adding air passenger duty to the cost of a visa from, for example, China, means that the cost of visiting the UK will be £612?
The increases that were being introduced—further increases are being considered—are not being introduced in the way that we planned.
My point is that, if we add the cost of APD to the cost of a visa from China to the UK, it comes to £612, compared with £212 to go to Paris, flying economy. Flying business class, it costs £952 to London, compared with £332 to Paris. Might that explain why France received 688,000 Chinese visitors in 2008, when the UK only managed 108,000?
Will the Minister take that message to the Prime Minister? His recent mission to China was important, and we fully supported it, but to ensure that it is the Chinese destination of choice the UK must be as attractive as possible. Those figures seem to undermine the recent visit and the message that the Prime Minister took to the Chinese Government that UK plc is open to business—the strong message is that the Chinese should come via Paris, because it is much cheaper.
I will not raise the issue of aviation capacity in the south-east again, other than to say that our only international hub losing out to Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt or Schiphol will act as another disincentive for business people to come to London. Given that Dubai now has six runways and offers access to the Americas for people from India and further east, we need to ensure that the UK is as accessible as possible, to attract those people.
The Minister is teasing me. She knows full well that we just lost a general election on a policy of an additional runway at Heathrow and that my new leader—who, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) mentioned earlier, had a particular view when Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change—has announced that we are reviewing all our transport policy. I do not accept, by the way, that the methodology was flawed, although I accept that it has been upgraded and improved—“flawed” suggests that there was some skulduggery somewhere, which I do not buy in any way, shape or form.
The last question on aviation hubs is whether the Minister is worried that Brussels might be happy for Heathrow to lose its international hub role in favour of other parts of Europe.
On the issue of six runways in Dubai, does the hon. Gentleman accept that Heathrow has no chance on earth of having six runways because of its geography? The problem with setting up Heathrow as a hub that can permanently compete with other cities that have their airports where they can continue to expand them—to four, five or six runways—is that we can never do that. We are utterly constrained by the geography. The third runway was about as much as we could ever have got anyway, and then only by jamming it in. To continue to compete in that way, therefore, is just throwing good money after bad.
I hear the hon. Lady’s comments and, as I said to the Minister, the electorate have expressed a view—certainly in west London—on additional capacity at Heathrow. I understand that the Department will be instigating a review of south-east capacity running to 2015, which seems a long time scale, and that the aviation policy will be written in a few months’ time. With the greatest of respect to the hon. Lady and to some of her colleagues who are new members of the Transport Committee, a hub airport is a critical piece of infrastructure for any country. Heathrow is running at 98.5% capacity—we will not have a hub if it is not Heathrow.
A strong point of view is that we should not have a hub and that we should deter and discourage people from travelling by air. The problem is that the impact on the UK economy, as a result of what aviation brings to UK plc, will be harmful. That is my personal point of view, but colleagues may want to consider the views of the CBI, the London and UK chambers of commerce, London First and the business community about the impact and role of Heathrow and whether capacity is needed.
I apologise. The hon. Lady mentioned six runways, and she is absolutely right—the third runway was about it. I only mentioned six runways to demonstrate that other countries are investing heavily in aviation infrastructure. A 25% increase is expected in China and south-east Asia over the next 10 years. People will fly—they will fly to the Americas from India, China and Australia, but, if they use Dubai as the stopping point for that part of the world, it will become increasingly difficult to get them to come to northern Europe. If we get them to come to northern Europe, they will not come to Heathrow if it is not functioning as effectively as we all want it to—again, that is an impact on UK plc. However, on the six runways, the hon. Lady is absolutely right, forgive me—I mentioned them only because I had been to see Dubai’s Aviation Minister, and had seen the runways and how amazing that was.
My last point on aviation is that I agree with the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the Chairman of the Select Committee, about the future of TRANSEC and the impact of the CSR on security at airports and ports. More information is needed. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment, but obviously I understand the sensitivity around security issues. Perhaps she can comment, however, on the loss of expertise from TRANSEC as a result of impending retirements—early retirements due to potential redundancies—and, indeed, of redundancies. TRANSEC is an important organisation, and none of us want to see it damaged. It plays too important a role in our national security.
I will refer briefly to some comments of colleagues and reinforce points to which the Minister might wish to respond. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) raised the issue of high-speed rail. He got close to being drawn into aviation policy by his hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, but managed to stay away from it. I am sure his time on the Transport Committee will allow him the opportunity to examine closely the whole aviation issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) asked a number of questions of importance to her constituents and about the value-for-money issue. I look forward to the Minister’s response, especially as my hon. Friend was saying that the Highways Agency described the scheme she was concerned about as cheap and cheerful and not managed as we expect our modern motorways to function—without overhead signs controlling flows and changes to bridges. I understand that the scheme was referred back to the Highways Agency, but it has now been decided to plug ahead. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South strongly said, it is regarded as a waste of money. Indeed, she offered it to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). I am not sure whether that generosity of spirit is normal between opposing parties, but I see that the point was well taken.
Among other matters, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) raised questions on the role of ports and shipping. I agree with him that that sector’s profile does not match its economic significance. As a former Minister with responsibility for shipping, I look forward to hearing more from him in the years ahead.
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) cast an envious eye at Manchester and Sheffield; he asked for only two stations at Leeds. As it is the hon. Gentleman’s birthday, I would be interested to see how that request tests the Minister’s generosity.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham said that business accepted the need for restrictions on aviation. As I said earlier, I am not sure that I agree, and I shall not go there again.
The hon. Member for Thurrock spoke about the junction between the M25 and the A13. I am fairly familiar with it, as I lived in Barking for 20 years before moving to Poplar, Limehouse and Tower Hamlets. I know, as the hon. Lady does, that the new ports being built will add to the volume of traffic. Improvements to the junction were being considered by the previous Government in conjunction with the industry and the local authorities, because it is clearly a choke point. Something needs to be done.
As an aside, I believe that there are some 23 crossings on the Thames to the west of Tower bridge and only three to the east. With the regeneration of docklands, at least half of London’s population will be living east of Tower bridge, and there will be much more development on our side of the capital in the years ahead. I look forward to the Mayor of London revisiting the question of an additional crossing, which might marginally help the hon. Member for Thurrock. When the Mayor—Boris Johnson or his successor—comes forward with a proposal, as I am sure he will, I hope that the Department for Transport will support and encourage it. It will obviously be a financial risk for London, not the Department, but DFT support will be critical in ensuring that the project moves forward positively.
The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton raised a hugely important question on London’s transport, as did several colleagues, saying that if London does not function efficiently the whole of UK plc will suffer. Although some cast an envious eye on London and the support that the capital city gets, if London does not function the whole country suffers. I know that all parties in London are supportive of the hon. Lady’s comments.
The comprehensive spending review settlement is far from the huge triumph being spun by Ministers. It will see investment in our transport infrastructure being reduced far faster and more brutally than would have been the case under Labour. Not only will passengers be paying more for less, but they will feel the real burden of the cuts. The reality is that the Government are investing in rail schemes that they inherited from the previous Government, but with delays. Although passengers will see the benefit, the cost will fall on commuters through hikes in fares.
The Government have covered up a massive cut in funding for local government, disguising it as a commitment to localism, local decision-making and simplification, but the reality is that they are leaving the pain of making the inevitable cuts to local authorities and letting them take the blame. The comprehensive spending review settlement for transport is bad news for passengers, particularly commuters, bad news for safety on our roads, bad news for those who rely on buses to get to work or to find work and, most of all, bad news for business, competitiveness, jobs and growth.
It is a pleasure, Mr Gray, to serve under your chairmanship. I am delighted that the Backbench Business Committee chose to put this debate on the agenda, and I pay tribute to all who have taken part, especially the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), and I thank the hon. Lady for her cogent and thorough introduction to the important issues that we have been debating this afternoon.
On 20 October, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out the coalition Government’s four-year plan to tackle the most urgent issue facing Britain today—mending our public finances and putting them on a sustainable footing. Several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), said that the situation that the Government inherited from our predecessors has put us in an extremely difficult position. Left unchanged, the spending position that we inherited would have seen Britain paying out £70 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, which is more than we spend on educating our children and defending our country put together.
We heard from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside that, as part of the CSR settlement, the Department for Transport will reduce overall spending by 15%. Savings of 21% will need to be made from resource budgets, and 11% from capital. There is no doubt that cuts on that scale mean that difficult choices will have to be made. We very much wish that we did not have to make them, but the reality is, as many Members have acknowledged, that transport has come out of the spending review in a far stronger position than many expected. Among those who made that point were the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey, for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray).
The Government want to break away from the recurrent pattern of spending squeezes of past years when, more or less inevitably, the axe fell first and hardest on transport infrastructure projects. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) acknowledged, transport has been given a high priority in the spending review, which reflects the economic benefits that can be generated by investing in our transport infrastructure. Cutting waste, reforming the welfare system and scaling back lower priority programmes has enabled us to prioritise spending in order to boost long-term economic growth. That includes an extensive programme of investment in the nation’s transport infrastructure. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham said, it also recognises the importance of addressing climate change by supporting programmes to decarbonise mobility and travel.
I turn to a matter that was of huge importance to many who spoke this afternoon, albeit from different perspectives. That, of course, is balancing the needs of the various parts of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) made a passionate plea for priority for north Lincolnshire and for the needs of peripheral regions. As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey made a case for Yorkshire; those of my hon. Friends who represent Yorkshire constituencies always make articulate representations in transport debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton pointed out the benefits that can accrue to the whole of the UK through investment in the capital’s infrastructure, as it is a major generator of economic growth.
We have a clear commitment to rebalance our economy; we are committed to addressing the north-south divide; and we are clearly committed to dealing with the challenges faced by regions such as the north-east, which have a particularly strong dependence on jobs in the public sector. In making our decisions on transport spending, we sought to take account of those priorities and commitments, as well as the competing needs of the different regions. We can never come up with a solution that pleases everyone, but we have made great efforts to be fair, and we are proceeding with a number of major schemes in the English regions, many of which are in the north.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside rightly emphasised the importance of local involvement in prioritising transport projects. It was not possible to get the entire local enterprise partnership decision-making process up and running in time to influence and inform the decisions that we had to make in the CSR. We have to get on with those projects, as many have argued. We could not stand still and wait for the new structures to be created, so we depended on the advice of the older structures—the regional ones. When taking future decisions on transport priorities, we will seek to engage with local stakeholders and LEPs as soon as practicably possible. We cannot just wait for five years and not engage locally. As soon as the LEP structure is up and running, we will seek to engage LEPs in our transport decisions.
I understand that all local authorities will have the opportunity to set up LEPs, but I am not an expert in how the process works. As has been acknowledged, there is a good case for LEPs getting together, so that we can consider transport matters across a wider area. It obviously makes a great deal of sense to consider units such as travel-to-work areas, which may be considerably larger than the LEP areas themselves. LEPs working together will be constructive.
I thank the right hon. Lady for attempting to answer my question. Will she acknowledge that there is still a major problem in that LEPs have not been formed in many parts of the country? When the Committee visited Hull, local businesses expressed grave concerns about the inadequacy of the LEP structures. Although she states that her Government will not wait until the end of this Parliament to set up an appropriate structure to deal with transport issues, can she give me any timetable for when she will be able to do so? After all, if she decides to destroy one structure, she should have a better one already in place.
As soon as LEPs are up and running, we will engage with them about our decisions on transport projects. If there are gaps in the LEP map, we will engage with the local authorities in those areas that are not covered by LEPs and take on board their views and concerns.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham mentioned reform of the appraisal system. As he acknowledged, we have made efforts to reform the New Approach to Appraisal system to put a more realistic price on carbon, and to address the anomalous emphasis on additional fuel duty revenues for the Exchequer being discounted from the overall cost of the project. Further reform is planned, but it is important to reform the system so that we have a more realistic assessment of the carbon impact of different transport choices because we want to choose the projects that are consistent with our climate change goals.
The Chairman of the Transport Committee expressed concerns about emergency towing vehicles. Ship salvage is a commercial matter between a ship’s operator and the established salvage industry, and we have every confidence that there is capacity in the salvage industry to support ships in difficulty from September 2011 at commercial rates.
As for rail, it is very clear that we have had to take a difficult decision on fares. Of course, I wish that we could have avoided that, but the scale of the deficit that we inherited severely constrains our choices. Without the three years of retail prices index plus 3% increases that we announced, it simply would not be possible to deliver vital capacity improvements that passengers need.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside emphasised the importance of rail services in tackling climate change; I agree and that is why we have made such a major commitment to investment in rail. She also emphasised the importance both to passengers and taxpayers of getting value for money from the railways. She asked me to pre-empt the publication of the McNulty review. I had better not do that, but she will appreciate that one of the key problems that has been identified across the industry is the mismatch between incentives. Aligning incentives more effectively between the train operators and those responsible for maintaining and running the tracks is one possible way in which we can start to reduce costs in the rail industry and put our railways on a more sustainable financial footing. That is essential if we are to deliver value for money for passengers.
The hon. Lady also called for more transparency around fares; there is scope for that. Greater efforts are under way to ensure that consumers know exactly what deals are available. Increasing consumer understanding of the range of rail fares is an important goal. She also recognised that some fares are considerably lower than in past years. That is not something that one would recognise from reading the papers, but lower fares are out there, and increasing numbers of passengers are taking advantage of them. That said, we understand the concerns of many commuters about rail fares. As I have said, we have been forced into a difficult decision by the deficit that we inherited.
We have seen a shift in departmental priorities. Rail has come out much better from the spending review than other transport programmes. The programme of rail capacity upgrades is extensive—arguably, the most extensive in modern history. Crossrail is going ahead according to its original scope. Despite all the scare stories, there has been no announcement that the limbs will be amputated. We expect services to be phased in from 2018 across the Crossrail network. Savings worth some £1 billion have been identified through addressing risks and undertaking an engineering-led review of the most cost-effective way to deliver the central section, including lengthening the delivery time by around a year. We continue to work with Crossrail Ltd, the Mayor and Transport for London to optimise the scheme’s value for money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton emphasised the importance of pressing ahead with work on the new stations. I am pleased to hear that she will be able to see the station designs for Ealing Broadway soon. Our goal is to keep up the pressure to ensure that we meet the delivery timetable that has been set.
The Chairman of the Transport Committee expressed concern about the position of TRANSEC and the budget allocated to transport security. There will be reductions of 25%, but it is well worth emphasising that the total industry spend on aviation security is more than £350 million. The bulk of the spending on aviation security is made by the industry because it delivers aviation security on the ground. She will appreciate that the 25% reduction that was discussed in the Committee yesterday relates to departmental activity, which is the overview, the policy, and the regulatory and supervision aspects. The savings are deliverable without compromising security outcomes. We recognise that maintaining passenger safety and security is of paramount importance. Administrative reform and reorganisation—rationalising certain training programmes, having to target our research programme and reducing some of our network of aviation advisers around the world—will enable us to deliver those savings without compromising passenger security.
The shadow Minister makes an important point about the reductions in head count that need to be made not just at TRANSEC but across the board. In making those decisions, it is a top priority to keep hold of the people whose skills are most vitally needed. That is the case with TRANSEC and across the Department.
Subject to the outcome of a rigorous and comprehensive consultation, our plan is to proceed towards construction of a new high-speed rail line, connecting London and Birmingham, and then on to Manchester and Leeds. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South emphasised the importance of getting the route right; I completely agree with him, which is why we will have an extensive consultation. He also talked about the importance of getting right the connections to airports; I agree on that and work is under way on those issues. We need to look at not just Heathrow but Birmingham airport and then Manchester airport to see how we can connect them effectively to the new high-speed rail network.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside emphasised the importance of ensuring continued investment in the conventional network alongside high-speed rail; I agree and that is what we have committed to do. The coalition has also confirmed £2.1 billion to fund Network Rail’s station improvement programme, which includes £650 million to complete the work on transforming Birmingham New Street into a gateway worthy of the UK’s second city.
Schemes are also going ahead to improve the passenger experience at King’s Cross and Gatwick airport stations. The funding has been confirmed for the works under way at Reading, which will improve reliability across the whole of the Great Western main line. Work on the Midland main line will deliver faster and more reliable journeys in the east midlands and South Yorkshire. Improvements on the east coast main line will improve journeys in the north-east and Scotland.
Funding has been confirmed for vital rail freight improvements between Southampton and the west coast main line, and between Felixstowe and Nuneaton. I welcome the support from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside on that issue.
I just wanted to ask the right hon. Lady about the impact of the changes at TRANSEC on ports. Obviously, most people associate TRANSEC with aviation and airports. There is no specific reduction in respect of that transport mode. Regarding shipping and interconnectivity, can she tell us what the spend is for upgrading the freight lines from ports?
Regarding the changes at TRANSEC, in making the efficiencies that we have to make, of course we will fully take on board any impact on ports and shipping. Obviously, the bulk of TRANSEC’s work and the bulk of its funding tends to be focused on aviation, but that does not mean that we should underrate the importance of ensuring that we maintain high levels of security for our ports and shipping, too.
Regarding the rail freight upgrades, we are committed to carrying forward work on the strategic freight network. I always think that that is one of the programmes on which the previous Government did some of their best work. There was a lot of engagement with the industry to focus on those upgrades that would have the biggest economic impact and that would have the most impact on taking freight off the road and on to rail.
The comprehensive spending review announced electrification of the railways between Preston, Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool. Work will also go ahead to improve journey times on the crucial route between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside asked me to ensure that careful monitoring was undertaken to ensure delivery. Of course it is absolutely right that she should ask that and I know that the Office of Rail Regulation will be very focused on keeping Network Rail to its timetable. She also asked if electrification would be accompanied in due course by new rolling stock. Yes, of course—there is no point electrifying a railway unless there is some rolling stock to use on it. So that improvement will be part of the improvements that we want to see in the north-west.
This morning, the Secretary of State informed the House that funding for Thameslink had been confirmed. Thameslink will virtually double the number of north-south trains running through London. To reduce risks, we have lengthened the delivery programme, so completion is now expected in 2018. My right hon. Friend also gave the green light for the addition of 650 carriages, which will address some of the worst overcrowding hot spots around the country. Those carriages will be in service by March 2014 and they are in addition to the 800 net additional carriages for Thameslink and for Crossrail.
Several points were made in the debate about rolling stock; I think that we heard from several hon. Members about the importance of introducing more rolling stock. I listened with interest to the references to discussions on the Leeds trolley bus by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey. I am not able to give him a “yes” today, even though it is his birthday, but he has made his representations very strongly. I also took on board the statements he made about the Leeds rail proposal, which includes Kirkstall Forge. Officials at the Department for Transport will continue to work with the sponsors and the local authorities to see how best we can make progress on that proposal. He will appreciate that it is one of those schemes that is in with a chance of funding, and we will certainly do our best to work constructively with the people who I know passionately support the project.
This morning, the Secretary of State also confirmed a programme of electrification on the Great Western line between London, Didcot, Oxford and Newbury. An announcement on the extent of further electrification on the Great Western line will be made in the new year, alongside our final decision on the inter-city express programme. My right hon. Friend confirmed to the House that we have ruled out wholesale refurbishment of the High Speed 2 inter-city 125 fleet as the solution to the IEP problem. We will buy a new inter-city train fleet. After careful consideration of the Foster report on the IEP, the Government have narrowed down the options to just two: first, Agility’s revised proposal for a fleet of electric and bi-mode trains; and secondly, procuring a fleet of electric trains that would be hauled by new diesel locomotives at the end of the electrified network. I want to emphasise that both these options allow us to retain through journeys to destinations beyond the electrified network, including through journeys to Inverness and Aberdeen, which I know will be warmly welcomed by colleagues, including the hon. Member for Cheltenham who mentioned such journeys in his remarks.
I turn now to the points made this afternoon about roads and local transport. We propose to drive efficiency and reform at the Highways Agency by appointing a non-executive chair and a performance-monitoring group. Our goal is to reduce the cost of delivering a national road network that is in a safe and serviceable condition, and to deliver a more efficient traffic officer service that prioritises traffic management.
The Chairman of the Select Committee specifically referred to the A14 and her concern was that we had essentially sent that project back to the drawing board. I think that the cost of the project had simply got out of control. We were not convinced that it was the best way to deal with the problems on that transport corridor. We need to think more imaginatively about those types of programmes, to see if there is a more cost-effective alternative, and I think that the work that we are doing on the rail freight routes between Felixstowe and the west Midlands will also make an important contribution to addressing issues around the A14.
I will give the right hon. Lady another opportunity to have a sip of water. She mentioned that a more efficient Highways Agency will look at trying to achieve better traffic management. Does she accept that the other major role of the Highways Agency is about traffic safety, particularly in relation to foreign heavy goods vehicles? They have been a big concern to the Transport Committee and to colleagues right across the country. The enforcement regime at the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency allows these vehicles to be pulled aside, and the new regulations that we introduced only last year allow these vehicles to be impounded and not moved without either the necessary repairs being effected or insurance documentation and other documentation being produced. I hope that she is not saying that that regime will suffer as a result of moving the emphasis to road management as opposed to road safety.
I will come on to road safety in a moment, but it remains an extremely high priority for the Government. However, the shadow Minister makes a key point about the importance of enforcement in relation to overseas-run HGVs. We will continue to put a priority on those enforcement mechanisms. I cannot give him the precise figures. Across the board, we will be looking to do things in a more efficient way, but if we can, we will prioritise resources to help us to deal with that very significant problem—I agree with him that it is a major problem.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside also asked whether there was a departure from road-widening and building towards more of a traffic management approach, including a managed motorway approach. I think that there is some truth in that. We want to make greater use of a managed motorway programme as a more cost-effective way to deliver more capacity. Regarding road improvements, our focus is on trying to target the worst traffic bottlenecks, because remedying those bottlenecks will deliver the greatest economic benefit. So we recognise that making better use of our existing road capacity should be a very important part of our strategy.
We also need to look, in a balanced way, at whether we can address a transport problem by using a public transport outcome. We need to look afresh at the way that we approach the national roads programme overall.
The Chairman of the Select Committee also expressed concern about cuts in the budget allocated to road maintenance. We are continuing to allocate very significant funds to road maintenance at both a national and local level. However, we recognise the need to deliver more for less. Safety is, of course, paramount. However, the road network is one of the nation’s most valuable economic assets, so we must ensure that we spend appropriately to maintain it in a good condition. Nevertheless, we feel that better commercial management and better contracting can lead to considerable savings, and we feel the same is true of making the most of collective national buying power, encouraging local authorities to link up together so that they can build their buying power, and reviewing some of the technical standards to extend the life of assets. All those methods are ways to cut costs without compromising safety.
However, there is no doubt that we have had to take some difficult decisions about spending on both local and strategic roads. To help local authorities to deal with spending reductions, we will cut red tape to give them more freedom to make their own decisions. We are carrying out a radical simplification and reform of local transport funding. Our plan is to move from 26 grant streams to four, beginning in 2011-12. That will include £560 million for local sustainable transport projects, including Bikeability cycle training.
Several hon. Members discussed buses. The hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Liverpool, Riverside expressed concern about the reduction in the bus service operator grant commencing in 2012-13. I understand their concerns; that was probably one of the most difficult transport decisions in the CSR. I hope that they recognise that the reduction is far less severe than many predicted. We argued the case passionately with the Treasury. We recognise how crucial bus services are to people on a wide range of incomes and in a wide range of areas, which is why we put the case so strongly in the CSR in order to get a fair outcome on buses.
I acknowledged in my remarks how well the Department had done in defending the bus service operator grant relative to expectations, but the Minister will recall that the combined impact of the cut in BSOG, the funding arrangements for the concessionary fares scheme and the cuts in local government spending could have a high-risk effect on bus services, particularly rural ones.
I appreciate that the position on buses is affected by decisions made about Department for Communities and Local Government funding. We are happy to work with DCLG to minimise the ultimate impact on bus passengers. We have also committed to retain the concessionary fares statutory entitlement. In implementing administrative savings—a programme that we inherited from the previous Government, who also committed to reducing the cost of administering the scheme—we will, of course, seek to ensure a fair outcome for both local authorities and bus passengers.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham emphasised the importance of Oyster-style ticketing on bus services outside the capital. The Government agree fully, which is why we have committed to extend smarter ticketing technology across the country and accelerated the plans that we inherited from the previous Government.
I assure the Chairman of the Transport Committee that road safety is an extremely high priority for this Government. We welcome the progress made in recent years; it is a major achievement by the Government of which the shadow Minister was a member. We are determined that that progress will continue. Concern was expressed about the in-year savings to local authority funding. The revenue stream associated with road safety has been reduced, but it was selected because that was a way to give local authorities the greatest flexibility in how they make reductions. It was also a way to prevent the in-year savings from falling disproportionately on local authorities; that was one of the most even-handed ways to make the reductions. With the withdrawal of ring-fencing, it is up to local authorities how they implement those savings. We hope that they will continue to focus on road safety and make the savings that they need in other ways: for example, through efficiency savings.
I do not know whether the Minister is aware that in the Chamber this morning, we discussed the fact that some local authorities are facing grant reductions next year of 29%, 30% or 35%. Does she really believe that those authorities—particularly urban metropolitan authorities in the north, some of which are represented here—will have any flexibility?
It is our intention to give them flexibility so that they can make decisions in the local interest. Given the huge importance of road safety to local communities the length and breadth of the country, I am absolutely confident that local authorities will continue to put an extremely high priority on road safety spending.
We will continue to invest in our road and local transport infrastructure. The spending review confirmed that more than £400 million will be devoted to the uptake of ultra low-carbon vehicles in order to comply with our commitments on climate change and the pressing need to reduce emissions from driving. In his CSR statement to the House, the Chancellor confirmed various important road programmes, including the A11 dualling programme at Thetford, which will generate major economic benefits for the whole of East Anglia and provide the missing link of dual carriageway to connect Norwich to the rest of the country. That got the biggest cheer of the comprehensive spending review debate. On 26 October, the Secretary of State announced a further 16 large-scale road and public transport projects, as well as a fund of more than £600 million for other schemes to be selected from a pool through a bidding process.
Several individual schemes have been referred to, including the Leeds trolley bus, on which work will continue, as I said. I hope that it will be possible to make progress on the scheme. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) spoke with eloquence about her concerns for the M60 and its impact on her constituents. I emphasise that safety issues are, of course, taken into account in decisions on which schemes to fund, and both safety and the environmental impact on communities will be explored fully in the planning process, as is appropriate. That is how we ensure that such issues are addressed. I am concerned to hear about the problems that she believes have arisen with the consultation, and I urge her to take it up with the Highways Agency.
I thank the Minister for giving way. The Roads Minister was going to meet me and local residents in my constituency to understand the issues that I have raised, and I have stated that the Highways Agency consultation was a mess. Given that and the fact that the scheme’s start date is now later than originally proposed, although still before 2015, will the Minister take back a request to review the matter further? I do not think that the scheme is value for money, and it is competing with schemes that are much more wanted and more certain to deliver value for money.
With all such schemes, the process of assessing value for money is ongoing. The scheme is conditional on the planning process, which is the proper opportunity for the hon. Lady’s constituents to make their voices heard and express their concerns about what will happen. It is not for me to pre-empt the planning process in this debate.
Several hon. Members mentioned the Dartford crossing. The hon. Member for Cheltenham was concerned about the nature of the charges. They were converted by the previous Government to congestion charges; the charges originally imposed related to the construction costs of the bridge. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock expressed her concern about the increase in tolls. Again, that is unfortunately another melancholy consequence of the fiscal crisis that we face. Tolls could help us fund a new crossing, which, as the shadow Minister said, would generate significant benefits to the economy and relieve congestion. We continue to work to address the congestion problems and flow of traffic on the Dartford crossing, and that work includes a commitment to lifting the barriers in extreme cases where they are causing congestion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock also expressed concerns about junction 30 of the M25. As I emphasised, the project has not been cancelled but postponed. There is a good chance that it will go ahead, and the Highways Agency will continue to work on that. She has put on record her concerns about how important it is, not least because of the need to transport Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Fairy liquid around the country. She is no doubt a strong campaigner for the interests of her constituent.
The hon. Gentleman puts that representation well. I am sure it will be duly taken on board as the scheme progresses.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and the hon. Member for Cheltenham expressed anxiety about the fate of the Swindon-Kemble project. The hon. Member for Cheltenham said that it could end up with the dubious label of being the only rail project cancelled by this Government. In reality, the funding was never in place from the previous Government. It was never confirmed. I believe that the business case is good and that it would be great in terms of increasing the resilience of services to Wales. There are all sorts of good reasons to do the project, but at the moment it just does not look affordable. However, there is every chance that we could seek to take it forward in the next Network Rail spending control period.
I shall carry on; otherwise the Committee Chairman will not have a chance to speak at the end.
The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), expressed concern about type 26 frigates. I will certainly take that back to my colleagues in the Department. I have noted his concern about the impact that that might have on piracy. That is obviously a crucial issue we need to address today. He also asked when a road safety strategy will be published. It will be published in due course at some point in the new year. I was somewhat surprised by his comments on air passenger duty because, as I pointed out to him, the increases about which he is concerned were set out in the Labour Chancellor’s Budget and implemented through a Finance Bill that was enacted during the term of his Government. He has had something of a road to Damascus conversion on APD.
I have already dealt with the hon. Gentleman’s points on TRANSEC and the personnel there. He also made the valid point that ports and shipping often do not get the attention they deserve, given their huge importance to the economy. I certainly agree. Whether or not we are in government, it is vital that we recognise the importance of our history as a maritime nation and the economic benefits generated by ports and the shipping industry.
In conclusion, faced with the scale of the deficit we inherited, the easy option would have been to slash capital spending on transport projects. We have chosen not to do that; we have chosen to look at the long-term interests of the economy. That is why, over the next four years, we will spend more than £30 billion on road, rail and local transport projects across Britain, despite the dire financial situation that we inherited from our predecessors. I thank everyone who has taken part in this very interesting debate.
Thank you, Mr Gray, for your chairmanship this afternoon. I also thank the many hon. Members who have demonstrated the significance of national decisions for local facilities and for their constituents. I thank the Minister for her very full replies, but such fullness cannot disguise the fact that a 15% cut in transport, an 11% cut in capital expenditure and a 21% cut in resource expenditure, are major cuts. Yes, it could have been worse, but those are major cuts.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the shadow Minister, has retained all his expertise and knowledge about transport and I am glad to see it being put to such good use this afternoon. Some promises and commitments have been given, but there are clearly still some gaps and major problems. I am sure that my Committee, in the months and perhaps years ahead, will monitor those promises and continue to raise issues of concern. I look forward to the Minister appearing before our Committee to follow up some of the very important matters raised this afternoon.
Question put and agreed to.