Officials have written to all relevant local authorities, enclosing the document “Investment in Local Major Transport Schemes”, which was made available to Members of this House on 26 October and which sets out the position on the future funding of major schemes. Detailed discussions are ongoing.
In the longer term, I have made a commitment to consider the options for a much greater devolution of capital budgets and prioritisation decisions for local major schemes and will in due course discuss the best way forward with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships once they are established.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. As he knows, there is deep concern about the decision to postpone improvements to the A453 in Nottinghamshire. There is an appetite locally, across all parties, for exploring ways to retrieve the situation, and it has been suggested that a regional growth fund bid could be made to contribute to the cost. Would the Secretary of State welcome such an approach? Will he facilitate the participation of the Highways Agency in assisting local partners to explore such a possibility?
As the hon. Lady knows, the A453 is a Highways Agency scheme and not, strictly speaking, a local authority major scheme. It is not the kind of scheme that was primarily intended to be a beneficiary of the regional growth fund.
I have written to the hon. Lady on this subject and indicated that we will be looking at Highways Agency schemes that are not currently prioritised for commencement in this spending review period, with a view to identifying those that will be accelerated as first reserves, as it were; inevitably, programmes sometimes slip and there is a requirement for additional schemes. We will be looking at that in the new year.
Would the Secretary of State be willing to meet the local authority leaders of Devon, Torbay and Teignbridge, who are united in wanting to see improvements to the A380—namely, the south Devon link road and a bypass around Kingskerswell?
I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), has already met local authority leaders in the area. If I could give my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) a piece of advice, it would be that he and his local authority colleagues need to work on the scheme with a view to getting the cost down, so that the total cost-benefit ratio improves. That will make it much more likely that the scheme will be able to be funded from central Government funds.
Unlike other spending blocs, the gap between spending in the south-east and the rest of the regions has been increasing over the past 10 years. If there is to be real investment in major schemes in our major regional cities, that gap will have to be closed. What plans does the Secretary of State have to close that gap?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have committed themselves to a public consultation in the new year on the High Speed 2 rail scheme. They have allocated £750 million-worth of funding to take that scheme forward during the current spending review period.
That project—a strategic investment project—will more effectively close the gap between north and south and address the issues of differential economic growth rates than any other regional initiative that has been taken in the past couple of decades. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the commitment that the Government are making to that project, despite strong opposition to it in the southern half of the country.
Does the Secretary of State agree that notwithstanding the benefits of high-speed rail, the only way really to improve the north’s economic performance in the here and now is to improve connectivity within the north through projects such as the northern hub? Does he agree that that will require not just Government support, but effective regional strategic planning, which we have not seen so far?
My hon. Friend has been a passionate advocate of the northern hub since long before his election to the House. He has made the case and continues to make it powerfully. It is a very important project. Network Rail is taking forward work on the northern hub proposal with a view to considering its inclusion in the next financial control period, starting in 2014.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Projects of that nature realise their full potential only if they are properly integrated, with wider regional policies being adopted.