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Transport Infrastructure Projects

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

5. What recent progress she has made on transport infrastructure projects announced in the autumn statement. (114044)

10. What recent progress she has made on transport infrastructure projects announced in the autumn statement. (114049)

The Government are not just fixing the disgraceful legacy of debt left to us by the Labour party but are also building for our country’s success in future—and that means investing in transport. At the autumn statement we announced £2.5 billion more in transport investment, building on the £30 billion set out in the spending review. An update on the progress made on the priority infrastructure investments identified in the 2011 national infrastructure plan was published alongside the Budget in March.

The debt plan is not going very well, because borrowing has gone up £3.9 billion this year above what it was at the equivalent stage last year. Construction output fell in April by 13% and long-term unemployment is soaring, yet many of the infrastructure plans set out by the Chancellor do not begin until later in this Parliament. Will the Secretary of State tell us what representations she has made to the Chancellor to bring forward infrastructure spending into this financial year and whether she has had any more success with that than she had with her representations on fuel duty?

I do not think this Government need to take any lectures about debt levels from the Labour party. The only problem Labour has with our debt levels is that they are not high enough. Labour Members want more debt to get us out of this debt problem, not less; no wonder they are sitting on the Opposition Benches rather than the Government Benches.

We are absolutely bringing forward transport projects. In fact, in the time that I have been in this role we have announced 42 major road schemes, many of which were sat on the stocks ready to go but had never been approved by Labour. We are getting on with them and bringing forward a number of projects, and we are cracking on with that right now.

In his autumn statement, the Chancellor announced that he would bring forward investment in the Tyne and Wear Metro—investment that was originally secured by the previous Labour Government. What he did not say was that that was an accounting sleight of hand that will not lead to one extra metre of track being refurbished or one extra job this year. Now that the Chancellor is for turning, will the Secretary of State listen to Opposition Members and bring forward real plans for infrastructure investment in the north-east to get the economy moving?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about the Metro. We are getting on with that project. As she knows, any transport project, once it gets agreement, needs to follow a number of steps before it is in a position to go ahead. We are pulling forward our investment in the Metro and I hope that the hon. Lady, as someone who represents Newcastle, will greatly welcome that.

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the east-west rail consortium and the local authorities that have contributed funds that mean that the Bletchley to Oxford and Aylesbury line is in great shape?

I will. It is part of the unprecedented investment that is now going into our Victorian railway network. I believe that the scheme has the potential to make a huge difference, which is why we gave it the green light to go to the next step. I am delighted to see private investment going in alongside public investment and the involvement of local stakeholders and I think that the project will make a huge difference.

Among the projects announced in the autumn statement were the electrification of northern rail links. The Secretary of State will be aware that two of the UK’s most picturesque and economically important lines are the Lakes line to Windermere and the Furness line, which run through my constituency. Neither of them are electrified and both run the risk of losing their direct connection to Manchester airport. Will she meet a small, cross-party delegation to make sure we can fix these challenges?

I would be absolutely delighted to. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we are getting on with electrification in a way the previous Government never did. We have already announced several hundred miles of electrification. That is one of the key things I am looking at as we finalise the high-level output specification package, which I will announce shortly. I would be very happy to meet him and his delegation to look at what that means locally and how we can make sure that we can improve his local transport system too.

It is very important that the electrification schemes go ahead according to plan, but does the Secretary of State agree that the northern hub must be funded in full to bring the £4 billion-plus investment and improvement in services across the whole of the north?

There is no doubt that the people supporting the northern hub have made a powerful case. In the past two weeks I have been in Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and all of them have reiterated to me why this project matters so much. Like the rest of the Government I have to cut my cloth to be able to afford what we are announcing, but we have already taken some important steps on this project. I will be setting out the next steps across the railway network in the HLOS—high level output specification—statement and I have no doubt the hon. Lady will take an interest in what I have to say.

People throughout the west country have warmly welcomed the electrification of the Great Western railway line through Chippenham and Bath. They also look forward to the redoubling of the Kemble to Swindon line. Will the Secretary of State look at whether it would be useful to have interchange between that line and the historic Swindon to Cricklade line?

I would be delighted to look at that. I know my hon. Friend has raised this issue before. We are determined to improve connectivity. Looking far longer term, High Speed 2 will do that for many parts of the country and I am determined to make sure that his part of the country continues to get more investment in addition to the Great Western line investment that is already going in and the new intercity express programme trains that will also give him more capacity.

But the Secretary of State and the Chancellor need to recognise that announcing something is one thing, but actually doing something about it is completely different. The breakdown of the autumn statement total suggests that only 17% was due to be made in the last financial year. In this year, with the country back in recession, only a further 5% of the total is due to be spent. Regardless of the issues with the level of influence the right hon. Lady has with the Chancellor, can she really tell the House that she thinks this is having sufficient impact?

This Government and our decisions are having a major impact. I do not need to take any lectures or lessons from the Labour party, which had a failed aviation strategy, no rail strategy at all and made absolutely no investment on the roads compared with what we are putting in. Frankly, the brass neck of it is unbelievable. We are getting on with building our country for the future in a way that the previous Government never did. We are investing more and we will do more. I look forward to hearing him congratulate us when we do.