We have started consultations on our plans to reform the Highways Agency into a Government-owned company, backed by legislation, to achieve greater efficiency as we treble our capital spending on the strategic road network. Significant efforts have been made this year across road, rail and aviation to boost resilience and preparedness for the winter months. This week, the Highways Agency began its “Make time for winter” campaign, with practical advice for drivers. Local highways authorities are holding robust salt stocks and will enter the winter with a healthy supply.
The Government’s policy on rail fares will offer scant consolation to my constituents, who not only have to travel on unbearably overcrowded trains into central London but in the past two years have been asked to pay £100 more for their annual season ticket. What guarantee can the Secretary of State give that above-inflation increases in rail fares will be matched by a comparable increase in capacity?
There is a problem, but we are investing record amounts in the rail industry. Over the next five years, Network Rail will invest some £38 billion in the railway network. Those are very significant investments that are bringing on new rolling stock and better capacity and efficiency to try to help people who are suffering. I do accept, particularly where there is overcrowding, that we need to try to do more to help those consumers.
T2. The electrification of the midland main line through Kettering is extremely welcome, but the immediate consequence for Kettering residents is the complete closure of the Pytchley Road bridge as it is changed to accommodate the new overhead wires. That means that the main access route into Kettering from the south will be completely closed for three months over the Christmas period. Will the Secretary of State ensure that Network Rail completes this job on time by the end of February 2014? (900974)
I well understand the concerns raised by my hon. Friend. This is one of the problems when major work is done on the railways. As he may have heard earlier, I travelled in the cab of one of those trains on Monday to see some of the work that is already ongoing in preparation for the electrification of the whole line. There will be some disruption—that is unavoidable. Nottingham station was closed for five weeks over the summer, but the whole job was done on time and it actually came in £5 million below budget.
T3. The Secretary of State will be aware that there has been significant disruption on the east coast main line because of infrastructure failure. I think we have now had three Mondays on which there has been significant disruption, and a fortnight ago 30,000 passengers were stranded, some for five or six hours, while repairs were carried out. The east coast main line was electrified on the cheap—many engineers tell us that, and there has been severe disruption. Can we do something about it, please? (900975)
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It relates to what we are doing with HS2 to increase capacity in the longer term, although that is not the short-term answer he wants. I was disturbed to read the reports about the delays on the line, and I will talk to Network Rail to see if there is anything we can do.
T4. The high speed of High Speed 2 will depend on the high technology of a new generation of civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and many others. May I challenge a member of the ministerial Front Bench to come upstairs with me, after Question Time, to the Bloodhound supersonic car simulator to see whether they can beat the very creditable speed of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and learn about what the product is doing to inspire a new generation of children about the opportunities for British engineering? (900976)
I am delighted to accept that invitation, particularly because on Sunday I took part in the oldest motoring event in the world, driving from London to Brighton in six hours. The speed of the Bloodhound will be a great experience, I am sure.
T7. I am basically supportive of HS2 proposals, although I am becoming increasingly concerned about the project the more I read the specific detail of regional benefits. Will the Secretary of State assure me that Liverpool will get a spur to increase capacity and ensure greater connectivity with our ports so that the whole city region can benefit? (900980)
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman seems to be having second thoughts. The mayor of Liverpool is certainly not having second thoughts and is a big supporter of the project. The truth is that once the high-speed line goes to Manchester, it will then go on to Liverpool. That will be very important for Liverpool, but it will also get the benefits from phase 1. Parts of Kent that are not served by the line benefit from the capacity and the trains.
T5. I am extremely grateful to have got here, having been stuck outside Clapham Junction station. May I seek assurances from the Department that it will work closely with major transport infrastructure such as Gatwick airport and those who operate the M23 and the London to Brighton rail line to ensure that there is winter preparedness? (900978)
We continue to invest in third rail heating, to ensure the reliability of our rail services. Gatwick airport has the advantage over Heathrow, in that it has capacity to put snow ploughs on the runway without disrupting flights in the same way. As I said in my evidence to the Transport Committee only a week or so ago, we have good winter resilience, with more snow ploughs and more salt, and we are confident that the Highways Agency and local authorities can keep the roads clear.
In Tyne and Wear, a consultation process is currently under way on introducing quality contracts for local bus services. Does the Minister agree that bus companies should be investing in local services rather than wasting vast sums on misleading and scaremongering attacks?
We continue to keep the option of quality contracts open to local authorities. In the spirit of localism, it is their decision if they want to use them. I think that the better bus contract is a better model, but if local authorities want to follow the model that is used in London, they may do so.
T6. The Secretary of State has been very kind to the East Riding in respect of pinch-point funding. I urge him to extend his kindness to the other side of the Humber and support the pinch-point funding bids from North Lincolnshire council, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I are very supportive, and in particular the bid that relates to Humberside airport. (900979)
Although the reduction in road accident fatalities is warmly to be welcomed, what plans does the Department have to make cycling safer, given the increase in cycling fatalities not only in London, but beyond, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden)? When will the Secretary of State encourage the creation of segregated cycle paths?
We all want local authority highways agencies to give greater consideration to cycling. After meeting British Cycling a few weeks ago, I instructed the Highways Agency that all the highways schemes that it comes forward with must be cycle-proofed. There are some irresponsible drivers and some irresponsible cyclists. We all have a responsibility to get the message across to everybody: “Be careful on our roads.”
T8. How can the Secretary of State reassure the people of Bristol, who want enhanced branch lines, that having HS2 for London and the north will not mean that the south-west is left out? Will he look positively at bids to reopen the Henbury loop line in north Bristol? (900982)
The development of HS2 does not mean that the people of Bristol and the south-west will be left out. HS2 is part of a bigger boost to our transport system and will make up less than a quarter of the transport investment in the next Parliament. I am always interested in talking to my hon. Friends about the schemes that they are promoting in their constituencies and I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss her scheme in greater detail.
Does the Minister agree that as we approach the Christmas period, more use should be made of the media, and television in particular, to underline the zero-tolerance message on drink-driving? Will he consider running such a campaign in conjunction with all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
We regularly publicise the issue of drink-driving, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, and will continue to do so. I do not know whether the problem is worse in Northern Ireland than elsewhere, but I am sure that the devolved Government will push the same line as us.
According to a report by the transport consultants, Atkins, enhancements to capacity, line speed and service quality on the great eastern main line could bring an extra £3.7 billion into the economy. Will the Minister confirm that the recommendations of the East Anglia rail prospectus, which is backed by MPs from across the region, will be progressed at the earliest possible opportunity?
I congratulate those who put a considerable amount of work and effort into unifying the stakeholders in East Anglia and producing that excellent document. It contains a huge number of recommendations. I will continue to engage with MPs and others to ensure that we complete the process, that their voices are heard and that we understand the benefits of the recommendations.
The A67, which runs through my constituency between Darlington and Barnard Castle, is a major bus route. It recently suffered from a major landslip at Carlbury banks, which is severely disrupting bus services. Will a Minister meet my hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) and me to see whether any funding can be made available from the pinch-point fund?
I was in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency last Friday for the start of work on the new Hitachi site, which will build new trains for the east coast and Great Western lines. I am sorry to hear about the problems that he is having with part of his highways network. We will be happy to talk to him in due course.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the M25, which spans my constituency from junction 23 to junction 25, has had a serious spike in fatal accidents, which included the tragic deaths of three people and two young girls during the course of one week. Will he urgently investigate the causes of those accidents, which might include the road management measures during the road expansion works, and let me know what he finds as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend has already written to me about this issue, and brought my attention to those appalling incidents that caused the death of those people, and the families who were affected, as well as incredible disruption to his area. I want a full investigation into whether the points he has raised had any bearings on those accidents.