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National Infrastructure Plan

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 4 December 2013

(Urgent Question): To ask the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to update the House on the national infrastructure plan.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to explain the national infrastructure plan to the House. I thought I might have tested the House’s patience back in June with my lengthy statement on infrastructure, but I am glad that there is an appetite for further conversation on this subject.

In June, I set out our plans to invest more than £100 billion of taxpayers’ money over the next decade towards improving our transport networks, our energy networks and our digital networks, and in other specific infrastructure projects crucial to our civic life. This morning, the Government published the latest updates of the national infrastructure plan and the investment pipeline that goes with it.

First, the documents provide an update on the projects that have been delivered to date—I am sure that we will return to that later. Secondly, the documents update our plans to improve future delivery. The updated pipeline provides the most comprehensive overview of planned and potential infrastructure investment ever produced, which gives investors the long-term clarity and certainty they need to put their money into our infrastructure. The NIP also includes changes relating to legal and planning practices, including reforms to judicial review, for example, the creation of a special planning chamber to ensure that the planning system and judicial review process does not cause excessive delays in any infrastructure project.

Thirdly, the documents published today update some of the details of our previous infrastructure plan. Let me give the House a few details. First, we set out changes to the strike price regime for renewable energy, and they have a number of components. We have reduced slightly the support being offered in the future for onshore wind and large-scale solar production. We are also increasing substantially investment in offshore wind. In particular, we think that the strike prices we have announced, with the increase in 2018-19, are likely to lead to at least 10 GW of investment in offshore wind between now and 2020—more if the prices can come down. This is about meeting our growth commitments and our green commitments as cost-effectively as possible.

The NIP sets out decisions on the future of the renewable heat incentive and the prices that we pay for different technologies under it. The plan also sets out a few changes to some specific transport schemes. We have listened carefully to the public response to the consultation on the tolling of the A14 and we have decided not to go ahead with that tolling, but not at any cost in terms of the time taken to deliver that very important project. We have decided to provide new investment in the A50, a crucial road link where there are many delays and bottlenecks. We are working closely with Staffordshire county council and the local enterprise partnership to work through the delivery of that. We have decided to contribute £30 million to the development of the proposed “Garden bridge” in London. We have also made announcements about supporting Government procurement of electric vehicles and some other important developments, such as our plans to double our corporate asset sales target from £10 billion to £20 billion by 2020.

We confirm that the feasibility studies we set out in June, particularly on routes such as the A1 to Scotland, the A303, the A27 and the trans-Pennine routes, are well under way and that full plans for each of those routes will be set out by this time next year. Following correspondence from Sir Howard Davies in advance of the interim report by his airports commission, we have set out plans to improve surface access to airports around London—in particular, £50 million will be contributed to a new Gatwick airport railway station. The subject of rural broadband was mention in the earlier Question Time, and we are committing £10 million to identify the best technologies to reach those hardest-to-treat premises.

Finally, today’s publication lays out the commitment made today by a group of insurers to work with Government and regulators and invest £25 billion in UK infrastructure over the next five years. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that that represents a massive vote of confidence by some of our most important companies in the UK economy. The plan also draws attention to the new agreement signed with Hitachi and Horizon this morning, which commits us in principle to offering a guarantee for their new nuclear power station in Anglesey. I am sure that hon. Members who have had a chance to look through the document will recognise that this is real evidence that we are making real progress on delivering infrastructure fit for our country’s future. The NIP demonstrates a long-term vision for our energy, transport and digital networks. It is a plan that is helping to secure long-term investment and that will lead to sustainable, strong long-term growth. As such, I look forward to the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) welcoming it with open arms and congratulating us on the progress we have made.

Time and again, the Chief Secretary boasts about his grand plans for infrastructure, yet the reality is always such a let down. With the country facing a cost of living crisis, is it not about time that the Government invested in the fundamentals to strengthen our economy for the long term? When will all these reheated press releases finally translate into diggers on the ground? Is it not the truth that since this Government were elected, work on infrastructure has fallen by an astonishing 15%, according to the Office for National Statistics? A 15% fall in infrastructure output since May 2010 should be a badge of shame for this Chief Secretary to the Treasury, as it happened on his watch.

This is a Minister who has a long history of issuing press releases in the hope that they magically translate into delivery on the ground. Once upon a time, many years ago, his press releases claimed that £20 billion from the pension funds would go into infrastructure, but only £1 billion was pledged, and nothing has yet been invested. Why should we believe that today’s press release about a supposed £25 billion from insurance funds is actually going to happen? Will he confirm that there is no new Government money for infrastructure today? In fact, will he admit that he is cutting the capital infrastructure budget in real terms by 1.7% for 2015?

For all the spin from this chief press officer to the Treasury, three quarters of the projects in this pipeline will not be in service until after the next election. Nearly a fifth of them will not be in service until after 2020. Members might have a niggling sense of déjà vu. Should not the Chief Secretary be just a little bit embarrassed to go through this same routine again? He pretends that he has got this fantastic record when he is transparently not delivering. It is worse than the emperor’s new clothes. He has been left exposed by a failure to deliver, and his record is out there for all to see.

Does not the chopping and changing on the A14 tolling in Suffolk say everything about the Government’s incompetent approach to infrastructure delivery? Costs have shot up £200 million and they have wasted three years on faffing around. On flood defences, they have cut spending by £100 million. On green investment, can the Chief Secretary not see that business investors are tearing their hair out at the erratic stop-start approach to support for renewables? Are we supposed to be impressed that the Government are looking at options to bring in private capital for the green investment bank? It is beginning to look like the return of omnishambles.

On schools, the Government scrapped Labour’s Building Schools for the Future, but of the 261 schools that their replacement Priority School Building programme was supposed to deliver, construction has started on only two. There is not a single word in this proposal today about housing investment. The Chief Secretary’s emergency guarantees legislation for £40 billion of underwrites has been a flop. His new version of private finance has not taken off. None the less, I must give him some credit today for one major advance for society. On the front page of his press release today, he pledges £8 million for new light bulbs for NCP car parks. What a shining example of infrastructure investment that is. I must ask: how many Treasury Ministers does it take to announce a change in the light bulbs? It is one thing putting out press releases, but can he at least try to make them vaguely convincing? He even resorts to claiming credit for projects that started before the election. This is a Treasury that has neglected the fundamentals that we need for a economic recovery that is built to last. For all the hype, the hot air and those press releases, we are left with a shambolic infrastructure programme and cuts in infrastructure plans. When will he get a grip?

It is very rare that I find myself thinking that Labour Members must wish that they had the shadow Chancellor on the Front Bench asking the questions and not the shadow Chief Secretary—the former policy wonk in the shadow Chief Secretary role with no new ideas of his own whatsoever.

The shadow Chief Secretary is quite right to say that this plan is not about new Government money, as I announced £100 billion-worth of new Government policy in June. He is wrong, however, on his comparisons with capital spending. Capital spending is higher in this Parliament as a share of the economy than it was under the previous Government. He is also wrong to criticise our announcements on energy today. The announcements on strike prices have been welcomed by commentators as diverse as Greenpeace, which states that it is right to focus on the costs of offshore wind, and the Renewable Energy Association, which described today’s announcement as a good day for renewable energy and renewable heat. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this Government were the first to put in place a green investment bank, something his party never bothered to do when it was in office.

Hearing the hon. Gentleman talking about infrastructure reminds me that his party cannot even decide what it thinks about the most important infrastructure project in the country, let alone what to do about it. The moment the Labour party comes out with a proper policy on High Speed 2 is, I suspect, a long time away. That is a pretty pathetic failure on Labour’s part to back investment in the north, northern cities and Scotland.

On delivery, let me say this. Onshore and offshore, underground and overground—[Interruption.]—wired and wireless, tarmac and train track, this Government are delivering. [Interruption.]

Order. There has been far too much noise on both sides of the Chamber. I appeal to Members to hear the Chief Secretary and I will then facilitate questioning for an appropriate period.

As we show in our national infrastructure plan today, investment in infrastructure in this country was up an average of £41 billion a year in the last Parliament, and £45 billion a year in this Parliament. Frankly, given our record, it is not clear which part of the word “delivery” the hon. Gentleman does not understand. Of the 646 programmes in our infrastructure pipeline, 291 are in construction. Under this Government since 2010: 36 transport schemes, delivered; 353 flood defences, delivered; superfast broadband to 10,000 rural homes every week, delivered—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Lucas, your apprenticeship to become a statesman has several years to run at this rate.

A new prison is being commissioned in north Wales, Mr Speaker, should the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) wish to visit. That will be delivered very soon.

I have already mentioned superfast broadband to 10,000 homes, and 150 railway station upgrades and 80 electricity generation schemes have also been delivered. Making Britain the best country in the world to invest in infrastructure—delivered, and confirmed by a £25 billion commitment today from the insurance sector, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East should have welcomed rather than criticised. We on the Government Benches are building the foundations of Britain’s economic future—the only thing the Opposition built was debt.

I welcome the much-needed announcement on infrastructure from the Government this morning, particularly the announcement on Wylfa and the reduction in onshore wind. I can support both wholeheartedly. However, there is an announcement in the plan that is not much needed by my constituents—that is, that on HS2. On page 40 of the plan, the Government say that the hybrid Bill on HS2 will go through in a year. Is that not a totally unrealistic timetable and is there not a danger that the Government are cutting corners on this major infrastructure project, not least by allowing only eight weeks for a consultation on a 50,000 page document on the environmental statement? Is it not about time that the Government considered the subject again more carefully?

On HS2, I would say that far from cutting corners we are making every effort to ensure that the programme is delivered as quickly as possible. That is what I think the country needs. I welcome the right hon. Lady’s comments on Wylfa nuclear power station and I was pleased to sign the agreement with Hitachi and Horizon this morning. On onshore wind, I feel that I might have to disappoint the right hon. Lady. We have reduced the prices we will pay in recognition that the costs are coming down, which will make that market more competitive. It should not necessarily be seen as a reduction in the delivery of onshore wind at all.

I am sure that I was not the only Member of the House who had a sense of déjà vu when listening to what the Chief Secretary had to say. Indeed, I seem to remember announcing a number of those projects myself 10 years ago. Perhaps that demonstrates the problem we face, because successive Governments have found it very difficult to deliver on those large-scale projects, whether for housing, transport or energy, which we desperately need. I know that central Government planning went out of fashion about 40 or 50 years ago, but is there not a case for seeing whether central Government could take a grip of those projects and match them up with the funds, including insurance funds, which is a good thing, to ensure that they actually happen? They are too important to the country to be left to chance. I am sure that he does not want to join the long list of Ministers who have announced these projects, only to find a few years later that they are filled with disappointment because they simply are not there.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments—as usual, he makes a much more cogent and compelling argument on these matters than his Front Benchers. In all seriousness, the document, “The National Infrastructure Plan 2013”, is intended to do precisely that—to set out a clear pipeline. The changes we are making—I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Deighton, who has joined the Government as the Minister with responsibility for infrastructure—are intended to ensure that Departments are better equipped with the commercial capability to deliver projects, to ensure that central Government are better able to track in real time what is happening with the projects, and to ensure that we have the mechanisms to deal with problems and blockages that central Government might put in the way. For example, I chair the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure, which exists precisely to crack some of those policy problems and ensure that I do not suffer the disappointment that the right hon. Gentleman is so clearly filled with.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving connectivity to the principal airports. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more on the prospects for improving the link to Stansted airport, which would help not only air passengers, but many commuters in my constituency?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As part of what we have announced today in the national infrastructure plan, we are also commissioning feasibility studies for improving surface access, by both road and rail, to Stansted and Heathrow, and that is alongside the money for the Gatwick railway station and the feasibility study we have commissioned on the rail link between London and Brighton, including the important Lewes to Uckfield line.

Will the Chief Secretary say a little more about the sell-off of national assets? Many of my constituents feel bruised, because they all used to own a bit of Royal Mail, but now only a few rather wealthy people do. Will such transactions continue with the sale of other national assets? Harold Macmillan once said that the Tory Government were selling the family silver. Is the furniture now following?

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. Let me address it briefly. On Royal Mail, he will know that 10% of the shares are owned by the employees, which I think is an extremely good step that has not been taken before in the sale of national assets. The Government should not own assets that they do not need and in which investment could be made more effectively in the private sector, particularly when their sale would release receipts that could then be used to invest further in our critical national infrastructure. That is why we are raising our target for sales from £10 billion to £20 billion. I think that we have been under-ambitious in the past. There are assets that could be sold, such as the Government’s stake in Eurostar. No final decision has been taken on that, but we are working towards ensuring that we can put those assets into the private sector, where they can be better run and better managed, and use the resources for the infrastructure projects contained in the plan.

I very much welcome the announcement that the A14 toll will be scrapped and congratulate my right hon. Friend on listening to me and so many others on that. I also welcome the Renewable Energy Association’s comment that today is a good day for renewable electricity and renewable heat. Will he continue to campaign for this Government to be the greenest ever and resist any temptation to do anything else?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks on the A14. It is fair to say that he has been one of the most assiduous campaigners in the House for the toll to be dropped, alongside many other hon. Members from the east of England. I certainly maintain my commitment both to renewable energy and to ensuring that this Government are the greenest ever. With the first green investment bank, the first renewable heat incentive, the strike prices and incentives for renewable energy and the many other policies we have announced, we are well on the way to achieving that objective.

I can only say “dream on” in response to that answer. Will the Chief Secretary admit that the falling costs of renewable energy confirmed by the cuts to onshore wind and solar subsidies announced today simply demonstrate that the Government’s grotesque subsidy for nuclear is economic madness, since it is now clearer than ever that it will be cheaper and quicker to cut carbon and meet our energy needs through renewable energy, rather than nuclear power?

I am rather surprised not to hear the representative of the Green party welcome our commitments to making onshore wind more cost-effective and the big commitment to offshore wind set out in the national infrastructure plan. We must ensure that we have balance in our energy mix, and having nuclear power stations alongside renewable energy is the right mix. The Government are committed to that and I intend to ensure that we see it through.

I welcome today’s announcement on the national infrastructure plan. However, with regard HS2, it was made very clear at the beginning that no individual should be left out of pocket for the sake of a national infrastructure project, so will my right hon. Friend look again at the response that I received from the Department for Transport to a parliamentary question, stating that there would be no support for those families and communities who wished to petition on the hybrid Bill and no financial compensation? In fact, to be able to petition they need to figure it out for themselves, from reams of paperwork, and pay a £20 fee for the privilege.

I have not seen the correspondence, but if my hon. Friend would like to pass it to me, I will gladly look at it. I have to say, however, that it sounds as through what the Department has recommended is in line with normal practice, and I would not necessarily want to recommend any changes.

Why is the Chief Secretary dropping plans to charge a toll on the A14 in affluent Cambridgeshire but continuing plans to force Halton borough council to charge tolls across the proposed new Mersey Gateway bridge and the current toll-free bridge in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country? Will he think again and drop the charges for the Mersey Gateway?

The decision on the A14 was taken in direct response to our public consultation. The A14 would have been the only road in the country to be tolled in that way. We said that we were considering that and wanted to know what people thought, and they told us what they thought. Tolling on estuarial crossings, I am reliably informed, is usual practice and an important part of financing such projects.

I welcome the Chief Secretary’s pipeline of funding. Will he turn the tap on in relation to the A30 and the A303 running east out of Honiton so that it can be continuously dualled and we can have a second pipeline of roads into the west country?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the pipeline of money is already open for that project, as I announced in June. The work is now being done to work out precisely what improvements are available for the A303 and the A30 in that important link to the south-west of England. The Government are committed to ensuring that the route is upgraded, which is why we are conducting a feasibility study. By this time next year, we will set out the details for the House.

I very much welcome the positive step forward on the Wylfa nuclear power station and the conversion of the Liberal Democrats on new nuclear build. I also welcome the extra resources for offshore wind, which will benefit not only my constituency, but the whole north Wales region. One missing element from the infrastructure plan is port development in Wales, which is a reserved matter. Will the Chief Secretary agree to meet me, so that we can have a level playing field for both English and Welsh ports in the development of offshore wind?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the steps that we are taking on the Wylfa power station and on offshore wind. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has changed our party’s approach to the issue, which I think was the right and realistic recognition of our energy needs in future. With regard to port development, it might be better if the hon. Gentleman met a representative of the Department for Transport, but if that is unsuccessful, I would be glad to meet him.

The greatest catastrophe in infrastructure procurement over the past 20 years was the private finance initiative under Labour. My investigations this week have shown a pattern of poor construction and inadequate maintenance at Hereford hospital on the part of the PFI contractors, and that relates to fire compartmentation, hospital ventilation, infection control, the emergency alarm system and maternity. That has been damaging to patient and staff safety and gave no incentive within the contracts to save money. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the evils of PFI under Labour will never be repeated in this new round of investments and that the apparently systematic pattern of delaying and thwarting necessary remedial actions will never be part of the plans that he has laid before the House?

My hon. Friend has played a very important role in scrutinising and making public many of the most appalling features of PFI under the previous regime, and I congratulate him on that work. As he will know, a few months back, we announced the new private finance 2 model, which strips out an awful lot of the things that he is concerned about. We are also engaged in a detailed cost review of PFI projects to try to make sure that, where we can, we reduce cost pressures, as we did successfully with the Romford hospital PFI.

Will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury say a little more about what will be the benefits for Scotland as a result of his announcement?

I am grateful for that question. I will mention a couple of things. First, Scotland within the United Kingdom is one of the key places for developing renewable energy, particularly offshore wind. I hope that the strike price that we have set out today will be a real benefit to investors and potential investors in Scotland. Secondly, the availability of a lower rate from the Public Works Loan Board—in other words, cheaper borrowing for local authorities for key local infrastructure projects—is being extended from local enterprise partnerships in England to local authorities in Scotland and Wales, so that those areas, too, can benefit from it. Cheaper borrowing is one of the things that we certainly would not get if Scotland were ever independent. That is further confirmation of why we are better together.

In welcoming the news about the progress on the feasibility study for the A303, will the Chief Secretary bear in mind my constituents’ concerns about Stonehenge and Winterbourne Stoke? Unless that area is properly unblocked, people will not be able to get down to Devon to enjoy Tiverton and Honiton. This has been going on for several generations, and we need to make sure that it is sorted in any plans that come forward next year.

I think Stonehenge has been there for more than several generations, and I do not intend to remodel it at this Dispatch Box or anywhere else. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to one of the issues on that route. We are conducting the feasibility study to work out what are the right steps to take at every stage. I am sure that his concerns will have been heard by colleagues in the Department for Transport, and I will certainly make sure that they are taken on board, as the feasibility plan is developed.

The Chief Secretary paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling). I hope that he will also condemn the stupid, destructive briefing against him that has been coming out of the Government in recent days.

I do not know whether the Chief Secretary has ever seen the film, “Groundhog Day”, but if he has not, I recommend that he go home and watch it later. Infrastructure spending fell by 3.7% in the third quarter compared with a year ago, the CBI has said that progress is too slow, and most of the projects in the top 40 list were begun under the Labour Government. Can he give us a simple answer to the simple question why we should believe this statement any more than those that he gives every year at this time?

I have seen the film, “Groundhog Day”, and listening to the right hon. Gentleman’s Cassandra-like remarks, it feels a bit like that in the House, because he has made them before. The plan is based on a detailed pipeline worked on with industry and with Government, and he should have a great deal of confidence in it. On the first part of his question, let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), who is doing a fantastic job in leading the campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. I very much hope that we will continue to work together in making sure that this country stays together.

A large part of the plan concerns Hinkley Point C and Wylfa, which are badly needed and vital, yet we are now hearing that the EU is minded not to give state-aid clearance for those programmes, which could delay them both by three to four years. Can the Chief Secretary put our minds at rest?

I can certainly put my hon. Friend’s mind at rest. He should not believe all the rumours that he hears about the European Union, particularly if they are circulating on the Conservative Back Benches. The truth is that we have just started the state-aid clearance process, which does take a bit of time and is there for good reasons. All the work that my right hon. Friend the Energy Secretary and his colleagues have done leads us to have a great deal of confidence that the clearance will be forthcoming.

What mechanisms will the Welsh Government need to put in place to access finance directly from the infrastructure plan for their own projects—or is it a matter of the Treasury determining which capital projects will be spent on in Wales?

That is a very good question. The Welsh Government’s capital budget is allocated to them through the Barnett formula, so they have complete freedom to determine how they use the money. I urge them to consider the principles laid down in the infrastructure plan as applicable to Wales. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to our decisions in responding to the Silk review, whereby the Welsh Government will now have borrowing powers, particularly to fund the M4 project, which is such an important investment not just for Wales but for the whole UK.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who led the campaign on the A14 well in advance of the point at which the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) became pregnant on the matter. May I ask the Chief Secretary whether the diggers will arrive as promised in 2016?

Several hon. Members have been assiduous in their campaigning on this matter, but I can speak only for those who have come to lobby me personally. I am sure that a lot of remarks have been made by a lot of hon. Members, and I pay tribute to them all. The simple answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes.

The Chief Secretary will be aware that the major gateway for inward investment to Britain is Heathrow. In his announcement, he committed the Government to take forward projects such as the northern hub at Manchester airport, the Birmingham gateway and the development of western rail access to Heathrow. If he accelerated the latter, we could get western rail access to Heathrow within about three years. Why does he not get it going faster?

That is a bit of a laugh coming from Labour, which never bothered to look at the idea at all. Aside from that, this was one of the plans in the statement that I made in June where we set out a £100 billion plan for transport investment. I would happily arrange for the relevant Minister to give the hon. Lady a direct update on progress with the project.

I welcome this plan, too. I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the feasibility study for the trans-Pennine route. I am delighted to see that in the plan, particularly with regard to the Mottram-Tintwistle bypass through my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). He and I have worked together and agree on that project, and I implore the Chief Secretary to bring it forward as quickly as possible. I look forward with great anticipation to the autumn statement, when I hope that we will have a solution to a problem that has bedevilled the House and my constituency for nearly 50 years.

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that that project will be considered as part of our work on the feasibility study on trans-Pennine access. It is good to hear that there is cross-party support for the project and, indeed, that there is any infrastructure project that Labour Members are prepared to support.

Coming as I do from a part of the United Kingdom where an £18 billion investment project for the next 10 years has already been cut by 20%, the Minister will understand why I am cynical about this plan. How can we have any confidence in his estimate of the asset sales income to finance it given, first, that he cannot necessarily commit future Administrations to capital budgets, secondly, that the pension funds have already failed to deliver on private finance, and thirdly, that it must be seen in the context of the Government’s record on asset sales?

Let me start by paying tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who until recently performed a fantastic service to Northern Ireland in his role as Finance Minister in the Northern Ireland Government. He and I worked closely together in that regard. I would have thought that that work alone gave him confidence in the plans that I have set out. I do not think that his claim about the £18 billion for Northern Ireland is factually accurate, for reasons that he and I have discussed many times and, I am sure, will continue to discuss long into the future. As for the rest of the plan, he can be confident in it for the reasons set out in the document, which I very much encourage him to read and support.

That is a good question, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raise it at Culture, Media and Sport questions.

The Chief Secretary knows that 80% of the money in the infrastructure plan is being spent in London and the south-east to shore up the Tory vote, but is that also why the company behind the Atlantic array has ditched its plans for offshore energy off Swansea? If not, what is the explanation?

The hon. Gentleman will have to talk to the project developer about that. I completely refute his allegation with regard to where the infrastructure projects are taking place. One of the most important projects in the plan is High Speed 2, which will benefit the whole country, including, potentially, north Wales with regard to rail access. We have also made announcements about the M4 and borrowing powers for the Welsh Government. The largest single project where there is progress today is the Wylfa nuclear power station, which the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) welcomed, and I should hope the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) would, too.

In welcoming the statement and, in particular, knowing the Chief Secretary to be the guardian of value for money, which has led to the justification for non-carbon-emitting nuclear power, may I ask him to guide me to where I can find in all the HS2 documents that have now been published the business case that judges double-decking carriages to relieve the passenger capacity problem on the west coast main line versus HS2? Try as I might, I cannot find it. It does not appear to be there, even though it would seem to me the one business case needed to prove the case that has been made.

I might have been able to give the right hon. Gentleman a page reference if he had asked a question about the national infrastructure plan. I think that expecting an answer from me about the voluminous range of papers on HS2 is a little bit too much, but I will make sure that he receives an answer from my friends at the Department for Transport.

Will the Government consider bringing forward the electrification of the south Wales valleys line? That would make a big difference to boosting employment in a deprived area.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of electrifying the south Wales valleys line. That is why the Government added it to the Network Rail plan; it was not there before. I will certainly look at the case for accelerating it, if possible. The structure of this country’s rail industry is such that Network Rail is given a regulatory set of obligations and has to work out for itself the most efficient way to deliver them, but I would be very happy to ask that question of Network Rail and to share any answers with the hon. Gentleman.

Contrary to the rather dreary words from the shadow Chief Secretary, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), about the progress of infrastructure projects, is my right hon. Friend aware that very good progress is being made on reopening the east-west rail line through my constituency, with Network Rail engineers out doing the important surveying work ready to get the trains running again?

I think that “dreary” is rather a positive description of what the shadow Chief Secretary had to say, but I welcome the fact that he was given the opportunity to show from the Dispatch Box what a good plan the Government have, including the east-west line, and what a hopeless contribution the Opposition are making to this debate.

On rebalancing the economy, why is the Chief Secretary able to spend £1 billion to put two extra Northern line tube stations in prosperous parts of London but not able find the money to fund the electrification of the line to Hull, and why is he spending £30 million on a new Thames garden bridge but nothing for putting a bridge over the A63 in Hull? Both those things are needed, following our successful 2017 city of culture bid.

I think that the hon. Lady is being unkind to the Government. We have cut the tolls on the Humber bridge, which I know she and other Members from that region welcomed. Under this Government, 880 miles of railway are being electrified in this country, compared with a full 9 miles during Labour’s 13 years in office. The chair of the Humber local enterprise partnership, Lord Haskins, recently raised with me the importance of the electrification of the Selby to Hull line, which is something I am looking at right now.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

On behalf of business and residents in Uttoxeter, may I thank the Chief Secretary for the huge investment in road improvements on the A50? Does he agree that this kind of investment in roads can help not only to improve road safety and cut congestion, but to deliver growth, jobs and prosperity in the north?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend and I pay tribute to him, because he has made a fantastic contribution to making the argument for the project to Ministers, which has led to its inclusion in the infrastructure plan. He is right: road improvements are not just about dealing with congestion for motorists, but about unlocking growth opportunities for the whole country, and I think that is precisely what the A50 investment will do.

Given the pitiful rate of housing construction in Scotland presided over by the Scottish Government, Scotland faces a shortfall of 160,000 properties by 2035, but is the Chief Secretary able to point to a single announcement in his statement that would help contribute to alleviating a housing crisis across the United Kingdom?

Housing is not, of course, directly part of the national infrastructure plan—it never has been—but I can say a word about it. A number of the infrastructure projects will directly unlock housing developments. For example, the investment in the A14 will unlock sites for 10,000 or more new homes in that part of England. That is precisely the sort of project we need to see more of.

Our Help to Buy scheme, which is enabling people who cannot afford large deposits to get a mortgage and to get on the housing ladder, is helping people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine, as well as across England and Wales, to access the housing market. That, in turn, will help to stimulate house construction in Scotland as well as in other parts of the UK.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Opposition Front Benchers stopped their mithering, got out more from their Primrose Hill mansions and came up north, they would see a succession of major infrastructure projects finished ahead of schedule? For example, the M1 and M62 managed motorway schemes came in under budget and finished under time, and the new Acre Mill site at Huddersfield royal infirmary has nearly been completed. The trans-Pennine route is also being electrified and we have the northern hub. If the shadow Transport Secretary, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) went to her constituency of Wakefield in two weeks’ time, she would see a nearly completed new railway station, which I use every week.

My hon. Friend makes the case incredibly powerfully. We are investing in infrastructure up and down this country. We are delivering massive investment. He gave a list and I could give an even longer list from the north, the south, the midlands and across the whole of the United Kingdom. The Labour party has called for consensus on infrastructure. That consensus could best be achieved by Labour setting out its support for the best long-term plan for infrastructure this country has ever had.

If the Government’s record in delivering infrastructure projects is as the Chief Secretary claims, rather than as my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary claims, why did the Financial Times this week quote John Cridland, director general of the CBI, accusing the Government of “talking the talk” rather than delivering on projects, and why did Richard Laudy, head of infrastructure at the construction law firm Pinsent Masons, echo the view of much of the industry when he said he expected more “smoke and mirrors” from the Government?

Some things are beyond the ken of most of us in this world and the editorial decisions of the Financial Times are one such matter. There has been a very strong welcome from industry for this plan and its previous iterations, including, as we have heard, from constituencies where projects are being taken forward. That is precisely because this Government are the first to have a long-term plan for infrastructure with a clear pipeline of projects that are being delivered up and down the country. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

There is so much to welcome in the updated national infrastructure plan, including the announcements about nuclear power stations and offshore wind. In particular, I want to thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the public consultation and the voice of business from Suffolk and cancelling the A14 toll. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), I am very keen to get on with the project. Is there any chance of bringing it forward a few months?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her important contribution to the debate on the A14. I said in my statement that the decision not to go ahead with tolls on the road will not delay the project. We are working with the Department for Transport to make sure that the time scale is as rapid as possible. I cannot give my hon. Friend any particular assurances at the moment, but I am sure my colleagues in the Department for Transport will have heard her comments.

This is actually the coalition’s fourth national infrastructure plan in three and a half years. The Chief Secretary is not a press officer now; do we not need a bit more effort in implementation and rather less on presentation?

The hon. Gentleman’s party may not be very good at maths, but I am sure even Labour could work out that when a Government are in their fourth year in office and have promised to update a plan annually, they will give four iterations.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly his reference to a slight decrease in the strike price for onshore wind. Will he tell us exactly what that strike price will actually mean? Energy companies seem desperate to build wind farms on every hilltop in rural Britain, despite their impact on the landscape and the view of popular opinion. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is scope for more than just a slight decrease in the subsidies to onshore wind and for a greater increase in those for offshore wind?

I am grateful for the question. The published strike prices are set out in table 3.D on page 50 of the national infrastructure plan. I do not intend to read out all the numbers, as I am sure you will be pleased to hear, Mr Speaker. The real point is that we are moving to competitive allocations for onshore wind and solar earlier than we thought, precisely because prices are coming down. There is a degree of competition to secure the best and most cost-effective projects, and that should help to secure the objectives that he and I share.

I note from the document published today that the Government will monitor progress on the Manchester Metrolink extension programme. What conversations are the Treasury and the Government having with Greater Manchester authorities and Transport for Greater Manchester to ensure that the extension link through Trafford Park is both properly financed and on time?

That is one of the projects that we will track under our new infrastructure tracking regime, which will make sure that any problems are surfaced for Ministers much more quickly than they have in the past. If the hon. Lady is aware of any particular causes of delay, I encourage her to let me know. I will of course make sure that Transport Ministers are aware of her concerns.

In the week that Gatwick is celebrating its fourth year as a successful independently operated airport, I very much welcome the £50 million investment in upgrading the important connectivity of the rail station, which will help the local economy and help Gatwick as a preferred UK gateway. Does the churlish chuntering of the Opposition just prove that they have nothing to offer the economy in terms of recovery and investment?

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend on both his points. On the latter, I have said enough, but the Opposition are just completely hopeless on the economy, as they have demonstrated again today.

I travel through Gatwick regularly when flying back and forth to Inverness—this is not the reason why Gatwick is in the plan—and I have to say that the airport railway station does not present a great face to the world for people arriving in this country for the first time. That is why the investment is much needed, and we welcome the fact that Sir Howard Davies has suggested making such an improvement. The £50 million we are providing will of course need to go alongside investment by the airport, but provided that that is forthcoming, we can get on with the project.

How many of today’s announcements and the many re-announcements are in response to real tragedies for the economy, such as RWE’s decision to walk away from a potential £4 billion investment in the Atlantic array, which would have brought much-needed jobs? Has the Chief Secretary had discussions with RWE on resetting the strike rate, and would it now be at the table if he had done so sooner?

As RWE said at the time, its decision about the project was a commercial one taken for a range of reasons. It was aware of the timetable for setting out the strike prices. I know that my hon. Friends in the Department of Energy and Climate Change had conversations with that company.

I have listened to the many questions from hon. Members, but none has referenced the fact that, despite making progress on the deficit, the Government’s finances are still not in balance. Having listened to the scepticism of a former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), does my right hon. Friend think that the Government would do better by being more modest in their scope, more effective in their delivery and more stringent in their evaluation of the projects?

The evaluation of all the projects is very stringent, and I ensure that that happens, but we have also taken some very difficult decisions to constrain public spending in other areas to make more investment available for infrastructure projects. I think that that is the right balance, because infrastructure projects are so important for the long-term future of the country. Under-investment in infrastructure has been a British disease for decades, and we need to end it.

Further to the very good question from the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), may I politely say to the Chief Secretary that since his announcement on 27 June of the transport routes feasibility study, it has been very hard to get details even of its terms? It took me three letters to the Department for Transport just to achieve that; it was obviously very busy delivering all the numerous projects around the country. Will he reaffirm his commitment to work with not only me and the hon. Member for High Peak, but colleagues from around the affected area—from Sheffield, Barnsley, Derbyshire—because trans-Pennine connectivity is truly awful at the minute? It needs a lot more attention than it is getting, and there is huge consensus in the House about trying to improve that.

I certainly agree that the Department for Transport is working very hard to deliver a large number of projects. I am grateful that that is recognised by at least one Opposition Member. As I said in my remarks, we need to make sure that local views are listened to as part of feasibility studies. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has had difficulties in getting across such views, and I will certainly pass that point on to colleagues in the Department for Transport. I wholeheartedly agree with him about the importance of trans-Pennine connectivity. That is why we initiated the feasibility study in the first place, and I hope that he will welcome its proposals when they are made.

A clear timetable and a change from the Labour Government’s failure to address the problems of the A1 and the A19, as well as rail projects, will be very welcome in the north-east. My right hon. Friend has visited Northumberland, and he knows that some truly rural areas have no broadband whatever. Will he expound in a little more detail how communities such as mine, which has no broadband and no possibility of getting it under the present schemes, can access the extra funding?

My hon. Friend draws attention to a very serious problem. Like him, I represent a large rural constituency, so I am very aware of these issues. Back in June, I announced additional funding to extend the target for the proportion of the population with access to superfast broadband. Today, we are announcing a small fund to stimulate innovation to find the best and cheapest technological solutions for getting superfast broadband to absolutely everybody, no matter how far they live from an exchange. We will get as far as we can towards that objective. If my hon. Friend has any ideas or if innovative companies in his constituency have any thoughts about that, I would be glad for them to contribute to the process.

Will the Chief Secretary rethink his view that housing does not have a place in infrastructure planning, particularly in relation to direct investment in affordable housing? Such investment would be a real win-win-win situation, because it provides the necessary houses, improves construction skills in apprenticeships and helps to bring down housing benefit spending far more effectively than the Government’s engaging in the kind of tinkering, such as the bedroom tax, that so much affects individuals, but makes no real saving.

I am very glad that the hon. Lady has given me the chance to talk about affordable housing, because I can refer to the fact that the number of affordable houses in this country fell by 421,000 during Labour’s time in office. We now have the largest annual house building programme for affordable homes through housing associations for two decades. I would have hoped that she would welcome rather than criticise that.

The coalition Government are delivering progress on new nuclear and transport infrastructure where the Labour Government utterly failed during their time in office. On the transport front, I particularly welcome the inclusion of the Birmingham airport runway extension—it will be completed in 2014, according to the document—which will provide direct links between the engine room of the British economy in the midlands and China and far east, where we are drumming up so much business.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the runway extension at Birmingham airport. A year or so ago, with my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), I had the privilege to visit that fantastic project, which will open up access to a much wider range of destinations from Birmingham airport, and that is a good thing for the whole country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he wants to rebalance the British economy, but is now defending bankers’ bonuses in court. Today’s infrastructure announcement highlights the fact that the Office for National Statistics has said that infrastructure work has dropped by 15%. May I give the Chief Secretary to the Treasury an opportunity to say whether he still believes in rebalancing, and if so, what further steps must the Government now take?

I wholeheartedly believe in rebalancing the economy, which is why we are investing in infrastructure: £45 billion a year was invested in infrastructure in the first three years of this Parliament, compared with an average of £41 billion a year in the previous Parliament. Rebalancing the economy is about investing in infrastructure and the skills of our work force, and about supporting vital industries, such as the automotive and aerospace sectors, as we are again doing in this plan. The industrial strategy set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has played a very important role in rebalancing the economy. It will, however, be a long-term job to get away from the very unbalanced economy—all focused on London and the City—left to us by the hon. Lady’s party.

Thousands of houses are being built in and planned for the borough of Kettering, but the town of Kettering will grind to a halt under all the extra traffic unless new junction 10A is built on the A14. The junction would cost £30 million, but it would generate £1 billion of economic benefit to the local area under the Treasury’s Green Book rules. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, and the lobbying of the Departments for Communities and Local Government, for Business, Innovation and Skills and for Transport, the funding has not been forthcoming. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and a delegation from Kettering to see how we can solve the problem?

I am not aware of the specifics of junction 10A on the A14. Clearly, I do not want the town of Kettering to grind to a halt. We want the hon. Gentleman to be able to get here to his place of work as often as possible. It might be appropriate for him to meet a Minister from the Department for Transport to discuss this matter. I will gladly keep up to speed with what happens and hold a meeting if it is absolutely necessary.

I would go so far as to say that the continuing presence of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) in the Chamber on a daily basis is a vital national interest.

Solar energy provides hundreds of manufacturing jobs in my constituency. The Government have presided over numerous changes to the investment framework for that industry and another change has been announced today. Will the Chief Secretary provide an assurance that there will be no further changes to the investment framework before the next general election?

Solar energy plays an important part in helping us to meet our energy obligations. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not argue that consumers should continue to pay costs at a high level as the costs come down in that sector. The framework that we have set out today will ensure that that does not happen. I hope that it will give a degree of confidence to that industry, which I know creates a lot of jobs in his constituency.

The Chief Secretary will know that progress is being made on the link road from Manchester airport to the A6. Will he join me in supporting the calls for a related relief road for the village of Poynton, which was promised in the 1990s and which will be vital in tackling the growing traffic congestion?

Again, I am afraid that I do not know the details of that project, but it sounds like there is a strong case for it at a local level. If my hon. Friend writes to me with the details, I will happily see how it could be progressed.

As a Suffolk MP, I, too, welcome the announcements on the A14 and the further investment in offshore wind. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those commitments will help to attract private sector investment and to create jobs that will be of significant benefit to the East Anglian economy and, in particular, to my Waveney constituency?

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. The attraction of private sector investment alongside Government investment is one of the principal objectives of the national infrastructure plan. That is why I am so pleased today to welcome the commitment of £25 billion-worth of additional investment from British insurance companies in British infrastructure. It is precisely that sort of investment that will ensure that all of the projects are delivered.

I welcome the £15 billion of inward investment in infrastructure since 2010 that is detailed in the report. Does that not show, despite the best efforts of the Labour party to talk down our economy, that when foreign investors look at the UK, they see a country that is on the up and that has a bright future?

That is absolutely right. I am very grateful to the shadow Chief Secretary for giving us the opportunity to have this conversation in the House today and to demonstrate the paucity of his policies. If my hon. Friend is interested in foreign investment in infrastructure, there is a very good table in the document that has been published today, I think on page 87, which sets out a range of projects in this country that have been funded by overseas investment.

My constituents will greatly welcome the deputy Chancellor’s decision to scrap tolling on the A14. Last week, Councillor Thomas Pursglove and I launched a major listening campaign on the A45, which links the M1 to the A14. There are two pinch points: one at Chowns Mill and one on the last 5 miles of the road, which are not dualled. I am sure that the statement and the increased spending on roads will help us in that regard, but is there anything else that I should be doing to encourage people to do something about those problems?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming the plan. In June, we set out considerable funding for the Department for Transport to deal with such local pinch points. Local enterprise partnerships have a role in identifying where action is needed. I urge him to engage with his local enterprise partnership, as I am sure he is already doing, because if it identifies such schemes as priorities for the area, they will in turn be made into priorities for Government funding and the problems can be dealt with.

I had anticipated a point of order, because I had received notice of one, but it appears that it will not be raised at this stage. So be it.