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Transport

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Tag Systems

1. If he will take steps to encourage operators of toll roads, bridges and tunnels to recognise each other’s tag systems. (906428)

We have made life easier in several ways for people who pay to use crossings: cashless, free flow charging at Dartford; credit card payments at the Severn crossings; and the new Mersey gateway bridge will benefit from cashless tolling. The idea that the five tag systems work together is an interesting one, but I have not received representations from those who represent hauliers and others.

Well, I shall make representations now. Some 40,000 people have M6 tag cards, but these cannot be used on any other crossing, and that seems madness to me. There was an attempt some years ago to get Transport for London and others to allow roaming of these tag cards, so will the Minister play a proactive part in trying to ensure that we have commonality among tag systems?

“Proactive” is my second name. My hon. Friend always brings originality to this Chamber and this is an interesting and original idea, which I would be more than happy to discuss with him. As I say, I have not received formal representations, but his representations are enough for me and I am more than happy to meet him.

In the changes the Minister was just extolling, he only touched on the recent ones at the Dartford river crossing. How does he justify raising the charge by 25% and the whacking £105 fine if someone forgets? How much are those fines estimated to raise during the next year? How much will the scheme cost to administer and, by the way, how will he ensure that foreign drivers pay the charge?

Unusually, the right hon. Gentleman is being rather critical and negative, and it is not in his character to be so. The changes we are making at Dartford are important and forward-looking and they are succeeding. He is right about ensuring that all who need to pay do pay, and the progress report I can give the House today is that the changes introduced just a few days ago are on schedule, on time and in tune with the wishes of local people, who will get discounts, as he will know. By paying in advance, people will also pay less.

I am bound to say that I always regard the right hon. Gentleman as an English classicist, and to my mind the pronunciation “skedule” is an Americanism that I would not expect of him.

Following the welcome introduction of free flow tolling and the Dart charge, a number of my constituents have experienced problems accessing the residents’ discount and transferring from the old system to the new. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on whether these are isolated incidents or whether there is a systemic problem?

I take your advice particularly seriously, Mr Speaker, as you know, but I did not want anyone to think that modernity was a foreign place for me, so I was adopting a little Americanism.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the interests of his constituents, as he always does so forcefully. As these questions need to have a real and direct purpose, I shall set up a special line for my hon. Friend so he can feed into the system any concerns his constituents have. It will be a conduit by which he can articulate their needs and worries so that we can get this absolutely right.

Congestion

The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion and improving the performance of our roads. Our road investment strategy sets out plans to invest no less than £15 billion to enhance strategic roads between 2015 and 2021. The investment plan includes upgrading the M5 from Droitwich to Worcester South, expanding junction 6, improving capacity at junctions 5 and 7, and upgrading the section between junction 4a and junction 6 to smart motorway. These improvements will support growth in housing and jobs in South Worcestershire, address safety issues at the junctions and lead to improved journey times and reliability.

Like motorists in the north and east of Worcester, I am delighted to see the investment in junction 6 of the M5, which will de-bottleneck traffic and unlock a huge amount of growth in our city. However, the southern link is a huge concern to motorists in the south and west of Worcester. May I urge the Minister to engage closely with me, my neighbouring MPs and Worcester county council on the case for full dualling of the southern link, including the Carrington bridge?

Barely a night goes by when I do not dream about the Powick roundabout and the Carrington bridge, as my hon. Friend knows, and I shall certainly continue the dialogue that he described. I think it would be useful to have a meeting with him and other local people, including county councillors, to decide what can be done in this local scheme. It would, of course, be a matter for local discretion, but none the less, if we can play a part in helping, we will.

The other week, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and I drove the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), across the Pennines from Sheffield towards Manchester. I did not think he could understand how bad the Woodhead pass was, and why people willingly drove over it, until we took him back over the Snake pass. A few crawler lanes on the Woodhead might be a short-term sticking-plaster, but in the end it is a tunnel under the Pennines—after all, they are only 2,000 feet high—that is the real long-term answer. When is the review of such a project likely to start, who is likely to conduct it, and when, realistically, could work actually start if the go-ahead is given?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issues around the Snake pass. I know there are safety concerns there, and I have obviously used the road myself. He knows that this Government have at their very heart the idea of a northern powerhouse. We are championing the interests of the north of England, perhaps to a greater degree than any previous Government. To that end, I shall look at all the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman asks on timing, on detail and on planning, and I shall be more than happy to address them directly with him.

Will my right hon. Friend direct his attention to junction 8 on the M11, the second name of which might be “Congestion”? Is he aware that the decision to site the motorway services area at the junction that is the main entrance to Stansted airport has been the cause of that and is now, apparently, being seen as a block to any plans for the housing that is needed in the area?

This is not the first time that my right hon. Friend has raised this matter. Indeed, since I became a Transport Minister, I have spent a good deal of my life answering his perfectly proper and assiduous inquiries and representations on behalf of his constituents on transport-related affairs. He is right that there is a history of congestion in that area, and I would be more than happy to look at it and take his advice and guidance on the matter.

Back in September, the Public Accounts Committee described the Government’s approach to local road maintenance, which, as we know, is a major cause of congestion, as “ludicrous”. Now, despite the rather bashful claims that the Minister has made today about Monday’s road announcement, I have not actually heard members of the PAC queuing up to say that they have changed their mind. Does that not tell him something?

While I focus—understandably, I hope—on the major changes that we are making as a result of this unprecedented road investment strategy, this extraordinarily bold and long-term vision, the hon. Gentleman is right that local roads matter too. That is why we are spending just short of £1 billion a year, and why we have planned to resurface 80% of the roads in the whole country. All roads, in the end, are local, aren’t they, and local roads will not be neglected under this Administration.

East Coast Main Line

My officials meet East Coast and Directly Operated Railways on a regular basis to discuss the performance of the franchise. DOR’s financial accounts are published on its website on an annual basis.

When the Secretary of State announced the reckless and ideologically driven privatisation of this beloved and excellently performing public sector service, he made a commitment on the frequency of services from Newcastle, but not their cost, so will he tell me now whether prices will go down or be frozen, or will they go up for the profits of Stagecoach and at the expense of my constituents?

As I announced last week on a very successful bid as far as Virgin-Stagecoach were concerned, they will reduce the costs on some of the most expensive tickets on that route. I would also point out that the Virgin-Stagecoach bid includes £140 million of investment, including £21 million on presentation and performance enhancements to the current fleet; £20 million on enhancements to the new intercity express programme fleet; and a £4 million fund for customer stakeholder improvement, among many, many more enhancements. If there was any party that reflected dogma last week, it was the Labour party.

My constituents will welcome the improved performance on the east coast main line, but in order to access services on the main line, they have to travel on the TransPennine network. Does my right hon. Friend have any information about future services on that line?

My hon. Friend, along with the Grimsby and Scunthorpe Telegraph, has led an interesting campaign. I am pleased to say that after consideration of the responses to our consultation on the Northern and TransPennine Express franchise, we have decided to retain the Cleethorpes services within the TPE franchise. The forthcoming invitation to tender for the TPE franchise will specify that direct services between Cleethorpes and Manchester airport should continue. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) have both been at the forefront of this campaign, and I am very pleased to announce today that it has been successful.

Polling shows that a majority of the public oppose the Government’s plans to privatise the east coast main line, and people in their thousands are signing the petition launched by Labour this week. Given that the east coast service has achieved the top customer satisfaction rating for a long-distance rail operator and improved performance, and given that the public sector operator will have returned over £1 billion to the Exchequer before privatisation, why is Directly Operated Railways not even allowed to bid for the contract? When will the Secretary of State finally listen to the travelling public and call a halt to this privatisation?

I welcomed the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box last week when I answered his urgent question, but as this is his first Transport questions, I again welcome him to his post. I have to tell him how interested I was in the interview that he gave to the Daily Mirror on Tuesday, in which he said:

“I want to be a Transport Secretary not a train-spotter . . . there have been too many train-spotters in the job.”

Anybody in this job is not a train-spotter but is interested in what happens to the motorist, the passenger and the cyclist, and should not distinguish between them.

I come back to the point that I made last week. The tendering process has given great rewards to those areas, and will bring more services and better facilities to passengers on that route. I followed the route that the Labour Government followed for 13 years. When the last Labour Transport Secretary brought in DOR, he said that it would be a short-term solution.

I welcome the franchise announcements, which see major improvements across the network. In respect of the east coast main line, however, there are some local concerns in York about the future franchise headquarters. For generations York has been the beating heart of the east coast main line, so will the Secretary of State or the Minister responsible for rail, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), agree to look at what can be done to ensure that the headquarters stay in York?

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The lease is up on the premises where the headquarters are currently located. I want the new franchise company to consider where its headquarters will be, but one of the announcements was that there would be training facilities in London, Derby and York to train people to operate that service. York will always be a very important part of the service.

Network Rail (Control Period 5 Investment)

Between 2014 and 2019 Network Rail will spend over £38 billion on running and expanding the British rail network. The Office of Rail Regulation’s recent assessment of Network Rail’s performance against the control period 5 delivery targets is that the company has not made the progress expected in some areas. The ORR has asked Network Rail to provide plans to demonstrate how it will bring about improvements and will hold the company to account for its delivery, as will I.

I thank the Minister for that interesting reply. The current CP5 plan includes electrification of the Leeds-Manchester TransPennine services, which is a great benefit to many of my constituents, but how will we get the benefits of electrification to more people, to put right the historical lack of progress that saw just 9 miles electrified in 13 years under the previous Government?

My hon. Friend serves on the wider taskforce that I set up to look into electrification in the north. I believe the taskforce is meeting today and I await its report. It is looking at 72 routes, some of which are freight routes. My hon. Friend rightly points to the massive expansion in rail electrification that will take place over the CP 5 period, which is widely welcomed across the rail industry and across the House.

One North brings together local authorities right across the north to look at transport needs—road and rail. Does the current structure allow such integrated thinking to go ahead, whether in the current control period or the next, so that we can plan for people’s transport needs looking at road and rail together?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady about the prospects for looking across the piece at not only rail but roads, which is indeed one of the things that One North is looking at. I hope that we shall have its interim report by the end of March. It looks not only at what we have set out in relation to HS3, but at other interconnectivities between the northern powerhouse.

The next time my right hon. Friend is on the fast train to his Derbyshire constituency and sails through Kettering station without stopping, would he be kind enough to reflect on the fact that, with improved line speeds and electrification to the Midland main line, it might be possible to reinstate a half-hourly service northward from Kettering, which was lost under the previous Government?

I am very interested in the points my hon. Friend makes, one of which relates to the whole question of capacity on the railways. That is one of the principal reasons for developing HS2. He is right that ultimately that will allow more opportunities to provide more local services, as well as the services he wants for his constituents.

Listening to the Chancellor yesterday, you might have thought that he had announced major new investment for the railways, but as we all know, the devil is in the detail. He told the north that he would replace the ancient and unpopular Pacer carriages with modern trains, but the green book says that bidders would only be “encouraged” to buy new trains. Yet another study for the south-west was announced, shunting the issue further down the line. He also promised to put the “great” back into the Great Eastern main line, but not a penny of new investment was announced for East Anglia’s railways. Is it not the case that across the country this Government are taking passengers for a ride? [Laughter.]

It’s the way they tell ’em! That is from a party that over 13 years, as the Prime Minister reminded us, electrified only 13 miles of track—I think he inadvertently misled the House, because I understand that is was only 9 miles. We have put forward the most ambitious plans for the railways. The only people who seem not to want to praise that, or even acknowledge it, are those on the Opposition Front Bench.

HS2 Skills Academy

In September the Government announced that the high-speed rail college will be co-located in Birmingham and Doncaster. Work is now under way with the local authorities concerned to get the college up and running. Our goal is for students to be admitted in the academic year 2017-18, which incidentally will coincide with the start of construction.

We need more young people to take up careers in engineering. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that schools and colleges are aware of the opportunities that the HS2 academy can provide?

HS2 is already engaging with schools and colleges. For example, in November it attended the Skills Show for the first time. We need 10,000 people in engineering just to cope with the demand for skills in the existing rail investment strategy, and we need another 25,000 to deliver HS2.

It is all very well helping young people with the HS2 skills academy, but it will be on the backs of the people whose properties are blighted by the project. The Minister need only read Melissa Kite’s moving article in The Spectator on the plight of her elderly parents. There is still no final compensation package, after five years, and HS2 officials are trying to beat home owners down on the independent valuations of their properties. It is shaming that we have still not settled compensation matters after five years. When is the Minister going to sort out this shambles?

The need-to-sell scheme will be operating in the new year, and we are currently consulting on it. I must point out that part of the skills agenda is investment in skills for tunnelling. We are engaging in unprecedented levels of tunnelling to limit environmental impacts. The skills college will be a hub-and-spoke arrangement, and we are looking for colleges that can teach environmental skills to engage with it so that we can deliver on our promise of no net biodiversity loss.

Congestion

The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion and improving the performance of our roads. As I have said, the road investment strategy sets out plans to invest £15 billion to enhance strategic roads between 2015 and 2021. The investment plan includes 15 schemes in Yorkshire and the north-east. In addition, as my right hon. Friend will know, East Riding has secured £4.4 million from the local growth fund for the Bridlington integrated transport plan phase 2.

Will my right hon. Friend take a further step towards securing his reputation as a radical politician by dealing with avoidable congestion? Is he aware that thousands of motorists travelling at non-rush hour times often find themselves stuck in a traffic jam at traffic lights for no reason whatsoever? Why cannot some of these traffic lights be turned off, as is done in other countries?

Among my right hon. Friend’s many distinctions is his chairmanship of the all-party historic vehicles group, of which I am merely a humble member. He will recognise that the kind of innovation—the kind of radicalism—that he suggests is always close to the heart of this Government and this Ministry. We do not have plans to do what he says, but I will certainly consider it. There are 15 schemes in Yorkshire and the north-east. Was it Pound who said that a genius can recognise 10 things but an ordinary man can recognise only one? I can recognise 15.

The use of the hard shoulder as an extra lane on motorways at peak times has been shown to be successful in improving safety and reducing congestion. However, using the hard shoulder outside peak times will lead to a greater number of accidents, and the police have warned that it should not be done. Will the Minister look again at this policy and ensure that we do not see more deaths and serious incidents on our motorways as a result of using hard shoulders outside peak times when they are not needed?

The hon. Lady is right to recognise that smart motorways are partly about using the capacity of the hard shoulder as an important way of easing congestion. She is right, too, that safety has to be a prime consideration in all such matters, so we will look at the evidence. If the evidence suggests that we need to alter policy, we will, but my judgment is that so far it does not show that this behaviour is dangerous.

The Secretary of State, in particular, will know how important the Shipley eastern bypass is in relieving congestion and stimulating economic activity in my constituency. The Government have given a considerable amount of money to the combined Labour west Yorkshire authorities for transport infrastructure schemes to relieve congestion. What steps will his Department take to make those Labour councils make sure that all parts of west Yorkshire benefit, not just their Labour heartlands?

My hon. Friend is right that when one looks at infrastructural spending one needs to do so on a consensual basis. For example, both Front-Bench teams will be working together on the Infrastructure Bill to make sure, irrespective of party, that it provides a foundation for the future. It is absolutely right that when we look at these things we should cut across narrow party divides.

One of the best ways of tackling road congestion is to have proper inter-modal integration. The Minister might know that the M60-M67 junction interchange at Denton is not just one of the most dangerous in the country but one of the most congested, and currently subject to pinch-point infrastructure works. Next to it is Denton station, which has the most pathetic rail service in the country, with just one train, in one direction only, once a week. Will he bang heads together at Northern Trains, Network Rail and Transport for Greater Manchester so that we can have a proper train service from Denton into Manchester, as that will be crucial as part of the northern hub work?

I was going to suggest that the hon. Gentleman apply for an Adjournment debate on the subject until I realised that he had already had it.

Not for the first time, Mr Speaker, you took the words out of my mouth. The hon. Gentleman suggests that, as far as rail in his constituency is concerned, you can get there but you cannot get back. He is absolutely right to say that we should look at such things in an integrated way, and this is not the first time he has raised the issue: he has raised it a number of times in the Chamber. If he looks at the plans we announced earlier this week, he will see that, in relation to rail, ports and roads, we are working on the sort of integration he describes, to make sure that all modes of transport fit.

Rail North Electrification Taskforce

A wide range of electrification schemes is being considered by the taskforce of northern MPs and council leaders set up to explore the priorities for future electrification in the north. The taskforce expects to provide me with an interim report in February 2015 setting out its recommended priorities for scheme development in future rail funding control periods from 2019.

The electrification of the Crewe-Chester line and beyond into north Wales has gained the support of local businesses, local councils, local MPs and even the Welsh Assembly, and the results of the report are eagerly awaited. How can members of the public also make sure that their views are heard?

I am interested in the points my hon. Friend has raised. That is one of the reasons we set up the taskforce and I think its membership is widely known. I understand that it will meet later today and I eagerly await the report in 2015.

Many Opposition Members are fond of the Secretary of State, but this morning he has been unusually full of bluster about the northern powerhouse and rail electrification. Will he not admit the truth that the botched privatisation that carved up the franchising between Railtrack and the operators was ruinous, and that nothing will happen in our rail system until we get rid of that botched privatisation?

I was informed that the hon. Gentleman sent out some interesting tweets when he was last on the east coast main line, saying it had been a disaster since it had been privatised, when actually it was being run by direct operators at the time. As far as blustering is concerned, I think the hon. Gentleman blusters too much. He is jealous of the success and work we are putting in to the northern powerhouse and to improving not only our railways but our roads right across the country.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House about my tweets!

I think the hon. Gentleman can raise his point of order, to which we look forward with eager anticipation, later on. We are saving him up—that is what we are doing.

May I thank the Secretary of State for his earlier reply regarding direct services from Cleethorpes through Barnetby and from Scunthorpe to Manchester? That is really important. We are not ungrateful, but may I now push him on the electrification of the south Humber line? We know it is a complex project because of the amount of trade used on the route, but could some research be done on it?

I am glad that I have pleased my hon. Friend on one particular subject, on which he and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) led a successful campaign. On electrification, we are now starting work on what will be in the next control period and I will take what my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) has just said as part of those representations.

If Tees valley and its mighty industries are to play their full role in the much vaunted northern powerhouse, it is essential that the electrification of the east coast line from Northallerton to Middlesbrough and on to Tees port—the UK’s second largest exporting port—be prioritised. Will the Secretary of State ensure that that section of line is included in the forthcoming schedule?

I have set up a taskforce to give me a report, and I am not going to say what will be in the report before I have even received it. As I said earlier, the taskforce is looking at some 72 routes at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, “Give them a nudge.” I think he has just done that.

FirstGroup (Great Western Main Line)

9. What recent discussions his Department has had with FirstGroup on service performance on the Great Western main line. (906439)

Officials hold meetings with First Great Western every four weeks to discuss franchise performance. Ministers and officials regularly meet senior figures from across the industry at a range of forums to discuss current issues, including performance. We have made it clear that we expect the industry to do its utmost to deliver the level of performance for which it is funded.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the new Great Western main line franchise takes into account the very real present overcrowding problems in south-east Wales, and ensure that the operator provides an adequate number of carriages to service demand now and on future forecasts?

One of the things that I have done with that franchise is to make arrangements and instruct the operator, as it is doing, to convert first-class carriages into standard-class carriages. That will increase capacity a little on the line. The line has been very successful overall. In 2010-11, the number of passengers using the franchise was 90.5 million; on the latest figures available, for 2013-14, the number was 99.7 million. We are seeing such a rise across the whole rail franchise sector.

The Secretary of State was kind enough to meet me and nine other MPs to discuss improvements to our part of this franchise. My last two journeys from Chippenham to London began with me seated on the floor of the carriage—on one of them, alongside a young woman and her crutches. Does he accept that it will take not only converted buffet cars but additional services to meet the demand on the line?

I agree with my hon. Friend to a degree. We are seeing that right across the whole railway sector, and I am very proud of it: such revolutionary performance has been brought about by franchising and the imagination of franchising. It is rather disappointing that a party that used franchising for 13 years now condemns it.

Port Regulation

The Government recognised the detrimental effect that the proposed port services regulation in its original form would have had on the UK ports industry. At the Transport Council in October, we succeeded in our main negotiating aim of ensuring that the Council text was amended to protect our ports industry by limiting its application and by taking better account of the interests of already competitive ports such as ours.

What work has the Minister carried out with European partners through the process to ensure that trade union recognition and collective bargaining are explicitly protected, while still respecting the autonomy of social partners?

The hon. Lady may know that I am a trade unionist. My father was a shop steward, and my grandfather was chairman of his union branch.

I saw the light.

On the specific question the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) asks, I have had regular dialogue with unions to do just what she describes.

The Minister of State can deposit in the Library of the House a note on his family history, which I feel sure will be eagerly sought after.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In our thriving ports sector, everyone—businesses, unions, thousands of employees—are fearful of the regulation because it threatens competitiveness and workers’ rights and protections. Given that his Department was so badly mauled in the European Committee in September that the Minister had to abandon his motion, why are we still waiting for concrete results? Despite his pledges, the Government got no support for blocking port regulations in Europe in October. If the Government did such a good job in October, why has he failed to bring his motion back to the House, as he promised?

In the deal we got in October, we got our ports excluded from the majority of this unwelcome, unnecessary and undesirable regulation, and on other matters not included in that exemption we agreed that this House should make the decision. I call that achievement a victory, and the hon. Gentleman would be well advised to welcome it.

Topical Questions

On Monday 17 November I announced £25 million to support community transport providers, and that fund will provide hundreds of new minibuses to community transport operators in rural and isolated areas. Those groups help keep rural communities alive and independent, and it is vital to do all we can to support local voluntary operators in those areas.

Following the announcement that the c2c rail franchise will issue automatic refunds to commuters delayed by more than two minutes, will the Government apply pressure to other franchises such as Southeastern to follow that example?

One reason why c2c’s franchise was awarded is that it came forward with imaginative schemes. What my hon. Friend has outlined is an important development on that commuter route, and I look to improve services across the whole of rail franchising.

T3. In light of the Chancellor making much of the northern powerhouse yesterday—but of course forgetting to mention Hull—when will the Secretary of State make a positive announcement about the privately financed scheme to electrify the line to Hull? (906450)

Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made a number of announcements—indeed, he was criticised by some for putting too much in those announcements. As the hon. Lady will remember, I provided the money to move that scheme up to the next stage on the guide to rail investment process some time ago, and I await the outcome of that work.

T2. As a result of increased rail use, level crossings in my constituency, particularly at East Tilbury, are spending longer closed. Not only does that cause severe delays to traffic and commuters, it puts lives at risk. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and put pressure on the Treasury to make more money available to deal with level crossings? (906449)

A lot of work is currently being done with Network Rail and on that particular port and scheme. I will report back to my hon. Friend and ask for a direct report on that matter.

T4. Hard working and dedicated rail workers on the east coast main line are worried about their jobs, following the ideologically driven privatisation of that line. What will the Minister do to ensure that those jobs are not put at risk? (906451)

Rail journeys have increased from 750 million to 1.6 billion and jobs on the railway are increasing, yet all Labour can do is start saying that somehow jobs will be cut. More services will be operating on that line than ever before, and that will mean more jobs.

T6. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) be kind enough to meet me and a delegation from Kettering borough council to discuss how the potential future decriminalisation of parking in the borough of Kettering might best be handled? (906453)

We are keen for local authorities to take over civil enforcement of their parking, but I know that the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency is not as simple as in other parts of the country. I would be delighted to meet him and discuss the issue further.

T5. In 2008 the Labour Government invested £18 million into Tees valley bus services, one of which—the 37—linked Park End with James Cook university hospital. That service is now under threat due to 24% cuts from this Government to local bus services. At the end of August the Government also closed Park End’s medical centre, which had been opened by the previous Labour Government. People in that area now have no access to medical services, except for the 37 bus, which the consultation at the time said linked Park End with the local hospital. Will Ministers meet me and the local authority to ensure that we keep that vital bus service? (906452)

Outside London more than 40% of money going into bus services comes from the Government one way or another, but many local bus services are under pressure because of the pressure placed on local authorities. A new station at James Cook hospital means that people who use the rail line from Whitby in my constituency, or Middlesbrough in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, can access the hospital by train, which was not the case previously.

T7. With the renaissance of railways under way through this Government’s excellent work, will the Secretary of State consider letting my constituents travel from Stonehouse to Bristol without going via Swindon, by reopening an existing station from some time ago? (906454)

It is for local authorities to determine whether a new station at Stonehouse on the Gloucester to Bristol line is the best way to meet local transport needs. It is for them to demonstrate the business case for securing it, but I am more than happy to work with my hon. Friend and to facilitate communications between him and Network Rail to see whether a solution can be reached.

T10. Following the Smith commission last week, I have a great fear that my constituency, which is lodged between the last city in England and the Scottish borders, will fast become a political no man’s land. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State ensure that the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line is reintroduced without further delay? Will he agree to meet me and other interested parties further to discuss the issue? (906457)

I understand that Northumberland county council intends to undertake a more detailed study into the reopening of the line. I will be interested to see the results when it is completed. In the meantime, I can confirm that the next northern franchise will be required to co-operate with the development of the project. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman if he wishes.

T8. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the important daily service from Skipton to London and back is retained within the excellent east coast franchise deal, and that it will have all the benefits accruing from the rest of the deal? (906455)

My hon. Friend will know that the service to Skipton will continue at today’s levels. I can confirm that the changes to the east coast main line will not put that in jeopardy. As he will also know, those changes on that important line will bring more journeys, more opportunities and more investment.

Last month, a child was hit by a car outside Flixton junior school in my constituency. Parents are worried about our children’s safety—more so—because Trafford council plans to withdraw 31 school road crossing patrols in the borough, including 23 in my constituency. Will the Minister join me in condemning the local authority’s short-sighted decision and urge it to put our children’s safety first?

Obviously, the safety of our children outside school is paramount, which is why, for example, we have made it easier for local authorities to introduce 20 mph limits. I am pleased that we have retained the use of cameras for enforcement of parking restrictions on those zigzag lines. Spending on the type of patrol the hon. Lady mentions is a matter for local authorities. I am sure they will consider their priorities in that regard.

Sections of the M27 in my constituency—the busiest motorway per mile in the country—are so noisy that local residents are unable to open their windows in the stifling summers that climate change has brought us, and that affects their health and sanity. My constituency continues to wait for resurfacing, so will the Minister please investigate the provision of effective noise barriers to save my residents’ health and sanity?

Yes, this issue is rightly raised by a number of hon. Members. We have taken action to reduce noise on some key roads and I hear what he says about the M27. There will be money for extensive resurfacing—we are talking about resurfacing 80% of the nation’s roads—and I will look at his case in that spirit.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the rail investment in Cheshire is between Wrexham and Chester, where the Labour Welsh Government are redoubling the single track line created by the Tories in the 1980s? Will he therefore commit to supporting investment in rail infrastructure in north Wales in the same way that the UK Government have invested in south Wales?

I am pleased the hon. Gentleman recognises the huge amount of electrification in south Wales. We need to look at how we improve connections in north Wales. I am talking to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about that.