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Topical Questions

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014

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.