My Department has continued to operate apace as we move towards the Dissolution of Parliament. Last week we introduced the new invitation to tender for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express services, and transferred East Coast back to the private sector. That is a major step in a franchising transformation that places passengers at the heart of services.
We also continue to invest in our roads. Fifteen strategic road schemes have been completed since 2010, and a further 16 are under way. Because local roads are equally important, we have committed £6 billion to them, up to 2021, in addition to the 27% increase in funding that has taken place since 2010. Funds for cycling have doubled since 2010, and we are committed to a new long-term investment strategy.
In my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), there has been a decades-long campaign for a new bypass at Llanymynech, which lies between the two constituencies. Will the Minister join the Welsh Government in developing a scheme for that purpose?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Such a scheme has been identified in the draft national transport plan for Wales as contributing to access to services. We will discuss the matter further with Welsh Government officials to assess their priorities, but no one could have campaigned harder for it to be examined than my hon. Friend.
This week, following the Government’s privatisation of East Coast, Stagecoach released a trading update announcing that the privatisation would “significantly enhance” its profits. We know that the chief executive of Stagecoach, Martin Griffiths, is scraping by on £2.2 million a year—which, by the way, makes him eligible for the Government’s tax cut for millionaires, so his week is getting better and better. At the same time, Stagecoach is threatening to withdraw its buses from the north-east, simply because the local transport authority wants to do something about the fare rises and bus route cuts that have marked the Government’s failure and broken promises. When will Ministers condemn what Stagecoach is doing in the north-east? Do we not need a Government who deliver for the travelling public, not for the Stagecoach shareholders?
What we need, and what we have, is a Government who are investing record amounts of money in our transport infrastructure—far more than the last Government invested in both capital projects and revenue projects. I can only take what was said in Transport Times by the editor, David Fowler, in his latest edition this week:
“On rail franchising and speed cameras”
“seem to be going against the weight of evidence.”
We have seen a dramatic improvement in our services, provided by the private sector. The Labour party is so opposed to the private sector and everything it stands for that it wants to destroy it, on the back of our seeing one of the most successful turnarounds of the rail industry in this country.
T3. I am grateful to the Minister of State for meeting me to discuss problems at the A5 Wall island, but while he is considering it will the people’s Minister ask the Highways Agency to look at the other end of the A5, the congestion from Tamworth to the M42—congestion made worse by more traffic trying to merge on to the A5 from Pennine way? (907899)
Every meeting I have had with my hon. Friend has been a joy, as was the one yesterday. I have diagrammatic and photographic representations of the issue he raises, which I will deliver to you, Mr Speaker, and make available to Members on request. I will send officials not only to look at the matters we discussed yesterday, but to look at the matter my hon. Friend raises today, to see what can be done, but I have to say I think we should act in accordance with his recommendations, because I know he always champions his constituents’ interests.
T4. Fare evasion is obviously a serious issue for the rail industry, but I have seen a number of recent instances where train companies have over-zealously pursued minor cases against constituents who have either been given the wrong information or might have made an innocent error. What is the Minister doing with train companies such as Arriva to ensure that there is clarity for travellers and to make sure that the rules are applied reasonably? (907900)
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I recently launched a public consultation on exactly this matter, and I have urged the train companies to pursue such cases where necessary—where there is genuine fare evasion—but to be much more sensible where there are genuine mistakes. She is welcome to make her views and those of her constituents known in that consultation, and I would like to make those changes.
T5. Tactile indicator cones play a valuable role in making pedestrian crossings safer for all people, and especially those who are blind and partially sighted. Unfortunately in Wiltshire they cannot be sure of finding these cones at pedestrian crossings when they need them. Will the Government incentivise all local authorities to retrofit these tactile indicator cones to pedestrian crossings and open up our streets to everyone? (907901)
Tactile cones are probably one of the best kept secrets of our transport system. If one feels underneath the box on a pelican or puffin crossing, there is a small cone which, if held, rotates when the lights turn to green. It is very helpful for people with vision problems. They were developed by the university of Nottingham and there are 10,000 out there, and I encourage local authorities to retrofit as many as possible.
T6. In October last year the Prime Minister visited York and expressed publicly concern about congestion on the outer ring road, and in January a petition from business leaders in York asking for the dualling of the ring road was delivered to Downing street. What action has the Department taken since the petition arrived? (907902)
I had a meeting with the chief executive of North Yorkshire county council, who works closely with City of York council, on addressing the problems on the northern ring road, and I hope that any scheme that is brought forward can also mesh in with the Hopgrove roundabout project which has already been announced. If City of York council wants to help the motorist it should think back to what it did on Lendal bridge and the atrocious way it persecuted motorists using that route.
T8. I recognise this Government’s enormous investment in our railways, but I am keen to know when we might see some improvements to the London to Portsmouth line. It is still faster to get to Doncaster, which is twice as far. (907904)
My hon. Friend will know that the Portsmouth to London line is not only hugely important for her constituents but a vital artery for people who are travelling up and down through the counties. One problem has been the inability to run longer trains into Waterloo station, where the “throat” has effectively been blocked for many years. We are now investing to increase platform lengths there, to unblock some of that complexity. Also, the draft Wessex route study is being undertaken right now to determine how faster trains can be run from my hon. Friend’s constituency.
T7. I hope that the Minister will have been given notice by Baroness Kramer’s office that she is due to sign off £200 million-worth of funding for a bus rapid transit scheme in Bristol. I am very keen for the overall scheme to go ahead, but we have real concerns about one particular element of it in my constituency. Will the Minister tell me whether it is too late to seek alternatives to that element, which would ruin a wonderful community food project on my patch? (907903)
If I am correct, the hon. Lady is talking about the opposition to the M32 bus-only junction. It is not for the Government to determine the design of the scheme, which is being promoted by the local authority as it knows the area best. Local authorities should listen to the campaigns led by local Members of Parliament relating to that scheme, to see whether the concerns can be addressed, but it would be difficult to change the scheme at this late stage and I know that the hon. Lady would not want to put it in danger of not being signed off in the next few days.
T9. Ever since the Romans built the Fosse way and the Great North road through our town, road hauliers have been an integral part of Newark’s economy. However, those hauliers have had to compete with foreign competitors on an uneven playing field for too long. Will the Minister update us on the success of the HGV road user levy? (907905)
They say that Rome was not built in a day, but I was not the foreman on that particular job. I am delighted to report to the House that, despite being told when we were in opposition that we could not introduce a lorry road user charge for foreign trucks, we have done so. We predicted that it would yield £25 million in revenue, but it is on track to yield more than £45 million in the first year, levelling the playing field for hard-working British hauliers.
T10. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the Government ignored the views of the people of the north-east when they ploughed ahead with the privatisation of the east coast main line. Will they back the wishes of the people of the north-east in introducing a quality contract scheme for the operation of our bus services, so that the buses can be put into the people’s hands and taken out of the hands of profiteers? (907906)
The simple fact is that we will see fantastic benefits from the new operation on the east coast main line. We will see more services to towns that have not been served before, and more services to the north-east. One of the things I was keen to do last week, in relation to the invitation to tender and to the north-east, was to consign the Pacer trains to the rubbish heap. It is important to get rid of them, and that is something that this Government, unlike the last Government, will deliver on. The bus scheme for Newcastle and the north-east is currently before the Department, and it would be inappropriate for me to take a view on it at this time.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am glad that Machrihanish is on the shortlist to become the UK’s first spaceport. It is far from any centres of population, it has a 3-km runway and the facilities of an RAF base, and I believe that it is the ideal candidate. I hope that the Department for Transport will support Machrihanish’s case.