An assessment of the impact on the economy is a routine part of transport investment decisions. The Department uses an internationally respected analytical framework for assessing schemes, which includes the impact on jobs, growth and regeneration.
May I welcome the Minister to his place and say how pleased I am that the Department will have the benefit of the experience and wisdom of my Lincolnshire colleague? I say that not just because I would like his help with the roads! Every day this summer, my constituents, tourists and I had to wait up to 45 minutes to pass through the traffic lights at the Bull Ring in Horncastle, where the very busy A153 crosses the even busier A158. The single carriageway road cannot cope with the volume of traffic between the city of Lincoln, the market town of Louth and the east coast. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and local councillors to discuss what can be done to get rid of these bottlenecks to help local residents and businesses and to encourage even more tourism at the wonderful Lincolnshire coast?
My hon. Friend is a doughty and articulate campaigner for her constituents’ interests. She will know that all counties of our great country are dear to my heart, but none more so than my own county of Lincolnshire. I am familiar with this part of the county and I understand the pressures on the roads there. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend and local councillors to discuss the situation. Indeed, I want to go further, because that alone is just not good enough. I want to hold a round-table meeting with all concerned parties in my Department and to ask my officials to look specifically at what my hon. Friend has said. If I may say so, her complimentary words were most welcome. She could have added, for future reference, dexterity, determination and, in the light of recent events, durability!
Will the Minister give a firm commitment to ensure that High Speed 2 goes ahead with a clear timetable, and will he accelerate work on trans-Pennine links from Liverpool to Hull so that the United Kingdom’s economy can be supported and its rebalancing can be assisted throughout the UK?
At a meeting earlier this week, the hon. Lady and I discussed a range of issues in the light of a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, including the significance of the trans-Pennine connection. It is important for us to see all our transport needs in terms of not just north-south but east-west links. I know that that will be recognised by many Members who represent constituencies in the east of England, as I do, and in the west of England, as the hon. Lady does.
I am more than happy to look at all the options to which the hon. Lady has referred. As she will know, we are considering a range of ways of making those links real. In her role as Select Committee Chairman, she will want to test me further when she, no doubt, calls me to appear before her.
Will my right hon. Friend have particular regard to the reports from the Great Eastern and West Anglian taskforces, chaired by two of his colleagues, about the contribution that they can make to the future prosperity of the Anglian region, so that there can be a reliable rail structure on which the splendid new trains that are to come can run more efficiently?
As you know, Mr Speaker, I have a deep regard for the past, and my relatively recent past reminds me that the right hon. Gentleman tested me on these matters at the time of my last incarnation in the Department for Transport, when he advanced similar arguments about the importance of the links to which he has referred today. I look forward to receiving and studying that report, and when I do so, I shall be more than happy to have further discussions with him on its contents, but no one could argue that he has not made his case powerfully and repeatedly.
(Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Infrastructure is vital to economic growth, which is why it is so unfortunate that the Highways Agency has, without consultation, announced the closure of the A34 at Talke junction. That stretch of road is the main access route to Freeport shopping centre. The works are much needed, but they are due to start next week and continue until 23 December, which will affect Christmas shopping at the centre. Will the Minister endeavour to work with me and with the Highways Agency, so that it can see the error of its ways?
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I shall make a general point and then a specific one. The general point is this. On my first day in this job, I met representatives of Highways England, as it is now called, and made it very clear that one of the things they had to do better was give proper notice of their plans, communicate with all interested parties—including Members of Parliament—and be very precise about the time that decisions and their implications would take. Obviously, the case in point is apposite.
As for the specific point, I was not aware of the situation that the hon. Lady has described, but this is what I am going to do. I will meet representatives of Highways England today, I will raise that particular issue, and by tomorrow I will speak to the hon. Lady about it.
My right hon. Friend is dexterous, determined and durable, as well as being extremely distinguished. The A34 is one of the most important roads for our economy, taking freight from the south coast to the midlands, but it is becoming increasingly dangerous: two recent crashes caused fatalities. Now that I have recorded that he is dexterous, determined and durable, will my right hon. Friend hold a round table with me and other Oxfordshire Members to discuss how to improve safety and the free running of the A34?
My table grows ever more round. I am none the worse for it, by the way.
I am familiar with that road. As my right hon. Friend will know, a number of suggestions have been made for the improvement of the scheme. There are always demands relating to different roads, and different ideas about how those demands should be met. We study these matters carefully, and part of that process involves the kind of consultation that my right hon. Friend has recommended. I am always delighted to speak to him about any matter that he raises in the House, including the one that he has raised today.
The Government talk about rebalancing the economy, and it is interesting that the Minister just talked about improving east-west links in the north, but may I make one suggestion that I hope he will take forward? Can we extend the M65 all the way to Scotch Corner? That needs to be done. Millions of people in the north-east need to be connected directly to millions of people in the north-west and the Manchester region. That vital east-west infrastructure link would rebalance that economy.
The hon. Gentleman is known for making the case for links that would further boost his local economy. There have been scurrilous suggestions that the northern powerhouse has in some way faltered. Let me tell the House that the northern powerhouse is not only alive and well, but will thrive under this Government. That will include the kind of infrastructure investment necessary not only to provide transport links, but to boost economic growth, build skills and spread opportunity. That is the kind of Government we are: a Government with big ideas who put them into action for the benefit of our people.