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Regional Infrastructure Development

Volume 616: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2016

World-class infrastructure is central to raising our country’s productivity. About 3,000 infrastructure projects have been delivered across the UK since 2010, with another 600 projects worth over £480 billion in the pipeline. We are investing over £13 billion in transport across the north, with £5 billion in the midlands. Nationwide, we are making the largest investment in roads across the UK in a generation, and rail is experiencing a level of investment not seen since Victorian times.

I thank the Chancellor for that answer. Will he ensure that the Lower Thames Crossing option C, preferred by the Highways Agency, is quickly taken forward? That will enhance the investment in Medway and the whole of the Thames Gateway area, facilitating house building, encouraging business growth and supporting existing infrastructure in the Kent area.

I commend my hon. Friend for the way he has campaigned on this issue. We recognise the importance of this crossing to supporting the economy on both sides of the Thames, particularly given the constrained capacity at Dartford. It will produce significant benefits locally, regionally and nationally. The Government will be making a decision on the location and route in due course.

Conservative-controlled Southend-on-Sea Borough Council was very disappointed that it was unsuccessful in its bid to the coastal communities fund. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me, the leader of the council John Lamb and others, so we may share with him why we need investment in infrastructure, particularly as Southend is the alternative city of culture next year?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Government recognise the ongoing growth potential of Southend. The Government’s substantial investment to date in Southend includes over £40 million through the South East local enterprise partnership growth deal and the 2014 city deal. The Government announced last year that the coastal communities fund would be extended over this Parliament. At least another £90 million of further funding is available to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs in the UK’s coastal communities. I strongly encourage Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to apply to this fund.

Given my right hon. Friend’s welcome commitments on regional infrastructure and my plethora of conversations with his Cabinet colleagues, Ministers and the leader of Lincolnshire County Council over the past few days and years, will he now commit to working with us all to secure the funding for the dualling of the eastern bypass around my constituency of Lincoln, which will greatly support not only the further development of the city but the whole of Greater Lincolnshire?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s commitment to his preferred version of this project. Funding has been made available for the provision of the Lincoln eastern bypass, in the county council’s preferred version of single carriageway road. As my hon. Friend will know, the county council is not in favour of restarting the process from scratch and introducing further delays, so I am afraid I cannot give him any confidence that additional funding will be made available to adopt a dualling solution.

I was pleased that in the last Budget statement, the previous Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), announced a new Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission to focus on delivering essential infrastructure development for this crucial region. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this commission, which is led by Lord Heseltine, will continue to be supported?

Yes. I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this point. The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission has been asked to develop an ambitious plan for north Kent, south Essex and east London. I am grateful to Lord Heseltine and his fellow commissioners for leading this important work, and I look forward to receiving the interim report ahead of next year’s Budget, when I will respond to it.

When the Chancellor came to the Treasury Select Committee last week, he was unsure whether analysis of the effects of leaving the European Union was being done by region. He has had a week to find out, so will he now give us an answer?

If the hon. Lady checks the video, she will find that I was not unsure. I was advising my civil service colleague that I understood that we were doing such regional analysis. We are carrying out regional analysis, which will help to inform the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy.

Does the Chancellor agree that energy efficiency should be a priority for infrastructure development, both nationally and regionally? To that end, will he seriously consider earmarking the proceeds of the shale gas sovereign wealth fund for energy efficiency measures so that we can not only save on bills, but create jobs and encourage innovation?

I am not necessarily in favour of earmarking or hypothecation of funds for that specific purpose, but the right hon. Lady makes an important point. We have a serious challenge on this country’s energy capacity over the next 20 years, and we are going to have to invest eye-wateringly large sums of money—perhaps £100 billion—just to ensure that the lights stay on. Of course it makes sense to look at ways of reducing demand for energy through energy conservation measures alongside the demands for new energy generation plants.

Last week, the Infrastructure Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive announced that a major infrastructure project in Belfast would be stopped because it was unlikely to be completed before we leave the EU so the funding would be lost. Has the Infrastructure Minister had any discussions with the Chancellor about this project, and will the right hon. Gentleman assure the Northern Ireland Executive that any funding gap for any project started before we leave the EU will be bridged by the Treasury?

I am not aware of the project to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As far as I am aware, the Northern Ireland Executive has not been in touch with the Treasury about it. We have, in fact, made two announcements. I announced that all projects signed in the normal course of business before the autumn statement would be guaranteed, irrespective of whether they continued to be funded by the EU after our exit. I subsequently made a further statement saying that after the autumn statement any new EU-funded projects would, provided they passed a UK value-for-money and strategic priorities test, get the same guarantee: however long they last, they will be funded by the UK Treasury once EU funding stops.

This Government continue to be in chaos over their flagship so-called northern powerhouse. I live there, and I see it every day: they have no long-term industrial strategy. Meanwhile, notwithstanding what the Chancellor said earlier, regional economies are suffering from a lack of sustained investment in their infrastructure, and particularly transport infrastructure, by comparison with our major European partners—a problem now compounded by Brexit. What plans does the Chancellor have to end this uncertainty and finally bring about a rebalancing or an enhancement of regional transport infrastructure expenditure?

I urge the hon. Gentleman not to talk down the north and the significance of the northern powerhouse. The northern powerhouse is an important part of the Government’s strategy, and the new Prime Minister has made clear her commitment to it. The hon. Gentleman is, however, right to draw attention to the shortfall of infrastructure investment in the United Kingdom overall, by comparison with our principal competitors. That is an issue that we must address at national level. We must look for the best value for money—the projects that will make the greatest contribution to closing the productivity gap across the UK—and that is what we will do.