[Philip Davies in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the West Anglia Taskforce report.
It is a pleasure and a unique honour for me to address you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I hope that I will not give you cause for intervening on me any more than I did on you when our roles were reversed.
I am conscious that on this particular subject I could be done for repetition. Already in his relatively short time as rail Minister, the Minister has had to hear me on this subject and similar points on several occasions. The message that is coming forth, which has been put by individual Members over the years and is now reinforced by the report, needs to be heard. If repetition is necessary, repetition will occur.
The West Anglia Taskforce was launched by the former Chancellor and the former Transport Secretary in 2015, but with the intervention of the general election, it did not get down to work until halfway through last year. The terms of reference were to look at opportunities to improve connections to Stansted and Cambridge from Liverpool Street station and to encourage opportunities for economic growth along the route, including the expansion of services in the Lea valley. I was asked to chair the taskforce and was supported by a very distinguished group of people, who freely gave of their time and brought their great experience to bear on the subject. We quickly found that, both geographically and politically, we were as one on what needed to be done.
We concentrated particularly on the need for four-tracking the railway between Coppermill junction, just south of Tottenham Hale station, to Broxbourne junction, just north of Broxbourne mainline station. We resisted all the various embellishments and extras that were pressed upon us, such as the four-tracking going further north, extensions of lines or new stations in various places. We took a very limited view, because they would simply add on to the cost.
South of Tottenham Hale remains a problem on the railway because from there it is a two-track railway through Clapton station and three other inner London stations, to Bethnal Green. Services to those two stations frequently hold up other trains seeking to move as fast as journeys allow to the more northerly outer London stations. By recommending the four-tracking of the railway, we believe that nothing would be spoiled. Other things could be done later, but four-tracking the railway impedes no other embellishment.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this excellent report, which has cross-party support, as I hope the Minister knows. My right hon. Friend is right to focus on four-tracking. In his view, are the short-term improvements the report recommends supportive of the long-term goal? That is what many of my constituents will want to know.
Yes. I do not think there is any inconsistency. I will refer to those other improvements that can be made in the short term, but ultimately it is as plain as a pikestaff that if one wants to have fast services on this railway to stations such as Bishop’s Stortford, Audley End, Whittlesford Parkway and Cambridge, let alone to the airport, they have to be able to overtake the trains that are stopping at Ponders End, Brimsdown and so on. Anything that can be done to improve the service in the meantime we shall certainly be commending.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that too many of our commuters are paying a premium rate for a second-rate service, due to the way that the franchises are structured and the fees are taken by Government from those franchisees? What we need is the Government to invest in providing a premium service.
I agree and I shall add to my hon. Friend’s comments later. It is asking a lot to expect people to pay more money each year for a service that has actually been getting worse, not better. That needs addressing.
There is a challenge and an opportunity, and we tried to deal with them succinctly and powerfully in the taskforce report. The Minister probably knows it backwards by now; he was good enough to attend the launch and we were delighted by that. Today he has probably had to quickly refocus on this part of the railway network after dealing with the issue of Cardiff Central station.
Demand has increased on this railway over the years. More houses and more businesses will add to the number of people travelling on the railway. With all the houses that we know are due to be built over the next 15 years, not only in the district of Uttlesford, but in east Hertfordshire, Braintree, south Cambridgeshire and so on, commuters need a railway that offers reliability, comfort and speed. None of that can be guaranteed at present with the state of the railway. Journeys have got longer and more expensive, in older trains on rickety infrastructure. I commend the fact that, having won the new franchise, Abellio Greater Anglia is putting money aside to refurbish—I think the term used is “refresh”—some of the railway carriages with which it has been saddled, but as ageing actresses are inclined to say, there is only so much that make-up can do.
It goes without saying that what commuters from our increased population want is also required by the world-class businesses that we have along the Lea valley and north all the way to Cambridge. World-class businesses need a first-class railway. We also have to consider the travel needs of those in inner London. Transport for London has great ambition for a metro service with frequent trains and, clearly, population build-up in north-east London, through which this line runs, will add pressure.
The other point to address is that the jobs being created further out of London will not be filled by people already living in those areas. The unemployment rate in the Saffron Walden constituency is 0.7%. Stansted Airport alone is scheduled to create 10,000 jobs over the next 15 years, never mind other businesses large and small. They will have to find workers from elsewhere and the railway is the key. People could travel from east and north London. If their railway line were reliable and swift, they could travel that way to work, which would ease the pressures on the social communities in which the businesses exist.
There is also the matter of freight. It is generally accepted that getting freight off the road and on to the rail as far as possible is a good thing. We should think of accommodating extra train paths that would enable more freight trains to run without interfering with the passenger traffic during the day.
Then, of course, there is Stansted airport, which is designated London’s third airport. It is there; it is a fact. Many of my constituents and people in neighbouring constituencies did not want a third London airport at an inland site, but it is there. It has got the legal right to increase its capacity from 24 million to 35 million passengers per annum, and there is no doubt that, as Gatwick has shown, more than that can be done on a single runway. A decision has only now been taken about building another runway in London—the Government have chosen Heathrow—but the most optimistic date for it to be operational is 2025. Many of us think that even that is optimistic. Given that Gatwick and Heathrow are virtually full, where in the meantime is extra traffic to London going to go? It seems that the only realistic spare capacity that could be employed is at Stansted, so how many more people will want to use that railway line? They will press it to breaking point if we are not careful.
My right hon. Friend’s point is correct. Even if there is no further growth in the next 10 years, the service our constituents currently receive is inadequate. Our line is not fit for purpose. There is no more capacity on it that can be utilised comfortably.
That is right, and I thank my hon. Friend for underlining that point. If we consider the airport alone—and leave aside business growth and the houses that will yield more future commuters—it is hard to see how the railway can bear the strain unless we take action along the lines of the taskforce’s recommendations.
The concern among my constituents is that their service is already poor, so the four-tracking is definitely needed, but they will lose out further if the four-tracking does not happen because Stansted and the further services will be the priority, and the service on the locally stopping trains will become even poorer than it currently is.
I very much take the right hon. Lady’s point. The history of the past few years shows that, in the end, everybody suffers. The Stansted Express started as a service that was non-stop, apart from Tottenham Hale, and did the journey in 41 minutes. It now takes 47 minutes, and some of the trains take longer than that, because everybody has had to compromise and the misery has been shared. It is an utterly ridiculous situation.
It is possible that we could get earlier and later trains for the airport service. That seems sensible. Improved connectivity is needed with Stratford, which is, of course, a major centre of activity in our capital city. Four-tracking would pave the way for the Crossrail 2 project, which will be of enormous benefit to Greater London and will bring a lot of investment into a sector that has been relatively starved, compared with other parts of the city. That vital new railway, which was originally based on the idea of the Chelsea-Hackney underground line, will be an important link between the gateway to east Anglia and south-west London. I do not want to get into an argument about which stations will be served if the project goes ahead. The way Crossrail 2 is conceived at the moment, it cannot go ahead unless there is four-tracking along the west Anglia line.
I have used the word “need” a great deal, because it has to be stressed. Right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken pointed to their constituents’ needs. The growing pressures simply cannot be met on a two-track railway. The fact that we can think of extra track capacity being installed only by 2026 is a cause of deep worry, because the pressures are going to get much bigger before that. In every year in which nothing is done, the problems get worse for all our constituents. Last Wednesday, a train failed, and there was an 87-minute delay on a journey that was supposed to take 47 minutes from the airport. If the situation gets worse, I would advise Abellio Greater Anglia to adjust its order to Bombardier for new trains to include sleeping cars.
We do not have the luxury of an easy alternative to four-tracking. Incremental improvements will help but, in the view of the taskforce, they alone will not get us to Cambridge in 60 minutes and Stansted in 40, which is our aim. If the Government are minded to see this problem as one that has to be resolved, committing to an early start will fuel, not frustrate, the economic growth on which we vitally depend. I am conscious of the fact that the Minister and the Government are beset by other claims for further improvements to our railway network. I do not want to detract from the big strides that have been made over recent years, but there is still a lot to be done. A document seeking a comprehensive metro service for our capital city has been published, and it is right and proper that that is accommodated. There is also the report of the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce, which is headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith). I declare an interest in those recommendations, too, because a number of my constituents use Chelmsford station, in particular. The metro aims, the great eastern main line and the west Anglia main line are all jostling, trying to get the Minister’s attention and perhaps that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One has to be realistic: I do not think that all those ambitions can be met at exactly the same time, but it is not possible to do 12 trains an hour on a two-track system while maintaining fast services to the outer London destinations. There will have to be some give and take as improvements begin. Understandably, I am today concentrating on the west Anglia component.
The Government have accepted a bid from Abellio Greater Anglia to run the greater Anglia franchise with—astonishingly—new trains across the piece. Every single carriage is going to be replaced. They understand that Stansted airport will expand its passenger throughput and create more jobs in the next few years, and they have given a benevolent nod in the direction of the Crossrail 2 project. I say to the Government: therefore join the dots. Why have new trains with improved acceleration capacity if they do not have the track on which to use it? All those things logically point to the fact that the infrastructure has got to be improved.
I turn again to the challenge. I defy any train operator possessing a collaborative workforce and equipped with new trains to provide an acceptable, let alone an enhanced, level of service on a railway that has defective points, signals and overhead wires, too many crossings, and a gross lack of track capacity. That sentence is a summary of the taskforce’s assessment, in respect of which it has offered a staged remedy.
Apart from the challenge, there is the opportunity. There is some hope. In the taskforce report, we refer to the fact that new, better performing trains for inner London services are on order and will be delivered in 2018-19. The STAR project, with a third track between Stratford and Angel Road, will be delivered in 2018. Network Rail is reviewing the crossings, of which there are 82 between London Liverpool Street and Cambridge, to see what potential there is to contribute to line speed and reliability improvements.
The train operator, confirmed as Abellio Greater Anglia, will examine the scope for timetable adjustments within existing constraints, including the introduction of earlier trains to serve the airport. There is a commitment, to which I have referred, to introduce a complete set of new trains by 2020. Four-tracking the railway, therefore, between Coppermill junction and Broxbourne junction by 2026—if that is the earliest it can be done—will be a major contribution towards the development of Crossrail 2, which will be an enormous bonus for passengers, benefiting people travelling to and from outer London destinations as well as supporting metro services and housing growth.
Four-tracking, which is the principal, and admittedly most expensive, recommendation of the taskforce, is the essential precursor to Crossrail 2. It will supercharge connectivity between Surrey, London and Hertfordshire, and provide an important gateway to the Anglian region.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Perhaps I had rather glossed over that in reference to the composition of the taskforce, but we have had full representation from local authority people from different points along the line as part of the taskforce. They have bought into this plan completely, and we have also had the support of the local enterprise partnerships. What has been stressed is that local authorities and business can assist in bringing forward as early as possible the infrastructure improvements, if they can be prioritised, and therefore ensure that any money going, to which they can contribute, will help the project to come to the top of the pile.
We ended up by believing that the goal should be Cambridge in 60 and Stansted in 40. I say to the Minister: let us get on with it.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing the debate and on the report that we are debating. As chair of the West Anglia Taskforce, he has helped to make the strongest possible case for investment in rail to support growth. I pay tribute all members of the taskforce, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), for their hard work. They have produced a comprehensive and timely report that I have no problem wholeheartedly endorsing. I would like to give a special mention to my friend and fellow Enfieldian, Doug Taylor, the leader of Enfield Council and one of the taskforce’s 16 members. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden pay tribute to the council leaders and councils who are supportive of the taskforce’s work.
Absolutely. The taskforce is a fine example of Members of Parliament and their local authorities working closely together on something that is so important to their local areas’ development and economic development.
In championing the development of the west Anglia main line corridor, our council leader, Doug Taylor, has played an important role in making Enfield’s case for why the upgrade of the line is so vital for local residents and the economic development of our borough. I am sure the same is true for Broxbourne.
The primary focus of my speech will be on the potential benefits to be unlocked in Enfield, from transport to growth and productivity, employment and housing, by four-tracking the west Anglia main line in advance of Crossrail 2. Many of my constituents will agree with the taskforce’s analysis that rail services along the west Anglia main line are “relatively slow” and “infrequent” and that “the line lacks resilience.” In fact, I would be willing to bet that a fair few would say that is putting it mildly. I receive many emails from constituents frustrated with the service who do not put it quite so mildly, and understandably so.
Indeed I do. In fact, I travel on Govia’s service on the Hertford loop almost every day, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, so I can give testimony to that. I also have experience of turning up at Liverpool Street to get the Stansted Express only to find a huge number of very frustrated passengers—they would be passengers if they could get on a train—many of whom are frantic that they will miss their flight. That cannot be good for Stansted or any of the development in business that we wish to see up the Lea valley corridor and in the Cambridge-Stansted corridor. It is most serious. In Enfield we are trapped between these two train lines, and it seems we have been talking about four-tracking for a long time.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I have bulging case files in my constituency office from local commuters who have contacted me time and time again to complain about last-minute cancellations on the line. The only thing that surprises me—I am pleased that it is the case—is that they will not give up. They are not going to get used to this. It has to be addressed.
As the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said in the foreword to the taskforce’s report,
“people travelling to work require reliability”.
Their jobs and livelihoods depend on that. I met with the managing director of Abellio Greater Anglia, Jamie Burles, recently and raised the concerns of passengers facing cancellations, delays and poor service every day on the west Anglia main line. With a new franchise agreement secured, Abellio has ambitious plans to improve the customer experience.
While we need urgent improvements in the short term, Abellio’s promise to replace its current rolling stock with faster, more reliable trains by September 2020 is welcome. I fear that many of my constituents will stand back with horror at the idea of another four years of where we are now, but I also recognise what the right hon. Gentleman said about the refresh of the trains. No matter what improvements Abellio may make, services for my constituents will continue to be severely hampered unless we are able to upgrade the current twin-tracking of the line from Coppermill junction through Enfield and towards Broxbourne junction.
The limited space on the tracks affects journey times, reliability and capacity, as we have heard. I was not surprised to learn that a Network Rail assessment indicated that four-tracking this section of the line could reduce delays by half. Greater capacity, however, would not only mean greater reliability; it would also mean faster and more frequent trains, with 12 more trains per hour in each direction from Crossrail 2. Frankly, that would transform the lives of commuters and rail users in Enfield, and the improvements might also result in another huge benefit for residents—a better quality of life.
The borough of Enfield is bounded to the north by the M25 and to the south by the North circular, the A406. Other major arterial roads cut through Enfield, such as the Great Cambridge Road or A10, the Hertford Road, Bullsmoor Lane and Mollison Avenue. They are all heavily congested. My constituents living on or around those roads have had their lives blighted for too many years by pollution and poor air quality. Furthermore, now we know what we know about NOx—oxides of nitrogen—and what a poisonous form of pollution they are, that is even more worrying.
I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden about freight, because that is a major issue for us. Bullsmoor Lane, for example, is pretty much an extension of the M25, with huge lorries coming down it all day long, on to Mollison, to come down into London, or going back the other way. All that freight should be on the railways, but how can we persuade people of that, given the state of the service? The lorries are pumping out NOx just at the level of pushchairs with children in, or little ones going to school, and they are sucking everything in. We know they will be affected for the rest of their lives. The situation is very serious.
Investment in transport infrastructure is so important to help tackle such problems. As the report states:
“Rail improvements can encourage more people to travel by train instead of car, helping to reduce the number of cars on the road and reducing harmful CO2 and particulate emissions.”
That is exactly what Enfield residents need, what they want to hear and what they want to see.
On growth and productivity, Enfield Council, through initiatives such as the north-east Enfield area action plan, is seeking to bring more inward investment, development and regeneration opportunities to that part of the borough. The north-east Enfield area stretches from the M25 southwards to Ponders End and includes the communities of Enfield Lock, Enfield Highway, Turkey Street and Southbury in my constituency, as well as Ponders End in Edmonton. The area sits at the heart of the Lea valley corridor, along the route of the west Anglia main line. It is home to the second largest industrial estate in the capital, at Brimsdown.
We are fortunate to have some world-leading technology companies with factories or depots in the area, such as Siemens, Johnson Matthey and the defence contractors Kelvin Hughes and ChartCo. Also, over the past few years, in that part of the borough and elsewhere we have seen a growth in scientific and technical microbusinesses. Enfield has a well-deserved reputation for innovation and enterprise.
Securing further investment, however, is crucial to maximising Enfield’s potential. The upgrading of the west Anglia main line, with its more reliable and frequent rail service, will widen the labour catchment areas for business; it will help to attract new businesses to north-east Enfield; and it will ensure that businesses that are already there will want to stay and grow. Russell Gould from Kelvin Hughes says on page 19 of the report:
“It is critically important that Kelvin Hughes and ChartCo have efficient, fast and reliable commuting connections in and out of London. Kelvin Hughes supports any initiative that enables us to maintain and expand our competitiveness.”
Anyone who wants to see Enfield’s incredible potential only has to look at the Meridian Water development—the 85 hectare, £3.5 billion investment that will provide 10,000 new homes, new leisure facilities, schools, jobs and a new train station over the next 20 years. Given that the borough of Enfield is already the fifth most populous in the capital and is, according to the latest Greater London Authority figures, due to become the fourth most populous by 2026, those new homes are very important to the future development of the borough, as well as to the quality of life I mentioned.
Ensuring the success of new housing developments, however, is contingent upon significant improvements first being made to Enfield’s transport infrastructure. Enfield Council has already made good progress in co-ordinating the essential infrastructure to ensure that the Meridian Water scheme is a success, securing an investment of £122 million for essential rail infrastructure and station improvements. In addition, the advent of four-tracking, as a precursor to Crossrail 2, will help spur much-needed redevelopment in north-east Enfield and beyond. As Doug Taylor, the leader of Enfield Council, said:
“The council fully supports the transformational potential of Crossrail 2. We are confident the scheme will unlock tens of thousands of homes and jobs along the wider Upper Lee Valley.”
Should all that come to pass, Enfield certainly has a bright future. The compelling case for investment made in the taskforce’s report would, if implemented, play a crucial role in enabling my borough to succeed. I join my colleagues from across the House, in particular those with constituencies running up the west Anglia main line, in calling on the Government to give the green light to this vital investment as soon as possible. I look forward to the Minister’s response and to learning more about how the Government will deliver the taskforce’s recommendations. I also assure the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden that I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to commend the report and the four-tracking project as an early phase of Crossrail 2.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing the debate and on the hard graft he has put in over many years on this issue. I suspect that we are all present today not only because he secured the debate but because he has put sustained and long-term pressure on the Government. It is also probably down to him that the West Anglia Taskforce was established in the first place.
Several of us in the Chamber today joined others, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), at the recent launch event in Bishop’s Stortford, where the Minister gave us considerable cause for optimism. I remember him describing the pile of glossy brochures on his office floor in Blackpool. He assured us that this particular glossy brochure, the report, is one that is well worth reading closely.
I also pay tribute to the work of the London Stansted Cambridge Consortium and the associated all-party parliamentary group on the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, especially my right hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham and for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and Lord Harris of Haringey. The consortium has made a compelling case generally for investment in the corridor, and specifically in the west Anglia rail route which serves the corridor. The onus is now on the Government to act accordingly.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the idea of four-tracking is not new. I have been campaigning for it, along with my right hon. and hon. Friends for the past 11 years, since I entered Parliament. The right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), who first entered Parliament in 1997, has been campaigning for it since then, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) who moved the motion today has been campaigning for it for at least 25 years. The time has come to end the campaign and to ask the Government to start the building.
I could not agree more. We will await the Minister’s comments with interest.
I strongly endorse the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North about the composition of the West Anglia Taskforce and the very good work done by a range of representatives from local authorities, including some from Cambridgeshire and Essex, of course, and beyond the local authorities—Transport for London, the Department for Transport and the airport at Stansted. It is a really good example of people coming together and making a very strong case. I also commend my right hon. Friend’s comments about the need to improve our air quality not only in her constituency, but in many places. Such issues are pressing.
The West Anglia Taskforce report sets out the case for investment in the west Anglia main line, and that case builds on the excellent foundations laid down by the London Stansted Cambridge Consortium. The need for change is clear, as we have heard. Demand on the west Anglia railway is forecast by Network Rail to increase by 39% by 2043. There is limited space on the tracks and limited space at the terminus stations. This combination hampers journey times and service frequency and reduces the railway’s reliability and resilience. As we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North and the hon. Member for Broxbourne, the problems that passengers face on a daily basis are very real and urgent.
We also know that the corridor the west Anglia main line serves is economically significant. It is described in the report as a “vital region” for the UK’s economy, and by the London Stansted Cambridge Consortium as a strongly entrepreneurial hub of national innovation and knowledge,
“driving UK growth and economic dynamism.”
While pointing to the significant development and regeneration potential of both London and Cambridge, the consortium also suggests there are major development sites along the corridor in Broxbourne, Harlow, Peterborough, South Cambridgeshire and Stevenage. But, put simply, the region’s potential is significantly undermined by its poor transport links. As the consortium summarises in its report on the strategic case for investment in the west Anglia rail route,
“The risk is that if transport investment fails to keep pace with the phenomenal growth potential of the Corridor, then it will become a brake on that growth. Transport constraints will fragment labour markets, restrict integration of business clusters, and thereby reduce productivity growth and inward investment.”
Indeed, that is absolutely the case. I am sure the Minister is listening closely to the strong case that is being built.
I want to turn to my own constituency of Cambridge, if I may. Although I am here as a Front-Bench spokesman in this debate, Cambridge is a key feature of the corridor. It is the top city for innovation in the UK. We out-perform the next seven best performing cities put together, and Cambridge is a magnet for leading technology and life science companies. Yet, as the West Anglia Taskforce report finds, the city’s transport links are restricted by problems related to the west Anglia main line. Irregular, unreliable links between Cambridge and London are described in the report as,
“the greatest potential obstacle to future growth.”
Cambridge Ahead, an important business-led local organisation that speaks for a wide range of businesses and stakeholders, has stated that although Cambridge is poised for the next wave of growth, it is held back by a need for infrastructure investment. I commend its report, “The Case for Cambridge”, to the Minister. Within it he will find a clear ask for a new rail station south of the city on the Biomedical Campus, serving Addenbrooke’s Hospital and close to where AstraZeneca has relocated. The report is clear that without such transport improvements, future relocations of major companies risk being made not to the UK but to elsewhere in the world. Both reports urge that this new station be progressed rapidly, and I would welcome an update from the Minister on likely timeframes.
Returning to the West Anglia Taskforce, the report argues that investing in the west Anglia main line and consequently improving the public transport network would unlock a larger labour market and relieve congestion. It would also spur the development of thousands of homes, tackling Cambridge’s chronic housing shortage and supporting high-skilled employees in the area.
The majority of my advice surgery at the moment is on housing—I do not know whether it is the same for my hon. Friend—which is a major issue for London, of course. I understand from the report that the development of 25,000 homes could be brought forward into the 2020s if four-tracking is delivered early as a precursor to Crossrail 2. Does my hon. Friend agree that that must be a priority for the Government?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. We understand that the Government are looking for innovative ways to boost housing, so where better than to look to the recommendations here where we can offer clear guidance as to how to do it?
The taskforce’s recommendations would benefit not only Cambridge, but the entire corridor. As we have heard, four-tracking the rail line between Coppermill Junction and Broxbourne in advance of Crossrail 2 by 2026 would improve journey times and unlock the housing development we have just talked about. In fact, four-tracking the line, followed by Crossrail 2, would unlock up to 100,000 new homes and up to 45,000 new jobs.
Four-tracking would also improve journey times to Stansted and create extra line capacity. I have spoken before in this Chamber in support of improving surface access to Stansted in order to effectively utilise unused capacity. As the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden stated earlier, we know the constraints we face at the moment in terms of airport capacity, with any new runway in the south-east unlikely to be up and running for at least 10 years. Investing in the west Anglia main line could help. It would achieve Stansted in 40 minutes and Cambridge in 60.
So the case is clear, but what of the response? In a written answer from 20 September, we are told that the Government are still,
“carefully considering the recommendations of the draft report”.
I hope we will hear something stronger from the Minister today.
As I have said, I commend the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden for securing today’s debate in the hope of persuading the Government to commit to further investment in our railways, but if we are to believe the reports that Network Rail is facing a shortfall in its budget for control period 5, ending in 2019, then the deliverability of already scheduled renewals and enhancement works must inevitably be brought into question. We should remember that in 2015 the planned electrification works on the midland main line and TransPennine route, beset by delays and rising costs owing to appalling mismanagement, were, to use a delicate phrase, paused—a decision the Government planned from before the 2015 general election, but covered up until afterwards—before being unpaused, but with a delayed timetable.
The Times has reported that Ministers had been told about a likely black hole in Network Rail’s budget by the end of control period 5, in part due to the ballooning cost estimates of upgrades, including the great western main line where costs shot up from £548 million in 2011 to a current estimate of £2.8 billion. This morning it was announced in a written statement that the electrification of the great western main line, already delayed once, has now been shelved indefinitely, breaking a pledge in the 2015 Conservative party manifesto of upgrading the great western main line as one of its regional priorities.
It is unacceptable that promises on upgrades are broken time and again. The Government cannot continue to repeatedly make promises to the electorate and then renege on them. The Secretary of State should reverse today’s announcement and commit to delivering the promised electrification upgrades in full under the agreed timescale.
I invite the Minister to take this opportunity to dispel the rumours that the midland main line electrification project or other works will be delayed or cancelled. In last night’s Adjournment debate, the Minister refused to confirm that the planned electrification would be completed by 2023, despite the former rail Minister having given the assurance after the Hendy re-plan that the works were both deliverable and affordable. In the light of today’s announcement on the great western main line, the Minister’s refusal to give a confirmation is ominous for the midlands. MPs were given a clear promise, which the Minister seemed to row back from last night, so will he take this opportunity to confirm that the full works will be completed on schedule and that the midlands will not miss out again?
Will the Minister provide clarity on whether Network Rail is indeed facing the rumoured shortfall? Will he provide a reassurance that if such a shortfall occurs, Network Rail will not be forced to pursue further asset and property sales, which jeopardise the long-term integrity of our rail network as an integrated national asset and which represent poor value for money to the taxpayer? Will he also explain how his Department has managed to preside over a situation where the projected cost and timetabling for the improvement and maintenance of the network is repeatedly so wildly off the mark, often by millions of pounds?
In conclusion, we know that infrastructure spending, including building better transport links, has been shown to increase productivity and attract investment, helping to grow our economy. Indeed, evidence also suggests investment in infrastructure can have a stronger positive effect on GDP per capita than other forms of investment. In the light of the vote to leave the European Union, strengthening our economy and maintaining the global competitiveness of our assets is essential; the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor vies with world cities such as New York, Tokyo and Paris and competes with major international technology regions such as Silicon Valley. Now more than ever it is the time to reinforce our strengths through targeted investment. Improving connectivity along the corridor by improving the west Anglia main line would be a fine start.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to be here in Westminster Hall for the second time today discussing rail issues. I had not been here since my appointment, and now I am spending all day here, which can only be a good thing. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who spoke in his usual courteous style. I am impressed by the ingenuity with which he sought to broaden his topic to many areas beyond the West Anglia Taskforce; I may well deal with them later.
First, it is important to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) not only on securing the debate but on the taskforce’s report. He expressed concern that there was repetition; but I view repetition as valuable when it is for emphasis, and my right hon. Friend once more emphasised many of the report’s key themes. That is only to the good. As he pointed out, I was in Bishop’s Stortford only a fortnight ago to join him at the launch of the report. I was impressed to see the support that he had gathered from across the political spectrum from local government, national Government in the form of the Department for Transport, London government, and many companies and private individuals who had come together to support the report’s findings. They all recognised how improvements to the train service would help them to do better business, and to grow locally and together on a much larger scale, along the route. I will say to the House what I said to them: I am grateful for the work of the taskforce in the past few years, and the report is one of the most helpful and constructive of the many I am sent and which, as has been pointed out, all too often litter my office floor. Sadly, many of them never come back to London because I have read them and that is where their use ends. In the present case, the report is a constant companion in my red folder everywhere I go, because I use it as an example to show other people looking at their local railway areas what a real, proper value-adding taskforce looks like, and what they should aim to achieve. I fear that my right hon. Friend has probably encountered too many colleagues asking him for advice on how to run a taskforce, and I thank him for his patience in steering them all in the right direction.
Critically, the report is based on solid evidence and the authors are united in agreement. Such taskforces are a useful mechanism for reconciling competing interests and ambitions to ensure that consensus is reached, as in this case. The report recognises the many challenges that the network faces, and the limitations, where they exist. Yet it also focuses on the opportunities, with a range of realistic and specific recommendations, minus the many extraneous embellishments, as my right hon. Friend put it, that people sometimes seek to add, rather like baubles on a Christmas tree. He is to be congratulated on avoiding a temptation that others may fail to avoid.
The report also makes a clear and compelling case for action, so it is just the sort I want. I should pay tribute not only to my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden but to the many taskforce members, to local authority leaders, to the former Chancellor and the former Mayor of London, and Val Shawcross and the present Mayor of London, for all the support that they have offered. There is a risk that such thanks become rather like an Oscars speech and that someone gets missed out; my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) pointed out earlier the danger of missing out one or two key figures. I hope that anyone not mentioned will feel that they were included, because it was very much a team effort.
Today I want to express my hope that the taskforce will continue. It is important to continue to monitor the implementation of the report, and to assess changes in circumstances and priorities. There may be a need to update and refresh it. Clearly that will not happen for a while yet, but I see that as the taskforce’s role going forward. It has made a strong case for investment in the west Anglia main line. As the hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out, its corridor is one of the most productive, creative and innovative parts of the UK economy. The west Anglia main line does a vital job of linking Cambridge, with its world-leading university, science parks and track record of innovation, with one of Europe’s fastest growing airports, Stansted, and the global capital city of London. Indeed, as the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) pointed out, it is a fundamental driver of productivity in the local economy. Yet the line is still fundamentally the one that the Victorians laid down in the 1840s—one of the very first railways into London from the north and east. Its capabilities may have grown and shrunk as demand for rail changed over the past 170 years, but it is clear that the railway line now operates at near capacity for much of the day. The report made the reasons for that clear. In the 10 years to 2011, the number of working adults travelling to work on the line increased by more than 100,000. In the same period, the overall local population increased by about 250,000. As the report made clear, that means that demand on the railway can only grow.
Demand is not just about space for the people who use the trains. It is also about space on the tracks—the creation of paths for trains to operate on. At the moment, the fast trains catch up with the slow trains. Unable to get past, they trundle along behind. New, faster trains will help to change that, but only so far. What happens next, when we have used every bit of track capacity? That is the key question posed by the report. I am therefore pleased to see its sensible recommendations. They are ambitious, yes—but rightly so. They do not necessarily need to be either expensive or hard to achieve. Suggestions include improving pedestrian and cycle access at Northumberland Park and Whittlesford Parkway, new platforms at Stratford and a new station at Addenbrooke’s, supporting growth in Cambridge’s biomedical sector. The hon. Member for Cambridge asked for an update, and I am happy to confirm that we are working closely with Cambridge County Council to deliver that as soon as we can. I do not have any precise timings yet, but the detailed study of the viability of the new station is being undertaken with the county council and I hope to have more news soon. The hon. Gentleman has raised that with me, and I shall keep a careful eye on it. In his role as shadow Transport Minister he can, I am sure, ask about it again each time we face each other at the Dispatch Box. The report also provides further evidence that the Government are right to continue to develop Crossrail 2, and shows how the region can capitalise on that project.
Of course, the recommendations deserve careful consideration. We need to assess them against the case for investment across the network as a whole. The Government will now give the report the consideration it deserves, which will be a thorough and careful assessment, so that we can respond formally next year. In the meantime we should not forget about the investment already taking place to deliver the premium service that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne spoke of when he was still in his place. The improvements that Abellio is making are part of the new nine-year franchise agreement that started three weeks ago, under which, as many hon. Members have pointed out, the entire fleet of trains on the Greater Anglia franchise will be replaced: 1,043 new carriages will be in service by the end of 2020. I should point out to the right hon. Member for Enfield North that delivery is intended to start in 2019, so passengers will see them before 2020, which is the date for the entire fleet to be delivered.
Hon. Members have also pointed out that there is a commitment to the refurbishment of trains in the meantime. Accessibility will be key, given the changes in legislation. On my return from Bishop’s Stortford I encountered some of the refurbished carriages. Although I am only just the wrong side of 40, my knees did not quite enable me to stand up from the seat, as I was so low to the ground, because it was such an oddly-configured carriage. I recognise there is much work to do to enable everyone to feel that they have access to the carriages and can travel comfortably on them.
The Minister talked about the Abellio upgrade, which I welcome, as the MP for South East Cambridgeshire. Does he agree that the route Abellio works on would also benefit from an increased station capacity—for example, a station in Soham, which is on that route?
I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend’s intervention. She and I have discussed this matter, and I have already laid out the various options. We are certainly seeing a growing economy in Cambridgeshire, which is changing the demographics rapidly in that part of the world. We need to be agile and flexible not only in this Department but across Government to ensure that we support Cambridgeshire in its wider aspirations for economic growth. I hear what she says.
I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification about when the new rolling stock will arrive. It is very important to be accurate about that. I have had a number of conversations with Abellio. It regularly told me that the stock would arrive in 2018, until I discovered that that was December 2018. To say 2019 is probably a fairer indication to our constituents of when they can expect to see this rolling stock coming on-stream—or on-track, should I say?
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s intervention. Clearly where we get mixed messages it is important to be correct. I will ensure that I write to her with an official confirmation of what we believe the delivery schedule to be for the carriages. It can be frustrating if a train operating company is saying one thing, Network Rail is saying another and a Minister is saying another. It is important we know what we are talking about and get it accurate, so I shall write to her.
As I was saying, these improvements will have benefits not only in east Anglia or Cambridgeshire but across the country. We are seeing benefits in the east midlands, with engineering jobs being secured in Derby through the rolling stock order. Once the new trains are in place, it will enable a complete rewrite of the timetable to take advantage of the enhanced performance and acceleration that the new trains offer.
Two years ago, the great eastern main line campaign published a similarly well-evidenced and well-supported report to that of the West Anglia Taskforce. The great eastern campaigners highlighted the opportunities that faster and more frequent services on the companion main line into London Liverpool Street would deliver for Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. We listened and were convinced. We asked for improvements when we sought bids for the new franchise. It will take the new trains to achieve it, but Norwich in 90 will be a reality in a few years’ time. Abellio will continue to work with Network Rail and my Department to ensure that further improvements occur through targeted investment on the track—supported, I am sure, by the thousands of passengers and businesses who backed the campaign.
The West Anglia Taskforce has a similar request: Cambridge in 60 and Stansted in 40. Abellio has committed to work with the taskforce to see what the new trains might achieve in terms of performance and therefore time savings, and what else can be done to achieve those ambitious targets. I recognise that those targets need to be ambitious and that journey times matter, particularly in areas of economic growth, but ultimately there are limitations. As we have heard today, the west Anglia line is more constrained than the great eastern, for it is a two-track railway almost its entire length. The great eastern, on the other hand, benefits from four tracks for some 20 miles to Shenfield and has several further stations where trains can overtake.
We know from the West Anglia Taskforce’s work that it too wants a four-track railway for the first 18 miles from Coppermill junction to Broxbourne junction, to provide the extra capacity to deliver all the service improvements sought. Even though much of that is putting back tracks that once existed, the work is costly, so part of the Government’s work is to ensure that we fully cost those proposals and ensure they are both deliverable and affordable. It is a medium to long-term improvement, but work on the part of the Department must start now to assess it fully and properly. That is why the measured and sensible way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden has approached the issue in his report is to be welcomed and commended.
Furthermore, the report recommends that local authorities and local enterprise partnerships work together with businesses to identify and develop ways in which they can assist with funding this work. It keeps at the forefront the principle that the beneficiaries of any enhancement on the rail network should make a contribution towards the costs. I believe that to be a responsible approach that benefits all who see an opportunity for rail improvements where they stimulate economic growth. I hope that the taskforce will continue its work and spread that message around the region. I welcome the opportunity to continue working together to look at how we can increase the funding pot.
I would like to mention two areas that my right hon. Friend briefly touched on. The first is Stansted. As he rightly pointed out, it is a growing airport. Now that we have a decision on Heathrow, we have much greater clarity about the future of not only aviation in this country but what the needs will be in terms of service access to our airports. I share the wider ambition that I am sure there is in the room today to ensure greater rail access to Stansted, which would reduce incentives to travel there by coach or car on the M11. I look forward to working with the taskforce further to ensure that we can develop and meet the ambitions of Stansted.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned freight, which is all too often overlooked in debates on rail. Opposition Members mentioned air pollution, which encourages us to look at freight as an option. This is where we need real innovation in the rail sector. Often we think that a freight train has to be wagons, trucks and no passengers at all. I have been encouraged by some of the meetings I have had with those in the rail freight sector where we looked at how we could utilise spare capacity on the passenger network for small packages and small pieces of freight. That could help reduce air pollution in city centres. If the final mile of distribution in central London could be done by an electric car picking up the package from a London terminus, that would potentially make an immense difference to air quality here in London. I hope those who are listening from the rail freight sector are thinking innovatively about how routes into London termini can best be used in that regard.
There will be improvements for west Anglia main line users in the short term, even before the new trains arrive and new timetables become more achievable. All today’s trains will be refreshed, with 27 being modified to become fully accessible for disabled users. Next year, more than 70 additional carriages will be introduced to provide more capacity and more seats on both the west Anglia and great eastern main lines. All the trains that operate out of London Liverpool Street will be fitted with wi-fi, and those currently fitted with wi-fi will have their systems upgraded.
The railway infrastructure is also being upgraded. We have opened Lea Bridge station. Next year we will open Cambridge North station, to which I am sure the hon. Member for Cambridge is looking forward. Network Rail continues to consult on a programme of level crossing closures along the line to increase safety and speed up trains. As has just been said, we are looking at the new station for Addenbrooke’s.
The west Anglia main line is already starting to get the upgrade it deserves. With the taskforce remaining on the case and holding me to account, I fully expect that to continue. Once again, I thank everyone for their good work in delivering this report and showing how much we can continue to do for the people of west Anglia and the Lea valley.
I would like to thank my colleagues for being here today, to make either speeches or interventions. It is illustrative of the fact that we are an ecumenical crowd and that nothing divides us on the arguments put forward in the taskforce report, which have been amplified today. I appreciate the generous comments that have been made about the taskforce’s work. I should, in fairness, have mentioned the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). Through his work on the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor APPG and on the taskforce, he has been a very solid, determined and resourceful supporter of this work. I thank also the Minister for his kind remarks, generous response and the attention he gives to these things. He is obviously a great enthusiast for the railways and needs to satisfy many different calls from around the country.
I hope it is recognised that there are many voices now along the London-Cambridge corridor insisting on improvement. They come from businesses of all kinds—some for which we have enormous regard in terms of their potential to improve our economy—the airport and the many commuters who rely on that line, in whichever direction they travel, to get to work. The voices are getting louder. The Minister tolerantly said that he was unconcerned about repetition, so I am tempted to say in conclusion, “Same time next week.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the West Anglia Taskforce report.