[Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Transport for the South East.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry, and to see colleagues from across the political divide from the south-east here to contribute to the debate.
Last year, I hosted a parliamentary reception for a new, emerging subnational transport body, Transport for the South East. Strategic transport investment is integral to growing our economy and parliamentarians should support bodies such as Transport for the South East, to allow them to secure and direct the investment needed to grow our regional economy. I called this debate to demonstrate our collective support for the aims and objectives of Transport for the South East.
Let me describe the transport challenges and opportunities for those living within the south-east region. It is home to 7.5 million people, a figure that will grow by 16% over the next 25 years. That accounts for 12% of the UK population and 13% of the workforce. At £200 billion per annum, our region is the second-highest contributor to the economy after London. The amount of public spending per head in the south-east is, at £8,100, the lowest in the UK—10% lower than the national average and 20% lower than London.
Despite carrying the bulk of rail passengers, the public subsidy per passenger mile on Southern and Southeastern railways is in the region of 5p to 7p, versus Northern Rail’s 25p. Unlike London, we do not have an efficient mass transportation system, so 70% of those in employment travel to work mainly by car, which is similar to the UK’s other regions outside London. Despite that, spending per head on local roads and local public transport is lower in the south-east than in any other English region outside London.
As the gateway between the rest of the UK and mainland Europe, we are fortunate in having some of the major transport assets within our region. Dover and Southampton ports power the UK’s European and global export market. Gatwick carries the world’s busiest and most efficient runway. Heathrow, on our border, is the second busiest airport in the world. We have a high-speed railway link to the continent and more commuters journeying to London by rail than any other region.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I was just about to mention the Dartford crossing, so I will of course give way.
That is very good timing—perhaps I should have let my hon. Friend continue. As he mentioned High Speed 1, does he agree that the Elizabeth line—the Crossrail system—which is very much to be welcomed, is nevertheless unsatisfactory because it falls 10 miles short of High Speed 1 at Abbey Wood? There is a gap of 10 miles that prevents commuters going from Windsor and the west of London right through to Brussels, Paris and so on, which would enormously help the transport network in the south-east.
My hon. Friend has a similar issue about High Speed 1 to the one I have about Ashford. We believe there is a real economic case for links towards Hastings and Bexhill. I am absolutely sure that his economic case and the case for expanding on current plans will be heard.
I was about to reference the Dartford crossing, and the challenges and opportunities delivered by 50 million vehicles per year travelling across the River Thames.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing today’s debate. Does he agree that we have incredible infrastructure and transport hubs? I would add Newhaven port to the list he gave. Outside London, the south-east economy needs those infrastructure hubs to add up to more than the sum of their parts. If we are to exploit fully the economies of Slough and Brighton—I struggle to add Bexhill and Eastbourne to that list—getting people to and from them is incredibly important. We need to get that right so that the south-east economy outside of London does not remain dependent on just London.
Despite our political differences, I work very closely with the hon. Gentleman, who comes from further across the coast in Hove, and whose constituents experience many similar challenges to those of my constituents. He is absolutely right. A body such as Transport for the South East gives us that opportunity. Although it is always tempting for us to focus on our individual constituencies, which we must, the reality is that the sum of the parts is going to be much better at delivering what we need as our constituents travel from one part of the south-east to the other. He is right, and I hope this debate will move us on.
On the Dartford crossing, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the concerns of the residents of Gravesham, and in particular of those in Northfleet and Gravesend, should be taken into consideration before the scheme is finalised by the Government?
With any major transport project, that is absolutely essential if we are to have good will. A crossing such as that is incredibly exciting because it will alleviate the existing pinch point and make us more productive, but of course we need to carry the local population with us, particularly as it is the locals who are impacted—many who travel will not necessarily be from the local area.
It is a coincidence that I took interventions from two Opposition Members as I was about to talk about Government intervention and thank them for significant investment schemes in the south-east transport network. In this road investment period, Highways England will invest £2 billion into roads in the south-east. The equivalent funding period for Network Rail will see £3 billion invested in the Southern and Southeastern rail network, which has some of the oldest rail infrastructure in the UK despite carrying the most passengers. Although we have challenges to overcome, and although we lobby for a funding share commensurate to our output, we are getting more funding overall because the Government are spending more on transport. The key is to ensure we get the projects the region needs. That is where Transport for the South East comes in to play.
Established in June last year, Transport for the South East is the shadow subnational transport body representing 16 local transport authorities and five local enterprise partnerships, which speak with a single voice about strategic transport priorities for the south-east. Its primary aim is to support and grow the economy in the south-east by identifying and prioritising a programme of integrated strategic transport interventions. It also aims to improve the experience of the travelling public and businesses and bring about more reliable journeys, free of congestion, while safeguarding the environment.
Although I am tempted to raise my own local transport issues in this debate today—I encourage others not to hold back—and lobby for schemes within my 200 square miles of constituency, I believe that there is more chance of securing success in my constituency and those of colleagues if we all work together to establish one body, with one voice, that works effectively across the south-east region to address the biggest problems in our strategic infrastructure network. By getting behind the work of the body—it is under the chairmanship of Councillor Keith Glazier and the leadership of the region’s local authority and local enterprise partnership representatives —we can secure the best strategic transport to support the outcomes we want for our region: new housing without increased congestion, improved connectivity and access to the best employment opportunities for our residents.
The south-east’s population has substantially grown in recent years. Businesses are drawn to a great place to do business and individuals are drawn by high levels of employment. That has driven growth in the south-east’s economy of 25% since 1997, which has generated substantial tax revenue for the country. There is, however, a cost to this success. Our transport infrastructure is facing the challenges of population and economic growth and we risk the future delivery of an economy of huge strategic importance to the UK if action is not taken. That is why Transport for the South East is vital for our future prosperity.
At the same time, TfSE knows that it must not forget those pockets of the region that have not experienced the same economic success and are not as prosperous as other parts. Our coastal communities in particular—many hon. Members represent those communities—have large populations, high unemployment and low productivity. That is due in part to poor connectivity, and in part the further and higher education facilities in those deprived areas of employment. The transport network has a key role to play in improving access to skills and employment and creating new opportunities for the residents of those areas so that they, too, can lead prosperous lives. The challenges extend beyond the administrative and political boundaries. They require the new body to join up transport policy, regulation and investment, and give clear strategic investment priorities to improve connectivity across our region.
To move forward, Transport for the South East needs to do three things: develop a transport strategy, secure statutory status and secure additional funding from the Government. Considerable funds have been awarded to Transport for the North, which has received £50 million, and Midlands Connect, which has received £17 million, to help them take forward their work programme over the next few years. The subscriptions that Transport for the South East is currently raising from its constituent authorities will amount to only £500,000 in the next year. We must congratulate the local authorities that raised that cash. They have taken the initiative and come together despite their own funding pressures because they recognise the importance of working as one. However, more funding is badly needed, not least because the Transport for the South East infrastructure has a significant bearing on the performance of the wider UK economy. Securing statutory status is critical in ensuring that Transport for the South East becomes a formal legal entity and a formal partner of the Government, Network Rail and Highways England, with the ability to influence their investment programmes. Without that status, it will not have the influence we need it to have.
This substantial, resource-intensive process will require additional funding support from the Government if it is to be completed in a timely manner. Work on the main transport strategy is due to commence in the summer, but the pace of its development is dependent on central support of the kind enjoyed by Transport for the North and Midlands Connect.
To conclude—I want to give other hon. Members the opportunity to raise issues in their localities—the south-east economy is already delivering for the country, and has greater economic potential if we allow it to come through. Awarding Transport for the South East statutory status would give us the opportunity to identify and prioritise a package of strategic transport improvements, which will benefit not just the south-east but the entire UK economy. With Government support, Transport for the South East will be able to move at pace to statutory status and, more importantly, complete its transport strategy, which will determine the transport investment we get in the south-east.
Strategic transport investment will give not just the south-east but the country as a whole the opportunity to prosper. I look forward to working with colleagues and Transport for the South East as a new body as it drives these new opportunities. I hope the Minister will signal in his response his encouragement for the quest we are following.
I thank the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) for securing this very important debate, especially after the very successful launch of Transport for the South East, which we attended last October.
This is a well-timed opportunity to talk about the western rail link to Heathrow, as next week a new all-party group to support the case for and the delivery of the scheme will have its inaugural meeting. As co-chair of the western rail link to Heathrow stakeholder steering group, along with the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), I want to take this opportunity to invite all hon. Members to join the APPG. The group consists of representatives from Network Rail, Thames Valley Berkshire local enterprise partnership, Slough Borough Council, Heathrow Express, Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, Great Western Railway, British Airways and the Department for Transport. Its aim is to promote and support the delivery of a direct rail link between Slough and Heathrow before 2024.
A western rail link to Heathrow would enable passengers throughout the west to travel to the airport without travelling into London. It would mean faster, more reliable and convenient journeys for passengers, with travel times expected to be about 26 minutes from Reading and only six minutes from my Slough constituency. It would provide a step change in rail accessibility at Europe’s busiest airport, open up new markets across the Thames valley, Wales and the south-west, and relieve congestion at London Paddington.
A link coming in from the west, through Reading and Slough and on to Heathrow, would mean four direct trains every hour each way between Slough and the airport. According to Network Rail statistics, that short link of less than four miles would generate more than £800 million of economic activity and 42,000 new jobs across various regions.
In addition to the obvious convenience and benefits to the economy, there are potentially huge benefits for our environment. The carbon dioxide savings from the modal shift from cars to rail would equate to approximately 30 million road miles a year through a reduction in road congestion. Some 20% of the UK’s population could access the airport via just one interchange; there would be no need to go into London and back out. The scheme is beneficial to areas of the south-east, even if they never use it. The areas of the south-east that stand to benefit most from the direct link are Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
It would be remiss of me not to point out what an opportunity the link would present for passengers in Bristol, the midlands and beyond, including the south-west and Wales. All that from a four-mile rail link, most of which is tunnelled, with no obvious planning, land ownership or technical obstacles to overcome. There has been a very favourable response to Network Rail’s public consultation exercises thus far.
Given that the Government committed to the rail link in 2012, I hope the Minister will extend his support to it today and assure us that it will finally be built without delay. I very much hope he joins us next week at the inaugural meeting of the APPG on the western rail link to Heathrow. Simultaneously, I ask that he reassures us about the promised timetable to deliver Crossrail—the Elizabeth line—by the end of 2019 to ensure that residents and users in Burnham, Slough and Langley will benefit and that those stations will be fully operational.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) on securing this important debate.
Transport infrastructure is a core component in the functioning of a modern society. Transport has the power to guide our decisions about where to live, study and work. If it is done well, it can transform and regenerate villages, towns and cities, increase workforce productivity and facilitate the operation of industry, which in turn attracts other industries and services. If it is done badly, we have the flip side of the coin.
The south-east of England is the most populated part of the country and a powerhouse of economic activity. It contributes more than any other region outside London to the national economy. Consequently, we are home to some of the busiest roads and railways in the country, and that is further compounded by historical underinvestment and a lack of foresight in planning decisions.
Evidence of capacity limitations on road and rail networks is becoming increasingly stark. As an MP, I hear about it on a weekly basis. Just yesterday, a constituent who works in Chichester told me that she regularly sits in traffic for an hour each way on the A27 to and from work, even though in normal conditions the journey, door to door, should be about half an hour.
There are similar concerns about the railways. Govia—the company that manages Southern, which operates much throughout my constituency—announced in November last year that complaints from the previous year were up by well over 200%. Of course, that was exacerbated by strike action.
The hon. Lady is making a really great speech, and I am enjoying listening to it. The Minister will know that every MP in this Chamber joined together in the all-party group on Southern Rail. We called on the Government last year to release £300 million, which Network Rail told us was the most it could spend on infrastructure upgrades in our area. To their credit, the Government released that money, for which MPs from both sides of the House are very grateful. Will the hon. Lady join me in endorsing the Gibb recommendation for that £300 million to be released for the next three years, after which we can deliver transformation on the line?
I agree, of course. As a fellow member of the APPG on Southern Rail, I agree with its recommendations.
In the south-east, high economic activity is good news for our area, but that does not tell the whole story. Many coastal and rural communities miss out on the wider region’s success. In part, social and economic exclusion can be attributed to the design of the transport network, and our system is designed in an “all roads lead to London” pattern, like spokes from a wheel. Only two key routes cross my region from east to west: the M25 to the north and the A27 along the coast.
The A27 is therefore a highly congested road, exacerbated by pinch points where traffic builds in Chichester, Arundel and Worthing, to name but a few. The effects are wide-reaching, pushing more traffic on to local residential roads, worsening air quality and impacting on business supply chains moving goods in and out of the area. Such is the issue along the south coast that much east-west traffic will go from the south coast up to the M25 and come back down on major trunk roads such as the M3—all to avoid the A27.
The rail network is formed in a similar pattern. All trains run into hubs. The Windmill Bridge junction at East Croydon, for example, can have a paralysing effect on the network. Routes across the south-east and London funnel into that single junction and, put simply, the sheer volume of traffic has long exceeded the capacity of the junction. Consequently, a delay on one line delays the next, creating a domino effect of delays across the region, with people sitting on a train and not at their place of work. The effect on productivity could be mitigated, at least, if we had some degree of adequate wi-fi connectivity on the trains.
The Coast to Capital LEP hit the nail on the head when it described the travel network in the south-east as congested, overcrowded and inefficient. The problems we as an area face are clear, but so are the opportunities for locally driven strategic transport infrastructure improvements to link up networks, to support businesses and attract them to our area. I therefore fully support the formation of Transport for the South East as a statutory sub-national transport body. That would be a positive step to meet the needs of our area.
Transport for the South East brings together representatives of the area who have an inherent understanding of local needs and concerns. They can inform any process from the start. That is crucial when we consider impacts on our protected landscapes, for example, such as the South Downs national park that reaches across the heart of region, so I am glad the South Downs national authority is represented on the TfSE board to give a voice to our protected landscapes.
Other local advantages can come into play, such as planning decisions. TfSE comprises representatives from 16 local authorities that understand national, regional and local priorities such as housing provision, business development, tackling unemployment, social care services, energy supply, global economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability. Those can all be fed into the process to deliver smart and sustainable growth.
Working with a collective voice has advantages. As an area, we have common transport issues, such as the Windmill Bridge junction that I mentioned earlier or the lack of an east-west road infrastructure. A single regional voice will be much more impactful than people working as individuals.
I am glad that TfSE is already talking about improving travel technology as part of our infrastructure investments, such as electronic ticketing and—another much-needed tech enhancement—the provision of effective wi-fi to all trains and stations. That is crucial in an area such as Chichester, where we have a poor signal—never mind 4G—or across the South Downs. Wi-fi could be transformational for commuters and productivity, and TfSE could do just that. Similar programmes, such as Transport for the North, have already been successful.
The World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index shows that the UK is behind many of its major western European trading partners on transport infrastructure. The south-east is home to international businesses and industries that use our airports, seaports, roads and railways. By bringing together 16 local authorities and five local enterprise partnerships, we shall have better integration of transport modes across our region to create a transport system that runs smoothly, improving services for all users.
I fully support Transport for the South East, and I hope that we secure statutory status for it soon so that it can become a formal partner of the Government, Network Rail and Highways England. In doing so, we shall be able to address the significant issues in our area, bringing together communities and providers to form a truly integrated network. Strategic transport planning and improvement has the potential to bring with it talent, investment and opportunity for the entire south-east region and beyond.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Henry.
I thank the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) for securing this important debate. I also appreciated the words of the previous speakers. This is an important debate, and one of the things that I was thinking about as Members were talking was that, as we all know, the south-east is one of the most prosperous parts of the country, and yet for decades the transport infrastructure in parts of Sussex and Kent has been absolutely atrocious. It has never really been any good.
A wee while ago someone of the same persuasion as Government Members put a theory to me, saying, “Well, Stephen, you have to appreciate that all those years ago in Sussex and Kent there were a lot of ex-colonial officers, colonels and senior civil servants who had moved to Bexhill, Eastbourne and other parts. The last thing they wanted was good transport, because they would get all the hoi polloi down there”—his quote, not mine, I stress. I drew myself up to my full height, only to say, “You’re probably right.” It is bizarre, however, and Eastbourne is a case in point. My colleague the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), whom I know well, is well aware that he has a speedy train from Brighton to London and the M23, but from Eastbourne I am constantly struggling with Southern Rail and the A27.
The point about this debate, however, and about Transport for the South East, which I am keen to support, is that the only way we can move forward productively is to join together and pool our resources, and do so on a cross-party basis. A lot of the business chambers and local councils are involved. I am delighted that the chairman of Transport for the South East—I was going to say this anyway, but I see him in the Public Gallery—is a colleague of mine, the leader of East Sussex County Council, which I usually spend my time attacking these days because of the cuts. I am absolutely delighted that Councillor Keith Glazier is the chair.
We have had a number of discussions, but from the purely selfish perspective of East Sussex, having the leader of the county council right in the middle is very important. Bluntly, over the years East Sussex has for one reason or another lost out a lot on transport infrastructure in many areas. It is good to welcome Councillor Glazier, although I think he has two letters from me on their way to him right now, as usual.
The two key issues are rail and road. Obviously, Southern has problems that have been going on for a long time, albeit I would like to think that it has been getting better over the past few months. More than that, specific rail transport infrastructure matters need to be put on the table, which I am happy to do. I have been reminded that rail infrastructure generates £5 billion in gross value added per annum for south-east England, provides more than 81,000 jobs and brings in almost £1.5 billion in tax. More specifically, in Eastbourne alone the rail network brings in £47.2 million per annum and provides directly and indirectly 750 jobs. Rail is crucial.
I recognise that Sussex has infrastructure challenges—it has had them for a long time—but we also have challenges on how much space we have to put down new tracks. What I would do to have a fast train zip from Eastbourne to London in an hour! It would make such a transformational difference, but I appreciate that there are challenges. None of that detracts from the infrastructure benefits that rail brings to my town, East Sussex, Kent and beyond. Those benefits are vital to the south-east.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about the importance of the link between the coastal towns and London. However, does he agree that we have learned in recent years that the coastal towns between the cities on the south coast have not benefited from the economic renaissance and prosperity of recent decades in the same way as places such as Brighton and Chichester, and other towns and cities in the region? That is why we need investment in the coastal route and much smarter travel between the coastal towns. We need to make the economies of the cities far more accessible, rather than being dependent on London all the time.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. One of the most depressing things imaginable is to drive around this country and stop at every single coastal town—for one reason or another, a lot of them are suffering desperately and have been for a long time. I am enormously proud of how Eastbourne has bucked that trend, certainly in the last 10 years. We will be opening a new transformed shopping centre, with £85 million of private money—my God, I had to have an awful lot of meetings to be part of making that happen.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that poor transport links between the coastal towns and cities makes it three times harder to try to turn them around. I do not want to name any particular coastal towns that have suffered, because that is invidious—I know how hard it is to turn a coastal town around once it goes over a tipping point—but without improving infrastructure between those towns, turning them around will be impossible. We can pour as a much money in as we would like, but unless we can find a way to get people to come to the towns and spend money, they will keep going in an ever-deteriorating circle. I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point.
There are very specific inconsistencies in rail funding. I believe the Department for Transport is looking at them, but would like to reiterate them. I pay tribute to the Rail Industry Association for providing this briefing, because it is very important. It states, as we know:
“The Government provides funding for the rail network in five year timespans known as control periods. At the end of these control periods there is often a drop off in funding before it ramps up again at the start of the next control period. This means the supply chain for rail goes through periods of boom and bust, making it very hard for business to plan”—
particularly SMEs, which are involved from a subcontracting perspective. The briefing also states:
“It also increases the cost of…the rail network by up to 30%.”
The hon. Member for Hove alluded to the Department’s generosity in boosting the funding to Network Rail to improve the infrastructure in the near past. I support him very much in the hope that the Government will continue in that direction of travel over the next few years. I believe they will—I am hearing good soundings and would be very supportive.
Believe it or not, I try very hard in most debates to stay away from the subject of Brexit, because it does not half go on a bit, but it is important. One of the realities of Brexit, according to RIA figures, is that anywhere between 20% and 45% of the skilled staff of Network Rail and related ancillaries are of EU origin. We need to ensure that, over the next year—whatever my personal views are, we leave the EU next year—the Government do everything they can.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned both Brexit and Kent. The M20 in Kent very often becomes a lorry park. Does he agree that, in their Brexit dealings, the Government need to ensure that the M20 does not become a permanent lorry park?
When the hon. Gentleman mentioned Brexit and Kent, I thought he was going to announce the independence of Kent, but clearly not. He makes an important point. The Government have put a lot of effort into that—they face specific local residential problems in various areas and are looking to extend transport and parking facilities. I am glad the Department for Transport has to sort the problem, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it has to be resolved. Clearly, it is likely to get worse from March 2019.
On the jobs front, if 20% to 45% of staff are EU nationals, that has to be absolute priority for the Government. We were talking coastal towns earlier. Somewhere between 60% and 70% of staff in the catering and hospitality area are EU nationals. We are on a journey, which I appreciate is supported and was voted for in the referendum, but I hope the Government are watching closely for the complexities coming down the track such as jobs in the rail network.
I have spoken a lot about the importance of rail. I make no apologies for that, because I have always believed that it is a crucial game-changer for my town. The usual trains take an hour and 25 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes. If I could get that down to an hour and 10, it would make life so much easier to keep Eastbourne growing in the positive and prosperous manner for which I have worked so hard for so many years. I look forward to the chairman of Transport for the South East, Councillor Keith Glazier, working with me, together with all of us, to keep the pressure on Govia Thameslink Railway and Southern rail to ensure that they keep improving. It is absolutely vital that the industrial issues and dreadful problems we had for one reason or another for 18 months or two years on the line from Eastbourne to London and back, and on other parts of the network, do not reoccur. I will be working on and watching that very closely.
When the hon. Member for Hove drives from Eastbourne to Folkestone as the crow flies, it is only about 70 miles but takes about three and a half hours. It is absolutely ridiculous. The coastal connections around that part of the country are absurd—there is no other word for it. Going across Romney Marsh, I half expect to see some of the old smugglers from 200 years ago. It is ridiculous and needs to be fixed. It would transform a lot of the coastal towns that have seen terribly difficult times for the last 30 or 40 years. It is the sort of thing that would be a game-changer and I would be very supportive.
My bête noire is the A27, as we know—I wrote to the Minister only 10 days ago. I am aware that East Sussex County Council has put a lot of thought into it. Colleagues and various businesses are putting together a strong business case for the Department, which I know has been looked at. The Minister knows very well my views and how supportive I would be of a solution, which probably means a new spur that would be a dualling of Lewes and Polegate. I will be happy to do anything I can do to encourage that.
I again thank the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle for securing this important debate. Given the problems we have had for decades with transport in the south-east, it is amazing that we have done as well as we have. So much of the infrastructure is rickety. This new body is very positive step. I wholly appreciate that it covers and includes a whole range of people, experts, political parties and business groups. I have no hesitation in supporting it and hope and pray that it will be the catalyst for making a significant difference, which we all know the south-east needs, over the next five to 10 years.
It is an honour to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) on securing this important debate.
Transport plays a crucial role in the development of a strong economy. That is what l argued on 22 March when I delivered a speech in the other Chamber of this House during an equally important debate on the economy, which I am pleased to say continues to defy the naysayers, and I was one of them. In that speech I urged the Government to make some use of the expected Brexit dividend by spending some of it on the roads and rails going to Clacton—I have moved our argument slightly north of Bexhill.
It is interesting to note that connectivity along the coast is not something we could do in my area because we have these damned great rivers, so I am going along the lines of being one of the spokes on the bicycle wheel when we talk about Clacton. As a regular commuter myself, I know that it takes far too long for my constituents to travel from Clacton to the capital, and vice versa. We are that spoke.
Without more investment in transport infrastructure around Clacton, we will limit the incentive for people to move to and commute from our glorious sunshine coast. That would harm the economic potential of my district and would restrain the prosperity of hard-working local residents: an outcome that is not acceptable to me or my residents. That is why I have continued to push for what I call my 70 in 60 campaign at every opportunity, which has the ultimate aim of ensuring that the people of Clacton are able to cover the 70 miles—that is all it is—to London in 60 minutes. That is not unthinkable. It is not even illegal.
Currently the journey of 70 miles takes one hour and 40 minutes nearly, and it takes longer than it did in the days of steam, which, unfortunately, I remember—or fortunately; depends how you look at it. If we get that journey time down to about an hour it would in my opinion regenerate our area, and it would make our sunshine coast a place for people to come, live, work and play. I am here today to plug that campaign once again, because my constituency has so much to offer, not only as a tourist destination, but as a place to live, and it has real untapped economic potential. When it comes to unlocking that potential, I know, as someone with extensive experience of supporting businesses in my district—I was the cabinet member for regeneration at Tendring District Council—that important investment in infrastructure is a crucial first step, so I am pleased to say that we will soon have new rolling stock with wireless internet and USB ports. The trains will be comfortable and modern and they are beginning to be delivered this year.
The new trains will stop and start with greater efficiency. They will be quicker, but not quick enough, which is why, although I celebrate the positive development of the new trains, I maintain that much more must be done because, without more significant investment in our transport infrastructure, commuters simply will not believe that Clacton is a place they can live and work from, as the journey times to London are currently so unfavourable. I have been meeting regularly with Network Rail, Greater Anglia, and the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce to raise my concerns and support their efforts to improve the current appalling situation.
Additionally, as the Minister will probably know to his cost, I continue to make representations to his Department for Transport at every opportunity. I thank him for his support and I am encouraged by the Government’s shrewd approach to transport investment.
I do, of course, recognise that the core issue is that places such as Colchester are growing and have an increasingly young and more economically active population. Consequently, they are seen as more vital for transport investment than some of the older communities and coastal communities such as Clacton that have for far too long been neglected. However, although the demographics are set against us, I am determined to keep going and find a way forward. We cannot fall into a cycle of neglect where our older communities are left isolated—I speak as one of them because I became a pensioner a few weeks ago—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Thank you for that. Our older communities are left isolated in favour of areas that have younger residents and new development. We want to attract younger residents, and if we do not take steps now to invest more in improving Clacton’s transport infrastructure, we cannot hope to attract that younger economically active population at any point in the future.
I accept that we have not built enough homes in Clacton. That might be another reason why young commuters do not wish to call my constituency their home, so I would support sustainable housing developments in my local area, because we must do our part to help address the national housing crisis. That is not only vital for people in Clacton, but for the entire south-east region. However, the Government must do their part, too, and we must improve our transport infrastructure before any new major housing developments break ground. We simply cannot build more dwellings without first making it easy for people to occupy and live in them, and investing more in transport would do that.
Furthermore, such investment will address the concerns of current residents, who just this weekend told me they have worries about the new developments because of congestion on their roads and railways. That is why the Government should focus on infrastructure investment before delivering new homes. We need the I before E approach: infrastructure before major expansion. By following that approach in the south-east, we can deliver quick transport to London and to major regional hubs such as Colchester, Ipswich and Chelmsford and further to the north in Norwich. By doing so, we can deliver the homes we desperately need, the transport we require and the economic opportunities that are currently just out of reach. With that in mind, there are various opportunities across the south-east that I would like the Minister to look at.
One of the projects includes Stansted airport, which I heard today has the most efficient runway in the south-east. It is already a vital transport hub, but that hub needs to be able to continue to expand, and in the next few years the right decisions need to be made to help the airport reach its economic potential. According to projections, that will deliver an additional 15,000 jobs by 2030, with a £1 billion boost to our region’s growth. I ask the Minister to do all he can to support that project as I know there are those who live in my constituency who work there, but it is still quite a long a commute.
It will come as no surprise to the Minister to hear me ask him to support the upgrade of the A120. He knows how passionate I am about that campaign, and I was pleased to read in his recent letter to me that the A120 scheme is in a strong position moving toward the decision making process for the second road investment strategy. Delivering an improved A120 would open the doors to a renaissance in house building in the south-east and connectivity to Stansted. For any hon. Members who agree with me, I will be hosting a reception on 17 July to move the campaign over the line, so please come along.
There are jobs to be created and homes to be built in areas just like Clacton if we invest in and improve the roads and rails to such areas in the south-east, which we have neglected in the past. For people in Clacton there is the world of entertainment, enterprise and revelry to be had in London if we improve the ability to access it for people in some of our less well-connected areas. I will always argue that the transport investment strategy should focus on delivering locally to unlock the economic potential of communities such as Clacton: regionally, on projects to improve connectivity between our economic hubs; and of course nationally to rebalance our economy. The implications of such a decision for our economy, transport in the south-east and our country are in my view only positive, and I back the body for transport in the south-east.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Sir Henry. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) on what has been an incredibly constructive debate this afternoon. He was absolutely right to set the tone and say that transport should be about serving our wider economy. It plays an important role.
We find ourselves yet again debating transport across the south-east, which has been a regular theme in my role as the shadow Minister for Transport. It is significant because we know that 9.2 million people live across the south-east region and investment is therefore really important, which we must get right as we move forward. As the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) said, this matter is not only about the economy. It is about housing and infrastructure and making sure that we get a wider connectivity, and we must recognise the importance of that.
Transport infrastructure requires a strategic approach, not least because of its significance to London, but also because far better orbital routes are needed to rebalance the London focus back into the region to develop wider regional economic opportunities. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) made the point about how investment in transport is crucial if we are to see the revitalisation of our coastal towns. Across the ports in the south-east there is currently concern, however, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) said, about the customs arrangements that could well operate in a post-Brexit environment. The ports provide a vital gateway to the British economy. They are a major employer in the region and support millions of passengers each year. Business is dependent on the pace by which freight flows through the ports and moves onto its onward journey. Customs equivalence is therefore essential, and the whole industry is nervous about the Government narrative, and the contemplation of less favourable terms.
The technology that the Prime Minister has raised to address a bad deal does not currently exist, so it would be years before technology could undertake the task required. With her hard Brexit approach, there is a risk that ever more lorries will stack up on local and main roads or, more likely, that they will not come at all. The roads infrastructure cannot cope as things are now, but that would be a challenge too far. The road freight infrastructure deficit and the lack of lorry parks were exacerbated by the latest fiasco of not following process and having to scrap the lorry park plans at Stanford West. Local people’s calls for the Government to get things sorted out have been ignored. Operation Stack needs decisions to be taken now, and actions to be expedited.
The rail network always dominates the debate, and its fragmentation creates barriers not only between the London and south-east footprints, but within the south-east, which has hosted a plethora of rail operators over time. The lack of capacity is straining the infrastructure, but the Government have been too slow in managing the avoidable mismanagement of the services, not least on Govia Thameslink Railway. We are nine months on from the publication of the Gibb report, whose importance has been mentioned in the debate. It is important for the Minister to update the House on progress that the Government have made with the recommendations in the report.
We have heard how fragmentation, and the issues with Southern across the network, have been a distraction from the provision of what I would call basic passenger services, including wi-fi, which, as the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) said, is essential for increasing productivity.
My hon. Friend’s speech about the region’s transport challenges is a tour de force, and I am grateful. The hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) made the point incredibly well about the lack of wi-fi, and some of the technological advances that we are missing, but it is worth pointing out that most trains running from Hove to Chichester do not even have toilets on them. They are class 313 trains, which were mostly built in 1976, before most of the Members present were even born. Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to the technological advances that have been mentioned we need to get really good rolling stock, so that people who work on the trains, as well as passengers, can from time to time use a toilet?
I could not put that better than my hon. Friend has done. Toilets on trains are a public health issue as much as anything, and we need to make sure that the transport system can provide all passengers with the basics. That would be Labour’s focus on the transport system—seeing it as a service to the public, and therefore ensuring that the infrastructure is in place.
I want to discuss devolution, because it is important that decisions can be taken as close as possible to the communities that they affect, so that local expertise can be invested into the transport system. Westminster currently has far too much power, and the level of centralisation of decision making by the Secretary of State for Transport and his Department is unbelievably constraining. It also ignores local advocacy. We must see devolution as about moving powers and resources from Westminster to the regions. We do not want new bodies to become talking shops; we want them to have power to make a difference to their communities. Transport for the North was recently established, and it has powers of strategy setting and advocacy but still has to go cap in hand to the Secretary of State.
Earlier this week I raised concerns about the inequality in decision making between Scotland and Wales. The country is becoming a patchwork of entirely different powers, and some areas have no voice at all. It is a mosaic of chaos and confusion, leaving all frustrated. I advocate redress and with a Labour Government the public will be confident in how strategic planning will be embedded across the transport system, giving devolution a strong place across the country, with no one left behind, and equality as things move forward.
That brings me back to transport in the south-east. I welcome Councillor Keith Glazier to the Public Gallery. I was reading some statements made by Councillor Tony Page, who also sits on the shadow board of Transport for the South East, which was launched last month, in which he highlighted why the region was plunged into chaos after the Government scrapped the former regional transport board in 2010, and set out the regional and strategic focus that is needed. I realise that the Secretary of State is now trying to make up for lost time. However, I must emphasise the slowness of the pace of reinstatement of the board. More could be done to bring it forward from 2020 to 2019, and I urge the Minister to do that and make sure that the process does not continue to be so protracted. The blueprints for regional boards are already out there, and I want the Minister to put more emphasis on bringing things forward. There is cross-party support for doing it by 2019. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.
Since I have been in post, I have listened to numerous debates, questions and MPs’ concerns about the need to future-proof the south-east’s transport infrastructure and investment. I recognise the inequality that has grown across the nation with regard to transport spend, and it is vital to redress that, for the sake of the economy and communities of the north, but it is no secret that the south-east’s infrastructure is creaking and that at times things have almost ground to a halt for passengers and freight on roads and rail. The region hosts the UK’s most significant airports, and yet connectivity between them is poor, and air pollution from ground access alone is poisoning communities. Those are urgent matters, and there has to be a regional approach to them now.
We just seem to move from one underwhelming environmental piece of the Heathrow expansion plan to the next. It has, to date, failed to address the serious environmental standards that are demanded. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) is right to press the Minister about the importance of the western link into Heathrow—just four miles of track to improve air quality significantly and bring about modal shift back on to the railways.
Labour cannot stress enough the urgency of improved infrastructure links to the many important coastal ports, and the fact that rail and road connections to most of them are nearing full capacity, if they have not reached that point already. Without the use of strategic regional intelligence to future-proof the transport system, the country will continue to stumble forward to the next hurdle. Devolution is also urgently needed to drive a sustainable transport system in the south-east. The heavily congested road and rail networks demand a completely different approach. Seventy-one per cent. of people currently commute by road. We need modal shift away from car reliance and its environmental consequences. The Government have spent a lot of time in court defending the indefensible with respect to the nation’s poor air quality. Instead, they should bring the focus of a strategic vision for the transport system.
As is, sadly, often the case, buses have not yet been mentioned in the debate. Nevertheless, a strategic bus plan in the region is important, and I wish to ask the Minister what investment his Government are putting into the next generation of sustainable buses. We hear much about cars, including the significant investment in electric cars, but that will not solve the issue of congestion because there will still be an equivalent volume of vehicles in the south-east, and the roads cannot cope with that. Many journeys carried out by car could, as an alternative, take place by bus, and bus tech is really important for the future. We must invest in R and D in bus tech, and I would be interested to hear the Government’s plans on that and their focus on our bus network.
Labour has focused on buses in recent weeks. We will offer all those under 25 free bus travel where there is municipal ownership—rightly putting buses back under the control of local authorities to provide a public service, rather than allowing bus companies to cherry-pick the most profitable routes. In a region with the highest age demographic, that point will not be lost.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must fully support the work of Slough Borough Council, which is trying desperately to ensure that bus services continue in the area? A current operator has decided that certain routes will no longer be operational, but the council needs support from the Government. As yet, that support has not been forthcoming. Does she agree that the Government need to step in and support local councils?
It is crucial that local authorities such as Slough Borough Council have control over bus routes. Buses are servants of the community and must determine how best to service the wider needs of that community. Quite simply, bus operators put other interests such as the profits they make above the service they provide. We must ensure that people again have confidence in their bus service. We have seen how successful that has been here in the capital, where a real investment has been made, and we are clear that local authorities must again have that control over the bus system.
Finally, I wish to mention the promotion of active travel across the region. Cycling and walking have not featured in today’s debate, but they should be the transport mode of choice, particularly for short journeys. Sadly, however, the car is often seen as the most convenient way to travel because of the barriers that have been put in people’s way. What does the Minister plan for the south-east regarding the promotion of cycling and walking? To date, I believe that the Government’s plans have not been ambitious enough to see a modal shift or a real embrace of the cycling and walking agenda.
In conclusion, it is vital to have a far more strategic approach to transport planning across the south-east to ensure that resources are in the right place, as well as a longer-term vision. As we have heard, start-stop control periods do not give authorities enough time for substantial planning. We must advance our transport system, because it is imperative that we rebuild our economy and build a sustainable environment for the future, whether for freight or for passengers.
May I say what an adornment you are, Sir Henry, to the Chair in Westminster Hall, and may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) on securing this debate on the important issue of the sub-national transport body, Transport for the South East? As with everything else, my hon. Friend has been a vigorous, energetic and, if I may say so, effective campaigner. Indeed, as he gently reminded the House, this is the latest stage of his campaign to put this institution on the parliamentary map, and I salute him for that. In his speech he gave an excellent summary of the opportunities and challenges facing the region. This debate is timely given the run-up to the launch of the economic connectivity review for Transport for the South East on 8 May, which I understand will be a key milestone in its work towards developing a transport strategy for the region as a whole.
I will come in due course to the many constituency issues raised, but I will first follow my hon. Friend in placing the emphasis precisely where it should be, which is the regional potential of Transport for the South East—I think that is the original purpose of the debate. My Department and I have been impressed by the pace at which Transport for the South East has worked, despite its young age, and I pay tribute to Councillor Glazier who is sitting in the Public Gallery observing—and, I hope, approving—the proceedings of the work he has done and the leadership he has shown. At not even a year old, TfSE has built, and continues to build, partnerships across the region, and it speaks with an increasingly clear voice to Government about its priorities. I am sure that voice will make a real difference to local people in the south-east, and in due course to the country as a whole, since this is a principal engine of economic growth.
Local areas know their economies best, and the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) was right to say—indeed, it is an ancient Tory principle—that power should be devolved and exercised wherever possible close to the people it affects. In part that is for informational reasons, because local councils will know what local priorities are, but those priorities must be balanced with national and regional priorities, and getting that balance right lies at the heart of good transport policy. Local areas will know how best to drive growth for the benefit of their residents, and it does not need saying that transport has a key role to play. As colleagues have said, transport unlocks housing and economic growth; it gets people where they want to go for work, education, or to access and enjoy public services.
Sub-national transport bodies are new organisations that speak with a single voice for their region. Contrary to there being too much centralisation, the hon. Lady seems to have forgotten that this Government have been significantly decentralising. Metro mayoralties are an important aspect of that, as are sub-national transport bodies, which allow us and local people to prioritise the transport interventions that will make the biggest difference to people in their areas and beyond.
STBs, as they are called—no clinic required here, Sir Henry—fill the current gap between local and national transport authorities, bringing a regional voice to Government investment decisions. When local areas come together to plan long-term infrastructure, they can deliver outputs that are greater than the sum of their parts. Using evidence and local knowledge, STBs will make the case to Government for the transport priorities that they believe will drive transformational growth. The Government are hearing those voices across the country, and those bodies—including Transport for the South East—have already submitted to the Department their priorities for the second road investment period. They are also engaging with our proposals for a new major road network that will benefit from dedicated funding from 2020.
On 1 April 2018, Transport for the North became England’s first sub-national transport body, and I was delighted to lay the statutory instrument for that in the House. Three other STBs are currently operating in shadow form across England, with ambitions to become statutory bodies in their own right: Midlands Connect, England’s Economic Heartland and, of course, Transport for the South East. TfSE is the youngest of those shadow bodies, but it has made impressive progress since its inaugural meeting in June last year. There are also proposals for STBs to emerge in other parts of the country, including the east of England and the south-west, and I and my colleagues watch those developments with interest.
We are seeking to work closely with all those bodies to support them as they establish their priorities, develop their own transport strategies, and submit proposals to Government to become statutory bodies. That should ensure they can continue to add value to transport decision making over the longer term, but I should be clear on what we look for in a successful sub-national transport body. We want it to have a strong rationale and a coherent economic geography, and to speak with one voice alongside its local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and, of course, local MPs. Where those things come together, STBs can be very powerful bodies, and my Department will take account of their views in our decision-making processes.
From the toil and woe that some hon. Members have told of in this debate, one might have thought that the south-east was an area in significant economic difficulty, rather than one of the richest parts of this country and indeed of Europe and the world. But, of course, with success come growing pains and strains. It is important to recognise that, and we do. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle has stated, it is important to say that the south-east is a significant contributor to, and driver of, the UK economy as a whole. We will continue to support that process in Government.
It is also worth noting—a point well made by colleagues on both sides of the House—that there is no standardised, one-size-fits-all picture of unbroken economic success across the region. There are clear and important areas of deprivation that exist, especially in coastal communities, and we must attend to those no less than we must feed the flames of economic growth across the region as a whole. To reflect both, we have provided a boost to local economies across the whole south-east, with over £1.4 billion of local growth fund money allocated to local enterprise partnerships in the region to help to encourage economic growth and housing. A substantial portion of that money has been invested in transport projects.
In addition, the Government are investing £2.2 billion in major road schemes on the strategic road network in London and the south-east of England, and investing substantially in rail schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail, which has been mentioned, and in transformational local schemes such as the £850 million improvement—I do not think we have any hon. Members from Berkshire here—to Reading station. The Department is also investing £1.2 billion to improve local transport through maintenance and small improvements, as well as large local schemes such as the £56 million towards the Combe Valley Way link road between Hastings and Bexhill, which has helped reduce congestion and supported growth in the area.
As my hon. Friend and Opposition Members have pointed out, the sub-region contains a number of ports and airports that are nationally significant, supporting not just the south-east but also London, the midlands and the north. TfSE and its members can play a major role in ensuring that the importance of those international gateways is fully understood and that they continue to support economic growth across the whole country. That role will become more important in the future, when we look to expand trade relationships with the world as we leave the European Union.
I know that TfSE has worked hard to establish itself, working alongside Government to identify investment priorities and to establish a robust evidence base that will feed into its own transport strategy. As I said, it has made a good amount of progress in a short time, and we are pleased to see it learning fast from those that have gone before it. My officials are working hard with its members to help them to sustain that pace. As TfSE develops its economic connectivity review, which will form part of the evidence base for the transport strategy, Department for Transport economists are providing support and advice to ensure it is able to fulfil its objectives and hopes.
The Minister’s Department is clearly doing a lot of work on this and is keen to see improvements in the metrics. What metrics will his Department use to judge whether the initiative is successful, and is his Department giving the right support?
We are seeking to support the subnational transport bodies appropriately at each stage of their development. One thing that is misunderstood is that each of those entities is at a different stage of development. The classic example is Transport for London, which is very well established and now self-funding, with its own historical settlement from central Government. That is one thing. Transport for the North is substantially funded, with £10 million a year and a lot of extra money for ticketing and so on, but it is a much younger organisation, albeit we are seeking to build capacity and work with it as it gets bigger.
Will the Minister give way?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman may have to sit down for a second and let me answer the previous intervention. Otherwise, he can intervene on his colleague’s intervention and I can try to make a sub-response to a further response.
To finish my point, TfSE is an even younger body, but we are supporting it in a small way and expect to continue to do so as it grows. The hon. Member for Hove raised the question of metrics. What metrics one sets will inevitably be those that are devoted to local needs. Part of the challenge of successful growth is not to have a one-size-fits-all set of metrics but to develop challenging local targets with the STB that meet its goals, and encourage it to meet national goals.
The Minister mentioned Berkshire. I am from Slough, where we have not only the highest number of electric vehicle points in Berkshire, but one of the highest in the country. Will he explain what support the Government can give to our council and its partners as they seek to get more people into electric cars?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we make a lot of money available to local councils to support the roll-out of charge points. We have given money historically to support plug-in car grants and home charging. I recently wrote to local authorities to encourage them to take up our offer, which remains open and, I think, not fully expended. He would be welcome to invite Slough Council to write to us, and we would be happy to work with them according to that scheme to make more installations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle mentioned funding for TfSE. In all STBs it is important that we are clear that local partners are committed for the longer term, and that there is clarity about what funding is needed and what it would and should be used for. My officials and TfSE have been working closely on those issues, and Ministers will take a decision at the next stage in the near future.
We welcome the ambition the subnational transport body has shown to become a statutory body and are working closely with it to develop that proposal for the Government. That requires groups of local authorities to pledge to come together with a proposal to the Secretary of State, including what functions they think might be best exercised at a more regional level. They may differ from one to another on that. As I have said, where those groups can show a clear mission and purpose—not just economic and geographical strength, but robust governance arrangements—the Secretary of State will be in a position to have a constructive conversation about their ambitions.
On that important point, the Minister knows I am very interested in the question of the A27 from Lewes to Polegate. He also knows that there is a tremendous partnership between the county council, different MPs, the business community and, I would hope, Transport for the South East in support of the new spur. Can he give any indication of when a decision will be made?
I was coming to the specific issues that have been raised. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the current roads investment strategy scheme includes a package of improvements to the existing route. We expect consultation to start in spring 2020, and are providing funding toward a feasibility study for a larger-scale bypass. Those options are being developed as we speak.
If I may press on, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to STBs. The Secretary of State will consider each on its individual merits, and the creation of bespoke arrangements for each STB will reflect the varying local transport and economic growth needs of the area. Creating these organisations permanently by statute is a serious matter and is not to be undertaken lightly. It requires the proper level of local consensus and commitment, but if it is done properly, the payoff is that the entity increases its impact and influence, as well as its longevity, and therefore has the potential to play a role in delivering transformational change.
The shadow Minister raised Operation Stack and the M20. We will recall that the disruption in 2015 was not brought about by any Brexit-related activity but by unions and by other factors. As she will be aware, the Department has asked Highways England to develop and deliver an interim solution to mitigate the worst effects of traffic disruption on the M20 by March 2019. A series of potential options can be used as part of that, and our goal with all of those is to allow non-port traffic to continue to travel in both directions.
One colleague mentioned the extension of Crossrail to Abbey Wood. I can confirm that the route to Abbey Wood is safeguarded, from our point of view, but the focus in the first instance, as one might imagine, must be to deliver Crossrail on time.
One perfectly understands why hon. Members mentioned A27 investment. They should be aware that we expect to make preferred route announcements for the improvements at Worthing and Lancing, and for the bypass at Arundel, by summer 2018.
The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) mentioned the Heathrow rail link. He knows that that important proposal will be considered alongside other national priorities through the planning process for the next control period. That will ensure that the rail link provides maximum benefit for passengers, and will allow us to understand the journey opportunities and other possibilities that such a link could provide.
I was asked whether the concerns of Gravesham residents will be reflected in the decision on the lower Thames crossing. I can confirm that Highways England will continue to work with all stakeholders.
It is a little hard, and self-contradictory and inaccurate, for the shadow Minister to accuse the Government of introducing too much centralisation. Let us not forget that, since 2010, the Government have created local enterprise partnerships, metro mayoralties, Transport for the North, Transport for the South East and other subnational transport bodies. They do represent not centralisation but devolution. It is self-contradictory to say that too much centralisation is going on and that devolution has created a patchwork or mosaic. With devolution comes diversity and difference. Part of the strength of devolution as an idea is precisely that we can take advantage of the best efforts and the best opportunities and examples used locally and the creativity that pushing power down unleashes.
Does the Minister recognise that Transport for the North was absolutely clear that it wanted the electrification of the Transpennine route? The Secretary of State denied that opportunity to TfN. While the Government have created spaces for dialogue, they certainly have not given power, which is what devolution has to be about.
The hon. Lady will know that TfN became a statutory body literally weeks ago. These are very early days. There remains a role for national policy making where issues of cost and benefit, passenger satisfaction and the proper spending of public money are in play—that is entirely as it should be. The key point is that TfN exists and is functioning. It is working hard to reflect the interests of the constituencies and the economic priorities of its diverse region, which we massively welcome.
The shadow Minister offers what she calls a completely different approach. Since our approach is long term, strategic and integrated, and involves a significant increase in funding, I wonder which part of long term, strategic, integrated or higher funded her new approach will differ from.
I will again draw on the electrification example and the words of sheer frustration coming from the rail industry at the Government’s stop-start approach to control period 5. The industry has seen only blocks of funding, as opposed to the Government looking at the 30-year planning process needed across the rail network, which Labour will certainly adopt.
It is certainly a helpful clarification that the shadow Minister’s comments apply only to rail. I thank her for that.
The shadow Minister raised bus tech. She will know that bus companies are investing significantly in new ticketing technologies. We rightly fund them to the tune of, I think, a couple of billion pounds a year through the bus service operators grant. The proposal she seems to be making amounts to expropriation of the bus companies if a Labour Government are elected. That seems to me to be not only economically unwise but thoroughly contrary to the interests of passengers.
Finally, the shadow Minister raised cycling and walking. I invite Members to raise their hand if they cycled to the House of Commons today.
I am delighted. I congratulate the shadow Minister for sharing my commitment to the cycling and walking investment strategy. I assure her that our new cycling and walking review is gathering an enormous number of good ideas about how we can put public money and better regulation, co-ordination and co-operation to better support cycling and walking. She is absolutely right to raise the importance of this issue and the importance of modal shift, and I thoroughly concur. She will know that, as a result of our cycling and walking investment strategy, public funding for those areas has roughly trebled since 2010. That is a record on which I would like us to continue to build.
Will the Minister give way?
I am sorry but I cannot; I have no time because I need to make way for my beloved colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle. I have taken quite a lot of interventions already, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows.
I am absolutely aware of the close involvement of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle with TfSE and am delighted to see the wider acknowledgement that debates like this can bring to the organisation’s good work so far. I wish it good luck in its launch event on 8 May, and I very much encourage it to continue to work closely with the Department on its transport strategy and proposal to Government. I look forward to learning more about the work it is doing and its priorities as it enters this exciting next phase of its development.
I thank you for chairing what has been a really good-natured debate, Sir Henry, and your team for keeping us to order. I thank the Minister. I am sorry that, unlike him, I did not cycle in today. Commuting from East Sussex, as I do daily, I would not have made the debate unless it was moved to tomorrow. I also thank the shadow Minister for her kind words.
The Minister is absolutely right when he talks about the south-east having large areas of wealth. I say to him to keep investing in us and we will pump more than the £200 billion that we pump into the UK economy as a whole to support the other regions. We can do that only with more support and investment in our area. The Minister is also right to point out that parts of the south-east—the coastal areas, which have been represented today—are deprived. Those constituents of ours deserve the same right of access to transport to link them to other parts of the UK as other deprived parts of the UK have. We very much stand up for those constituents.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for Clacton (Giles Watling), and the hon. Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), for making this a debate in which we have worked cross-party to encourage TfSE to find its voice. It is absolutely essential that we work together as a team. It is no good us looking to the team of MPs in the north or in the west midlands engine.
The reality is that the south-east is the powerhouse. We have the assets: we have Gatwick, Dover and Southampton, we have Heathrow and we have the Eurostar. Those are the jewels that we want to support. I very much hope that all MPs from across the south-east will work together to make Transport for the South East a great success.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Transport for the South East.