The Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Welsh Government on modernising cross-border rail connectivity. Improving connectivity drives economic growth and spreads prosperity to our communities on both sides of the border.
The western rail link to Heathrow—a 4-mile track between Slough and Heathrow—could mean a two-hour journey from Heathrow to Cardiff and Newport and a journey of around three hours to Swansea, not to mention huge economic and environmental benefits. The Welsh Government are in favour of this, the UK Government themselves committed to it in 2012, and yesterday an all-party parliamentary group on the western rail link to Heathrow—co-chaired by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and myself—was launched to remind the Government of their commitment. Will the Minister tell us when the link will finally be built, or are we to be subjected to further sluggish studies and Government procrastination?
I was about to be very complimentary and say that the hon. Gentleman had been a doughty campaigner on this issue, as have many people across the House. The western rail link to Heathrow would significantly improve rail journey times, and it is named in Network Rail’s enhancement pipeline. Network Rail is progressing the design and development of the link, and a final consultation on the proposed alignment is expected to commence this month.
Since the Secretary of State for Transport has agreed to give the power to award the next Cardiff to Manchester rail franchise to the Welsh Assembly, will my hon. Friend give the English MPs through whose constituencies—which include the beautiful towns of Church Stretton, Craven Arms and Ludlow—this line passes some indication of how we can hold the Welsh Government to account on this matter?
It is a line that I have used many times myself, and my hon. Friend is right to say that parts of his constituency are very beautiful. We have ensured that there is an agency agreement between the UK Government and the Welsh Government, so that English passengers—and Members of this House—can go to the Secretary of State for Transport and he can raise their questions directly with the Welsh Government.