[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered improving transport links in Nottinghamshire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I thank colleagues who have come to speak in today’s debate.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this issue. I am glad to see Members from neighbouring constituencies in Nottinghamshire here for this important discussion, which is perhaps taking place at a helpful time, given that tomorrow we will see a new man in No. 10. There may be an opportunity to make the case afresh for better transport infrastructure in the regions of the United Kingdom and to rebalance our economy.
I will open with the comments and suggestions passed to me by my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) and for Newark (Robert Jenrick). Because of their Government positions they are unable to speak in debates such as this, but they have been involved in discussions about the issues that I will raise. I plan to cover railways, road junctions, congestion and other issues that all require Government support and funding, as well as various other issues to add to the great list for the Department for Transport to deal with.
Mansfield is the largest town in Nottinghamshire. It requires improved transport links to neighbouring areas if it is to flourish and we are to boost the local economy. Many people see Mansfield as a commuter town for Nottingham or Sheffield, but we do not have suitable transport links to make that possible.
I start by discussing the extension of the Robin Hood line as part of the East Midlands franchise. I am pleased that the new franchise holder will have to make a business case for extending the line; that is a big step forward after a long campaign. Local lines need to be upgraded and extended, rather than there just being a focus on big national projects. Regardless of the value for money argument, I fully recognise the potential positive impact of HS2 on Nottinghamshire, particularly if we can link up the north of the county with the hub at Chesterfield, as well as the city and suburbs with Toton. Without the east-to-west connections, which we discussed in a debate here just a few weeks ago, we will not make the most of the economic potential of HS2.
If the Robin Hood line were extended to Ollerton, with trains calling at Shirebrook, Warsop and Edwinstowe, there would be huge economic benefits locally. Extending it would mean improved links for my constituents to jobs and tourism across north Nottinghamshire. The ability to attract new employers to old pit sites at Thoresby and Welbeck comes from efficient access to major motorways and railway services. In the longer term, it would end just short of the HS2 hub at Chesterfield and potentially offer huge growth and jobs to all north Nottinghamshire.
While I am talking about rail, I will take the opportunity to highlight the Midlands rail hub to the Minister. It is championed by Midlands Connect, who I met just this afternoon. The Midlands rail hub is a £2 billion package of smaller improvements that would lead to more passenger and freight trains across the midlands in key areas. It works in a collaborative way with Network Rail, which is unusual and pleasing to see. It needs just £25 million to continue to drive that forward and make the proper business case. I hope the Government will support that as we go forward. The Robin Hood line is the most significant railway project that would help improve links for my constituents.
When it comes to roads and junctions, I am afraid I have many more asks of Government. We all know that many towns across Nottinghamshire, and elsewhere, are gridlocked by a huge growth in housing and traffic, on roads that simply were not meant to take it. There are pinch points that cause chaos. One example is the A60 Sainsbury’s junction in Mansfield, where at key times people can sit for literally hours queuing to get out of the retail park. Residents have complained for years about that congestion.
I have been working with Nottinghamshire County Council for over a year to get plans and costings in place to improve that junction. Final proposals have been submitted to the Department for its views. I hope Ministers will look favourably on them when they are submitted to the new funding scheme that I understand opened this weekend. Hopefully, the Minister will touch on that in his closing remarks. A relatively small amount of funding would have a huge impact on that area. There are many bottle necks like it—far away and abstract from Westminster, but important for the local areas that they affect. This particular one is set to get worse if we do not deal with it and do something effective in the short term, with the building of some 2,000 homes nearby.
With new housing developments being built around Mansfield, Warsop and across Nottinghamshire, improving transport infrastructure and links between areas has never been so important. Last month I visited the site of proposed developments at Spion Kop, which lies to the north of Mansfield before Worsop. It was good to see the proposals, including infrastructure and new facilities, but unless there is support there for congestion on the A60, which is already an incredibly busy road, it is going to cause problems.
There needs to be an overall collaborative approach, working with Highways England and Government to deliver improved transport infrastructure. The congestion on the A60 is a very similar challenge to that of Newark, which I will touch on shortly on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark. Solutions have been put forward to that Newark congestion and the Mansfield challenge is a similar one.
There are economic opportunities from road investment in the region, including the A617, which is known as the Mansfield and Ashfield regeneration route, or the MARR. It has grown steadily to accommodate new housing, and it could expand further to support new jobs and provide a route for the increasingly heavy traffic around Mansfield. We would benefit hugely from dualling the rest of the MARR, particularly in light of the positive announcement of 1,800 new jobs to be created there at Summit Park commercial site. We can unlock more of that economic potential with improved transport links. There is an opportunity to divert some traffic around the town rather than plough through the middle of it. That would also help reduce to reduce air pollution in the town.
I want to take a bit of a whistle-stop tour around some nearby issues. They are not in my constituency but this debate is about Nottinghamshire transport links and I want to touch on a wider range. I am pleased that Nottinghamshire County Council has been working to unlock the economic potential of the A614, upgrading that route and reducing congestion at Ollerton and other junctions on the route. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has been campaigning on that for a long time. The Department for Transport announced last October that £18 million of funding would be allocated to the council for those improvements, which cover six junctions along the A614 and A6097 between Ollerton and Lowdham. The scheme aims to support planned housing developments along the route.
In Newark, serious accidents on the A1 and the A46 can cause frequent delays. The interchanges there, including with the A17, are particularly busy at peak times, which has a knock-on effect on the town and the Cattle Market roundabout, especially when the Nottingham to Lincoln train crosses and everything gets stopped, sometimes for prolonged periods. The A46 Newark northern bypass project will see the widening of that route and the creation of a dual carriageway, raising the last section of the A46 between the A1 and M1 to expressway standard. That will make a huge difference to the town and, more broadly, to north Nottinghamshire. Again, it is something that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark has campaigned about for many years, to improve the network and reduce congestion in the town.
The county council has been working on several important improvements, including the introduction of CCTV at 12 sets of traffic signals on the A38 in Ashfield to enable traffic to be actively managed in real time. That is Mansfield’s key route to the M1 as well, and can be a bit of a nightmare. Junction 27 is also an issue. One of the features of Mansfield as a town is that, although we are close geographically to the M1, it can sometimes be a struggle to get there, particularly for commuters. I would like to see more funding and support for projects that can review things such as traffic light phasing and tackle localised gridlock.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point about the wider road network. He will know that, inexplicably—it was unexplained at the time—a previous Labour Government detrunked many roads in Nottinghamshire, where I was a county councillor, and in Lincolnshire, where I am an MP. It is critical that the roads that remain trunked—Highways England roads—interface with the roads for which our county councils are responsible in as efficient and effective a way as possible. Will my hon. Friend join me in calling on the Government, the Department for Transport, to ensure that that connection is central to their plans?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the key challenges, as I mentioned, in getting from Mansfield to the M1 is precisely how the M1 and the junctions there interface with the A38 and those access routes. Bringing together people such as Midlands Connect, which oversees the regional infrastructure, with those proposals in the future will be vital to make sure those things fit together and we can get the best possible efficiency from our local transport system.
As I mentioned, we have new commercial building at the Summit business park and we need to look to make further improvements on the A38. The area around Kings Mill is already struggling and additional traffic could, if not managed properly, cause problems. As my right hon. Friend said, the need for forward planning and collaborative working around such areas is important.
Unlocking the economic potential of not just Mansfield but all of north Nottinghamshire would be of huge benefit and can be done with some fairly simple solutions sometimes, but it requires that forward planning.
I wanted to mention bus services. I have had complaints from constituents about the early finish of bus routes in the Mansfield area. Staff working late shifts—or even after 6 pm, in many cases—are unable to use buses to get home again. Those living in Forest Town, Oak Tree, Bellamy or Rainworth—areas outside the main rail route—cannot use trains as an alternative, so I would like to see more frequent and later bus services in those areas. I hope the council will work with my constituents to deliver.
The council spends £3.6 million to financially support more than 60 contracts on bus routes across Nottinghamshire. Many support services operate on fixed routes at peak times, to get people to work, education and doctors’ surgeries, but we also need to look at other issues, such as social integration, isolation and ensuring that people can get to work at other times.
I was pleased to see that two new routes have been created in Hucknall, to serve new developments. The C1 and C2 Connect services will go across Harrier Park, near Rolls-Royce, and the Vaughan Estate. From Sunday, those buses will join the existing routes to create better local infrastructure in Hucknall, to serve the train station that connects to Nottingham and the east midlands train services. That is a good example of public transport connecting up with good planning and offering residents a good local service. Funding for those routes has been supported by developers of new housing schemes, which shows the importance of those funding arrangements and creating the transport infrastructure to support new developments. I hope the residents will use those services and it will be viable to increase them in the coming years.
To sum up, Mansfield is well situated to act as a commuter hub for Nottinghamshire and Sheffield. We have relatively affordable housing, some great small businesses and a historic town centre, which I hope will receive funding from the future high streets fund and the stronger towns fund. I have been pleased to see Mansfield’s bid to the future high streets fund taken forward. That is positive news. We could develop locally as a commuter hub, bringing in affluent young professionals who want to get on the housing ladder and enjoy the benefits of having Sherwood forest on their doorstep. With the right infrastructure and support, Mansfield could offer an incredible lifestyle.
We have huge potential to make the most of tourism. The Robin Hood line could connect us closer to Sherwood forest. We are making good progress, with new hotels being built. Improving the road and rail network will encourage more visitors, which will in turn boost our local economy and support our brilliant local shops. We are, after all, at the heart of the old Sherwood forest, with countless attractions scattered across the county.
It is important to aid the economic growth of post-industrial towns more broadly across the UK, to reverse the trend of aspirational young people feeling that they have to leave our towns. I want people who finish school in Mansfield to see the great potential of living and working in such a beautiful part of the world, and improving transport links is an important factor in their future decisions.
Increased funding to improve transport links across Nottinghamshire is a key requirement to drive that change. I hope that the potential for a focus on regional infrastructure will come good under a new Prime Minister. It is unfortunate that this debate coincides with the new Conservative party leader’s speech to the 1922 Committee, which I am sure has distracted many colleagues this afternoon.
I thank all my constituents for their engagement on this debate. Many commented on my Facebook post this week, when I asked them to raise their key transport issues. From the responses, it was clear how important these issues are to people in Mansfield and how incredibly frustrating they find some of the issues that I have raised. I hope that the Government will focus on the benefits of improving transport in our towns and across Nottinghamshire. I look forward to hearing the views of colleagues from other parts of the county about their priorities.
Order. The debate can last until 5.30 pm. I am obliged to call the Opposition spokesperson at around 5.7 pm and he has up to 10 minutes to speak. The Minister will have 10 minutes to respond. Ben Bradley will then have three minutes at the end to sum up.
We are blessed with a galaxy of talent from Nottinghamshire and a former Minister of State for Transport from Lincolnshire, who, if we are really lucky, might give us an erudite, literary reference with a well-timed intervention as the debate continues.
It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. If I knew what erudite meant, I would try to do it. I congratulate my colleague from Nottinghamshire, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), on securing this important debate. He raised many important issues, which, as he pointed out, affect not only his constituency but the whole city and county of Nottinghamshire. The interrelationship between all of our constituencies and the surrounding counties is very important. It is also significant and of benefit to us that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) chairs the Transport Committee.
I have some general remarks and then I will come on to some specific points for the Minister. I serve on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, where we have increasingly been discussing climate change and other green issues. We have heard from David Attenborough, Extinction Rebellion and a number of other fascinating witnesses. They have signalled the importance of transport in reducing our carbon emissions. I know that the Minister and the Department are aware of the contribution they have to make, so it is not a political point, but I ask the Minister to continue the work that he and his Department are doing, and to put that at the forefront of what he says. Clearly, many of our younger constituents, who cannot yet vote, are demanding that we do more in that area. Things that were once regarded as a bit off the wall, such as cycling, are now regarded as mainstream policies. I ask the Minister to reflect on that and continue the Department’s work.
In Nottinghamshire and the midlands as a region, we feel that we miss out. Both Conservative and Labour Members feel that our area of Nottinghamshire does not get its fair share, whatever the amount of public spending. That is why I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Mansfield. Whatever the arguments about the size of the cake, there is an agreement to be made for a fairer distribution of funds. I ask the Minister to ensure that those funds are fairly distributed.
There is, quite rightly, a lot of talk about London and the south-east—much of that is the engine of our economy. There is a lot of talk about the northern powerhouse, which is significant. There is a lot of talk about north-south connectivity, which is also important. But there is a bit called the midlands—as the Minister and you, Mr Hollobone, will know. The Minister is responsible for this. All I am asking—all the region is asking—is that people making decisions in London do not always choose those who shout the loudest or those with the most compelling brand, so that we in Nottinghamshire and similar areas get a fair share of the existing cake.
As the hon. Member for Mansfield ably said, the Midlands Connect demand on rail services is a hugely imaginative project, but it will require Government money. If the Government mean anything by devolution, they will see that these are local decisions, which local people want to make for their own benefit. Importantly, as the Minister will know, it talks about not only north-south connectivity, but east-west connectivity. For Nottinghamshire, the ability to get to Sheffield or across to Birmingham—even to get to Leicester and Coventry—is significant. The rail services there demand a huge amount of investment at a regional level, to ensure that that happens. I ask the Minister to ensure that that is contained within the Government’s future investment decisions.
I will also make a plea for local stations—as the hon. Member for Mansfield did regarding the Robin Hood line, which is of benefit to all of us. In my constituency there are three local railway stations. Those stations—Netherfield, Carlton and Burton Joyce—could and must be used as a much more significant way for people to move from the suburbs to the city centre and beyond. Building on the existing framework is very important; again, I ask the Minister to look at that point.
I thank the Department for its work with Gedling Borough Council and Nottinghamshire County Council on the Gedling access road, a very complicated project that will be of benefit to the local community. All partners—including Nottingham City Council, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) knows—have contributed to bringing it to fruition. I ask the Minister to keep an eye on it and ensure that it moves forward as swiftly as possible.
I have a couple of specific asks to benefit Gedling. The city council and others have developed the tram network, which is a brilliant investment in the city and its surroundings in the Nottinghamshire County Council area. The Minister knows the geography and the organisation of local government in Nottinghamshire, where the county council’s area is very close to the city centre. The tram has made a big difference, and people have worked together to deliver it. Discussions are ongoing about the feasibility of extending the tram into Gedling. I ask the Minister to work with the borough, city and county councils to create a feasible project and bring it to fruition.
The hon. Member for Mansfield was right to say that something that often gets missed out, along with cyclists, is buses. Indeed, when I spoke about railways in a debate last week, a couple of people said, “Vernon, don’t forget the buses.” People in my area understand the importance of the investment in HS2 and the rail network to economic growth and prosperity, but the vast majority of them are more interested in whether the buses run properly and conveniently. It must be said that we have a very good bus service in Nottingham, but it is really important that it should run properly and to time and be reasonably priced, which overall I think it is.
To be fair to the Minister, there are challenges with respect to transport. There has been investment in the area, but as with everything, we would like that progress to accelerate. The green aspect of transport will play an ever-increasing role in future—that is certainly something that young people have demanded in my area, where transport is an issue. I know that the Minister understands this, but Nottinghamshire deserves more of a share of the national cake than it gets. So does the whole midlands region, particularly the east midlands. I hope that he will bear that in mind in future investment decisions.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate; I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing it and on his powerful and detailed case. It is also, of course, a pleasure to follow the erudite contribution of my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker).
As an east midlander, Mr Hollobone, you know that I am making a brave decision by wading into the age-old debate about whether the city of Nottingham is part of Nottinghamshire. I suspect that it is slightly in the eye of the beholder, but I am chancing my arm by speaking in the debate. We have time, so I hope the hon. Member for Mansfield will be generous in allowing me to make a couple of points.
First, the midlands rail hub is an excellent scheme. I know that Transport Ministers and Treasury Ministers have had the details for a while now, because I secured a debate last month on east-west rail connectivity that focused on it. In the context of infrastructure schemes it is relatively cheap, but in bang for buck it is exceptionally impactful. It would mean 24 extra services an hour east-west, 36 more freight paths and 6 million more rail journeys per year. It would be a very good project not only for business in our community, but for the environment. Its pricing makes it a really good investment case for this country, so I am very interested to hear the Minister’s reflections on it.
Brian Chesky said:
“Travel is a new experience that can transport you out of your everyday routine”.
However, that is only true if people can get to places quickly and conveniently. In respect of rail, the hon. Gentleman is right that further investment is necessary in Nottinghamshire—and in Lincolnshire, by the way. It is vital that our smaller railway stations have regular services into the evenings and at the weekends, to allow people to enjoy those new experiences and be transported beyond the routine. I hope that he will support my call for the Minister to confirm, today, that he will make that extra investment in Lincolnshire, in places such as Spalding, and in Nottinghamshire.
I have learned a veteran lesson about how to get Spalding into a debate about Nottinghamshire, but I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s point. The hon. Member for Mansfield made the case very strongly for the Robin Hood line; I would say the same about Bulwell station, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling talked about Netherfield and Carlton stations. Our stations are critical, and we know that our constituents value them. When we talk about nationwide projects, we have to understand that our communities access those services through local stations, so they need to be of high quality. I will say more at the end of my speech about the importance of connecting towns to big cities.
The arguments for the midlands rail hub are very strong, and I hope to hear the Minister’s reflections on them in due course. I will also be writing to the new Prime Minister, along with other hon. Members—I encourage colleagues present to sign up—about the hub, in the hope that we can give it the best possible airing as soon as possible. A lot of the arguments for it are also strongly true of HS2, which I also wish to mention because I believe that it will have a transformative impact on our community.
There are a lot of similarities between Mansfield and Bulwell, and the north and west of Nottingham in general. We know that successive decades of deindustrialisation have meant deep-rooted social challenges in both our communities, and that work is the way out of those challenges. Projects such as HS2 at Toton, the expansion and support of East Midlands airport—now the biggest pure freight airport in the country—and the development of the power station site when it comes on stream with green energy and green technologies have real potential to add tens of thousands of skilled jobs to our communities. We need to come together to support them.
I hope that the Minister and his civil servants recognise that the east midlands is speaking with one voice. Pretty much everything that the hon. Member for Mansfield said, other than his references to Mansfield, could have been in my speech two weeks ago. We in the east midlands used to be criticised for not getting out of one another’s way; it was said that one of the reasons why other areas got investment, but we in Nottinghamshire did not, was that we could not agree between ourselves so we gave a non-verbal cue that we were not serious. I hope it is recognised that that is not the case now. We have significant plans, we have broad buy-in and we are ready to go.
I emphasise to the Minister, and to his civil servants who are listening, that what my hon. Friend says was demonstrated only last week when the all-party parliamentary group on the east midlands reached cross-party consensus on the importance of the area around Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station and East Midlands airport and the new industrial development there. There was cross-party agreement that it can be a hub and a driver for the whole region, both through transport links and through industrial development.
That cannot be stated enough. That triumvirate of sites is the future for my community. In the future, my constituents—my neighbours—will look to Toton as much as to Nottingham city centre. The time for these projects is now, and they portend a very exciting future for our region, which I am proud to be part of through the all-party group and beyond.
Let me finish by returning to a central theme of this debate, which all our speeches have mentioned—the idea that we ought to have high ambitions for infrastructure at a national level. We ought to be really robust about those projects, because they are not only good at stimulating the economy in the short term; they are the building blocks of a thriving and productive country.
When we talk about those projects, when we understand them and design them, we have to link them up to the communities that they are there to serve. If it is just about connecting city centres, whether in Derby or Nottingham, to somewhere like Toton we will have missed the point. We will have lost the full financial impact of those projects, and we will have lost the hearts and minds case as well, because people in Bulwell, Bilborough, Aspley or Bestwood will rightly say, “Hang on a minute. What is the value to me if I have to go 20 minutes into town to then go out again?” There is a real challenge there, and we have to be really creative.
That could be through light rail, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has mentioned; we have a great light rail network in Nottingham, with real scope to develop it further. It could be through buses, which as we have heard are the mode with which the majority of people will engage. It could be on foot or by bike, but we have to link up those big projects with our towns. In that way, people will get the benefits from those projects and support them, and we will all get the growth that we are seeking.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today, and in particular thank the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing this important debate. I recognise his commitment to his constituency and his interest in the lack of affordable, high-quality transport that his constituents face.
Transport is obviously a central issue in Nottinghamshire, as it is for the country as a whole. Before tackling some of the wider points that have been made, I urge the hon. Gentleman to continue to press the issues that he has identified this afternoon, both on his colleagues in the county council on which he serves and on the Minister. I also commend the effective approach to transport taken by Nottingham City Council, which has an award-winning, council-run bus and tram service, and where investment in public transport has improved the lives of passengers and is creating an attractive environment for businesses to invest in.
A lack of affordable public transport and, indeed, transport as a whole has a huge impact on many people. It makes travelling to work difficult, and potentially limits access to vital services such as doctors or local shops. For young people, a lack of affordable transport can limit access to apprenticeships, college or university. Investment in transport is an important driver of economic growth; we have heard about the effect that regional imbalances in investment can have on growth. Most of all, in our interconnected world, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from transport is central to tackling the threat of climate change, something that is only too evident today.
Labour would take a much more strategic approach than the current Government, based on the public interest and the needs of the economy as a whole, and would take urgent action to avert a climate crisis. That is in contrast with the current state of much of our transport system, part of which the hon. Member for Mansfield has described, as have colleagues on the Labour Benches.
It is important to consider the scale of the crisis. First and foremost, Britain depends far too much on its roads as a mode of transport. The pollution, choked high streets, terrible congestion and carbon dioxide emissions caused by cars and lorries are unsustainable. I am afraid that at the moment the current Government’s policies are making that problem worse with more traffic, a lack of action on congestion and pollution and, on local roads, a huge backlog of potholes. The Government’s priority should be to invest in public transport and deal with that range of issues, taking traffic off our roads and reducing congestion for those who have to drive.
Under this Government, our railways are also expensive, both for the passenger and the taxpayer. The current franchising system is both expensive and ineffective, and has repeatedly failed. Quite simply, there is a need for much greater investment across the whole country, as we have heard today with particular reference to Nottingham and Lincolnshire. Fares have risen dramatically, and the ticketing system is far too complicated. A Labour Government would bring the railways back into public ownership, saving huge sums that are currently wasted on bailing out franchise holders. We would reduce fares and tackle the regional inequality that has so badly affected areas such as Nottinghamshire.
A Labour Government would also tackle the serious issue of local transport, which my colleagues referred to when they mentioned the problems with buses. Our bus services have been cut by 45% since 2010, leaving older and disabled people isolated, younger people unable to get to work or education, and commuters let down and ripped off by increasing fares. There has been a chronic lack of investment in walking and cycling, with just 1.5% of the Department for Transport’s budget spent on those two modes of transport, despite their importance. If Britain had the same levels of cycling as the Netherlands, our carbon dioxide emissions from cars would be cut by a third, because of the large number of journeys of around a mile in length currently made by car. It is also worth noting the importance of the link to public health, which I am sure the Minister is aware of. If we all walked a mile a day, we would be significantly healthier. There would also be a knock-on effect of freeing up valuable road space for those who have to drive, such as the emergency services and some businesses.
We should invest in delivering high-quality local transport, restoring cuts to bus services. An incoming Labour Government would introduce a new young person’s bus pass. All local councils would be allowed to regulate bus services and set up new council-run companies, such as the outstanding one in Nottingham that we have heard about. We would also raise investment in cycling and walking to reduce emissions and improve health.
As we have heard today, we face serious transport problems in this country, including in the east midlands. The Government should be taking much more urgent action to address those serious problems. A Labour Government would tackle the issues of pollution, congestion and poor infrastructure, with a clear strategy and programme of investment for the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing this debate on improving transport links in Nottinghamshire.
Her Majesty’s Government—this Government—are investing vast sums in cycling, pedestrian access, equestrianism and all forms of active travel, and have invested many billions of pounds in road maintenance. When this Government created the national pothole action fund and invested in it some years ago, I played a part in that. This Government have made significant investments in transport, because good transport links are a key enabler of growth, employment, access to education—all aspects that are doing extremely well in this country—skills training, and seeing our friends and family. Transport is a key link in all those areas.
Nottinghamshire sits within a region that is at the heart of the United Kingdom’s transport network. The east midlands has been alluded to; my constituency of Northampton North is also within that region. We know that investment is not just crucial to regional success but key to national success, which is why we are building HS2, the new backbone of the national rail network. We are improving capacity and connectivity and building on growth, and the midlands will be the first region to benefit from that new railway. Nottinghamshire will be served by a new hub station at Toton.
That is also why we are investing £1.8 billion in the region’s motorways and trunk roads, including in vital improvements to the M1 motorway, which I, along with many millions of others, use regularly. It is why we are investing £1.7 billion from the local growth fund, including through investments in transport schemes across the midlands region.
I thank the Minister for the start that he has made to his remarks. It would be of real interest in Nottinghamshire if the Minister could say a little more about what he expects the Government’s policy to be with respect to HS2, given the commitment of the man who is now to be Prime Minister, who has said that there will be a review of HS2. My constituents and local authorities have asked what that means, so could the Minister elaborate on that for us?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s question, but at this point he will have to wait and see. The Prime Minister at the moment is my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and we will have to wait and see what happens in the next few hours and days. However, the Government have invested, and continue to invest, in HS2, as I have said. His point about the east midlands is a very good one, which he should continue to pursue.
Today’s debate is very timely because Nottinghamshire stands on the cusp of getting a new train operator. East Midlands Railway, run by Abellio, will take over the franchise on 18 August—only about three weeks from now. Under the new franchise, passengers will benefit from new trains with more peak-time seats, reduced journey times and more than £17 million in station improvements. Abellio will oversee the introduction of brand-new, more comfortable and more reliable trains, including the replacement of the entire existing inter-city fleet, so this is a vast investment.
Passengers will benefit from an 80% increase in the number of morning peak seats into Nottingham, Lincoln and St Pancras. East Midlands Railway will also be at the forefront of the Government’s commitment to deliver a cleaner and greener rail network, which we are very focused on. It will trial hydrogen fuel cell trains on the midland main line and run zero-carbon pilots at six stations along the route. There will also be more car parking spaces, more ticket-buying facilities, more flexible smart ticketing options, free wi-fi, high-quality mobile connectivity, improved Delay Repay compensation and £9.4 million of investment to deliver commercial and customer service improvements at stations—all positives.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned the Robin Hood line. I know that the start of the new franchise will be of great interest to him and other Members. I recognise his work as a tireless campaigner for improvements to the Robin Hood line between Nottingham and Worksop, on which his constituency sits. Under the new franchise, the Robin Hood line will benefit from a later evening service on weekdays and a new Sunday service. It will also get refurbished, modern trains providing a more reliable and comfortable service with free on-board wi-fi, USB points, at-seat power and increased luggage space. I know I sound a little bit like an advertising guru here, but—[Laughter.] Or maybe less of the guru. The fact of the matter is that those are very positive things that will help vast numbers of passengers.
My hon. Friend and other Members in the region are campaigning for the Robin Hood line to be extended to Ollerton via Shirebrook, Warsop and Edwinstowe. As he will know, the new operator of the east midlands franchise is required to submit a business case for that extension within the first year of the franchise. That business case will be reviewed to decide whether the line should be extended, mitigating the risk of reopening a line that might not be financially and economically beneficial. One of the many ways in which we differ from the Opposition is that we are always focused on ensuring a financial and economic reality to our plans.
Moving from rail to road, I recognise that my hon. Friend is keen to see improvements to the key roads serving his constituency—he has that in common with Members across the House. I know that the key roads serving his constituency include the A60 and the A614. In particular, he highlighted congestion issues at the A60 Sainsbury’s roundabout, as I believe it is referred to colloquially. I note that Nottinghamshire County Council has produced a high-level appraisal of the options for improvements. It is now for the council, as the local highway authority, to develop a more detailed case for investment.
My Department has just announced £348 million to boost the quality of local highways over the next four years. As part of that, the local pinch point fund totals £150 million and will ease congestion on some of our busiest roads. My Department also provides nearly £4 million—to be precise, £3,916,000—to Nottinghamshire County Council each year for small-scale transport schemes, including road safety measures and reducing congestion. However, I emphasise that it is for each local authority to decide how it allocates its resources and which transport improvement projects to support.
I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that the stretches of the A617, the A60, the A38 and the A614 that serve Mansfield are now classified as part of the major road network. That means that they could in future be eligible for improvements funded through the national roads fund, which is subject to regional prioritisation decisions. The major road network is a new programme that will make substantial amounts of new investment available for road enhancement schemes on a network of the most important local authority roads. It will improve co-ordination and targeting of investment to reduce congestion, unlock housing delivery, support all road users and support economic growth.
As my hon. Friend will know, a package of six junction improvements along the A614 and the A6097 corridor has been chosen for early entry on to the major road network programme, after being identified by Midlands Connect. That is good news for his area because, subject to a satisfactory assessment of an outline business case, including a value-for-money analysis, funding will be available from the national roads fund from 2020 to 2021 for construction of that scheme.
I think my hon. Friend spoke about the Newark bypass and the A46. I know that he understands the clear and uncontroversial importance of the A46, which provides an important regional, and indeed national, link. With Government funding, Midlands Connect, which is the sub-national transport body for the midlands, has been working hard on a route study for the whole of the A46 from the Humber to the Severn. Midlands Connect regards the route as of key strategic importance and believes that targeted improvements to it could really help to unlock growth.
The first road investment strategy—RIS 1, as it is called—said that we would develop the A46 Newark northern bypass scheme during the first road period, which is 2015 to 2020, for delivery in a future RIS period, subject to the work showing that the scheme offered value for money. The scheme would involve widening the A46 north of Newark in Nottinghamshire to a dual carriageway, bringing the last section of the A46 between the A1 and the M1 to expressway standard and improving the A46/A1 junction to allow for better traffic movement to Newark and Lincoln. Work to develop the scheme has been undertaken by Highways England to inform decision making about the second road investment strategy, which will cover the period 2020 to 2025. We expect to announce our decisions on that later this year, so watch this space.
Moving to the issue of local roads as opposed to the A roads and strategic roads, it is not just enhancements to key local roads that are vital to local people and businesses, but proper maintenance—ensuring that the local highway network is in good condition. That is why the Government are investing £6.6 billion in local highway authorities in England outside London between 2015 and 2021. That includes £296 million for a pothole action fund, which is being allocated to local highway authorities between 2016 and 2021 to help to repair potholes or preferably stop them forming in the first place.
That funding is not ring-fenced; its use is entirely at the discretion of highway authorities, based on their local needs and priorities. Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, Nottinghamshire, which is a great and beautiful county, which I know from my previous role as tourism Minister has a great deal of attraction for visitors as well as residents, will have received £85 million to help to maintain the local road network and more than £19 million for small-scale transport improvements.
Businesses regard good roads, both strategic and local, as vital to commercial success, and having them in an acceptable and safe condition is hugely important to us all—especially to me as road Minister—whether we are car users, lorry drivers, bus passengers, cyclists, pedestrians or equestrians. Let us face it: most of us are many of those things. That is why investment is so vital.
Let me turn to the measures that the Government are putting in place to improve local bus services, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned. Each year, my Department provides a quarter of a billion pounds in direct revenue support for bus services in England, via the bus service operators grant scheme. Of that £250 million, more than £43 million is paid directly to local councils outside London to support buses. That particularly supports buses that are not commercially viable, but which local authorities in any given area may consider socially necessary. The rest of the money goes to commercial bus operators. Without that support, fares would increase and marginal services would disappear. Nottinghamshire County Council is receiving more than £1 million from that scheme this year alone and has been successful in securing almost £1.5 million to fund six new electric buses and the supporting infrastructure.
Government funding supports the approximately £1 billion spent by local authorities on concessionary bus passes every year.
Some local authorities have completely cut support for socially important buses—I think of another midlands county, Oxfordshire, where there is no support at all. Has the Minister considered that it might be worth ring-fencing some of that money? He has talked glowingly about what is a very diminished pot, yet some of his colleagues on Conservative-run local councils are taking money away.
The Government have committed to protecting the national bus travel concession, which is of huge benefit to around 10 million people, allowing free off-peak local travel anywhere in England. Local authorities have a responsibility in this area, and we ask them to exercise their responsibilities and their discretion in this matter, because the concession provides older people and those with disabilities with greater freedom than they might otherwise have, greater independence and a lifeline to their community. I think that local authorities of any political hues would want to look very carefully at these areas.
I might add that the Government recognise that although the deregulated bus market works well across much of the country, in some areas the deregulated market has not always responded effectively to the changing needs of the population, which is why we introduced the Bus Services Act 2017. It contains a range of options for local authorities to improve local bus services and drive up passenger numbers. In addition to franchising, there are new and improved options to allow local transport authorities to enter into partnership with their local bus operators, to improve services for passengers. We want local authorities and bus companies to work together to make bus travel more attractive, and we hope that the new powers in the 2017 Act will make that more feasible.
I have highlighted the work of my Department on many modes of transport. In addition, by integrating housing and transport policy and talking across Government and across Departments, we are accelerating the delivery of homes by improving transport and are creating well-connected and liveable places. I am pleased that we are working jointly with counterparts at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on a broad range of activities, including the housing infrastructure fund and housing deals.
The Minister is just about to come to his concluding remarks. As he was speaking, one transport issue did occur to me. We know that it is Government policy to drive towards the end of combustion engines and the provision of more electric cars. In terms of transport in Nottinghamshire and across the country, can the Minister say what the Government are doing to ensure greater provision of electric charging points?
If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman makes another very good point. That is something that the Government are working on, and my Department are investing in it, including in innovative companies, to assist in developing new ways of creating charging points—for example, contactless charging. My Department and this Government have also been investing in improving the charging infrastructure and are working with companies, including the industry, on how to do that. It is a key priority going forward, because we want to encourage electric vehicle use; in fact, we are leading the way in that area. If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman in more detail on the issue of charging points.
In conclusion, I hope I have gone some way towards assuring my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield of our strong commitment to transport in Nottinghamshire. That strong commitment is also one for Northamptonshire, which you, Mr Hollobone, may have an interest in—in fact, I think you do, as do I—and one for all counties throughout this country, because we recognise that transport is fundamental not only to the economy, but to quality and wellbeing of life.
I thank the Minister for his remarks. I thank the hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) and, of course, the shadow Minister for their contributions. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) and for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who, as I said in my speech, cannot contribute to this debate because of their roles, but who have had many a conversation with me in the build-up to this debate about their own priorities, which I mentioned in my speech.
I welcome the discussion about consensus from Opposition Members. It is absolutely correct that every time we debate and discuss these issues—in the House or locally—we all broadly agree, across the parties in Nottinghamshire, on the key priorities that we need to deliver, and agree that Nottinghamshire needs the fair slice of national investment that I hope we will see.
I thank the Minister for his response, especially his comments about initial improvements that we will see on the Robin Hood line, in terms of the quality of the trains and the regularity of service under the new franchise. I also thank him for his comments on the pinch-point funding for congestion. I can assure him that his Department will be receiving the bid for the A60 at Sainsbury’s as soon as humanly possible, to try to get that over the line. I am sure he will not be surprised to know that I will continue pushing not only that cause but many other Mansfield and Nottinghamshire-related transport issues. I look forward to the Government’s support for the foreseeable future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered improving transport links in Nottinghamshire.