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Transport Investment: Regional Disparities

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020

We have made clear our ambition to level up opportunity across the country, including through more investment in transport infrastructure.

The removal of Northern’s rail franchise is long overdue, but that alone will not fix the systematic problems of poor infrastructure and lacklustre investment that cripple our rail network. Northerners are frequently promised investment for new infrastructure projects, but it is rarely delivered. We were promised new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly way back in 2014 as part of George Osborne’s northern hub, but the money has never materialised. When can we expect the platforms to be built, so that passengers are no longer left waiting hours for trains that never turn up?

We are spending £48 billion on rail over the next five years, not including Northern Powerhouse Rail. We are spending £13 billion just in the north and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, I made a significant intervention on the Northern franchise yesterday. That level of investment will continue, and a figure that has not been exposed enough is that £333 per person is spent in the north-west, which compares with £183 per person in London. This Government are more committed to the northern powerhouse, the rail network and the transport network than any before.

The news about Northern proves that the current system is simply not fit for purpose and highlights yet again the chronic lack of investment in the transport infrastructure of the regions of England. Transport for the North has said that £70 billion is needed for the required improvements, yet regions outside London have averaged a third of London’s public transport spend per capita over the past five years. Does the Secretary of State not see the sheer scale of investment required and therefore accept that gimmicks such as the £500 million announced this week will simply not cut it?

We have heard several Opposition Members claim that the half a billion pounds on Beeching announced the day before yesterday is somehow just a drop in the ocean and does not matter. Only the Opposition could think that half a billion pounds is not very much money these days. We are absolutely investing in all the other areas. An IPPR North report claimed that there was much less investment in them, but I have figures that challenge that.

I would love to hear those figures, because the maths simply does not add up. The RMT described the money as a drop in the ocean, and it is right. The Scottish Government have invested in modernisation and electrification schemes, completing them without cancellation, on the Aberdeen-Inverness and Edinburgh-Glasgow lines, the Paisley corridor and many other routes, and we reopened the hugely successful Borders railway. Does the Secretary of State not see that that level of ambition is needed to modernise the rail network? If the Government match that ambition, then through consequential funding Scotland could build the rail network of the future and decarbonise even quicker than our 15-year target.

We share the same ambition, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will join us in welcoming the Williams rail review which, among other things, will do so much to devolve more power to local communities.

18.   Historically, one of the greatest areas of disparity is between our cities and our regional seaside towns, such as Southport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reopening of the Burscough curves line would not only give Southport rail users greater access to the network, but contribute significantly to our tourist and retail economies? (900519)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his doughty campaigning for the reopening of that line. Members across the House should have received a letter inviting them to a Beeching event here in the House on 4 February at which they can find out how to apply for schemes in their constituencies.

My constituency has no rail line or dual carriageway. Does my right hon. Friend recognise the challenges facing communities such as mine, and will he support my campaign for better local bus services and a feasibility study into reopening the rail line from Consett to Newcastle?

I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency to see that railway line. I absolutely support his ambition and look forward to seeing him at the Beeching meeting on 4 February.

One way of addressing regional disparity in transport investment might be to continue with High Speed 2, so will the Secretary of State join the Chancellor in supporting the continuation of that project when he meets the Prime Minister later today?

It has taken seven minutes for the subject to be raised. I do not wish to disappoint my hon. Friend, but he will not have to wait very long. We will make an announcement next month.

I welcome the pre-announcement of the HS2 commitment, but our local services are important. Funds are being developed for a tram link from Bury to Middleton, and hopefully through to Oldham, but we need to connect the whole north-east of Greater Manchester. Will the Secretary of State commit to a meeting, at least, to discuss a link from Oldham to Ashton?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. He may recall that I came up to his neck of the words during the election campaign and pledged that, through the local funding approach to transport, we will help to empower local communities in such decisions.