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Rural Transport Connections

Volume 693: debated on Thursday 29 April 2021

Through schemes such as the Beeching reversal fund and the national bus strategy, we are determined to ensure that rural areas have the transport links they need to grow and prosper.

Beautiful Hastings and Rye has an extensive rural area and low population density, making practical and affordable public transport difficult to provide. However, accessible and affordable transport is a lifeline for many rural residents. Transport for the South East has highlighted the need for integrated transport approaches with better integrated transport hubs to achieve efficient provision of transport services, including integrated timetables, ticketing and fares, among other measures. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to facilitate innovation and new services in rural transport?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We have established the rural mobility fund worth £20 million to trial more demand-responsive services, and we have awarded funding to 17 pilot projects already. We have also published a call for evidence for the future of transport rural strategy that sought views on how rural communities can benefit best from transport innovation.

My constituency has lots of the challenges that one would associate with a predominantly rural area, but No. 1 on my list is trying to reopen Grove station, which, in a recent survey, 98% of people supported. We have submitted our bid to the Restoring Your Railway fund. Will my hon. Friend provide an update on when we will hear—hopefully good—news?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his continued advocacy on behalf of his constituency, as I know this is an issue that he has raised repeatedly with Ministers. The Department has received the bid for development funding. Decisions will be made by our expert panel following an initial review carried out by the Department for Transport and Network Rail. We expect to announce outcomes in the summer.

After five years, Andy Burnham is finally getting on with franchising bus services in Greater Manchester, and this is a step that I broadly welcome. However, there are many towns, like Glossop, Hadfield and New Mills, that are just outside Greater Manchester and rely heavily on cross-border bus services. Does the Minister agree that the Mayor of Greater Manchester and Derbyshire County Council need to work closely together to ensure that my constituents are not forgotten in any changes to bus services, and that we should take this opportunity to improve local bus routes, including delivering a badly needed direct bus from Glossop and Hadfield to Tameside General Hospital?

Indeed, Mr Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend for being such a great champion of active travel across his constituency of High Peak. Of course, it is for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to determine the geographical area of the franchising scheme. Local transport authorities may also join together to produce joint plans and should seek to do so where local economies and travel-to-work areas overlap significantly. He makes a strong case, and I certainly hope that the local authorities in question will listen to him.

Recent research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England has found that the past decade of Government cuts has seen the loss of 134 million miles of bus coverage, leading to the creation of so-called transport deserts. There needs to be proper funding for bus manufacturers—such as Mellor in Rochdale, which I recently spoke to—that produce the vehicles that serve rural towns and villages. Mellor produces state-of-the-art low emission vehicles that are used in many rural areas, but unfortunately it is a victim of the big bus bias and is being excluded from the Government’s “bus back better” strategy for producing vehicles at a 23-passenger capacity or less.

At the same time, by the Government’s own figures, the rural mobility fund totals just £19.4 million, a sixth of the £120 million ZEBRA—zero emission bus regional areas—funding for zero emission vehicles. What assurances will the Minister give that significant investment will be offered to ensure that such companies have greater support to deliver the vehicles that green our industries and ensure that our rural communities are genuinely connected?

There can be no greater champion of buses than the Prime Minister, who has committed us to bus back better following the pandemic. The House will be aware that he announced £5 billion in funding for buses, cycling and walking, of which £3 billion is allocated to buses. The roll-out of 4,000 zero emission buses is crucial. We are keen to work with all manufacturers, large and small, to ensure that we get the best technology available, the best value for taxpayers and the best service for passengers.