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Zero-emission Buses

Volume 705: debated on Thursday 16 December 2021

5. What progress he has made on the delivery of the 4,000 new zero-emission buses announced by the Government in February 2020. (904784)

The Government remain absolutely committed to supporting the roll-out of 4,000 zero-emission buses and achieving an all zero-emission bus fleet. This will support our climate ambitions, improve transport for local communities and support high-quality green jobs.

Is the Minister aware that the north-east bus fleet is older than the UK average? Transport North East is preparing a bid for funding for 73 zero-emission buses. In this season of good will, will the Minister give her backing to that bid, to show that the Government’s commitment to levelling up transport is genuine? Will she also commit to expanding the roll-out of zero-emission buses across the north-east? People in Blaydon and the north-east need and deserve cleaner air and better buses.

I can certainly give the hon. Member an assurance that I am across the detail of that bid. I am delighted that 49 of the buses would go to Go North East, 14 to Durham County Council and 10 to Northumberland. Those will be in addition to the nine electric buses that are already operating in the north-east at the moment. [Hon. Members: “Where?”] The answer is between Newcastle and Gateshead on Voltra routes 53 and 54. We will have a further nine buses later this year.

Will Ministers make time to visit Equipmake, a fast-growing specialised manufacturer of batteries for electric buses— which began as a start-up at the excellent Hethel innovation centre in my constituency, and having outgrown those premises, has moved to Wymondham, which was in my constituency but is now in that of the Science Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman)—so that the Science Minister and I can explain to them just how at the cutting edge Norfolk is technologically and how much more it can do with the right support?

I would be delighted to accept that invitation. The UK has a wealth of bus and coach manufacturers. About 80% of the service buses are made in the UK and I look forward to the invitation.

In February 2020, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet promised to deliver 4,000 zero-emission buses by 2025 as part of the Prime Minister’s “bus revolution”. After all, there can be no journey to net zero without green transport. Yet 18 months later, where are they? Is Santa going to deliver them? No major British manufacturer has even started production yet, nor have any orders even come in. The Department for Transport still seems unable to show how many are on order. Can the Secretary of State and Ministers confirm that the beginning of the release of funding for the ZEBRA—zero emission bus regional area scheme—contracts for building those buses will be given to British-based manufacturers? After speaking to them over the past few days I know that, given the unfolding omicron crisis and passenger levels again plummeting, they are desperate to have reassurances about their future and the future of tens of thousands of British jobs in their industry. Can the Minister enlighten us as to when, if ever, she expects the 4,000 zero-emission buses to be on the road? Exactly how many are in production now? How many are being procured right now?

As I said, we already have nine in the north-east and 50 operating in the country at the moment. We have 500 zero-emission buses being supported through the ZEBRA scheme, with £120 million of investment. A further 300 zero-emission buses will be supported through the all-electric bus city scheme and over 100 zero-emission buses have been supported through the ultra-low emission bus scheme since February 2020. In addition, £355 million of new funding was made available for zero-emission buses at the autumn 2021 Budget.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, the staff and all Members of the House a merry and safe Christmas, and a good new year when it comes.

Despite that answer from the Minister, the Transport Secretary confirmed to the Transport Committee that only 121 zero-emission buses are actually on the road in England, less than half of them outside London, since the Prime Minister made his 4,000 bus pledge. The Scottish order book, in contrast, is full to bursting. Will the Minister confirm how many of those 4,000 buses are currently on order from bus manufacturers, such as Alexander Dennis? When will any of those buses be on the road? When will all 4,000 buses be on the road? When will this Government raise their ambitions and horizons from their current plans to replace only 10% of the English bus fleet?

As I said, we already have 50 buses operating now and a number of schemes are being supported through the variety of funds I have just set out. As for the more detailed information the hon. Gentleman requests, I will endeavour to write to him.