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Docklands Light Railway

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 3 February 2022

21. What recent discussions he has had with Transport for London on proposals to extend the docklands light railway to Thamesmead. (905420)

The Government and Homes England are exploring potential opportunities and options at Thamesmead and Beckton Riverside with the Greater London Authority and Transport for London.

Thamesmead in my constituency needs levelling up. It has some of the worst public transport links in the capital. There are ambitious plans to extend the docklands light railway to Thamesmead, which are supported by Greenwich and Newham councils and Transport for London. Will the Minister look favourably at these proposals when they are submitted to the Government, and provide the necessary funding to finally put Thamesmead on the transport map?

With regard to extending the DLR, the scale of the opportunity from the potential options at Thamesmead and Beckton Riverside is being explored and the Government and Homes England are working together with the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to do this.

Topical Questions

I would like to update the House on action we have taken against the behaviour of Insulate Britain activists. Last year I asked National Highways to seek injunctions against the so-called eco-warriors who have inflicted such misery on motorists across the country, and following the latest High Court hearing yesterday a further five immediate prison sentences were imposed as well as 11 suspended sentences against Insulate Britain activists for breaching these injunctions. That brings the total number of sentences and suspended sentences handed down to 31.[Official Report, 8 February 2022, Vol. 708, c. 10MC.] Gluing oneself to the tarmac and throwing paint on public highways, causing miles of misery, just is not on; it affects hard-working people and causes misery to them, costing the taxpayer money.

The Secretary of State will know that vehicle standards, including for e-scooters, are reserved to Westminster. I am hugely concerned about the impact of e-scooters on people living with sight loss in Wales as they cannot be heard and are very quick. What plans does he have to assess the impact of the already widespread and illegal use of e-scooters in Wales?

We currently have a trial programme for e-scooters, with 31 trials in operation, which is collecting the data that the hon. Lady seeks. I share her concerns, particularly about e-scooters sold through the private market where they are not legal to be ridden on the roads or pavement, or indeed in the public arena. We are looking at measures that will crack down on those while ensuring that those that have been properly insured and used through the trials continue until we have all the data.

T2. Last week-end’s storms have led to the temporary closure of the railway from Norwich to Lowestoft. Good services on that Wherry line and the east Suffolk line are vital if meaningful levelling up is to be delivered to the Waveney area. Can Ministers confirm that the Government are committed to improvements on these two lines and that their ambitions extend beyond that suggested by Network Rail, which is that it aims to have a climate-resilient service on the Wherry lines in 28 years’ time? (905422)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter today, and I appreciate the incident on Sunday near Haddiscoe will undoubtedly have caused disruption to passengers, but I understand that work is going well and I am sure he will be pleased to know that services are expected to resume on Saturday morning. Network Rail recently outlined its long-term adaptation ambitions, which are now being considered at local level. Importantly, this will help build greater understanding of the key areas of vulnerability that are critical in the development of plans to mitigate and minimise impacts on passengers.

I welcome the new rail Minister, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), to her post. Last year the Prime Minister promised

“great bus services…to everyone, everywhere”,

with £3 billion of new funding to support that. Yesterday we learned the truth about the transformation funding—slashed by £1.8 billion. Why have the Government broken their promise and downgraded the ambition of communities?

I am really pleased that the hon. Lady has raised this, because I have seen her tweet and talk about it elsewhere and I want to inform her that she is inadvertently misleading. The figure is still £3 billion; the £1.2 billion is a part of that £3 billion and there are other elements of funding that have already been announced, including £0.5 billion on decarbonisation, and more money is on the way. So that is simply an incorrect figure that I ask her not to continue to repeat.

I can assure the House that I am not the one misleading anybody. We have it in black and white, in a leaked letter from his own official, who wrote to local transport authorities confirming the cut and saying

“the scale of the ambition across the county greatly exceeds the amount”

of transformation funding. Doesn’t that say it all: the ambition of this country far exceeds that of the Government? So will the Secretary of State come clean by admitting that vast swathes of the country will not get a penny in transformation funding and that he sold bus transformation but is delivering managed decline?

No, that is absolutely incorrect. We have just heard about this Government’s investment in Stoke. That is investment we are going to spread across the country. It is false to claim that that £1.2 billion is the total funding. It is not, as I have already pointed out. There will be £5.7 billion over five years for the city region sustainable transport settlement, for example, bringing more money in. I will write to the hon. Lady with a detailed breakdown, but I ask her to take into account the full amount of money being spent on buses—a record never achieved before by any Government, as far as I can see.

T4. At a meeting I chaired between East West Rail and residents in the town of Winslow in my constituency whose houses back on to the new railway, we were disappointed to learn from East West Rail that it plans to launch with diesel-only trains borrowed from another railway. Will my hon. Friend make an intervention with East West Rail to ensure it launches with bi-mode trains that can run on battery where the railway comes close to people’s homes in towns such as Winslow and villages such as Verney Junction and Newton Longville? (905425)

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in this issue on behalf of his constituents, as I would expect. I would be very happy to have a meeting with him, at which he can share with me some of the concerns he has on behalf of his constituents.

It is two years since the Prime Minister pledged 4,000 zero-emission buses, but that pledge is in tatters. Not a single bus has been ordered through the fast-track zero-emission bus regional areas scheme. In contrast, the Scottish Government have already produced the equivalent of 2,700 bus orders. No one in the industry—not a single person—thinks that the Prime Minister’s pledge will be met, and let us remember that 4,000 is only one tenth of the English bus fleet, while Scotland decarbonises half of its bus fleet. When are the UK Government going to get real on this?

The Government remain absolutely committed to supporting the introduction of 4,000 zero-emission buses and achieving a zero-emission bus fleet. I had the joy of visiting a place in Glasgow, when I was there for COP26, that is rolling out those buses, and this will support our climate ambitions, improve local transport for communities and support high-quality green jobs. Overall, we are providing £525 million of funding for ZEBs this Parliament, and the Government have provided funding for 900 zero-emission buses through existing funding schemes.

T5. Were the brilliant bus recovery grant to end, at current passenger number levels, I could lose half of my services. Will the Secretary of State consider extending but tapering it, so that more services have a chance to recover passenger numbers to economic viability? (905426)

We will of course look into my right hon. Friend’s suggestion, but over the past two years we have provided over £1.7 billion in covid-related support to the bus sector. The recovery grant is worth more than £250 million to operators and local authorities, and has been supporting the sector as passenger numbers remain suppressed.

T3. The fleet of turquoise-coloured buses—they were like a cross between a minibus and an Uber; called Slide buses—that were increasingly being seen on the streets of Ealing and Sutton just before covid abruptly had the plug pulled on them by social distancing. Can I ask the Government to reintroduce these immediately, as we are coming out of the crisis, as a way of combating excessive car dependency? Also, women liked them because they took them directly to their door—they were demand-responsive buses. Will the Secretary of State do this or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) said, are we in Ealing exempt from levelling up these days? (905423)

If the hon. Lady is exempt from levelling up, we need to have a word with the Mayor of London about it, because transport in her constituency is run by him, of course. On a serious note, I am very interested in that scheme, and I will speak to her about it offline.

T6. The HS2 Minister was kind enough to visit my constituency to see for himself the damage being caused by the preparation alone for this train project. He will be aware that ever more areas of South Northamptonshire are now being ruined and dug up just in preparation for the line. What steps can he take to make sure that they do not become a place for fly-tipping, which we are seeing all too frequently? (905427)

HS2 Ltd takes its responsibilities to secure and maintain land along the line of route extremely seriously. I thank my right hon. Friend for taking the time to show me some of the specific problem sites when I visited her constituency. Where fly-tipping or littering occurs, HS2 Ltd must act to address it as soon as possible.

T7. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), I am afraid the Secretary of State’s response just reflects the fact that his approach to this issue is laissez-faire and complacent. People on both sides of the House will tell him that there is a real problem with these scooters. The Government’s policy is encouraging a disrespect for the law, because people are riding them with impunity. As he will know, crashes in London alone went up by 3,000%. Will he really get a grip on this issue? Everybody knows it is a real problem, but he is denying it. (905428)

I thank the hon. Member for his question, but I refer him to the 31 trials currently ongoing throughout the country to identify how we can legislate in the safest possible way. We regard micro-mobility as an essential part of the transition towards a much cleaner community, but I will endeavour to meet colleagues in the Home Office to discuss matters of policing with regard to illegal electric scooters.

T9. I most often raise the need to reopen Grove station in my constituency, but today I want to raise my constituency’s roads. In addition to the ongoing safety issues on the A34 and A420, the general condition of roads gets worse and worse, as a result of thousands more houses and more and more cars. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how the roads in my constituency can be better maintained? (905430)

We would be very pleased to organise that meeting with my hon. Friend. I will set up a meeting for him with the Minister with responsibility for roads. As the House knows, we are spending £24 billion on roads and at least half of that is for their upkeep and maintenance.

T8. With a bunch of parents in Saughall in my constituency, we have been trying to put together a package for school bus transport that would save hundreds of car journeys a week. It is predicated on a successful Bus Back Better bid, but the word from the Treasury is that that money will be halved. Will we get the full amount that Cheshire West and Chester Council bid for? (905429)

That decision is yet to be taken, but in terms of the hon. Gentleman’s council and the money it is missing out on, it is disappointing to learn that in Chester the green bus technology fund, the low emission fund, the ultra-low emission fund, the all-electric bus city fund and all the zero-emission bus regional area funds have not been taken advantage of by his council. I really would encourage him to work with his council to make the most of the generous offers provided by the Department.

Airlines have had a tough couple of years, of course, but so too have passengers and travel agents in obtaining refunds from those airlines. This has been going for years. Reform is badly needed, with a regulator that has upfront powers to effect change. I am delighted to see the Government’s consultation. Can I ask the relevant Minister when we expect to see change implemented?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I commend him for his work on this and a number of issues. The consultation on consumer rights has just been launched. We will be running that and carefully considering the options that come out of it. We will be looking to make the necessary changes as soon as possible.

The Scottish Government are currently rolling out free bus travel across Scotland for anyone under the age of 22. Will the UK Government take a moment to congratulate the Scottish Government and tell us when they might deliver the same for young people in England?

The difficult decisions that need to be made have to be made by every Government, but I think what the hon. Lady was pointing out was just how generous the grant funding is, through the Barnett formula, for the Scottish Government.

Will the Secretary of State agree to an urgent meeting with me and representatives of the business community in North West Leicestershire impacted by the Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway route of HS2, to discuss the necessary changes to the route to enter Parkway station and any possible mitigations?

My hon. Friend remains a doughty champion of businesses in his constituency that will be affected by the proposals in the integrated rail plan. I would be more than happy to meet him again to discuss those proposals and the specific impacts on residents and businesses.

Further to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), south-east London is not served by the London underground, which means our constituents rely heavily on rail services. A station in my constituency where there has been a major redevelopment has seen a nearly 50% increase in footfall: there are 1.5 million entrances and exits a year. It is essential that capacity is maintained and increased on our rail services because of the lack of alternatives. May I impress that on Ministers who will make decisions on the franchise?

As I explained earlier, we are working closely with the rail operators as they mitigate the impact of staff absences on rail services. Obviously, as restrictions are lifted and staffing pressures ease, operators will reinstate services to meet expected increases in passenger demand. I think it is fair to say that no timetable is ever static. As demand patterns continue to evolve while we recover from the pandemic, timetables must be flexible.

I welcome the massive investment this Government are making in the east midlands. They are electrifying the midlands main line as we bring HS2 from Birmingham to Nottingham. However, to benefit fully, my constituents need better trains to Nottingham. Will the Minister support my campaign for more trains on the Poacher line so that my constituents in villages such as Radcliffe-on-Trent can have the regular train service they need?

My hon. Friend rightly points out the massive investment going into the east midlands. I am sure the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), will be more than happy to meet her to discuss the specific configuration of local services.

My constituents already face long waits for overpriced bus services without the real-time data that Londoners take for granted, and now we hear that there will be further cuts to bus services. We urgently need a bus service improvement plan. Why will the Secretary of State not urgently support one?

As I have mentioned a couple of times, we have the biggest ever programme of bus service improvements. We have gone out to local authorities to ask them for their plans, and we have funded them to bring forward those plans. They are now coming back with the first stages in the levelling-up White Paper. We will continue to deliver more on the bus agenda over time.

There has been clear interest on both sides of the House in investment in the future of buses, and we have a very positive bid from North Yorkshire County Council, working with local bus companies, to improve the services in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Will the Minister give me an indicative date for when we might hear of that bid’s success?

I am afraid that I cannot give a precise date at this time—there will of course be a date in due course—but I will make the necessary inquiries and relay back to my hon. Friend.