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Transport Connectivity: North of England Cities

Volume 747: debated on Thursday 21 March 2024

Network North announced £19.8 billion of investment in the north of England, including £2.5 billion for the local transport fund, and is increasing the city region sustainable transport settlements to £12.4 billion from 2027. My hon. Friend’s local authority, Lancashire County Council, will receive nearly £500 million from the local transport fund, an additional £7 million for the bus service improvement plan, and an uplift of £244.5 million for road resurfacing.

To truly build our northern powerhouse and contribute to economic growth, direct connections between cities such as Liverpool and Preston are really important. Does the Secretary of State agree that taking out the buffers at Ormskirk, which were put in for purely administrative reasons in the 1960s and prevent direct trains, is a great idea and that such services would be further enabled by battery technology? Does he agree that that would enhance the case for stopping the nonsense at Midge Hall station, which was closed by Beeching in the ’60s, where passenger trains stop but passengers can only peer out at the platform because they cannot get on or off?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is glad to have your endorsement for her question, Mr Speaker. The Government believe that local authorities are best placed to promote and take forward those schemes and, as I said, the local transport fund in the north will mean that £2.5 billion will be available for them. I encourage her to work with stakeholders such as Lancashire County Council. I had the pleasure of discussing a number of those local schemes when I recently met its leadership on a visit to Preston.

When I have been contacted by constituents excited by the news of the local transport fund, I have asked my local council officers when we can begin some of these projects, but they have been told by Department for Transport civil servants that the bulk of the money will not come until the end of the decade. When will we have some timelines for the delivery of that money? I do not want my constituents to have their expectations raised unreasonably.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman’s local authority will get £168 million. We have been clear that that money will come over a seven-year period, and we will shortly publish guidance for the local authority on how it can go about that. I hope he will be pleased to know that we will make it clear to local councils that when they put their plans together, Members of Parliament should be involved in developing schemes so that he and other hon. Members can represent their constituents and their local transport priorities.

If the Secretary of State wants to improve connectivity between our great northern cities, he might want to start by repairing the roads. The backlog of local road repairs has gone up by 16% this year alone to £16.3 billion. The Network North announcement is spread over 11 years, and its average annual contribution accounts for only a third of the £2.3 billion annual increase in the backlog. That is not all going to roads anyway, and it will go nowhere near addressing the damage done since 2016, when the Government slashed the road repair budget in half. When will the Secretary of State apologise to road users for the damage that his Government have caused and admit that they have failed to repair the potholes?

What the hon. Gentleman says is interesting. We made a commitment to take the money from the cancellation of the second phase of High Speed 2 to make £8.3 billion available for local road maintenance—[Interruption.] Yes, it is over 11 years, but we made the first tranche of money available this financial year, and again next financial year. We will set out the allocations in due course. That money is available only because we made the decision to cancel the second phase of HS2. Labour cannot give a straight answer on that question, and it has not committed to spending that £8.3 billion at all. Drivers know that they will only get that investment with a Conservative Government.