My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing a programme of work to ensure that we make best use of our national transport networks and accelerate the process of identifying where future expansion is needed.
Our national transport networks are essential for people going about their day-to-day lives. In order to stimulate Britain’s economic growth and support our position as a leading world economy it is essential that we make the right long-term investments in our transport infrastructure today and that we plan for future growth, in a way which is consistent with reducing greenhouse gas emissions overall.
The work will build on the recommendations by Sir Rod Eddington and the Government’s October 2007 response, Towards a Sustainable Transport System.
The Minister of State, Lord Adonis, will chair a National Networks Strategy Group, with senior partners from the Highways Agency, Network Rail, HM Treasury and other government departments as required. I have asked that the group focus on two issues. The first is how to make best use of the existing key networks, for example, by the selective extension of rail electrification or the wider implementation of hard shoulder running on our motorways to provide additional capacity for motorists and to give them greater reliability and choice.
Alongside this, the study will focus on longer-term solutions for the strategic corridors. This will include consideration of wholly new rail lines, including high-speed rail. We are committed to developing a modern sustainable rail system that supports economic growth, including housing development, and the climate change agenda. New lines have great potential and it is important that we start now to plan for future growth.
However, it is crucial that the case for such investment is underpinned by robust evidence on long-term demand projections and a clear understanding of the capacity of the existing networks, and takes full account of relevant geographical, technical and environmental considerations. The National Networks Strategy Group will build on the work on new lines being undertaken by Network Rail.
This programme of work will be taken forward immediately. I have asked Lord Adonis to report on progress early in 2009.
Terms of reference for the National Networks Strategy Group have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.