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Railways: Reopenings

Volume 744: debated on Monday 11 March 2013


Asked By

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and remind the House of my railway interests declared in the register.

My Lords, the Government recently announced a £20 million new stations fund to support the development of new stations promoted by third parties in England and Wales. The Government have also allocated funding for the reopening of a key part of the strategic east-west rail route in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. We believe that local authorities are best placed to consider whether a rail reopening is the best way to meet local transport needs.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for his first transport Question. He has given the House a positive Answer, which I hope indicates that the pro-rail consensus in this House is in good order. The Beeching report was published 50 years ago this month. Its implementation cut off a third of the network and deprived many parts of the country of access to the railway. Does the Minister agree that one of the most shocking parts of the Beeching legacy was the indecent haste with which so many closed lines were sold off and the land built over, which made their restoration expensive and often impossible? While the Minister’s support for reopenings is good news, will he take a particular look at schemes which run across local authority boundaries and which would bring major benefits, such as the Lewes to Uckfield route and the suburban lines around Bristol?

I thank the noble Lord for his Question and I know he has considerable knowledge of this area. I had the pleasure this weekend of flicking through Holding the Line, his excellent book on Britain’s love of railways, and it touches on the Beeching report. With the benefit of hindsight I do not believe anybody feels that the Beeching report’s legacy is all positive. The noble Lord raises some of the most frequently expressed concerns. Regarding the Lewes to Uckfield line, I know that this is a long-standing campaign supported by many local residents. Network Rail has agreed to carry out a study into the capacity of the nearby Brighton line and the reopening of the Lewes to Uckfield line is one of the options being considered. The department is unaware of any work comparing the benefits of investment in rail schemes and road schemes in this corridor. In instances where proposed schemes go across local boundaries, we will, as always, encourage the authorities to work together.

To sum up the noble Lord’s response to the Beeching report, I had the privilege of looking at the report this weekend. It is fair to say that the author could not foresee how the country would change in the subsequent 50 years. Different times require different responses.

My Lords, will the Minister take into account the variations in cost between opening a line that has been closed, opening a station that has been closed and putting money into services such as Nottingham to Lincoln, where a small amount of money would greatly enhance the service and utility provided?

My Lords, it is for the local authorities and PTEs working with the local enterprise partnership to determine whether a new railway line, train service or station is the best way to meet local transport needs and the wider strategic objectives of economic growth, housing growth and carbon reduction. With regard to the cost, if there is a good business case, I am sure the local authority will look into it.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Lord to his new responsibilities and look forward to our future exchanges. I will begin with a very gentle question. Given that capital investment in Network Rail has been slashed by more than a £1 billion by the Government since they came to power, does not £20 million to local authorities look like a flea bite?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his compliment. The £20 million that has been allocated by the Government is for the 14 new bids that we have recently received. With regard to the investment of £1 billion, one must look at the McNulty report where the study recommends a review of a number of things. One of the recommendations, if implemented, will bring efficiencies and savings of between £2.5 billion and £3.5 billion.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that before privatisation all the talk was of the closure of railway lines and that after privatisation it is all about reopening them? Nowhere is this more true than on the line to Worcester that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, champions.

My Lords, the council has submitted a bid for funding a parkway station on the Worcester to Oxford line. While the bids are being considered, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the merits of this scheme. Since privatisation the number of passengers travelling on our railways has gone up by 60%.

My Lords, in this spirit of co-operation, I ask the Minister on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box to consider paying tribute to Mr Tony Speller, the former Conservative Member of Parliament for North Devon, who died recently, whose amendment to the Transport Act did so much to help to reverse some of the disastrous decisions that were taken following the Beeching proposals 50 years ago.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord; we must pay tribute to him. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Fowler, who, when he first became the Secretary of State in 1979, was the one who put a stop to the closure of railway stations.