Skip to main content

Northern Powerhouse: Lancashire

Volume 765: debated on Wednesday 14 October 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government in what ways the Northern Powerhouse will benefit local authorities and their citizens in the county of Lancashire.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my registered local government interest.

My Lords, the northern powerhouse is part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to enable the north to maximise its economic potential. Alongside wider economic growth, Lancashire will benefit from improved transport connections, an enhanced skills base, support for international trade, cultural investment and the opportunity to ask government for more devolved powers. Local projects of economic importance are currently being supported through the Lancashire growth deal and Preston and South Ribble city deal.

My Lords, Lancashire is a large, varied, attractive county stretching from the coast to the Pennine hills, where I live. It is full of countryside and attractive towns and cities. It is being deprived and stripped of resources—first the councils, then the lack of government investment and now the police. Do the Government understand that, if the northern powerhouse is going to succeed and not just be a slogan, it is going to have to cover the whole of the north of England and not just the big cities that grab everything for themselves? At the moment, we are simply being stuffed.

My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord’s statement. In 2014, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership agreed one of the largest growth deals, which brought £233.9 million into Lancashire for bespoke deals. It also agreed the Preston and Lancashire city deal, which was the first Wave 2 city deal, amounting to £300 million of investment and development for infrastructure. I also do not agree with the premise that the cities are ahead of the counties, given the announcement on Cornwall in recent weeks.

My Lords, the Minister has mentioned the transport links from Lancashire to other parts of the north-west of England. Could she say more about that, bearing in mind that many of the roads in Lancashire feeding on to the M6 motorway are frequently gridlocked because of the absence of good public transport links from Lancashire, especially railway links—the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised this issue previously—which need attending to? What can she tell the House about that?

I am very pleased to be able to tell the noble Lord about the Blackburn to Bolton rail corridor, which will make a huge difference, the Burnley to Pendle growth corridor and the work done on the M65, which is a particular congestion point off the M6. Maintenance on the Burnley Centenary Way viaduct is under way, and there is the East Lancs cycle network for those who are interested in cycling. There is also the restart to the electrification of the trans-Pennine rail network and the Todmorden curve, for which I campaigned many years ago and am glad to see is now up and running.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a locally elected councillor. Why are the Government so wedded to a piecemeal, one-at-a-time approach instead of putting together a coherent strategy for devolution of power across England that takes account of all communities, including rural areas and small towns, as recommended by Mr Graham Brady of the 1922 Committee in the other place?

My Lords, the Bill that is currently going through the other place and has just gone through this House is a framework Bill which allows bespoke devolution deals to take place in areas according to local need and their plans for growth. To prescribe would be the wrong way forward for government. I do not agree with the noble Lord’s point about the piecemeal nature of this approach. The north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire are doing very well economically—in fact, Yorkshire has created more jobs than the whole of France.

My Lords, is it not clear that what would offer the best possible prospects for the economy of the north-west and Lancashire in particular is developing the immense natural gas resources of the Bowland Shale? Is it not deplorable that the Labour-led Lancashire County Council has prevented this from happening so far?

My noble friend makes an excellent point. This is a one-off opportunity for the areas of Lancashire to maximise their assets and to be self-sufficient in how they derive energy, so I could not agree more with my noble friend.

My Lords, as has been mentioned, the chairman of the 1922 Committee spoke in a Daily Telegraph article today about the need in any devolvement to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect what he called the “rural fringes”. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to do just that and to ensure that decision-making across that whole area is not based on predominantly urban-focused priorities?

I thank the right reverend Prelate and totally concur with his views about rural as well as urban being served by devolution and the northern powerhouse. Of course, there is the Cornwall deal, which is almost predominantly rural. However, I would not like noble Lords to forget about Greater Manchester—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, who has significant rural areas where he comes from—and Rochdale and Oldham. There are significant rural areas in Greater Manchester and that deal has now been done to their satisfaction

My Lords, is the Government’s rail investment priority in the north of England HS2, HS3 between Manchester and Leeds or the electrification of the trans-Pennine route; or do they intend to do all these at the same time?

My Lords, I do not think it would be logistically possible to do them all at the same time, given the passage of the hybrid Bills through the House of Commons. However, the Government, and certainly the localities the noble Lord speaks about, would say that they are all important and complement each other, and that local, regional and national transport—in terms of HS2—all add to their economic strength. To take a very local example, the investment in the Metrolink from Wythenshawe to Manchester Airport has opened up a whole new jobs market in an area of high employment need.

My Lords, the Government are trying to demonstrate that the northern powerhouse balances the City of London in investment and so on. When is it going to get enough new and longer trains to reduce the dramatic congestion during the rush hour in many cities such as Manchester and Leeds, and to reduce journey times between these cities?

The new, unpaused trans-Pennine electrification will hopefully do just that. I know that the noble Lord and I share a particular interest in this issue, and he will be very pleased to hear that the Pacer trains are going.