To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their priorities for transport investment in the North East of England over the next two years.
My Lords, the Government’s priority is to create a more reliable and less congested transport network that works for users, builds a stronger, more balanced economy, enhances competitiveness and supports housing growth. These priorities, along with advice from Transport for the North, will inform the Government’s decisions on investment in the national networks. At a local level, we expect local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to use devolved funds to deliver local plans that help their communities to prosper.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. When we were candidates on opposing sides in Gateshead in 1992, I do not imagine that we thought we would be facing each other across the red Benches of this House. Given the additional infrastructure investment in Northern Ireland, and given that it will be years, if ever, before HS2 benefits Tyneside and the north-east, I urge the Minister to bring forward, not delay, badly needed transport schemes in our region. In particular, I urge him to bring forward A1 dualling before 2020 and to bring in vital rail improvements, such as the Ashington to Newcastle rail line, to help travel-to-work areas in the region.
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We both use all of these transport routes ourselves. In the election in 1992 she did considerably better than I did in votes cast. The day that Gateshead becomes a Conservative seat I suspect is still, sadly, a long time away. She makes some important points. She asked, first, about the A1. As she is aware, work on the A1 north of Ellingham schemes are due to start in 2018. Construction of the scheme to dual the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham is due to start in 2019-20. Phase 2 of the Tyne and Wear Metro reinvigoration programme is currently being supported with a capital grant of £317 million. We are currently in discussions with Nexus regarding its proposals for new rolling stock for the Metro on the Ashington to Newcastle line. I am aware that this is a priority of Northumberland County Council and we are currently in discussions with it about the best method of achieving it.
I welcome very much the mention of the A1, but for the past 40 years successive Governments have agreed that the remaining 61% of the undualled A1 ought to dualled. Why has that not happened?
As someone who travels on it regularly, I can assure the noble Lord that I share his frustration. This Government have the largest programme of transport investment since Victorian times. Clearly, money is always difficult, but as I said, we are starting on the programme. I know that the Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed is definitely on the case—particularly on my case—and is making this point with great vigour. We will get on with it as quickly as possible.
My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what is being done to encourage more women to become train drivers and whether there is a gender pay gap between men and women train drivers?
I do not think there is a gender pay gap, particularly on the railways, between men and women—the problem is just quantity. Currently 95% of train drivers are men. Women can do the job perfectly well and, given the state of industrial relations and the problems on the railways, I hope that we get many more sensible, pragmatic women train drivers. They might see the benefits of the current 24% pay rise that is being offered and want to get on with doing the job that men, in some cases, sadly, do not.
My Lords, the coalition Government committed substantial funds to the Highways Agency for schemes, including dualling a considerable part of the A1 north of Morpeth. Can the Minister give me a specific assurance that that is not one of the nine schemes that the Highways Agency is now reviewing and may not go ahead? Otherwise, can he be quite firm in the promise that the work will begin in 2018?
I know that the noble Lord takes a close interest in this matter as a former Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I can give an assurance that the work that I outlined will start in 2018-19.
My Lords, the proposed expansion of the Tyne and Wear Metro by the North East Combined Authority will provide very important greater access for rural towns and villages and opportunities for local rail integration. How will the Government support the North East Combined Authority to make this planned extension a reality? I will be grateful to hear from the Minister.
As I mentioned in my earlier answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, we are currently in discussions with Nexus regarding its proposals for new rolling stock. DfT and Treasury officials continue to work with Nexus to understand the business case for the replacement of the current fleet and to explore all funding options. As I have also mentioned, we are currently supporting the Metro with a capital grant of £317 million. The local growth fund is providing £2.5 million for the refurbishment of the Metro stop at Newcastle Central Station and the operational costs are supported by a revenue grant of £203 million over the nine years. I am aware that there are proposals to expand the Metro and I can confirm that officials from my department are in discussions with Nexus officials to see how this can best be accomplished.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Labour Benches.
My Lords, we in south-west Wales are not concerned about the confirmation of new lines but about the apparent abandonment of a major electrification project from Cardiff to Swansea. There has been a series of body blows to Swansea of late, including the long delays in the lagoon. Can the Government confirm that they have not written off south-west Wales? Do they believe that life ends at Cardiff?
My Lords, of course we have not written off south-west Wales. As I said, we have the largest programme of transport investment since Victorian times. As regards the particular scheme he mentioned, we are looking at all the possible options. New technology now enables bimodal trains to operate which could allow for a seamless transition from diesel to electric. I am aware that many parts of the country actually do not want overhead electric gantries despoiling landscapes; and in many cases, there is no appreciable increase or improvement in service by electrification. However, we will continue to look at all the options.