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House of Commons Hansard
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Capital Infrastructure Projects: Bristol
14 October 2020
Volume 682

[Ms Nusrat Ghani in the Chair]

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered support for capital infrastructure projects in Bristol.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Ghani.

The Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, is very keen to promote what he calls the “One City” approach. It is not the job of one organisation or one individual to deliver what Bristol needs; it is for the whole city to come together. In that spirit, rather than taking up my allotted 15 minutes today, I will share it with my colleagues —my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and for Bristol South (Karin Smyth). We are even being extremely generous and allowing someone from over the border in south Gloucestershire to contribute—the right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore). My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) cannot take part in the debate, as she is a member of the shadow Cabinet, but she is with us in spirit.

Bristol is generally seen as a really buzzing, thriving city. We are always being listed as one of the top 10 places to visit or to live. We are a net contributor to UK GDP, we have the highest number of net start-ups outside London and, as of September last year, we had the highest employment rate of the UK core cities. However, as with any city, there are challenges too. There are inequalities in income and opportunities. There is poor transport infrastructure and a desperate need for new affordable housing.

It was revealed at the weekend that the biggest increase in house prices in the whole UK over the last decade was in Easton ward, which was in my constituency but is now in Bristol West. Prices there went up 120%, from £129,000 to £283,000. The neighbouring Whitehall ward was eighth in the country; prices had gone up 102%. These are fairly modest houses. We need to build far more housing, and more affordable housing. We also need to build on our economic success by regenerating neglected parts of the city. The biggest scheme is the regeneration of Temple quarter, around Brunel’s historic Temple Meads station. This would mean 22,000 new jobs, at least 10,000 new homes and an economic boost of £1.6 billion per annum. The Secretary of State wrote to the Mayor last month saying Temple quarter showed a lot of promise and had impressive private sector backing.

There are two shovel-ready elements of the scheme. The first is the regeneration of Temple quarter and St Philip’s Marsh district. A business case has already been submitted to the Department and to Homes England. Bristol is asking for funding of £100 million. Secondly, the University of Bristol’s new Temple quarter enterprise campus is an innovation hub with a focus on digital quantum technology, engineering and green growth. The university is asking for £150 million from the Government, which will leverage £650 million of investment from the university and its partners.

It is estimated that this development would bring an estimated £626 million into the regional economy over the next decade and act as a catalyst for a further £2 billion of development on adjacent sites. In the short to medium term, this obviously means jobs in construction and in the long term many more employment opportunities will arise. I know the Government are very keen to support shovel-ready projects. In this case, a contractor is on board, planning permissions have been secured and construction could start in January 2021 with the campus opening in 2023. Because of covid, without Government support the project will be delayed by at least three to five years.

The other Temple quarter projects are the upgrading and renewal of Temple Meads station to support a doubling of passenger numbers to 22 million per year, increased rail capacity and faster trains. The last major upgrade to Temple Meads station was in 1936, and I think anyone who regularly uses the station will not be surprised to hear that. It is not a station that befits a city of Bristol’s standing and size and it desperately needs work.

We also need investment in flood resilience infrastructure to help future proof our city against climate change, to protect our heritage tourism and cultural sites, and improve cycling and walking routes. It would also unlock land for up to 4,500 homes, protect 12,000 existing homes and businesses from flooding and add £6.2 billion to the local economy.

This may sound like just a long list of asks, but all we ask for today is that the Government seriously consider the case Bristol and the West of England Combined Authority have made when it comes to bids where we might compete against other cities and towns for existing pots of money or future allocations. We were disappointed to be turned down for the housing infrastructure fund for the A4-A37 Temple Meads to Keynsham strategic growth corridor, which runs through my constituency. We already have huge pressures on the A4 and surrounding roads, yet thousands more homes could be built in the vicinity in the next few years, partly in Bristol, but also over the border in the neighbouring local authority of Bath and North East Somerset. The pressure will come on the Bristol roads, however, as people travel into the city to work and for leisure and shopping. Those homes are desperately needed, but the city will grind to a halt if we do not also invest in public transport. We also need to look at the pressure on schools, GPs and other local services.

I hope that if a successor to the housing infrastructure fund is announced in the spending review, any submission from Bristol will be looked on favourably. We hope too that the Department and Homes England will consider the business case for Temple quarter. We know that as a city we can deliver, but we need help to do so.

Before I hand over to my colleagues, I have three questions for the Minister. First, how will the Government support Bristol in seeking integrated investment to unlock its strategic development sites, including the shovel-ready projects in Temple quarter? Secondly, my colleagues will talk about transport issues in more detail, some of which concern the Department for Transport, but other Government Departments are involved too. Given the different funding streams and the role of different Departments, how can the Minister ensure that the strategic value of each of Temple quarter’s interconnected projects are realised and supported? Finally, will the Minister agree to visit Bristol or attend one of our forthcoming “One City” partnership meetings to hear how we are trying to lead the city out of a potential recession and how to support these key capital projects?

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Before I ask other Members to respond, I alert Members that this debate will not go beyond 4.43 pm.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ghani, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) on securing the debate. We love our city, and we are proud to represent it. As well as generating wealth and opportunity for our constituents, Bristol is the driver of the economy of the wider west of England and, indeed, that of the south-west of England. The debate has a far-reaching effect for the Government. For too long, however, parts of Bristol have been overlooked in wealth distribution and infrastructure development, meaning that the inequalities across the city continue to blight many communities, including some of mine in Bristol South. Today, I draw the Minister’s attention to some of the shovel-ready projects that will go some way towards levelling up opportunities for my constituents.

The first amongst those is Hengrove Park, Bristol’s largest housing development site set to deliver around 1,400 homes. It is a 25-hectare public park with a potential for around 6,000 new jobs. Long envisaged as a critical part of rebalancing the city’s economy, key parts of the plan are already in place: South Bristol Community Hospital, funded by the last Labour Government after 60 years of local campaigning; South Bristol Skills Academy, the only college in Bristol South; and the site of a soon-to-be-completed advanced construction centre. We will have a ready-made source of cutting-edge skills to help rebuild our economy and retrain people for the future, while offering quality apprenticeships to local people. But we need the final part of the jigsaw: the houses and supporting infrastructure to breathe new life into the project. Will the Minister support the council’s request for £35 million investment for the enabling infrastructure, and demonstrate to the people of Bristol South that they are included when the Government talk about levelling up opportunities across the country?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said, transport is key to the city’s economic recovery. In a city historically hampered by poor transport links and a somewhat ageing road network, it is right that our city leaders are seeking to scope out an ambitious vision to deliver an innovative and low-carbon transport system for the city region. In the immediate term, I draw the Minister’s attention to the long-awaited and much-delayed reopening of the Portishead line, which runs through my Bristol South constituency and will massively ease congestion and support development around the Ashton Gate area. The project has been in incubation for long decades. North Somerset Council completed a submission of the development consent order that was accepted by the planning inspectorate to proceed to examination last December. At such a critical time, this is low-hanging infrastructure fruit for the Minister. It will create jobs and opportunities, and if there is a rationale to wait another year then perhaps he will write to let us know why. Otherwise, I implore him to talk to his colleagues and hurry up. We are desperate for that to happen.

I echo my hon. Friend’s comments in support of the city’s largest infrastructure project at Temple quarter. Located partly in my constituency, it is of vital importance to the city’s economic recovery and will offer significant jobs and training opportunities locally, as well as helping improve the city’s connectivity. I draw the Minister’s attention alongside that to the electrification of the railway from Bristol Temple Meads to Weston-super-Mare. It has been agreed by the Department, but has been paused. Bizarrely, any train running along that line is currently forced to switch off its electricity when it hits Bristol and to turn to diesel, because the electric line ends there. That means that my constituents in Totterdown are forced to suffer the pollution of diesel fumes as the train chugs down to Weston-super-Mare and beyond. This is another freebie for the Government wanting shovel-ready projects that will offer jobs while reducing carbon emissions. I look forward to the Minister’s thoughts and, of course, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East, to welcoming him to Bristol South so that he can see the opportunities for himself.

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I thank the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) for calling this debate and for kindly allowing me to contribute today. Although I am the Member for Kingswood in south Gloucestershire, I wanted to voice my support for the capital projects she mentions. We may represent different political parties, but I believe we represent a common goal which is to enrich the Bristol region and to increase investment in it. In particular, I wanted to express my support for the Temple quarter district proposals and for the University of Bristol’s Temple quarter enterprise campus. As a former universities Minister, I have seen first-hand the layout of the proposals, and as someone who started out his career teaching at the University of Bristol, I know that it will benefit not only the city but the whole of the Bristol and south Gloucestershire region. The Temple quarter development not only can regenerate an area of Bristol, realising its full potential, but can unlock the potential for future investment in innovation for the whole region. It is an important bid, and several are being considered as part of the Government’s determination to level up the regions.

I am sure the Minister is aware of the future high street fund bid to transform Kingswood High Street. Although Kingswood is in south Gloucestershire, that project would also benefit east Bristol, as Two Mile Hill joins my constituency with that of the hon. Member for Bristol East. The point I am trying to make is that we will all benefit from major projects that can transform the region, which is why this proposal is also backed by the West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles, who has already made significant investment through the West of England Combined Authority in these projects, including £55 million for the Temple quarter enterprise zone and £16 million for the university campus. However, as other Members have already said, we need investment from central Government to realise these exciting projects.

In addition, as has been mentioned, this development will see desperately needed investment in Bristol Temple Meads station, which I believe could lead in turn to a transport revolution for the Bristol region that will benefit all surrounding regions, particularly if the MetroWest phases 1 and 2 are realised. That would allow people to travel from the Severn Beach line through to Bath via Temple Meads without changing trains. The proposed additional housing that was mentioned—I think it would be around Hengrove—would also be extremely welcome, because it would help to protect surrounding green-belt land for the region.

In conclusion, although I am a proud south Gloucestershire MP, I am also a proud Bristolian who wants a visionary future for our city and our region, and the landmark projects that have been mentioned today will go a long way to delivering that future.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who is a learned and veteran MP, for securing this important debate today. We have already heard the cross-party support for the shovel-ready projects in Bristol: the Temple quarter project, Bristol Temple Meads and the University of Bristol campus. We have also heard the rationale for that development—that it would not only contribute to the local area but to the regional and national economy.

In north Bristol in 2018, we concluded our north Bristol transport plan, when my constituents and I, and stakeholder groups, prioritised investment to deal with commuter traffic. We know that the Greater Bristol region is growing at speed. We also know from the Minister’s Department’s algorithm that the number of houses being built in the south Gloucestershire area is due to increase significantly, and with that will come more commuter traffic, on top of the problems that we already have in that regard.

That is why the mass transit system that connects with the Temple Meads development project is so important, because if we are to get the benefit of the full economic opportunities from these developments in the city and from the attractiveness of our city region to many around the country, people need to be able to move around easily to grow those economic opportunities.

The last thing that I will say to the Minister is that we know, of course, that 30% of carbon emissions in the west of England come from transport. We have been talking about these issues for a very long time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) mentioned, the Portishead line was first debated when I was in primary school. I would quite like the projects that we are discussing today to be completed more quickly than that.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response today. I hope that he will consider the Mayor of Bristol’s “One City” plan, which I think provides national leadership about the way that we can work across stakeholders, parties and our regions to get the best for our country. I also hope that the investment that we have called for today will come forward, either in the comprehensive spending review or in the later Budget.

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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) on securing this short but important debate. It seems to me that she has set up shop in Westminster Hall this afternoon. But in all seriousness, the debate that she has led is an important one. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) and for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), and the honoured interloper, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), on their contributions.

Let me begin on a very positive note, which is that I certainly enjoyed my visit to Bristol earlier this year, just before the covid emergency caused us to have lockdown. The rain did not alter the fact that it is clearly a buzzing and thriving city, as the hon. Member for Bristol East described it, and I shall be very happy to visit it again when circumstances allow, to see the work that she, her colleagues and other leaders from the city and the combined authority are undertaking.

As we lay the foundations for our recovery from the covid emergency, the Government are determined to invest in communities such as those in Bristol and across the western gateway, so that we can get them back on their feet and fulfilling their potential. I am heartened by what I have heard about the collaborative work being done across the community and across the city, between leaders and partners, to realise their vision for sustainability, activity and inclusive growth. It is right that we look to build on that momentum together and support our regions in this levelling-up opportunity, and that will be the focus of the upcoming spending review.

I understand that city leaders and the metro Mayor are working together across sectors in response to the pandemic to support the region’s journey to recovery. The Government are also committed to playing their part in providing immediate financial stimulus and capital infrastructure investment. The getting building fund is just one recent example of that commitment to job creation and the green recovery, accelerating shovel-ready projects in local areas. It is a £900 million fund targeted at places facing the greatest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic. We announced more than 300 successful projects in August, which were agreed with mayors and local enterprise partnerships to boost economies and local growth.

The west of England received £13.7 million in funding for seven projects through the getting building fund, and the seven projects are expected to directly create 1,144 jobs. In addition, the west of England has secured £202 million from the local growth fund, which has helped to fund a number of important projects in the city of Bristol, including £6 million for the Bristol Beacon, to transform that iconic music venue; £4.7 million for the city of Bristol’s Advanced Construction Skills Centre; and more than £7 million for the MetroWest phase 1, which was referenced by several colleagues earlier—a project that will see the reopening of the Portishead line and the introduction of half-hourly services on the Severn Beach line, significantly improving rail connections to and around Bristol.

The region has seen a further investment through an £80 million transforming cities fund and £6 million of funding to create an enterprise zone in the centre of Bristol, where small, innovative businesses can prosper. I make this commitment on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor: we will look carefully and considerately at all sensible projects that are brought forward. I will not make specific commitments on his behalf, but we are keen to ensure that, through the spending review and through other avenues, buzzing and thriving cities such as Bristol are supported. I encourage colleagues across the House and in local government to submit their thoughts and ideas for the spending review.

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I got the impression the Minister was concluding, but maybe I am wrong and there is a lot more to come. It is important to stress that, although Bristol is a successful, buzzing, thriving city, there are inequalities, as we saw with the recent Black Lives Matter protest, and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) has the lowest staying-on rates in education and higher education in the country. Bristol is very much a city where there are inequalities and a need to level up.

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I hear what the hon. Lady says, and I will say a little more about the single housing infrastructure fund in a moment. She will know, of course, that a few weeks ago we announced our next iteration of the affordable housing programme with £12.3 billion of investment in affordable homes, the majority of which will be for discounted rents.

To address a point the hon. Member for Bristol South made about the Planning Inspectorate, I cannot comment on specific matters before it, but I am always keen to talk to colleagues there to ensure that the inspectorate is working at pace to quickly yet judiciously work its way through the applications and cases before it. Of course, it has the challenge of the covid backlog to deal with, but I know that people are working very hard in that regard.

The Government’s continued commitment to levelling up also means building the homes that this country needs, and I am glad to hear that Bristol has ambitious plans for house building. We remain committed to driving up supply in areas that really need it. I have mentioned the affordable homes programme, which we believe will support 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next four years in the percentages that I described.

We have also supplied an additional £450 million to boost the home building fund to help small developers—small and medium-sized enterprises are crucial in our recovery—to access finance for new housing developments. As the hon. Member for Bristol East will know, we have radical plans to reform our planning system to make it more democratic, transparent and speedy.

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Will the Minister set out how his Department works with the Department for Transport when allocating funds for significant housebuilding to ensure that transport infrastructure is funded alongside that? I and many of my constituents welcome the investment in housing—not just in Bristol, but in south Gloucestershire—but the commuter traffic problem is of great concern. The mass transit system, for example—the development of Bristol Temple Meads and the extension of the rail network—seems like an obvious investment that should go alongside housebuilding.

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The hon. Gentleman will know that the MetroBus system is already up and running, and there are plans to extend it further. As for his specific question, we work closely with other Departments on supra-regional issues—let us call them that. We also have the single housing infrastructure fund, which is an ambitious fund to ensure that we can provide the infrastructure required to unlock the housing that is needed by his community and others—I will say a little more about that in a moment. It is essential that we have the right infrastructure—the roads, schools and GP surgeries—and it is right that that is put in place before people move in. That is one objective of our new planning proposals and of the infrastructure levy that we will put in place alongside the single housing infrastructure fund to ensure that the right infrastructure is put in place at the right time.

In the short time remaining, I will say a few words about green recovery. Tackling climate change is also a priority for the Government. Last year, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to put into law the ambition to wipe out our contribution to climate change by 2050. I am glad to hear from colleagues —either directly or outside the Chambers—that there are projects for sustainable energy infrastructure in and around Bristol, and I will keep my eye on them.

Investment is only part of the picture, however. If we are to secure a rapid recovery from the pandemic, as well as deliver on our levelling-up agenda, we will need a comprehensive place-based strategy with central Government and local government working in lockstep with businesses to target the specific challenges and opportunities that our communities face. The devolution and local recovery White Paper will be published by the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, who represents Thornbury and Yate and who will set out plans with cities such as Bristol, and their surrounding areas, at the heart of that vision.

I also want to mention the United Kingdom shared prosperity fund. I appreciate that local leaders want to be on a secure financial footing so that they can continue to drive innovation and invest in local infrastructure, and that includes the certainty of replacement of EU structural funds. The 2019 manifesto committed to creating a shared prosperity fund, which binds the whole United Kingdom, to tackle inequality and deprivation in each of our four nations. The Government will create a fund that is easier for local areas to access and will further support places to recover from the effects of covid-19.

We recognise the key role of local partners in EU structural funds, and we will continue to work closely with interested parties across the United Kingdom on the design of the new fund, taking into consideration what has worked in the past and how we can best deliver on domestic priorities. Final decisions about the fund will take place after the spending review. I look forward to further opportunities in this Chamber, or near to it, to further update the House and colleagues.

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I appreciate the opportunity of yet another fund, but I gently say to the Minister that we have been talking today about projects that are ready and have been in the pipeline for a long time. We have gone through lots and lots of processes. We are all of one mind, and we would like the Government to talk across Departments, do a bit of joined-up thinking and focus, recognising how ready and willing we are to just get on with it.

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I am grateful for that prompt from the hon. Lady. I recognise the value engendered in the Temple quarter regeneration programme. All propositions that are put forward have to be considered carefully on their merits. There are some tight business case requirements to meet. If they are not met—as with the last housing infrastructure fund bid, unfortunately for the proponents—I would encourage people not to lose heart, but to redouble their efforts and submit again. Our ambitious fund is designed to help communities that need support, and we are determined to give that to them.

I thank the hon. Member for Bristol East for leading the debate, and I congratulate all Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood on his contribution in support of the Temple quarter. I look forward to looking closely at the propositions that have been made, and to debating them robustly, if necessary, across the Chamber in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

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In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for two minutes.

Sitting suspended.