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Transport Infrastructure Projects

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 11 March 2021

What steps his Department is taking to accelerate the delivery of transport infrastructure projects. (913232)

What steps his Department is taking to accelerate the delivery of transport infrastructure projects. (913245)

What steps his Department is taking to accelerate the delivery of transport infrastructure projects. (913246)

Transport infrastructure is central to the Government’s plans to build back better from covid-19, and the Department for Transport is at the forefront of Project Speed. We have also created our own acceleration unit as well as establishing the Northern Transport Acceleration Council, through which we have identified 112 schemes to progress.

My Dudley North constituents are seeing record levels of investment coming to them, and much of it is dedicated to very light rail, metro extension and the new transport interchange. However, connectivity from local housing estates to these transport networks is key. What assurances can my hon. Friend give my constituents that every link in this chain will result in a truly integrated transport system?

Dudley is indeed pioneering research and development into very light rail, and I am pleased that the West Midlands Combined Authority recently signed off funding into the Dudley interchange. Mayor Andy Street’s vision is for it to be the best-connected region in the country, and the Chancellor has confirmed the £4.2 billion intra-city transport fund, as well as the levelling up fund, in the Budget. I am sure that, with his help, Dudley will get its fair share of transport infrastructure funding. I am looking forward to riding the metro to Dudley Zoo very soon.

Investing in improved transport infrastructure is well recognised by my hon. Friend as a necessity for turbocharging our economy and levelling up. Beautiful Hastings and Rye has some of the most antiquated road and rail infrastructure in the country, which inhibits economic growth and is the reason why HS1 must be prioritised.

If we are serious about levelling up left-behind communities, does my hon. Friend not agree that HS1, as promised by previous Ministers, now needs to be delivered? What discussions has he had with the Treasury to ensure that funding will be available to finance such a vital project?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s determination in drawing attention to this important local issue; this is the second time she has done so this week, I believe. As she will know, the strategic outline business case for the Kent and East Sussex coastal connectivity scheme is currently being progressed by Network Rail, and it is due to be submitted to the Department in April. I am sure that the rail Minister will be able to update her more in due course.

Network Rail has finished developing plans for the Croydon area remodelling scheme to help to unblock the Croydon bottleneck—one of the most congested parts of the rail network, which impacts 300,000 commuters every day on the Brighton main line as well as those in areas of suburban London such as Carshalton and Wallington. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that this scheme has Government support in order to make it a success?

I know that my hon. Friend has met the Rail Minister on numerous occasions to discuss the Croydon bottleneck and the impact on stations across his constituency. We recognise the importance of the issue and are continuing to work closely with Network Rail and operators to develop the scheme further.

My constituents are really enthusiastic about a piece of rail infrastructure that could bring a real benefit to their lives. No, they have not changed their minds about HS2; the railway they really want to see is the Aylesbury spur of East West Rail.

However, funding has so far not been secured, despite it being in the original proposals and despite the DFT’s own figures showing a stronger business case for East West Rail than for HS2. Will my hon. Friend commit to working across Government to get funding for the Aylesbury spur, which would reduce car use, cut emissions and help to level up my town?

As my hon. Friend is aware, in January the Government approved an additional £760 million of new funding to deliver East West Rail between Oxford and Milton Keynes. I know that he has met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Rail Minister to make the case for connecting Aylesbury to East West Rail. I understand how important the connection is to his constituency, and we continue to explore the options.

The Penistone line stops at three stations in my constituency—Stocksmoor, Denby Dale and Shepley—and currently runs an hourly service, hampering the connectivity of those villages. There is genuine cross-party support for having the whole of the line upgraded so that it runs half-hourly services, levelling up all our communities. A delivery plan is already in place for this much-needed upgrade, so will the Minister agree to assist with co-ordinating this proposal with the Treasury and the relevant rail authorities?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, last week marked one year since the Government stepped in to take over the ailing Northern Rail franchise. Since then, Northern has transformed services with a huge investment in new trains and the retirement of Pacers, and completed the extension of platforms at more than 70 stations. He makes a strong case for increasing local services, and I know that the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), the Rail Minister, will be happy to meet him to discuss this issue.

As my hon. Friend knows, I have long campaigned for the much-needed upgrade to the A38, which is the main trunk road through my constituency to the nearest city, Plymouth. I am working with Highways England and undertaking surveys, but in the light of the fantastic news that Plymouth is to become a freeport, will my hon. Friend revaluate the urgency of improvements, so that the whole of Cornwall can take advantage of Plymouth’s new status?

I congratulate Plymouth on its status as one of the eight new freeports announced in the Budget last week. Freeports will create national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, thereby levelling up communities throughout the UK, creating new jobs and turbocharging our economic recovery. We are working across Government to support these exciting developments and will look closely at any changes to transport infrastructure that are required.

Our rail industry must play a pivotal role in fighting the climate crisis with ambitious plans for decarbonising transport infrastructure and extensive electrification. Shockingly, despite the UK’s being the country that pioneered rail, only 38% of our network is electrified—thanks to the Tory Government’s chronic failure to act. We have been left far behind by the likes of Germany, France, Italy and Spain, which have electrified the majority of their railways. Given that we do not have time for further delay and dithering, and to keep costs down, why will the Minister not commit, here and now, to a long-term rolling programme of electrification?

I politely remind the shadow Minister of the statistics: under the Labour Government of 1997 to 2010, only 63 miles of the railways were electrified; since 2010, we have already electrified 1,110 miles, and we continue to invest.