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North of England: Transport Infrastructure

Volume 695: debated on Thursday 20 May 2021

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Maggie Throup.)

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am pleased that other hon. Members intend to make a contribution.

The Government talk a lot about levelling up and there can be few more important elements of that agenda than transport. It is critical if we want to grow our national economy or cut our national carbon emissions. It is critical if we want to heal the growing inequality, division and disillusionment that are tearing at the fabric of our country. However, this is not just an agenda for the north; it is an agenda for the whole of the UK—one we should be able to collaborate on constructively, no matter what our party. But it is also an agenda that demands action, not words. The change we need will not come with half measures.

Of course, right now, all our transport is reeling from the impact of covid, so the first ask of Government is to ensure that support is sustained until passenger numbers and confidence recover. Cutting back too soon would force urgent cuts to services, needlessly deepening the hole that we need to climb out of. I know that the Minister takes these matters very seriously, and I am sure—and certainly hope—that he agrees that any such cuts would be very short-sighted.

However, our goal has to be so much more than survival, and nowhere is there more potential or more need for ambition than with our buses. They have suffered from decades of ideological neglect—a perfect example of free market fundamentalism—but they are the backbone of our public transport and the most realistic place to look for the quick results we need on decarbonisation, congestion and inclusion. The only appropriate ambition for our buses is a truly world-class service, and that is what I am working to achieve in South Yorkshire. That ambition means a rapid shift to a zero carbon fleet. It means affordable, flexible fares. It means routes and frequencies that genuinely serve all our communities, and it means buses integrated into a coherent regional system, with seamless connections across every mode. If the Netherlands can do it, why cannot we? If we build a system that works, people will use it, but that, of course, needs funding.

I am genuinely pleased that we now have a national bus strategy. It is a welcome recognition of the utter failure of deregulation but, so far, it is long on aspiration and short on detail, with no clarity yet over how 85% of the promised £3 billion will be spent, or how much of it will reach places such as South Yorkshire. The Government’s ZEBRA—zero emission bus regional area—funding for electric buses similarly sounds great, but it is a competitive pot that will cover only a handful of areas across the whole country. Central revenue funding for bus services was slashed by almost 20% between 2009 and 2018 and is an unbelievable 15 times lower per head in Sheffield than it is in London. Three billion pounds sounds quite a lot, but it is a fraction of what is needed to repair the damage. If the Government are serious about change, we need to have adequate, long-term and reliable funding.

The issue with buses is not just funding, but structure and ownership. Deregulation has been disastrous, so the Government must give Mayors and local government leaders not just the freedom, but the support to make bolder changes, such as moving to franchising, if that is needed, in order to have the control, integration and value for money that a world-class service demands.

We need a similar ambition for our trams. Supertram is a great, zero-emission success in Sheffield but, after 30 years, it needs funding for renewal and improvements such as extending our groundbreaking tram-train services. Meanwhile, there is enormous untapped potential for similar systems in other northern regions such as West Yorkshire.

Active travel must be another central priority for northern transport. It helps people to live healthier lives, supports more pleasant and connected communities and gets cars off the road. It reduces carbon emissions and other air pollution, and is accessible to people on lower incomes. That is why, in South Yorkshire, we are investing more than £100 million in it over the next two years and are working with the Government to do still more. But we need that sort of investment right across the north. We also need to electrify all road transport, not just our buses. The Government have a critical role in encouraging a wide network of charging points, but the rate of installation is currently just a fifth of what it needs to be to meet the UK’s climate goals. The modest means available betray the grand aspiration.

The role of central Government is especially critical in rail. High Speed 2 has dominated much of that debate but, for me, faster rail journeys to London are a distinctly secondary contribution to levelling up. My first priority is transport within my region—the sort that gets people to work and the shops every day—and then the transport between the cities and towns of the north, especially Northern Powerhouse Rail. HS2 makes sense because it promises to enable those things but, if it undermines them instead, it deeply compromises its claim to be part of levelling up.

Like other northern leaders, I am hugely concerned that the Government are considering delaying or cutting corners with NPR, or combining it with the trans-Pennine upgrade to help pay for HS2. The Minister has been supportive in the past and I hope that he will reassure me today that that is not the case.

Equally concerning is the possibility that HS2 East through Sheffield and Leeds could be postponed. Not only would that make HS2 meaningless in terms of levelling up for a huge swathe of the north, including some of its most deprived areas, but it would jeopardise NPR and local transport investment around Sheffield. It would be the worst of all worlds.

Therefore, if the Government are serious about HS2 being a project for the north, they should build phase 2 in its entirety, on time, while doing the same for NPR, Midlands Engine Rail and other supporting works. That might sound like quite a lot to ask, but having embarked on HS2 with a promise that it would not come at the cost of northern regional rail renewal, the Government cannot now propose half measures.

The full impact of HS2 and NPR is more than a decade away, so the Government can and must move decisively to level up northern rail now. Across the region, there are smaller-scale investments that can have an outsized impact. We have set out the case for early investment in midland main line electrification up to Sheffield and the work between Sheffield and Clayton Junction to deliver an HS2 and NPR-ready section within 10 years. I hope that the Minister will agree that that should be prioritised, irrespective of when HS2 East goes ahead.

The works to improve the Manchester central corridor will have benefits across the north of England. A rail link from Doncaster Sheffield Airport would unlock the huge potential of GatewayEast. Simply getting on with the endlessly delayed electrification of our existing lines would give a major boost not just to decarbonisation, but to simplified rail operations and high-skilled jobs. Instead, we are left fighting service reductions, like the potential suspension of direct trains from Sheffield to Manchester Airport. The lack of a direct link to a major airport 45 miles away is just not compatible with any serious ambition for our railways.

Amid all the talk of renewal, the Government are cutting Network Rail’s enhancement budget by £1 billion and have slashed the operating budget for Transport for the North. The just published Williams review is a welcome, if so far incomplete, admission of the failures of privatisation and the need for a single strategic body for rail. However, it still runs the risk of putting profits ahead of passengers and leaves major questions unanswered, notably on the structure of our railways and decarbonisation.

Over the decade to 2019, the north received barely 40% of the per capita public spending on transport that went to London. That is a huge gap to make up, but it is not just about the money; it is also about how things are done. To succeed, transformation needs to happen in partnership with—and where possible, led by—local government. We need stronger local and regional devolution, including a northern transport budget and an end to piecemeal competitive funding pots, so that we can plan for the long term and reshape our transport systems as a coherent whole.

We need a transport strategy defined not just by greater investment but by a compelling vision for the sort of society we want to build in the north and beyond, with liveable communities, affordable transport and a rapid and just transition from fossil fuels. With the greatest respect to the Minister, whose sincerity and hard work I have seen on countless occasions, I do not believe that the Government yet have that vision. I want to acknowledge, though, the positive moves they have made, not least the providing of emergency covid support, and I am grateful for the investment that we have been able to secure in South Yorkshire recently. But if you have committed yourself to transformation, there are no prizes for good work at the margins. The Government’s talk about levelling up conceals a much meaner reality. From HS2 to TfN to buses, the investment does not yet match the fundamental change that I think we all want to see.

To conclude, the transformation of northern transport is the right goal. Our economy demands it, our environment demands it, our people demand it and basic fairness demands it. I want to work together with the Minister and the Government to ensure that we achieve it, but that means that words alone will not do. Promises alone will not do. A low-balled, scattergun investment will not do. If the Government talk about transformation, they need to act like they mean it.

Dan Jarvis, the mover of the motion and Andrew Stephenson, the Minister responding, have given permission for three short contributions, and I have been informed, as per the rules.

I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the Minister for allowing short contributions to this Adjournment debate from me and my colleagues. I agree entirely with the points the hon. Gentleman has been making about the crucial role that transport plays in levelling up and in delivering our environment targets, and about how we can improve our communities right across the country and especially in the north. I have absolutely no doubt that connectivity drives economic activity and that economic activity is a key driver of growth, but it is harder than it should be to move people and goods around our country, and around the north in particular.

It was great to hear the hon. Gentleman talk so much about buses. As the Minister responsible for the Bus Services Act 2017, I have to say that there were not that many voices in support of buses then. It was like, “You what?” from colleagues at the time, but buses seem to be much more in favour at the moment, and that is a good thing. I slightly disagree with one of the points the hon. Gentleman has just made, however. The deregulation of buses was not a cause of bus use decline. In the 30 years leading up to deregulation in 1985, passenger numbers on buses went down from 15.5 billion to 5.5 billion passenger journeys per year. That is an average decline of 2% a year. Since deregulation, yes indeed, passenger numbers have continued to go down, but they have gone down at the significantly reduced rate of 0.2% per year. So I think that those who were responsible for bus deregulation in the 1980s could easily make the case that they went into new territory and saved the bus industry from its precipitate decline. But let’s not worry about that. The key thing is that we have a new enthusiasm for buses.

Buses are the hard yards of our public transport system. It is impossible to imagine a good, effective transport system without buses at its heart. The drive towards more environmentally friendly buses, particularly electric powered buses such as those we have in Harrogate, will be popular right across the country. Today, we have seen the publication of the response to the Williams review. I have not yet read it all, and it will be interesting weekend reading. Again, we have questions about how to take things forward from a position of more strength. We have 140,000 services per week in our country, which is the highest level in our history. Passenger numbers have grown to 1.8 billion—a billion more passenger journeys a year since rail privatisation. People have been choosing rail, which has been a key ingredient of economic progress in this country ever since railways were invented.

Railways helped to drive the industrial revolution and made the UK the economic powerhouse that it has been. It will be interesting to see how we build on that to make it even better. There is no doubt in my mind that the system was over-complex and needed reform, and I look forward to the work that has taken place in the Department, and the Williams review.

I will conclude—short contributions only—by highlighting a couple of areas. The Minister is a great champion for investment. He has been consistent and hardworking on this issue, and I ask him to consider two areas. The first is connectivity to ports—sea ports and airports; goods and people. Liverpool2 is an example of an interesting port development. Improving access to maximise that investment is not easy, given its location, but it is important to grasp that nettle. Leeds Bradford airport involves a different mode of transport. Some years ago, more people were leaving Yorkshire to travel from Manchester airport than travelled from Yorkshire itself. If we could improve airport capacity and connectivity within Yorkshire, a significant amount of journeys would become unnecessary.

Finally, I am a big supporter of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, which includes delivering the eastern leg of HS2. It is important to separate the trans-Pennine rail upgrade from Northern Powerhouse Rail. Northern Powerhouse Rail is about fast connectivity between the cities of the north; the trans-Pennine rail upgrade is about connectivity into the slightly smaller towns and cities—the Huddersfields, or wherever. There is a difference between into and intra. That is not widely understood, but it is significant. The projects do different jobs, and both need to proceed. I am conscious of time, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will conclude my remarks. I know that the Minister is a great champion both from and for the north, and I want to support his work to ensure that the north gets the services it needs.

I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for allowing us to highlight some of the infrastructure needed in our constituencies, which go under the title of “the north.” The Minister will know all about what I am about say. I have been working with Ministers for more investment in a strategically important freight terminal in Huncoat, and the redevelopment of the Skipton to Colne railway line. Both would deliver significant economic growth in my constituency and across the north. One priority of this Government has been to set out the importance of improving west to east connectivity in the north, primarily joining Liverpool to Hull, and I reiterate the important role that Hyndburn and Haslingden can play in that.

The location of the Huncoat freight terminal is perfect and, if realised, it would be a major step forward in making connectivity more viable. Many important stakeholders in the north have already recognised the potential of a Huncoat freight terminal, as they recognise the significant role it would play in increasing distribution capacity for the movement of goods across the north-west. That is even more important when congestion at the Manchester freight terminal is taken into account, as that is a major block to continued economic growth in the north.

Manufacturing businesses across Lancashire see the terminal as a huge opportunity for them to increase their output and expand their logistics network, which will be key to increasing exports as part of our post-Brexit, post-pandemic economy. Huncoat is especially suited to work for Lancashire businesses as it sits at the centre of the motorway network. It is on the motorway junction and will need only a feeder road, meaning that goods vehicles will not cause congestion in residential areas.

As is well known, the last mile in logistics infrastructure is often the most difficult, and that is the case for Manchester. The opportunity at Huncoat would not be hindered by such challenges, however. It is a unique investment opportunity in building freight capacity not only because of its proximity to the motorway network, but because all the ground conditions are already in place for freight, as it was once part of the now-closed Huncoat quarry. In Hyndburn Borough Council’s local plan, it has been preserved for the use of a freight terminal for decades, with the support of Northern Rail, which also believes the site could be strategically important.

This project would play a wider role in supporting the reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line, which needs a major freight transport element to make it viable. That has been highlighted by the local authority and the campaign group Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, who have indicated that passenger journeys alone will not make the business case strong enough for this investment. I thank SELRAP for its hard work in the development of this line, and I know my hon. Friend the Minister will join me in doing so.

I will continue to work with the Department for Transport on the matter. We need that railway line, because it will provide numerous benefits to commuters and our local economy. The line will link east Lancashire with new economic opportunities in cities across the north, and better east-west connectivity will improve access to diverse employment opportunities for everyone. Importantly, the new route will connect affordable housing in east Lancashire with employment opportunities across the north, and it will be a catalyst for regeneration in communities such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden. The reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line and the development of the Huncoat freight terminal will assure residents— first-time Conservative voters, I might add—across east Lancashire that the Government are delivering on their promise to level up.

It is always an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe). I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing this debate and allowing us all to speak on incredibly important issues. To me, transport in Rother Valley, which is in the north and part of the Sheffield city region, is one such issue. I want to focus particularly on connectivity between the two biggest towns in my constituency, Maltby and Dinnington, which have no direct bus link. That is a crucial issue for residents of those towns. It is great that the hon. Gentleman has secured this debate, because I know that he, as the Mayor of the Sheffield city region, will be listening to my pleas for that bus service.

My constituents are concerned that Maltby and the rest of Rother Valley have been neglected when it comes to recent investment in transport and infrastructure projects. Of the £47 million allocated to Rotherham to improve transport last year as part of the transforming cities fund bid submitted by the Sheffield city region, only £2.25 million has been allocated to projects that directly benefit Rother Valley. Although the transforming cities fund scheme will provide a bus corridor along the section of route between Rotherham and Maltby, the basic, core issue—the need for reliable and frequent buses connecting Maltby to jobs and educational opportunities —is not being addressed.

Maltby is the 76th most left-behind area in England, and 32% of households do not own a car. Constituents contact me constantly with deeply concerning tales of missing work, education and important appointments because buses drive past them or do not turn up. Maltby schoolchildren who are placed at Dinnington High School face a colossal one-hour journey with a bus change to travel just 5.2 miles. Workers who are offered jobs in Dinnington and Doncaster are unable to accept those opportunities because of the lack of public transport options, and I have heard cases of people missing interviews for jobs because of the poor connectivity.

I welcome the Government’s announcement of the national bus strategy, but the Sheffield city region must play its role in ensuring that Maltby and other towns and villages across Rother Valley—Dinnington, Kiveton Park, Swallownest, Treeton, North Anston and all the others—are not forgotten about. Unless the Sheffield city region steps up and presents viable projects to attract the investment that is needed, it will simply not happen. Obviously there are many other projects—this is not just about buses. For instance, I hope that Sheffield city region will join me in trying to get the South Yorkshire joint railway reopened and support my campaign to get a new station at Waverley.

Sheffield city region and this Government must prioritise Rother Valley’s transport, rather than focus on white elephants such as HS2. Rother Valley does not want HS2. South Yorkshire and my part of it do not want HS2—it is not a priority. What is a priority is the buses and the connectivity, especially to and from Maltby, to ensure that no community is left behind. I invite all parties—whether it is the Government, Sheffield city region or Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council—to work together to get the buses that my towns and villages need to be connected and to truly level up Rother Valley and all of South Yorkshire.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing this important and timely debate, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) for their short contributions.

I think we can all agree that we share the same vision: a north that is better connected, more resilient and fully able to realise its full economic potential—in short, levelling up the northern powerhouse and building on the £29 billion invested in transport across the region since 2010. The Government are steadfastly focused on delivering that vision. The Department for Transport in particular, led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is also the Cabinet Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, is delivering real change on the ground and accelerating priority projects to make that ambition a reality. We know that there are significant challenges. The pandemic has dealt a huge blow to transport users and operators across the north. In South Yorkshire, the Department ensured continuity of services with £500,000 in the bus service support grant and almost £10 million in light rail support to the Sheffield Supertram.

As the vaccination roll-out continues at pace across the country and we look forward to the lifting of restrictions, the challenge now faced by the north is how we get on with building back better after covid-19. There are already promising signs. For example, the pandemic has renewed our focus on moving to a zero-carbon future. Sheffield city region received almost £7 million from the emergency active travel fund during the pandemic. In addition, the Prime Minister has announced £2 billion in funding for active travel nationally, with the aim of half of all journeys in towns and cities being on foot or by bike by 2030. That funding, underpinned by strong partnership working with local and combined authorities, is key to improving active travel, reducing our carbon footprint and creating thriving town and city centres across the north.

This is levelling up in action. Indeed, let no one be in any doubt about the Government’s commitment to levelling up the north as we recover from this dreadful pandemic. It is at the centre of the Government’s agenda, with a White Paper in development led by the Prime Minister himself. Significant progress has been made, with over 60% of the north now covered by metro Mayors, offering a strong voice for the people of those areas, as well as access to new funding opportunities, particularly for transport. The intra-city transport settlements announced in the 2020 Budget deliver £4.2 billion to mayoral city regions over the next five years from 2022-23. In the Budget earlier this year, we announced more than £30 million of capacity funding for northern city regions to help prepare for those settlements. That funding is crucial to places such as the Sheffield city region, where engagement is ongoing between the Department and the combined authority on the proposed Sheffield Supertram renewal. On top of that, we have the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, cementing our commitment to the vision of a prosperous and thriving nation where no area is left behind.

Transforming railways in the north will have a dramatic impact on our national infrastructure by releasing capacity, reducing our carbon footprint and improving journey times and reliability, and this was touched on by all hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn continues to make a compelling case for the Colne to Skipton line and especially for a freight terminal at Huncoat in her constituency. I pay tribute to her continued campaigning on that issue; given my constituency interest, I will leave that one there. Other Members continue to make a compelling case, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, who continues to make important points about freight. I am pleased to tell him that I met the metro Mayor for the Liverpool city region on Monday to talk about freight, among other issues. Those conversations across the midlands and the north continue to be ongoing as we look to support freeports and other investment which will have an impact on the need for increasing the amount of rail freight we can transport.

We have made significant progress on the railways in recent years. We brought the failing Northern franchise under direct departmental control in March 2020. We removed the last Pacer train from operational services in December. However, we know that there is much more to do. On the trans-Pennine route upgrade, £589 million, with more to follow, has already been allocated on the main route between Manchester and Leeds. I know the hon. Member for Barnsley Central shared my joy at the announcement of £137 million to upgrade the Hope Valley line. These improvements will deliver much needed capacity and reliability between Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds to better connect our northern powerhouse, but our vision goes beyond upgrading existing infrastructure and we want the north better connected by both conventional and high-speed rail services.

Last year, following the Oakervee review, the Prime Minister confirmed that HS2 would go ahead. He also committed to delivering an integrated rail plan to determine how best to deliver phase 2b of HS2 alongside other major rail investments in the midlands and the north. I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to HS2, much to the disappointment, I know, of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley. We are committed to delivering HS2 and to enabling the east midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east to reap the benefits of high-speed rail services.

On HS2, may I have a commitment from the Government that if it does go ahead—I hope it does not—every step will be taken to mitigate the dangerous and damaging effects that could destroy villages in Rother Valley?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case on behalf of his constituents, something he has done repeatedly in meetings with me since he was elected. When I was put in charge of the HS2 project in February last year, I committed to ensuring that communities are put at the heart of the project. We have had a land and property review. We have taken various other steps to ensure that impacts on communities are mitigated, so I hear loud and clear the concerns of his constituents, while still believing that this project is of vital importance to this country.

Since the announcement of the integrated rail plan, I have met local leaders, Members of Parliament and business groups to hear about their priorities for major rail investment, including meeting the hon. Member for Barnsley Central on a number of occasions. As things stand, communities on the eastern leg would be waiting until 2040 to realise the benefits of HS2. That is clearly too long to wait, which is why the work of the integrated rail plan is looking at ways to scope, phase and deliver phase 2b alongside other transformational projects, such as the midlands rail hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail, to bring down the cost and also deliver the benefits as quickly as possible.

I can assure all hon. Members that the Government remain committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail, with over £100 million spent to date and a further £75 million commitment for this financial year. We share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to see spades in the ground on that as soon as possible. The Government continue to consider all options for Northern Powerhouse Rail as part of the integrated rail plan, including those in Transport for the North’s statutory advice. Once the integrated rail plan is published, TfN will submit a business case for NPR that is consistent with the integrated rail plan’s policy and funding framework. This will mean a more rapid alignment around single route options with NPR and an accelerated delivery timetable, which will allow us to realise the benefits for communities in the north as soon as possible.

Growing local economies and levelling up the north and the midlands is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. That is why Ministers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and from the Treasury have been closely involved in drawing up the integrated rail plan. I know that this is not just about building railways. We need to take a holistic view of how to capitalise on our investments and to support regional economies. I would add that our vision of levelling up goes beyond new lines, trains and stations. It is about creating a forward-looking simplified travelling experience which puts passengers first. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced today the biggest shake-up of the railways in 25 years. We want to see simpler fares, flexible season tickets and clearer routes for compensation. We will also integrate infrastructure, revenue collection, fares and timetables under a new body, Great British Railways, providing a single recognisable brand with accountable leadership for all passengers.

The reforms announced today will empower local areas to have a say over the design of the railways post pandemic, including stations, through new partnerships with Great British Railways regional divisions. These partnerships will be flexible regarding the needs of different places, and I am sure the hon. Member for Barnsley Central will welcome the ability for local leaders to control stations, buy additional services and infra- structure, and integrate provision with other types of transport.

Our focus, of course, is not just on rail. We want to level up all modes of transport, and we all know that buses are absolutely vital to the north’s economy and to our communities. This point was made strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, and very eloquently about some of the bus service challenges by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, who talked about some of the poor connections in his constituency.

There can be no greater champion of buses than the Prime Minister himself, who has committed us as a country to bus back better from covid, but I know that this ambition is shared because the hon. Member for Barnsley Central has commissioned the South Yorkshire bus review. He commissioned it as the Mayor of Sheffield city region, and he found significant challenges in declining ridership and passenger dissatisfaction.

Bus patronage has also suffered greatly because of covid, and we know that it will take a concerted effort from Government, local transport authorities and operators to build back better. That is why we announced the national bus strategy in March this year, backed by £3 billion in transformational funding, to help us move forward with joined-up plans in the years to come. Local authorities, working in collaboration with their local bus operators, have been asked to publish a bus service improvement plan, setting out how they will use their enhanced partnership or franchising scheme to deliver an ambitious vision for travel by bus. Some £25 million is being made available to support authorities with this, including the creation of a bus centre of excellence.

I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman, in his capacity as the Mayor of Sheffield city region, to make the ambition behind the national bus strategy a reality. I am sure that he will want to work with local Members of Parliament across the region to ensure that the right service is delivered for everybody living across the region.

In addition to the advice we receive from Transport for the North, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has established the Northern Transport Acceleration Council, providing a direct line between local leaders in the north and Ministers in the Department for Transport. NTAC ensures that Ministers are kept updated about priority projects, are active in unblocking barriers to their progress and are accountable for their delivery. We have so far met as a council to dissect crucial Government announcements on levelling up the regions, such as the national bus strategy and the Green Book review.

My hon. Friend the rail Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—chaired a productive NTAC meeting on Tuesday to discuss timetabling in central Manchester, which the hon. Member for Barnsley Central attended as the Mayor of the Sheffield city region, alongside fellow northern leaders and industry experts. The hon. Gentleman made his views very clear about his desire to maintain a direct service between Sheffield and Manchester airport, and to ensure that the timetabling will not be impacted by the ongoing upgrade to the Hope Valley line, to which I referred earlier. As he will be aware, a short intensive review of the Manchester recovery taskforce recommendation will now take place, starting with an extended session tomorrow, at which all parties will review the proposed solutions once again and grapple with some of the difficult choices involved in implementing a reliable timetable. We look forward to arriving at a workable solution, and I am sure we share the ambition of the hon. Gentleman to come up with the best solution for all involved.

I could go on, but I think that by now I have, I hope, done enough to convince everyone sufficiently that levelling up the north and investing in northern transport remains our top priority. The Department is at the centre of this, but the Government at large are committed to levelling up and we are committed to ensuring that we build back better after probably the most difficult 12 months any of us can recall, so let us now get on with it and make it happen.

I would like to thank the technicians and the broadcasting unit again for performing miracles in allowing such an Adjournment debate virtually and physically—hybrid—to be conducted. I thank them very much indeed.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.