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Local Transport

Volume 714: debated on Thursday 19 May 2022

Driving improvements to local transport services is vital to levelling up. That is why we have committed £5 billion this Parliament to do that.

Reductions in rural bus services in the Dewsbury constituency continue to be a major problem, particularly in villages without nearby rail access such as Grange Moor, Flockton and Emley, leaving many local people unable to access GP surgeries and local amenities. Does my hon. Friend agree that private bus companies and the West Yorkshire Mayor need to look at ways of improving and increasing bus services across rural areas, rather than just focusing on major towns and cities?

That is totally right. That should absolutely be the focus. The Government are determined that great bus services should be available to everyone, everywhere. We have recently announced that we will provide funding to improve bus services in a wide range of areas, and I am delighted with the £70 million that is being made available to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Rural transport networks are the arteries of our towns and villages—they bring life to our communities. However, the answer is not just big buses running the same routes on the same timetable every day; it is also partly about demand-responsive transport. The good news is that Wilshire Council recently won a £1.3 million grant from the Government to invest in demand-responsive transport in the Vale of Pewsey. May I thank the Minister for that award and ask what more the Government are doing to foment the revolution in demand-responsive transport?

I am grateful for the appreciation and, most importantly, his championship of rural communities and the solution that demand-responsive services represent. We recognise that they can really improve the availability of local transport. Our national bus strategy encourages local authorities to consider demand-responsive transport as one of the tools available for improving local bus service provision. As my hon. Friend says, we have provided £20 million from the rural mobility fund to areas across the country to trial demand-responsive transport solutions in rural and suburban areas. I am delighted, and will follow the progress that my hon. Friend is so keen to achieve.

Despite submitting an innovative proposal, Suffolk County Council was not successful in its bid for its bus service plan. It is disappointing that it first heard of this decision through the media, and it is yet to receive a full explanation of why its bid was not accepted. Will my hon. Friend meet the county council and Suffolk MPs to agree a strategy that will ensure that Suffolk has a fully comprehensive and properly integrated bus service?

We were really pleased to receive the bus service improvement plans from all the local transport authorities. On 4 April my Department sent a letter to those areas that were unsuccessful setting out our continued support, advice on enhanced partnerships, and many other ways that we will continue to improve the provision of local bus services. I will certainly ensure that the Minister responsible in the other place holds the meeting that my hon. Friend asks for.

I am going to raise the issue of local bus services as well. What plans are being put in place to make local bus services across Colne Valley more reliable, more regular, more affordable and more environmentally friendly?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion, and he has set out exactly what our national bus strategy wants to achieve. I am thrilled at the ambition that I am hearing from across the House—and, indeed, the country —for better bus services. That is what we want to achieve. I feel the disappointment, but as was set out in the letter of 4 April to the unsuccessful areas, this is not the end of the road—far from it. We will continue the support. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to join the meeting with the Minister in the other place, as we Bus Back Better, particularly in his community.

Given the growing popularity of the Worcestershire Parkway station, which is at the intersection of the North Cotswold line and the Cross Country line, will the Minister ask her colleague’s officials to look again at the compelling strategic outline business case for doubling the North Cotswold line between Oxford and Worcester?

The £500 million restoring your railway fund is supporting more than 45 schemes in England and Wales by providing funding and advice. In answer to her question, it would probably be most appropriate for her to have a meeting with the relevant Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton).

The Government’s help to local bus companies and help for light rail during covid has been appreciated, but already bus companies in Sheffield are starting to make cuts, particularly First. The Government have said that, come October, all covid support will end, and South Yorkshire received no funding whatever under the BSIP. Does the Minister understand that in Sheffield and South Yorkshire, come October, we are not going to get London-style services? Many parts are going to get no bus services whatever.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman recognises the support that has been provided for local services during the pandemic. It was not an insignificant amount; indeed, it was £2 billion. We have provided £2.5 billion in new funding to support improvements to bus services and, as was set out in a letter sent by my Department to unsuccessful areas, we will continue to support operators and local authorities as we roll out our national bus strategy.

Bus services are critical transport infrastructure in Newcastle, but too often my constituents are left waiting for long periods at bus stops for high-priced bus services, not knowing when the buses are going to come. That is only getting worse, with price increases and service cuts. When—I want a date, not talk about the Bus Back Better fund, because that is not going to do it—will my constituents get bus services of the same affordability and quality as London’s? A date, please.

This is an ongoing part of the progress that we are making to ensure that people throughout the country—everyone, everywhere—benefit from better bus services, in both rural and urban areas. As for specific dates, I should be delighted to write to the hon. Lady giving details of any further competitions or funds that might be available. Meanwhile, we will continue to help local authorities and operators—as we have been doing, particularly during the pandemic—to bus back better.

In my constituency we have four railway stations as well as a tube station, but one of those stations, Queenstown Road, has no step-free access and is also inaccessible in other respects, so constituents wanting to board a train on that line have to go to Waterloo. Obviously, we would all agree that this is not fair or right, and it goes against the Government’s commitment in their inclusive transport strategy. Along with other key stakeholders, I have been calling for funds to ensure that we can make Queenstown Road fully accessible and fully inclusive. Will the Minister meet me and other stakeholders to discuss how we can make that a reality?

Of course accessibility is a priority for the Government. As I have said, we want to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can benefit from local services. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), the Rail Minister, will endeavour to meet the hon. Lady to discuss specific proposals for step-free access.

Before the pandemic, the trains to Stansted airport ran every 15 minutes. Since the Department for Transport has been pulling the strings, the frequency has slipped to half-hourly, with a knock-on effect on local transport services. As passenger numbers return to their pre-pandemic levels over the summer, will the Minister revisit that decision as a matter of urgency?

I think the answer is yes, with £16 million of funding, but it would be sensible for the hon. Gentleman to receive further detail in writing from my hon. Friend the Rail Minister.

Buses are lifelines, and for four years we have worked incredibly hard in south Yorkshire to transform our services for the better. We have rightly been ambitious, putting forward a strong levelling-up fund bid and an excellent bus service improvement plan, but the Government supported neither. What advice can the Minister give those in our area, and many others around the country, who have the ambition to transform their services but need investment from national Government in order to do so?

I do not think I have heard such support for buses in any previous session of Transport questions, and it is brilliant to hear it, because we want to drive that patronage. We want to increase the number of people travelling on buses, and I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is championing the cause. As for specific support, I think he should read the letter that we sent out giving details of the support available, and perhaps consider the levelling-up fund, which can also provide support for buses. The closing date for applications is noon on Wednesday 6 July. However, as I have already said many times, we will continue to help local authorities and bus operators to improve bus services for everyone, everywhere.

On Monday, I was in Bradford meeting local schoolchildren left stranded by cuts in Northern rail services. In Wakefield, some passengers will face a four-hour gap in services between 6 am and 10 am. The Transport Secretary has not said a word about the cuts, but has spent his week boasting about new routes in Sevenoaks. Of course the south-east needs routes, as does the rest of the country, but what message does that send to our northern communities? If Ministers mean a single word of what they say about levelling up, will they commit themselves to restoring those northern services to pre-pandemic levels, as a matter of urgency?

My hon. Friend the Rail Minister is shouting, “£16 billion”. There is also £96 billion for improved services in the integrated rail plan.