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Major Transport Infrastructure: North of England

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 13 October 2022

2. What recent steps her Department has taken to deliver major transport infrastructure projects in the north of England. (901605)

Mayoral combined authorities across the north of England each received a share of £5.7 billion over five years from the city region sustainable transport settlements to transform their local transport networks. That builds on nearly £33 billion of central Government spending on transport across the north since 2010 as well as the £96 billion committed to the north and midlands through the integrated rail plan.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her post and thank her for her answer. Doncaster Sheffield airport is a strategic asset not just for South Yorkshire but for the wider north and an important part of our national transport infrastructure, but it is about to close. She has received numerous meeting requests from both the Mayor of South Yorkshire and Members across the House along with specific concerns about how closure would diminish our civil contingency capability, potentially with severe consequences. Will she agree to an urgent meeting to sit down with the Mayor and Members of Parliament from across South Yorkshire so that we can work together and do everything we can to keep DSA open?

The Government are incredibly disappointed that air operations at Doncaster Sheffield airport are expected to close from the start of November. We recognise that that will be difficult news for those who use the airport as well as businesses and people working there. Of course, it was ultimately a commercial decision made by the owners of DSA. I have held several meetings with both local leaders and the Peel Group to encourage them to work together towards a solution for the site that will benefit local people and the region’s economy.

I welcome the Government’s recent commitments to accelerating infrastructure investment and in particular the comments about Northern Powerhouse Rail. Will the Secretary of State encourage spades in the ground for the Ferryhill station project, which is progressing, and meet me and others with regard to the work already being done to put plans in place for the Leamside line and the opportunities to bring it into the full Northern Powerhouse Rail project?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for all transport infrastructure in County Durham, having been so before and indeed now that he is in the House. I will ensure that he can sit down with our rail Minister to discuss in greater detail the investments that we are making. The growth plan, which the Chancellor set out a few weeks ago, sets out clearly why transport infrastructure is critical to helping our economy to grow. We have a broad range of projects that we are both accelerating and continuing with the investments that we have committed.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on the closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport, this is an incredibly urgent and serious issue. I am not sure what meetings the Secretary of State is referring to, but will she now agree to meet local leaders?

I have asked my officials to meet the Mayor of the combined authority in the very near future to continue the discussions we have already had, but, as I say, this is ultimately a commercial decision by the airport owners. We want to work with them and the authority to find the right solutions.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place. May I urge her to continue the work of the former cycling Minister and Active Travel England, who were enthusiastic supporters of the improvement and upgrading of the cycle route between Newcastle and Hexham, and ultimately to Carlisle, to a cycle superhighway? This has the treble benefits of increasing commuting capability, cutting cost of living, and creating both active travel and a tourist destination.

My parliamentary neighbour is nothing if not a champion for all things active travel. I would be very happy for him to sit down with the new cycling Minister to discuss that in more detail. I agree with him absolutely that we need to look at such important cycleways, which offer a series of new economic opportunities, and get those spades in the ground as quickly as possible.

I welcome the new Secretary of State and the entire ministerial team to their place. We look forward to shadowing them. I am afraid that we are not off to a great start, though. The Prime Minister promised to protect Doncaster Sheffield Airport during her leadership campaign, and she gave a promise to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), who I do not see in his place this morning, at her first Prime Minister’s questions to do what she could to protect the airport. This is not just a commercial decision. The Mayor has written to the Peel Group this morning with names of potential bidders and a reiteration of financial support to keep the airport running. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet the Mayor and Members across this House, and consider using her powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to keep this strategic asset running?

Department for Transport Ministers and officials have been clear throughout that the Government support our regional airports and that they provide a vital contribution. Throughout the period of review carried out by the Peel Group, Transport Ministers have been working together—I am very pleased to hear there are new proposals on the table—with the local authorities and the Peel Group to find ways forward. On the issue the hon. Lady raises relating to the Civil Contingencies Act to prevent closure, I have looked at that in some detail. While all things under the Act are owned and determined by Cabinet Office Ministers, I am not persuaded that the closure of DSA could be undertaken under that Act.

As I say, we continue to show that support for our regional airports, but at the end of the day this is an airport held in ownership by the Peel Group and we want to continue to work with it. As I said to many colleagues, we continue to provide the technical support from DFT officials that may help to find a solution, but at the end of the day a solution is offered and accepted, or not, at that level with the Peel Group.