[Sir George Howarth in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Transport in Nottinghamshire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate the Minister on her inaugural Westminster Hall debate. I thank colleagues from across our great county for attending this debate, and I look forward to hearing their contributions. I know that there are other county colleagues who would be here had their ministerial obligations allowed them.
If I may, Sir George, I want to take you on a journey to the heart of England, to a place where the English civil war began and ended. It gave the world Boots the chemist, D. H. Lawrence, Alan Sillitoe, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Sir Paul Smith, Torvill and Dean, Ken Clarke and Ed Balls. The strapline of Nottingham City Council used to be “Our style is legendary”. I submit that, across the arts and sciences, from medicine to sport, from politics to business and literature, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire compete on not only a national but an international stage.
In a global world, connectivity is key. It is therefore appropriate to talk about transport in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. I will talk about recent successes and what more we need to do. Our great county is not one of forests and bows and arrows; its legendary style is taking us into the future. Nottinghamshire is to host the world’s first fusion energy power plant at a site near Retford, bringing billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to the region. The East Midlands freeport, including the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site in Rushcliffe, is the UK’s only inland freeport and promises to position the region as a green tech trailblazer, driving significant new job growth in the region as well as local and international trade.
But we need the funding to match those ambitions. The East Midlands Chamber and east midlands councils analysed the Treasury’s latest public expenditure statistical analysis for 2021. They found that there was a particular deficit in transport infrastructure spending, at just 64.7% of the UK average for 2020-21—the joint lowest of any UK region or nation. If the east midlands were funded at a level equivalent to the national average, it would have an extra £1.26 billion a year to spend on transport.
Over the past 10 years, there has been a growing gap in transport spend between the east midlands and the west midlands, where spend has been rising. In 2016-17, the £217 per head spent on transport in the east midlands was two thirds of the £322 received by the west midlands, and by 2019-20 that proportion had declined to 61%.
Before speaking about how we might remedy that, I want to praise the good news. I welcomed the publication of the integrated rail plan in 2021, which offered a £96 billion package. The Sun newspaper described the east midlands as the big winners of the plan, and I am particularly keen to see High Speed 2 come to Nottinghamshire to reduce not only travel times to London but the journey time from Nottingham to Birmingham from 74 minutes to 26 minutes. John Lewis might have closed its store in central Birmingham, but residents of Edgbaston and Selly Oak will have no trouble coming to Nottingham to shop.
I also welcome the integrated rail plan’s inclusion of the full electrification of the midland main line. It has been a long time coming. I remember as an 18-year-old attending my first Conservative parliamentary selection meeting for the 2001 general election and hearing the campaign hopefuls talking about it then. We seem finally to be making progress on that. I ask the Minister to confirm that the Government remain committed to delivering the integrated rail plan in full, including the plans for the east midlands generally and Nottinghamshire in particular, and that recent announcements about Northern Powerhouse Rail will not affect the county.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate on such an important topic. Does he share my concern that we have been promised investment in east midlands transport many times, only to be disappointed? Schemes such as the electrification of the midland main line have been promised and then withdrawn. Does he share my concern that we are having to wait longer and longer for the improved transport services that our region needs? Does he share my hope that the Minister will commit to some timescales for the completion of the electrification and the HS2 link to the east midlands?
The hon. Lady comes to this debate with more experience than me of being a Nottinghamshire MP, having been in this House for some time. Also, as a former Chair of the Transport Committee, she speaks with some experience of this issue in particular. However, I come here optimistic and hopeful that we will see the progress that has perhaps eluded us for too long.
Our railways are not just about inter-city travel; getting into and out of cities from suburbs, towns and villages is equally important. The integrated rail plan offered, business case permitting, investment in the Robin Hood and Maid Marian lines. Can the Minister say whether these schemes are included in the Department’s acceleration unit’s portfolio of projects?
In my constituency of Gedling, we have three railway stations—Burton Joyce, Carlton and Netherfield—that are not being used to their full potential. They are pleasant stations, but local residents complain that if they have a train to take them to work in the morning, they will not necessarily have one to take them home. Too many trains pass through Gedling stations without stopping and rail services do not run late enough for the train to be an option for those travelling to the city of Nottingham for leisure.
This can and must be remedied. Improvements on the lines between Nottingham, Lincoln and Grantham can help to make rail journeys competitive with car journeys. I know that the Minister will receive a business case from Midlands Connect in the new year on how to make improvements on this line. Can she make a quick determination on that proposal? If she would like to visit any of those stations to help her to understand the problem, she is more than welcome to visit.
Netherfield station stands on the Grantham line, which runs south from Nottingham, which brings me to another serious topic: crossing the river. In “Henry IV, Part One”, Hotspur speaks of
“the smug and silver Trent”.
I would not describe the Trent as “silver” these days, but perhaps the river had reason to fill “smug” in February 2020, when it succeeded in bringing gridlock to Nottingham. There are three bridges across the River Trent in Greater Nottingham. The latest was opened to traffic in the early 1980s, having originally been built as a railway bridge in the 1870s. Over time, the growing city has had to rely on these existing connections, which lie in the centre of the western city.
In February 2020, it was discovered that water damage had corroded steelwork under the Clifton bridge, which is the only dual carriageway crossing in Greater Nottingham. That caused the temporary closure of the east bridge, which carries all eastbound traffic and one lane of westbound traffic, while the bridge was repaired. The closure of the Clifton bridge brought large parts of the city to a standstill at rush hour, including traffic on the A612 in Gedling, which is on the other side of Greater Nottingham. Natalie Fahy, editor of The Nottingham Post, wrote at the time:
“The closure of Clifton Bridge means traffic has been chaotic, with journeys of just a few miles taking people hours to complete. The QMC has been hard to reach, being stuck right at the epicentre of the crisis. Throw into the mix a high-stakes Forest game at home and you’ve got a big Nottingham problem.”
“The problem we’ve got is that there is no slack in our traffic system. We are incredibly vulnerable.”
Ms Fahy’s analysis is, I submit, entirely right. One remedy would be to construct a fourth crossing for road traffic across the River Trent in Greater Nottingham. A fourth Trent crossing to the east of the city would relieve the pressure on the existing system. If it was constructed in, for example, Colwick, that would complement the recently built Gedling access road, while also providing better services and better access to the A46 for residents in the eastern side of Nottingham.
Midlands Connect has described the A46, which runs from Somerset to Lincolnshire, as one of the country’s most important trade routes, performing an important local, regional and national function. The Government have previously signalled their commitment to the importance of the A46 in Nottinghamshire by widening the single carriageway section between Newark and Widmerpool, and there are plans for an A46 Newark bypass. A fourth Trent crossing would connect Gedling to the A46 corridor. I spoke earlier about the East Midlands freeport and the thousands of green jobs that it is destined to create. I want my constituents to be able to access those jobs, which a fourth Trent crossing would help them to do.
A full bridge would be costly, and I appreciate that infrastructure projects take time and need to progress step by step. However, I would be grateful if the Minister signalled her support for a strategic outline business case for such a project, which even in these financially straitened times would come in at a much more manageable £150,000.
I must resist the temptation to be too Gedling-focused in any debate about Nottinghamshire. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) cannot contribute to today’s debate, let me also mention Nottinghamshire County Council’s £40 million levelling-up bid to finance the planned Toton link road. The new link road would consist of a one-mile, single carriageway track between the A52 east of Bardills island and Stapleford lane, taking the form of a high-quality, landscaped boulevard with significant tree planting and walking and cycling routes. I know from the recently opened Gedling access road, which cost a similar amount, how transformative such a scheme can be. The Minister will be instinctively coy about commenting on levelling-up funding, but I gently ask whether the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is aware of the merits of these proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe would have also mentioned bus services and the vital lifeline they provide for elderly and vulnerable constituents, citing particular concern about the withdrawal of the L10 and L11 services in Bramcote, and now the withdrawal of the number 21. Other Members will likely also mention bus services, but locally in Gedling, I welcome the Government’s support for the bus service improvement plan, which will support a number of routes, including the 39, 53 and Lime Line services from Arnold to the city of Nottingham.
So far, I have focused on the south of the county. As someone who was born in Nottingham and lives in Arnold, I hope that is forgivable—I have tried to speak about what I know. I have also covered projects that might be considered high level. However, in any discussion about transport in Nottinghamshire, I ought to mention the concern of the average road user: potholes. It is no secret that Nottinghamshire’s roads need a bit of tender loving care, and the issue has been the subject of numerous local newspaper reports.
I will highlight two recent developments. The county council decided to replace—where possible—the much-hated, temporary “tarmac out of a bag” pothole repairs, which seemed to disintegrate as soon as workmen had tended to them, with a new patch repair way of cutting and filling, which works much better, lasts longer and is much neater. I also applaud the Conservative-run Nottinghamshire County Council’s decision to spend an extra £15 million on road repairs. Residents in and around Westdale lane in Carlton, to give one example of many, will much appreciate that forthcoming transformative investment.
We will hear shortly from the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), and others who will speak knowledgeably about the entire county, particularly the north. In general, I am positive about the future possibilities for transport in Nottinghamshire, and the forthcoming Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire devolution deal, which will see transport decisions made more locally. Nottingham and Nottinghamshire’s leaders have worked in partnership with the Government to deliver a series of announcements for our region. I look forward to hearing colleagues’ contributions on how we can make sure that not only our style, but our transport, is made legendary.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on securing this timely debate and welcome my hon. Friend the Minister. I feel sure that our transport woes are about to be magicked into thin air as she takes hold of her brief. I thank her for being here today.
The 20th century will be remembered for many things: the telephone, the television, the internet, two world wars, one World cup, Beatlemania, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and the second Elizabethan age. But it will also be remembered as the century where our public transport policy—pardon the pun—lost its way. Convinced as we were that the car was king, public transport infrastructure was neglected or destroyed. From Beeching to Blair, railways bore the brunt. Buses were brushed aside, and cycling and walking were relegated to the second division of transport choices.
It is only since the Conservative Government came into office in 2010 that this 20th-century, feet-of-clay thinking has been replaced with 21st-century, forward-looking optimism. That optimism reimagines our transport system around car-free journeys and reinvests in our public transport system. It is behind the Government’s drive to make record investment in transport to and from Nottinghamshire.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling mentioned, last autumn the integrated rail plan confirmed the delivery of HS2 right into the heart of Rushcliffe, to East Midlands Parkway station. That is also the heart of the new East Midlands freeport. We will get up and down our country faster. Train times from Nottingham to London will be cut by two thirds. We will get across our country faster. Train times from Nottingham to Birmingham will also be slashed by two thirds. It is a package worth more than £10 billion for the east midlands.
The arrival of HS2 will help to level up a region that has historically suffered from one of the lowest transport spending rates per head anywhere in country, and that is not all. We are also powering ahead with the electrification of the midland main line. As a result of that investment, travel to and from Nottinghamshire will be much faster than before. The Government’s vision for building big infrastructure is impressive, but smaller and—crucially, in the current climate—much cheaper investment is also needed to improve people’s daily journeys.
I am quite surprised to hear the hon. Member talking as if there were no investment in transport in Nottinghamshire under the last Labour Government, because of course Nottingham City Council was able to create its tram lines in that period, which have obviously been expanded in recent years. Does she share my concern, however, that I will have retired, and perhaps she will have too, before future improvements such as the electrification of the midland main line and HS2 actually appear in our constituencies?
Not at all. I looked up the last Labour Government’s delivery of miles of track, and it was something absolutely pathetic—something like 63 miles—so I have every faith that the delivery of the midland main line electrification and HS2 will come a lot faster than they would if Labour were in charge.
For my constituents, getting around Rushcliffe and into Nottingham, Loughborough and Melton is also key, and there are two issues I want to touch on in this debate. One is the train service from Radcliffe-on-Trent to Nottingham; the second is the issue of rural buses, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling highlighted.
In Radcliffe-on-Trent, we need a more reliable, frequent train service on the Poacher line, with trains every hour between 6.30 am and 10 pm, and every half an hour at peak times. Constituents have told me that the early finish to train services and the long gaps between trains mean they are not a realistic option for commuting, or for going into Nottingham in the evenings. There is also only step-free access on one side of the station for customers going into Nottingham. How those who cannot use steps are supposed to cross the railway tracks once they get back to Radcliffe is not entirely clear. We applied to the restoring your railway fund, but were refused on the grounds that our railway was already up and running. That is fair, but it seems a shame not to invest what must be a fraction of the cost of restoring a derelict track in order to enable more people to use an existing one.
I have been working with the Department for Transport and with East Midlands Railway, and we have made some good progress. Earlier morning services have been introduced, as has an additional peak service and evening service, and we have more services on Saturday and Sunday. However, we are still short of the regular service we need. DFT is working on a business case to extend the service, and East Midlands Railway has told us how popular the new services have been. I have been fortunate to have great support from previous rail Ministers, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that the new ministerial team at the Department will continue to support the project to get more trains running to and from Nottingham and Radcliffe-on-Trent, serving this fast-growing community in my constituency.
Many of my constituents also rely on rural bus services to go to work, doctors’ appointments and the shops, and to visit friends and family. Last month, out of the blue, Trentbarton announced that it would be cutting the Skylink bus service between Nottingham and Loughborough. That service links many of my constituents in villages such as Sutton Bonington and Normanton-on-Soar to vital services in those centres. I would like to share with Members a couple of stories from constituents who rely on that service. Carol Payne says:
“I live on my own in a housing association property in the village and don’t drive. I also have a son with SEN who has recently started uni at Brackenhurst NTU, we chose this so that if he needed support we could meet in Nottingham. This is now not the case as the weekend service is cancelled and there is the worry the service could be cancelled altogether…I myself work in Loughborough”,
at the college,
“and rely on the bus to get to work and back. Without this service I cannot work which ultimately means I could lose my job and possibly my home if I can’t pay my bills. I cannot afford to move to Loughborough, as I would need to rent privately…I travel on this service twice a day…people use this particular service for work but it is also used by several young people who are using it to access Loughborough college and some schools.”
Jodie Warrington writes:
“I for one, and I know many other residents, use the bus to get to QMC for hospital appointments on a regular basis. I also use the bus to get into Loughborough to do the shopping. With two villages only having one corner shop and two very small community shops, how are we meant to shop cheaply with the cost of living? As far as residents are aware, no consultation has been sent regarding losing this bus service. I can’t afford taxis everywhere. How do we get to doctor’s appointments, hospital appointments, food shopping, top up gas and electric? I can’t walk the mile there and back to Pasture Lane stores in Sutton Bonington from Normanton with my disabilities. I have no family that I can really rely on.”
I am extremely grateful to Nottinghamshire County Council and the leader of said council, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), who is sitting next to me, for stepping in to provide the funding for this service until April, while a review of bus services across the county is undertaken. I know that work patterns have changed for many people since the pandemic. Many routes that used to be commercially viable and could cross-subsidise those that were not, no longer make enough money.
We need to look at new ways to provide these services, such as the on-demand bus model being trialled in Nottinghamshire. We also need to address the issue of shortage of labour, because Trentbarton is struggling to get enough drivers to maintain its timetable. Buses have become irregular to the point where the timetable is part fact and part fiction. It is making daily tasks and journeys very difficult for my constituents. Just this morning, constituents from Cotgrave told me that last night lots of people were unable to get home as all the buses were suddenly cancelled, due to a lack of drivers.
Trentbarton is not the only bus company facing this problem. Having spoken to them, I understand that the main issues in recruiting drivers are people no longer wanting to work unsociable hours after the break over the pandemic, and the higher wages being offered to HGV drivers. Businesses up and down Rushcliffe in all sorts of sectors—transport, farming, hospitality and social care—all tell me of their difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff.
The tight labour market is one of the biggest supply-side issues facing businesses and inhibiting growth at the moment. I urge the Minister to take that feedback to colleagues, and also ensure that we have strong plans to encourage more people into careers across our transport sector. I also hope the Minister will be able to commit to a meeting with Nottinghamshire colleagues and Nottinghamshire County Council to discuss how we can continue to fund and deliver a strong rural bus network, right across the county.
We are getting funding but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield will set out in more detail in his speech, it comes with caveats, such as that the funding must be spent on bus lanes. On many of Rushcliffe’s rural roads there is no space for bus lanes—we would rather have the buses in the first place, please. Reliable buses and regular trains, accessible stations and timetables that mean that people who took the train to work can also get home: I accept those are not the sexy announcements that make the front page, but they are the vital bread-and-butter services that enable our constituents to use public transport to get to work, to take their family on an outing, to do their weekly shop, or to visit their doctor, dentist, hairdresser or dog groomer. Get the picture: it is important.
If we want to promote the use of public transport, it needs to be regular, reliable and convenient. Otherwise, why would people use it? The Government are trying to encourage more car-free journeys, so it is vital that investment is made in the local transport that people use every day, if we want to encourage people to use that instead of the car. I met a gentleman at a parish meeting in Keyworth last week, who told me that he used to get the bus to work in Nottingham. The bus had become so irregular and unreliable that it was taking him longer than it took his partner to drive from Keyworth to Coventry. He no longer takes the bus.
Strong public transport networks become even more vital when we consider the record number of new homes being built. In Rushcliffe we have seen far more new homes and developments than the national constituency average. They have been built without the infrastructure to match. Reform of the planning system is an issue for another debate; I can hear the Minister breathing a huge sigh of relief at that. The wider issue that is relevant today is that resilient public transport networks and infrastructure are even more vital in areas with significant numbers of new houses being built—areas such as Rushcliffe.
That brings me to my fourth point, which is, happily, about the fourth bridge—the one over the Trent, that is, as showcased earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling. My hon. Friend described the chaos that rained down on Nottinghamshire the weekend when Clifton bridge was shut for emergency repairs. I think I remember reading at the time that, on that weekend, Nottingham was the most congested city in not only the UK and Europe, but the world.
In conclusion, at the moment our infrastructure for crossing the Trent is stretched to capacity. I really hope that the Minister will commit to delivering the initial assessment of proposals so that we can consider our options, including costs and timescales. We have made fantastic leaps forward with big infrastructure investments, but we now need to focus on the issues that affect people getting around our constituencies every single day. Buses and trains need to be reliable and frequent; if they are, I am sure people will use them more and more.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on securing this important debate. I echo his words about the fourth Trent crossing; he is a keen campaigner on this issue and has been lobbying hard for several years to bring forward an idea that he has discussed with me in my role as leader of the council. The project is well beyond our local budget, but I would welcome the opportunity to work with the Government and bring forward a business case in the way my hon. Friend has described. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Minister, who, even during our short seconds of conversation before this debate, has already made me decide that she is a breath of fresh air. I hope that will continue.
As colleagues have mentioned, I am the leader of the local transport authority, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to bang on at length about these issues—I think I have about an hour left to go through them all. I want to start with the very local and raise a couple of Mansfield-specific issues with the Minister. The first is the Robin Hood line. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) and I have been banging on about this now, in our various capacities, for about 12 years. We have made a lot of progress: the project has inched forward significantly, but it has only inched. We have had a commitment for a long time, but progress is slow. It was finally announced in the integrated rail plan, most recently, as part of the connections around Nottinghamshire in Toton, which are hugely important.
There is now further potential to link the existing Robin Hood line—it is still in place; it just needs upgrading—to projects such as STEP Fusion in the north of the locality. There is the opportunity to bring in billions in investment, jobs and growth and link all that together. We can improve on the issue and take local control over through our devolution deal, but should take any opportunity to accelerate the process or bring forward what is a smaller and perhaps less widely strategically vital project for the locality and the region, but hugely important to local communities, who just want to access work and leisure opportunities that they cannot at the minute without a car. Many cannot afford a car in those areas. The issue is hugely important to us and I welcome any opportunity to accelerate the project.
The second issue is the Sainsbury’s junction, as it is known locally, on the A60 in Mansfield. Frustratingly, at one point I had actually secured the funding the fix it. We worked hard prior to the pandemic to come up with a workable plan that we thought would improve the situation resulting from the district council’s helpful decision to put about 20 different businesses, including two supermarkets, into a retail site with one entrance and exit on to a busy trunk road. People can queue for up to an hour at Christmas to get out of it.
We came up with a plan and submitted it to the Government’s pinch point fund and were promptly told that we would get the money. That was the day before the pandemic hit, and the money was promptly—and quite understandably—reprioritised to other things. But the plan is there and the money was there. If we could get the money, we would crack on and do it. The issue is hugely important to my constituents. Does the Minister know whether such pinch point-type funding opportunities are likely to be revisited?
My final point, a positive one, is about the significant upgrades to the A614—the spine road up through the north of Nottinghamshire that allows many of my constituents to get to work—that are starting this year. We are keen to deliver those and accelerate the outcomes and the growth they will unlock around those communities. People will not be surprised to hear that inflationary pressures will have an impact. Are the Government minded to give support to deal with inflationary pressures around such projects? The good news is that work will commence later this year.
My colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) and for Gedling, have touched on the issues I want to raise, beyond Mansfield and into the county. The first is highways maintenance. A good quality highway network is absolutely key for residents in Nottinghamshire. It is always the number one thing that comes up in county council elections and in surveys; I imagine it will be the number one issue that people raise in our budget survey later this year. Although our care services are vital, they touch only a very small proportion of our residents, whereas everybody uses the roads.
We undertook a massive review about 12 months ago. It has now finished and has resulted in 50 different actions that we will take forward, including a longer-term programme of works and improving the way we repair local roads, including residential roads, with a move to a “right first time” approach where we make the more expensive, long-term repair that delivers the quality residents expect, instead of temporary repairs, wherever we can. We are also working hard to communicate better with residents to make sure they understand what is happening on their street and why and how long it will take, in advance of it happening, which has perhaps been lacking up to now. I am pleased we have been able to do that.
We have invested an additional £12 million over the next four years, on top of the £18.5 million annual DFT funding, to start to tackle the historic backlog of repairs. In truth, there is some £150 million-worth of repairs. If the Minister can find that down the back of the sofa, I can get it all sorted. It is a challenge. Dare I say that this is what happens when 32 years out of the last 40 have been Labour-led in the county? I knew Opposition Members would enjoy that remark.
The changes we have introduced are starting to make a real difference to residents on the ground. We have reduced the number of temporary repairs, which everybody hates to see, by nearly 60%, while doubling the number of square metres of high-quality repairs that we have been able to do over the past 12 months. Those outcomes are great, but we have thousands of miles of road to cover, so that is a really long-term project. We are making good progress. I welcome the announcement that the pothole element of the DFT funds will continue into next year. I hope we will get a good share to be able to tackle the backlog and continue to deliver this work.
On wider transport, and particularly buses, it is often forgotten how important they are—not just the local economy in terms of jobs, industry and the supply chain, but for connecting people to health and leisure opportunities and as support for my constituents in tackling health inequalities and having better lifestyles. That is hugely important to all of us.
We had a relatively good bus network around the county pre-covid, with high levels of satisfaction. The county council was consistently rated in the top three upper-tier authorities in the country. We annually invest more than £4 million into bus service provision, supporting 80 services that, pre-covid, carried nearly 2 million people. The commercial sector would not provide those services and we have worked really hard to sustain them and to provide lots of new infrastructure.
This year, we have provided further temporary support to another 20 services to help bus recovery. That is the thin line that prevents those services from being withdrawn, because they are not commercially viable. As with many parts of the country, there are increasing challenges for bus companies and the provision of services, including inflationary costs, driver shortages and passenger confidence, which has taken a massive hit, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe described. It is increasingly difficult for bus companies to show up on time, or even at all, and deliver a service. We get a daily constituency report of all the different bus routes that have been cancelled that day, with less than a day’s notice. That makes it incredibly difficult for people to be able to get around and get to work.
Local bus companies have undertaken big recruitment campaigns and lots of new drivers are being trained, and hopefully we will get there in time, but the viability of the routes is a huge concern. I welcome the Government’s support for the sector. We have been able to prop up some of those services because of that support. We are also trialling on-demand responsive transport, which has to be part of the future of the networks to make them sustainable, so that we are not running empty buses around fixed routes all the time. We have been able to pilot that as a result of the national bus strategy rural mobility fund. That seems to be going really well, to the point that the residents who sit just outside the pilot areas are asking when they will get access to these new services, which is really good news.
We have been indicatively allocated £30 million under the bus service improvement plan, for which I am grateful. The truth is that many fixed-route services are not likely to be viable in the future if trends continue. There are really challenging times ahead for bus services. The current combined funding will not support them all from April next year. I have asked the Government to look at greater flexibility in BSIP funding to tackle services being withdrawn in rural areas and market towns. It is really difficult to justify investing in bus lanes and other infrastructure when at the same time services are being withdrawn.
I have recently written to the Secretary of State for Transport to ask for the flexibility to spend that money on a viable bus service, rather than on bus lanes for buses that I have not got. That would be really helpful, and I hope it would be common sense. I have written a very long letter to the Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, laying out a number of ways we could use local money that already exists more flexibly, rather than having to splash the cash on lots of things. We could certainly make it simpler for ourselves.
The final thing I will touch on is the macro bit—the regional bit—which is where the good stuff is happening. It speaks to what the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said earlier on about the commitment to get these things done, and that is the devolution deal we secured this summer. It is massively meaningful, because it gives us local control over delivery of lots of these projects. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling touched on earlier, the figures around investment in the region make for stark reading, both in terms of transport and wider public spending and private sector spending. Even for the year 2020-2021, if we were to have the average level of national funding that would be an additional £1 billion into our region to support those services, so it is really meaningful.
That is why I am so pleased that we have been able to secure the largest gainshare investment fund in any devolution deal anywhere in the country ever, which is brilliant. It is worth just over £1.1 billion to our area, with a further transport pot yet to be determined. In the west midlands they recently got another £1 billion on top of that to invest in their local transport, which would be absolutely fantastic. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) for signing off and making that commitment to Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the east midlands when he was Secretary of State.
It gives us the opportunity to do all sorts of really good things, such as joined-up ticketing across the network on all types of service. Someone should be able to get from Arnold or West Bridgford to the Peak District on one ticket, across bus, train and tram with one day rate in a really simple and joined-up way in the future, and that will be hugely meaningful and impactful to local residents. It also gives us the opportunity to lay out those key routes around employment in particular, to fill the gaps on that key route network and to link up our transport systems to the sites of future jobs and investments—I mentioned STEP fusion earlier on.
We have a £20 billion investment; we can not only build the skills pipelines and support that industry, but connect people into work from the surrounding villages and towns and ensure everybody has access to those opportunities. We can also accelerate long-awaited projects such as the Robin Hood line and the Maid Marian line.
Take the Toton site, for example, which I know the Minister knows well. It is the site of significant jobs and investment in coming years. It has been in the integrated rail plan, and there is new station investment and all sorts of commercial and housing investment going on there. We need a link road, which we put in a levelling-up fund bid for and which I hope the Government will look favourably on, but we then have the ability to install that road network and public transport network to deliver projects, such as the Maid Marian line, that connect surrounding towns and villages into Toton. We will have that in our local control for the first time; that is hugely important and meaningful, and tackles some of the concerns that the hon. Member for Nottingham South laid out earlier.
We will have responsibility for the wider area transport plan by March 2024. Being able to build a joined-up strategy across the whole area is really important, because it means that residents living in Broxtowe, Mansfield or Ashfield—who may just as well travel into Derbyshire as into Nottinghamshire for work and leisure—can have a joined-up system that actually works and connects them to the places they get to, and not be constrained by boundaries.
I agree with many of the points that the hon. Member has made, but if the region is to be successful in planning for the future and developing the transport network that we need in Nottinghamshire—and, indeed, those links across to Derbyshire and other parts of the east midlands—do we not need certainty from the Government about investment in the future? As he will know, we spent a great deal of time planning around an HS2 station at Toton, only for it to move to East Midlands Parkway. Would certainty about both timescales and locations not enable us to do a better job in the region?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling said, she knows the area incredibly well and knows the transport issues incredibly well from her own experience. She is right, of course, that certainty would be hugely helpful; she pointed to the midland main line, where we perhaps have not had that in the past. I was really pleased to see that as one of the accelerated projects in the recent Budget announcement, which I am really grateful for.
What this devolution deal gives us is certainty; we know we will have that funding over the next 30 years, and we know it will be within our local control to deliver some of these projects. We have been given overall control over the integrated rail plan, which means that those HS2 stations, what we build around them and the transport connectivity to join it all together is, for the first time, within our local gift, instead of relying on Government to do that. That is a good thing because it means we can focus on our local priorities.
I totally get what the hon. Member for Nottingham South is saying, but there are some answers in this devolution settlement that can help us achieve our priorities. As I say, we will have that integrated rail plan and the HS2 element, so there is a huge growth potential. If we can get that right, that would be meaningful for investment, jobs and opportunities in our area, so I am excited about that.
I would welcome a conversation with the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), about the options and that certainty around HS2. So far, we have gotten to Parkway, Nottingham and Derby, and then Sheffield to Leeds, but there are still some options on the table for the bit in the middle. I have a view as to what those options should be, as I know many colleagues, Midlands Connect and others will have, but the timescales to make that decision are uncertain, so I would welcome the chance to have that conversation.
To summarise, there are significant challenges on a local level where we need support to maintain networks—not least bus networks, in the short term—to improve highways and to help our communities, but I welcome the long-term opportunities that come from that devolution settlement to deliver more investment and growth, to improve our transport links and to have more local say over how it all works.
I hope the Minister will take away the requirement to ensure those two things are joined up. That would enable us to sustain and protect local services while we put together those plans and strategies over the next 18 months before our devolution deal comes into force, and ensure that those things are not lost and we do not end up with a big gap in the middle. If the Department for Transport and wider Government can help us to overcome those challenges, the future for investment and transport links in our area is bright.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) for securing this important debate, and to all those hon. Members who have contributed. I also thank those who have listened intently; I allude to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) and the new shadow transport Minister, my good Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood), who have a passion for the region and wider transport systems in our country. I welcome the Minister to her place; this is the first time we have met in a Westminster Hall debate since her appointment. I have been in my role for almost three years, and I seem to welcome a new opposite number most years, but I shall not take it personally.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate on transport in Nottinghamshire, and it seems appropriate, given the economic situation. Perhaps if the Government had adopted the economic principles of Robin Hood instead of doing the exact opposite, they might not be in this economic crisis. Although the area is nearly 150 miles from my Slough constituency and a few hours from it by train, I know that constituents in the region have suffered badly from the same mismanagement of our national transport system that my constituents have, as have countless communities across our country.
When it comes to transport, overpromising and underdelivering more than epitomise this Government’s policy direction. Trying to follow the recommitments, U-turns and cancellations is enough to make anyone dizzy. Northern Powerhouse Rail was launched, and then scrapped. Then the Prime Minister promised that it would be built in full, but that is being put into question by her new Chancellor. High Speed 2 was promised in full and then scaled back, and the Toton rail hub was removed. The east midlands is chronically underfunded and receives the lowest amount of public funding in the whole of England, and there is a lack of certainty for transport industries, which are eager to deliver on key transformative projects for the people of Nottinghamshire. It is an utter shambles.
Like the hon. Member for Gedling, I will try to decipher the ambiguities of the Government’s policies and to figure out exactly what their plan is for long-neglected midlands communities. As he rightly said, funding needs to match the ambitions of the people in the region, especially with regard to HS2. It is clear that for decades Nottinghamshire has been sidelined when it comes to funding viable transport solutions for residents. In spite of the excellent work of local leaders, organisations and local enterprise partnerships, the east midlands has consistently received the lowest public spending allocation in England, according to the Government’s own figures. The region ranks bottom or near the bottom for spending per head of population almost across the board.
The East Midlands Chamber and East Midlands Councils have produced a statistical analysis that shows that transport infrastructure spending in the region was just 64.7% of the UK average for 2020-21—the joint lowest of any UK region or nation. If the region had been funded properly and fairly, it would have had an extra £1.26 billion to spend on transport alone.
Sadly, that neglect is also reflected in national policy announcements. On rail, opportunities have been missed or delayed. HS2 commitments for the midlands have been vague or missed. Can the Minister provide clarity today? What are her Government’s proposals for HS2 in the midlands under the new leadership? How will she ensure that they are delivered on time, within budget and with minimal disruption to local residents? Is there an update on the proposed railway station at Toton?
I am becoming increasingly concerned that the draconian cuts that the Chancellor has confirmed will take place may include cuts to HS2 spending. Rowing back further on half-baked plans will not benefit Nottinghamshire, or any other region of our country. When the integrated rail plan was first published, Transport for the East Midlands noted:
“full delivery of the Eastern Leg of HS2 as originally proposed is the best way to connect the towns and cities of the Midlands and the North, address transport poverty and ‘level up’ the eastern side of Britain”.
HS2, including the eastern leg to Leeds, should be built in full. Fulfilment of that project would also open a door to improved rail services elsewhere, releasing much-needed capacity. When HS2 is running, it may be possible to double the number of services between Nottingham and Lincoln to two per hour. As the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) noted, the region needs more train services. She also spoke about the criticality of bus services for rural areas, and gave some excellent examples from constituents. Under this Government, there have recently been 19,000 cuts to rail services and 5,000 cuts to bus services.
On Northern Powerhouse Rail, it seems that the Government do not know whether they are coming or going. Will the Minister confirm that a link to the midlands will be included in the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals when the project is looked at again? We need reassurances that promises will be kept. The Prime Minister committed to the project in full; when will we have confirmation of that? When will the Minister be able to comment on the business case submitted in May 2021 for a line between Nottingham, Leicester and Coventry? That project is supported by 87% of local people, and has an initial delivery time of just four years. It would cut journey times and reinstate a direct rail link, so I hope that her Department looks at that proposal favourably.
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) spoke about various local projects, including the Sainsbury’s junction, funding for local transport projects, the A64 and potholes, which are a perennial problem across our country. As the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, he is looking to build on the good work of previous councils. Hopefully, there will be clarity from the Minister on those projects.
There has, however, been some progress. I am pleased that there has been progress on the electrification of the midlands main line. That must form part of a rolling annual programme of electrification that brings down costs, ensures a sustainable supply chain and helps us to tackle the climate crisis. What are the timescales for electrification? That question was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), the former Chair of the Transport Select Committee, no less? She has vast experience. Many constituents in Nottinghamshire and beyond need certainty about the programme of electrification. Will the Minister elaborate and give us that certainty?
Transport can be transformative to people’s livelihoods and wellbeing, and can increase the opportunities available to them, particularly during a cost of living crisis. That is particularly true of bus services. In Nottingham, key services have been preserved, due to the hard-working, Labour-run local authority managing to secure much-needed funding. That is in the face of 5,000 services being lost nationally. Nationwide, almost 60% of areas missed out on funding altogether, which will do long-term damage to bus networks. Great Britain is the only country in the developed world where private bus operators set routes and fares with no say from the public.
The Labour party would put the public back in control of the public transport that they heavily depend on; they would have the power to set bus fares and routes, which is as it should be. Local communities and leaders know best when it comes to the transport services that they use every day, so I hope the Minister has heard what hon. Members have said today about the local council’s bid for the Toton link road. It would bring benefits to the tune of 400 jobs and 2,700 new homes, and has a potential completion date of 2026. Will the Minister look at the application very carefully and consider the significant benefits that it could bring?
We face impending cuts, and the Government have form on slashing transport commitments, but I remind Ministers that our commitments to net zero, a thriving economy and a levelled-up north and midlands cannot be achieved without transport investment. It is always the communities outside our capital hubs that get left behind, so I hope the Minister has positive news for the future of transport in Nottinghamshire.
It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Sir George. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) for securing this debate. He has demonstrated his passion for what has been his home county—man and boy? I see him nodding. It has been a thoughtful and interesting debate, and I thank everyone who has contributed.
I thank the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) for his warm comments welcoming me. In many respects, his remarks have epitomised the debate. He highlighted the investment in London and the south-east in previous years. Perhaps, offline, he will let me know what the people of Slough and London would not have wanted to happen that would have allowed for investment in Nottingham. However, I want to stay positive.
Colleagues might not be aware, but Nottingham is close to my heart. It is where I went to university, and every Saturday I played amateur sport all over the county. As I listened to the contributions, I remembered the practicalities of trying to get from point A to point B in the county. I recognise many of the points that hon. Members have raised on behalf of their communities.
As a civil engineer’s daughter and a northern MP, I appreciate in both a practical and intellectual capacity what a positive impact good transport links have, and the need for certainty and investment to make them happen. The Department is committed to using transport to drive economic growth across the country. We are also determined to play our part in making transport greener—for example, through the electrification of rail lines. I am proud that this Government are investing in transport for people, including those in Nottinghamshire and the broader east midlands. Today’s debate highlights how crucial the interconnections are between transport modes. Responsibility for much transport connectivity in the area rests with Nottinghamshire County Council, working closely with the bus partnerships. There is a significant role for national operators such as Network Rail and National Highways, as well as regional transport. I was delighted to hear the emphasis that my hon. Friend and leader of Nottingham City Council, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), placed on the devolution deal.
I apologise profusely to the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council—of course, Robin Hood Energy is not something that he would have put in place. Perhaps some of that funding might helpfully have been used to improve transport, but that is a conversation for another day.
There is lots to be positive about in Nottinghamshire. The devolution deal that has been agreed with some of the authorities in the east midlands is great; the commitment of local leaders, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield, in agreeing that deal and working together to deliver it is really important. There is an exciting public consultation this year, in advance of formal proposals to Government. When implemented, that deal will see a new combined authority formed, with an elected Mayor and significantly greater transport freedoms, as has been highlighted. For example, the Mayor will have the power to decide whether to introduce bus franchising, or integrated ticketing across public transport areas to join up the multiple local authorities in the region. As a northern MP, joining up the dots in regional transport is, and will continue to be, a passion of mine.
We will also provide funding to the combined authority, so that it can create a new local transport plan that integrates transport in Nottinghamshire with transport in the surrounding authorities, and can target transport funding at the areas that need it most. Once the Mayor and the combined authority are in place, the deal will include a Government fund of £38 million a year over 30 years to be invested by the combined authority, so that it can drive growth and deliver its priorities. That will provide the region with the certainty regarding investment and the power that many Members have mentioned. That east midlands investment fund will be monitored to make sure it is driving economic growth and levelling up, but given the energy and ideas that have already been displayed in the Chamber, I am confident that it will do that.
I turn to issues raised in the debate, starting with the roads projects, as I am the roads Minister. Improving road connectivity, enhancing safety and reducing congestion are important priorities, which is why we are already investing in the roads around Nottinghamshire. We are boosting economic growth; we want to reduce delays and incidents by improving the A46 Newark bypass. National Highways will soon launch a public consultation on its latest plans, and I would be grateful for the input of anybody watching this debate and of Members present.
Another example of progress being made is the A614/A6097 corridor scheme—try saying that after a couple of beers—on the major road network. It was identified in the Chancellor’s recent economic growth plan as a scheme that the Government want to accelerate as fast as possible, because we recognise its importance. Those improvements are designed to deal with increasing traffic volumes, to relieve congestion, and to improve safety for all road users. That work will bring about important employment and, potentially, housing opportunities. Department for Transport officials will discuss with Nottinghamshire County Council how progress with the scheme’s business case might benefit from acceleration, potentially through planning reform, regulator reform and other improvements. I look forward to engaging with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield on that issue. The Government are investing over £24 million in that scheme, with approximately £4 million more coming from the county council and private developers. It is a real example of quick delivery; we need to get on with it.
A number of Members also mentioned the fourth Trent crossing—as someone who has got stuck in Nottingham when traffic grinds to a halt, I recognise the points they made. My hon. Friends the Members for Gedling, for Mansfield and for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) all highlighted that issue and mentioned wanting to pull a business case together in order to go ahead with the investment and ease congestion. I am happy to take that away. The proposal is in its embryonic days, but perhaps I can write to Members with the routes and the opportunities there are to build an investment case locally and get that on to the DFT’s slate. I will follow that up with official help.
The Government recognise how important the issue of potholes is, not least for cyclists pursuing active travel. I am a cyclist myself, and when you go over a pothole, it can be painful—never mind the economic and practical damage that potholes do to cars. We have been investing £950 million per year, which has been committed for three years. Crucially, that is outside London and the mayoral combined authorities. The Department is committed to allocating this funding to local highways authorities so that they can spend it most effectively on maintaining and improving their respective networks, based on local knowledge and circumstances. Since 2015, the Government have allocated over about £110 million to Nottinghamshire County Council for local road maintenance. To answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling directly, Nottinghamshire County Council will in the future receive over £18.6 million from a new fund to enable it to consider work on bridges, cycleways and lighting columns, as well as fixing potholes.
The Department has long advocated that highways authorities should go risk-based on their asset management plans and is committed to helping to support the production of those where possible for highways assets, including road resurfacing, because well-maintained roads are important for the safety and security of all road users. I recognise that Nottinghamshire County Council has worked hard in recent months and years to develop and deliver its highways improvement plan, and I hope it will reap significant benefits.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned a number of specific schemes, not least the junction with access into the retail park. He will forgive me if I do not use my debut to riff on Government policy on specific schemes. I am happy to write to him with a little more detail.
Buses are a huge passion of mine. They are often the easiest and quickest piece of public transport to put in place. As set out in the national bus strategy, we are determined that everyone everywhere should, in time, have access to a great bus service. That is why £3 billion has already been committed in this Parliament to drive improvements, which is the largest investment in buses in a generation, highlighting their importance. More than £1 billion of that fund is going directly to local transport authorities such as Nottinghamshire County Council to support the delivery of their bus service improvement plans.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield highlighted the substantial funding that the BSIPs across both Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council received—a combined £30 million. I note his request for flexibility in the BSIP funding and, rather than answering from the Dispatch Box here, I will pass that on to Baroness Vere, who is the Minister responsible. I would comment that these were high-quality bus service improvement bids and that the £18.7 million and the £11.4 million allocated are a recognition of the quality of the work that has gone into them. The initial funding will support bus priority measures on key routes, such as the A60 in Mansfield and the route between West Bridgford and the city. That is important and will provide for better connections and integration, as well as bus stops—we should not forget the humble bus stop. It is all important.
The Government also recognise that the bus sector continues to face significant challenges. The pandemic had a massive effect on bus patronage across the country, and although it is now stabilising and steadily increasing, it still remains below pre-covid levels. The Government have therefore provided £2 billion of funding to bus operators and local transport authorities to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and to continue supporting services. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield highlighted the idea of a gap, and we are committing significant funding to prevent one.
This funding was due to end in October but, because of the challenges facing the sector and because many households are struggling with the rising cost of living, the Government have announced a further £130 million, six-month extension to the bus recovery grant to continue to support services until March 2023. That will help millions of people who rely on bus services, as highlighted so articulately by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. Nottinghamshire County Council is allocating around £690,000 of that support between April 2022 and December 2022 alone, with further funding until March 2023 to be confirmed in due course.
We are also very aware that the needs of passengers in urban and rural areas differ, as highlighted by colleagues, and that traditional local bus routes may not be financially sustainable in rural settings. That was put beautifully during the debate: are fixed, empty buses beneficial for everybody?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield referenced the rural mobility fund, worth £20 million, which we created to trial more demand-responsive services and allow people to have a different way of accessing the public transport they need. Nottinghamshire County Council was awarded nearly £1.5 million from the fund to launch its Nottsbus On Demand service, which started operating in August in the villages around Retford, Ollerton and Newark. It also provides an evening service to Mansfield and is due to be extended to the rural areas west of Rushcliffe in the coming months.
I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe invited me to a meeting. I am extremely happy to pass that on to Baroness Vere, as the Bus Minister, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend in a private capacity to buy her a coffee for being nice to me at the start of the debate.
Would the Minister also pass on our thanks? I was talking to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) about Gedling buses, and the funding that has been provided by the Government for the next six months through to April has genuinely saved routes in all our constituencies that would otherwise have been unviable. Various services, including Stagecoach and Trentbarton, announced the closure of many services prior to that funding, as they were unable to support them. As much as there is uncertainty into the future, that intervention has saved those routes in many of our communities.
I would be very happy to pass that on.
I will turn now to rail, which was the subject of much of the debate and which is another important component of the public transport system. My Department has been working on some exciting projects in Nottinghamshire. East Midlands Railway will be introducing the new bi-mode trains to the midland main line by late 2024, so passengers can expect a smoother, quieter and more reliable journey than those on diesel trains. The further electrification of that route, which was raised by a number of Members, is also under development. As announced in the recent integrated rail plan, it is planned to be completed by around 2030. That will directly address the points raised by the hon. Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Slough.
The hon. Member for Slough raised the HS2 proposals and commitments. The integrated rail plan is what is going to get delivered—that is the plan moving forward, and I think it is the appropriate one. With regard to East Midlands Railway, my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe raised the importance of the Poacher line, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling mentioned the current service on East Midlands Railway. I am happy to reassure Members that East Midlands Railway services are being kept under review. The Department and EMR have the opportunity to improve the frequency of services, should the evidence base be there, and that is being kept under review. We want to have enough clean, reliable and punctual trains running where they are needed most. The integrated rail plan is a step towards making sure that that practical, on-the-ground delivery is there, and masthead projects.
I would also point out that work has begun on developing a new high-speed rail line to the east midlands. Unlike previous plans, this will enable HS2 trains to serve both East Midlands Parkway and the city centre of Nottingham directly, which is an improvement on the original proposals. It will also cut journey times and provide more seats for passengers.
During my time in Nottingham, I worked in Toton and cycled to and from the city centre, so I recognise the need for improved connections and the opportunity for regeneration and investment in the area, and I have had a close look at the map of the plans. I recognise that local leaders had plans for economic development around the previously proposed station at Toton, and that has been improved on in the integrated rail plan. The Government are committed to accelerating the transport improvements in Toton.
As for the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield for a meeting with the Rail Minister, I am happy to pass that on. Rail is not in my portfolio, but I will make sure my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) is aware of the request.
I want to take the opportunity to thank the Government, because they have been really helpful. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling said, we are probably one of the places in the country that is happiest with the integrated rail plan, which delivers the connectivity that he talked about and includes an ongoing commitment to Toton. Our development corporation has since been given a huge amount of capacity funding to redo its plan on the basis of the integrated rail plan, and that work is progressing at pace. I want to put on the record my thanks for that investment, because the Government really are backing Nottinghamshire and the region with those long-term plans.
My hon. Friend is approximately five lines ahead of me in my remarks. I thank him for his contribution.
The mixture of options for local and regional rail services and the scope for capacity on high-speed services will attract significant private sector investment. With 50:50 match funding with the taxpayer, what my hon. Friend highlights sounds extremely exciting.
In addition to considering station options, we have committed resources to the study, as my hon. Friend highlights, to exploit the linkages with any other investment in Nottinghamshire, including proposals for reopening the Maid Marian line. We are continuing to develop the study and scope, and we are working closely with local railway stations. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling kindly invited me to visit Nottingham railway stations, but in all honesty I should probably pass that invitation on to the Rail Minister, although I may be there shortly, in which case I will have a quick look myself.
My hon. Friend mentioned the levelling-up fund bids and tempts me to talk about an ongoing departmental process. I recognise his passion and commitment, but the bids are currently under evaluation and I cannot comment on them. I can assure him that Ministers’ evaluation of the shortlist stage is criteria-based and absolutely bias-blind. His passion is clear to see, and I am happy to pass on that enthusiasm, but I am not able to comment.
The East Midlands freeport is the most exciting project when talking about economic growth and thinking about regions holistically. When it is completed, it will be a national hub for global trade and investment and will promote regeneration and job creation. It is uniquely placed to capitalise and innovate on the region’s commercial and industrial strengths. Once operational, those three sites may be the best-connected freeport in the UK. It is exciting to see this all starting to come together in a regional debate.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to debate the successes and aspirations of the transport sector in Nottinghamshire, of which there are clearly many. I hope I have answered hon. Members’ questions, but given that this is my first time out, if there are any that I have missed or further points that I have not fully addressed, I will be happy to review the debate and write to hon. Members afterwards.
It is clear that Nottinghamshire is a place with many excellent champions, including Ministers who could not attend the debate and the Members who have come and contributed so well, and organisations doing dedicated work, such as Nottinghamshire County Council, Transport for the East Midlands and East Midlands Connect. I leave this debate optimistic about the future of transport in the county, and I look forward to working with hon. Members further to improve connectivity for local people.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. There was a bit of political back and forth with the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), but despite a degree of political bickering, we all spoke passionately and with one voice to get the best for our city and county.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) illustrated with vivid examples from her constituents some of the key transport issues affecting Rushcliffe. We are very much on the same page when it comes to improving train services and getting better stopping services. The examples she gave clearly set out the extent to which so many rely on the bus services, which can play a vital role in everyday life.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for his contribution. With his wide-ranging and roving brief across multiple portfolios, he not only gave us a bird’s eye view of the east midlands, but went right down to the level of Sainsbury’s junction to talk about the issues there. I thank him for the progress report on highways maintenance, which has been a common thread and key issue in the debate.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) for being a candid and critical friend in many respects and for the points the Opposition raised. I tried not to mention Robin Hood as an historical figure, because there is more to Nottinghamshire than Robin Hood. I regard him as fighting a corrupt regime to restore the status quo while Richard was fighting in the crusades, but I am not sure he was the socialist visionary that the Labour party would like him to be.
I again welcome the Minister to her place, and I welcome her commitment to join up the dots in transport, as she put it. I welcome the further discussion about road schemes, of which many have been mentioned during the debate. I particularly welcome her comments about exploring opportunities to build further crossings over the River Trent. I look forward to receiving further correspondence from her Department on that matter.
The comments the Minister made about potholes and bus stops vividly illustrate the point that we can talk about grand projects, but the issues that are important to a lot of people are the state of their own streets. We have to cover both of those. The Minister said that the Government are committed to using transport to drive economic growth, which we can all get on board with. The debate has been an opportunity to celebrate what we have achieved but also to start a conversation about further things that need to be done. I look forward to continuing that conversation in other forums.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Transport in Nottinghamshire.