Oral Transport Questions: 20th March 2014

Oral Transport Questions: 20th March 2014

20th March 2014: Transport Questions

The Secretary of State was asked—

Road Congestion

1. Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): What steps he is taking to relieve congestion on roads.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The Government are committed to reducing traffic congestion and investing in our road infrastructure. Spending on strategic roads over this and the next Parliament will be £24 billion. A £500 million programme of pinch point schemes specifically targeted at tackling congestion is being progressed on both the strategic and local road network and a further £800 million is being invested in 25 local authority major road schemes. I am sure my hon. Friend will also join me in welcoming the additional £200 million that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in yesterday’s Budget for pothole repairs.

 

Peter Aldous: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. The Prime Minister visited Lowestoft in January and saw for himself the fantastic opportunities in the offshore energy sector. Unfortunately, they could be choked off by congestion such as that experienced in the past fortnight. The problem could be solved by a new crossing at Lake Lothing. Suffolk county council, with the help of the local enterprise partnership and Waveney district council, has commissioned a study to come up with the right solution. Will the Secretary of State visit Lowestoft to see the problem for himself?

Mr McLoughlin: It has been a considerable time since I last visited Lowestoft, but following my hon. Friend’s invitation I shall certainly do so. Ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister, have visited. My hon. Friend’s points are well made, and they have been made to me by other colleagues.

 

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Congestion would be much improved if the potholes in the roads were removed. Although I welcome the money that was made available yesterday, how will it be distributed? How much of it is coming to Scotland?

Mr McLoughlin: Scotland will get its share according to the Barnett formula as part of the announcement made by the Chancellor yesterday. It will be up to the Scottish Government to decide how they share the money between the authorities in Scotland.

 

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the A12 through Essex and into Suffolk and Norfolk is a main road to the ports at Felixstowe and elsewhere? Given that a significant proportion of it from the M25 to Chelmsford is already three-lane, would it not be sensible to relieve congestion into the East Anglian hinterland by turning it into a motorway?

Mr McLoughlin: My right hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. No doubt he will pursue that argument with me and the authorities on a number of occasions to come.

 

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What is the Secretary of State doing about the congestion at Tollbar End, which is affecting businesses, particularly those in the export market, and people getting to work? I contacted his Department last week but I still have not had an answer.

Mr McLoughlin: I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not had an answer. I could compare the time delays in reply to correspondence under this and the previous Government, but instead I will try to get the hon. Gentleman an answer as quickly as possible. We are investing significant amounts in road infrastructure, more than that invested by the previous Government. That shows this Government’s overall commitment to infrastructure investment in the United Kingdom.

 

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): One of the worst sections of road for congestion is the A27 from Eastbourne to Lewes. It has been appalling for many decades and I know that it is being considered by the Department for Transport. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to solve the congestion would be a new dualled trunk road?

Mr McLoughlin: I know that the hon. Gentleman has met the Minister responsible for roads, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), to make that point, which has been made to me, too, by other people in Eastbourne. However, there is some controversy, not least because the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) has a different view on the matter.

 

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Traffic jams cost UK motorists 30 hours each last year and were often made worse by a £10 billion backlog in the road repair programme. As local road maintenance was cut by nearly a sixth between 2010 and 2013, is the Secretary of State surprised that the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday of a pothole challenge competition hardly has many motorists shouting “bingo” today?

Mr McLoughlin: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman makes such a point, because I do not know whether he can get the shadow Chancellor to commit to investments such as those we are putting into this country’s road infrastructure. As I understand it, he is not allowed to make any commitments whatsoever. I am very glad not only that the Chancellor yesterday announced an extra £200 million to invest in our roads but that later today I will announce the allocation of the £140 million that I announced a few weeks ago to all local authorities. I hope that they will use the £140 million along with the £200 million announced yesterday to make significant improvements to our roads.

“Get Britain Cycling” Report

 

 4. Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): What progress he has made on implementing recommendations of the “Get Britain Cycling” report of the all-party parliamentary cycling group.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): My hon. Friend chaired the all-party parliamentary cycling group yesterday when I outlined the Government’s commitment to cycling. With regards to the all-party group’s recommendations, the Government provided an update to Parliament last month.

 

Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for coming to speak to us yesterday. We made a number of recommendations, which were endorsed by this House when we debated the subject. Two of those would have a cross-departmental action plan and sustained funding at £10 per head. We have had some pots of money, but not at that level. Will he update us on those two issues?

Mr Goodwill: The first point that needs to be made is that, compared with the previous Government, we have doubled spending on cycling. Indeed, the eight cycling ambition cities have benefited from that funding, and Cambridge is one of them.

 

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): If we are to get more people cycling, the physical fear—real or imagined—must be removed, particularly on busy roads such as those near my constituency where a number of people have died. How can the Government address that and take away the physical fear of cycling on busy roads?

Mr Goodwill: The Highways Agency is spending £40 million on cycling improvement schemes. I think that some of the media coverage, particularly in London last year, gives the impression that cycling is more dangerous than it actually is. It is safer now than it ever has been.

 

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Local communities in Northumberland are keen to access the future cycling fund. Will the Minister meet me and representatives from Northumberland to discuss how the LEP and individual communities can access future funds, and when that will happen?

Mr Goodwill: We are certainly always keen to meet local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to look at imaginative ways of encouraging more cycling. Indeed, we will publish our cycling delivery plan later this year.

Road Traffic Collisions

6. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What estimate his Department has made of the number of people who will be killed or injured in road traffic collisions in the UK between 2014 and 2030; and if he will estimate the economic value of preventing such casualties.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Road casualties have followed a declining trend over recent decades. With unprecedented investment in roads and continued improvements in vehicle technology, there are signs that this trend will continue. The economic cost of each casualty has been calculated at £1.7 million.

 

Mr Sheerman: The Minister knows of my long-term interest in road safety as chairman of the parliamentary advisory council for transport safety. Are we not in danger of becoming complacent? From now until 2030, it is likely that a third of a million people will be killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads. The cost to families, to communities and to the National Health Service is going to be dreadful. Should we not act now to improve our performance?

Mr Goodwill: The UK leads Europe in road safety. Only Malta has a better record, and our record is twice as good as that of France. However, that is no reason for complacency or for letting up in the measures that we can take further to improve road safety.

 

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): My hon. Friend’s constituency and mine are served by the A64, and there will inevitably be casualties and fatalities on that road. Will he take this as a representation on improving it to reduce the likelihood of any such future casualties or fatalities?

Mr Goodwill: There are a number of single-carriageway trunk roads where we have particular concerns about the fatality and casualty levels. The Department collates data and produces a list of the worst black-spots which we can then identify for future investment.

 

Bus and Coach Roadworthiness

8. Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): What plans he has to review MOT tyre requirements for buses and coaches.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): Buses and coaches are inspected annually from the anniversary of their date of registration. Tyre condition, wear and their suitability for the vehicle are all checked at that time. Tyres are also checked routinely as part of the safety inspections undertaken by traffic commissioners who manage the licensing of such vehicles.

 

Steve Rotheram: The Minister may be aware of the tragic death of three people in a car crash on the A3 in September 2010, when a 19-year-old tyre burst on the front axle of their coach. Early-day motion 1166 calls on the Government to commission urgent research into whether legislation can be enacted to limit the age of a tyre on a bus or coach. Will he confirm that the Government are taking this issue seriously? When will they commission such a study?

Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the previous shadow Secretary of State, along with one of the mothers of the people who were tragically killed in that coach crash. As an interim measure, the Department has already published guidelines to the bus and coach industry recommending that tyres of more than 10 years old are not fitted to the front axles of such vehicles. That was in December 2013, and I can confirm that we are in discussion with the tyre organisations about the product and about whether age and maintenance are the key factors and how they should be addressed.

 

Road and Rail Infrastructure: Devon and Cornwall

10. Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): What steps he plans to take to improve road and rail infrastructure into Devon and Cornwall.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): My Department is reviewing the resilience of the transport network to extreme weather events. This will include the south-west. The current priority is restoring rail services through Dawlish. We have announced £31 million for 10 resilience projects and commissioned Network Rail to identify a resilient rail route west of Exeter. There is £183.5 million available nationally to help repair local roads and we are undertaking a feasibility study to improve options for the A303.

 

Mel Stride: My right hon. Friend will be aware of the proposal for a new railway line from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock. May I urge him to take it very seriously and perhaps to visit Okehampton with me to meet local business people and others in order to have the case for the economic advantages of that route presented to him?

Mr McLoughlin: I have asked Network Rail to do a substantive piece of work, which I expect to get this July and which will address some of the options. I very much hope to visit Dawlish shortly and if a visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency can be arranged at the same time, I will try to do so.

 

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): I will not go down the route of disagreeing with the hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) about the Okehampton option. The Secretary of State knows of my support and admiration for those involved in keeping the south-west open for business. There are, however, some issues: there was nothing in the Budget for road or rail transport in the south-west and, to be frank, we have a franchising dog’s breakfast which has cost the taxpayer £55 million. People and businesses in the south-west deserve better. Will the Secretary of State press his colleague the Chancellor to ensure that commitments for finance for investment will be made either before or during the next autumn statement?

Mr McLoughlin: I hear what the hon. Lady says. I was able to announce some improvements that were welcomed with regard to an early service from Plymouth to London. I hope that goes some way to answering the question. I appreciate the points made by the hon. Lady and the way in which this particular incident had a dramatic effect on the south-west. We need to look at resilience down there. We also need to look at what we can do with regard to both rail and road, and we have already committed ourselves to an intensive investigation of the A303.

 

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Further to that, it is important that we get a resolution on the temporary franchise as quickly as possible. In congratulating my right hon. Friend on getting a solution in Dawlish, may I ask which Government Departments contributed the finance to ensure that that very expensive project was brought to a conclusion?

Mr McLoughlin: May I use this opportunity to place on record my thanks to Network Rail—I am sure that I speak on behalf of colleagues in the south-west as well—for responding magnificently to the problems that were faced in Dawlish? Anybody who has read about the continuing work to restore that link will be only impressed with the work that has been put in by Network Rail, which is often criticised for actions on the railways. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about finding the funds. The Government will find them and I am not too worried about which Departments they will come from.

Topical Questions

T1. Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Following the wettest winter on record, I recently announced an extra £140 million for urgent repairs to local roads, bringing the total fund to more than £170 million. Today, I am announcing the individual allocations of that funding among local authorities. Some £47 million will be allocated to councils in the south-west that were particularly badly affected. I expect councils to spend the money wisely and quickly, and councils that do so will be particularly well placed to bid for additional funds for road repairs in the next financial year from the £200 million pot announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in yesterday’s excellent Budget.

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