Transport Questions, 11th June

Transport Questions, 11th June

During the first transport questions held during this Parliamentary session, topics discussed relevant to transport safety were as follows:

 

Road Investment Strategy

  1. Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to deliver the road investment strategy.
  2. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to deliver the road investment strategy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): The road investment strategy, published in December 2014, set out ambitious plans for £15.2 billion of investment in the strategic road network between 2015 and 2021. The Department created a new Government-owned company, Highways England, to focus on delivering this plan. Highways England published its delivery plan in March this year, setting out next steps for the schemes starting construction or completing by the end of March 2020.

Stephen McPartland: The widening of the A1M between junctions 6 and 8 will release the economic stranglehold on Hertfordshire. Will the Minister update the House on the Department’s plans to start that work?

Andrew Jones: I most certainly can. As part of the road investment strategy, the A1M between junctions 6 and 8—the Welwyn to Stevenage stretch—will become a smart motorway. I cannot provide an exact start date for construction, but the next step is the detailed design and planning of the scheme, plus consultation with the local community to produce the best possible scheme. That work will be taken forward by Highways England. My hon. Friend has long been a keen champion of this scheme, and I will make sure that he is kept fully informed of progress.

Stephen Metcalfe: One of the things my hon. Friend and I agree on is the need for additional Thames crossings, but we potentially disagree about the location. Will he confirm that, before any final decisions are taken, he will fully evaluate the effect of free-flow tolling on the current Dartford crossing? Will he also look at whether what is currently proposed answers the question that was posed more than a decade ago?

Andrew Jones: It is rare, and always a matter of regret, if I ever have any disagreement with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that a new crossing is needed. There are encouraging signs that the Dart charge is already bringing some relief to congestion in the area, and I can assure him that its impact will be evaluated and monitored carefully. However, I have major reservations about the suggestion to look again at all the schemes, as I do not want to delay progress. It has taken 10 years to reach this point, and we do not want to blight any more homes. Highways England is developing options for both possible locations and will take those to a public consultation scheduled for late this year or early next. I will be happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend.

Chris Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): A road investment strategy is only as effective as the bodies that are tasked with delivering it. Will the Minister therefore have conversations with Highways England about its catastrophic mismanagement of the Posthouse roundabout A483-A55 junction in my constituency, where delays to commuters and huge costs to businesses continue months after the work should have been concluded?

Andrew Jones: I will have monitoring meetings with Highways England every month for the remainder of the time in which it delivers our plan. I want to make sure that it is on top of this and delivering it. The Government’s ambition for the road investment strategy is significant, with £15 billion of investment, 127 schemes and 1,300 additional lane miles. It is a significant step change for our strategic road network. Its delivery is critical, and it is one of the top things that I will focus on. I will also focus on a method of communication from Highways England and me to all colleagues.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): One of the most important decisions made in the previous Parliament was the decision to proceed with the Mottram bypass in my constituency, giving us the much-needed improved connectivity between Manchester and South Yorkshire. There are now a number of issues to resolve to take the scheme forward, particularly whether Hollingworth will benefit and whether we can build a new tunnel under the Pennines, which, if feasible, will be very exciting. May I trouble the ministerial team for a short meeting in this Session to advance these matters further?

Andrew Jones: Yes; I am happy to do that.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Before the election, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and I had a very useful meeting with the previous Roads Minister in connection with the A15, which provides access to the Humber ports. Although this is a local authority road, some involvement with the Department will be necessary. Will the new Minister meet me and all the agencies involved at an early date?

Andrew Jones: The A15 is a local road and this will be a local decision. I know that a business case is being developed. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and local organisations such as the council or the local enterprise partnership. The key thing is to make the business case as robust as possible, and I will certainly help him to deliver that.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be very familiar with the A50. May I draw the Minister’s attention specifically to the A50 where it runs through my constituency, where the slip roads are frankly dangerous? The weekly number of blue light incidents is alarming, and the number of near misses is deeply troubling. The Secretary of State will also be aware of the situation just down the road at the Blythe Bridge roundabout. Will the Minister look urgently at what is going on with that section of road?

Andrew Jones: I am not personally familiar with the slip roads as the hon. Gentleman describes them, but I will be happy to take this issue forward. If he would like to contact me with any of his concerns, I will happily take them up with Highways England and then get back him with an answer.


 

Local Roads

  1. Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the condition of local roads.
  2. Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the condition of local roads.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): Road condition statistics for 2013-14 show an improvement to the local road network, with fewer main roads requiring maintenance than a few years ago. The funding of just under £1 billion that we are providing to councils this year––enough to fix up to 18 million potholes––should continue that trend. I am launching a pilot today, and when we launch the scheme next year it will provide councils with an incentive to ensure they are being as efficient as possible and that taxpayers’ money goes further. That incentive will add up to £578 million by 2021.

Sir David Amess: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his promotion. Local residents are delighted with improvements to the A13 and A127, and with the record amount of money dedicated to road improvement, which is helping to deal with potholes. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that road safety is a top priority, with particular regard to crash barriers?

Andrew Jones: I can most certainly provide that reassurance to both my hon. Friend and the House. Road safety is at the heart of our programme; in fact, it was detailed as a key objective of our road investment strategy. Work on road safety was the first work I commissioned in the Department, which I did within hours of starting. I hope that that shows my personal commitment to this subject.

Liz McInnes: I am very pleased to hear that funding will be made available to councils to enable them to repair potholes. I receive regular complaints about the condition of my local roads, with potholes a major issue. I am not going to name each road individually because they are far too numerous to mention, but when will the funding be made available to Rochdale Council so that it can maintain the roads to the standard my constituents expect and deserve?

Andrew Jones: We have already announced a very generous scheme. This year, a needs-based formula is allocating £901 million across England, of which the hon. Lady’s council has already received more than £2.4 million.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Potholing has taken on a new meaning in the Ribble Valley and, quite frankly, it is dangerous when done in a car, on a bicycle or on a motorbike. The Minister mentions the £15 billion going into the road investment strategy. Cannot some of that money now be diverted, not into new roads but into existing roads to ensure that the potholes are filled once and for all?

Andrew Jones: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in December a fund of almost £6 billion to take us up to 2021, running at £976 million per annum, to support local highway authorities with their highway maintenance. I am sure the feedback that I suspect we all receive from our constituents will be supportive of that.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The issue is not just about resources; it is about making sure that utility companies undertake proper reinstatement when they dig up the highway. Will the Minister look again at whether the regulations in respect of utility companies opening up the highways can be looked at afresh, so we can ensure our roads are reinstated to their proper condition?

Andrew Jones: The hon. Gentleman raises a very interesting point and I would be very happy to take that forward.


 

Cycling

  1. Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to promote cycling.
  2. Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to promote cycling.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): The Government are committed to doubling the number of journeys made by bicycle and to continuing the excellent progress we made in the previous Parliament when, thanks to a strong economy, we were able to invest record amounts in cycling. The Infrastructure Act 2015, which will shortly come into force, places a duty on us to produce a cycling and walking strategy. It will contain specific objectives and funding requirements to meet those objectives.

Graham Evans: Weaver Vale has many excellent cycling groups and initiatives, such as Pedal Power and Breeze, to encourage constituents of all ages to get on their bikes. Under the last Government there was record investment in cycling. Will my hon. Friend please confirm that the Government will carry on the previous Government’s excellent work?

Claire Perry: I know of my hon. Friend’s great interest in and support for local cycling. Indeed, as a keen Boris biker myself—or perhaps they will soon be known as Zac zippers—I am delighted to support both my own personal commitment and the Government’s firm commitment to making cycling the journey method of choice, particularly for short journeys.

Alex Chalk: As has been noted, cycling has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. Will my hon. Friend reconfirm that new road schemes built by Highways England will be cycle-proofed to enable more of us to get on our bikes?

Claire Perry: I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He fought a marvellous campaign, and I know he is a keen cycler. He was also one of the first MPs to lobby me on behalf of his own rail services. He is doing a brilliant job. Yes, I can confirm that the Government are committed to cycle-proofing any new road scheme— a really important change—and we have committed £100 million to do just that.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Is it not an act of the deepest cynicism for the Government, a few months before the election, to announce, in a fanfare of self-congratulation, a very modest increase in spending on cycling safety, only for that money to be axed in the first week after the election? Why should any of Britain’s millions of cyclists believe a single word the Government say?

Claire Perry: I am slightly disappointed, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a keen cyclist, and I am sure he will know and welcome the fact that when the last Administration came to power, cycle spending across the country was around £2 a head; that currently it is around £6 a head; and that in the cycle ambition cities, it will reach £10 a head. I have been assured that the cycle ambition city programme, which the previous Government introduced, will fully deliver its outputs. He should welcome that.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): What steps is the Minister taking to make cycling safer, particularly in our great cities, such as London? There can be no greater deterrent to people getting on their bikes than their fear of cycling on busy roads.

Claire Perry: I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady has had some very scary cycle journeys. We have to continue to work with cyclists. Bikeability training—so we start young—is important. We also have to make sure that any new road scheme does what road schemes of old did not do, which is make sure that cycling is “baked in” to those road designs. She will also know that we are working closely with local authorities and Transport for London to make sure that any pilot changes to HGV requirements are looked at carefully and, potentially, implemented.

 


 

Road Congestion

  1. Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): What steps he is taking to alleviate road congestion.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The Government’s road investment strategy has committed £15 billion to deliver 127 schemes over the next five years. Some of these schemes will tackle long-standing congestion and safety problems as well as major capacity enhancements around Manchester. On local roads, a programme of local road schemes with around £1 billion of departmental funding has been announced.

Jeff Smith: Wilmslow road, which runs through my constituency, is one of the most congested roads in the area, as a result of the large numbers of unregulated buses that pass down it. When does the Secretary of State expect progress to be made to allow the London-style bus franchising powers that Manchester needs?

Mr McLoughlin: We will say more about buses later in the Session, and I hope that that will answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, but it is also true that buses need a good road network as well.

  1. Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware of the congestion at the Dartford crossing. It has been eased by the free-flow system put in place, but the administration of that system under the Dart Charge scheme is woefully inadequate and has caused misery for my constituents. Will he, as a matter of priority, please address this issue and end this frustration for my local residents?

Mr McLoughlin: I certainly understand the frustration felt by my hon. Friend’s constituents. Indeed, the roads Minister has organised a meeting on this subject. This is a major change, however, and many people are saying that they are going through the tunnel and over the bridge a lot quicker. There have, therefore, been improvements, including in journey times, but the frustrations that his constituents face are not acceptable, and we will take them up with the company.

Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): Will the Minister tell us what progress has been made by the Government to ensure the affordability of bus travel for young people, particularly when, after September 2015, young people must attend work-based training or education until their 18th birthday—and bus travel is simply unaffordable now for many such young people?

Mr Speaker: Also, it can potentially relieve road congestion.

Mr McLoughlin: That is an ingenious way of bringing the hon. Lady’s question into order, Mr Speaker. I absolutely agree with her about the importance of bus travel, and we have seen investment in buses. I am more than happy to discuss in greater detail with the hon. Lady some of her concerns about the accessibility to buses.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): As the Secretary of State and the rail Minister will know from visiting Bath before the election—I thank them very much for that—air pollution and congestion are among the biggest issues in the Bath area. What does the Department have in process to invest in local roads, including in the long-awaited A36-A46 link road in my constituency?

Mr McLoughlin: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his fantastic victory. I met him and the council leaders in his constituency before the election and I know that they had some positive plans for transport. Given that the council has become Conservative controlled as a result of recent elections, I look forward to working with it to see those plans taken forward.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): Would the Secretary of State and his Department support a strategic congestion commission for the city of York, where congestion is having a real impact on the environment, on businesses and on the lives of people living in our city?

Mr McLoughlin: It is important for local authorities to come forward with plans, but they also have to ensure that those plans are right and proper for the city. I will be interested to hear of any plans suggested and I will look at them.


 

Infrastructure Projects

  1. Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships on delivery of transport infrastructure projects.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I am delighted to say that this Government will spend an unprecedented £56 billion on transport infrastructure over the next five years. It is our view that this money is most usefully spent when organisations such as local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, which know best about the needs of local people and the community, are involved. That is why we consult them on every large national project and indeed why we are devolving local funding to them, putting them firmly in the driving seat for local decision making.

Jo Churchill: As my hon. Friend is no doubt aware, my Bury St Edmunds constituency sits directly on both the rail link from Norwich through to London, which I know is due for improvements, and on the A14 road corridor that connects Felixstowe, the country’s fifth largest container port, to the rest of the country. Could the Secretary of State and Ministers visit the constituency to discuss a collaborative funding approach with the local enterprise partnership and other bodies to facilitate improvements on the A14 and the campaign for no more delays on that road?

Claire Perry: I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. I saw her predecessor enjoying a small glass of wine in Westminster only last night, and he wishes her well. I would be delighted to visit, with other colleagues if appropriate, to see what is going on in her constituency. She will know that the local growth fund is already providing £8 million-worth of investment in Bury St Edmunds, including in the eastern relief road. I look forward to seeing that and to hearing about other projects.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I remind the Minister that many local enterprise partnerships and local authorities feel bypassed by Government policy at the moment when it comes to infrastructure? The northern powerhouse, which many of us have not yet fully assimilated, is one thing, but my constituents want fast improvement in rail and road infrastructure now.

Claire Perry: May I just gently say to the hon. Gentleman that there are some stunning examples, particularly around the Anglia region, where the east of England LEPs have been absolutely in the driving seat of delivering really good analysis and pulling in important amounts of funding? I suggest that the hon. Gentleman gets involved with his LEP and makes sure that it has the right people on board, because LEPs can be very powerful agents of change.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government’s willingness to work with the Solent LEP and the Isle of Wight council to set up an island infrastructure taskforce to examine the future of transport on the Isle of Wight and cross-Solent options?

Claire Perry: During the last Parliament, my hon. Friend brought in a team to make that point, and they argued the case very assiduously. I am delighted to confirm that our Department is committed to working with him and local partners to deliver the infrastructure upgrade.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): It is welcome that the Government are saying that decisions on infrastructure projects should be made locally, but later this year a Conservative Secretary of State will decide on the Leeds New Generation trolleybus scheme, which is being forced on us because the Labour Government said that we could not have a bus-based scheme. Will the Secretary of State now intervene, and allow us to make our own decisions about what is the best transport system?

Claire Perry: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should meet to discuss the matter—I should be delighted to discuss it further—but, as I have said, we believe that local people are best placed to make decisions about local transport.

 


 

Topical Questions

T1. Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): It is good to be back. Five weeks ago today, the British people gave us a clear mandate to finish the job of fixing our economy, paying off our debts, modernising our infrastructure and securing a better future. I am glad to say that no time has been wasted since the election. We have already seen the completion of the tunnelling for Crossrail and announced the train companies shortlisted to transform rail services in East Anglia. We have also confirmed that high-speed rail and the northern powerhouse are priorities, which will help to end the decades-old economic gap between north and south. This Government will continue with that job and that challenge.

Toby Perkins: The Secretary of State seems keen to talk about increased majorities. Many of the 21,829 people who recently voted for me in Chesterfield are concerned about the state of our roads. They are saying clearly that the state of Britain’s roads is dangerous and damaging to people’s cars, not only in Derbyshire but across the country, and should be a major priority. When will the Government take seriously the issue of potholes, and when will we see a serious plan to get them sorted?

Mr McLoughlin: I hope the hon. Gentleman will address the question he has just put to me to Derbyshire County Council, because I have substantially increased the funding available to that council to fix potholes. They have got the money; let them get on with the job.

T5. Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State back to his place. In Lowestoft, we are now getting on with the preparatory work for a third crossing at Lake Lothing. A lot needs to be done in a short time, and I would be grateful if he could confirm that he will continue to work with me and the local community to get the crossing built as quickly as possible.

Mr McLoughlin: I have visited the site of the crossing, which my hon. Friend is keen to see completed, on no fewer than two occasions. He is to be congratulated on the scheme, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have paid considerable attention. I have asked my officials to support Suffolk County Council and the local enterprise partnership in taking forward the scheme, and I understand that a meeting took place in Lowestoft last Friday to maintain the momentum. I am sure that my hon. Friend will keep up the pressure on us.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): This was the week in which Ministers boasted that they were going to cut red tape by replacing the counterpart driving licence with an online system. That is a good objective. The trouble is that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s computer system has already crashed under the strain. Motorists who want to hire a car abroad now have to contact the DVLA online and obtain a code in order to access the same information that they would previously have had in their pocket, and if they do not hire the car within three days, they will have to go back to square one because the code will have expired. Mr Speaker, you could not make it up! Cutting red tape? It’s a mess, isn’t it?

Mr McLoughlin: The simple fact is that people do not have to do that online; they can phone. There was a problem on the first morning of the new system, but since then it has been operating successfully.


Further information is available on the Parliamentary Hansard.

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