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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg):
There are currently no plans to reopen Corsham station. The business case for reopening the station is poor because of the costs involved, and also the withdrawal of the Bristol to Oxford service, which would have called at the station.
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Mr. Foster: I thank the Minister for that disappointing reply. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who also cares passionately about this issue but cannot be in his place, will be equally disappointed. Is the Minister aware that a large number of car commuters drive from Corsham into my constituency, adding significantly to congestion? Is he aware that there was a plan to reopen the station, with the funding in place and all local authorities supporting it, but that it was scrapped? Now the rail utilisation study will seemingly put high-speed inter-city trains above any commuter trains, but surely that should be reconsidered. Will the Minister at least agree to meet a small delegation of people concerned about the issue, to see if they can persuade him to put pressure on the Strategic Rail Authority to change its mind?
Derek Twigg: First, yes I am happy to meet a delegation. As the hon. Gentleman says, a redevelopment proposal had been made, but the business case did not stack up because of unforeseen ground conditions and also the withdrawal of the Oxford to Bristol train. I cannot really add anything to my first answer, but I am willing to meet a delegation.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Rushenden link road has been selected for detailed appraisal for grant support from the new community infrastructure fund in 200607 and 200708. Detailed bid information must be submitted to the Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister by the end of July 2005. Decisions will be announced later this year.
Derek Wyatt: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and congratulate him on his richly deserved promotion. Will his office or the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister be responsible for making the final decision on the scheme?
Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes. The answer to his question is both: there is a double lock on the fund. The scheme will have to convince me of its merits in terms of good value for money for transport, and the ODPM in terms of its potential for unlocking growth in the area. As I said, there are no promises. The detailed plans still have to be submitted, but the scheme looks like a good candidate for funding at this stage.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The Minister of State's answer may or may not be of comfort to the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), but it will be small comfort to other constituents in Kent who feel very short-changed indeed by the Government. Can the Minister explain why, having agreed the funding for phase 1 of the east Kent access road, his Government, with him as a Minister, have failed to approve phases 2 and 3?
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Chancellor and I have asked Rod Eddington, the outgoing chief executive of British Airways, to advise on the long-term impact of transport decisions on UK productivity, stability and growth. His work will assess the effects of potential new infrastructure, such as a north-south high-speed railway line.
Mark Lazarowicz: I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the assessment, but I urge him to give high priority to the proposal for a new high-speed north-south rail line. It is almost two years since the Government's advisory body, the Commission for Integrated Transport, proposed the scheme and the Strategic Rail Authority has given it positive backing. May I suggest that the idea should have a positive steer from the Government? If the system goes ahead it will bring great benefits to passengers and also to the entire UK rail network.
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right. Both the Commission for Integrated Transport and the SRA looked at the scheme, although I am bound to say that it was done at a fairly high level. Before any Government would commit themselves to what would be billions of pounds of public expenditure, they would need to be sure that it was the right thing to do. The reason why we asked Rod Eddington to look into those matters is that it is important that we start to move away from a situation where successive British Governments have spent much of their time on transport fixing the problems of the past, and to consider what we need in relation to the transport requirements for the next 20 to 30 years. One of the things that we need to consider is whether we should be building high-speed railway links, not only between the north and the south but possibly to other parts of the country. We also need to look into issues such as the long-term sustainability of air transport and so on, as well as the road network. We need to look at all aspects of transport and, given the fact that in any view the work programme will go on for 20 to 30 years, I hope that for once in the House we can build an all-party consensus on what we should do.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Is the Secretary of State satisfied and happy that even after the completion of the modernisation of the west coast main line, train services between London and Glasgow will still take up to four and a half hours, with the fastest services being little better than what was achieved in the mid-1970s? Why cannot we have a high-speed rail line between Scotland and London? Why is Scotland so poorly served in comparison with other European nations?
The answer is that we may, at some stage, conclude that the right thing to do is to build a high-speed railway line between Scotland and the south of England. One day, even the hon. Gentleman and his
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fellow members of the Scottish National party might like to come down to England and see the benefits of being part of a United Kingdom; there are many, many of them, as the voters decided so comprehensively just over two weeks ago. The line is one of the issues that we need to consider, but as I said, we need to look at what the long-term capacity requirements are in relation to all types of transport.
In relation to the west coast main line, I remind the hon. Gentleman that, yes, it suffered from under-investment for 30 years. Successive Governments were guilty of that. However, because we have spent just under £8 billion, we now have a high-speed railway line. There is further work to be done, but journey times are improving. I suspect that none of that would have happened if there had been a separate Scotland.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I think that my right hon. Friend was alluding in his answer to the importance of encouraging modal shift from aviation to rail travel. If so, what else can be done, other than ensuring much greater investment in high-speed rail links, particularly to the channel tunnel?
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend will be aware that phase 1 of the channel tunnel high-speed railway link, which is the first major high-speed railway to be built in this country, opened in the autumn of 2003. It has resulted in a considerable increase in passengers choosing to go to Paris, for example, by train, rather than flying. As for lines other than high speed, since the first stage of the west coast main line upgrade was completed, it is now very attractive to take the train from Manchester or Birmingham to central London. So those are two examples of improvements that have been made. Of course, from 2007, the channel tunnel rail link will go to St. Pancras station, cutting the journey time between Brussels or Paris and London and opening links to the north of the country. All those things are under way, but as I said, we also need to consider this country's long-term capacity requirementssometimes, they will be best served by rail; sometimes, they will continue to be best served by air links, which are very important to many parts of this country.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): May I welcome Ministers to their new positions and particularly wish the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), a speedy recovery and a quick journey back to her ministerial desk?
I am looking forward to my encounters with the Secretary of State, but may I say from the outset that I totally agree with him that any planning for transport needs must have long-term horizons? If we can build a consensus in the interests of this country for exactly that purpose, we will do so.
Is it not true that existing economic activity must be served by efficient transport links and that where improved links are built, economic activity will invariably follow? Given an increasingly crowded south, is it not increasingly essential to share economic growth by linking us more efficiently to the north, as studies are now investigating?
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Mr. Darling: First, may I in turn congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as the principal spokesman on transport? I hope that we can build a consensus, where appropriate. One of the big issues that all parties must face up to in this Parliament, I suspect, is whether or not we develop, for example, road pricing in this country. We cannot build our way out of all the problems that we face. We need more road investment and we need to manage the system better, but we need to look for long-term solutions. If we can reach a consensus about that, it will serve the country well. As the hon. Gentleman says, it is perfectly obvious that, if we wish to remain competitive and one of the largest economies in the world, our transport infrastructure must be improved throughout the countryhe is right about thatnot just in the south-east. So I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman; I just hope that the spirit of consensus that he has set out lasts a little bit longer than it did with any of his predecessors.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): My constituents are very keen on extending the high-speed north-south links that are currently provided by the occasional Virgin service that stops during the morning and evening peak times. In advance of the platform extension that the Government will fund in 2008, is my right hon. Friend considering other measures that could be taken in the interim to meet the increasing needs of housing growth in Milton Keynes and commuter traffic?
Mr. Darling: I am glad that my hon. Friend remembered the platform extension, for which she campaigned long and hard. Two things come out of her question. First, the difficulties that emerge at Milton Keynes are a classic case of what happens when the planning of upgrades of railway lines and improvements are not thought through properly. The idea was a good one, as it would allow more fast inter-city trains, but there was some disadvantage to passengers at Milton Keynes. I hope that we can sort that out, and we will continue to work to do so.
My hon. Friend also raises another important point: we need more housing in this country, so we need good transport linksthe two go hand in hand. The Government are determined to ensure that, when we plan those developments, the housing and the transport are developed at the same time. If we can achieve what would be a first for this country, by planning ahead and trying to fix the problems that we know will exist in the next 20 to 30 years, the country will be a lot better because of it.
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