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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Tyne and Wear passenger transport authority has applied to my Department under the Transport and Works Act 1992 for powers to build a second Tyne tunnel. We hope to reach a decision shortly. I cannot comment on the merits of the scheme before the decision is taken.
Mr. Hepburn: It was in 1997, when I first entered the House, that I introduced the paving Bill for the second Tyne tunnel. It is now 2005, and not even a brick has been laid. When will the Minister get something done and sort out the civil servants to make sure that the scheme goes ahead, in order to create jobs in the area and relieve traffic congestion?
Dr. Ladyman: I hear what my hon. Friend says. The fact is that the decision was delayed as a result of the PTA changing its mind about what powers it required after the initial inquiry. In fairness, we must then allow other people to comment on that decision. The decision will be made as quickly as possible. As I said, because Ministers are required to act in a quasi-judicial mode on those sorts of decisions, I cannot comment on the merits, as that would be the quickest way to make sure that the scheme was delayed even further.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): The Minister might also be aware that I have made the case in this Chamber, even before 1997, for action to be taken to relieve congestion in the Tyne and Wear area, particularly on the A1 western bypass. The second tunnel will greatly help in that direction, so will he listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn), who has been putting the case well over many years, and take urgent action to get this scheme under way as early as possible?
From our point of view, we will make the decision as quickly as possible, and I certainly expect it within the next few weeks. All that I can say is that I have heard what my hon. Friends have said, and all comments will be taken into account.
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Mr. Borrow: May I ask my hon. Friend to give very sympathetic consideration to Lancashire's next local transport plan if it includes the completion of the Penwortham bypass, and will she also consider approving more than one scheme under that plan? Doing so would enable a large local authority such as Lancashire to enjoy the same benefits as smaller local authorities, which can get one scheme approved for every local transport plan.
Ms Buck: In fact, Lancashire county council can submit as many bids for major local transport plan projects as it wishes, but what we do ask is that it set priorities for those schemes. I understand that it has consulted on a number of major schemes for inclusion in the second local transport plan, and that the completion of the A59 Penwortham bypassa £20 million projectis included. But it is for Lancashire county council to introduce this proposal and to make bids. As it is the current local transport authority of the year, I am sure that it will do so very well.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): May I support my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) in the case that he makes for the Penwortham bypass? I can assure the Minister that it will ease the pressure not just on South Ribble, but on the Chorley constituency and on the beautiful villages of Croston, Maudsley and Bretherton, for example. They need this bypass because of the number of heavy vehicles that use that historic part of Chorley as a short-cut.
Ms Buck: I can assure my hon. Friend that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to relieve pressure on Chorley, but as I said, it is for Lancashire county council to make this bid. As I understand it, the proposal will form part of the local transport plan, although the question of funding may not be considered until at least 2010. Of course, I cannot give any commitment on the funding situation at that time. We will consider the bid on its merits when it is made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck):
Cornwall county council assessed transport needs in 2000, and the Department has since worked with it to support transport investments. In providing funding, we focus on the cost-
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effectiveness and affordability of proposals. This approach will continue into the second phase of local transport plans. We expect a local transport plan shortly.
Julia Goldsworthy: I am concerned about the lack of joined-up thinking here. Will the Minister please explain why her Department is considering cutting rail services such as the Night Riviera, given that the mothballing of RAF St. Mawgan could force the closure of our only airport? Are these the actions of a Government who are genuinely committed to getting more people off our congested roads?
Ms Buck: The Government are committed to supporting Cornwall's transport infrastructure in a number of ways. We have already heard about the sleeper service, and a consultation exercise is under way for the Greater Western franchise. The hon. Lady will doubtless also be aware that discussions are taking place between the Ministry of Defence, Cornwall county council, the Department for Transport and other regional partners on the future of Newquay and St. Mawgan airports. The MOD, rightly, must take a decision in the interest of this country's defence requirements, but we are working closely with those partners to ensure that the various options are considered. The council is introducing an options appraisal, and the MOD has made it clear that it wants Cornwall's priorities and preferences to form part of its decision-making process.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that investing in the Bristol end of our region can have an impact on the infrastructure required at our end of the region, which includes not only Cornwall but Plymouth? With that in mind, will my hon. Friend ensure that the large sums that need to be invested in Stonehengebearing in mind that it is a national heritage sitecome from the national pot, rather than the regional pot? We desperately need the money from the regional pot to be invested in the south-west, including the far south-west.
Ms Buck: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make it clear that transport infrastructure does not begin and end at a local authority boundary. A decision will be made on Stonehenge in due course, and I am not in a position to pre-empt it. She makes a very good case, which will doubtless be considered in the general appraisal.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg):
The route utilisation strategy for the Midland Mainline and the east midlands was published on 3 March 2004. The strategy is designed to make better use of existing tracks and trains along the route and is designed to improve punctuality and reliability. There have been a number of improvements to the Midland Mainline timetable from 12 June 2005.
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Mr. Reed: I welcome my hon. Friend's reply and accept that there have been some improvements to the timetable. However, is he aware that Loughborough is one of the busiest railway stations in the east midlands, particularly in view of the size of the town, yet it is probably one of the worst and still has a short platform? A number of partners are involved and the change from Central Trains to the Midland Mainline may make a difference, but will my hon. Friend use his influence to bring together all the partners to put a final solution in place that will lengthen the platform at Loughborough, improve the facilities and move forward so that we can reap the benefit of increased train services?
Derek Twigg: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know that he has campaigned for improved facilities at the station, for a lengthened platform and also for more car parking spaces. Obviously, every scheme has to be assessed in terms of viability, cost and the available resources. I know that Central Trains is looking into increasing the number of parking places to 160. There is also the local authority scheme, the eastern gateway project, which is aimed at enhancing car parking and improving the interchange facilities. Announcements are made on the trains requesting passengers to move forward to the front carriages to help them get off safely at the platform.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Last week, hundreds of passengers from the east midlands were, following a power failure, stuck in a stationary train in the blazing heat with the windows and doors left totally sealed. It remains unclear whether train staff refused to open the doors to let in some fresh air or were unable to do so. Most people suspect the former. We all understand the danger of letting anyone on to a railway line, but it cannot be acceptable for a train load of passengers to be trapped and left cooking for hours in temperatures far in excess of 100o with no one either willing or able to let them breathe. What inquiry has the Minister demanded and what conclusions has he already made about the manner in which health and safety rules and the risk of litigation stifle all the basic initiative, which is the most effective resource for resolving such situations?
Derek Twigg: Obviously, we were concerned to hear about the discomfort and distress experienced by passengers during that incident. The Health and Safety Executive is investigating, but its investigation is at an early stage as yet. Network Rail will also be leading an industry review of the incident, looking into what happened and how it was managed. Clearly, it is dangerous to have passengers running around a live line, so it is often better for them to stay on the train. We shall have to wait and see what the inquiry comes up with.
Mr. Duncan: Can the Minister confirm that in assessing the performance of train operating companies in the east midlands or, indeed, anywhere else, it is not his Department's intention to nationalise them without compensation through devious or any other means, and that he will never allow either their shareholders or
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I am sure that the Minister would like to congratulate Midland Mainline on moving from being one of the worst performing inter-city companies in respect of punctuality two years ago to being one of the best performers on punctuality, as the latest figures reveal. At the same time, he will recognise that it takes two hours and 20 minutes to get to Sheffield and one hour and 35 minutes to get Doncaster. We have had massive investment in both the east coast and the west coast main lines, but on the Midland Mainline there is still much inadequate infrastructure, inadequate track and antiquated signalling. Will he therefore give the Midland Mainline some priority for the necessary investment?
Derek Twigg: As my hon. Friend mentioned, there have been a number of improvements. For instance, Derby and Nottingham have faster and more reliable services. For Sheffield, the 17.30 service from London, which currently terminates at Derby, will now run through to Chesterfield and Sheffield, and the Master Cutler will depart London at 16.55 instead of 17.15. Clearly, there are always constraints on the network in respect of what can be prioritised and spent on at any particular time. We have to look into the individual case and reflect on my hon. Friend's arguments.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Will the Minister focus on the services from Hinckley for a moment and recognise that 50 per cent. of the trains that used to stop there before the timetable change of 12 June no longer do so? There has been a 50 per cent. reduction. Is he further aware that there are now no through trains to Shrewsbury or Lincoln. My constituents wanting to go on holiday in Skegness now have to change in both Leicester and Nottingham, and the Nottingham train will make 12 stops on its way from Crewe. That is fact, so what is the Minister going to do about it?
Derek Twigg: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns and the case that he makes. There are capacity constraints and demand issues for particular lines and stations, but I am more than happy to meet him to discuss the issue further.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The service on the Midland Mainline from London to Leicester is very good, with half-hourly trains. It has improved greatly in the past two to three years, but it could be improved even further if the service on the national forest line from Leicester to Burton, through Coalville and Ashby in my constituency, could be restored. When my hon. Friend and I next travel together on the west coast main line and alight at Tamworth, will he come with me to have a look at the potential for that line, which could add a lot socially, economically and environmentally to the national forest area?
When my hon. Friend and I next discuss matters over breakfast, he may wish to raise that issue. I shall consider his point and have a further conversation with him.
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