The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): Responsibility for the vast majority of roads in Leicestershire lies with the local highways authoritiesLeicester city council and, outside the city, the county council. The highways authorities are provided with substantial Government funding support to use on capital works, including traffic calming. It is for the local authorities to decide which priorities to address with the funding.
Keith Vaz: May I thank the Minister and the Government for providing funding for the establishment of the Victoria road extension in my constituency, which has relieved congestion on Uppingham road and Gypsy lane? But as he knows is often the case with new roads, as soon as that road was opened there were a number of accidents on it. What guidance exists for local authorities to enable them to ensure that when new roads are built, there are sufficient traffic calming measures to prevent accidents? This is not a call for speed cameras; it is a call for other traffic calming measures, which will save lives.
I can understand my hon. Friend's concern, and traffic calming obviously plays an important part in road safety. The Victoria road east extension, to which he refers, has been completed recently and there have been some accidents on it already. When roads are designed, we provide expertise and support to ensure that every possible measure is taken to make sure that the road will operate safely. If that subsequently proves not to be the case, it is important that local authorities prioritise work to improve safety on those roads. I have no doubt that his local council will do that very thing, and if the Department can provide it with any advice on how to do it, we will certainly do so.
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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The transport innovation fund will help to develop innovative local transport packages and support regional and local schemes that are beneficial to national productivity. Further information on the objectives and operation of the fund will be published in the near future.
Mr. Leech: Given the Prime Minister's promise during a recent visit to Rochdale in April to deliver Metrolink phase 3, will the Secretary of State now guarantee the necessary money from the transport innovation fund and finally get Metrolink back on track?
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman's attention will, no doubt, have been drawn to the statement that I made on 16 December last year, when I set out the position in relation to Metrolink, what now needs to be done and its access to the transport innovation fund. What I said when the matter was last raised in the House remains exactly the position.
Since the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue, I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me to pay tribute to his predecessor, Keith Bradley, who did an awful lot of work to try to get Metrolink moving along.
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): Any increase in funds from the transport innovation fund would be very welcome, but the Greater Manchester and the Tyne and Wear passenger transport executives are worried that there could be a compensatory cut in revenue funding when the national concessionary fare scheme is implemented. Can my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that, in implementing the national concessionary fare scheme, no passenger transport executive will lose out?
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Chancellor announced, I think, £350 million in the Budget this year, and we are discussing with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister how those funds should be made available to make sure that the scheme is funded adequately so that it works, but that is entirely separate from the transport innovation fund. Those funds would not be applied to the concessionary scheme. That money was specifically earmarked by the Chancellor in the Budget in March this year.
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Given that the transport innovation fund will not be available until 2008, will the Secretary of State tell us when an announcement will be made about the release of funding for phase 1 of the Greater Manchester Metrolink scheme?
I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said a few moments ago. I think that he was in his place then. I set out the position quite clearly in December last year, and I am not sure whether I can add
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anything more to that. If he has any doubt about that, I suggest that he look at Hansard for 16 December last year, and he will see the position clearly set out.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): Rail freight is a private sector industry in which growth is driven by competition and innovation. The amount of freight moved by rail has grown by 55 per cent. since privatisation. To support that, the Government provide financial support where it offers clear safety, congestion and environmental benefits. We set out our proposals to provide freight operators with greater certainty about their rights on the network in last year's railways White Paper.
Mr. Kidney: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. There has been a big increase in the volume of rail freight since 1997, and I am keen to see that growth continue. Will he say a little about the actions that will be required in respect of the future need for additional infrastructure, who will pay for that and whether it is intended that there will be a successor to the successful rail freight grant scheme?
Derek Twigg: As my hon. Friend says, there has been sizeable investment in this private sector industry. Let me outline some of the things that have happened. I repeat that there has been 55 per cent. growth in rail freight, which is tremendous. A grant will provide more than £20 million a year over the next two years to support the transfer of freight from road to rail. The Office of Rail Regulation is giving long-term access contracts to provide a platform for greater stability and certainty. English, Welsh and Scottish Railway has a freight agreement with the channel tunnel and there has been a £30 million gauge improvement between Felixstowe and the west coast main line. The rail freight market continues to increase.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Many businesses in Shrewsbury would like to send their freight by rail, but there is no direct rail link between Shrewsbury and London. We are the only county town in England without one, so will the Minister try to help us to secure that vital link?
Derek Twigg: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking for a completely new railway line. I have already outlined the investment that has been made, such as the £30 million gauge improvement between Felixstowe and the west coast main line. Of course, the amount of freight carried on the railway is increasing. We must prioritise the way in which we spend money, but it is a fact that the amount of freight transported by rail continues to increase.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)
(Lab): My hon. Friend knows that the increase in freight traffic brings with it a requirement to four-track the line through Tamworth, which will no doubt cause much
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inconvenience to the town because it will take out the two main road bridges between the north and the south. Will he assure me that, having suffered that inconvenience, we will get some benefit by seeing once again local community trains running on the four-track line and that Tamworth will be considered for being made a terminal point where the lines between the north-east, south-west, north-west and south-east cross? At present, we continually send people to Birmingham New Street, which is a congested sticking point.
Derek Twigg: I cannot promise my hon. Friend community rail links, but as he knows, the substantial improvement to the capacity of the west coast main line will allow 60 per cent. more freight to be carried on it. I know that he has worries about the matter, so I am more than happy to meet him to discuss it further.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Minister knows that the rail freighting of containers coming through the busy port of Felixstowe can be done only via London if they are heading for the north-west of the country. Is he aware that the plans for Crossrail, especially the section from Shenfield to Stratford, will substantially prevent such rail freighting? Given that we face the prospect of a large number of extra heavy lorries on the M25, may I urge him either to examine the relatively modest investment that would be required to improve the Peterborough to Nuneaton link to the extent that it could carry freight or to consider modifying the plans for Crossrail, because no one wants even more congestion on the M25?
Derek Twigg: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman heard what I said before. There has been a £30 million gauge enhancement to the west coast main line, which is a major improvement. I hope that the Crossrail Bill will receive its Second Reading and then we can consider matters such as freight during its passage, especially in Committee. It is rich if he is asking for more investment because, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, he stood in the election on a platform of cutting resources for the railways.