Previous SectionIndexHome Page

15 Nov 2005 : Column 227WH—continued

Transport (Pudsey)

1.30 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that I secured an Adjournment debate on this matter just 18 months ago. However, it is time to revisit the issues that I raised then. I have given my hon. Friend clear indications of the issues that I wish to raise and I hope that her response will spare me some of the ballast that occasionally works its way into ministerial responses.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently announced his rejection of the Leeds supertram bid. I do not wish to revisit that decision, but rather what flows from it. If my hon. Friend's response contains a lengthy discourse on the supertram, I ask that she omit it for the purposes of the debate. The supertram was never a one-club solution to the city's transport problems. I have only ever regarded it as one component of a three-pronged strategy to meet our transport needs. Any solution to the transport problems of the city must include bus and rail services, which are far more relevant to the communities that I represent than the supertram.

I hope that, as one door closes, another is opening. Given my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's indication that the Department for Transport will work with Leeds on a bus solution, I hope that it will examine the role that rail can play, particularly for the communities in my constituency. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate why there is some scepticism in Leeds about how far buses can deliver the solution that we seek. Bus services have a major role to play, which could be even greater, not just through extra investment, but through changes to the environment in which they are planned and delivered. However, buses are not a one-club solution; rail has a major role to play.

Since deregulation in 1986, bus services have faced a consistent and irreversible decline, and Pudsey is no exception. I have campaigned vigorously in Parliament for improvements to the way in which bus services are provided. Earlier this year, I introduced a ten-minute Bill designed to facilitate the introduction of quality bus contracts. Private bus operators have had 19 years to show that they can provide decent services, and they have failed. It is time that they were made accountable to passengers and communities. Since deregulation, quality and standards have fallen dramatically, fares have risen by almost 50 per cent. in real terms, and the number of passengers has fallen by over a third in West Yorkshire. In round figures, that represents about 100 million passenger journeys. Deregulation has meant that bus companies can pick and choose which services to provide. They are free to make profits while providing poor services. The result is that many people have been denied a reliable and affordable bus service for travel to work, school, college, shops, health centres and hospitals. Week in, week out, services are chopped, changed, missing or late. Passengers suffer or vote with their feet.

Under the deregulated system, there is little that passengers, communities, councillors, even MPs, or Metro—the passenger transport executive—can do to ensure that private bus companies maintain or improve services. I appreciate that partnership is the
15 Nov 2005 : Column 228WH
Government's preferred way forward, and it works to a degree in some areas. However, where partnership works, it is often in special circumstances that cannot easily be replicated in places such as Leeds or Pudsey. Those are isolated examples where it suits the operators to engage.

Passenger transport executives are totally dependent on local monopoly providers, such as First, in Leeds, to act responsibly and to take a long-term view. That is far from the norm in my experience. Venture off the beaten track where bus services operate well and the nightmare begins for constituents such as mine. Service changes have tended to concentrate on high-frequency major routes in Leeds, such as the No. 4 and No. 16 routes in my area, while frequency has been reduced on services that penetrate local housing estates and provide links to Pudsey, the Owlcotes centre and Bramley.

Recent changes to services such as the No. 97, the No. 647 and the No. 651 in the Guiseley and Yeadon areas have resulted in a significant reduction in links with nearby Bradford. That has caused tremendous hardship for regular travellers who depend on those services. Reliability and punctuality have been major problems and continue to be so. In only four of the last 12 months to September 2005 have more than 90 per cent. of First bus services in Leeds been observed to run on time—that is, up to one minute early or five minutes late. Since October 2005, early indications reveal an even lower average of 84 per cent. That is clearly unacceptable.

Fares have gone through the roof. In the period April 2004 to June 2005, First increased off-peak fares in Leeds by 27 per cent. and peak fares by 19 per cent. During the same period the cost of living rose by only 3 per cent. The bus industry's own figures illustrate that operating costs for the period were about 9 per cent.

We need partnership where it can work, and we must continue to invest in partnership where it works, with operators who are prepared to take a long-term view. However, we also need much tighter regulatory intervention. Quality contracts would specify the routes, quality and performance of bus services over a much wider area. Bus operators would have to tender for those contracts, rather than being able to cherry-pick, as they can at present. Services could then be properly monitored by the passenger transport executives and much better safeguarded.

At present, the conditions that the passenger transport executives have to satisfy to implement a quality contract are far too severe. My Bill proposed that the main test should be that a scheme represented value for money in terms of "economy, efficiency and effectiveness", rather than the much more onerous test of being "the only practicable way" of implementing policies and strategy.

Quality contracts already operate to good effect in London, as my hon. Friend the Minister is no doubt aware from her own constituency and her constituents' experience. Bus use in regulated London increased by about 10 per cent. last year, whereas outside the capital it fell by nearly 3 per cent.

The results of a recent survey conducted by the passenger transport executive group are, therefore, not surprising: an average of 38 per cent. of MPs thought that their constituents were satisfied with the quality of their
15 Nov 2005 : Column 229WH
local bus services. There was a marked London-regional divide, with 88 per cent. of MPs in London, compared with 27 per cent. in the midlands and east, 30 per cent. in the south and 19 per cent. in the north expressing satisfaction. There was a huge disparity. If things are good enough for the Minister's constituents, they should be good enough for mine and those of other MPs who serve constituencies outside London.

On average, bus companies in London make much lower profits than those in passenger transport executive areas. The West Yorkshire subsidiaries of First Bus have consistently returned profits of around 17 per cent., compared with 10 to 12 per cent. in London. The difference between West Yorkshire and the industry norm represents about £6 million, which could be reinvested in services. Unfortunately, passenger transport executives such as Metro are able to influence directly only about 20 per cent. of the network that they provide through tendered services. There is little competition for tenders, so it is difficult to test whether best value is being obtained in those cases.

Given the new emphasis on buses, it is disappointing that we have been unable to make progress on the A65 Kirkstall road quality bus initiative, which would serve part of my constituency. It is estimated that that initiative would save around a quarter of the journey time for the buses on the corridor and would have a cost-benefit ratio of about 2:1. I understand that the scheme was previously provisionally approved, but then "unapproved" due to changes in scope and cost. A revised scheme was submitted to the Department for Transport in July 2005. I understand that the latest position is that the scheme will have to be "remitted to the regions".

Other, similar schemes, such as the Yorkshire bus initiative, have also been "remitted to the regions". The Yorcard scheme, which would have conveyed great benefits to passengers, was approved and then had that approval withdrawn. I would welcome the Minister's comments on those bids, and hope to receive an indication that she may review them and now consider them in a more favourable light, given the rejection of the Leeds supertram proposals and the obvious emphasis that is now being placed on a bus solution.

Even with investment and a fair wind—ideally one provided by quality bus contracts—buses have a limited role to play in some of the major corridors in my constituency, such as the A65 and the ring road. That is why rail must be closely considered. Rail users in my constituency have been ill served by privatisation. My constituency is served by three stations on three routes: Horsforth, New Pudsey and Guiseley. There have been some improvements. For example, all three stations have undergone major refurbishment. The efficiency of Leeds city station has been increased by a £250 million investment that has helped to reduce congestion and delays. A rail passenger partnership grant enabled the provision of excellent new 333-class four-car rolling stock on the Airedale and Wharfedale line, which I use.

Rail has potentially a much greater role to play. Between 1994 and 2000, use of the West Yorkshire rail network increased by 44 per cent. from 11.5 million to 16.6 million passengers. However, that has come at a price. The Select Committee on Transport report on overcrowding on public transport concluded that
15 Nov 2005 : Column 230WH
overcrowding is worse in West Yorkshire than in the south-east. The experience of my constituents backs that up.

Despite the recent renewal of rolling stock, capacity on the Wharfedale line is approaching saturation point at peak times. It is under pressure from new developments such as the former High Royds asylum development in Menston, where almost 600 new homes are to be provided in addition to many others already built in the Guiseley area. The Department for Transport is currently funding eight carriages up to 2007 on the Wharfedale line. I ask the Minister urgently to review that, so that she can confirm at the earliest opportunity that that rolling stock will continue to operate beyond 2007, because that is crucial.

Passengers on the Caldervale line serving New Pudsey station face significant overcrowding problems. The service is mainly operated by ageing diesel rolling stock that does not meet modern-day standards by any stretch of the imagination.

The Harrogate line, which goes through Horsforth in my constituency, is one of the most overcrowded routes in West Yorkshire. Indeed, once the service has called at Horsforth during peak times, it regularly goes straight through into Leeds, leaving passengers standing at the two stations at Headingley and Burley Park.

The Minister is obviously aware that the Northern Rail franchise is under review. It is essential that that review reflects the present demand and pressure on services and the potential for carrying even more passengers and getting even more people out of their cars. Additional units are needed not only to ease present capacity problems but to cater for future growth and especially to serve some of the priority station proposals that are still waiting on the stocks. They cannot go forward because there is insufficient capacity to meet the passenger numbers that it is anticipated will be generated by building the stations. That seems a perverse and ironic way to run any business, whether or not it involves transport.

West Yorkshire Metro has a blueprint for increasing patronage by more than 50 per cent. over the next 10 years with what I regard, and I hope that the Minister would regard, as a relatively modest investment of between £5 million and £6 million per annum over the next 10 years.

I want to take the opportunity, because of the Minister's responsibilities, to raise Leeds Bradford airport. Most people would accept that if an airport site was sought in Leeds today, the present site of Leeds Bradford airport would not even be considered. Its limitations are considerable, but the point on which I seek a response from my hon. Friend concerns the current process of developing the airport's master plan and how it will expand in years to come. Even at present levels of operation, there is a need for improvements to road safety and access around the airport. Transport links are poor and the roads are widely regarded as inadequate and unsafe. The implications of growth cannot be addressed without considering the impact on local communities and the environment.

When presenting the airports White Paper to the House, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State clearly acknowledged the need for a balance between growth in air travel and its environmental impact not
15 Nov 2005 : Column 231WH
only on climate change but on those living near airports, such as my constituents in Horsforth, Yeadon and Guiseley. He confirmed that we needed to reduce and minimise the impact of airports on local communities and the natural environment. Leeds city council's current leadership, however, recently suggested that the White Paper allows for the airport to grow "willy-nilly". It is ironic, therefore, that the controlling coalition on the council is looking to sell off the airport, which is municipally owned, thereby relinquishing the total control that elected councils have over it. I suspect that the trick is to sell it off to a private partner, with a guarantee of expansion, growth and profit, and then blame any unpopular developments on Government policy. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm today that it is not Government policy to allow any airport, especially Leeds Bradford, to expand willy-nilly and that the airport master plan currently being devised will strike a proper balance between growth and the impact on surrounding communities.

As I have said, any airport planning process must be based on proper public consultation. The master plan must be underpinned by an independent environmental impact assessment, which should include consideration of the impact, prevention and minimisation of air and noise pollution, climate change and other associated issues, such as operating hours.

The people of West Yorkshire clearly want to fly from their nearest airport at the lowest price to the greatest number of destinations. Although my constituents living near the airport realise that there is a price to be paid for that location, they rightly believe that their quality of life should not be seriously undermined by unrestricted and excessive growth. A fair and sustainable balance must be achieved.

I note that there are only 13 minutes left, so I leave it to my hon. Friend the Minister to try to reassure me on the crucial transport issues in my constituency.

1.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) on securing this second debate on the subject of transport in Pudsey. It is impressive to see how seriously he takes this important local issue and how effectively he campaigns on his constituents' behalf.

The Government and the Department recognise the importance of good transport links for economic and social regeneration. Better access to and from urban centres such as Leeds and Bradford, whether by bus, rail or car, is crucial.

The pressures on the transport system are well known. We have a legacy of under-investment that goes back decades and, as our economy has grown, there have been further pressures on all modes of transport. That is why we are committed to sustained long-term investment in transport and have doubled transport spending over the past few years. People in the Pudsey area will have seen the benefits of that investment.

Our strategy for transport is to reduce social exclusion, tackle congestion and pollution and enhance the quality of life by improving all types of transport—
15 Nov 2005 : Column 232WH
rail and road, public and private—in ways that increase choice. It is a strategy for investment in the future. However, it is important to recognise that we cannot satisfy every demand for transport infrastructure enhancements, rail or road. Major infrastructure improvements are expensive and take time to deliver. We must prioritise and be realistic. That is why we have asked the regions for their advice on priorities, to help to ensure that funding decisions are targeted on the schemes that will deliver the most benefit.

Good local transport is fundamental to building thriving and prosperous communities. The step change in local transport funding that we have made over the past five years emphasises the Government's commitment to delivering sustained improvement to the transport infrastructure and making a real improvement to people's daily lives. The total capital funding made available to authorities for the first local transport plans was £8 billion, more than double the amount for the preceding five years. West Yorkshire alone will benefit from £54 million for local transport this year.

The local transport plan system has provided more certainty of funding for local authorities, so that they can tackle local issues such as improving road maintenance, securing better traffic management, enhancing road safety and making buses more accessible and better integrated with other transport modes.

We have recently consulted on a new formula for allocating local transport plan funding to local authorities. Although we are still considering the responses, our proposals show that funding for integrated transport measures in West Yorkshire will grow by 13 per cent. during the second local transport plan.

Mr. Truswell : On that funding point, I understand that the formula used by the Department to calculate the number of passengers in West Yorkshire is seriously flawed. Will my hon. Friend undertake to revisit it to ensure that as far as she is aware it is correct?

Ms Buck : I assure my hon. Friend that we do not believe that the formula is flawed; however, if he has reasons, of which my Department and I are not aware, to call it into question, I assure him that I shall examine them to see whether any of his concerns can be met.

We are planning for investment over the long term. A critical area for local transport plans, to which my hon. Friend understandably chose to devote a considerable amount of his time, is the sustained investment in bus services. West Yorkshire has benefited from significant investment in major bus schemes, with £39 million committed since 2001 to schemes that are realising major improvements in bus services. These schemes include the east Leeds quality bus corridor, the A641 Manchester road, the Bradford quality bus scheme and West Yorkshire education transport—My Bus.

In the early years of the first local transport plan, there was an encouraging increase in bus patronage in West Yorkshire, from 199 million passengers in 1999–2000 to more than 203 million passengers in 2002. The decline in patronage in recent years is disappointing and concerning, but it is clear from experience elsewhere that where there are the right conditions, such as a
15 Nov 2005 : Column 233WH
determined passenger transport executive and committed bus operators, bus use can increase significantly. I very much hope that the West Yorkshire authorities, working closely with Metro and the bus operators, will be able to produce a strong second local transport plan, including robust measures to attract people back onto the buses and arrest the decline.

Mr. Truswell : Bus patronage is growing by concentrating on popular, profitable routes. That is happening at the expense of shrinkage in routes that are not profitable but socially necessary. The capacity of Metro, the passenger transport executive, to subsidise those loss-making services is diminishing over time. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a two-speed service: growth where it is profitable; shrinkage where it is not?

Ms Buck : I do not accept my hon. Friend's description of the service. I understand that the successes in bus patronage have in many instances come about through operators and partners choosing routes that are most likely to increase patronage levels. In a trade-off when one does not have unlimited resources, there is always tension about where resources shall be committed. It makes a great deal of sense for a proportion of the £1 billion that we spend on bus services overall to be devoted to increasing patronage as much as possible. It is also true that a separate social exclusion agenda is based more on meeting the needs of isolated communities. Inevitably, there are never the resources to provide all the services that we should like.

Our experience throughout the country, in different areas with different conditions, has been that it is possible to make striking improvements in bus services when there is proper planning for and targeting of good routes. It will be at the local level that the companies and their partners will have to make choices and, inevitably, trade-offs about where they invest.

My hon. Friend asked particularly about the issue of quality contracts. As he knows, the Transport Act 2000 provides a mechanism for introducing a quality contract scheme, although only where that would be the only practicable way of implementing the authority's bus strategy, and would do so economically, efficiently and effectively. Since my hon. Friend's previous Adjournment debate on this subject, the Department has published guidance on how to apply, the supporting evidence required and the matters that the Secretary of State will take into account in considering the merits of the case. An order has been made and brought into force, reducing from 21 months to six months the minimum time that must elapse between making a quality contract scheme and bringing it into force.

As my hon. Friend was comparing and contrasting, London has had a different form of regulated transport since the 1930s—not just recently—and was not affected by deregulation in the 1980s. To introduce a regulated regime in an area that is currently deregulated raises a number of difficult issues, particularly the reduction of commercial opportunities for operators, which did not arise in London. That is one reason why the requirements of the 2000 Act are exacting. Another is that there are many places where the deregulated market is delivering high quality bus services and patronage growth. Brighton, Cambridge, Nottingham, Oxford, Telford and York are some examples. More recently, there has been impressive growth in areas such as Bedford, Exeter and Peterborough. In general, those are places where good partnership between the local authority and the bus operators is working. That is the model that we wish to encourage.

As I mentioned, on the specific area of bus services, we shall shortly announce how the £350 million that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced for the extension of the concessionary bus services will be distributed, and I hope that that will provide an additional boost for transport in areas such as my hon. Friend's.

There are improvements planned on rail services. We are spending more than £80 million a week on the railways and there are a number of examples of the benefits from that investment in West Yorkshire, where patronage has grown from 16 million to 21 million over the past five years. My hon. Friend will be aware of the recent £250 million redevelopment of Leeds city station. It has seen the development of new platforms and a reorganisation of the track layout to the western end of the station. That has improved facilities for passengers, increased the reliability of services and added to the station's capacity. A new bus-rail interchange facility has also been opened outside Leeds city station, making the transfer between bus and rail services much easier.

The new TransPennine franchise began in February 2004 and will deliver more than £250 million of investment, with a brand new fleet of 50 trains due to be introduced in 2006. Also benefiting Leeds and West Yorkshire is a 44 per cent. increase in east coast mainline services since 1996: there are currently 53 services per day, and that will rise to 66 by December 2007. Those are substantial improvements. At a more local level, 16 new four-coach class 333 electric trains have been introduced on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. They have seen a significant increase in patronage.

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, there are many other things that I could say, and I am happy to get back to him with some detail, but I should like to spend my last few seconds on Leeds Bradford airport. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the development of that airport is part of a strategy developed in the air transport White Paper to promote regional airports. It has many benefits for the regional economy as part of the connectivity theme, which is important for economic growth in the area. However, I am aware that current road links to and from the airport can suffer from congestion, especially in peak hours. Fast and regular bus services now run from Bradford and Leeds city centres and provide a much improved public transport option. In addition, the A6120 study has considered how improvements to road-based access can be made. My hon. Friend has concerns about how the expansion of the airport may impact on the environment and on existing residents, but I assure him that we shall take full account of environmental considerations. We made it clear in the air transport White Paper that airport expansion is subject to environmental constraints.

 IndexHome Page