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Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that, as part of Transport for
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London's look at the corridor plan for South West Trains, the Mayor of London is considering demand patterns to the south-west? Does she agree that it is vital that the Mayor fully understands the importance of maintaining regular and fast links to the south-west, that the Crossrail project could, particularly during its construction phase, have serious implications for the south-west that need to be fully considered and understood, and that the Mayor really must ensure that his plans are not too London-centric?

Linda Gilroy: I certainly welcome my hon. Friend's move to ensure that the Mayor is fully aware of that. The Minister knows well our concerns about rail; many Members have made robust representations. Viewing our transport issues across the piece is essential against the background of what I have just been saying about roads. He has certainly heard our concerns about how Crossrail could disrupt our hard-won three-hour journey to Plymouth, which would of course also impact on services beyond. Positive consideration of the regional assembly's petition for a full impact assessment is vital. I also believe that there is to be disruption to the Waterloo to Exeter service. Will the Minister ensure that any journey delays arising from that do not clash with the period of work on Crossrail?

The importance that Plymouth attaches to the three-hour journey—remembering the productivity issues that I mentioned earlier—must be recognised. The document for the renewal of the Greater Western rail franchise ought to specify more than one three-hour journey per day to and from London Paddington and the preservation of our sleeper service to Plymouth and Cornwall.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The hon. Lady is right about the case that she makes about rail services to the far south-west and Cornwall. The shortest train journey time to Penzance is five hours, and more often longer, so does she agree that, given the threat to the sleeper service and the fact that both the east and west main lines provide far faster services to the north of England and Scotland, the Minister has only one choice: either to give Cornwall and the south-west a high-speed rail link or to keep the sleeper service? He cannot deny us both.

Linda Gilroy: We certainly need to preserve the sleeper service and to see development, growth and a positive step change in public transport delivery to match the rising demand and expectations not only of the residents of Plymouth but of the region's residents and visitors. The fact that Plymouth's population is set to grow from its present 240,000 perhaps to as much as 350,000 has not been properly considered.

Will the Minister look at the specification of the new Greater Western franchise to ensure that it takes account of the growth anticipated by the regional economic strategy and "The Way Ahead"? As they are currently outside the remit of the regional funding allocation's transport budget, can he help us ensure that investment in rail services supports the region's aspirations for spatial and economic growth? What consideration has his Department given to the need to maintain the integrity of existing strategic rail routes into and out of the region with regard to the future of the Dawlish sea wall and the impact of climate change? I
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hope that he acknowledges that we need some strategic oversight of the proposed road and rail works to ensure that we do not see deterioration in what is becoming viewed as "transport exclusion" in our part of the world.

Finally, will the Minister consider our air services against that same background? Services from Plymouth airport are doing well with new operators Air Southwest and Air Wales. Demand has increased substantially, and in the past 12 months the number of passengers using the airport has increased by 68 per cent. to 132,000. There are now 11 scheduled flights a day to London Gatwick, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Dublin, Cork, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Aberdeen and Jersey. That contrasts with the situation just a little more than a year ago, when there was a service only to Gatwick. That is a significant improvement.

Plymouth city council is committed to retaining an airport in the city. A study will soon report on the facility that would bring most benefit to the city in terms of the ambitions and aspirations that I mentioned earlier. The viability of Plymouth airport has always depended on running joint services to Newquay St. Mawgan airport. In the light of last week's decision by the Ministry of Defence on St. Mawgan, will the Minister take a close interest in ensuring that public support and help to keep important air services flying to Cornwall complements this growth in Plymouth's air services, rather undermines it, as it has the potential to do? What is happening with the Department of Trade and Industry's consideration of whether regional development agencies can invest in route development funding, as requested by the north-east and north-west RDAs? Can the Minister understand the importance of having a framework that allows us to secure our air services, given the challenges faced by, and the fragilities of, our road and rail services, to which I have referred?

The Minister knows that I am normally a "glass half full", rather than a "glass half empty", person. Our part of the region is capable of achieving and welcoming sustainable growth in a way that some other parts of the country perhaps are not. I hope that he can do something to reassure my constituents—especially those in the business community, who are keen to help Plymouth and the south-west to reach their full potential—about the Government's commitment to assisting with the challenges that I have described. In particular, I hope that he will look at the role that the revolving investment fund proposed in "The Way Ahead" might play in helping to achieve our ambitious agenda for improving the transport infrastructure of, and services to, Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall.

10.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) on securing this important Adjournment debate on the transport needs and priorities in the far south-west. I listened very carefully to what she said.

This Government are committed to sustained long-term investment to improve local transport as a key element of their 10-year plan for transport. We announced in December 2000 that £8.4 billion would be
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available to implement local transport plans across England over the following five years. We also indicated that the four transport authorities in the far south-west would receive more than £88.8 million for integrated transport and maintenance measures in their first LTPs. In addition to this figure, we provided more than £15 million in reward funding and supplementary bids.

In our White Paper entitled "The Future of Transport—A Network for 2030", which was published last year, we confirmed our commitment to continue this high investment in all forms of transport. The planning guidelines published for the five years of the second LTPs maintain these high levels of investment. Subject to the results of the consultation and the final assessments of the far south-west authorities' second LTPs, we plan to make available similar levels of investment— nearly £99 million over the next five years. Of course, if the LTPs are assessed as among the best in the country, that figure could increase significantly.

LTPs will address the very real needs of people in the far south-west. The focus will be on our shared priorities, which have been agreed with our partners in local government. There are four main areas for LTPs to address. First, they will tackle congestion, which costs us all in lost time and pollution. Secondly, they will aim to improve people's access to the jobs and services that they need for day-to-day living. Thirdly, they will continue the excellent work undertaken in the past five years to improve road safety. Plymouth city council, for example, has achieved a 48 per cent. reduction in serious or fatal child casualties over the life of the first LTP. Finally, LTPs will aim to improve air quality by working with other stakeholders to remove the air quality management areas that have been declared.

Transport authorities are now working up final plans to take account of lessons learned, and planning for the next five years. The Department is working closely with authorities across a range of topics, and advising, where necessary, on improving delivery against targets. Final LTPs will be presented to the Government in March next year.

LTPs have also provided a financial mechanism for delivering major schemes in the far south-west that cost   more than £5 million. Of the four schemes—including Highways Agency schemes—currently under construction, the Plymouth one is a major public transport scheme. It includes a park-and-ride facility, public transport prioritisation and realignment of the A386 to allow increasing of the runway end safety area at Plymouth airport and conformity with Civil Aviation Authority regulations. Initially, this scheme had provisional approval to spend £5 million, but the Government approved a cost increase to £11.25 million, as the scheme still provided excellent value for money. I am pleased that the authority has brought the project to completion with savings on the original budget, and I congratulate it on that achievement.

In Devon, construction began on the Barnstaple bypass in February 2005. The scheme is partly funded by Devon county council but the majority of resources—nearly £38 million—come from central Government funds. Two further schemes in Cornwall have received provisional approval for more than £37 million—the A39 Camelford distributor road and
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the A391 St. Austell to A30 link road. Work has begun on the Highways Agency scheme to replace the single carriageway A30 trunk road between the Bodmin bypass and the Indian Queens bypass with a new dual carriageway at a cost of £93 million. It is planned to open the road in summer 2007.

Work has also commenced on the improvement at Merrymeet, which will open in April 2007. The public inquiry into the Dobwalls improvement will open in January next year. That, too, is evidence of a genuine commitment by the Government to address local congestion points in the region. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are designated objective 1 funding areas, and have thus benefited from significant investment in transport. Schemes such as the double tracking of the main rail line between Probus and Burngullow and improvements at Newquay airport to increase passenger handling capacity have increased opportunities in the region. Authorities in the far south-west have been successful in bidding for funds from other central funding sources. Recently, support has been announced for more than £2 million of kick-start bids in that part of the region. In the past five years, nearly £5.1 million has been awarded from the urban and rural bus challenge funds. In addition, I recently announced that £1.5 million would part-fund work to turn Exeter into one of six cycling demonstration towns.

My hon. Friend will recall the announcement on the second strategic road route to the south-west by the Secretary of State in November last year. The decision was made to improve in due course the A358 so that it would provide that route in conjunction with the A303. The route was chosen on the grounds of value for money and the lowest impact on the environment. The process has now been handed over to the region to decide how the route fits with other priorities. The world heritage site at Stonehenge, which my hon. Friend mentioned, is recognised by the Government as extremely important. However, due to a substantial increase in the cost of the proposed Stonehenge tunnel, we have deferred a decision on the inspector's report and recommendations on the draft scheme orders. Instead, a detailed review of scheme options is being carried out. There will be a full public consultation early in the new year before the steering group puts its recommendations to the Government by summer 2006. We do not know what will emerge from the review and what the scheme will cost. It is not possible to say how it will impact on the regional funding allocation for the south-west at this stage.

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