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Linda Gilroy: My understanding is that the cost of the scheme approaches £300 million, which accounts for a significant part of the transport budget. I hope that the Minister will keep an eagle eye on that issue, and help us to ensure that if the scheme goes ahead in that form the funding comes from a national, rather than a regional, budget.

Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend makes an important point, but she will have noted what I have just said.

We have introduced regional funding allocations so that the regions have more opportunity to influence the way in which transport funds are spent in their area. The south-west has been given an indicative allocation of just over £1 billion for the period 2005–06 to 2015–16.
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That sum will be devoted to funding local authority schemes costing over £5 million and schemes on trunk roads and motorways on the Highways Agency's regional network. The south-west region has been asked to identify the schemes that it regards as priorities for funding over that period and to submit that advice to central Government by end of January 2006. In that context, the suggestion of a revolving infrastructure fund for the south-west region is an interesting one, as it could be a useful tool in helping to provide development in the right places so that land use and transport considerations are properly integrated in support of sustainable economic growth.

My hon. Friend referred to rail issues. My Department is currently considering bids for the Greater Western rail franchise. The refranchising operation aims to deliver improved journey times, better quality, and more coherent services between London Paddington and the west. The new franchise will require the operator to provide at least one three-hour train in each direction on weekdays—there is currently no such obligation. The existing operator provides all such services on commercial judgment.

The base case on which the winning bidder for the Greater Western franchise will be chosen includes the continuation of the sleeper service. However, bidders were asked to submit a costed option of not providing it and were encouraged to look for alternative ways of serving the overnight market between London and the south-west. The aim of the costed option is to provide evidence of the cost of delivering the service and, if possible, to provide ways of identifying options that offer better value for money.

Crossrail will increase capacity and offer a better range of transport connections to central London, the City and docklands. Construction will be managed through a series of night-time and weekend track possessions and a two-week closure of Paddington. The details will be established through the normal Network Rail timetable and works planning processes. There is not expected to be any specific impact on services to and from the south-west during normal operation to and from Paddington. The intention is that Crossrail will use the slow lines, not the fast lines. The fast lines will also benefit from the additional electrification to ease freight train access.

My hon. Friend asked what consideration the Department has given to the need to maintain the integrity of the existing strategic routes with regard to the future of the Dawlish sea wall. This is an important and very scenic connection, on which Network Rail spent £2.5 million in 2003 to strengthen the foundations of the sea walls.

The works on the A38 to which my hon. Friend referred are essential maintenance to replace a stretch of road that had begun to fail structurally. Following discussions with the local environmental health officers, it was determined that night working is not possible because the road runs near communities and would cause annoyance to residents. The machinery being used is, I understand, very noisy. I note that the work was programmed for the quieter months from September through to Easter, to be completed before the main holiday season starts.
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I welcome the growth of Plymouth airport over the past 12 months as a result of the introduction of new services. That is in line with policies in the air transport White Paper supporting the expansion of regional airports to serve local demand. However, the future development of Plymouth City airport is a matter for the city council and for the operator. I understand that they have commissioned a study to examine the future role of the airport, including the possibility of extending the main runway in order to assure the long-term viability of the airport. The airlines currently serving Plymouth have aircraft capable of operating a viable network of routes from the existing runway.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence announced on 17 November that RAF St. Mawgan will not be considered further as a base for the joint combat aircraft. I am grateful to him for the clarity of the decision, which I hope will help to alleviate concerns in the far south-west about the long-term future of Newquay Cornwall airport, which utilises the runway, apron and other facilities of St. Mawgan. The decision leaves the way clear for Cornwall county council, which operates the civil airport, to propose plans for its long-term development.

My hon. Friend asked about route development funding to support the start-up of new services from airports in the south-west. The air transport White Paper advocated the use of such funds, but it is for each
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individual regional development agency to consider whether to establish a fund, in the light of its own financial position and priorities.

Linda Gilroy: I have not heard my hon. Friend's full answer, of course, but I meant to raise the potential role for public service obligations, such as exist up to Inverness airport. May I add to the representations that I made about preserving air services by saying that that should be kept under review? With the fragility of the service, which we outlined today, and the dependence of the two airports on each other, such an obligation could be necessary in the future.

Derek Twigg: I understand the important point that my hon. Friend makes. In her speech, she was clear about that.

The far south-west is a diverse region with a growing population, great economic potential, and prized environmental and cultural assets. To maximise the benefits from these advantages, and to enable the region to develop economically and reduce social exclusion, transport must be well planned, managed and delivered. The Government are committed to working with our regional and local partners to provide the leadership that that requires. I hope I have been able to give some reassurance to my hon. Friend about our commitments to the far south-west, but I know that she will continue to be a great advocate for the south-west and for improvements in transport in the region.

Question put and agreed to.

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