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House of Commons

Tuesday 6 December 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Rail Services

1. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on rail passenger services in north-west Leicestershire. [34460]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The north-west of the county is currently served by rail services operated by the Central Trains and Midland Mainline franchises. In October, we announced a new structure of rail franchises, to be implemented following the expiry of the current franchises. Services will then be provided by a new unified East Midlands franchise.

David Taylor: The Burton-upon-Trent to Leicester route, including the third oldest rail line in England, runs through the heart of the national forest, crosses three counties, links two regions and serves Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Coalville in my constituency. Since Beeching killed off passenger services, our area has been transformed economically, socially and environmentally and there is huge support for the return of passenger rail services. Will the Minister indicate how a local community can proceed in the light of the fact that the county council's support has cooled dramatically since political control changed in 2001? Perhaps he could include me in the consultation on the successor franchise to which he has referred.

Dr. Ladyman: I am happy to commit to ensuring that my hon. Friend and other local MPs are included in the consultation on the new franchise. There are two routes by which a case can be made to return services to that line. One is to go back to the local council and convince it to include it in the local transport plan. The other is to have it included as a priced option when the franchise is let in a couple of years. The local community needs to proceed on either basis.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Midland Mainline, which runs through Leicestershire, also runs through Wellingborough. Is the Minister aware of the concern that it has put back the time the last train returns from London? It now leaves at 11.15 pm, which
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makes it difficult for people to come to London, for example, to see a show and get back to Wellingborough or Leicestershire. Will he use his good offices to encourage Midland Mainline to change its view?

Dr. Ladyman: We will certainly relay the hon. Gentleman's views to the operator, but I understand that the changes were made in response to passenger loading.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I join my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) in wanting to see passenger services extended in north-west Leicestershire, as we achieved for the service from Leicester to Loughborough. Is the Minister aware that the future of the Ivanhoe line, which is part of the package to which my hon. Friend referred, will be in danger if Leicester city council, which has also changed political control, decides to withdraw its £400,000 subsidy to that service? Is not that a retrograde step when we are trying to increase passenger use, particularly on local trains and local runs, to reduce congestion both in Loughborough and in Leicester?

Dr. Ladyman: My understanding is that the city council has decided to withdraw its funding from the scheme, which I am sure local people will take into account when the council comes up for re-election. Continued support for the line now depends on the view of the county. We are still waiting to hear whether it wishes to continue to support that line.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Trains to Leicestershire on Midland Mainline run through Kettering. Is the Minister aware of the huge housing expansion planned for Northamptonshire up to 2021, and will he ensure that the next franchise for the area covered by Midland Mainline and Central Trains takes into account the future population increases for both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire?

Dr. Ladyman: The Central Trains franchise is changing anyway. Whenever franchises change and are re-let, there is widespread consultation and the franchise process takes into account issues such as further expansion in the area. Again, it will be for the hon. Gentleman to make representations to ensure that those matters are covered when that happens.

Regional Transport Forums

2. Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): If he will make a statement on the work of the regional transport forums. [34461]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck): In introducing regional funding allocations for transport, housing and economic development, we asked regions to provide us with advice by January 2006 on their regional priorities. We are aware that some regions have elected to establish regional transport forums to assist their work, but the structure and tasks assigned to such bodies is a matter for individual regions to decide.
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Dr. Pugh: I thank the Minister for her answer. In just a few weeks, the regional transport boards, controlled by the Government offices, will submit what are virtually 10-year regional transport plans, prioritise millions of pounds of expenditure, disappoint many, but affect every community, business and council, with minimal consultation and limited democratic debate and feedback. Is such haste wise or necessary, and will not it produce divisive or poor outcomes?

Ms Buck: I am sorry to hear from the hon. Gentleman that he is not happy with the consultation. We took the decision not to impose a particular model of consultation on the regions, but as this is likely to be the way of the future it is important that regions make the best use of their consultation options, whether with businesses or communities. When we come to consider the plans again next spring, we will examine the matter carefully. We will want to see that they have demonstrated robust consultation processes.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Minister ensure when cross-examining those regional bodies that they have come forward with projects that can tackle, at the least cost and in the best way, the underlying problem of shortage of capacity of all kinds in our transport system? I would rather she were consulting elected local government but, given that she is going to do it in that way, will she ensure that those bodies are asked the right questions and come forward with bottleneck-reducing schemes, particularly ones that can be privately financed?

Ms Buck: That is absolutely central to what those forums should be doing. We are asking them not just to look at their transport priorities—it will indeed be a question of setting priorities; there is never enough money to cover everything that everyone wants to achieve—but for the first time in this process to balance transport investment with housing and economic development, rather than taking investment decisions in silos, as they have done in the past. This is the first time that we have taken such an approach, but it is the future and I expect it to be built on as the years go by.

Road Humps

3. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): When he expects to reissue guidance on the use of road humps. [34462]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Department for Transport is developing a local transport note on traffic calming, and updating its code of practice on consultation with emergency services when traffic calming measures are proposed. Both documents will include references to road humps and are planned for publication early next year.

John Mann: I am delighted that new guidance is coming out, but will the Minister ensure that it deals with motorbikes' ability to go through the middle of concrete cushion road humps, on-street parking on such humps and whether emergency service vehicles such as the Nottinghamshire fire engine can straddle them?
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Dr. Ladyman: I can certainly reassure the House that those issues will be taken into consideration when we prepare the guidance because my hon. Friend has been invited to be a consultee in that process, and he has doubtless made these very valuable points to the team putting the guidance together. I should point out, however, that no one set of traffic calming measures is right in every location; some will work and some will not, depending on the particular circumstances. It is important that local highways engineers make local decisions and pick the right traffic calming measure for the local area.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I agree with the Minister that such decisions should be up to local engineers. Is he aware, however, that although some traffic calming schemes in my constituency have been a great success, other sets of road humps have been a failure and have given rise to collateral damage such as property subsidence? What advice can he give to local residents who have had problems with property subsidence and who want those road humps if not removed, then at least reconfigured?

Dr. Ladyman: The only advice that I can give is for the hon. Gentleman to work with local highways authorities to ensure that they get feedback on these matters and that the collateral damage, as he describes it, is known to them. It is perfectly possible for authorities to redesign an area once traffic calming has been shown not to work; that has happened in my constituency and it doubtless happens in many others. People such as the hon. Gentleman can campaign to ensure that local highways authorities remove such traffic calming measures if they are not working.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): May I commend the Department for Transport on supporting English Heritage and the Campaign to Protect Rural England in their efforts to improve streetscape and the design of traffic calming measures such as road humps? In particular, I commend the document entitled "Streets for All." Streetscape is a very important environmental issue, but the trouble is that the Department's good intentions in encouraging better design and reducing street clutter never get followed through because there is no funding incentive. Moreover, the Audit Commission and the local government ombudsman say that this issue has nothing to do with them. What financial incentives, along with guidance, is the Minister prepared to instigate so that councils throughout the country will try to improve our streetscape environment—speed humps, street clutter and everything else—and not just let things deteriorate, as they are currently doing?

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the Department's initiatives and I agree that streetscape is important. We should try to reduce clutter wherever possible, and when doing so ensure that that is compatible with road safety, which, as he will doubtless agree, has to be the No. 1 priority. There may well not be the financial incentives that he is looking for, but there are plenty of other incentives to encourage local authorities to act, not least of which is the local electoral process. If local authorities are not being responsive to this matter, they will not get re-elected.
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