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Transport Infrastructure (South Hampshire)

9. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): If he will make a statement on the transport infrastructure in south Hampshire. [59784]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): We are aware that local authorities in south Hampshire have ambitious plans for growth. We look forward to seeing their proposals to support that in their new local transport plan.

Peter Viggers: Is the Minister aware that 38,000 people on the Gosport peninsula have jobs, but that there are only 19,000 jobs on the peninsula? The result, of course, is a tidal flow of traffic out and in every day, which causes intense frustration for people stuck in that slow-moving traffic jam. The Government encouraged Hampshire county council to consider a light rapid transit scheme and then turned the idea down flat. They refused to compensate the council and its council tax payers for the costs incurred. When will there be a new Minister for local transport who will honour the promise that there would be a meeting with the county council to discuss the way ahead? What chances are there of improvement and will the Government fund it?

Dr. Ladyman: On the south Hampshire rapid transit scheme, the Government said in March 2001 that we would consider it but that the public contribution had to be capped at £170 million. That cost had risen by £100 million by 2003. In 2005, south Hampshire produced a much reduced scheme costing £250 million-odd at today's prices. That increase in costs is not sustainable and that was why the Government were not prepared to back the scheme any further. Of course we are prepared to meet the local council to talk about these issues and to try to find a constructive way forward. We have made that offer already and look forward with great interest to studying the council's further plans.
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Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): The Minister referred to the plans of councils in south Hampshire for more development and more transport infrastructure. Will he commit to work with them, so that firm and costed plans are in place before new housing developments are begun? Many of the problems in south Hampshire arise from the fact that, in the past, transport infrastructure has lagged behind housing developments.

Dr. Ladyman: Of course my Department and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will work closely with local councils. That is happening already, but plans must be practical, affordable and sustainable. These are difficult questions to answer, but we will make sure that infrastructure funding is available to support much needed growth in the area.

Trunk Roads (East Anglia)

10. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet East Anglia's local authorities to discuss improvements to local trunk roads. [59785]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): We currently have no plans to meet local authorities in East Anglia to discuss improvements to either local or trunk road schemes.

Mr. Bellingham: I am sorry to hear that, because if the Minister had a meeting, he would learn that Norfolk has fewer trunk road bypasses and less dual carriageway than any other county in England. Not only is that harming the quality of life in many villages, it is holding back job creation and enterprise. When will work commence on the A47 Middleton-East Winch bypass and when can we expect some improvements on the A17?

Dr. Ladyman: Although I have no plans to meet the local authorities, we have been talking to them and to the region about plans hitherto. I have visited the A47 to see the issues for myself. We have just had guidance from the region about where road funding priorities ought to lie. We are considering that and will make our decision known very soon. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, given what he has just said, he might want to discuss the presumption against road building, as it was described, with the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is leading the Conservative commission on that subject.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of the Highways Agency's proposals for repairing the lift-up bridge on the A12 trunk road in the middle of Lowestoft? It envisages closing the bridge down for whole weekends, which will bring the town to a standstill. It simply would not be able to function if that were to happen. The cost to the town would be enormous in terms of lost hours, lost production and lost business. Will he look into that matter and agree to meet me before any final decision is made on what kind of contract will be offered?

Dr. Ladyman: Of course I will meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. The Highways Agency will consult
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thoroughly to find the best way forward. Obviously, if repairs are needed, we have to find some way of dealing with the problem without disrupting traffic for his constituents and others in the town. We will do our best to do that and I will make sure that he and I meet to discuss it.


11. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): What the timetable is for the planned improvements to the A303 in Somerset; and if he will make a statement. [59787]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): We are considering the south-west region's advice on its priorities for major schemes in the south-west, including schemes on the A303. We hope to announce our response to that advice later in the year.

Mr. Heath: There are two things that interest my constituents: the Sparkford to Ilchester safety improvements and the replacement of the road surface on the A303 with a low noise surface. We are disappointed that, given that other schemes on the A303 have been delayed for unavoidable reasons, the safety improvements—not capacity improvements—between Sparkford and Ilchester have not been brought forward. There is also disappointment that the anticipated change of road surface has apparently been delayed because the money that would have been used has gone instead to the A1. Will the Minister consider both schemes and write to me to say whether they can be undertaken at the earliest possible opportunity? They would improve my constituents' quality of life.

Dr. Ladyman: I will write to the hon. Gentleman and tell him what the latest position is on any safety and surface improvements that are needed on those roads. As for the capacity increases, he is a member of a party with a presumption against road building—we are constantly being told that we should not be building any—but he and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) between them have proposed £2 billion of road building.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): There is an intrinsic link between the A303 project being mooted by the Government and the A358 dualling, which links the end of the Ilminster bypass on the A303 to junction 25 of the M5 at Taunton. Will the Minister give us an update on the progress that the Government are making with the dualling of the A358 on that stretch and when they anticipate starting work on that project?

Dr. Ladyman: Once again, we are considering the advice from the south-west region on priorities and as soon as we have that advice, we will make it known.

UK Airports

13. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the effect of the structure of British Airports Authority airports on his policy on UK airports. [59789]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave to Question 2.
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Tony Lloyd: Referring to that answer, although I accept that it is the competition authorities that must ultimately decide on the balance of advantage, will the Minister ask the competition authorities if they will look carefully at producing a report on the costs and benefits of the BAA monopoly, particularly in the south-east, and the way in which that impacts on airlines and the travelling public, particularly in the light of the calls for the break-up of BAA by many of the internationally known airlines?

Mr. Darling: We have responded to the Civil Aviation Authority consultation, which deals with the designation of the London airports. Any question of an investigation of the ownership of those airports has to be dealt with by the competition authorities. The most important thing is for us to ensure that, whoever owns the airports, we get the investment that we need to provide additional runway and terminal capacity. That is the most important thing for the well-being of the economic health of this country. As I said earlier, no Government can be indifferent to that.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): When my right hon. Friend considers the structure of BAA and airports in the months to come, will he widen his net to look at those cases in which regional airports are owned by the same organisation? The Manchester Airport Group owns the large Manchester airport, as well as East Midlands airport in my constituency, which has significant problems that MAG has not addressed. Will he also review regional airport ownership?

Mr. Darling: No, there is no reason why Manchester Airport Group or anyone else should not own East Midlands airport. The test is whether there is a monopoly and whether that monopoly power is being abused. That is what the competition authorities have to decide under the Enterprise Act 2003. There is no reason why a company cannot own more than one airport. What is important is that the company concerned is prepared to commit sufficient investment to ensure that the airport can meet the demands on it and continue to contribute to the British economy. East Midlands airport, as my hon. Friend knows, has seen a substantial increase in freight traffic. I appreciate that there are local concerns about noise, but the contribution that the airport makes to the east midlands economy, and therefore to jobs, cannot be overlooked.

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