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21 Jun 2006 : Column 465WH—continued

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o'clock.

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Local Transport Funding

2.30 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): I am not inclined to view you as an avenging magistrate, Mr. Bercow, but may I begin by saying how delightful it is to appear before you for the first time?

This debate on future funding for local transport is timely, as the Treasury is beginning work on the 2007 comprehensive spending review, and it has been pursued primarily on behalf of me and other Members representing metropolitan areas served by passenger transport executives. We support the Passenger Transport Executive Group in advancing the case for funding for our areas, not only because of the key economic role that they play, but because of the increasingly crucial environmental factors that also underpin the case for enhancing local public transport. I hope that my hon. Friends from other PTE areas will succeed in catching your eye, Mr. Bercow.

At the end of the debate, I would like to present my hon. Friend the Minister with a hot-off-the-press copy of the PTEG case for investment. I ask her to confirm her willingness to meet with me and other PTEG MPs in the near future to discuss its content.

We hope that the CSR process and the Department for Transport submission to it will be an opportunity to bid for the additional investment that we need in public transport networks in city regions. In the last spending review, London made a good case for better public transport. There is no doubt that London needed and deserved better public transport, and the Labour Government can be rightly proud of how they and a Labour Mayor worked together to agree a £10 billion, five-year investment plan for the capital.

Of course, London is the UK’s world city and a major driver of the UK economy. It put forward a cogent and successful argument that a modern, efficient public transport network is crucial to its continuing growth. However, after London, the economic drivers of the UK are the country’s other city regions. They also need modern, efficient transport networks if they are to continue to drive wider regional economies.

It is straightforward to paint a broad economic case for investment in public transport in those regions, and I shall refer to that in more detail later, but the case equally needs to explore the benefits to and positive impact on the people we represent, and the neighbourhoods in which they live, in terms of tackling social exclusion, congestion and pollution, and dealing with road safety and parking problems, as well as all the other effects that come with increased use of private cars and the inadequacies and shortcomings of public transport. That is why I will, on occasion, descend from higher and loftier planes to the more parochial experience in my own constituency.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): In descending from the heights to the depths, will my hon. Friend also descend from the built-up areas of West Yorkshire, the west midlands and so on, where PTEs operate, to recognise that there are similar issues in the less densely populated parts of the country? They also need improvements in public
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transport by whatever financial means may be possible. The Chancellor’s recent contribution towards concessionary fares in those parts of the country and free national fares will be a huge boost to regions such as the east midlands, which do not benefit from access to PTE funding.

Mr. Truswell: I could never describe talking about my constituency as descending to the depths. I am forced to correct my hon. Friend for what I am sure was an inadvertent slip of the tongue. As I indicated at the outset, I shall concentrate on PTE areas, but I am sure that his intervention will have made the wider point to my hon. Friend the Minister.

As a Leeds MP, Leeds is the example with which I am most familiar. Much of my contribution will focus on Leeds and West Yorkshire, but the general points that I shall make could be made about all PTE regions and, as an aside to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), possibly about other areas as well.

Over the past 20 years, Leeds has created more jobs than any major city outside London. Between 1981 and 2002, it added 86,000 new jobs to its work force. It has provided more than 30 per cent. of the 144,000 net additional jobs in the Yorkshire and Humberside region that were created between 1994 and 2004. It is expected to provide about 46 per cent. of the region’s additional 60,000 jobs between 2004 and 2014.

Although jobs have been created in Leeds, many are being taken up by people living outside the Leeds city boundary. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of people commuting to Leeds increased by 38 per cent. The trend towards more and longer-distance commuting will continue as cities such as Leeds develop as centres for high-value economic sectors in financial and legal services. However, although such cities are transforming themselves, the pace of renewal within wider city regions such as Leeds and between those city regions varies substantially.

It is an unfortunate fact that our cities and city regions have yet to make the European premier league. For example, in the top 50 European cities for gross domestic product per capita, there are only three English representatives: London, Bristol and Leeds, with Leeds in 43rd place. The economic performance of the north also lags significantly behind that of London and the south-east. The gross added value per head in Yorkshire and Humber is £14,222 compared with £18,411 for the south-east. PTE areas also have some of the worst concentrations of deprivation in the country, with 84 of the 100 most deprived neighbourhoods being located in metropolitan areas.

If we are to raise the economic performance of our city region, tackle deprivation and deal with increasing environmental problems, we need to accelerate not only the pace of economic renewal, but infrastructural issues such as public transport. That regeneration must take place on a sustainable basis—it is not simply a case of dashing for growth at all costs.

We cannot simply create more jobs and businesses, generate more journeys and build more houses without
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examining the impact on communities and the infrastructure required. Transport is a crucial part of that process.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I apologise for being unable to stay for the entire debate, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing it. Does he agree that this is a matter of improving not just buses, trains and even the supertram, but the roads in West Yorkshire, where we are neighbouring Members of Parliament? They must receive a fair share of spend from the Highways Agency to relieve many of the pressure points that run into Leeds, as well as the Saltaire roundabout in my constituency, where many local people consider we do not receive a fair share of that money.

Mr. Truswell: I shall touch briefly on investment in roads, although I must admit that my contribution will focus mainly on rail and bus public transport.

I was speaking about sustainability. Some parts of my constituency have seen substantial additional house building on brownfield sites—an experience that typifies that of many hon. Members here today. We have frequent arguments about the sustainability and density of such developments. Planners seem to base their interpretation of planning guidance, such as planning policy guidance note 3, on the simple existence of a local rail station, rather than realistic analysis of the capacity of that station and the line that runs through it to provide transport to the increasing number of residents generated by the developments.

It is fair to say that, working with PTEs, the Government have invested heavily in schemes that have been effective in supporting the economic revitalisation of core cities such as Leeds, tackling exclusion and, to a certain degree, addressing some of the environmental issues of which I have spoken. I can cite examples from my constituency, which is served by three stations and three different rail lines—Horsforth, New Pudsey and Guiseley. They have had major improvements, and all three have undergone refurbishment and renewal. The efficiency of Leeds City station has been increased with a £250 million investment to reduce congestion and delays. A rail passenger partnership grant has enabled the provision of excellent new 333 class rolling stock on the Airedale and Wharfedale line.

I shall listen with interest to the comments of Conservative Front Benchers, but I must say that there could be no starker contrast between what was on that line under the Conservative Government and what is there now. We have replaced 40-year-old slam-door cast-offs from the south-eastern commuter belt with the most up-to-date, relevant stock imaginable. Much of the investment has gone into playing catch-up, and we need even more to catch up further.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I have been listening intently as my hon. Friend has built his arguments, and I agree with them. However, I must apologise for being unable to stay because this important debate clashes with a sitting of the Transport Committee, which starts in five minutes.

Does my hon. Friend agree that although investment has gone to Leeds and our other major cities, they have
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suffered from a double whammy? The investment gap per capita there has been growing as compared with London and we suffer from the disadvantage of a deregulated bus system that is inferior to the regulated one here.

Mr. Truswell: My hon. Friend mentions two points that are close to the hearts of PTEG members. I shall come to them in due course, and at some stage in the not too distant future we will pursue the Minister over them.

As more and more people are commuting to new jobs in Leeds, the West Yorkshire rail network has grown phenomenally during the past 10 years, from 1.5 million journeys in 1994-95 to 21.1 million in 2004-05. The modernised Airedale line, which runs through the constituency of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), now has a 75 per cent. share of commuter trips to Leeds. Unsurprisingly, that growth has led to overcrowding on peak services, which is a continual source of complaint from our constituents. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding in agreement.

To help to tackle the problem, Metro, West Yorkshire’s passenger transport executive, is working with Yorkshire Forward and Northern Rail to develop a £20 million partnership to add 12 additional carriages to the local train network. That will include extra capacity on two lines through my constituency that suffer from serious overcrowding, the Harrogate and Calderdale lines.

The investment should lead by 2013 to a reduction of more than 90 million road vehicle kilometres. That equates to a net saving of 3,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide. On the question of carbon emissions, we know from research by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research that per passenger mile, rail travel produces only 40 per cent. as much CO2 as petrol-fuelled cars and only 50 per cent. as much as cars fuelled by diesel. Coaches and buses compare even more favourably, with figures of 30 and 40 per cent. respectively.

Another West Yorkshire Metro initiative that supports the continuing revitalisation of Leeds is a free city bus service, provided in response to the organisations represented by the Leeds Initiative and other major city employers. The free city bus links up key points in the city centre with main rail stations. Since the service started in January, it has proved hugely popular, with passenger numbers topping 500,000 in just five months, and has taken some 1,450 journeys a week off Leeds roads.

The West Yorkshire yellow school bus service is another Government-supported initiative that has proved hugely successful. It provides a safe and high-quality home-to-school service and is reducing congestion caused by the school run. In fact, 70 per cent. of pupils who use the service used to travel to school by car. The yellow bus is taking 8,000 km of car travel off the roads each week, and by 2007, 300 West Yorkshire schools will be benefiting from the scheme. As the Prime Minister said when congratulating Metro on winning the working together category at the recent national public servant of the year awards, the scheme represents a remarkable achievement.

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I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister agrees that these schemes demonstrate how a Labour Government, working with local PTEs as their delivery agencies, are bringing real improvements to transport for the city regions. However, welcome though those schemes are, there are clearly not enough resources available for the PTEs to keep pace with the needs of the growing economies in our major cities and increasing environmental problems faced by our local communities and constituents.

So, it is equally clear that unless we obtain more investment in public transport, the combination of traffic congestion and a public transport network that cannot cope with the number of passengers using it will begin to choke our communities and strangle economic growth in cities such as Leeds and other PTE areas.

In the light of last year’s cancellation of plans for the Leeds supertram—I do not intend to go into that in any great detail—a 20-year transport vision has been drawn up for the Leeds city region. The data presented in the vision document show that overcrowding problems already affect most rail services to Leeds during peak hours. They also indicate that the strategic highway link, including several sections of the M1, the M62 and the M621, is operating close to capacity. At morning peak hours on the M621 between junctions 5 and 6 near Leeds, for example, speeds are as low as 20 mph.

If we look into public spending on transport—this comes to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer)—we can see that London is obtaining the resources it requires to provide the capital with the public transport system it needs. Spending on transport in London in 2001 was £223 a head. By 2005-06, that had risen massively to £631 a head. In Yorkshire and Humberside, transport spending in 2000-01 was £117 a head, and by 2005-06 that had risen significantly to £197 a head.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about West Yorkshire. Will he acknowledge that the English midlands is bigger geographically and more populous, as well as the contributor of a larger section of UK gross domestic product, than Greater London? We need some rebalancing of the investment that is going into regional transport away, perhaps, from the metropolitan area, which we are debating in relation to this important topic.

Mr. Truswell: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, although I disagree that there needs to be some redistribution of the investment in metropolitan areas to the county areas, for want of a better expression.

The point I am making is that the PTE areas in the city regions are major drivers of the UK economy—maybe second only to London in terms of their importance in that respect. That is why my PTE colleagues and I are pursuing this debate. I do not want to get into a beggar-my-neighbour discussion about it, because all hon. Members feel that they have a duty to pursue the case for investment in all kinds of services in their own area and my hon. Friend is doing a good job on that on behalf of his constituents.

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I talked about the increase in funding. Clearly, there has been an increase in Yorkshire and Humberside, which is very welcome, but the main point is that it is well below the London figure. The rate of increase for London is far faster than it has been for Yorkshire and Humber and other PTE areas. Recent research by the PTEs suggested that if we were to halve the funding gap—not close it completely—between London and the PTE regions, that would release close to £4 billion a year extra for transport spending in those regions.

A higher transport spend per head would allow West Yorkshire Metro, for example, to provide the Leeds city region with a model for an efficient public transport network that would underpin the sustainable development of the city region’s economy. Sustained and significant investment will build on the excellent, but often isolated and limited, examples of successful good practice and demonstrate that the PTEs are an excellent agency for delivering such a step change, given the right investment levels.

As I said a few minutes ago, the 20-year transport vision for West Yorkshire has been drawn up for the Leeds city region. On the rail network, that vision includes more rolling stock to provide much needed extra capacity for the ongoing growth in rail patronage, as well as the even more important potential to draw even more people out of their cars by giving them a good, affordable and reliable alternative to the internal combustion engine. It would enable new and enhanced stations, such as those proposed for Appleby Bridge and Kirkstall, and extra car parking at rail stations.

It is often impractical to build new stations or enhance park and ride simply because there is insufficient capacity on the rail network to carry the additional passenger numbers that would be generated. That is clearly a nonsensical paradox that must be addressed as we strive to get people out of their cars. We know that good rail services do just that.

Investment would also allow tram-train technology on routes such as the Harrogate line to get the most out of the Metro train network. Extra investment would also allow the introduction of a new Metrocard zone for commuters beyond the West Yorkshire border. Investment on buses would allow bus rapid transit on planned supertram routes and be the alternative that—we were told by colleagues from the Department for Transport—was a more economic alternative to the tram proposal. It would enable high-quality, improved bus corridors and bus rapid transit schemes to provide better connections throughout our PTE areas.

Investment in roads—this is perhaps my one mention of roads; I must apologise to the hon. Member for Shipley—would allow the upgrading and improvement of the Leeds and Bradford ring road, and allow other key routes between towns and cities to remove some obvious bottlenecks and pressure points, of which the roundabout that he mentioned, which I know well and use often, is one example.

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