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21 Jun 2006 : Column 471WH—continued

The total capital cost of the long-term transport vision for the Leeds city region is some £3.5 billion. Together with all the proponents of this case, I recognise that, as in London, funding for a programme of that scale needs to be drawn from a range of sources, not just central Government grant. For
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example, a recent report by Tony Travers and Stephen Glaister of the Local Government Association suggests that if PTEs were to gain greater powers over public transport fares and revenues, as in London—again, that point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley—they would be able to gain access to up to £1.5 billion in fare revenues. That would, in turn, give the PTEs an income stream against which they could borrow. That would be the important source of funding.

Despite the time, I cannot resist the temptation to digress to the issue of bus deregulation, which was also touched on by my hon. Friend. In PTE areas across the rest of the country, private bus operators have had 19 years—20 years this year—to show that they can provide decent services, and they have signally failed to do so. It is time that they were made more accountable to passengers and communities.

Since deregulation, quality and standards have fallen dramatically, fares have risen by almost 50 per cent. in real terms and the number of passengers in West Yorkshire has fallen by almost a third. That represents about 100 million passenger journeys. Deregulation has meant that the bus companies can pick and choose where they provide services. They are free to make profits while providing poor service. The result is that many people have been denied a reliable and affordable bus service to travel to work, school, college, shops, health centres and hospitals. Week in and week out, that is the experience in my constituency: services are chopped or changed, go missing or arrive late, and passengers suffer and simply vote with their feet.

Quality contracts, as my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware, already operate to good effect in London, and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley was right to point out that juxtaposition. Bus use in regulated London increased by about 10 per cent. in 2004-05, the last year for which I have figures, whereas outside the capital, it fell annually by about 3 per cent.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): As a Member for a London constituency, I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s eulogy. Perhaps he can tell us what the average use of a London bus is.

Mr. Truswell: Perhaps I cannot, Mr. Bercow. That is clearly a rhetorical question. I shall ask the hon. Gentleman another: will he come to West Yorkshire and talk to my constituents, then let them come down to London and see its services? Although those services are not perfect—services never are—my constituents would bite his hand off if he offered them as replacements for our deteriorating services in deregulated West Yorkshire.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): Absolutely true.

Stephen Hammond: Complete nonsense.

Mr. Truswell: Thank you.

West Yorkshire Metro can influence just 20 per cent. of services in the area; in London, virtually all the services can be influenced. There is little competition for tenders, so it is difficult to test value for money, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is rather
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keen on. The vast majority of tenders for service contracts receive only one bid. That is a tremendous indictment of the competition that was supposed to be generated by the deregulation of which the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is such an advocate—perhaps one of the few remaining.

Partnership is the Government’s preferred approach and nobody disputes the fact that we need partnership where it can work. We must continue to invest in partnerships with operators who are prepared to take a long-term view. However, in my view and that of colleagues from PTE areas, we need much tighter regulatory intervention.

The CSR provides an opportunity for the DFT, districts and PTEs to work together to get the right mix of powers, local funding freedom and central Government support for giving city regions the transport networks that they need. That process has taken place to some degree in London, and I reiterate that we would exchange the London situation for what exists in our patches.

A deal is in place between the private sector, London government and the national Government, and the people of London have been the winners through a £10 billion, five-year investment plan. It must now be the turn of the city regions. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that the opportunity presented by the CSR is grabbed with both hands. If we can get the funding right, then in PTEs the Government have the proven delivery agencies that they need to turn funding into public transport networks that can do the job for the city regions they serve and the people who live and work there.

Several hon. Members rose—

John Bercow (in the Chair): Order. It may help hon. Members to know that I intend to call the Front-Bench spokesmen at approximately 3.30 pm. Four hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so it will require the exercise of marked self-discipline for all who wish to contribute to be able to do so.

2.58 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Bercow. I shall heed your warning and be as brief as I can. I am sure that we all agree that public transport is vital for the cohesion of our constituencies. It aids social justice and gets people to their jobs. It is therefore all the more important that there is value for money and that money for public transport is not wasted.

I am grateful to the National Audit Office, which issued a report entitled “A5 Queue Relocation in Dunstable — Wider Lessons” on a Highways Agency scheme in my constituency. The report is important because the Highways Agency spent some £2 million trying to relieve congestion on the A5 in Dunstable. The scheme was not asked for locally, it did not do what it said it would do—in the memorable phrase used in the Dunstable Gazette it “did not do what it said on the tin”—and it made the situation worse in some respects, given that pollution is worse in the town centre as a result and accidents have increased. That came at a cost of £2 million, which is money that all of
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us in this Chamber could use on schemes in our constituencies that would be worth while.

I have had a letter today from the Comptroller and Auditor General telling me of his plans to ensure that the Highways Agency takes note of the NAO report when considering other schemes across the country. Is the Minister aware of the report? Will she ensure that the Highways Agency follows its recommendations to ensure that there is value for money and that money is not wasted? I wrote to the Comptroller and Auditor General shortly after the report came out, because I had been alerted to the potential further waste of £10 million of Government money through not providing a new junction, 11A, on the M1, during the current widening of the M1 between junctions 10 and 13. That is important because a previous Secretary of State for Transport announced that a bypass—now known as the A5-M1 link—will be built to the north of Dunstable. It came to my attention that if the junction were not to be put in while the M1 was being widened, the cost of the bypass would be increased by £10 million, thus possibly further delaying it and perhaps calling into question whether it would meet the Department’s own value-for-money criteria.

I was, therefore, reassured to receive, not 15 minutes before I entered the Chamber for the debate, a fax of a letter from the Comptroller and Auditor General, telling me that the Highways Agency intends to progress the two schemes—the M1 widening and the construction of the new junction 11A—at the same time. The letter states:

I should be grateful if the Minister could let me know, even if she cannot do so today, whether that is indeed the case, so that we avoid the further waste of £10 million of public money, and so that we have synergy between the two schemes. One is under way and the other will happen, but I want to make sure the £10 million will not be wasted.

On 17 May, the excellent town clerk of Dunstable, Richard Walden, received a letter from the Government office for the east of England, informing him that construction would not commence on the A5-M1 link project until 2013, and that a guided bus way, known locally as Translink, had received approval under the Transport and Works Act 1992 and would receive priority funding for the financial year 2006-07. That letter caused consternation locally, because we are desperate for the A5-M1 link. The Translink proposals are by contrast highly controversial and there are serious concerns that they will make local congestion worse. We were alarmed by the letter for several reasons.

Not three weeks later, however, on 7 June, the same official at the Government office for the east of England wrote again to the town clerk of Dunstable to say that his earlier letter was wrong. I have been told that it is almost unprecedented in a local government career of nearly 40 years that an official letter saying one thing should be contradicted three weeks later. The further letter on 7 June said that there was no decision about whether to approve the Translink proposals, that work would, indeed, start on the Dunstable northern bypass, or A5-M1 link, as it is known, in 2009, and that it would be open to traffic in 2010-11. I hope that that
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is the case, and that the cat was not let out of the bag in the earlier letter of 17 May, which informed us of a delay to the bypass and the early implementation of Translink.

In the letter that I received today from Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General—it is dated 7 June, which was the date of the second letter from the Government office for the east of England—a third date is proposed. Sir John says:

That is a third date from three official letters. The letter continues:

We are confused, locally, about what is to happen in those important schemes.

There is considerable annoyance that the East of England regional assembly is giving the Government—from a south Bedfordshire perspective—bad advice on the importance of the various schemes. My constituency is right on the edge of the East of England area. It borders your own, Mr. Bercow, in a neighbouring government region. We feel that we are often short-changed and that our needs are not properly understood. Because we are right on the edge of a region we do not get fair consideration.

All the local authorities, and people from all political parties, differ from the view of the East of England regional assembly on Translink, whereas everyone—every local authority and every political party—agrees on the importance of bringing forward the A5-M1 link. The issues are serious and we do not feel that they are being treated sufficiently seriously by the regional assembly. We look for clarity on these important issues from the Department for Transport and I hope that the Minister or one of her colleagues can provide that—if not today then by letter.

3.6 pm

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, although I must begin with an apology to you, the Minister and Opposition Front Benchers, because I will not be able to stay for the winding-up speeches. I have to attend the Select Committee on Transport, which is dealing as we speak with issues not unrelated to those before us.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) on securing this important debate. He is right that in the next round of the comprehensive spending review it is crucial that transport in the major conurbations is properly addressed. Funding is certainly an issue in the north-east of England, where there is a Going for Jobs campaign that has been supported by local business, local Members of Parliament, local government and the local press. In that campaign we are recognising that transport is crucial in improving and growing the economy of the north-east, and in increasing jobs. At
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the moment we are suffering from under-investment in transport—not only in public transport but in road and rail links, especially roads.

The north-east is the only English region that is not directly connected to the motorway system. There is a stretch of two-lane motorway running from Newcastle to Scotch Corner, followed by 35 miles of dual carriageway before we rejoin the motorway system for the rest of the country at Dishforth. There should be national as well as local investment in transport issues.

The north-east’s spending on road and rail infrastructure has increased by just 25 per cent. over the last six years—four times less than the national average and nine times less than for London. I know that there are arguments that London is a special case, and perhaps that is why more is spent on education and health in London, but the spending gap in those areas is as nothing compared with the spending gap per head between London and the rest of the country on transport. Crossrail and the Olympics are in danger of making that even worse.

One answer to congestion and environmental problems is to improve public transport. We are particularly concerned about that in the north-east, and in Tyne and Wear in particular. Our passenger transport executive and authority do a remarkable job, but they recognise that congestion costs British business £20 billion and that that figure is getting worse and will continue to do so over the next few years. Car ownership in the region is expected to rise by 30 per cent. between 2001 and 2021.

The Highways Agency is not helping. Using its infamous article 14 orders, it is blocking new development because of congestion, which is slowing down economic growth in the region. If we introduced congestion charging, as is being examined, it would increase the need for efficient public transport solutions.

That brings me to the Tyne and Wear metro system, which is extremely successful. When the new Sunderland extension was opened, 16 per cent. of its passengers had previously travelled by car. Thirty per cent. of individual passengers using the system could travel by car but instead choose the metro. The metro certainly allows longer commuter journeys and is crucial as skills shortages become more of an issue with employers.

It is also cost-effective. The metro meets 69 per cent. of its costs; only 7.4 per cent. is met by local authorities. However, the metro is 26 years old. It has carried more than 1 billion people over those 26 years and it remains the only locally owned and operated railway in England. It carries 36 million passengers every year through some of the busiest commuter corridors in Tyne and Wear. Having no metro would mean 15 million more car journeys every year in Tyne and Wear. The metro is the most cost-efficient urban passenger transport railway in the UK. The subsidy is just 42p for each passenger carried. As I said, however, the metro is 26 years old, so it needs to be improved if it is to last.

That brings me to Project Orpheus. That proposes a £500 million investment plan, which will secure the future of the metro over the next 30 years, renewing the
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whole system for the price of renewing London’s Victoria station. Project Orpheus was recently submitted to Ministers, and we await their consideration. It is a 20-year plan to reinvigorate the metro. It offers bus-based solutions in all 29 key corridors over the next 10 years, and the possible long-term extension of the metro would come about through use of on-street tram technology. The Department for Transport does not look favourably on that at the moment, but let us hope that that changes.

If we do nothing, speed restrictions on deteriorating track will mean longer journey times. Metro cars will begin to fail between 2010 and 2015. Reliability will fall as power, signalling and escalators fail more often. Stock and stations will degrade, increasing the gap in comfort with the car. The cost to the taxpayer will spiral as passenger numbers fall and costs rise. The operating deficit is predicted to rise to £60 million per annum by 2025, and if nothing is done, the whole system will have to be closed at some point in the next 20 years. In that case, there would be up to 40 million more journeys by road in Tyne and Wear—15 million by car—which would increase the pressure on river crossings and major routes, and overall business competitiveness would suffer. It is therefore crucial that we have that public investment in the metro system and in public transport generally in Tyne and Wear over the next few years.

We should be considering not only funding, but the powers of passenger transport authorities. Currently, local government carries the power when it comes to providing bus lanes, concessionary fares and so on. PTAs have very little power in those areas, hence Newcastle has no-car lanes, Gateshead has bus-only lanes and some other authorities have bus lanes. The situation is confusing for motorists and particularly taxi drivers, who like to use those lanes when they can. They do not know which lanes they can use and which they cannot. However, the passenger transport authority has no power to apply a common standard and a common rule across the conurbation. In that respect, the powers of PTAs need to be increased.

The situation is similar for concessionary fares. In relation to concessionary fares for over-60s and disabled people, the problem of cross-boundary issues will be resolved in 2008, when the national scheme comes in. However, other concessions that we have in Tyne and Wear or had until recently, such as teen travel and concessions for students travelling around, are restricted according to local authority boundaries. Quite often, students want to travel to further education establishments and so on outside their area, but are unable to do so. The PTAs need more powers, but perhaps there should also be a regional authority, not necessarily on the model of Transport for London, although certainly Transport for London has shown that a co-ordinated approach in a major conurbation is the way to have successful public transport, and that is something that we can do in Tyne and Wear.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey in what he said about bus deregulation. The Transport Committee, which I am about to address, is considering that subject. The public need improved bus services in the conurbation: the services have deteriorated badly since bus privatisation. A form of regulation or
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re-regulation is needed quite urgently. I hope that the Select Committee produces a report that suggests that, and that Ministers take it seriously.

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