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The Government is trying to attach strings to this money
We were told that if we didn't put road pricing in the bid, it wouldn't help our case.
The Government is pushing us very hard. They are saying you either follow our policy or you don't get the money.
Members will understand my constituents concern about road pricing and a road piloting scheme. There has been no local consultation, and there has been massive opposition; yet the scheme seems to sweep ahead like a massive juggernaut. It appears that local planning and transport are now a private and privileged matter between central and local government, consisting of a series of sticks and not many carrots. No wonder so many people are failing to turn out at local elections.
Before the Minister responds to the debateI can tell that she is winding herself up to do soshe may wish to look at the Secretary of States speech of 10 May 2006, in which he said that the transport innovation fund would be used to support road pricing.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I am curious about the hon. Gentlemans argument. He began by saying that central Government had failed to intervene in a difference of opinion between local people and a local authority and to make a decision. Now he seems to be arguing that central Government are imposing too much power locally. I am not sure what his position is on the relationship between central and local government.
Mr. Wilson: Local decisions should be made as locally as possible, but there are occasions when there needs to be a way of appealing against decisions that are fundamentally wrong and undemocratic. That applies to my constituency at present.
It is not all disagreement, however. There is one issue on which all parties in Reading agree: the need to upgrade Reading station. As we all know, Reading is a bottleneck on the national network, causing massive inconvenience and delays. Network Rail has pushed for it to be funded, as has First Great Western, because its trains are always arriving late; but funding has yet to be announced. I know that I keep banging on about this issue, but it is critical both to my constituents and to the national economy.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I know that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the massive inconvenience that he talks about is mainly caused to constituents in the west country and Wales who do not have a proper rail system simply because of the blockage in the system that is Reading.
Mr. Wilson: The hon. Gentleman is right. That causes massive inconvenience to the west, but it also causes massive inconvenience along the north-west main line because Reading is also part of that network. As I have said, it is very much a national hub. The funding process for the Reading station project is very complicated, very long-winded and extremely bureaucratic, and I find it impossible to understand fully. Funding should be transparent and understandable, but it clearly is not.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) and other Members who have spoken. The need for the Government to let go has been highlighted in all contributionsnot least that of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and the report of the Transport Committee, which she chairs, also makes that clear. That is the consensus across the House; the only Members who do not share it are those on the Government Front Bench. Why? We heard in an earlier debate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has damaged health by centralising control, and that is also happening with transport.
I intend my remarks to be briefalthough I realise that Members often say that but fail to deliver. Yorkshire receives significantly lower transport funding than the national average. It is a dynamic area of the country, but many of its areas are in need of regenerationa fact that Members in all parts of the House have mentioned. Many Members from different parties attended a reception last week at which the case was put for greater funding for Yorkshire. I hope that the Minister heard about that reception, and that she will receive inputs from Members across the political spectrum in support of Yorkshires case.
If Yorkshire were to receive fair fundingthe national average outside Londonproper attention could be paid to regenerating the Humber ports, which offer fantastic opportunities for economic and social improvement. If the Government, especially the Treasury, were to sort out their priorities, we would look at several matters, such as the ludicrous Humber bridge charges, which cause great hardship to those who need to access hospital services on the north bank and have a depressing economic effect on the whole region, particularly on the south bank, but on the north bank too. The Exchequer loses vast sums because of that failure of joined-up government. I hope that the Minister will be able to speak to colleagues in the Treasury and put the case, which I know is strongly felt by Members who represent the area, for lowering the charges and writing off some of the debt, which is spiralling and will never be properly repaid by charging to cross the Humber bridge.
Fairer funding would also, and more directly, give the opportunity to revisit the issue of the Beverley to York railway line, and indeed that of the whole corridor from Hull to York, which could play an important role in the regeneration of Hull and allow us to capitalise on the contribution that the Humber ports make to the country as a whole. I pay tribute to the Minsters rail campaign. It has for many years been chaired by my Labour opponent at the last general election, George McManus, who has persisted in pushing the case of the Minsters rail campaign to reopen the Beverley to York railway line. The East Riding is an economically successful area of the country. It is fortunate in having a Conservative-led council that has the highest financial management rating in the country and is graded as excellent in its ability to implement transport schemes. Will the Minister consider the Beverley to York railway line?
Will the Minister also consider the need to upgrade the A1079, on which there have been 16 deaths in five
years and hundreds of casualties? I am grateful to her for meeting my right hon. Friend for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) and me to discuss that issue. The road goes from Hull to York and is vital for businesses and economic activity. Its current condition leads to substantial safety considerations. The Minister has agreed that her officials will work with our local authority in any way that they can to help it to get the best possible bid and to consider properly any bid that comes in. I know that people in Beverley, Holderness, Hull and York and all the areas in between look forward to that road being seriously improved to the benefit of the whole area.
The theme of the debate so far has been the recognition that centralisation is not working and that we need innovation. There is no point in having a highly centralised innovation fund and falsely presenting it to the House as something that will create new ideas locally. It turns out that the fund will be even more centralised than current funding and can be used only to implement Government policy. The Chancellors obsessive centralisation is damaging health delivery, as we have heard, and is also damaging the implementation of transport strategies. People in Yorkshire are browned off about health and transport; motorists and rail passengers are also browned off. It is time for a change. It is time for transport that works to be delivered through local ideas, control and leadership. That seems to be a common theme across the House. I hope that the Minister will announce a U-turn in Government attitude.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The thrust of the Select Committees report focuses on how the relationship between local authorities and central Government should develop. The debate has highlighted the contradictions in peoples approaches to the issue.
The hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) began his speech by suggesting that the Government were at fault because they did not intervene in a difference of opinion between a section of the community in Reading and the local authority over its decisions. He then complained that the Government are trying to impose policy from the centre. That demonstrates one of the difficulties with ensuring that the relationship between the Government and local government decision making reflects not only the policies of the Government, because they have an interest, but local needs. It must respect the fact that the people who are closest to the local community, and who are more directly responsible to it for week in, week out and year in, year out decision making, are best placed to respond to local needs.
Without turning the debate into too much of a political knockabout, I make the point that Conservative Front Benchers have argued that congestion charging and local road charging should be a matter for local government, but we know that Governments are under a great deal of pressure to address climate change. Should the country ever make the mistake of re-electing a Conservative Government
I can imagine a future Prime Minister going around the Cabinet table and asking how each Department is contributing to tackling the important issue of climate change, and the Transport Secretary saying, I am delivering nothing because local government will not play ball. I really do not see that as a credible position, but, at the same time, there has to be some degree of local autonomy. That highlights the difficulty that we face in debating these matters.
We have a democratically accountable transport authority for the whole of London and my area provides an example of some of the difficulties that communities face in getting a London-wide authority to pay attention to the minute detail of some of the transport issues at a local level. The authority looks at the broader picture. It quite rightly holds up the fact that it has been able to transfer a significant number of people from private cars to public transport and points to that success, but, at the same time, when local communities ask for minor alterations in bus services and extensions to local transport services, they find that their voices are drowned out in the wider context of the debate about London-wide transport issues. It is difficult for communities to get themselves heard. That is an example of what we are talking about in the relationship between local government and central Government.
In an intervention on the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), a Conservative Back Bencher asked whether infrastructure should be put in place before major developments such as the Thames Gateway. The hon. Gentleman gave a rather curious answer. He seemed to suggest that we should hold up regeneration in the Thames Gateway area until such time as we have developed the transport infrastructure. I must point out that one of the most significant developments is going to be Crossrail. If we were to postpone development of the Thames Gateway area to wait for Crossrail, there would be significant suffering for people in that part of London. I suggest that he might want to reconsider the position that he adopted in his response to that intervention, because it certainly does not make any sense. I grant that it is desirable to put all transport infrastructure in place before development takes place, but if we were to postpone development until projects such as Crossrail were in place, we would be making a serious error and we would be perpetuating the suffering of a lot of people in the south-east who need that development. [ Interruption. ] Yes, they will also need the infrastructure.
Mr. Stuart: The hon. Gentleman is asking about a peculiar answer from the Liberal Democrats, which is hardly unusual, but he himself seems to be suggesting that, because the Government are incapable of delivering transport projectsas the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) laid out very wellhousing development must go ahead, even though there will not be the infrastructure to support it. Surely it is not unreasonable to suggest that a co-ordinated Government should be able to put infrastructure in place before the people who need that infrastructure are living there.
Clive Efford: If the hon. Gentleman considers what he is saying, he will realise that there is transport infrastructure in place already. What we are talking about is expanding that infrastructure. That is essential to the development of the Thames Gateway area, which will take place over the next two decades, but I suggest that if we were to postpone decisions and postpone putting in place some of that development until that infrastructure were in place, that would make no sense.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Does my hon. Friend agree that it might be quite helpful if all the private sources of finance that are so delighted and anxious to support major transport schemes and so keen on seeing Crossrail came forward now with a staged plan and a clear guarantee of the amount of money that would be required? That would allow Government money to go into schemes outside the south-east.
Clive Efford: I agree with my hon. Friend to a certain extent. She tempts me to debate the whole Crossrail issue, but I urge my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, as well as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, to consider the proposals for the Crossrail station at Woolwich. By comparison with any other station on the Crossrail line, we are putting in a large amount of private sector funding for the station at Woolwich to make its funding stack up.
My last point is about regeneration. Local authorities that gave evidence to the Select Committee were clearly confused about whether regeneration as part of their local transport plan would score well in terms of the investment their proposals would attract from the Department for Transport. If we are looking to local government as the driving force for regeneration in an area, regeneration must be an essential part of its transport infrastructure development. I urge the Government to clear up the confusion about the score attached to regeneration when local transport authorities are developing transport plans.
I return to the example of the Crossrail station at Woolwich, as it will be essential for my community, which is south of Woolwich. The station is vital not only as part of the regeneration programme to meet the needs of the north Kent and Thames Gateway developments, but for the wider community. One of my concerns about some of the infrastructure development that has already taken place is how people in communities not immediately adjacent to new stations and train lines will access the transport hubs that are being developed in the second phase. In particular, how can we reach deprived communities that could benefit from the new transport schemes? How do we provide links that benefit the wider community, not just people who live close to major infrastructure projects, or have easy access to them? Such projects have an impact in localities where they can assist in tackling social exclusion and increase participation in the economy. Their value cannot be overstated. It is essential that we take a wider strategic approach to major transport programmes. Local transport plans are at the heart of delivering them. In the relationship between central and local government, we need clarification of the role that regeneration plays in the development of local government plans.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Select Committees report and the Governments record on local transport planning and funding. I commend the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on her excellent introduction to the debate. There have been interesting contributions from both sides of the House.
The speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) was interesting in a number of respects. He argued his case forcefullyas he does often. My hon. Friends the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) and for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) also made forceful contributions. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) seemed to criticise another Member, but then fell into the same trap, especially on his point about Government and private funding of Crossrail.
While the private sector has already guaranteed a certain amount, it is for the Government to tell us either how much they are going to put in, or whether they will support the project with a Government-backed bond, which would make the private sector funding even cheaper and more effective, and might even produce extra money to deliver the hon. Gentlemans Crossrail station.
Clive Efford: Before the hon. Gentleman becomes too critical of our Front Benchers, I must pray in their aid the fact that the matter is before a Select Committee. The Governments response to that Committees report will come in due course.
Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is right, but he should not forget that the Government punted the issue into the long grass by referring it to the Lyons committee, which did not need to consider it.
We have been discussing an excellent report that makes sensible recommendations and is the result of detailed analysis. The report makes interesting criticisms of the Government. I look forward to hearing the Ministers response to several of those points. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, before we look at the report in a great deal of depth, it is instructive to explain the context of the situation and some of the promises that the Government have made over the past 10 years.
The infamous transport plan of 2000 hangs like a millstone around the neck of Ministers as they pass in and out of the Department for Transport. The plan promised 200 major local road improvements and 70 bypasses. I am sure that the Minister will tell us exactly how many of those improvements and bypasses have been funded and built. On heavy rail, the plan said that the Government would provide new capacity to meet new demand and to improve the quality of servicestwo more failures there.
fund a substantial increase in the role of light rail in our larger cities and conurbations over the next ten years.
It went on to promise 25 new light rail schemes. Later, the Minister will be able to stand up and count on the fingers of her left hand the number of light rail routes that have been introduced under the Government. The
hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley made the point that funding approval has been revoked or turned down over the past couple of years for schemes in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and south Hampshire. Indeed, when the Transport Committee examined the matter in the last Session, it highlighted the clear tension that existed between local and central Government on light rail. Its report said:
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