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11 Mar 2008 : Column 26WH—continued

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. It is important to acknowledge the work that
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the Minister and the Department have done to reimburse local authorities for the damage caused by the flooding last summer. Sheffield has just received more than £9 million—£10 million in total—to repair the damage done to local roads by the floods. We should at least acknowledge what has been done while making the case for what has not been done.

Mr. Stuart: The hon. Lady is correct; where things have been done right, that should be acknowledged. On the floods, the Audit Commission considered the financing of local government in relation to floods and emergencies, and described the situation as incoherent, overlapping and very poor—that is not an exact quote, but I think it was the conclusion that was reached. To put those figures in context, the insurance companies have spent in excess of £3 billion, on which they are forced to pay VAT. The Exchequer has therefore received hundreds of millions of pounds as a direct result of the flooding. The sums it has put back do not adequately compensate councils, such the East Riding of Yorkshire, for the damage that has been sustained, not least to the highways. The sum will emerge over the next couple of years, but we should put it in context. I completely agree with the hon. Lady; justice should be done and recognition should be given where it is deserved.

Nobody is saying that the region should have parity with London, which is a major international city and finance centre with specific needs, but what is the justification for Yorkshire doing so badly compared with other regions? A number of recent reports have set out in detail the economic rewards that the region would gain if more money were invested in transport infrastructure. A report from the think-tank Centre for Cities suggests that if the necessary investment was made in its public transport infrastructure and a park-and-ride scheme, the local economy in and around Leeds would benefit to the tune of £68 million a year. The report concluded that improvements to the trans-Pennine rail link and to the M1 and M62 would benefit the cities of Manchester and Leeds to the tune of £225 million a year. The Northern Way report, “North-South Connections”, published in August 2007, states that investment in north-south and east-west rail links would benefit the economy by up to £10 billion. The Institute for Public Policy Research states in its report that

whatever that funding is. That goes to the heart of what hon. Members from all parties and I want to say to the Government today: we accept that increased investment has been made, but we would like an explanation of the rationale involved and a fair share of the investment made nationally, according to a criteria that we, as Members of Parliament, can understand.

I would also like to raise the issue of the Humber bridge and its tolls. The Minister will know that the original quote for building the Humber bridge—we all know why it was built at the time of a by-election in 1966—was £28 million. As a result of Government
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procurement and management—or mismanagement—that figure trebled while the bridge was being built. Over the years, in the hands of Governments of all parties, the debt has been left to sit on Government books, although I pay credit to the Government for writing down some of that debt in the Treasury’s books. The debt in public accounts is now £300 million more than the original quote of £28 million to build the bridge, as it is £333 million. It is my constituents and the constituents of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) who are paying for that, as they pay the highest toll in the country to cross the bridge. The tolls also have an economic impact on the region. I would like to inform the Minister, if she does not already know, that the local authorities will produce a report later this year that will consider the economic impact of the Humber bridge tolls. I hope that I have readied her for receipt of the report later in the year. Removing the tolls could have a positive economic impact.

I have come to the end of my remarks within the 20 minute margin. The Minister has influenced community hospital policy to the betterment of my constituents, so I hope that she can influence Government and that, particularly as the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber, she can concentrate on representing Yorkshire in government rather than the other way round. I trust that, with her talents and arts of persuasion, she will be able to do precisely that.

11.20 am

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) not only on securing this important debate, but on the excellent panoramic view that he has given of transport issues in the region. I shall try not to reiterate the bevy of statistics that we have all come to the debate suitably armed with. It is not my intention to be too parochial or to play beggar-my-neighbour in the debate, but all of us will put our constituencies forward as perfect examples of the transport challenges that the hon. Gentleman described. Key roads in my constituency are often choked with traffic. Rail is affected by overcrowding, and buses have been hit by the effects of deregulation, higher car ownership and usage, and congestion.

Normally, my eyes glaze over when I see a document that contains the word “strategy”. I like to wait for the action plan that follows it if there is one, but an exception is the 25-year Leeds city region transport vision and investment plan—that is a mouthful—because it is a cogent and coherent document. I can extrapolate from that strategy, contrary to other strategies, what the benefits advocated by it would be for my constituency and constituents, as well as for the rest of the Leeds city region. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the document, because we exchanged views on it in a fairly recent Adjournment debate that I secured on transport issues affecting my constituency. It is an excellent analysis of the needs and, I submit, a modest document in terms of the finances that would be required to realise the proposals.

Rail plays a crucial role in my constituency. We have taken some years to recover from the effects of privatisation. I am thinking of the time when the first franchisee—MTL—got rid of 80 drivers, with all the concomitant unreliability and cancellations of services. In addition, a
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huge proportion of the extra investment that the Government have allocated to rail has gone into maintenance and safety issues in the wake of the Hatfield disaster, which has deflected that investment away from the more visible and tangible aspects of rail provision—that is, extra rolling stock.

Northern Rail data show significant overcrowding problems affecting most services into Leeds during peak times. The main examples are the three lines that run through my constituency: the Airedale and Wharfedale line, the Harrogate line and the Caldervale line. At peak times, each of those exceeds 135 per cent. of seating capacity, which is generally regarded as the maximum practical load. That lack of capacity and the poor quality and reliability of services, particularly into Leeds, are already discouraging trips at peak times. It is no surprise that the 25-year strategy regards improvements to those lines as key measures.

I recognise that, under the present Government, there have been improvements to all three stations in my constituency: Horsforth, Guiseley and New Pudsey. We have seen new 333 class rolling stock on the Airedale and Wharfedale line. We have seen the £150 million upgrade of Leeds City station, which has increased its efficiency and reduced the waiting times that used to typify services going into the city. Last year, a partnership of Metro—the West Yorkshire passenger transport executive—Yorkshire Forward and Northern Rail increased capacity on lines such as the Caldervale line, but unfortunately unreliability has led to a continuation of major complaints from passengers about overcrowding at peak times. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) may have comments to make about the fact that, often, trains that go through Burley station in his constituency have been filled at the previous station by my constituents, if they are fortunate enough to get on the train.

The proposal in the White Paper, “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”, to deploy 1,300 extra carriages and the recognition that a fair proportion of those should come into the Leeds area are welcome, but we need the carriages very soon and we need as large a proportion as possible. It certainly needs to be at the higher limits of what has been envisaged by the Department for Transport. The 25-year Leeds city region plan proposes extending the electrification measures that have been so successful on the Airedale and Wharfedale line. That example demonstrates the value of extending them across the area.

Bus deregulation has been a disaster for many communities throughout the country, not least communities in my area. Since deregulation in 1986, fares in Pudsey and west Yorkshire have gone up by more than 50 per cent. in real terms. Passenger numbers have declined by almost 40 per cent., which equates to 100 million passenger journeys. As in many areas, services are chopped and changed, missing, late or unreliable, and passengers, if they have an alternative, simply vote with their feet, or rather with their cars, with all the attendant problems that that creates: congestion, pollution and rat running and speeding through residential communities.

When we appeal to First Bus when it takes a service off the timetable because it is not profitable, we get what I call the two-fingered response, if you will excuse the gesture, Mr. Chope. The first part of the response is that the service is not profitable, and the second is, “Go
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away to Metro and get a subsidy.” Part of the problem with that is that, although all the figures show that the Government have been making more and more finance available to PTEs to subsidise services, we have not been getting a commensurate increase in the services provided.

All hon. Members could cite a litany of service cuts down the years in their areas. I am thinking of services such as the 97, 647 and 651 in the Guiseley and Yeadon areas. We are currently having battles over services such as the 966 in Yeadon and over cuts to the 81 and 82 services serving Pudsey and Horsforth. Some communities, such as Farfield and Hough Side in my constituency, have simply been cut off; they have ceased to exist as part of a bus route. People cannot get to key facilities such as the newly rebuilt Wharfedale hospital, which, although it is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West, serves a large number of my constituents, too.

Ms Angela C. Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend’s comments and hope that the Local Transport Bill will offer us the regulation that we need to sort out the problem. Yesterday in The Guardian, there was a report that bus operators may try to challenge the national concessionary bus pass scheme for the over-60s, because they say that they will lose out with that. Will he join me in being critical of that move, given that the bus operators have done very well out of deregulation over the past few years and that that bus scheme is one of the best things that has been done in the past few months by the Government?

Mr. Truswell: I absolutely agree. It would be a shame if bus operators seek to challenge the scheme, because there is a suspicion—I put it no more strongly than that—that they have been jacking up their standard fares to maximise their income once the nationwide concessionary fares system comes into operation. It is absolutely right to say that the deregulated system has given them a licence to print money and they make profits even when they are not providing a decent service.

We know all the environmental benefits of rail and buses. The Tyndall centre for climate change research has given us many insights into that, although I will not go into the details. The plan for the city region envisages more quality and accessibility improvements, including the holy grail of integration—integrated ticketing—better passenger information, the extension of existing guided busways, which have been so successful in certain parts of Leeds, and high-frequency bus rapid transit corridors to complement rail corridors.

I welcome the Local Transport Bill and the easing of requirements on quality contracts, but as the Minister knows, I, together with others, still have reservations about the process. I do not intend to go into those in detail now; I will share them when the Bill comes before this House.

As the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness rightly indicated, most of the strategic routes in Yorkshire, certainly those in the city region, are congested at peak times, including the motorways. The A65 and the ring road in my constituency is a good example of a route on which people experience increasingly lengthy peak-time delays and congestion. The worsening congestion has led to a deterioration in the reliability of journey times.
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As a result, peak periods are simply growing like Topsy. Some drivers re-time their journeys to avoid the worst congestion, thereby further extending the peak period.

I do not intend to reiterate the hon. Gentleman’s points. At the end of the day, the question, as always, is how we pay for the improvements that are envisaged in the plan. As my right hon. Friend the Minister will know, the estimated cost is slightly more than £4 billion in 2006 prices, although that will increase by £500 million when the so-called optimism bias is factored in—I shall not bore hon. Members with a description of that because most of us will have come across it at some point. The good news is that the sum includes funding that is already committed for transport in the city region. Around £1.75 billion, which is 40 per cent. of the necessary funding, has already been committed, and a significant part of the remainder does not require new funding sources. Unidentified funding currently totals about £1.8 billion. The plan is explicit on the wide range of possible funding sources that could be used to make up the shortfall, which includes the transport innovation fund, train operator investment, section 106 contributions from developers, additional funding from local authorities, and the Northern Way growth fund and its successor.

There has been significant real-term increases in funding for transport in the region, which was welcome—I am pleased that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness acknowledged that in his balanced contribution. However, at the end of the day, we are asking for a much fairer share of the larger cake—I can put it no more starkly than that. I was going to go through some of the statistics that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but I shall not waste time doing so because other hon. Members wish to speak. I share his analysis. The case is indisputable and the cost is modest compared with the benefits and certainly the consequences of not meeting the challenge. As I said, we need not only a fair wind from the Minister, but fair funding.

11.32 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this debate—there can be no better time to discuss the matter. As he made clear, and as I am sure we all agree, transport infrastructure is vital to growth and development in any area or region. It supports economic renewal, contributes to environmental sustainability, and tackles social exclusion by linking deprived areas at risk from marginalisation to key services and the new opportunities that are created by the kind of regeneration and growth that we all want. However, investment levels in Yorkshire and the Humber on transport infrastructure are a concern—I shall speak particularly about Leeds.

My Leeds colleagues will agree that the city is in many ways a huge success story, but equally that a lack of investment in transport infrastructure is, simply put, holding back further growth and, indeed, costing us further inward investment. Yet again, in 2006-07, for the third year in a row, Yorkshire and the Humber came bottom of the Government expenditure league table—a position that we are not prepared to accept, and nor should we. More worryingly, the gap is widening dramatically compared with transport spending in London
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and the south-east in particular. To demonstrate that, in the five years from 2000-01, our region went from receiving just less than half the per person spend in London and the south-east to less than a third in 2005-06. That could not be more starkly shown than by a graph of the increasing gap. The Minister should address that gap by increasing the per person spend in Yorkshire and the Humber in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, the pattern at the moment shows little sign of change. In 2006-07, the spend was £215 a head in Yorkshire, compared with the £614 per head enjoyed by those in London—nearly three times as much.

As the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness mentioned, the chief economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, Howard Reed, highlighted the matter. He said:

That sentiment is strongly echoed by the Leeds chamber of commerce on behalf of the Leeds area. Ian Williams, the chamber’s executive director of policy, said:

The chamber points out that, despite the fact that Leeds is a key driver for the economy in the region, and thus supposedly a key focus of Government policy, it actually receives only 24 per cent. of the regional transport budget. It argues, quite sensibly, that transport investment is needed in the areas where it will deliver the greatest return and that, therefore, there is surely an argument that cannot be ignored to invest further in the Leeds city region.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Of course Leeds needs more investment, but it is not the only economic centre in Yorkshire—York’s science base is also extremely important. We should not get into the business of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Rather, do we not need to fight for the region as a whole?

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Gentleman is right to stick up for the wonderful city of York—I spent a very happy five years there. Of course, York is a vital hub for the region, as is Leeds. I am not talking about competing for a limited pot; indeed, the hon. Member for Pudsey said that we are trying to get a bigger slice of the cake. My point, with which the hon. Member for City of York will probably agree, is that because cities such as Leeds, Hull, York and Sheffield make such a contribution to the region’s economy, it surely makes sense to invest in them rather than pouring so much money and such a proportion of the cake into the south-east, which is already over-developed. Doing so would provide a win-win solution. However, the Department for Transport is increasingly fixated with the south-east, and it continues to ignore such a solution.

We have already heard about capacity on the railways. To add to that, there was an extraordinary revelation from the body responsible for promoting public transport—Metro is the West Yorkshire passenger transport authority—a few weeks ago. It said that it was unable to promote the benefits of peak-time train travel in the region because the trains were bursting at the seams and it simply could not accept any further capacity.

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