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11 Mar 2008 : Column 32WH—continued

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We all know that the issue goes back to the short-sighted decision to award train franchises on a no-growth basis, which still detrimentally affects us. We also know about the 60 to 90 extra carriages proposed by the Department for Transport. However, that will not be enough—Metro estimates that we will need 135 extra carriages simply to meet current demand, not including the capacity necessary for park-and-ride facilities and the like, which we will need if we are to get more people out of their cars.

To echo the hon. Member for Pudsey, around 15,500 passengers arrive at Leeds on local services in the morning, about 15 per cent. of whom do not have a seat. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of 135 per cent. of capacity. The Leeds-to-Harrogate line, which runs through my constituency, is one of the worst, with 133 per cent of capacity. Actually, the busiest train on that line operates at 213 per cent. of capacity, which is exceeded only by the extraordinary 274 per cent. of capacity on trains coming into Leeds from Castleford and Knottingley.

Incidentally, I should point out that the hon. Member for Pudsey and I share Horsforth station—we have a platform each—and I can only claim half of Burley park station because the other half is in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), who is also behind the campaign to get a better funding deal for the region. The Harrogate-to-York line, which is linked to my area, goes through the magnificent Bramhope tunnel, which was finished in 1849, an era in which we in this country invested in public transport. Yet today, the Government do not provide enough carriages to allow people to travel in comfort through the tunnel. How far back have we gone regarding investment in public transport? Yes, there has been investment, but the Government have spent 11 years tinkering around the edges in Yorkshire and the Humber and the situation has got worse.

I turn to the subject of congestion. Several sections of the motorways around Leeds—the M1, the M62 and the M621—are operating close to capacity. Between junctions 5 and 6 on the M621, average speeds during the peak hour are as low as 20 mph. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) may smile, but I suggest that he visits us to see the reality of the situation.

We have two of the most badly congested roads in the country—the A660, which runs like a spine through my constituency; and the A65, a section of which I share with the hon. Member for Pudsey, though he has the bulk of it. The situation is not getting any better. The Government say that they cannot find £500 million for the Leeds supertram scheme, yet they can find £16 billion for the Crossrail scheme in a city that already has an integrated and extensive public transport system.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the difficulties with Government plans is their failure to honour and deliver on previous promises? Promises made in the transport 10-year plan in 2000 were not met. In the 2002 spending review, the then Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, promised that

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That was a tremendous soundbite, but the Department for Transport’s annual report in 2006 stated that only 36 strategic road schemes had been completed since 2001, which is a failure.

Mr. Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. That was a very long intervention. I hope that two more hon. Members will be able to speak before I call the wind-ups at midday.

Greg Mulholland: The supertram experience has left a bitter taste. The Manchester and Nottingham extensions and the Edinburgh scheme have been given the go-ahead, despite similar costs and a significantly worse cost-benefit ratio, so it is clear when it comes to decisions on transport that it is one rule for some regions and another for Yorkshire.

We are united across the political spectrum; indeed council leaders from all parties and all the city’s MPs have made the same case, but all we hear from the Minister is that small is beautiful. I am disappointed. Unlike Ministers for Health, whose job is clearly to promote health, it seems that the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber is not meant to promote Yorkshire—she represents the Government to Yorkshire, not Yorkshire to the Government. That is extremely regrettable.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, when are we going to get a fair deal on transport in Yorkshire? Secondly, when will the Government take seriously the transport issues that are hampering regional development? Thirdly, when will we stop being bottom of the league for transport spending? We are not prepared to put up with that, and we will keep saying so until we get the fair deal that the people of Yorkshire and the Humber deserve.

11.43 am

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I challenge two myths. The first is the myth in parts of the road transport lobby that building roads is the only answer to congestion and the second is the myth from parts of the environment lobby that investment in roads is bound to be bad for the environment. I congratulate the universities of York and Loughborough, Imperial college London and a number of transport companies for winning £4 million of Government investment to research solutions to road congestion. Among other things, the research will use military situation awareness technology; QinetiQ, the defence research company, is one of the partners to the consortium. It will seek to be able to tell drivers not only where there is a traffic jam but how to avoid it; and it will tell transport managers what the causes of congestion are and what needs to be done about them.

It is important to realise that technology has as much to contribute to reducing congestion as tarmac. Reducing congestion is important, because it leads to better safety on the roads. It also leads to less pollution. Vehicles queuing up with their engines running are going nowhere, but they have a severe environmental impact. Transport is the one sector of the economy in which carbon emissions continue to rise, and we need policies to reduce those emissions.

The view that all road transport investment is bound to increase pollution is wrong. A good example of its wrongness is the investment in York park-and-ride schemes over the years, which has hugely reduced the number of
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car journeys in and out of the city centre. City of York council is bidding for funding for improvements to York’s northern ring road junctions, and for additional park-and-ride facilities.

Last year, we faced a large number of manufacturing job losses; Nestlé, the chocolate manufacturer, and British Sugar both announced redundancies, following the previous year’s announcement that Terry’s of York was moving out. One reason given by the companies for cutting manufacturing in York was road congestion; they blamed it for the length of time that it took to get the raw materials into the factory and the goods out. If, as a result of manufacturing closures due to road congestion, manufacturing moves abroad—perhaps to eastern Europe, as was the case with Terry’s—the road miles used in the making of the food and the chocolate bars would be enormous. A modest investment in roads in the United Kingdom could lead to huge environmental benefits.

I seek Government support for three schemes about which City of York council and I spoke to the Minister on 4 February. The first is the council’s bid for funding for three new park-and-ride sites. The first such site to be constructed was at Askham Bar, the Leeds gateway to York, just off the A64. That is now used by 600,000 passengers a year. The site has room for 550 cars; it is normally full by 10 am, and drivers are rerouted to other sites, thereby lengthening their journey. The idea is to replace that site with one nearby with space for 1,250 cars. The second change would be to construct a new park-and-ride site where the A59 crosses the northern ring road close to Poppleton, and to change the junction to improve traffic flows on the ring road. That would provide space for 750 cars. Thirdly, there would be a 750-space park-and-ride site on Wigginton road, with additional bus priority measures from there into York.

Secondly, I would like the Government to support the Highways Agency’s bid to the regional transport board to upgrade the A64 Hopgrove roundabout, where the A64 branches off the ring road towards Scarborough. Finally, I notify the Minister that, later in the year, City of York council will be making a bid to the regional transport board for additional improvements to the outer ring road, in order to improve traffic flow. There has been much debate in York about dualling the ring road, but the bid is not for dualling but to make the existing road work better. I shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) a little time to contribute to the debate.

11.49 am

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Chope, for calling me to speak in this debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this important debate and I am glad that he put on the record that Humberside no longer exists as an administrative area.

Other hon. Members have already mentioned this, but I would also like to say that I welcomed the Minister’s announcement yesterday of money to repair roads damaged by floods. North Lincolnshire council will receive £1.5 million from the Government to assist it in road repairs, so I thank her for that.

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I want to set the scene a wee bit. Everyone today has been talking about Yorkshire and we have this little bit added on to the name of the region, called the Humber, which is actually the name of a river. The area that I represent is, in fact, in Lincolnshire, so I want to set the scene about that part of the region.

The port of Immingham is the transport hub of the area. About 64 million tonnes of cargo go through Immingham every year. Twenty per cent. of the UK’s freight begins or ends its journey on the south Humber bank. The south Humber bank is also an industrial area with many major British industries involved there. It also contains most of Britain’s oil refining capacity. We also have Grimsby docks adding to the trade that is going in and out of the area, particularly with cars being imported and exported.

That description should give hon. Members a bit of an idea of the pressure on transport infrastructure in the area. The main east-west route, linking the docks to the A1 and M1, is the M180/A180. That road has a concrete surface. As the Minister will know, roads with a concrete surface are very noisy and, with the increase in volume of heavy goods traffic on that particular road, the noise is getting worse. The Government have resurfaced part of it. However, because that resurfacing has been so successful, local people are lobbying to have the rest of the road resurfaced. I recently met the Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss the issue, so I would appreciate an update on the timetable for the rest of the resurfacing.

Leading from the A180 to the port of Immingham is the A160 road, linking to all the oil refineries in the area. However, that small section of road is single carriageway and it needs to be dual carriageway. I was told by one truck driver that it is possible to drive from Sicily all the way to north Lincolnshire on motorway or dual carriageway until the point where vehicles come off the A180 on to the A160 and then it is a single carriageway road.

Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and my hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), I led a delegation from North Lincolnshire council to meet the Minister’s officials and we were told that her officials were looking favourably on getting the A160 dualled. Obviously, as the whole Humber estuary is a global gateway, particularly Immingham, I would certainly appreciate an update from her about the funding for that work.

If that work can be completed, it will have a knock-on effect on the town of Immingham itself, because heavy goods vehicles regularly go through the centre of the town at the moment. If we can sort out the transport infrastructure in the area, particularly the roads, that will take such heavy traffic out of the town and that can only be good for Immingham.

I would like to talk about the Humber bridge, a subject that was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. If he cares to go to my website and read the section called “The River Humber - the curse of the crossing”, I think that he will find out some more facts about the subject. The high cost of getting across the Humber has led to complaints as far back as I could go. In 1316, people were complaining about the halfpenny charge for pedestrians and the one penny charge for equestrians on the Barton to Hull
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ferry. Daniel Defoe was not terribly fond of crossing the Humber either and referred to it as

He went on to describe

So there have been problems getting across the Humber for quite some time.

The story that I really like is that of a bit of a fight about the ferry between Jimmy Acland, who was from Hull, and the Hull Corporation in 1831. Again, that conflict related to the cost of crossing the Humber. The Hull Corporation kept bunging up the charges on the ferry to cross the Humber and Jimmy Acland, who was the editor of the Hull-based Portfolio newspaper, started a campaign against the high ferry charges, to such an extent that he purchased a boat. He called his boat “The Public Opinion” and it was up against the Hull Corporation’s boat, which was called “The Royal Charter”.

Both boats competed with each other. Jimmy Acland went back in time, as it were, and charged one penny, which was the 1316 charge, for anyone who wanted to cross the Humber. That led to fights between the two boats.

Mr. Truswell: It was a ferry war.

Shona McIsaac: It certainly was a ferry war. People would try and cut the moorings of the rival boat and local thugs would try and block people from getting on to the ferries. All that, and many other wonderful tales about crossing the Humber, can be found in that section of my website.

To bring matters more up to date, to be fair to the Government they have made some progress. Going back to shortly after the 1997 election, following representations from all MPs in the area—those representing the south bank of the Humber and the north bank—the Government wrote off about £64 million of the debt that had been built up by the Humber Bridge Board. Another £16 million has been written off recently, and there have been commensurate reductions in the interest rates. I welcome those moves.

I met my right hon. Friend the Minister recently to discuss the issue of tolls, because I believe that tolls are a thorn in the side of economic development in the area. Tolls act as a barrier, rather than linking both sides of the Humber. We have these bustling, busy ports and industrial development on both sides of the river, but the high tolls to cross the river act as a barrier. Recently, North Lincolnshire council commissioned a report to examine the effect of the tolls on economic development, and that report is welcome. I hope that the Minister will look at what it says.

Continuing with the tolls issue, what really upset local people is that the reorganisation of cancer services in the area meant that some of my constituents and other people on the south bank of the Humber had to travel north for cancer treatment. If someone is having cancer treatment every day, or every other day, and they are paying the toll, the parking fees and other transport costs if they are driving, because there is only one bus
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linking Grimsby and Cleethorpes to Hull, it becomes very costly. Consequently, many of us in the area have been campaigning for some sort of concession.

I must say that we have found the Humber Bridge Board to be not very receptive to that idea of a concession, to such an extent that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole tried to introduce a private Member’s Bill on the subject. When he became aware that he could not follow that through, I introduced a private Member’s Bill and I know that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness was a co-sponsor. All parties backed the Bill as a way of trying to find a solution to the problem. I hope that, in her roles as a regional Minister and a transport Minister and also with her background at the Department of Health, the Minister will understand that particular problem and do all that she can to try to bring all the disparate groups together to find a solution to it.

Very quickly, I would like to talk about an issue that is related to access to hospital treatment, which is bus passes for pensioners. I raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, saying that I have one local authority that imposes no restrictions on travel for pensioners; pensioners would be able to use their passes all day, including before 9.30 am. The neighbouring authority is imposing restrictions and it will not allow people to travel before 9.30 am. As I have said before, there is only one direct bus link from Grimsby to Hull. So, for people going to hospital, that is a very serious issue. Pensioners from Immingham who have to get on the bus before 9.30 to access hospital treatment have to pay full fare, but pensioners who live a mile down the road, across the border between the two authorities, in villages such as Killingholme, get to travel free.

We must resolve that issue, because it is almost creating apartheid in terms of access to travel in our area. I hope that the Minister will be able to do something about that, because I have looked at the figures, and North East Lincolnshire has had sufficient funding to allow pensioners to travel free before 9.30 am. I would therefore appreciate it if she could have a word with the council.

[John Bercow in the Chair]

12 noon

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to a debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing it.

For reasons of time, I shall restrict my remarks largely to public transport matters. Let me say at the start, however, that investment in transport infrastructure is self-evidently vital to the economic growth of any region, but particularly those regions that are some distance from the capital. The further away they are from London, the more important good transport links with the capital and the rest of the country become. We rely on good transport links not only to move goods around, but to create trade links with the rest of the UK and the wider world, allow workers to get to their jobs, bring together rural and urban areas, access shops and culture and allow children to get to school. The list is endless, but the point that I seek to make is simple: good transport links are essential to our everyday lives.

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