Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Jun 2009 : Column 925

Mr. Khan: That is an important point. Not only do we need to ensure that there is a new generation of super-express trains, we need to ensure that signalling improves as well. One of the things that I hope the hon. Gentleman will see over the next period is, with continued investment, an improvement in the quality of services that he and his constituents receive.

Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and the Minister to his new post? As chairman of the all-party group on rail in Wales, I am concerned about the number of services to south Wales and Wales in general. Our particular current concerns are about preserving rail services at ports and docks in constituencies such as mine, Swansea, East. Will the Minister meet the group to discuss those matters?

Mr. Khan: The short answer is yes. It is important that colleagues continue to raise the concerns that those of us who do not travel to certain parts of the kingdom do not get to see. It is important that we meet people such as my hon. Friend to listen to their concerns and to ensure that the franchises address those issues.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): May I congratulate you on your election, Mr. Speaker, and welcome the new ministerial team?

The Minister will be aware that the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), told the House repeatedly that electrification to south-west and south Wales was a priority for the Government and that they would improve services. As the Prime Minister was shown yesterday, the Government are planning to cut capital expenditure after 2010. How can electrification to improve services remain a priority for the Government in the face of those capital expenditure cuts after 2010?

Mr. Khan: May I thoroughly disappoint the hon. Gentleman, who is a friend and a neighbouring MP? We are examining in detail the case for electrifying the diesel-operated inter-city lines—the Great Western main line, which I mentioned, and also the midland main line. We will make an announcement in the coming months that will demonstrate that in challenging and tough times we are willing to invest rather than make cuts.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): May I welcome you to your new role, Mr. Speaker, and congratulate the Minister on his new post? The Stroud valley line is the reserve line from south Wales, from the Severn tunnel. There is no better way to improve those services than to redouble the line between Swindon and Kemble. Will the Minister ensure that that happens as a matter of extreme urgency?

Mr. Khan: There is some good news on the redoubling of the line. My hon. Friend will be as aware as I am of the challenges in that area and will know that in these difficult times we have committed to investment rather than cuts, which have been recommended by some people.

Motorway Congestion

6. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): What recent discussions the Secretary of State has had with police forces on levels of motorway congestion following traffic accidents. [282103]

25 Jun 2009 : Column 926

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): May I inform the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State has had no recent discussions with police forces specifically on motorway congestion? The Highways Agency takes managing the motorway network seriously. In the event of a serious accident, the police are supported by traffic officers to ensure that delays are minimised and motorways are reopened promptly.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The Minister mentions serious accidents, but is he aware that after quite minor accidents, the police are inclined to regard the accident as a scene of crime and to cordon off long sections of motorway, causing immense tailbacks, frustration, economic loss, and motorists trying to find alternatives through small towns and along small roads? Will he have a word with the Highways Agency and the police? It is a particular problem at the Bristol end of the M5 during a busy holiday period, when the motorway is already congested. There must be a better way of dealing with those accidents, such as photographing them, getting the vehicles off the scene and getting the traffic moving.

Chris Mole: The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that I spoke to the chief executive of the Highways Agency about the matter yesterday. He informed me that a joint strategic agreement on traffic incident management has been in existence since 2006, and that one of its aims is to improve clear-up times. The police must take as long as it takes to deal with what may be a crime scene, but the Highways Agency has helped them with technology that can rapidly determine and record evidence such as the position of vehicles. As I said earlier, following the completion of police work, traffic officers take over to ensure that the motorway is open as soon as possible.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and hope that I shall catch your eye on many future occasions.

I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that one of the most congested parts of the motorway network is the M1 south of Sheffield, where a large number of accidents occur. Steps are being taken to widen the M1 between junctions 25 and 28, and consideration is being given to either widening it or introducing hard-shoulder running up to junction 34. Will my hon. Friend assure me that whatever scheme is adopted, variable speed limits will be introduced on that section of the motorway so that we can reduce congestion, ensure smoother running at peak periods and, in particular, lower the high levels of pollution around Tinsley, in my constituency?

Chris Mole: As my hon. Friend says, the combination of hard-shoulder running and the application of active traffic management is an important tool, enabling us to squeeze every drop of capacity out of our existing road infrastructure.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker.

With the advent of new technology, more use is being made of electronic signs on motorways, especially mobile electronic signs. Why are they not deployed at motorway access points? Is the Minister aware that most of the
25 Jun 2009 : Column 927
congestion that follows an accident is caused by new traffic entering a motorway that drivers do not know is shut?

Chris Mole: The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the button. Technology of that kind is used increasingly throughout the motorway network to enable us to manage vehicles as effectively as possible, especially when incidents arise.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, and the new ministerial team.

What is the Minister’s estimate of the cost to the United Kingdom economy of an hour’s closure of a stretch of a key motorway such as the M25 or the M62?

Chris Mole: We know that closure imposes costs. That is why we want to respond to incidents as effectively as we can. I have already set out the approach taken by the Highways Agency, in conjunction with the police, to ensure that roads are opened as quickly as possible.

Mrs. Villiers: The Government have no comprehension of the huge cost impact of these closures. They have broken their promises on congestion again and again. In their entire term of office they have built less than 20 miles of new motorway, and they have a road maintenance backlog of 13 years. Have they not manifestly failed motorists in this country?

Chris Mole: That was a somewhat surprising response from Her Majesty’s official Opposition, who once told us to vote blue and go green. It is clear that that is no longer their commitment if they talk of a massive investment in motorway building and give no indication of how they would resource it. We are investing in the nation’s infrastructure, and they clearly would not do so.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Should the police clear congestion using British-assembled vehicles? Can my hon. Friend confirm or deny the rumour that there is currently a British-assembled Mini awaiting allocation in the ministerial car pool? Will he show leadership and volunteer to use it, and will he cut through the petty bureaucracy that allows—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that we shall have to leave it there.

Chris Mole: It is clearly for the Highways Agency and/or the police to ensure that they obtain best value for the taxpayer when purchasing vehicles. However, if my hon. Friend has any new information that he wishes to share with me, I shall be happy to meet him to discuss it.

A14 (Kettering)

7. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): When the Highways Agency plans to initiate (a) ramp metering at junctions with, and (b) public consultation on the widening of, the A14 around Kettering. [282104]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): It is proposed that ramp metering will be delivered on the A14 at junctions 4, 7 and 8 by spring 2011. A public information exhibition on the proposed widening of the A14 around Kettering is planned for
25 Jun 2009 : Column 928
autumn 2009. This replaces a public consultation on options as there is only one viable scheme option in this case.

Mr. Hollobone: The Highways Agency proposal is to widen the A14 between junctions 7 and 9, which is badly needed and very welcome. May I urge the Minister to ask the Highways Agency to investigate why it cannot widen the A14 between junctions 9 and 10, because under the Government housing expansion proposals, most of the new houses in Kettering are to be built to the east of the town, for which junction 10 is very important?

Chris Mole: The Government are committed to the three-lane widening in order to deliver the improved traffic flows more quickly to the A14 around Kettering, as that can be done within existing Highways Agency land. The planned improvements are based on the needs of Kettering in terms of growth and development, and as I know that the hon. Gentleman has been calling for just this sort of infrastructure investment for some time, I am sure he will welcome it wholeheartedly.

Community Rail Projects (East Midlands)

8. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment has been made of the viability of community rail projects in the east midlands; and if he will make a statement. [282105]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): Community rail projects bring together local communities and the appropriate train operators. We do not expect any issues with the viability of the three main projects in the east midlands.

David Taylor: The rail renaissance since 1997 has led to peacetime record numbers of passengers, which demand some attention on the constraints on capacity. Will the Minister discuss with me the “Connecting Communities” report from the Association of Train Operating Companies of earlier this month, which identifies the Leicester to Burton line—the national forest line through North-West Leicestershire—as having a good benefit-to-cost ratio? Might we have a look at that on site in order to correct the earlier impressions of Lord Adonis, who was rather lukewarm about community rail in the east midlands?

Chris Mole: I am, of course, happy to speak to my hon. Friend about the scheme, but it is primarily a scheme of regional significance, and therefore the capital cost of the national forest line would need to be funded through the regional funding allocation. Unfortunately, the east midlands region has not seen this project as a regional priority for funding through that route, but any initial subsidy would have to be funded by local authorities for at least the first three years, although the Government would consider taking the service into normal franchise arrangements once there was a sound business case.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker?

Does the Minister think that a community rail project could further improve the long-term viability of a reopened Beverley to York rail line, and will he accept an invitation
25 Jun 2009 : Column 929
from local campaigners for the reopening of that line to come to our area to hear the arguments in favour of it and the benefits it would bring?

Chris Mole: As part of our general commitment to the development of the railways, we are always keen to hear of proposals, but the Government have made significant funds available through the regional funding allocation schemes, which are essentially a regional concern, and proposals do need to be prioritised through those mechanisms to ensure that they genuinely have the support of people in regions such as that which the hon. Gentleman represents.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): May I ask the Minister to look again at the ATOC report to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) referred, and to recognise the powerful case it makes for the Leicester to Burton line? That is one of a number of similar schemes throughout the country that are not only of local significance, but also potentially of considerable national benefit. I ask him to look again at this, and to recognise that national benefit and also the need for Government investment to achieve that benefit.

Chris Mole: I can assure my hon. Friend that I have looked at the ATOC publication, “Connecting Communities”, which came out this month. It looked at the opportunity to provide better transport connections for communities that have grown in recent years, but which do not necessarily have good access to the rail network, including connections on the national forest line.

Street Works

10. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the implementation of permit schemes for street works; and if he will make a statement. [282107]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): The permit scheme regulations were made on 28 November 2007, and came into force on 1 April 2008. No permit schemes to control works on the highway are currently in place. We have undertaken to report to Parliament on the evaluation of the first implemented permit schemes, following their first year of operation. We hope to make a decision on an application from Kent county council for permit scheme powers within the next month.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: The street works permit schemes were designed, as the Minister knows, to make utilities companies carry out work at the same time, in order to reduce congestion for the motorist, inconvenience to the pedestrian and loss of earnings for retail outlets. Since the scheme came into force on 1 April 2008, as he said, how many permits have been granted, and have they been successful?

Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman may not have heard my answer: none have been granted. Local authorities recognise the additional powers that they have and we hope to make a decision on Kent next month— [ Interruption. ] I hear some chuntering from the hon.
25 Jun 2009 : Column 930
Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) on the Front Bench. If she wishes to speak to me afterwards, I can give her a response that is not a chunter.

Topical Questions

T1. [282118] Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): With permission, Mr. Speaker, as this is the first of what I hope will be many Transport questions, I wish to outline briefly the priorities of the Department for Transport. The new ministerial team is committed to making progress on three main priorities. First, we want to provide extra capacity on our transport networks on a sustainable basis, to meet increased demand. Secondly, we want to move quickly, and for good, to low-carbon technologies and practices within each mode of transport. Thirdly, we want to improve the attractiveness of public transport by making it possible to make door-to-door journeys more easily, in whole or in part, by that means.

Mr. Timpson: The Minister may be aware that the Office of Rail Regulation has failed to find funding for the regeneration or rebuilding of Crewe station in this funding cycle. Although some basic alterations have recently been made, they fall woefully short of what is necessary for the proper functioning of this major interchange of which the town should be proud. Can he undertake to ask the Secretary of State to look at enabling those long overdue improvements?

Mr. Khan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the interest he shows in the regeneration of that important part of the country. The Crewe railway gateway scheme was confirmed as a regional priority for investment in February. The Department’s officials are ready to discuss with Cheshire the way forward on this scheme once the major scheme business case has been submitted. Either the Secretary of State or I will write to the hon. Gentleman to give him an update, and perhaps he can be involved in the process too.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): The Secretary of State, who could be called the Minister for bicycling, knows of the massive increase in the number of people choosing to cycle to work. Given the increase in the number of cyclists on roads that are already congested, what are the Government doing to ensure cyclists’ safety and to encourage more people to get on their bikes?

Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and we need to ensure that more people cycle and are safe while doing so. She will pleased to learn that an announcement will be made when our carbon reduction strategy is unveiled next month, and I think she will be very pleased with some of the things the strategy says.

Next Section Index Home Page