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9 Jun 2010 : Column 19WH—continued

We have been discussing the areas to be served directly by high speed rail, but we must not lose sight of the fact that a high speed network also relieves pressure and overcrowding on existing railways. It allows more space for commuting and freight services, so it produces significant benefits for passengers and the economy even in areas that are not directly served by a line or station. It will create huge benefits in growth, regeneration and jobs,
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which will be felt far more widely than in the destinations directly served by new lines and services. I believe that it will provide valuable help in addressing long-standing prosperity differences between the south-east and the rest of the country, and thus create a more stable and balanced economy.

To return to some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Leicester South, of course it is vital, in parallel with taking high speed rail forward, to continue a programme of work on upgrading and improving the existing rail network.

Sir Peter Soulsby: On that point, I would be very grateful if the Minister gave way again.

Mrs Villiers: I would rather make a little progress. I have been very generous in giving way, so I will proceed with my remarks for a moment.

We all acknowledge that there is a downside to the proposals-the impact on the environment of the localities through which new lines could go. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury explained, hon. Members have understandable concerns about the potential impact of high speed rail on their constituents. The Government of course recognise the gravity of those concerns. There will be a detailed and inclusive process before final decisions are made about our approach to high speed rail overall, and the route it should follow. I am happy to engage with colleagues and hon. Members during the process. It goes without saying that reducing and mitigating the local environmental impact of high speed rail will always be a high priority for the Government in advancing the project. It will inform our decisions on the selection of the route.

I am happy to take on board my hon. Friend's ideas on benefiting the communities that may be subject to the environmental impact of high speed rail lines. Ideas are already under discussion about the possibility of burying power lines, and the new Government's commitment to high speed rail has already brought about a benefit, because it has enabled us to say with confidence that we strongly oppose a third runway at Heathrow. The fact that it will not go ahead provides significant benefits for some communities that may be affected by high speed rail, because there will not be the massive uplift in aircraft noise to which many of them might have been subjected had the election gone a different way and if a Labour Government had been elected and proceeded with their plans. As to existing transport corridors, in assessing the route, the potential benefits of their use will be fully considered. However, that approach is not a panacea. It cannot provide the answer in all cases, but it is worth considering.

We made it plain before the election that we reserved our position on the route that HS2 has recommended. The process of formal consultation on the hybrid Bill will provide extensive opportunities for people to make their voice heard and have their point of view properly and fairly considered before a route is finalised. We also recognise that concerns in that respect are not confined to fears about the future. In some places, the impact is being felt today in the instability of local property markets.

A key goal for the new Government is to press ahead expeditiously, taking on board the continuing consultation, with the finalising of arrangements for an exceptional
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hardship scheme, so that we can swiftly and equitably give assistance to those who most need it. The consultation is due to end in a week, and we shall look with great care at the respondents' suggestions in deciding how to proceed.

As part of the work that we are doing to reconsider and review the HS2 proposals on the route, we need to find the right option for connecting Heathrow to the new network. As we made clear in opposition, we believe that it is vital to integrate the country's only major long-haul hub airport to the high-speed rail network that we propose to build. Lord Mawhinney was asked by the previous Government to assess the alternatives. His review was established against the background of Labour's policy of supporting a third runway at Heathrow.

In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, one of the first acts of the new Secretary of State was to agree with Lord Mawhinney an amendment to his remit, to reflect the approach of the coalition. The new Government strongly oppose a new runway at Heathrow, as the Prime Minister confirmed and reiterated in one of his first actions on taking office. Heathrow needs to be better, not bigger. A key part of our programme for improving it is to integrate the airport into the proposed new high speed rail network. That would improve public transport links to the airport, and help to relieve the problems with air quality and congestion in the area by encouraging people to switch from road to rail when travelling to Heathrow.

In response to questions on the subject, we are obviously carefully considering whether high speed rail could be integrated with Crossrail. As a number of colleagues said, integrating Heathrow should also facilitate a major shift from air to rail. Experience in Europe shows that high speed rail provides an attractive alternative to short-haul flights. For example, Air France has completely stopped flights between Paris and Brussels, choosing instead to charter carriages on the TGV rail link.

Maximising the scope for switching from air to rail is an important goal in environmental terms, as high speed trains emit significantly less carbon than aviation. Indeed, the gap between the train and the plane is likely to widen as we proceed with the vital task of cleaning up our electricity generation sources. A further benefit of the air-to-rail switch would be to free up space at Heathrow by providing an alternative to the thousands of short-haul flights going in and out of the airport. That is how we plan to relieve capacity pressure.

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We believe also that it is essential to have a direct link between the new domestic line and existing international services on HS1, and we have asked HS2 Ltd urgently to assess the best way to deliver that. It would be a mistake to consider rail only in relation to domestic aviation when it is clearly a viable alternative for travelling to a number of important near European destinations such as Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

In conclusion-

Sir Peter Soulsby: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Villiers: I am sorry, but I am going to conclude. There is a huge task ahead of us as we contemplate delivering an infrastructure project as big as any since the 19th century, when the Victorians revolutionised our economy and our society with the nation's first railway network. It is worth remembering that Britain's first, and so far only, 68 miles of high-speed track owed much to the unlikely combination of John Prescott and Michael Heseltine. As we press forward with realising this great ambition, I hope that we can continue to count on cross-party support.

Sir Peter Soulsby: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Villiers: I have given way on a number of occasions. I am now going to conclude.

Sir Peter Soulsby rose-

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Order. The Minister is indicating that she will not give way.

Mrs Villiers: I have no doubt that there will be difficult times ahead, not least in relation to decisions about the route and how we mitigate and reduce its impact on surrounding communities and the landscape. However, I firmly believe that future generations will thank us for displaying determination and persistence in delivering this crucial upgrade to our transport system. We need to inject some of the long-term thinking that transport policy has so often lacked in the past. The new Government are determined to rise to that challenge and deliver the high speed vision for Britain's rail network-one that could have a transformative impact on our transport system, our economy and our quality of life.

10.53 am

Sitting suspended.

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Transport (South Devon)

11 am

Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): There are many reasons why the people of south Devon, and of Torbay in particular, need better transport links. Coach, rail, sea, cycle and road vehicle transport all suffer from under-investment. Our main transport link with the motorway network is the A380, which is dualled between Telegraph Hill and the Penn Inn roundabout, and is then single lane between Newton Abbot and Torbay.

Torbay is the 40th largest urban conurbation in the country, and the only settlement of such a size with a single carriageway link road to the trunk road system. The resident population increases by 50% during the summer peak with the influx of holidaymakers. Many arrive in the area frustrated and angry as their inward journey is marred by congestion and delay between Newton Abbot and Torbay, and many leave early as a result. Torbay relies heavily on tourism for its livelihood and future prosperity. Its economy is one of the most difficult in the country, with the widest gulf between average earnings and house prices and some of the worst wards in the country in relation to indices of social deprivation. A recent shocking statistic is that 40% of Torbay's children are now brought up in households living below the official poverty line. Reviving Torbay's economy, therefore, needs to be at the centre of everything that the Government and the local authority do.

Research has shown that our biggest single drawback is our lack of connectivity, which is a serious disincentive to inward investment and a blight on regeneration. The south Devon link road, or Kingskerswell bypass, is vital to overcoming that problem. It will overcome many local problems of congestion, pollution and rat-running, thus creating a more sustainable quality of environment.

Torbay council and Devon county council have worked together to promote the scheme, and have so far committed some £6 million to achieve the necessary consents and funding. Both councils see the road as one of their highest priorities. The scheme is ready to proceed as soon as the funding is made available by the Department for Transport: there is a valid planning consent, the land acquisition and side-road orders have been served, and a public inquiry was held in October 2009 to hear objections. The inspectors' report should have been, or will shortly be, presented to the Minister for confirmation.

The two councils have put the project out to tender and agreed on one bidder who has met all the quality criteria and, importantly, is within budget. Subject to funding and confirmation of orders, we are ready to start in the autumn. The cost of the scheme is £130 million, and the first spend of £8 million is anticipated in 2010-11 in accordance with the regional funding allocation. The road remains a top priority in the region. The application for full funding approval has been submitted to the DFT, and discussions with officials indicate there are no technical shortcomings in the submission. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that.

The history of the project has been fraught with delays and can be traced back to the early 1950s-to well before I was born. I cannot imagine any area the size of Torbay that has had to wait as long for a proper link to the country's main road network. In 1951-52, a dualled carriageway was first included in the Devon
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country development plan. By 1959, a public inquiry had determined the actual line of the proposed road, but then Devon county council sought to change the proposed line and suggested an alternative route. In 1974, a revised three-lane dualled carriageway plan was suggested by the outgoing Devon county council. By 1976, having completed stage 1 of the Torbay ring road, the highways authority made a submission to the Department for Transport for the trunking of the A380 road in its entirety.

In 1976, at the end of another public consultation, Devon county council announced its preferred route. In 1981-82, the county council submitted its preferred route to the Department for Transport, with an application for 100% grant aid funding. In 1987, a public exhibition was held, following which an updated submission for grant aid was made together with a revised submission for the trunking of the A380 from Exeter through to Torquay.

In 1989, a Government White Paper entitled "Roads for Prosperity" included the trunking of the A380 between Exeter and Torquay together with the proposed £26 million scheme to dual a new two-lane carriageway. In 1990, a traffic survey on best value and an audit had to be carried out before the proposed scheme could go forward to draft order stage. In 1994, another national report, entitled "Trunk Roads in England Review", was issued by the Department for Transport. It still included a proposed Kingskerswell bypass as a priority scheme in the national list.

In 1995, the Government announced that they would not be able to keep their commitment to the trunk road programme, and in a report entitled "Managing the Trunk Road Programme" the A380 was dropped from the priority list and transferred to the longer-term programme for the trunking of roads. In 1996, the Government de-trunked the A380 and transferred responsibility to Devon county council. In 1997, Labour won the general election, all road building was put on hold and it was decreed that existing infrastructure had to be exhausted before a new road could be considered. Two years later, the no-roads policy statement was reversed with an announcement by the then Deputy Prime Minister.

There have been at least three significant historical changes determining the decision-making process and the financing of roads since then. There have also been a couple of self-inflicted delays resulting from local government reorganisation: in 2003, Torbay left Devon to become a unitary authority, and in 2005 Torbay voted to have an elected mayor. None the less, most of the delay has been well beyond our local control. The road should have been built by now and should be playing its part as our route out of recession. At worst, it should be under construction, with the prospect locally of better times ahead; but it is not and now we hear there may be yet another review. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me how many projects are being reviewed and what their total value is? How much will the Department want to cut from this total, and will priority be given to schemes that are more advanced?

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): I should like to add my support to this scheme, because the road in question, the A380, passes through my constituency of Newton Abbot. Indeed, Kingskerswell bypass is in
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my constituency. Having this road would significantly improve the lives of my constituents in economic terms. Moreover, it is a key road and a key artery between Torbay hospital and my constituency, and many of the plans the primary care trust has made are predicated on the existence of that bypass.

Mr Sanders: The hon. Lady makes a very powerful point on behalf of her constituents and those across south Devon.

Let me turn to other forms of transport that impact on south Devon's economy and quality of life. Three years ago, the last Labour Government promised an additional 1,300 carriages across the country, of which 647 have already been brought in or are on order. The remainder have now been put on ice, after the Department for Transport was told to slash £683 million from its budget as part of a raft of in-year savings totalling £6.2 billion. Of the 1,300 carriages, First Great Western was due to receive 52, but only 12 of those were destined for services in the south-west. Their future was threatened when the Transport Secretary said that each project must be rigorously re-assessed to ensure that it offers value for money for taxpayers. Under the previous Government, the plans for new carriages had been delayed and mired in review following the announcement of the electrification of the main line between London and Swansea. There is uncertainty over the allocation of new rolling stock. What is the status of the carriages promised to First Great Western in the south-west, and where should representations be made to argue the case in favour of providing extra rolling stock? What is the Government's overall strategy for railways in the south-west, and do they still consider Torquay and Paignton to be mainline train stations?

Finally on rail, the introduction of fast train services from Paddington to Paignton via Westbury rather than Bristol is good, but will more services be forthcoming?

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and I am grateful to him for giving way, because in fact there are three constituencies that would benefit very greatly from this proposal. My own constituency, which covers Brixham and much of Paignton, lies downstream from his, at the other end of the A380, and as he has mentioned we have very high levels of deprivation in our constituencies.

I would also like my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the great problem that we have with housing. Time and again, the objection made to further housing development in our area is that there is insufficient infrastructure to support it. The roads have reached complete gridlock. Given that lack of adequate transport is one of the greatest obstacles to reconstruction and investment, what mechanism is being used to assess which projects should receive funding, and are these very important factors of reconstruction and investment being taken into account?

Mr Sanders: I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, and I am sure the Minister will respond to that very important question. She is absolutely right. I often think of my constituency as being the "end-of-the-line" town, but the Brixham area of her constituency, which I think is the largest urban area in Totnes, is very much
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the end of the line and does not even have a railway line. Road transport is therefore particularly important in getting from Brixham, Paignton and Torquay to the rest of the country.

I should also mention the poor coach services from Torbay to the main centres of population. The journey times are off-putting and often, the slowest part of any coach journey is the first or last seven miles between Torbay and the dual carriageway at Newton Abbot. In the past, we have enjoyed ferry services between south Devon and the Channel Islands, and beyond. Even our cyclists in Torbay are poorly served, its having fewer miles of cycle lanes than most urban areas of a similar size.

We have been waiting for six decades to enjoy the transport links that the rest of the country takes for granted. My constituency records the lowest household incomes and highest household debt in the United Kingdom. We have been, and remain, the unemployment blackspot of the south-west region.

Better transport links are our road to recovery. Two Select Committee reports-the Communities and Local Government Committee report on seaside resorts, and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on tourism-support that view. Both concluded that better transport links are essential if such seaside areas are to improve their economic well-being. As for those who oppose such road improvements, I simply ask them why there are no campaign groups asking for the removal of existing bypasses.

There is a huge opportunity here for the new Government to demonstrate their commitment to the south-west region with immediate delivery of a fantastic scheme that would be a huge credit to all involved, and would fundamentally regenerate Torbay and the surrounding area for years to come. There is political unity on this issue among all parties in south Devon: Torbay council, Devon county council, Teignbridge council, and South Hams district council. All the key players, including small and larger businesses, know that this project is critical to our future success, be it the tourism industry, manufacturing or services.

In my 13 years as a Member of Parliament, I have observed business after business trying to grow locally, but in order to expand they have had to leave the area, citing the lack of transport links as the reason. Inward investors who are prepared to invest in jobs and in improving the area are being put off by the very real barrier that is the final seven miles into my constituency.

It was in 1951-52 that people started to talk about this project, for which there were plans by the end of that decade. Surely we will not have to wait another decade for another decision that will allow the project to go ahead.

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