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Westminster Hall

Thursday 27 March 2014

[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Local Authority Parking Enforcement

[Relevant documents: Seventh Report from the Transport Committee, Local Authority Parking Enforcement, HC 118, and the Government response, HC 970.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mark Lancaster.)

1.30 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the Select Committee on Transport report “Local Authority Parking Enforcement”, along with the Government response. The topic was chosen following requests from members of the public, who are regularly invited to suggest subjects for the Committee’s inquiries. In January 2013, we launched a call for evidence seeking views on the adequacy of current arrangements for parking enforcement. We published our report in October 2013 and received the Government response last January. Public interest in the subject is strong, and today’s debate is timely.

Parking policy is a crucial element of transport strategy and an important part of transport management. In 2011-12, Aberystwyth spent a year without parking enforcement, which provided an alarming insight into what life would be like in our town and city centres if there were no wardens. NCP stated that in that year, Aberystwyth became

“the worst place in the country to find a parking space”,

and Aberystwyth’s chamber of commerce observed:

“It has been chaotic, especially for people with disabilities or delivery drivers. On balance, shoppers and the public generally will welcome the re-introduction of wardens.”

Although parking policy is important in its own right, it should be integrated with broader transport planning. Local authorities must balance the needs of different road users according to local circumstances, and parking enforcement is one tool to achieve that objective. It must be linked with providing good public transport. Joined-up transport planning involves striking a balance between tackling congestion and maintaining the accessibility of town and city centres. Particular concerns have been raised about the impact of parking policies on local shopping. Innovative measures to address it could include allowing free parking for limited times at certain times of the day, providing discount vouchers for customers who pay for parking and enabling local businesses to validate parking tickets so that customers get some money off parking. Those are just some of the suggestions that the Committee made in addressing the issue.

The response to our inquiry highlighted a deep rooted public perception—it is not necessarily the reality—that parking enforcement is used as a cash cow by local authorities. Taken together, in 2012-13, local authorities

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in England made a surplus of £594 million from parking activities. However, those surpluses were not evenly distributed. Seven of the 10 highest surpluses were in London; the largest profit, £39.7 million, was in Westminster. There are also more than 50 local authorities that operate parking services at a loss. Using parking charges and fines for the express purpose of raising revenue is neither acceptable nor legal. Any surplus created must be applied to transport purposes, which can include traffic management or investing in public transport.

How can the issue be addressed? First, more transparency is required. All local authorities should issue annual reports showing income from both parking charges and penalties, along with how any surpluses were applied. In addition, local authorities should show the criteria that they use in assessing their penalty charge system. There is sometimes a suspicion that targets for penalty charge notices have been set in order to maximise income. In response to our recommendations, the Government response stated:

“The Government supports greater transparency in local authority parking accounts. Local authorities should collect and publish data on revenue collected”

from parking meters and enforcement notices.

The Department added:

“The revised code of transparency for local government states that local authorities must place a link on their website”

to data showing

“revenue collected from on-street and off-street parking and parking enforcement notices.”

Is the Minister confident that all local authorities are now following the revised code of transparency for local government by providing that link?

In addition to our recommendations on transparency, we made two proposals on enforcement. First, we concluded that parking enforcement should attempt to minimise the number of penalty charge notices issued to motorists who have made honest mistakes, for example due to unclear signage. We asked local authorities to pay special attention to people who have simply made a mistake. In addition, we recommended changes. We suggested that the Department for Transport statutory guidance should stipulate that local authorities should implement a five-minute grace period after the expiry of paid-for time. The Government described this proposal as “worthy of consideration” and included it in the consultation paper on local authority parking.

The consultation closed on 14 February. I hope that the Minister will update Members on the consultation response to our recommendation of a five-minute grace period and set out how he intends to proceed in that regard. The Committee also called for the end of the routine use of CCTV to impose fines. The blanket use of CCTV does not always show the full picture. For example, it does not always show whether a vehicle is being loaded or whether a motorist has a permit to park where they have stopped.

The Committee also recommended significant changes on penalty charge discounts. Currently, fines paid within the first 14 days receive a 50% discount. If a motorist appeals and loses the appeal, there is no discount. We proposed a 25% discount for motorists who pay within seven days of losing an appeal to a tribunal. In the Government response, the Department stated that the

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suggestion was “worth wider consideration” and included it in the local parking enforcement consultation. Will the Minister update Members on the consultation response to our recommendation of a 25% discount and set out how he intends to take the matter forward?

The Committee noted that some local authority parking enforcement regimes effectively force some companies required to make deliveries at given times to incur penalty charge notices that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, simply for operating their businesses. We even heard of a millionaires’ club of companies that accept that they will have to pay more than £1 million a year in charges due to penalty charge notices that they cannot avoid. We concluded that that is unacceptable and asked the Government to convene a round table discussion with road hauliers and local authorities to identify ways to address the problem. In response, the Government stated:

“We agree that a round table discussion might be useful and DFT will talk to local authorities and the freight industry to see how this might be organised.”

Again, will the Minister update us on the progress in setting up such a discussion, and does he have any other proposals for alleviating that particular burden on business?

Finally, I would like to discuss an outstanding issue: the enforcement of penalty charges on non-UK vehicles. We recommended that

“the Government initiate discussions at a European level on the feasibility of introducing EU-wide powers for the cross-border enforcement of parking penalty charges”.

The Department responded by saying that

“many Member States have reservations about data sharing and the general security of individual citizen’s data across international borders for non-criminal contraventions.”

The UK is apparently one of those member states. For example, the Government response highlighted that it

“would not opt in to a European Directive facilitating cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety…which would not be in the UK’s interests.”

I am somewhat puzzled by that. Does the Minister believe that cross-border enforcement of parking charges is a desirable objective? What discussions have taken place at an EU level? What are the Government’s objections to proceeding? If there is no action at a European level or if the UK will not be part of any action that other European countries are proposing to be involved in, is it possible to achieve the same objective without engaging with other European countries?

Parking policy will always arouse strong emotions. Motorists faced with what is perceived to be unduly high charges or unfair penalties will feel unjustly treated. However, parking management is required to reconcile the competing demands of different road users and to prevent congestion. I hope that the report and its recommendations contribute to making parking policies fair to all.

1.41 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Rosindell, and to follow the distinguished Chair of the Select Committee on Transport, my hon. Friend the

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Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), in raising the report with the Minister. I look forward to his comments and those of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

I am a relatively new member of the Transport Committee, which I assume is why the current membership list on the first page of the report states:

“Jim Fitzpatrick (labour, Poplar and Limehouse)”—

Labour with a small l—while every other member’s party is spelled with a capital letter. Perhaps that is a demarcation issue for the Stationery Office, but I take it as no slight. My contribution will be brief and may repeat some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, because the Government’s response to our report, which they have been good enough to provide, leads to some questions.

My first point, already raised by my hon. Friend, is about the consultation that ran until 14 February, which is mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the Government’s response. How is that consultation going? When might we expect its findings to be published?

On recommendation 1, about pavement parking¸ the Government response states:

“In 2011 the Department for Transport gave all local authorities in England the authority to introduce local restrictions on pavement parking”.

How many local authorities acted on that advice? The Minister may not have that information, but given that the Government issue guidance and authority to local councils, it would be interesting to know how many took it seriously and responded locally.

The Government’s response to recommendation 2 states:

“The Government will consider the views of stakeholders and respond to the consultation in the first half of 2014.”

Is that on track? Given that we are now approaching April, can the Minister be more specific than “first half of 2014”?

In response to recommendation 3, the Government say that the Department for Transport

“intends to revise and update its statutory guidance to local authorities on parking enforcement.”

As my hon. Friend suggested, it would be interesting to know when the Government expect to be able to do that.

The Government responded to recommendation 5, about regimes, by saying:

“We agree that a roundtable discussion might be useful and DfT will talk to local authorities and the freight industry to see how this might be organised.”

Has a roundtable taken place? Will one take place? London had a positive experience during the Olympics, when so many deliveries were made out of hours. Local authorities introduced new procedures, such as adjusting vehicles to ensure that radios turn off when cab doors open and installing rubber wheels on delivery trolleys. Local authorities and businesses adopted all manner of simple but sensible arrangements, so that middle-of-the-night deliveries were almost silent. I recall that there were no complaints that the system did not work well, so there is room for optimism that such procedures could be adopted in other places with congestion.

Recommendation 6 asked that the Government

“provide greater clarity on the rules for loading and unloading”.

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The Government said that they

“will review its guidance to local authorities and will update it as appropriate.”

Has that happened? Will that happen?

The Government’s response to recommendations 7, 10 and 13 are identical. In all three answers, they said that local authorities

“should collect and publish data”

and that the

“revised Code of Transparency for Local Government states that local authorities must”

publish data on revenue collected and parking enforcement fines. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whose Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), is present and is taking a great interest in the debate? Has the Department for Transport met the Local Government Association? What progress has been made on the publishing of data? Are local authorities routinely publishing such data? Is the Department is happy with the progress of authorities that previously did not publish as much data, if any? It seems sensible that residents should be able to see, as my hon. Friend the Chair of the Transport Committee suggested, whether parking and enforcement fines are appropriate and are being used to pay for enforcement officers, CCTV cameras and appropriate road markings and signage. The publishing of such data provides an easy way for residents to be reassured that the balance is right. I am sure the Minister will have information on how well it is going.

In response to recommendation 12, the Government state:

“Consultation of draft regulations is programmed for spring 2014, to come into effect by March 2015.”

Is that on time? As a former Minister responsible for time at the Department of Trade and Industry, I know that time in the civil service lexicon is a vey flexible feast. I have told the story of when I had to sign off an answer to a parliamentary question asking, “When will this be done?” and the answer from the civil servant was “by autumn”, so I asked the civil servant, “What does autumn mean?” and I was told that autumn was 23 December, because that is when the autumn session of Parliament started. Most people would probably think that we were pretty much into winter by that time, so what does “spring” mean? Is that the Easter recess? Is it the Whitsun recess? Or is it the middle of July at the start of the summer recess? I suspect that it is probably the July date, which would give the Government more time—I am not quibbling about that—but it would be nice to know what spring means in this context.

My penultimate comment is on recommendation 17 and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside about the general European-wide power. While the Government state that they remain

“open to considering a general European-wide power”,

they say later in the response:

“In March 2011 the Government announced that it would not opt in to a European Directive facilitating cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety.”

Many of us were unhappy about that at the time and still are. If the Government will not opt in to a directive on road safety, which most of us would deem far more

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important than parking—notwithstanding how important parking is to drivers across the country—it is disingenuous for them to say that they remain open to a joining a European-wide initiative. If the Government are not going to do that on road safety, surely the Minister can confirm that they will not do it on parking.

I am pleased to see the Minister and his shadow, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, in the Chamber today. I look forward to their comments.

1.50 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell.

I add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and her Committee for the important and detailed report that we are discussing. It is also excellent to see my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) in the Chamber. I was sorry to hear that in the report his party affiliation was spelt with a small “l”. However, whether he was listed as “Labour” or “labour”, he was an ’ell of a Minister and an ’ell of a shadow Minister as well. I thank him for his comments.

I hope that the Minister will not only answer the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, but take up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse—in particular about out-of-hours deliveries, which give rise to important parking issues and issues for other road users, such as pedestrians. Those issues could be important for future cycling strategies and the promotion of cycling safety.

I welcome the opportunity to add my comments on the report, which covers a whole range of areas, from the vitality of our high streets to the confusion all too often caused by parking signage. I also have the chance to explode some of the myths about parking that are circulating and to put the debate on to a more rational basis. It is a little surprising and disturbing to see the high levels at which some of those myths are being promulgated.

Parking issues are raised with me, as a constituency MP, again and again—I am sure I am not alone in that—and the Chair of the Select Committee made the point that parking is a matter of great importance to the public. It might not get the headlines that High Speed 2, airports or rail fares get, but it is important none the less, because getting it right is about achieving the incredibly difficult objective of a simpler and more streamlined door-to-door journey. Get parking wrong and we block people from reaching their destination, causing inconvenience to an awful lot of other people as well; get it right and we enable people to get better access to employment, leisure and high streets, quickly and conveniently.

As the Committee has established, parking is a local issue. If it is going to work, it needs to be fully integrated into local authority transport policy, alongside action on public transport. We expect councils to take responsible and common-sense approaches to parking enforcement. As the Committee reported, that means balancing a number of objectives—improving safety, tackling congestion, improving the environment and managing local traffic—and getting that right is a big challenge, particularly in the UK, a country with one of the

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highest population densities in the world where local traffic is predicted to increase by more than 40% by 2042. We want safe and sustainable towns and cities, and ones that can support economic growth and be enjoyable places to visit and be part of.

I welcome the Committee’s recommendation that we should leverage local knowledge and expertise to ensure that parking provision meets specific requirements. That means bringing businesses, community groups and residents around the table to find the solutions appropriate for different areas. I want to ask the Minister about the Select Committee’s innovative proposals to ensure that local parking delivers for communities. The report has come out, the recommendations are there and the response has come back, so will the Minister confirm today what policies the Department will adopt in practice to make progress? While he is answering that, perhaps he will also comment on whether the Government will consider the provision of any business rate relief for businesses that invest in affordable town centre parking solutions.

We need not only to ensure that local responsibility is underpinned by clear Government leadership, but to interrogate things a little more. How far is that leadership in place at the moment? The Government talk a lot about localism, but in reality Ministers have all too often devolved responsibility for traffic, road safety and parking policy to councils while depriving them of the resources with which to do those jobs effectively. Local authority budgets have been cut by 40% since 2010 and many councils are struggling to deal with competing transport priorities. The Committee’s call for better national oversight on parking is therefore important.

The report called for strengthened statutory guidance, to clarify and support councils in their parking powers and practice as a priority. As has been said, that might include a national five-minute grace period, which already exists in some local authorities, to underpin a common-sense approach; providing greater support to councils on how they can use parking policy to cut congestion, improve road safety and support growth; promoting best practice and innovative solutions, looking at how initiatives such as the workplace parking levy in Nottingham work; and annual local authority parking reports to improve transparency.

Raising revenue from parking is unlawful, but in reality fewer than one in five councils makes surplus income from parking, and that is not from fines, but from on-street parking. As the Committee pointed out, however, the “cash cow” perception remains, even if that does not reflect the reality. We need clear and accessible reports to clear up the myth and ensure that people have a balanced view of what is and is not going on. The Government have agreed that better oversight is needed and they made multiple references to the revision of statutory guidance in their response to the Committee. Given that that was a priority in the Committee’s report, when are we going to get the statutory guidance?

In addition to recommending increased clarity for local authorities, the report rightly underlines the need to make parking simpler for road users. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside said, most people do not intend to break the law, but all too often they are fined because mistakes have been made, and

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those mistakes might come about because of poor and confusing signage. The Committee was right to call for clarity on the patchwork of pavement parking rules throughout the country, which are confusing for motorists and often dangerous for vulnerable road users. The Committee also urged clarity on the rules for loading and unloading by haulage firms—what my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse said on that was important—and action to rectify persistent problems with poor signage.

We are all anticipating the Government’s review of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002, but what my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse said about the timing of that struck a chord with me. I want to know what “in the spring” means. I have become a little sceptical about the Government’s seasonal promises. At the end of 2012, we were told that a Green Paper on young drivers could be expected in the spring, then in the summer and then before Christmas, but now it does not look as if we will get it before the next general election. Given that fiasco, I hope the Minister will tell us what “the spring” means and whether the review will be produced.

It would be good if the Minister provided us with an expected publication date and set out how a review that plans to increase local variation will ensure national consistency as well. Will he also tell us what action the Government intend to take to make the pavement parking rules clearer than at present? We support innovation and local authority flexibility, but the fact remains that, if it is going to work, parking policy must be developed with the road user in mind, and in a way that road users can understand.

Sadly, to put it bluntly, under this Government we are not getting a coherent response from Ministers. In fact, I think there is a bit of a mess. I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to freeze the maximum penalty charge—households are struggling with the rising cost of living and it is obviously not good if they are hit hard by charges as well. But I find it difficult to reconcile what the Government are saying now with what they said just three months before the announcement of the freeze, when the former Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), was proposing to hike parking charges. There does not seem to be great continuity in the Government’s message.

I raise that issue because we are seeing another example of ministerial confusion today, about proposals to ban CCTV for parking enforcement. The Transport Committee pointed out that we need clarity on how cameras are and should be used, as CCTV should be used only where safety and congestion are major issues—for example, around schools, bus stops and pedestrian crossings—and where traditional parking enforcement is difficult. But the move to ban CCTV, if that is indeed what the Government are suggesting, has been opposed by pretty much every single group I have met, including road safety campaigners, local freight groups, bus operators, parking associations and the cross-party Local Government Association.

I have yet to see any evidence base for such a ban. I am prepared to consider it if I see the evidence, but I have not seen any. Ministers have no idea how much revenue councils make from CCTV parking enforcement charges and apparently will not even make an estimate. Given that, we might think it is not a significant problem.

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If the ban on CCTV goes ahead, however, it could have serious consequences. First, it could have financial consequences. More than 75 councils have made substantial investment in the technology. Mobile CCTV cars cost between £50,000 and £60,000 each, and in a context of slashed council budgets that is a significant sum.

More important than the cost, as many Members have said in the past few months, is the impact the ban could have on road safety. As far as I can tell, CCTV cameras have proved pretty effective in improving safety in high-risk places, such as around schools. To give an example, in Oldham, an 11-year-old girl who was nearly hit by a car outside her school in 2012 campaigned to secure what is called Oscar—the Oldham safety car—a CCTV vehicle that has reduced the number of injuries near schools and improved safety awareness. CCTV for school parking is popular with families. A recent survey showed that 80% of parents in Bromley support its use in those sorts of circumstances. We share the concerns of parents about a policy that could have an impact on the safety of children.

I am therefore shocked that the Government seem prepared to ban CCTV without any economic or safety assessment at all—if indeed that is what they are going to do—and would like the Minister to clarify the following points. First, are the Government proposing to ban CCTV? If they are, what is the evidence on which the proposal will be based, because anecdotes are simply not sufficient? Why will the Government not produce a regulatory impact assessment for the policy? What estimate has the Minister made of the financial support that will need to be given to councils to cover abortive car projects and fund more on-street enforcement? What impact will that have on departmental spending? If the ban on CCTV for civil parking enforcement goes ahead, will primary legislation be required?

Those are genuine questions. Something tells me that they are probably being asked by the Department for Transport as well; it would not surprise me to find that the Minister has been asking one or two questions along those lines himself. There is a rumour abroad that the policy is a bit Pickled. If it is, the sooner we get some clarity on it, the better. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr Pickles)—just to bring him in—has been saying that he wants to give our nation’s high streets a boost, but if that is how he wants to do it, I can think of ways that would be a lot more effective.

How about backing Labour’s pledge to cut business rates for small companies, for example, or creating a British investment bank that has a duty to lend to small and medium-sized enterprises? How about acting on calls from organisations such as Living Streets, which found that supporting high streets actually requires making public spaces more attractive and more accessible, rather than simply providing free parking?

Good traffic and parking management are vital for creating accessible and attractive town centres that can thrive. How will banning the use of technologies such as CCTV achieve that? If I am right in saying that the Department for Transport is not happy and that pressure from another Department is influencing policy on the issue, will the Minister explain why he and his Department are letting another Department dictate transport policy?

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There are clearly important issues about parking that need to be addressed. The Transport Committee’s report contains excellent recommendations, and there is consensus across the House on the need for transparency and common sense in local parking policy, underpinned by strong leadership from Government. Sadly, it looks as though Ministers are wasting a lot of time on a bizarre policy to ban CCTV that has no evidence base but does have potentially damaging consequences. It would be better, to be honest, if they were to produce clear time scales and action plans to back up their response to the recommendations in the Select Committee’s report.

I hope that the concerns and issues raised today—principally those raised by the Select Committee, but also those I have raised—will encourage the Minister to think again on the issue of CCTV and start a constructive dialogue on the future of parking in the UK.

2.7 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell.

I appreciate the work that has been done by the Select Committee in looking at the issue of parking and bringing forward its views, which the Government are considering along with other recommendations that have been brought to us. It is indeed an opportune time to discuss parking issues following the publication of this excellent report and also the Government’s consultation on parking, which concluded on 14 February.

Let me say straight away that we are currently considering over 800 responses to the consultation, and will be responding in full in due course. [Interruption.]I do not know whether, when the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) was in the Department, he had to respond to things in due course, but I reassure him that this matter is in my in-tray and I am giving it a great deal of attention. It has not been parked in the tray marked “too hard to attend to”.

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Minister knows that he is held in high regard by the Opposition, as he is by his Government colleagues. I wish him every success with his in-tray.

Mr Goodwill: I wonder whether the reason why, in the report, there was a small “l” for the party name after the hon. Gentleman’s name is that the word “labour” is used not only as the name of a party but as a reference to someone’s working very hard on a subject. That could well be the reason.

This debate is timely. It is not simply a case of responding to the consultation and considering all the points but ensuring that we have agreement across Departments and across the coalition, as different Ministers may have different priorities when they arrive in Departments.

We ask parking and traffic management to deliver a number of objectives in parallel, and managing those competing demands on our roads will never be simple. The UK has more motor vehicles per mile than France, Germany or even the densely populated Netherlands, and traffic on our roads is forecast to increase. That is why we are investing £24 billion in the strategic road network in this Parliament and the next, a tripling of previous investment levels seen in this country. By 2021,

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we will be spending £3 billion every year on improvements and maintenance, which is the most significant upgrade of our roads ever. It is also why parking and traffic management have a vital role to play. Effective management enables people, goods and services to get to where they are needed and is essential for a growing economy.

Over the past few years, we have seen major changes in how parking is enforced. More than 90% of local authorities have taken over the civil enforcement of their parking services. I wrote to the other 10% today suggesting, without wanting to impinge on their local decision-making processes, that they look closely at the advantages of opting for civil enforcement. It has improved compliance, reduced congestion, freed up the police and, most importantly, made our roads safer.

When effective parking management breaks down, as in Aberystwyth, and in Scarborough in my constituency, where a couple of enterprising former police officers, armed with tape measures and copies of the science manual, managed to delay the introduction of our civil enforcement, the result is chaos. That is not good news for motorists and certainly not for businesses because it causes real problems. We must keep a close eye on the matter. How parking is managed matters to us all at some level, and we must ensure that the basic rules and regulations help councils to deliver balanced and effective parking strategies.

We are here today to discuss the Transport Committee’s recent inquiry into local parking enforcement and the Government’s recent wide-ranging parking consultation, which invited views on many of the Committee’s main recommendations. Despite what some press reports have claimed, we have not already reached a decision on changes to Government policy following the consultation. I will look carefully at all the responses, and am very aware of the wide range of views among stakeholders about sensitive issues such as camera enforcement.

The Select Committee’s inquiry and our consultation were prompted by three big issues for parking and traffic management: first, the challenges facing our high streets; secondly, the potential for the deployment and use of new technologies to improve the use of our roads, recognising that, in some cases, they cause the public concern; and thirdly, the widespread belief among motorists that some councils seem to view parking enforcement primarily as an opportunity to raise revenue. I will say a few words on each of those issues.

Our high streets are essential to our national life. They bring people together and are at the heart of our daily life and economy. In London, more than half of the jobs in the capital are spread across just 600 high streets, and two thirds of Londoners live within a five-minute walk of their local high street. However, our high streets are going through long-term change. Those changes are significant and require communities to play an active role in shaping their high streets. There are far too many empty shops throughout the country. We have put in place a £1 billion package of support to help local people reinvigorate their high streets. Recent figures show that the number of empty shops on UK high streets fell in December 2013, which was the first time the rate has fallen below 14% since July 2010.

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Ensuring that convenient and safe parking is available at reasonable cost is part of the answer and many areas need to improve. During her recent review, Mary Portas found that in many areas

“parking has been run-down, in an inconvenient place, and most significantly really expensive.”

The recent survey from the Association of Town and City Management and the British Parking Association found that some mid-range areas were charging 18% more for parking than larger and more popular retail locations. Indeed, many such locations have free parking. The question for local businesses and residents is: what more is needed to get the local council to improve parking provision in their area?

In the consultation, we suggested one way that could be achieved: by allowing local residents and firms to be able to petition the council to initiate a review of parking policy in their area. That might be a request for lower charges, for a review to see if additional spaces could be provided, or for better street lighting to improve safety.

The second issue is the potential for new technologies to help to manage our roads more effectively. The introduction of GPS-based systems, new sensor technologies and increasing integration with smart-phones can revolutionise parking. When I parked at York station this week, I used my phone and if my return is delayed, I can update my parking period using my phone without the anxiety of perhaps being fined for overstaying.

Better and more efficient parking services can be delivered in real time, bringing benefits to high streets and road users throughout the UK. However, the capabilities of new technologies bring with them an increased responsibility to ensure that parking is enforced fairly and proportionately. I firmly believe that most of those involved in the parking industry, from local authorities to private sector service providers, aim to do just that. However, the use of CCTV, in particular, causes public concern.

The Department’s guidance states that CCTV cameras should be used only where parking enforcement is difficult or sensitive, and enforcement by a civil enforcement officer is not practicable. Cameras can be more contentious than boots on the ground, and the Select Committee took evidence that resident permits and blue badges may not always be visible to cameras. The Committee reported that in some cases cameras are used routinely for on-street parking violations, despite my Department’s statutory guidance. Our consultation also asked about options to address those concerns, bearing in mind that, as the Committee pointed out, cameras can have a useful role in some circumstances, such as outside schools and in keeping bus lanes clear. We must look at the needs of all road users in the round and look for balanced solutions to the issues.

Finally, there is a real problem with the public’s view of local authorities’ approach to parking and traffic enforcement. The Select Committee said that there is a

“deeply rooted public perception that local authorities view parking enforcement as a cash cow”.

From 1997-98 to 2010-11, net surpluses from parking rose from £223 million to £512 million. Net income from local authority parking services is expected to rise from £601 million in 2012-13 to £635 million in 2013-14, an increase of 5.6%. That headline figure reflects parking charges as well as penalties, but I am determined that

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public confidence in enforcement should not be undermined. The Committee has identified the importance of the Government mandating the production of annual parking reports by local authorities, so the public fully understand the strategies, and where the money from parking goes. We have been very clear that the ring fence on surpluses will remain. Fines for those who break the rules will be used only to improve the roads or environment for those who play by the rules.

The Select Committee asked whether the current system is as fair as it can be for those who inadvertently make a mistake. First, it asked whether independent traffic adjudicators should be able to allow an appeal when they determine that a council has ignored statutory guidance. Secondly, it asked whether the current system acts as a disincentive for people to appeal. There is a legitimate concern that discounts on prompt payment following appeal would result in every charge being appealed so, following the Committee’s recommendation, we have asked whether the introduction of a 25% discount for motorists who pay within seven days of losing an appeal might be worth while. In addition, it might be worth considering whether discount for appeals that are lost could be allowed only if the appeal was made during the period for which the initial discount applied. We will consider that in more detail.

Thirdly, the Committee recommended that the statutory guidance should stipulate a grace period after the expiry of paid-for time. The British Parking Association’s response to the consultation states that in practice most local authorities do that already, so we are also considering whether mandating a grace period of perhaps five minutes after the end of paid-for parking might provide the public with reassurance that they will never be issued with a ticket just one minute after the meter runs out.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) made several points. She talked about the possibility of validating tickets so that someone who pays in a local authority car park can use that ticket to obtain a discount in a local shop, which would presumably be reimbursed by the local authority—or perhaps by the shop itself as part of a local discount scheme. That already works in some supermarkets to encourage customers only to use those supermarkets, but that is a matter for local councils, as is free parking for short periods at certain times, such as Christmas, which Scarborough borough council provides as a way of getting people into that excellent shopping location.

Are local authorities following the code of practice? If people appeal on the ground that the code of practice was not followed, the adjudicators will see that as important. They will often be sympathetic if people make honest mistakes.

The hon. Lady talked about the response to our consultations. I have some of the responses here. For example, the question was posed:

“Do you think motorists who lose an appeal at a parking tribunal should be offered a 25% discount for prompt payment?”

The overall response was: yes, 44%; no, 56%. However, among individuals, as opposed to organisations—I suspect that quite a lot of councils were among the organisations—54% favoured the rolling forward of the discount and 46% were against, while among organisations only 23% were in favour of rolling forward, while 77% were against. Therefore, even among individuals there was a mixed result.

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We also posed the question:

“Do you think that authorities should be required by regulation to allow a grace period at the end of paid for parking?”

There again, the results were balanced. Overall, the response was exactly 50:50. Among individuals 51% were in favour and 49% were against, and among organisations 45% were in favour and 55% were against. The picture from the consultations is not clear on the rolling forward of the discount or the period of grace at the end of paid-for parking. As I have already said, however, many local authorities already have a grace period.

The hon. Lady also asked about pavement parking. We have given local authorities powers on pavement parking, but we do not collect statistics on how many authorities have used those powers. In London, of course, there is an enforceable general ban on parking on the pavement. On guidance issued to local authorities, we are considering the responses to the consultation and we will reply in due course.

On local authority transparency, the Department for Transport does not know whether all local authorities are fully transparent regarding their fine revenues, as that matter is reported to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Before the Minister continues on transparency, he was answering the question on pavement parking that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside and I raised. That is a huge issue for organisations such as Guide Dogs and Living Streets, which campaign for people with mobility difficulties. He said that he is waiting on the responses and on further consideration by his Department, but will he assure us that he will look carefully at that? As he said, in London the protocol is that such parking is forbidden unless specifically allowed, whereas elsewhere it is almost the reverse of that. Those campaigning organisations would rather see more emphasis on looking after people with disabilities and mobility difficulties than allowing a free-for-all.

Mr Goodwill: The hon. Gentleman is right. I am sure that, like me, he gets letters from constituents complaining about pavement parking. People are often surprised to discover that in many parts of the country such parking is perfectly legal. We have a similar problem with motorcycles in bus lanes, in that we do not have a consistent approach throughout the country.

There was also discussion about non-UK vehicles and whether we engage in cross-border agreements with other member states. We are talking not just about foreign vehicles breaking regulations in the UK, but British drivers caught contravening rules in other parts of the European Union. Although I am sure it would be popular in the UK to ensure that foreign vehicles fully comply with our rules, I suspect that we might see stories in the Sunday newspapers and some of the tabloid press about people being unfairly penalised for potential offences carried out in other parts of the EU where their ability to appeal might be restricted by language difficulties and so on. It does work both ways. Indeed, there is a system for the heavy goods vehicles levy whereby a deposit payment is taken in advance of a court case. In many cases, when the offence is admitted, the deposit is taken in default of the actual penalty.

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The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse talked about fines and foreign-registered vehicles. As the law stands, parking companies and local authorities can and do use European debt collection agencies. We recognise, however, that that may not always be economically realistic and that sharing of vehicle-keeper information to pursue those debts is not currently covered by international treaties. Many member states have reservations about data sharing across borders and any proposal in that area would need to be carefully thought through.

In conclusion, I believe that the majority of local authorities and parking providers are doing very good work. The challenge now is to deliver equally high standards throughout the parking sector as a whole. That means preventing the examples of poor management or bad practice that are so prominent in the media.

As I mentioned, we have received more than 800 responses to the parking consultation. I have no illusions about just how important these issues are, and following those responses and our useful debate I will be looking carefully at the options going forward. Parking and traffic management is important to the public and to our communities, and it is vital to the health of our local economies.

2.25 pm

Mrs Ellman: We have had a good, informed debate, helped by the experience of my hon. Friends who have contributed greatly to the discussion. I thank the Minister for his constructive responses. These are important issues that affect people every day and there are not always simple answers. I look forward to hearing more about the Department’s position and about what progress can be made on these recommendations in this important area.

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair): That concludes the debate on local authority parking enforcement. The next debate, on access to ports, cannot begin until the Minister has arrived, so regrettably, I have to suspend the sitting. I point out to officials from the Department for Transport that Ministers should be here for the start of a debate. That this has happened is irregular, and I ask for the matter to be taken up with those who organise the Minister’s diary.

2.27 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Access to Ports

2.29 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate the Transport Committee’s recent report, “Access to Ports,” which was published in November. Ports are essential to the UK’s economy. About 95% of UK cargo movement by tonnage is waterborne. Ports collectively employ about 120,000 people. Whether large or small, ports are affected by the quality of transport links to their hinterlands, whether that involves road, rail, inland waterways or coastal shipping. No matter how modern and efficient the infrastructure is inside the port gates, ports cannot function if hauliers and logistics firms struggle to get goods in and out of them. Equally important is access to ports from the sea. Many ports depend on the dredging of channels of sufficient depth to accommodate visiting ships. That is particularly important as container ships continue to grow in size. The newest container ships can transport up to 18,000 20-foot containers.

Earlier in this Parliament, we expressed disappointment that the Government were not focusing more strongly on the connectivity of the UK’s international gateways, including marine ports. Since then, I am pleased to say, the Department for Transport has placed increasing emphasis on transport infrastructure as an “engine for growth” and has announced a number of transport schemes, some of which relate to ports.

The Select Committee decided to have a closer look at this issue, in view of its importance. We heard evidence from a wide variety of organisations as part of our inquiry. We visited Felixstowe—the UK’s biggest container port—and the new development at London Gateway, which is now open for business. We also visited the port of London at Gravesend and the facilities at Hull. We heard a presentation from Peel Ports on the Atlantic Gateway project, including Liverpool SuperPort. That focuses on ports and infrastructure along the River Mersey and the Manchester ship canal, as part of the north-west’s regeneration.

Connectivity is vital. Two issues about port access were raised during our inquiry. They related to both road and rail networks. First, we were told that many ports suffered from a lack of access in the final few miles to the port gates. That is one of the issues for Liverpool, but it is all too frequent around the country. Felixstowe was served only by a single-track branch line. Hutchison Ports, which operates Felixstowe, told us of the difficulty of balancing passenger and freight needs. I am pleased to say that that line has now been expanded.

The second issue relates to how the UK’s strategic road and rail networks accommodate freight transport. Many business groups have argued for the A14 in Cambridgeshire to be upgraded. It is an important route for road freight travelling to and from Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich, as well as London and Dover. The current Government cancelled the upgrade planned in the last Parliament. It was then reinstated, but with a controversial tolled section. The Government have now abandoned that tolling. Can the Minister let us know the current position in relation to the A14? When will road improvements there actually begin?

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There are also numerous proposals to enhance the rail network to facilitate freight traffic, and those are very welcome. They include new inland terminals to handle retail commodities, a route through the Pennines suitable for freight traffic, more electrified lines and enhanced services. Transport for London told us about the pressures created on the rail network in north London by strong growth in both passenger and freight demand and called for a rail freight bypass of the capital in the long term. Progress is being made, and I hope that we can soon visit Reading station to see how freight traffic and passenger traffic are being separated. However, a lot more could be done.

It is vital that ports secure better connectivity. Knowing whom to approach is often problematic. Structures and funding arrangements for local and regional infrastructure have changed significantly in recent years and continue to evolve. From 2015, transport funding will be subsumed into a new single local growth fund. Local enterprise partnerships will decide how the money is spent. That change is causing great uncertainty. For example, the United Kingdom Major Ports Group described the new arrangements as

“complex and not easy to understand”.

I ask the Department to be more active in ensuring that the necessary priority is given to schemes providing access to ports; their wider regional and national significance should be recognised. It should act as an advocate, helping the sector to navigate complex arrangements for getting important transport schemes off the ground. The Department should also be prepared to challenge decisions made by local enterprise partnerships and other bodies if they fail to prioritise improvements in port access over other, less strategically important schemes. In other words, we are asking the Department to show more leadership in enabling ports to improve their connectivity.

In reply to our report, the Department said that there were

“encouraging signs that most of those LEPs which include major port facilities are well aware of those ports’ national…and regional importance.”

It said that it would, however,

“be ready to challenge LEPs should it appear that they have insufficiently prioritised port access.”

I welcome that, but I want to press the Minister to take a greater leadership role. Will ports have an advocate in Government to ensure that action is taken to deliver connectivity? That is vital; I cannot emphasise its importance too much.

The Select Committee also considered the question of who pays for transport measures needed to accommodate port expansion. The picture is confused. In theory, ports pay for those measures. If there is benefit to the wider community from the transport improvements, the Government make a contribution. However, the guidance on evaluating the Government contribution has never been applied. In practice, private sector funding of infrastructure linked to ports seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Ports argued strongly that they should not have to contribute towards infrastructure. They stated that major European ports were not expected to pay for transport improvements outside their gates and argued that those different rules put the UK at a disadvantage in a fiercely

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competitive market. New guidance is required on funding access improvements. There should be a presumption that significant access improvements and particularly improvements to strategic networks will be publicly funded, because of their wider economic benefits. However, that should not preclude ports from contributing to local transport infrastructure improvements, following local discussions with the appropriate bodies.

The Department did not agree with the Committee on this issue, but accepted that a lack of understanding of the Government’s policy could deter investors. Can the Minister tell us when new guidance on the issue will be published? Given that he is not prepared to change his policy—that is what we were told in the response to our report—can he explain how the situation envisaged by the new guidance will be different from the existing situation? It was clear to the Committee as we conducted our inquiry, listened to the representations and visited ports that it is a crucial issue.

I welcome the Government’s high-level strategy for ports and the new shipping strategy. The Committee’s report on this issue was published yesterday, and in some ways the two reports go together. Both strategies must be developed with more specific actions and time scales if they are to have any practical significance. The Committee will continue to pay attention to all these issues. The Government strategy commits the Department to working with industry

“to ensure coastal shipping can develop to its full potential”.

That is a particularly important aspiration, because coastal shipping has declined in recent years. It could help to relieve congestion on road and rail networks and rejuvenate smaller ports. The Government must do more to support it. In particular, the waterborne freight grant has been ineffective, with no grants issued in recent years. The Department told us that it was considering reforming the grant without infringing EU state aid rules. Is the Minister committed to finding a way of supporting increased take-up of support for coastal shipping? To back coastal shipping, will a new grant scheme be in place from next year, when the current scheme must be replaced? When it is replaced, will there be something better in its place, and will the sector be able to access that successor scheme?

The Government must also address concerns about planning. It was clear to us during our inquiry that there are major questions about the complexity of the current planning system, which was described to us as complex, flawed and unduly time-consuming. It was suggested that planning law over-emphasised environmental concerns at the expense of economic growth. The Department told the Committee that it understood those concerns and continues actively to seek ways to streamline procedures for applicants and other interested parties. Will the Minister give some examples of how the Department will make the planning system more positive for ports and clarify it?

Our ports are a vital part of our nation’s economic infrastructure. If the UK’s container ports are not competitive, container ports from Asia will not stop here. We will be reliant on secondary trade from European ports such as Rotterdam and Hamburg, adding to import and export costs and costing the UK jobs. Inadequate inland road and rail connections too often restrict development. I recognise the positive changes that the Department has made in recent times, but it

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could more actively engage with ports and remove constraints on development caused by inadequate transport infrastructure. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that those issues are at the heart of the Department’s strategy.

The Committee will maintain its interest in all those issues during the next few months, beginning next Monday in our imminent inquiry into the Government’s draft national policy statement on national networks. Ports are important to our national and regional economy. I hope that the Minister can tell us what further leadership he will display to ensure that improved connectivity boosts ports’ contribution to our economic activity, whether that be for the country as a whole or for our regions across the UK.

2.42 pm

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I will not detain the Chamber long. I welcome the report from my constituency’s point of view. The Chair of the Select Committee will know the areas I will talk about, given her previous distinguished career as leader of Lancashire county council, as will the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden), given the geographical position of his constituency.

The key line for me in the report was:

“Ports are national assets, often out of the limelight, but essential to the economic well being of the nation.”

That needs to be said again and again. I am making an appeal on behalf of the smaller ports. There is talk in the report of a national strategy, which I think is a sensible, common-sense, positive push forward, but part and parcel of that must be the inclusion of Britain’s smaller ports. The Select Committee Chair made reference to coastal shipping and all that goes with it, and the smaller ports have a key part to play in that. As I will try to suggest, they have a particular part to play in any emergencies at our major ports. I will come to that point in a moment.

On a more positive note, I noticed in paragraph 7 on page 8 a reference to the problems of getting to Heysham port, which is just outside my constituency and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), because of the lack of a link road from the M6. That has been an issue since 1938; I am sure the Chair of the Select Committee will remember from her time as leader of Lancashire county council the constant pressure for such a link.

As we speak, the diggers are in and work on the road is moving along. That work started only a few months ago and, interestingly enough, the mere fact that it has started is already attracting businesses to the area. Distribution businesses are looking at setting up along the road, and the container companies in the port are delighted and considering expanding. Something planned in Lancashire for more than 80 years is finally coming to pass, which is a plus.

I have two smaller ports in my constituency. Glasson dock, run by the Lancaster Port Commission, is a very small dock on the estuary of the River Lune that can take ships of up to 3,000 tonnes. It is at the end of the

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Lancaster canal system, so it has a freshwater and a seawater wharf; it is quite an interesting area. The little, busy port is well run by the Lancaster Port Commission. It is mainly dependent on Glasson Grain Ltd, which imports, in smaller ships, feed ingredients that are converted to animal feed for the agricultural areas in my constituency and in Lancashire more widely. On top of that, a weekly boat takes cargo to and from the Isle of Man. Glasson dock is quite a successfully run private port.

The Committee talks about access. Glasson dock is not a strategic port, so it is not controlled by the Highways Agency; it falls under Lancashire county council. I ask for the Committee’s patience while I make yet another appeal concerning the B5290, the road that goes into Glasson dock. A sign on the road states that it is liable to flooding, and it does flood. There is huge pressure from the port and the people who live in the village of Glasson Dock to get that road re-done. It has been left in a deplorable state, yet wagon after wagon of animal feed comes out of the port, keeping that commercial entity going. Despite that plea, Glasson dock is a very successful example, I would argue, of a functioning smaller port that can add something to the wider ports strategy, if there is to be one.

My main concern—I am sure hon. Members will understand why—is about the much larger Fleetwood port. It has declined over the years, first with the downturn in the fishing industry and more recently when Stena Line stopped sailings between Fleetwood and Larne in 2010, because the boats were getting too old and it was too expensive to replace them and because of the problems in getting in and out of Fleetwood that resulted from the tidal system.

We now have this huge great empty space, still owned by Associated British Ports. There has been lots of talk over the years about the possibility of reviving Fleetwood as a support system for supplying new wind farms, and we hope that something might come of that. There has even been talk recently of its becoming a centre if fracking develops. Believe it or not, fracking might be possible in the Irish sea, and Fleetwood would be in a strategic position for that.

There is a reference in the report to dredging, which I thought quite interesting. One of the key issues to do with whether Fleetwood could ever be revived is the cost to ABP of continual dredging. ABP is running down that operation, so there is some dredging, but it is not as deep as it was. The worry is, therefore, that the port will eventually silt up. I note that the report states in paragraph 21 on page 12:

“The Mersey Dock and Harbour Board successfully bid for money from the Regional Growth Fund to dredge the Mersey so that the port of Liverpool could accommodate larger ships.”

The Government stated that that was “an exceptional case”. I am sure that they have to say that all the time, and as a local constituency MP I could argue that Fleetwood is an exceptional case. If the regional growth fund, perhaps through the local enterprise partnership, made that decision, why should not the Lancashire LEP decide that a grant should be made available to keep Fleetwood port properly dredged for the time when there is demand for it?

Colleagues will understand why my old antagonist in the Greater London authority, Ken Livingstone, is not someone I would praise to the hills, and I am not doing so now. However, I remember his constant determination

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to protect the 10 redundant Thames river wharves. I sat on the London Development Agency for a while, and there was constant pressure to redevelop those wharves into housing. However, there was a kind of rule that we could not touch them, because the Mayor did not want to touch them. During the Olympics, some of those wharves were revived for the delivery and removal of building materials and we have seen the development of a more extensive river service, so the protection of those wharves turned out to be extremely important.

I support the Select Committee’s proposal for a national ports strategy. Surely as part of that we have to look at all the smaller ports that may one day be important back-up. If Liverpool port is to expand—hopefully, it will—and is dredged to let in the big cruise ships, what happens if the Mersey is blocked one day by an emergency? Where is the sea traffic going to go? There is nowhere along that stretch of coast: Heysham and Barrow are already extremely full, so we need an emergency contingency plan. That is why support is required to preserve smaller ports such as Fleetwood—there may be others across the country—that do not currently excite the market but one day might. However, if the capital resources are not supplied and entry to and from the port, both seaward and landward, is simply left to die, such ports will be useless in future. I argue that they do have a future, and that that should be recognised in whatever grant system is available.

I want to finish by talking about the access to Fleetwood. Fish processing is thriving, alongside the Freeport retail centre and all kinds of other things, but there are problems with road access, which is the responsibility of the Highways Agency, all the way through to the port. Despite my meeting with the Highways Agency last year, there are still great big signs all the way down the M55 saying “Ferry”, “Ferry”, “Ferry”—but the ferry has not been there for four years. God love the agency, because it has promised to blank those parts out, but we are still waiting four years down the line. It does not help the look of Fleetwood to have such big signs pointing to a redundant port.

The ports I have been discussing should be included in a strategy—and yes, we need a strategy. Who knows when Fleetwood port will be revived? I obviously hope that it will be sooner rather than later, but even if “sooner” is a bit later, in spring or winter—the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) knows the terminology far better than I do—in the short term there must still be a back-up for emergencies. If there is an emergency in Liverpool, I would argue that Fleetwood is a really good back-up port.

2.52 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw). My party affiliation in the report is spelled with a small “l”, but I was actually a member of the Transport Committee for at least part of the inquiry, so that is still unexplained.

I want to make a few brief comments on the Government’s response to some of the Select Committee’s recommendations. Point 1 of the response quotes the Select Committee as recommending that the

“DfT should act as an advocate for ports”.

I was somewhat disappointed by the response.

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As I said in the previous debate, the road safety Minister, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), is held in high regard; the shipping Minister, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), is also held in high regard by the industry and those of us who take interest in such matters because of the work that he has done. He knows as well as I do the plethora of organisations involved in shipping—the UK Chamber of Shipping, the UK Major Ports Group, the British Ports Association, Hutchison Ports, Peel Ports, the London Gateway, the Port of London Authority, TfL, Maritime UK and others. The industry has really come together in the past five years to speak with one voice, which has given them much greater authority.

To the Minister’s credit, the Government have responded to that and created the joint Cabinet Committee; the Minister has been instrumental in ensuring that that Committee has been organised and that meetings are arranged. My disappointment is perhaps caused by the fact that the Government could have made a lot more of saying, “We are giving leadership.” Their response to the report does not say that they are doing anything. There is a little omission there; they missed a trick in terms of demonstrating just how committed to shipping they have been, and hopefully will continue to be.

I should say that I am in the middle of an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship on logistics, and I would like to thank Associated British Ports for its assistance. I have visited Southampton, Immingham and other establishments in the course of my fellowship. It has been extremely useful for me to see what is happening on the ground.

I would like to make a couple more comments, if I may. I want to pick up on the points made by my hon. Friend the Chair of the Transport Committee and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood about short-sea and coastal shipping. Point 6 of the Government response refers to the Select Committee’s disappointment that the waterborne freight grant has been so ineffective, and my hon. Friend asked what its successor is going to be. The Government response states:

“State Aid approval will be needed”—

blah, blah, blah—

“which limits the potential design of any scheme.”

Does that limit the UK’s ability to devise a new scheme? Or does it limit our ability to get the European Commission’s approval because of the 2015 re-start? Is it our responsibility or are we going to have to wait for the Commission?

The Minister knows that coastal shipping is a much-undervalued policy area. Look at the pressure on freight and our major road networks—how much more could be accomplished if we could use short-sea and coastal shipping to take heavy goods vehicles off our roads and transport their cargo by sea? That would be a win-win for everyone concerned, particularly shipping. It would perhaps not be as good for the road freight industry, but that already undertakes a large volume of business. As the Government keep telling us, the economy is picking up, so there should be more freight and more opportunity. Perhaps we should be looking at alternatives.

[Mrs Annette Brooke in the Chair]

I want to look at point 8 in the conclusion of the Government’s response, and return to the point I made at the start of my speech. Will the Minister spell out

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some more detail on the joint Committee on shipping, how much it has accomplished and what the Government are doing? Will he elaborate on the perennial conflict, raised in point 8, that we in Britain are not nationalistic enough when it comes to promoting our own industries and manufacturing? Look at what the French and German Governments do by way of investing in train companies and in manufacturing infrastructure.

British shipping and ports are proud of what they do. They look to the continent and see state subsidies and Government support, and ask, a little jealously, “Why are there two different rules?” Will the Minister therefore say a little more on the EU versus UK approach? The industry is of course worried about the prospect of a new EU directive, and I know that the Government are doing everything they can to protect our port interest in that respect. Perhaps the Minister would like to reinforce that sentiment.

It is nice to see you in the Chair, Mrs Brooke—I apologise for not noticing the personnel change earlier. My final point relates to what my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee outlined in her speech. The significance and importance of shipping is all but invisible to the country, other than to those of us who are involved in one way or another. There is a great story to tell about a hugely successful British industry that directly or indirectly employs hundreds of thousands of people and makes a massive contribution to UK GDP.

Given how scarce Government business currently is in the House because of the lack of legislation—we have been criticised in the media for having extra holidays and so on—and the expectation that the legislative programme next year will be equally light, as the coalition partners divest themselves of such activity to reinforce their respective identities in the run-up to the general election, I suggest to the Minister that a debate on shipping in Government time, to promote shipping, ports, coastal shipping, maritime industry, the businesses, unions and personnel, would be supported by everyone. Such a debate would also be welcomed strongly by the industry.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but he will be aware that last year there was the highly successful London shipping week, which was warmly praised by all sectors. Some of us hope that such events may go beyond London, with all due respect, but does he agree that that would be an admirable week in which to have such a debate?

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend makes a good point. London shipping week was an animal created by the new unified voice of shipping, supported by the Government. It was a great showcase and very successful. I know that the plan is to ensure that next time it extends way beyond London to be celebrated in as many of our major ports as possible.

I strongly suggest to the Minister that the debate would be better timed if held in the autumn, six months ahead, so that it could be used as a springboard to promote next year’s UK shipping week. I am sure the Secretary of State for Transport, who I know is sometimes embarrassed by his attitude to aviation because of his

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aversion to flying, would have no such aversion to leading a shipping debate, and I know his hon. Friend, the shipping Minister, would do an excellent job of winding up such a debate. I am sure the Transport Committee would get behind such an initiative.

3 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. This is an important debate, and I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and her Committee on choosing this inquiry. Dare I say it, they had the wisdom to visit Felixstowe in my constituency as part of it and they did a great job of taking evidence. As the hon. Lady will know, I have childhood memories of Liverpool, which is where I grew up. The docks are very familiar to me, and they continue to transform themselves. It is good to see more shipping back in Liverpool.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who made a good contribution. He is right to highlight small ports, which also need access. Although they are not in my constituency, the ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are important to our economy in East Anglia as they service offshore energy and continue to serve the fishing industry, which is important to coastal economies.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who was generous in recognising the Government’s success. I assure him, as I am sure the Minister will, that the Government have plenty of legislation to get on with, but it seems that the Opposition do not want to vote against much of it. It is good to have consensus. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts on having a debate in the main Chamber because, as he eloquently pointed out, the issue is important. I am slightly surprised by how few people are here for today’s debate; that is a shame. I know today is a Thursday, but it is important that the subject is regularly raised by Members who have ports in their constituencies.

Mrs Brooke, I hope you will allow me to go a little further than the report’s recommendations so that I may raise issues relevant to Felixstowe, which is the largest container port in the country and the second largest in Europe. There are various ways to get to Felixstowe: road, rail and sea. I am grateful that recommendations 3 and 4 address public infrastructure and pleased that the A14 has not been tolled—good news not only for the port of Felixstowe, but for businesses across Suffolk.

I commend the Government for continuing the road scheme and for recognising the bottlenecks in Cambridgeshire, which are often generated by the growth of Cambridge rather than that of Felixstowe. We all eagerly await the next stage of the consultation, which I understand will take place next month. I am sure the Minister will continue to commit to there being no delay as a consequence of the tolling option being ruled out.

There are problems closer to home, and I want to address the resilience of the A14 much closer to Felixstowe. For those who have never been to Ipswich, I should say that the Orwell bridge is dramatic and grand, but at times it is entirely closed, which causes chaos for the

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poor residents of Ipswich as the traffic gets rerouted. Although the port does its best to alert people in advance through the booking system, there is no doubt that the bridge’s closure can cause huge problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) and I had a summit last year with the Highways Agency and the police. We were pleased to hear that the Highways Agency has reasonable recovery facilities. There was a particularly notorious incident involving onions; I will not go into great detail. The incident closed the road for several hours, and there was another accident within a few minutes of the road’s reopening. Everything ground to a halt that day.

Unfortunately, such things often happen. The Highways Agency has proposed to reduce speed limits in the area, which I welcome. I do not welcome average-speed cameras, because such incidents tend to happen at peak times. I thank the Highways Agency, which has done a lot of work, but I encourage it to continue upping its game. Recovery can still be an issue, but I commend the agency on its work. The agency has also been good at addressing road noise, although I am sure my constituents would like even more road quieting schemes and quieter surfaces. We will continue to press the arguments on their behalf.

I have one little bugbear, but I will not be too tribal. The signs along the A14 were introduced at the great cost of £70 million, and for a long time they were not connected. Even now, it is frustrating that the Highways Agency does not necessarily allow local messages to be displayed. The agency uses references that do not make sense to most drivers, unless they are hooked-up lorry drivers. I hope the agency will be more responsive in future. If local messages need to be displayed, that should happen in a timely manner and should not be constricted by unnecessary rules.

I am delighted that the A14 has not been tolled and look forward to its being ready before the end of the decade, although I recognise that there are still resilience issues in the Ipswich area that need attention from the Department for Transport.

The Felixstowe to Nuneaton rail line is important, as the Government have already recognised. The line is mentioned in the report, and Network Rail has cleared the gauge higher up the track. In the past week, the Minister has been in Ipswich constituency. There has been an announcement on the Ipswich Chord, a project undertaken by Network Rail that should save considerable time and lead to considerably more freight trains being able to run smoothly through to Nuneaton and up to the midlands. The Chord was completed ahead of time, and I give a big “well done” to Richard Schofield, David Ward and all the people who worked on the project.

The link between Felixstowe and Ipswich continues to generate significantly more problems. I will not go into detail on the Ely junction, as Network Rail has already committed to doing work higher up the line. Some time ago, when the port was looking to expand further, Network Rail committed to dualling the line as part of the section 106 agreement. I recognise that that would be an expensive infrastructure investment, and the timeline has been delayed, but the port is looking to change the commitment and instead put money into a loop solution devised by Network Rail.

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I still think that we should look to dual that section of the line, which would make a difference to local resilience. Passengers are the people who suffer on the line and, for a variety of reasons, things have been particularly bad recently. The gold standard would be to dual the line; the proposed series of loops, which will not be ready until 2017 anyway, are a silver or bronze solution. I genuinely believe that we need to dual the line to ensure the continued growth of Felixstowe. At the same time, as the Minister may know, I have been pressing for electrification of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton line, and beginning with the Felixstowe to Ipswich line would be a huge start, along with the dualling process; we should try to do both electrification and dualling at the same time. Both the Government and the private sector—Hutchison Ports—would play their role together.

We know that some of the freight rail companies have no particular interest in electrification, but we also know that one particular firm—I will not get into naming and shaming, as it were—is quite happy to use electric locomotives. Electrification would do two things. First, it would obviously be quieter and more reliable. Secondly, it would allow a much quicker service on trains when they go from Felixstowe up to Ipswich and then off to London, and allow the passenger service to be much more resilient as well. Everyone would be a winner. Admittedly, electrification is not cheap. Nevertheless, it is important and can be achieved in a reasonable time frame.

Of course, we have greater ambitions—for the Felixstowe to Nuneaton line to be electrified the whole way. The Government have committed to hundreds of miles of electrification. The midlands spine is an important part of that process, but I am pressing the case that the Felixstowe port stretch is probably more important to the country than the Southampton port stretch, and I will continue to make that case.

Putting more freight and passengers on to the rail network would be good for the environment. I recognise the point about coastal shipping and I share the disappointment of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) that coastal shipping has not worked out as well as people had hoped. However, it was put to me by some of the local shipping lines that there is no doubt that road and rail are simply more reliable than coastal shipping, and if the weather is against you the weather is against you, which leads to complexity. I agree with the hon. Lady that we should try to do more on coastal shipping. A grant was given to try to improve the Felixstowe to Teesport route, and I am sure that other ports around the country will also be looking to do more on that.

Sea? Absolutely. It is quite interesting how people forget that sea is necessary to get to a port, although the Committee certainly did not. It is fair to say that Felixstowe is located in a rather congested channel. It is not only the stretch of water between us and the continent—we have oil tankers going past, so there are really busy shipping lanes—but there are a significant number of energy wind farms, and the channel is also where the interconnector for electricity comes from Belgium into the UK. It will continue to be a busy shipping lane and there will potentially be more wind farms. A 7.2 GW farm, called the East Anglia array, is under preparation, which will inevitably lead to increased congestion. And there are all the other things that have

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to happen at sea. I say particular thanks to Harwich Haven Authority, which is a good steward of that area. It continues to invest in dredging. I know it has had other issues to face, but overall it has done a good job.

Turning to marine planning, in their response to the report, the Government refer to the east inshore plan. I have had the chance to meet the Marine Management Organisation to discuss in detail my concerns about aspects of that plan. What is possibly controversial at a macro level is the potential designation of the area as a marine conservation zone. I have fought that vigorously and I am pleased that the Government—in the form of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—listened. It was very worrying for the port, Harwich Haven Authority and other local businesses, which were concerned about the blanket designation of the area as an MCZ. Felixstowe has plenty of environment around it, thank you very much. There are the Trimley marshes, which were redone; there are Landguard Point and Landguard Fort; and loads of birds come to Felixstowe, apparently because they like going on the cranes to have a rest before they complete their journey, or because they are attracted to the port’s lights and so on.

During a previous debate in Westminster Hall, we discussed Southampton and the legal action that took place between ports. I know this issue is not the Minister’s direct responsibility, but I hope he will continue to stress to the MMO that it needs to treat ports consistently; that is vital.

Other planning issues have been dealt with by the coastal concordat. I pay particular tribute to Andy Smith, a district councillor in my constituency who is chairman of the coastal special interest group at the Local Government Association. It is important that those involved in land planning and sea planning, the Environment Agency and Natural England work more harmoniously together—they need to do so—and I hope the coastal concordat will be a great success.

I have become passionate about Felixstowe since I moved to Suffolk. It is a wonderful town with a vibrant industry, and I want the port to continue to be a success. That is important not only for Suffolk but for the country. In my view, Felixstowe is the premier gateway for containers to this country.

I will just add a little advert if that is okay with you, Mrs Brooke. The senior director at Hutchison Ports is very keen to ensure that Felixstowe is not only an importer but an exporter, and he offers free advice to anybody who wants to get into exporting. I stress that he does not make it conditional that exports go out through Felixstowe, but it is important to ensure that ports such as Felixstowe are connections to the rest of the world.

I commend the Committee for its report. Its sensible approach to environmental issues, expressed in recommendations 10 and 11, is important. And I continue to fly the flag for the great port of Felixstowe.

3.16 pm

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke, and to take part in this debate today. Reference has been made to the number of Members

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present, but I am sure all colleagues here will believe that it is quality and not quantity that counts. The quality of all the contributions we have heard to date has been very good, and I hope my contribution will maintain that standard.

I give a substantial welcome to the Select Committee’s report on access to ports. It celebrates the importance and vigour of our ports, but it also has some sharp words about the Department for Transport’s lack of focus in certain areas. For example, in its summary it says:

“Government policy on who should pay for transport infrastructure relating to ports is…confused in practice and conceptually flawed.”

The report recognises the full economic value of our ports and the extent of their untapped potential for expansion, which are conceptual and strategic issues that we need to pay considerable attention to. It understands the role that Ministers can and should play in actively stimulating and supporting projects to expand ports, and then using those developments to drive within national strategy other policy goals, such as job creation and skills development—as well, of course, as the environmentally friendly movement of freight off our roads and on to the waters.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) pointed out in her introduction to the debate, the Select Committee had earlier gently chided Ministers for the lack of activity on infrastructure. Having helped to get that ball moving, the Committee has now sent a second gentle salvo in the direction of Ministers.

My grandfather and my father both served in the merchant navy. Although I have not yet had a chance to delve into the service records that are now a feast for family genealogists, I know from what my father said in passing to me how familiar he was with some of the ports in the north-west, on both sides of the Irish sea and indeed off the west coast of Scotland. As a historian, I also know how crucial coastal traffic was to the economy of these isles right up until the industrial revolution. “Coals to Newcastle” has, of course, entered the language as a byword for superfluousness, but coals from Newcastle warmed the fires of Samuel Pepys and made the lords of the north-east in Tudor and Stuart times very rich. Of course, ports and the merchant navy also made vital contributions in both world wars, crucially in the battle of the Atlantic during world war two, when convoys carried precious cargo. That contribution should never be forgotten, and never will be. The Select Committee has done us a historical service as well as a contemporary one by reminding us of the great significance of the port sector.

In total, 95% of UK cargo is moved by water, which dwarves the contributions of other modes, such as road, rail and air. The sector employs 117,000 people. The excellent work commissioned by Maritime UK and carried out by Oxford Economics estimated that British ports contributed £7.9 billion to the economy in 2011 and £2 billion to the Exchequer. As with the aerospace industry, with which, as a north-west MP, I am of course familiar, it supports a significant supply chain. As Maritime UK has pointed out, it particularly supports industries that rely heavily on imported bulk raw materials and exporters of finished goods. When ports’ indirect effect is included, it is estimated that the sector supports 400,000 jobs.

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All that makes the UK ports system a key element of industrial strategy. Yet there is demonstrable potential for ports to achieve even more. Planning permission has already been granted for projects that would allow the sector to more than double, but many of those works remain stalled because of the complexity of funding applications, and—this is a key theme of the debate this afternoon—lack of connectivity to the rest of the transport network. The cost to the economy if those projects were to remain uncompleted dictates that Ministers must rapidly raise their game and work hard to put ports on the agenda.

Hon. Members have given useful examples of and comments on their own circumstances. I particularly pay tribute to my near constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), for highlighting the issue of smaller ports—a big issue, across the board—and for reminding us of the potential to keep them in good order, even when they are temporarily mothballed. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) also talked about the great complexity of the situation in Felixstowe, and the importance of the area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) was my distinguished predecessor in my shadow role, but he was even more distinguished in government. He perfectly reasonably pointed out how the industry has come together over the past five years, for which it deserves praise. The Government should respond properly to the advocacy that my hon. Friend the Select Committee Chair said was needed.

Many existing ports, as we have heard, face operational difficulties that preclude their expansion. We have heard about the situation in Felixstowe, where the limitations of the local road network mean that only 3% of traffic heading north is freight traffic from the port. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal mentioned blockages and highway problems. We all have such issues, but doubtless her in-tray, whether digital or actual, has been full of such things since she was elected.

The family of my colleague Russell Whiting, the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Suffolk Coastal, have worked in the port for generations. He is in no doubt of its importance to the area and the wider economy. He successfully campaigned with other members of the community against the plan to impose a toll on the road, which my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee and the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal mentioned. The initial inclination of Department for Transport officials was to put the burden of funding the improvements on to local people, rather than to use Government funds.

It seems to me, and to Russell Whiting and members of the community—the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal also referred to this—that Felixstowe really needs Ministers to prioritise expanding the single rail line currently shared with passenger trains. What discussions have Ministers had with local bodies about making that a priority in local transport schemes? If Ministers, with the local enterprise partnership and other local bodies, put their shoulders to the wheel, we could have a solution that would expand the port business and bring relief and happiness to communities and freight providers.

In general, we all, including Ministers, need to direct laser-like attention on the potential for rail connectivity to ports. The consortium Freight on Rail, which includes

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ASLEF, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, Unite, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Campaign for Better Transport and many others, made some key submissions to the Select Committee inquiry. It explained that, as well as the traditional bulk markets, rail has an expanding role in consumer rail freight in relation to ports:

“The industry predicts that rail freight overall will have doubled by 2030 with intermodal traffic”.

It added:

“Rail freight…has a much better environmental record than road…UK rail freight produces 70% less Carbon dioxide emissions than the equivalent road journey.”

So the issue affects not only roads but rail, and it is an issue in other places, as we have heard. The Select Committee identified a three-mile bottleneck that limits freight traffic in and out of the port of Liverpool, and referred to similar problems in Heysham. Heysham port also relies on a single route in and out, running through the historic city of Lancaster represented by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood. That is not fit for use by heavy goods vehicles either. Everyone locally, not least my colleague Amina Lone, has been working alongside the chamber of commerce, local businesses, haulage companies and residents, to make a reality of the much needed Heysham to M6 link road.

The issue has existed for a long time, so I am glad that the road was approved earlier in the year, and that, in the words of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, the diggers are in. However, given concerns that it may not be completed by 2016 it is essential that there should be no further delays. The broader point is the need to expedite planning processes for ports and prevent years of economic growth from going to waste.

Despite the obstacles sometimes presented, as the Select Committee report illuminates, by lack of joined-up Government policy and limited connectivity, there are great examples of ports that continue to expand. In the coming weeks, DP World Southampton will open a new £100 million container-handling facility. That port is a great asset to the local economy and is considered the UK’s best performing terminal for turning around vessels. It contributes about £1 billion to the economy and supports almost 15,000 jobs. Associated British Ports is right to be proud that it will handle the largest and deepest vessels in the world—to a potential depth of 17 metres—and that our iconic Olympic sailor, Sir Ben Ainslie, will open the facility officially on Monday.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) for the work that he did for ports nationally as a Minister, and for what he and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) did to ensure that Southampton’s port received the support it needed to expand. The previous Labour Government invested £40 million in the Southampton to east midlands rail line, and that investment has paid dividends. Ministers must now follow suit and ensure that other ports receive the backing that they need to compete internationally.

A super-port, London Gateway in Thurrock, has also opened in recent months. There again, that means 28,000 jobs in the region, and £2.4 billion to the economy. The developers, DP World, also privately funded works to the local road and motorway infrastructure, widening lanes and upgrading junctions and traffic lights.

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The campaign conducted in Dover, involving among others my colleague the Labour candidate Clair Hawkins, demonstrates how important it is that local people should be genuinely involved in ports, instead of valuable local assets just being handed to unaccountable groups that purport to represent the community. There has been a campaign in Dover against further privatisation and for the inclusion of local workers, residents and businesses on the Dover harbour board.

The board has, of course, already established a strongly independent port and community forum, but many people believe that the port also needs changes to the law, so that it can raise the funds it needs. Has a decision been taken—and, if not, when will it be taken—about the future structure of the ownership of the port? I understand that local media reported that it was intended that that should happen earlier this year.

The Select Committee report found that although some ports, such as DP Gateway, could fund their expansion and expected to, others did not. The Government’s blunt response was that

“promoters whose developments would otherwise cause significant detriment to existing network users should be expected to avoid or mitigate such detriment, through traffic management and/or developer contributions to infrastructure improvement, as appropriate.”

That way of looking at the issue is telling, is it not? Is it not a curmudgeonly way of looking at it? Does it not demonstrate a certain mindset that would look at a port’s expansion in a negative light, regarding it as something that must be compensated for and potentially taxed, with no suggestion of what the Government might do to expand and benefit it?

The Department for Transport should act as an enabler, engage proactively with developers and work itself to identify benefits that could be brought to areas by the expansion of ports. That is particularly important, given the new local structures that we now have, based around the LEPs. More must be done to promote the value that ports bring to our economy.

Will the Minister comment on the Committee’s identifying a problem about whether there are enough private investments for port owners to invest? Are the Government correct when they say that ports are now in an excellent position to facilitate and promote growth?

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the Committee has asked the Government to be an advocate for ports. She was somewhat disappointed, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse, that the Government’s response was to encourage ports simply to engage with their LEP. Will the Minister and his colleagues go further and investigate the number of LEPs with ports represented on their board and ask them directly to play their parts in forging links as well? Many LEPs recognise the importance of ports to their local economy, but some do not and those regions should not suffer as a result. Not only do ports provide jobs and support local businesses; they can also stimulate work to expand the local transport network and improve connectivity.

The Government said in their response that they would be happy to challenge those LEPs that do not sufficiently include port development in their plans, but

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I should like to hear—and other hon. Members would, too—about work that is already being done, specifically, to monitor that.

Ministers have cited the creation of a working group and help to develop a local debate on port master plans, but can we hear something about what concrete successes will emerge from those plans? The Government have said that they will develop new guidance on developer funding. Can they tell us how they are going to do that in practice and who will be consulted? Will the voices of local councillors, trade unions and maritime staff be heard? What is the time frame of the guidance?

Ministers said that the guidance will take account of recent changes to local structures, such as the establishment of the LEPs. It is true that £1.1 billion or £1.2 billion will be granted to the LEPs annually from 2016 to 2020. Of course, that money will be top-sliced from the DFT’s budget. There is no ring fence to ensure that that money will be used for transport projects.

The DFT is being forced to pay the piper—presumably, it found itself without a chair when the Chancellor’s music stopped—but why is it not calling the tune? With such an enormous amount of the Government’s budget being lost, surely Ministers should be taking more of an interest now in how they will be able to oversee the new fund, to make sure it maintains support for transport priorities, such as ports.

Only this week, the Minister’s colleague, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the Cabinet Office Minister, was expressing doubts about the quality of LEP plans, with fears that the fund is being misappropriated to fund vanity projects. [Interruption.] The Minister might wish to listen to this. He said:

“I am not in the business of funding so-called ‘iconic projects’ that have been hanging about like a bad smell for many years.”

LEPs need to be specific about what they need to deliver—be that more jobs, transport or support for skills. I ask the Minister to heed the words of his colleague and ensure that his own Department is far more proactive and vigorous, when it comes to ports, in establishing just what is being done on the ground with existing funding and the reach of the LEPs. Surely, substantial guidance for port developers navigating the LEP system must be a high priority for Ministers, given that more than £1 billion a year will be going into the single growth fund and on to the LEPs.

In the Transport Ministers’ response to the Committee, they promise to seek clearer guidance at European level on state aid laws. Although the UK Government seem to interpret those rules strictly, we have already heard that other European countries do not seem to do that and seem to provide money more freely. That was one of the subjects I discussed recently when I was in Brussels talking to officials from the European Commission. I am aware that this is a knotty, complex issue, but I would like to know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned, what specific steps Ministers have taken to get answers about the issue from the European Commission.

Among all the discussion of port strategic partnership plans and national policy statements, surely the key imperative is a practical plan to work more closely across Government. It is not just a question of Ministers

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collaborating with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to help ports engage with LEPs; their senior and middle-ranking officials need to, too. Together they must help ports access the funding streams they need and navigate the complex system of planning applications. With the structure of local support for ports changing fundamentally, a unified approach from Departments is more essential.

The coastal and international dimensions of freight provide a valuable service to the economy. The Committee’s report commented on the small take-up of the waterborne freight grant scheme, and my colleague the Committee Chair repeated that. Will the Minister provide the latest figures on take-up and whether these are genuinely new or existing routes that have been supported?

There are several dimensions when it comes to the value of moving freight from road to water. Emissions will be much lower, for example, because of the amount of freight that is shipped rather than delivered by road. However, the intention of the waterborne freight grant scheme could also be affected by the unintended consequences of the regulations on sulphur emissions, due to be imposed on the shipping industry at the start of next year. Several Members of Parliament, particularly those from the east coast, have already raised concern that the regulations will place too great a burden on the industry. Some groups in the industry are concerned that the regulations appear to be an unnecessary step at this stage, when the International Maritime Organisation had already established a reasonable target to be met in the next decade.

When in Brussels recently, I was told that a number of member states had actively supported the new regulations. What position did the British Government, its Transport Ministers and officials, take when the policy was being developed? The cost of complying with the maritime regulations may, as we have heard, leave road or air freight as more affordable options, making carrying the UK flag unaffordable.

The reference to the UK flag is important, as shipping and ports are a key unifying factor in the UK. The fact that Scotland contributes more than a quarter of total GDP and employment in the UK ports sector adds a powerful dimension to the debate taking place about independence.

In conclusion, we welcome the focus placed on the economic importance of ports as a result of the Select Committee’s report. We urge Ministers to heed its call for a more dynamic, active and intelligent Government who will act as a true advocate for ports. The development of skills must be put at the heart of initiatives developed, as the Committee’s report on shipping strategy, which has just appeared, emphasises in a different context. We need to see transport and the contribution of ports not in a separate box, but as part of an ambitious and integrated industrial partnership that will confer benefits—not just on local communities, but on the whole country—as ports spur international trade and sustainable economic growth.

The Government who fail to deliver connectivity and decent access to our ports will not be able to utilise the full potential of those ports to deliver skills, jobs and economic growth.

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3.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): Mrs Brooke, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon. I should like to put on the record that I apologise to you for not being here at the start of the debate. Through you, Mrs Brooke, I particularly wish to apologise to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). As she knows, the debate was due to start slightly later and I was coming back from the west country, where I was looking at other transport infrastructure this morning. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, was able to make some detailed notes on the hon. Lady’s comments. I will try to deal with some of her comments now and I hope that she will forgive me if I miss any. My officials will certainly respond to her if there is anything we have left out.

We are grateful to the Committee for securing this debate on a subject of great importance, as a number of hon. Members who contributed to it attested. We welcomed the report and the inquiry on the basis that they presented everyone with the opportunity to take stock of the situation with ports in England and Wales. It is right to make the point that it is difficult to overestimate the huge economic importance of ports to our country. They are key.

I am pleased that the report recognises, as we all do, that the connectivity of major ports was a problem and that it welcomes some of the new infrastructure announcements. The hon. Lady is right that the final few miles to a port gate are often a problem, but much work has been done on rail network and road network infrastructure to address that key connectivity point. A number of Members, particularly the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), have talked about the A14 and welcomed its construction and the abandonment of tolling. To be clear, the statement on community consultation will be published in the next few weeks. The pre-application consultation will start in April 2014 for 10 weeks. That will explain the details of the scheme and why the improvements are needed. Construction work is still expected to start in December 2016 and to be completed by the end of the decade.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside raised some other points about private sector involvement and coastal shipping, and I will pick those up in some of my later remarks. I reassure her that this Government have, right from the outset, supported investment in ports and the connectivity and infrastructure around them. We set out our response to the Committee in some detail in writing. Although I will touch on a number of the subjects today, it is not appropriate for me to repeat the response at length. It recognised the responsibilities the Government have, and we have shown practical examples of working in partnership with the ports industry to ensure the complementarity of the infrastructure either side of the port gate. I will talk a little more about the review of the guidance on developer funding. In direct response to the hon. Lady’s question, the Department will review that guidance and is reviewing it this year. She also asked about freight grants, which were addressed at paragraph 6 of the Government’s response to her Committee.

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There were some questions about the planning system. There has been some huge simplification through the national planning policy framework and the coastal concordat, and the advice that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its unit have given on habitats cases is helping to inform ports. I recognise that there were some problems in the beginning, particularly with the Marine Management Organisation and its lack of consultation with some of the ports. Harwich Haven had a problem that was brought to me, which I met the chief executive of the MMO to discuss. The MMO has recognised and addressed some of the failings in its consultation procedures. To ensure that those failings are addressed for the benefit of ports, I have a bi-monthly meeting with the MMO to ensure that it takes into account ports consultation, even though, as my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal rightly pointed out, it is not absolutely in my direct jurisdiction, as it is under DEFRA’s. To conclude that point, we held a maritime round table on environmental requirements, particularly planning requirements, at the industry’s request last autumn. At that meeting, the chief executive of the MMO and officials and the Minister from DEFRA responded to a number of a criticisms of how the system had been working and how some of the changes had been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) made what I might describe as a predictably forceful contribution. He is absolutely right that all ports are a national asset. He is right to celebrate that, while for many years the port of Heysham lacked a road, the Government found the funding for the local authority scheme on the A6 Lancaster road. The road is now under construction and it is for the local authority to complete the scheme. I commend him on his campaign for that road, which would not have happened without him. He will, I am sure, continue to make the point forcefully to the Government. He rightly points out the need for road access to Glasson dock. He knows, as I do, that it is for Lancashire county council and the local enterprise partnership to prioritise that as a local major scheme. It could be funded through the growth deal scheme.

The shadow Minister made some comments about the growth fund, but he should be aware that a Transport Minister sits in on all the discussions and a Department for Transport representative or official has been on most of the visits. To believe that the Department is not taking what I can only describe as an active, full and comprehensive part in that process would be to misunderstand what is happening in government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood was right to talk about the Mersey dredge. I know that a lot of people are concerned, but it was a truly exceptional grant. None the less, other major dredges are going on, and they have all been commercially funded. I encourage him to work with the local port to ensure that it sees the benefits of commercial funding. If he feels that there is a truly exceptional case, I am sure he will continue to make it.

I am grateful for the kind words of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who was the Minister responsible for shipping in the previous Government. He talked about what the Government

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should have said in our response. I will ensure that we do not miss a trick in blowing our own trumpet slightly more loudly. I will address the point about waterborne freight rates in a moment. He is right that the maritime roundtable we established has brought together parts of industry with senior Ministers and senior officials from all the relevant Departments: the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury and DEFRA. Senior officials connected with that group are working all the time. He is absolutely right that we should perhaps be saying a lot more.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to London international shipping week, where he was almost as omnipresent as I appeared to be. Pretty much everywhere I went, I met him and the Select Committee Chair. It was a great success and will happen again in 2015. Perhaps it should be called UK shipping week. I have already had pitches from Felixstowe and a law firm in Ipswich to host a professional services conference during a future shipping week. Some 60 or 70 events took place during that week in London and more widely.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse is also right that we should set out much more clearly the huge amount of work that goes on to help the shipping and ports industry in practical ways. He will remember from when he was a Minister that one of the great advantages of being a member of a UK Government is that on international business one can talk about the benefits of the UK and what the UK does well. A month ago, I went to Singapore to address some of the maritime issues that we face there. One part of the visit was working with UK Trade & Investment to sell the benefits of the UK flag and the UK ship register. I was delighted that, a week before that visit, one of the Singaporean companies put eight flags back on the British register. As a result of that visit, we have nine expressions of interest from other shipping companies to put more flags back on the register. It is important that the Department for Transport work with UK Trade & Investment on visits such as those and remembers the whole access issue. People often recognise London as the global centre for maritime professional services. We needed to remind the Singaporeans of that, because they are catching up fast and working hard at that. None the less, it is hugely important that we stress the benefits of the UK flag and what UK shipping and UK maritime are doing.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse is quite right about state aid, which the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) mentioned. It is indeed a knotty and thorny issue. State aid on ports and the port services directive is a live issue. It is absolutely crucial that the UK Government stand up for British interests on the port services directive, and we are doing so actively. We are working hard to ensure—as the Government have done twice previously, at least once on the watch of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse—that elements detrimental to UK interests are not included. He will appreciate that the part in question of the port services directive would bring some financial transparency to ports for the first time ever. It may well be of interest to see what sort of state aid is provided, not always correctly, to certain international ports. Therefore, while the UK Government are keen to ensure that we exclude everything, we will be considering carefully whether it is beneficial.

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The point about state aid is a live one in the UK. It is directly due to the pressure brought by this Government and the Dutch Government, in collaboration with several other Governments, that an active discussion is now going on within the Commission about how state aid is applied, what it is doing and whether it is being used to distort international positions. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse was right to bring the issue up. At one point, I was about to say to him that flattery would get him almost everywhere. It almost did in this debate. I am grateful for his remarks about some of my work, in terms of what a Minister can and should do in this area. He obviously recognises that.

I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal for the A14. I hope she heard me say a few minutes ago that there is no delay to the project. I congratulate her, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) and for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo), who were instrumental in asking the Government to change their mind and reconsider the tolling. I praise her campaign and that of other Suffolk MPs; it was why the Government had another look at the proposals. She was right to highlight some of the issues that would have been caused for her constituents, and potentially for those using the road from the port, and the Government have been right to listen.

My hon. Friend also discussed the resilience of the Orwell bridge. I particularly remember the onion incident. I know that transport is a serious matter, but sometimes one is allowed to smile. That incident gave a lot of amusement to broadcasters up and down the country as they announced it. The Highways Agency’s route-based strategy study programme is considering all future needs of both the A14 and the A12 corridors, and it will consider the Orwell bridge. The programme is due to report in March 2015. I heard her forceful case for the electrification of Felixstowe. She is right to welcome the opening of the Ipswich chord next week; it will bring huge benefit to the freight network around Felixstowe.

I heard what my hon. Friend said about dualling and level crossing improvements. I know that Hutchison Whampoa has had discussions with Network Rail about that, which it is obviously free to do. I will talk a little more about developer contribution in a moment, but she will understand that it is not about asking ports to contribute directly to the infrastructure; it is about situations in which development is going on around the ports and the usual planning process applies, some of which involves section 106 agreements. I know that Hutchison has been discussing, and is free to discuss, section 106 agreements on partial dualling or level crossing, but the last time I was in Felixstowe—I think it was late last spring—I was pleased to see work going on to make new improvements to rail access and facilities.

Finally, the hon. Member for Blackpool South started by saying that what mattered was the quality of contributions to this debate, not the quantity. That has been absolutely true. His speech had a consensual start, and then he pointed out that the Select Committee had done some gentle chiding of the Government. That is absolutely right. It is the Select Committee’s role to hold the Government to account, and it is the Government’s role to respond to it and, we hope, to address its recommendations.

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I would say gently that I listened to the hon. Gentleman’s points initially. For many years, there has been an infrastructure deficit in terms of connectivity to ports, which the Government are seeking to redress. That is key. The Government were already addressing some of the Select Committee’s remarks and recommendations. On my watch, we have established the high-level maritime forum for the industry, Ministers and senior officials. We have now developed a ports strategy and a shipping strategy, which have been published and shared with the Select Committee. We have had high-level consultations with the industry about sulphur. It is clear that the EU will proceed with the regulations. One thing this Government have secured is a look at the new regulations that will take effect from 2020 and involve an even bigger cost to the industry.

Working with the International Maritime Organisation, we have also secured a review of the 2020 proposals. It is clearly key that that review should happen next year rather than in 2018. Otherwise, the availability of fuel and the implementation of the new legislation will have a huge impact on British shipping.

Mr Marsden: I am grateful to the Minister for laying out the detailed programme of Government activity in the area. I asked a specific question about the position of Her Majesty’s Government when the original regulations were introduced. I would be grateful for a response on that. Also, as he said he was drawing to a close, I raised the issue of the future structure of ownership for the Dover harbour board. Can he enlighten us further as to whether any progress has been made on that?

Stephen Hammond: I am afraid I am about to disappoint everybody. Far from drawing to a close—

Mr Marsden: Sorry. You said “finally”.

Stephen Hammond: “Finally” in terms of the point about sulphur. There is so much to tackle on this fascinating subject that I must disappoint hon. Members. I probably have at least another five minutes yet to go, and perhaps more.

The Government’s position has been clear. We have sought to challenge the regulations, but we are now ensuring that we work with the whole industry to mitigate the cost to industry. Therefore, I—or my officials, to be more precise—have held detailed negotiations, and I chaired a roundtable with the abatement technology manufacturers, colloquially known as scrubbers, and the industry to ensure some progress. Clearly, for some, the cost of retrofitting is prohibitive, and the cost is unwelcome to a number in the industry, but the key point is that the 2015 regulation will happen. We have tried several times to secure agreement at EU level. We proposed several mitigation measures, but were not supported by other EU members on that matter. However, we have global support at the IMO to hold an early review of the availability of fuel in 2020, which I am currently actively pursuing.

I want to make a few remarks about some of the other important issues that have come up. We need to continue to support a multi-modal approach to distribution from ports, recognising the congestion issue and the benefits that road and coastal shipping can bring. In practice, most ports, in particular the smaller ones, are

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still, as several hon. Members have said, heavily reliant on road connections. Hauliers need to be able to access ports efficiently and need journeys to and from inland destinations to be as reliable as reasonably possible. Infrastructure and its maintenance—working with local authorities on local roads, but local highways authorities on strategic roads—are clearly important.

Ports themselves have an important role to play in local road connectivity. Several ro-ro and container ports have introduced advanced lorry-booking systems and contingency arrangements to deal with disruption, which has led to huge improvements in the delays that road hauliers used to experience. The Department for Transport has been assessing the benefit of such procedures in time savings and reliability for HGVs. Such schemes continue to offer benefits and it is possible to get more.

Bottlenecks still exist on links to important ports, however. There is an ongoing task for the DFT and ports in our strategic partnership to facilitate the growth in trade and a strong recovery in the wider economy by ensuring that we continue to put the right road links in place. Good access to ports from the strategic road network will be considered through the Highways Agency’s programme of route-based strategies and the Department’s programme of feasibility studies. Six such studies are in place and aim to identify and fund solutions to major congestion on the strategic road network. The studies will report in time for this year’s autumn statement. Several studies have direct relevance to the accessibility of ports, in particular the A47 to Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft study, and the A27 to Portsmouth, Shoreham and Newhaven corridor study.

The Government have announced plans to create a local growth fund from 2015-16 onwards. It will be a pot of £2 billion a year until 2021 and all LEPs will have the opportunity to bid for that funding through their strategic economic plans, which are due to be submitted to the Government at the end of the month. As I have said, the DFT is actively involved in those bids, has been working with the Minister responsible for cities to examine the bids and has encouraged bids that recognise the importance of transport and, where relevant, access to ports. The fund will allow local areas to prioritise infrastructure schemes that they deem essential for their economic growth. It is now for LEPs to get involved to agree what schemes they want to bid for through their strategic economic plan. It is a competitive process, with the strongest bids likely to receive a big, rather than proportionate, slice of funding.

Developer contributions for major schemes were set out in DFT circular 02/2013, which explains how the Highways Agency engages with communities and developers. It is primarily about responding to development proposals that affect existing trunk roads and seeks to support environmentally responsible development while safeguarding the primary function and purpose of the strategic road network. Where ports promote development that will affect the trunk road network, the principles set out in the circular will apply, including how development impact will be assessed and under what circumstances mitigation will be sought to ensure that the strategic road network is able to accommodate existing and development-generated traffic. Exactly what the Government are expecting has been set out pretty clearly

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for developers. As part of the ports strategic partnership, we will be reviewing developer guidance this year to ensure that it covers all the relevant points. If further specific clarity is needed, I anticipate that the review will lead to an addendum to the circular.

On rail access to ports, the past seven years have seen some significant rail freight infrastructure investment. A further £200 million has been ring-fenced for the strategic freight network in the next control period from 2014 to 2019. That money is being spent on projects identified by the rail freight industry as key to its needs. A significant proportion has been given to gauge clearance, facilitating the transport of shipping containers by rail from ports to inland distribution hubs.

The Felixstowe to Nuneaton route has been much mentioned. Through a combination of transport innovation fund and strategic freight network funding, gauge clearance out of Felixstowe to all major routes will be complete by the end of this year. Other major developments include the Nuneaton north chord, which opened in 2012, and the Ipswich chord, which I was delighted to visit last week. The Ipswich chord is a fantastic piece of engineering, with the tightest acceptable curve on the UK rail network. It will reduce a significant bottleneck for freight, saving between 45 minutes and 75 minutes, and will bring benefits to passengers at Ipswich and to the south and north, because the freight that previously had to go into Ipswich could hold up passenger trains. It is an important part of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton route enhancement. My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal will know that it is one of the Government’s top 40 investment projects, and Network Rail is looking at several additional enhancements that could be taken forward on this route over the next control period and will be seeking the rail freight industry’s views on how they should be prioritised. I recognise the case being made for the electrification of the line out of Felixstowe, but it is important that we get the freight network right first.

Much good work has been done out of Southampton, and I am happy to acknowledge that some of it happened under the previous Administration. Gauge enhancement work between Southampton and the west coast main line was completed with funding under this Government, ensuring electrification out of Southampton, which is part of the “electric spine”. As part of huge investment in Southampton port and rail infrastructure, Freightliner has put in six extra lines into Southampton.

Network Rail works closely with the rail freight industry to establish priority areas for the allocation of strategic freight network funding. We are beginning to see a huge amount of freight travelling by rail. Only five years ago, Tesco told me that it did not anticipate moving much of its freight by rail; now, some 40% of Tesco goods are moved by rail.