LOCAL AREA REFERENDUM (DISPOSAL OF SCHOOL PLAYING FIELDS) BILL

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (22 January), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 22 April.

RAILWAYS BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

11 Mar 2016 : Column 621

PERSONAL, SOCIAL, HEALTH AND ECONOMIC EDUCATION (STATUTORY REQUIREMENT) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

BENEFIT SANCTIONS REGIME (ENTITLEMENT TO AUTOMATIC HARDSHIP PAYMENTS) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

NEGLIGENCE AND DAMAGES BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

ACCESSIBLE SPORTS GROUNDS BILL [LORDS]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

CORONERS AND JUSTICE ACT 2009 (DUTY TO INVESTIGATE) (AMENDMENT) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

HOMES (FITNESS FOR HUMAN HABITATION) BILL

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (16 October), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 22 April.

VICTIMS OF CRIME ETC (RIGHTS, ENTITLEMENTS AND RELATED MATTERS) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

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FRACKING (MEASUREMENT AND REGULATION OF IMPACTS) (AIR, WATER AND GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

SUGAR IN FOOD AND DRINKS (TARGETS, LABELLING AND ADVERTISING) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

ARBITRATION AND MEDIATION SERVICES (EQUALITY) BILL [LORDS]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

PROTECTION OF FAMILY HOMES (ENFORCEMENT AND PERMITTED DEVELOPMENT) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

AUTOMATIC ELECTORAL REGISTRATION (NO. 2) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

FREE SCHOOL MEALS (AUTOMATIC REGISTRATION OF ELIGIBLE CHILDREN) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

AIR QUALITY (DIESEL EMISSIONS IN URBAN CENTRES) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

11 Mar 2016 : Column 623

FOOTBALL GOVERNANCE (SUPPORTERS’ PARTICIPATION) BILL

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (4 March), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 22 April.

ENGLISH NATIONAL ANTHEM BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

TRANSPORT OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

COMPULSORY EMERGENCY FIRST AID EDUCATION (STATE-FUNDED SECONDARY SCHOOLS) BILL

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (20 November 2015), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 22 April.

REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE (YOUNG PERSONS’ ENFRANCHISEMENT AND EDUCATION) BILL

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (11 September), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 22 April.

FOOD WASTE (REDUCTION) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

ON-DEMAND AUDIOVISUAL SERVICES (ACCESSIBILITY FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES AFFECTING HEARING OR SIGHT OR BOTH) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

11 Mar 2016 : Column 624

MARRIAGE AND CIVIL PARTNERSHIP REGISTRATION (MOTHERS’ NAMES) BILL

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

Mesothelioma (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April.

Off-Shore Wind Farm Subsidies (Restriction) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May.

Defence Expenditure (NATO Target) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May.

Convicted Prisoners Voting Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May.

UK Borders Control Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May.

House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May.

Working Time Directive (Limitation) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May.

11 Mar 2016 : Column 625

Luton Railway Station

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Anne Milton.)

2.37 pm

Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): It was my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) who last secured a debate on the rebuilding of Luton railway station, some 2,179 days ago. I regret to inform the House that, despite his powers of persuasion, and mine since I was elected to this place, progress on the rebuild, which the Government, the council and the operator all agree needs to go ahead, has not advanced in that period at all, and in some areas it has gone backward.

That is despite the fact that Luton is easily in the top decile of stations, in terms of passenger numbers, and is growing rapidly, serving an urban conurbation in excess of a quarter of a million people. My constituents and I daily experience the frustration of this old, tired and inaccessible station. As a result of how it is situated, even non-passengers are disadvantaged by its presence and current state. It effectively cuts off the town centre to pedestrians with mobility issues coming from the vast majority of the town to the north.

My constituents pay some of the highest ticket prices in the south-east, but virtually none of that is reinvested in our station. Residents have to put up with a total lack of disabled facilities for getting down to the platforms, and those passing between High Town and South wards cannot travel either way with their pushchairs or heavy baggage on the regular stretches where the station’s single lift is inoperable, even if they are not seeking to access the station in the first place. Frustratingly, we have been close to securing the requisite funding on multiple occasions, only for our hopes to be dashed. I seek the Minister’s assurance today that the rebuild project is a priority for her Department and, if so, that it can proceed in this control period.

Built in 1868 on the midland main line, Luton station expanded in a piecemeal manner in the 1930s and the 1960s to serve a growing town. It was key to the expansion of my home town, serving the town’s gas works, power station and industries such as hat making and, later, car making. However, over the last century, Luton’s proximity to London has led to a massive growth in commuter traffic. We are just 22 minutes from St Pancras by direct train, and we link directly to towns such as Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Brighton, to name but a few. In short, Luton is a major railway station that is key to the south-east network and to our town’s prosperity.

However, the station also serves as the gateway to our borough and, as such, first appearances matter. If the Minister were to make the short journey up to Luton today, she would be greeted by runs of heavy glass windows that have been boarded up because they have a tendency to fall out on to the tracks and, potentially, on to passengers below. If it were raining, she might see the ingeniously named platform 3 “water feature”, which cascades down from the bridge above. As she exited our inadequate ticket gates and took the overcrowded stairs heaving her ministerial boxes, she would have to hope that the station’s lift was working—this week, by the way, it is not. My constituents report that the station is

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inconvenient, grubby, unwelcoming and embarrassing. We are proud of our town, but not of our railway station.

Since the 1990s, a number of abortive schemes have sought to rectify the situation. Luton Borough Council has invested heavily in the station quarter, with improved links to Dunstable and the airport through the landmark guided busway, giving access to education and employment opportunities to the east and west. Local businesses and charities have bought and restored the old hat factories that sprung up in the 1800s around the station, and the area is a hub of activity and young, creative businesses, with many people wanting to start their entrepreneurial careers there. The business improvement district and The Mall have improved access to the town centre and its appearance, and the town’s single further education college intends to relocate to a new build just metres from the station. The new Network Rail-built car park is an iconic building and a statement of investment in the town. In short, the area has been transformed and befits a town of the size and status of ours.

However, just as the surrounding context has improved, the station itself has gone backwards. The net effect of the £6 billion Thameslink programme investment in Luton station and the surrounding area, which I welcome, has actually been to further diminish the facility’s accessibility—that surely cannot have been the aim of the programme—because 12-car running has cut off access for those with mobility problems.

The 2009 better stations programme identified Luton as one of the 10 worst stations in the country and gave the project sponsors access to a £50 million fund intended to improve category B railway stations. To unlock the potential of the scheme, that funding was to be provided alongside contributions from the local authority and the then operator—First Capital Connect—as well as Access for All funding. However, on the election of the coalition Government in 2010, the money was pulled, without a plan to proceed. Despite my best efforts and those of the local authority, the project stalled, and it has not advanced since.

Let me turn to the present situation. In April 2014, the Government announced that Luton was one of 42 stations that would be authorised to access about £100 million of Access for All funding. That was for the control period 5 delivery plan, which runs from 2014 to 2019. Access for All funding is key to advancing the project. In stark terms, there are two options available: either we use the funding to deliver a stand-alone footbridge, disconnected from the station, but seemingly offering better accessibility; or we use it to leverage in funding for a larger redevelopment.

The first option is a non-starter. If the footbridge were disconnected from the railway station, it would offer greater accessibility to only a small number of my constituents. It would not link to the station’s car park, in which there has already been significant investment, or to the ticket office or the retail sites. Once used, the funding could not be used to leverage in further funding from other available sources.

Assurances from Network Rail, the station redevelopment sponsor, that that could be the first phase of a multi-phase development spanning the control period—that is what Network Rail has advocated to me recently—are politically naïve. Once the legal requirements

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were fulfilled, the moral imperative for greater, more positive improvements to the station would be quietly sidelined and dropped.

Therefore, the second option—that of a comprehensive scheme made up of funding from the station commercial project facility, the national stations improvement programme, Access for All, the Thameslink operator, local government and commercial funds—is vastly superior and appropriate for our needs. That is the route by which we would seek to deliver the approximately £20 million required for a perfectly adequate scheme.

The dilemma is that either we spend the Access for All funding, which would meet a legal requirement and would be delivered in this control period, or we delay the project in the hope of securing additional Department for Transport funding for an adequate scheme, which would cost time and delay delivery. The Access for All scheme, together with funding from other sources, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this job done.

There is, of course, a third option, namely that the Department demonstrates that this is a priority scheme and signals that a masterplan should be agreed for the delivery of improvements starting before the end of this control period in 2019. The Minister has the power to make that happen, and I ask her to do it.

Having worked actively on the issue in recent months, alongside my local authority colleagues, I am pleased to say that Network Rail has accepted that we will not accept a stand-alone footbridge project and is now working with Luton Borough Council to create a masterplan. It will incorporate some of the elements of the previous options, but it will seek more straightforward ways to deliver the benefits. The local authority has been generous in authorising the early release of funds to enable that, and Network Rail has provided match funding. The council recognises that the improvement of the station is complex. There are constraints on public finances and it will involve the pulling together of a number of different pots of funding, but this really is the only way forward.

Last month, the Secretary of State for Transport wrote in a letter to Luton Borough Council:

“I agree with you that the condition of the station needs to be addressed and that investment is needed to bring it up to the standard Luton residents have every right to expect.”

With that in mind, I ask the Minister to consider a few points. First, will she ensure that, in the forthcoming Budget, the Chancellor understands the depth of feeling among my constituents and takes the first step towards the delivery of a new masterplan by approving Govia’s £2.5 million bid for station commercial project facility funding? That is a vital part of the various pots of funding that will need to be assembled, and it will ensure the political viability of such an approach.

Secondly, will the Minister instruct her officials to create a publicly transparent timescale and work programme for the project, and ensure that it is given prioritisation by both Network Rail and the Department for Transport, with a named lead officer at the Department?

Thirdly, will she take this opportunity to make it clear that a footbridge-only or footbridge-first scheme is unacceptable? It would reduce mobility for some and permanently exclude it for others. Will she instruct

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Network Rail to drop that idea forever and instead work to expedite progress on the masterplan with Luton Borough Council?

Fourthly, and finally, will the Minister give an assurance that she will do all in her power to ensure that a comprehensive project starts in control period 5, with shovels in the ground before the end of that control period in 2019? It would be understandable if a project of such a size and scale sought to span control periods, but it would be unacceptable for my residents and businesses, who have shown great forbearance in recent years, to continue to suffer from the state of the station through to the mid-2020s at least.

Last year, 100,000 more passengers entered and exited Luton station than in the preceding year. We are a growing town, and we need adequate facilities. We need this Government to do the right thing, as I hope the Minister wants to do, by the people of Luton.

2.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): It is always a pleasure to respond the hon. Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker). He is a Lutonian born and bred, and he speaks very passionately on many issues relating to his constituents.

I want to say that I absolutely share the aspiration of getting this project started. The hon. Gentleman has made the compelling case that, for too long, Luton station has not had the investment it needs. It is the 136th busiest station in the UK, and is used by 3.5 million passengers a year. It is not only an important commuter link to London, but a gateway to the midlands and beyond. The growth and development of the town will only continue, so ridership numbers will increase.

I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Thameslink project—I am very proud that we are close to delivering on this very large investment for his constituents and those in the wider region—will run with brand-new trains. I take his point about 12-car rolling stock, but the upgrade of the tracks and trains was probably neglected by successive Governments. I am very proud to be part of a very pro-rail and pro-rail infrastructure Government.

As the hon. Gentleman knows—I have been pretty fully briefed about this—there are a number of moving parts, so let me summarise my understanding of what is happening. There is a commitment of almost £2 million to the national stations improvement programme: it is funded, ring-fenced and available to go. There are also proposals for the relocation of the ticket machines, and improvements to waiting facilities, as well as retail units, cycle storage and other things that will benefit the station.

Govia Thameslink Railway has made an application to the stations commercial project facility. The hon. Gentleman will understand why I cannot comment on that, given the current stage of the bid allocation process. The announcement of the successful bids will be made shortly.

The area on which there has been a great disappointment, because the money is available, is the Access for All funding. We have committed more than £500 million for this work. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, Luton was one of the first stations selected. It seems as though the whole project has been dogged by delay. As I

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understand it, Luton fell out of the first wave. It reapplied for the extended programme, which was made available in 2014, and qualified for it, as was absolutely right.

I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that my concern is that if we do not get a scheme started, what happened last time might happen again. It will become harder and harder to defend a scheme when money has been committed but the work has not yet started, given the clamour for support for other commitments from right across the UK. I am very keen to make sure that the money is kept for the improvements at Luton. It would be absolutely ideal to take the two pots together as the start of a project facility and begin to develop a plan.

I want to point out to the hon. Gentleman that he must not doubt this Government’s commitment to investment in infrastructure both in his town and in the region. There has been £26.5 million from the regional growth fund for the improvements to junction 10A on the M1. There has been the further £15 million for the Woodside pinch point link scheme. There have been various other schemes, such as the £126 million from the local growth fund for the area. It is a shame that some of that has not been pulled through to support the station project, as has been done in other areas. Another £80.3 million has come in for the Luton to Dunstable busway, which is helping passengers right across his area. The £24 million Luton town centre transport scheme, to the north of the town centre, was opened in July 2014, with the support of £16 million of Government funding. I hope I have convinced him that the Government have no interest in not investing in the area; it is simply a question of pulling together the available funding and coming up with a scheme that will work.

I do not want to ascribe blame or point fingers at anybody, but it is incumbent on the council, Network Rail and GTR to come together to put together a feasibility scheme. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be keen to be heavily involved in that, and I will do whatever I can to help him. My Department is fully aware of this matter and has been working closely with Network Rail. Indeed, the council has written to ask for a meeting in the next few weeks and I have asked my officials to arrange it so that we can understand what the scheme looks like.

The hon. Gentleman is a very pragmatic person, so let us focus on what can be delivered for the money that we have to spend on the station, then let us think about what else could be bid for, what could be attracted from the development that is going on in the town and what we could get from broader growth funds. Many of the new station projects that I have the pleasure of going to and welcoming are part-funded by Network Rail and

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part-funded by other local government pots and growth money. Of course we want to build multi-modal systems and better bus travel, but we must not put other transport modes before the rail passenger experience. The station is a gateway not only for the railway but for the town. Many stations were built as the showcase for the railway that they served, but sadly many of them have fallen into neglect.

I want to point the hon. Gentleman towards a couple of examples that may help him in his conversations with the council, which may want to deliver the big bang scheme that is not fully funded. In Putney, a phased approach was taken to station development. First, the platforms were lengthened, which improved the business case for Access for All, because there was higher passenger usage. That helped to improve the business cases for the new mezzanine raft, then the new ticket office and then the additional retail units. The station became more and more interesting as a place in which to invest both public and private money through that staged approach.

I know that it is more difficult, and of course one wants to have a vision towards which one is working, but a phased approach might be the way to get the project moving and, as the hon. Gentleman said, to get shovels in the ground. At Leyland, which has a smaller station, Lancashire County Council spent £100,000 to draw in match funding to improve the station. That led to £500,000 for a new ticket office and £4 million for three new lifts, delivered in phases.

The hon. Gentleman has to help me make the business case for these investments, against a clamour of competing interests. If he goes off and leads the charge with his local council to come up with a scheme that works—something that can be delivered and that will achieve his aims—we will be able to plug in the funding that is already available and get it spent before the end of this control period. I cannot believe that I am saying those words, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I want to get this money out the door and spent on these disability improvements. He should then look at how that can enhance the business case, so that match funding can be drawn in over a longer period.

As I said, my Department will meet the council over the next few weeks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will keep me informed of the results, because I want his passengers and his constituents in Luton to benefit from the Government’s record investment plan for rail.

Question put and agreed to.

2.57 pm

House adjourned.