HC Deb 17 June 2003 vol 407 cc196-9
5. Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

What representations he has received about the implementation of first-wave multi-modal studies. [119406]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

We have received representations on a number of issues raised by those studies, including, of course, implementation.

Mr. Lansley

The Secretary of State should be aware that today is the last day to make further objections to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough structure plan, where an essential issue is the location of a large new settlement in my constituency, next to Longstanton in the Cambridge to Huntingdon corridor—the subject of a first-wave multi-modal study. To inform that debate, will the Secretary of State tell us today whether the Government intend to provide parallel roads and access roads alongside the A14 by 2006, as well as the financial support sought by Cambridgeshire county council for a rapid transit system from St. Ives to Cambridge?

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, last year, we published the outcome of the Cambridgeshire-Huntingdon multi-modal study, which included substantial upgrading and improvement to the A14 and various junctions, as well as a guided bus route, which Cambridgeshire county council promoted and is doing further work on. All those proposals are being worked up at the moment. I hope that they will be developed, consulted on and put in place as quickly as possible. He will know that area pretty well, as he represents part of it, and I have not the slightest doubt that we need to ensure that the transport infrastructure is adequate to deal with existing problems and the transport pressures that we know will come from any extension in the future.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Given that the Cambridge to Huntingdon multi-modal study proposed a rapid transit system between Huntingdon and Cambridge to cope with the level of traffic at present and to take pressure off the A14, does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the 8,000 additional homes at Oakington will put further pressure on that transport infrastructure? As well as looking at the feasibility of the rapid transit system, will he look at the adequacy of what is currently proposed?

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend raises a perfectly understandable point. In this country generally, many parts of the transport infrastructure are not adequate for the pressures that we have today. If we are to have any significant development, we need to make sure that the transport infrastructure is in place to ensure that people can move around, whether on rapid transit systems, roads or railways. She is therefore right about that. The multi-modal studies, and particularly the one to which she refers, allow for substantial investment—some of which has been needed for 20 to 30 years—which will make a difference. Clearly, in respect of additional pressures that may arise because of planning decisions, we need to make sure that we can plan ahead so that people can move around in a satisfactory way.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

The Secretary of State will recall that, in relation to the south-east Manchester multi-modal study, his ministerial colleague agreed to meet an all-party deputation at the end of last year. Unfortunately, his other ministerial colleague, who is no longer with him, felt that his diary was too full to receive such a deputation. Will he now agree to reinstate that visit?

Mr. Darling

Just so that people understand this, I am quite clear that if any Member of the House wishes to see a member of my ministerial team, unless there are very good reasons for not doing so, we will agree to meet. One of the reasons for being a Member of Parliament is to have such access to Ministers. Clearly, Members will weigh in the balance how often they need to see Ministers, but I want to make it clear that it is perfectly possible to see us. I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, before he left for Northern Ireland, mentioned something about a meeting—[Laughter.] He seemed to me like a man with a great weight off his shoulders as he sped off to Northern Ireland. All I can say is that one of my colleagues on the Front Bench—I do not know which unfortunate one it will be yet—will meet the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at the multi-modal study for Tyne and Wear, particularly as it relates to the Al western bypass around Gateshead and Newcastle, one of the country's worst congested roads? Will he undertake to look at that urgently and, in particular, to bring forward comprehensive proposals for a solution to the problem? Will he also welcome the initiative by Nexus, the passenger transport executive, in its campaign to increase the use of public transport, particularly the Tyne and Wear metro system?

Mr. Darling

I am aware of both proposals, which are part of one of the studies that I hope to deal with before the summer recess. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I hope to make a statement about six or seven multi-modal studies that need to be dealt with. I am aware of the issues in relation to the roads and the metro. My hon. Friend will understand that I am not in a position to give commitments in respect of any of those things at the moment, but I am aware of them, and I am aware of the pressures that Newcastle and Gateshead, like a number of other areas in this country, face.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

In the light of the multi-modal studies, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether he believes that Britain's transport system is currently getting better or worse?

Mr. Darling

Many aspects of the transport system are getting better. To give one example, the west coast main line, one of the main arterial routes in this country, was last upgraded in the 1960s and 1970s. Successive Governments, both Labour and Tory, did not face up to the fact that they would have to renew and improve that line, with the result that, at the moment, it has severe problems with reliability. I am glad to report to the House that yesterday, as many Members will have seen, the Strategic Rail Authority confirmed a £9 billion investment in the west coast main line, which will allow, for example, up to four trains an hour to run to Birmingham, a two-hour running time to Manchester and an hour off the journey time to Glasgow. That is one example of how investment and better management will improve our railways, and the same can be said for roads. It will take time, but we are putting in the money and the management. Sadly, the hon. Gentleman's party is against both of those.

Mr. Collins

Do not the multi-modal studies in fact show that motorway congestion has grown by between 50 and 250 per cent. since this Government came to office? Do not they in fact show that, in 2001, not a single inch of tarmac was added to the national road network anywhere? Do not they in fact show that future railway carriage orders are set to drop by 90 per cent. over the next eight years? Do not they in fact show, in terms of the announcements made yesterday, that rail services are being axed up and down the country? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the multi-modal studies confirm that passengers, motorists and taxpayers are paying more and more for a worse and worse service? Does he not recognise that the CBI says that it is deeply disappointed with this performance and that Transport 2000 says that the whole system is coming grinding to a halt?

Will the Secretary of State tell the House today whether he can confirm that there is an absolute prohibition on any new rail services anywhere on the network? Will he tell us whether he can characterise the number of additional rail services that will now be axed? Does not he believe that all these problems indicate that we need a full-time, not part-time, Secretary of State for Transport?

Mr. Darling

In relation to the hon. Gentleman's penultimate point, I can tell him that, in September this year, Britain's first new major railway for 100 years will open. The channel tunnel rail link is an example of public and private money going in to improve the railways.

The hon. Gentleman asked a series of other questions. In relation to railway services, yes it is true that, at the beginning of this year, for example, and faced with hopeless reliability problems on the Virgin cross-country route, 180 out of a daily total of 18,000 trains a day were taken out of service. Let me tell the House the result. That timetable change came in three weeks ago, and reliability on the Virgin cross-country route went from 67 per cent. to 78 per cent. in just three weeks. I make no apology for the fact that the SRA is doing precisely what should have happened years ago—putting in place a timetable that actually works. The SRA is dealing with the consequences of a botched privatisation implemented by the Conservative party.

The hon. Gentleman is right about congestion. More cars are using the roads, but that is because the economy is growing. Some 1.5 million more people are in work than there were seven years ago—all thanks to a Labour Government. The difference is this: had we stuck to the road-building and transport plans that the Tories left us with, congestion on our trunk roads would have grown by 50 to 60 per cent. As a result of the investment that is taking place, we will reduce that rate of growth to between 1 and 15 per cent. It is an example of investment making up for decades of underinvestment, because the Tories slashed the road programme when they were in office.

Whatever the difficulties we have in the transport system just now, there is nobody I know outside the Conservative party arguing for a 20 per cent. cut in spending. That is not the way to improve the railways, so when the hon. Gentleman next gets to the Dispatch Box, I hope that he might at least have a stab at developing a transport policy, something that he has conspicuously failed to do in the past 12 months.

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