National Networks National Policy Statement

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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[Relevant document: Ninth Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2022-23, National Networks National Policy Statement, HC 903, and the Government response, Session 2023-24.]
16:19
Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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I beg to move,

That this House approves the National Policy Statement for National Networks, which was laid before this House on 6 March.

It is me again—it is déjà vu all over again. I will be brief in my opening speech. I stand here today as the Minister in the Department for Transport who is responsible for infrastructure planning and delivery, although some of my colleagues handle some of the other key development consent orders in that respect.

The national networks national policy statement, or NNNPS, provides the planning framework for determining applications for nationally significant road, rail and strategic freight interchange projects. These are schemes determined under the process set out in the Planning Act 2008. The NNNPS sets out why we need to develop these networks, and how applications for projects will be assessed. It does not set out locations where national network development will take place, neither is it a transport strategy governing wider transport policies, such as active travel. The existing NNNPS was designated in 2015, and approximately 30 road, rail and SRFI schemes have gained consent since then.

The draft NNNPS was subject to public consultation. Alongside that, the Transport Committee, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), undertook an inquiry into the draft. We have made a number of changes in response to the Committee’s work, and I want to put on the record that I am grateful to the Committee for its careful consideration of all the issues raised through both written and oral evidence. I would like to apologise on the record to the Committee, because our initial response to its report did not include a response to one of its recommendations. Today, I have laid in the House an amended version of the response, which responds to all the recommendations, including the recommendation concerning the application of the NNNPS to other consenting regimes, such as under the Transport and Works Act 1992. The NNNPS already provides guidance to applicants on that point, and we believe that this strikes the right balance.

You will be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we have invested £24 billion in the country’s most important roads through the second road investment strategy, and are committed to the next five-year plan for maintaining and enhancing the network. In Network North, we have recognised the importance of local road infrastructure by providing major increases in funding for the major network programme, with some £900 million extra in the midlands and £1.4 billion extra in the north to support regional connectivity and growth.

Our railways are a vital part of the country’s transport infrastructure, and well-targeted rail investments play a crucial role in growing the economy and meeting the connectivity needs of customers and businesses. We also want to ensure that we support freight in all its forms. Freight trains carry goods worth over £30 billion per year across a range of different commodities—specifically, supporting construction and intermodal flows, which can include customers’ goods.

It is right that we provide a planning policy framework that enables us to deliver projects and investment as quickly as possible. The revised NNNPS does that, and I commend this statement to the House.

16:22
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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I had anticipated a slightly longer opening speech from the Minister. Nevertheless, here we are today to debate a new national networks national policy statement, a decade after the previous statement was published in 2014. The right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) originally promised that the Government would review the NNNPS in July 2021, but here we are, nearly three years on from that promise and a decade on from the last published statement. Perhaps the Minister could explain why it took so long to get to this point.

The UK committed to reach net zero by 2050 when we signed the Paris agreement in 2015. It is not good enough that it took nine years for net zero to finally be integrated into the NNNPS. Since 2015, we have moved backwards on net zero. Just look at the Prime Minister’s delaying of the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans. This rowing back on net zero is not just a disaster for the planet; it will worsen the cost of living crisis for drivers, with an estimated cost to consumers of an eye-watering £13 billion in higher fuel costs as a direct result of the Prime Minister’s decision.

Then there is the mess he made of HS2. The irony and symbolism of where he made the announcement is lost on no one: a disused railway station at the end of the proposed line. Everyone recognises the impact of the decision on net zero. Even the writers of “The Thick of It” would have dismissed such a plotline as far too implausible.

Freight trains have 76% fewer emissions than the equivalent road transport capacity, but because of the Prime Minister’s chaotic decision making, half a million more lorry journeys will add to the clogging up of our roads every year by carrying freight that could have been delivered by rail. I wonder whether the Minister will respond to that point about rail freight.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Gentleman has raised a legitimate point about HS2. Clearly the Prime Minister’s decision on 6 October was to redistribute that funding to a variety of projects, particularly in the north, but what is the Labour party policy? Is its manifesto proposal to continue with HS2 and the second leg or not?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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It is a shame that the Minister did not stand up to announce that the Government had found some miraculous way of returning to the consensus. We know that the Conservatives have taken a wrecking ball to the HS2 project, and that they blew the budget, which is why they cancelled it, so we are not going to be able to revive it. After the rushing through of the fire sale of the land, the downgrading of ambition on major stations such as Euston and the reallocation of funding originally meant for HS2, which I think he referred to in his speech, there is no way we would be able to revive it.

Is it any wonder that the Transport Committee has warned us that there is still a lot of catching up to do when it comes to our climate change commitments and to ensuring that we deliver major infrastructure projects on time and to budget? The Transport Committee’s members made their concerns crystal clear when they said that

“the Government should have been proactive and reviewed the NPS upon the introduction of Net Zero targets, and should do when any changes are made to net zero target policies”.

Yet the latest national networks national policy statement still leaves gaps, notably in its admission that

“residual carbon emissions as an impact of NSIP”—

nationally significant infrastructure project—

“schemes are acceptable”.

There is a further lack of clarity over what “residual carbon emissions” means in practice, and the policy statement does not offer a process to distinguish between acceptable residual emissions and emissions that would mean carbon targets would not be met. The Transport Planning Society has even warned that the contradiction between the NNNPS and the transport decarbonisation plans is “potentially incredibly dangerous”.

We all know that our planning system is broken, with too many projects bogged down in development limbo for years on end as they wait for a decision, but the Transport Committee has warned that the gaps in this policy statement that I have just identified could lead to even more costly and time-consuming legal challenges to major projects on climate grounds. This would slow down our snail’s-pace planning system even further, and it is the taxpayer that would pay the price for the delays.

The flaws in the statement do not stop there. The Government have failed to take into account local authority-level targets and carbon budgets, to ensure that the local level impact of major development projects is taken into account. Meanwhile, Midlands Connect warns that sub-national transport bodies have also been snubbed. Many of these bodies have already developed strategic transport plans at regional level to support economic growth and reduce carbon emissions. They should not be ignored.

The National Infrastructure Planning Association has highlighted a lack of clarity in a number of areas, such as the frequency with which policy is reviewed, and the need for further detail to be published. The organisation warned that “weak links” ultimately result in

“delays to decisions on DCO applications”.

It warns that those delays to development consent orders could

“slow down the delivery of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects”.

So will the Minister tell us whether the Government are going to take the action that is needed so that Britain does not fall even further behind in the development of vital national infrastructure?

On the subject of existing delays to planning, the planning process has already become cumbersome and slow under this Government, with the time taken to grant development consent orders increasing by 65% since 2012, to more than four years. In response to the Transport Committee’s report, which flagged the planning system as a key source of delay in delivering infrastructure projects, the Government themselves even admitted that they recognised

“the need for modernisation and reform to the planning system”.

I have covered the shambolic approach to HS2, but a whole range of other major infrastructure projects that the Minister’s Department is supposedly committed to delivering have seen soaring costs and repeated delays. Years of failure to deliver rail infrastructure upgrades such as the midland main line have robbed communities of the benefits of better transport services.

The Minister mentioned his so-called Network North proposal, but I remind him that 85% of its projects are reannouncements. Much of the investment is not even in the north. In fact, some of it includes filling potholes in London—I do not think it is just north London, either.

Although the headline figure masks the fact that the money is spread over 11 years, as we established at Transport questions on Thursday, the average annual funding is equivalent to only a third of last year’s increase in the backlog of local road repairs. The consequences of these failures are not theoretical but all too real. Communities are being denied the huge economic opportunities that transport infrastructure projects can deliver, and they are currently stuck relying on creaking Victorian infrastructure.

The reality is that this Government’s track record on delivering nationally significant infrastructure projects is woeful. Today’s debate should be an opportunity to review and to learn from what has gone wrong after 14 years of delays, failures to deliver, constant policy changes and contradictions. Unlike this Government, Labour is committed to meeting our climate obligations and to getting Britain building again.

We recognise the need to address the bottlenecks on our rail network to cut congestion and emissions, which is why we have committed to a credible and transformative programme of transport infrastructure investment to link our towns and cities, particularly across the north and midlands. We also recognise the need to deliver for drivers by cutting congestion, improving the state of public transport and removing the barriers that are blocking the electric vehicle charging infrastructure roll-out.

Labour will do what this Government have failed to do by reforming the broken planning system to ensure that upgrades and progress on our transport infrastructure are actually delivered. Labour’s plan for government will accelerate infrastructure delivery, extend the reforms in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 and ensure that the action plan for the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime covers the Transport and Works Act 1992, the Highways Act 1980 and the hybrid Bill process. We will encourage active travel, support public transport and give local authorities the power to better integrate their local transport networks.

We have launched an independent review of transport infrastructure. Driven by industry experts, the review will explore how transport infrastructure can be delivered on time and on budget, learning lessons from the mess that this Government have made of major projects such as HS2. We will update all national policy statements within six months of taking office to ensure they help, not hinder, the construction of important transport infrastructure projects.

Labour is serious about learning the lessons from the staggering failure of the last 14 years. We accept that this national policy statement improves on what came before in some areas, which is why we will not oppose it today, but the Minister really should set out why he believes that the policy statement’s lack of clarity on crucial points, particularly on climate change commitments, will not worsen the delays that are already slowing our planning system to a crawl.

If the Minister cannot or will not provide those answers today, Labour will look again at the provisions when we embark on our own review of the national policy statements. As we seek to ensure that we both respect our climate change commitments and deliver on our mission to get Britain building again, Labour does not accept the managed decline of our vital infrastructure. We will not accept barriers and blockages to the upgrades we need for smoother, greener transport and to enable everyone to benefit from the enhanced economic opportunities that will follow from better transport connections.

Britain is the country that gave the world the railways. We can and should be leading the world on delivering better, greener transport infrastructure. In government, Labour will make that a reality.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call the Chair of the Transport Committee.

16:34
Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to make a short contribution to this debate. As the Minister alluded to, the Transport Committee conducted the scrutiny of the draft national networks NPS. We concluded it in October last year and published our recommendations. Before I get into the substance of my remarks, let me take this opportunity to place on record my grateful thanks to the Clerk of the Committee, Judith Boyce, her team, all the advisers we had and the witnesses who gave us evidence. Particularly on topics that can be very technical, their support and guidance was invaluable, and I thank them all for helping me in this work.

The review of the NNNPS was overdue and I am glad that the Government appreciated that there was a need for an update. I am also grateful that they accepted one of our central recommendations: that the NNNPS should be placed on a five-yearly review, with a shorter review term if that is justified by policy changes. That does not mean we should look forward to a complete handbrake turn revision of the NNNPS, but it is important that there is the opportunity to consider the wider policy environment and Government priorities.

I also very much welcome the Government’s acceptance of some of our other recommendations, with the first being that the NNNPS should, for clarity, explicitly state the Government’s understanding of the legal precedent for permitting major infrastructure schemes that increase emissions where that increase is judged as not likely to harm the achievement of a national target. Secondly, the Government accepted that they should publish their own estimated congestion forecasts for the strategic road network. Thirdly, they accepted a reinstatement of wording on sites of special scientific interest. The draft did not contain that and without it developers may have been able to argue that the impacts of a project on biodiversity would not need to be mitigated. I am particularly grateful that that wording has been reinstated.

Alongside the Government’s response to our recommendations, we heard two welcome announcements. The first was of a review of the transport infrastructure legislation to seek more effective delivery of future nationally significant infrastructure projects. Perhaps most significant was the announcement by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who is in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, that a wider independent review would be set up, headed by Lord Banner, on speeding up the delivery of major infrastructure projects. Over many Governments, there has been a frustration that significant projects required for the country take too long, so looking at ways to speed this up is very much to be welcomed.

I just want to caveat that welcome with a suggestion that we also need to look more widely at the strategic decision-making process for transport and related infrastructure. The NNNPS and the two reviews I mentioned look at the “how” of transport infrastructure project delivery but less at the “why” and the “should”. One recommendation we made, which the Government rejected, was that they should be more transparent in the decision-making process on potential alternatives to nationally significant infrastructure project choices. The rejection of that recommendation raises a concern with me, as transport projects are not just put in place for the sake of it; we do not build a new railway, road, port extension and so on just because it is good in itself. These projects are there for a purpose; they are there to support wider policy objectives. Be it in supporting trade, housing and economic regeneration, decarbonisation or many other things, transport does not sit in glorious isolation from other policy objectives.

I question whether we, as a country, have had the right decision-making process in place, over many decades, to appraise and evaluate different projects, in order to ensure joined-up thinking on policy across Government. To help explore that, one of the Committee’s current inquiries is on strategic transport objectives. I do not yet have any recommendations to make, as we are still part way through that inquiry. It looks at a number of issues in the round, including policy development, what decisions should be made centrally or at a devolved level, and how to inject longer-term certainty into the system to help lever in additional private investment.

Transport will always fall below more immediate and electorally saleable spending. Whether that spending is on the health service, the police, defence or a range of other areas, transport will always be lower down the priority queue under any Government. By their very nature, projects last well beyond the course of a single parliamentary or governmental term, so having that longer-term perspective is important. In addition to our inquiry, the Liaison Committee is undertaking an inquiry on strategic thinking to ensure the way that the Government are wired enables a longer-term planning perspective.

I wanted to place those points on the record. In a 90-minute debate we are not going to be able to get into all the whys and wherefores, but I welcome the revision to the NNNPS and the two related reviews that the Government have announced. It is two cheers from me, though, because there is another element that we need to consider. I look forward to the work of my Committee and others contributing to that debate.

16:39
Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to be able to speak briefly in this afternoon’s important debate on transport infrastructure. It is a great pleasure to follow the Chair of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart). I will be brief, but I want to make a number of points to support the shadow Transport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), and to highlight the importance of investing in infrastructure to support economic growth.

First, I will raise a few points that matter to my constituents, some of which are immediate because they happened this week. There were severe delays on the Great Western main line yesterday. A number of colleagues, myself and many thousands of commuters were left waiting for long periods, in some cases up to two hours, because of a problem with the electricity supply to the overhead wires. That has happened a number of times before for various reasons. I urge the Minister to consult with the Rail Minister and feed back the serious concerns of travellers on this vital piece of infrastructure. The line connects London with towns in the south-east, such as Reading, and is of strategic importance across the whole UK, connecting Wales, Bristol, the south-west and parts of the midlands with the capital city. It is vital that train travellers can rely on this excellent service, which normally allows swift and easy access to the heart of London. It is now supported by the Elizabeth line, which is a huge benefit to us all. However, there has been a series of issues with the overhead wires, which I hope the Minister will flag up. Will he or a colleague write to me to update me on the problems experienced by passengers and to highlight the action being taken to address them?

On a related issue of regional and national infrastructural importance, I wanted to flag up the importance of getting a sensible policy on smart motorways. In my part of England, we have had a smart motorway installed along the M4 from west London as far west as Theale, just beyond Reading. Unfortunately, the work was carried out using the revised specification, which puts refuges up to a mile apart. In my opinion and that of many critics, that is too far apart to be genuinely safe. Will the Minister look at that policy again? Other parts of the south of England have been affected by a similar approach to upgrading the motorway, such as the M27 around Southampton, Portsmouth and neighbouring towns. Again, unfortunately, when the work was carried out, a revised spec was used rather than the original one, which had more frequent refuge points. Will the Minister write to me and colleagues on that matter, which is of great importance to our region and to the country as a whole?

Those two significant issues relate to existing infrastructure. My third issue relates to forthcoming infrastructure. I urge the Minister to implore his colleagues to get the Government’s act together on the electrification of vehicles. Obviously, the Government backtracked on the 2030 target—sadly and wrongly, in my opinion—and in addition they have made matters worse by not achieving the intermediate steps they set out such as putting in a suitable number of charging points at motorway service areas. Range anxiety continues to be a major problem and is delaying the purchase and uptake of electric vehicles in many cases. It would be good if the Minister updated colleagues on progress.

I understand that the Government have not achieved their target of about six charging points in each service area—that seems a low bar—and that we may have something like four per service area on average at the moment. Even if six were achieved, that would be way below the potential needed for vehicles if they are truly to be electrified quickly and effectively so that we can hit our targets for tackling the climate emergency and boost British production of electric cars, which is a success story in our motor industry.

Those are some key strategic issues. If I may, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will mention some areas not directly covered by the policy statement but that many consider strategic priorities. We have the appalling state of the road network as a whole with the increase in potholes, which has possibly been exacerbated by heavy rain and frosts this winter. That is a huge challenge for the country as a whole. It affects many motorists, with people having to pay for expensive repairs, and it is a huge safety issue for both motorists and cyclists. I urge the Minister to look at that again, as well as at the speed at which the backlog in potholes is being tackled, and to support local authorities taking a more progressive and imaginative approach. My council, Reading Borough Council, has approached potholes with an “invest to save” mentality, doing large sections rather than just filling in individual potholes, and that seems to be tackling the backlog more effectively than some neighbouring authorities—Oxfordshire and Wokingham in particular—which are somewhat behind with their pothole filling.

Other matters that many people see as strategically important but are not under the statement’s remit include the encouraging of walking and cycling. Only 1% of the transport budget is spent on those important areas, yet their benefits to the country are huge. As we heard earlier when considering the Pedicabs (London) Bill, shifting people from cars to cycling allows more road space for those who do have to drive—we are not able to create much more road space—takes pollution out of the atmosphere, which is vital, and can improve road safety and people’s health and fitness. That is hugely important for the country, yet it gets only 1% of transport spending. Surely we should be looking at that again and trying to encourage it.

That includes improving safety in particular for pedestrians and for women at night by improving lighting, crossings and other measures. In my constituency, I commend local councillors, and Will Cross in Redlands ward in particular, who has ably championed the need for a pedestrian crossing on Upper Redlands Road. It should not take that much effort from a dedicated councillor to deliver something like that; it should be much more routine, with more pots of money available, and be considered in aggregate a national priority. Even if individual schemes are small, their overall effect is significant.

Thank you for indulging me slightly on those last few points, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the chance to speak and appreciate the Minister offering to write to me on some of the more immediate and significant matters.

16:48
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I have just a short contribution to make. The “National Networks National Policy Statement” refers at paragraph 3.2 to the fact that

“Population growth and economic growth are the most critical influences on travel demand.”

We know that the Government are much preoccupied with the need for economic growth. I wish them well, and I hope that we make a lot more progress than we have, particularly in economic growth per capita in the last 10 years. However, on the other aspect, we do not have any national policy statement about population growth, yet it is fundamental to all policy making done in government and in this House. Why do we not have a national policy statement about population growth? How is it that we have, by happenstance, allowed our population to increase by the best part of another million over the past 18 months? How can that continue? There is a reference in the document to projected growth over the next 20 or 30 years, but there is no basis for that.

It seems to me that underlying all our policymaking should be a policy about population growth. How many people do we wish to have in our country? What do we think is the sustainable maximum population? How is that population going to be looked after in terms of the age profile? Are we encouraging more of our own people in this country to have children and sustain the population in that way, as they do very effectively in Hungary? Or do we have a different policy, which, effectively, is to import labour into this country, thereby increasing the population exponentially?

I am not expecting my hon. Friend the Minister to come up with a definitive answer on this, but I think the point is worth raising. Why is it that we have a national policy statement on national networks, but we do not have one on population growth? I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we will be able to get one quite soon.

16:51
Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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Once again, the Government seem to be dodging scrutiny. This national policy statement for national networks has significant implications for the delivery of our climate and environment targets, yet rather than giving MPs the opportunity to properly debate it, this Government have, it feels to me at least, rather cynically left the approval of it to the very last minute before the Easter recess, when many colleagues have already returned to their constituencies. There are barely 10 people here in the Chamber this afternoon.

There are many concerns, in my view, about this particular statement, but I wish to focus in my brief intervention on the climate and nature consequences. As the Minister is well aware, when the review of the NPS was announced in July 2021, it was explained by the then Secretary of State on the basis that the 2014 NPS predated the UK’s commitment to net zero by 2050, the sixth carbon budget and the transport decarbonisation plan.

Aligning the NPS with our climate targets is, of course, absolutely essential, not least because about 10% of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from driving on the strategic road network and, according to the National Audit Office, transport-related emissions between 1990 and 2022 were reduced by just 11%—the lowest of any sector. There is a real problem here and, frankly, this policy statement fundamentally fails to rise to the occasion and to the challenge that that poses.

In its 2023 progress report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change recommended what it called

“a systematic review of all current and proposed road schemes”,

with only those that

“meaningfully support cost-effective delivery of Net Zero and climate adaptation”

to be taken forward. Perhaps the Minister can explain to me why his Department has refused to undertake any assessment, and why the NPS essentially reverts to the current pre-net zero carbon test. In the absence of such a review, can he explain how he plans to close the gaping delivery gap when it comes to cutting transport emissions?

Just last week, the Green Alliance think-tank published the latest update of its net zero policy tracker, which revealed that transport accounts for 70%—yes, 70%—of the overall policy gap for delivering the fifth carbon budget, so this is a huge issue, with 37% of the required emission cuts having absolutely no policy set out for them. Crucially, Green Alliance suggests that measures such as reviewing road building and redirecting funding into public transport would help to close the policy gap, so why is it not in this plan?

Rather than making our constituents ever more dependent on private cars, this NPS should have set out the need for bold rail and urban transport upgrades. It should have been about levelling up public transport outside London and improving cross-country rail. The first priority of the transport decarbonisation plan is modal shift, yet the NPS has no target for that. In fact, seven of the eight Department for Transport scenarios on which it is based assume exactly the wrong kind of modal shift—in other words, a shift to cars. Will the Minister explain why the statement does not reference the 2030 target for 50% of urban journeys to be made by active travel?

Looking at our environmental targets, it is profoundly disappointing that the NPS fails to set out the implications of the new Environment Act 2021 targets at the strategic or scheme level. It is just not good enough to simply have due regard to some of the targets.

Not only is this NPS unclear—as observed by Professor Stephen Glaister, former chair of the Office of Rail and Road and director of the RAC Foundation, who told MPs that

“I do not see clarity in that draft myself”

but it fundamentally fails to set out a new direction of travel to ensure the delivery of our climate and environmental targets. In the age of climate crisis, we need more than passing references to net zero and muddled attempts to justify the roads programme. We need urgent and bold action to decarbonise the transport system. This statement clearly does not provide that.

16:56
Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I will try to address some of the points that have been raised.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), mentioned freight. He will be aware that we published the future freight strategy, which is a long-term plan, in June 2022. It was developed with industry and sets out a cross-modal approach to achieve the long-term vision of a freight and logistics sector that is economically efficient, reliant, resilient, environmentally sustainable and valued by society. I am the co-chair of the Freight Council, alongside Isabel Dedring, who is an independent industry representative. The “Generation Logistics” campaign, which we hosted in the House of Commons, and the work that the Road Haulage Association and others are doing to drive forward true change in freight should genuinely be admired.

Turning to the points raised by the Chair of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), I take his two out of three cheers as being damned by faint praise. However, at the same time, no one is pretending that the statement is perfect. It is a work in progress—we all understand that. The document runs to over 100 pages and has been available for public consultation and oral hearings, and the Transport Committee has done an assessment of it, to which the Government have responded, so with respect, it is a substantial approach to this particular issue. I endorse the comments that he made about the future plans.

The hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), whom I will insult by calling a friend of mine, raised a number of points, and I will ensure that the Rail Minister responds to him. On the electrification of vehicles, I push back gently. One has to be aware that the network of publicly available charge points is rapidly increasing, with almost 57,000 installed—a 47% increase since March 2023. Clearly, more can be done—no one would dispute that—and I echo and share his desire. He makes the fair point that we need more charging points, and I take that on board. As for the Great Western delays, the Rail Minister will respond on that.

The hon. Member for Reading East and others raised the state of the roads. The allegation was made that there is no vision either to support local authorities or to address that, and that there is no long-term levelling-up plan for the north. With respect, the Prime Minister’s decision on HS2 has done a number of key things. The first, obviously, is that £8.3 billion has gone out to local authorities up and down the country, responding to the HS2 profile over 11 years. On average, that is a 30% increase in funding over the past year for every local authority—genuinely game-changing amounts of money—and the long-term funding pattern allows local authorities to invest in the future. That is something that every local authority says it wants more of.

Turning to the aspiration to support the north, one of the key decisions was to ensure that almost all of the HS2 money was spent in the north and/or the midlands as the areas affected by HS2. That is why the money is going into Network North and into the local transport fund that was announced, which has seen hundreds of millions of pounds going out to lots of different local authorities. Some local authorities have seen their transport budget increased by nine times.

The types of announcements that the Government have made also outline their direction of travel in relation to this issue. With respect, I will outline five things that the Government have done in the past 10 days alone. I was proud to announce the safer roads fund, which is spending a further £35 million in multiple locations across the country to try to enhance their road safety. Last Friday, the Secretary of State announced the ZEBRA scheme—for those who do not know, that is the zero-emission bus regional areas. There are dozens of locations up and down the country with hundreds of zero-emission buses funded and supported by this Government.

On Saturday, I announced active travel fund 4, which is worth £101 million, and saw some of the schemes that are being put in place in Darlington with the excellent Mayor, Ben Houchen, and my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). I have also been with my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) to see the £1.2 million that is going into the Medway active travel scheme. Clearly, the Automated Vehicles Bill is something that this Government have also championed.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend and co-Minister, and partner in optimism—I think that is the best way of putting it—is addressing some of those points.

There was further criticism in relation to the issue of climate change. I would gently push back: clearly, there has been a lot of change in Government policy since the national networks national policy statement was designated in 2015, particularly the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero by 2050. The transport decarbonisation plan, published in 2021, set out how transport’s contribution to net zero will be delivered, and the Environment Act 2021 introduced a more stringent approach to environmental protection and opportunities for enhancement of the natural environment. We have also seen the publication of road investment strategy 2 and the integrated rail plan, as well as support for rail freight, including the announcement of the rail freight growth target in December 2023. The NNNPS has been reviewed to reflect those changes in Government policy and to remain a robust framework for decision making on nationally significant infrastructure project schemes. Clearly, there are ongoing challenges in certain courts to the development of roads, and we await the decisions of those courts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) tempted me to become the Home Secretary. As we all know, the chances of that are our old friends slim and none, but I will take up with the Home Secretary the question of whether there should be a population growth assessment.

I thank all colleagues for their contributions today.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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Will the Minister give way?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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No. I genuinely commend the NNNPS, which is a mighty piece of work, to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House approves the National Policy Statement for National Networks, which was laid before this House on 6 March.