National Networks National Policy Statement Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

National Networks National Policy Statement

Anthony Browne Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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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.