Chris Heaton-Harris debates with Department for Transport

There have been 19 exchanges between Chris Heaton-Harris and Department for Transport

Thu 17th September 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 28 interactions (672 words)
Thu 10th September 2020 Manchester Piccadilly to Rose Hill Marple Trains 8 interactions (1,712 words)
Wed 22nd July 2020 Southern Heathrow Rail Link 4 interactions (1,658 words)
Wed 15th July 2020 Railway Station: Gamesley 2 interactions (1,004 words)
Thu 2nd July 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 37 interactions (787 words)
Mon 29th June 2020 Dronfield Station:150th Anniversary 4 interactions (1,340 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Transport in Carshalton and Wallington 4 interactions (1,653 words)
Fri 13th March 2020 Roadworks: Rayleigh 4 interactions (1,275 words)
Thu 12th March 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 51 interactions (1,057 words)
Tue 10th March 2020 East Putney Station: Step-free Access 2 interactions (1,258 words)
Wed 5th February 2020 Rail Services: Maidenhead, Twyford and Branch Lines (Westminster Hall) 9 interactions (1,383 words)
Tue 4th February 2020 Rail Services: North-East England 8 interactions (1,509 words)
Thu 30th January 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 66 interactions (1,229 words)
Wed 22nd January 2020 North Cotswold Line (Westminster Hall) 11 interactions (2,428 words)
Tue 21st January 2020 High Speed 1: Rolling Stock (Westminster Hall) 6 interactions (1,577 words)
Tue 29th October 2019 Colne to Skipton Railway Link (Westminster Hall) 13 interactions (2,991 words)
Thu 24th October 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 24 interactions (516 words)
Wed 16th October 2019 Portishead Railway 8 interactions (1,738 words)
Tue 1st October 2019 South Western Railway 20 interactions (2,952 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Thursday 17th September 2020

(4 days, 4 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab) - Hansard

What steps is he taking to improve accessibility for disabled people using the rail network. [906195]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

The Government have recently made £350 million available to make accessibility improvements at a further 209 stations through the Access for All programme. We also require the industry to comply with current accessibility standards whenever it installs, replaces or renews station infrastructure.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Sep 2020, 9:44 a.m.

Since July, the lifts at Luton Airport Parkway station have been in the process of being fixed, so people in my constituency who are disabled, have mobility issues or have a family with children and a buggies are not able to access the railway. I am pleased that Luton station has been granted Access for All funding. I spoke to the Minister six months ago about the decrepit state of Luton station and the need not just to add shiny lifts to something that is not fit for the 21st century. Will the Minister give me an update on the much-needed renovation of the station, the accessibility needs that have to be addressed and where we are now?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Parliament Live - Hansard
17 Sep 2020, 9:45 a.m.

I know, from when I met the hon. Lady virtually during lockdown, how she aspires to a wider redevelopment of Luton station. At that meeting, I promised to get Network Rail to continue its work with Luton Borough Council to finalise a solution to deliver an accessible step-free route at the station by 2024. Since then, Network Rail has presented a number of options to the council which are currently being considered.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West - Hansard
17 Sep 2020, 9:46 a.m.

Will the Minister accept a wider definition of accessibility and comment on the plans to stop the free travel for under-18s, which gets students all around London? Is there a plan for the Government to assist Transport for London, given its financial situation, to bring back free travel from half-term for under-18s, so they can get to schools and to other pursuits?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
17 Sep 2020, 9:46 a.m.

That is slightly beyond my brief and slightly stretching the accessibility definition to which I operate, so if I may I would like to write to the hon. Lady.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con) - Hansard

What steps his Department is taking to improve the condition of roads. [906194]

Break in Debate

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con) - Hansard

What support his Department is providing to local authorities to maintain and increase levels of cycling and walking. [906223]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

The Government are investing £2 billion in active travel over the next five years. That is the biggest ever boost for cycling and walking and, as we heard in the previous question, it is welcomed widely across the House.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard

It is a pleasure to see Tracey asking this question. We miss you; we really do.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch [V] - Hansard

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I miss you all too.

Thanks to the Government’s active travel grants, Medway Council has managed to upgrade many of its cycling and walking routes, which is superb news for those at the Chatham end of my constituency. However, at the other end, part of the Aylesford towpath collapsed into the River Medway earlier this year and is now closed to the 6,000-plus users per month. Despite Kent County Council’s incredible efforts to find funds to repair the towpath, it still faces a significant shortfall. Could the Minister offer any guidance towards emergency central Government funding pots that would enable the reopening of that incredibly popular path for cyclists and walkers?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

First, may I echo your words, Mr Speaker, and say how good it is to see my hon. Friend? She is one of the few MPs I follow on Instagram, from which I know what a keen cyclist she is—and, indeed, what she looks like in Lycra.

The Government allocated the first tranche of active travel funds to councils earlier in the summer; a bigger second tranche will follow shortly. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will be able to persuade her county council to make the appropriate investment in Aylesford towpath, and I would be very happy to work with her to try to help that happen.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney - Hansard

During the summer, I enjoyed a socially distanced walk with the regional Canal and River Trust team along the canal towpath between Marsden and Slaithwaite in my constituency. I support its bid for £45 million of funding from the Department as part of the commitment of £2 billion for cycling and walking to get people out on the canal towpath. Does the Minister agree that supporting such regional bids is a big part of encouraging more cycling and walking in our regions, and that it is a vital part of our levelling up the country and improving the health of our constituents?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I happily agree with my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. The canal towpath network across the country, a huge chunk of which runs through my constituency, is a wonderful place for walking and cycling. He is right to identify that we have committed a £2 billion package to active travel. We have started to get money out the door, and I very much hope that we will see schemes such as the one he mentions benefit from it so that we can all enjoy the countryside—and, indeed, other cycle routes through our cities and towns—more in the future.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con) - Hansard

What steps his Department is taking to improve rail infrastructure. [906200]

Break in Debate

Sir George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab) - Hansard

What plans he has to enable public transport authorities to operate their own bus services. [906201]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

The Government’s view is that the commissioning and provision of bus services should be kept separate, particularly as new partnership and franchising powers in the Bus Services Act 2017 are likely to lead to more local authority control and better influence of local bus services.

Sir George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth [V] - Hansard

I thank the Minister for his response, but I do not think it amounted to an answer to my question, so let me try again. If publicly owned bus services are right for London, why are they not right for the Liverpool city region?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

To be fair, the right hon. Gentleman’s question was, “What plans he has to enable public transport authorities to operate their own bus services,” and I gave the appropriate answer. However, as he will know, I am quite keen, as a localist, to try to do some of this, but the Government are committed to implementing the UK’s first ever long-term bus strategy, which will be accompanied by long-term funding. That strategy will focus on passenger needs and set out how the Government will work with local authorities and the private sector.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab) - Hansard

What recent representations he has received on the creation of additional integrated public transport systems throughout England. [906202]

Break in Debate

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind) - Hansard

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on the viability of the coach and bus sector. [906245]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I am the Minister for active travel, and these steps I am getting now are quite productive for my step count.

The Department works closely with the bus and coach sectors to assess the ongoing impact of covid-19 on their industries.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards - Parliament Live - Hansard

Many of the coach companies based in my constituency are family-run businesses, and they inform me that they are facing a year-and-a-half-long winter in economic terms as a result of the covid pandemic. They are, of course, vital cogs in the tourism sector, yet they cannot access covid-related hospitality, leisure and tourism funding. What discussions is the Minister having with colleagues in the Treasury and the devolved Governments to address this anomaly?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Parliament Live - Hansard

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. My Department has been in regular contact with the representatives of the coach industry, and we have been working very closely together. Officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also engage with the Coach Tourism Association via the Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group. My Department has helped to put together the package for home to school transport—a £40 million package that is benefiting the sector. We have regular conversations with the Treasury, and it is clear that the £330 billion of Government support through loans and guarantees can reach parts of this sector, too.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con) - Hansard

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [906160]

Manchester Piccadilly to Rose Hill Marple Trains

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Thursday 10th September 2020

(1 week, 4 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Mr William Wragg Portrait Mr Wragg - Hansard
10 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Absolutely, that makes it more difficult. That is why Northern needs to know that the operation has changed. It needs to know that it has to improve, that it is perhaps doubly accountable, because of the involvement of the Department for Transport.

To remove all services on the Rose Hill line will cause serious problems for many of my constituents, including schoolchildren, in particular those who attend Marple Hall School, and commuters generally. It flies in the face of the Government’s laudable desire to ensure that people can go about their lives using covid-secure public transport. The jargon of the rail industry—“securing timetables” or “keeping customers on the move”—is surely not achieved by wholesale suspension of services. It is high time that the line from Piccadilly to Rose Hill via Hyde was properly regarded by all as a valuable rail route, with enormous potential for the future. That ambition is already recognised by the public, given the increased passenger numbers over recent years. We cannot allow the line to be disregarded for administrative ease.

The excellent work done by local friends groups to champion and enhance stations must be recognised. I know how much work it was for the friends groups from my own area, including Rose Hill station, Marple and Romiley, to name but a few, and how much work they have done to oppose the proposals. Such groups are more than just responsible for the hanging baskets and the planters, even though—if I may plug this—Rose Hill station won the award for the best-kept station in Cheshire in 2019. Notwithstanding that, they are an integral part of understanding the needs and concerns of passengers. We must do all we can to engage with them properly and to value them.

I do not want to waste any more time this afternoon lamenting Northern’s past record. Now is the time for change and action. I need to hear the following from my hon. Friend the Minister—I hope he will forgive my assertiveness—who has been very helpful throughout the summer in seeking a solution: what will he do to stop a complete removal of service from the Rose Hill line? What will he do to ensure that Northern prioritises the line for driver training and for new trains? What will he do to avoid my constituents of Rose Hill, and some at Romiley and at Woodley, being without services on that line for three months as of Monday next week?

Rose Hill station has faced many challenges over the years. Perhaps its greatest was seeing off the machinations of Dr Beeching. We must not allow covid-19 to become the Beeching of our age for the railways. On the contrary, we must do all we can to support them and to ensure a steady and safe return of passengers to the network.

I am grateful to everyone who has worked to get the best possible outcome today, including the thousands of local petitioners. I know that, like me, they will listen keenly to the reply from my hon. Friend the Minister, from whom it is now time to hear.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) for securing this important and timely debate. Indeed, I think it was through him that I was first informed about the issues addressed in his speech. It is fair to say that ever since, he has been fairly persistent in his contact with me and, indeed, Northern trains and others to build a coalition to try to get services reinstated on the line.

Karin Smyth Portrait Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab) - Hansard

I hope momentarily to draw the Minister away from Cheshire and the north-west. Last October, my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), had an Adjournment debate on the subject of the Portishead line, which I also supported. We are very keen to see that line expedited. I wrote to the Minister further in August and hope he can look into that so that I can share in the good wishes of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg).

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
10 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I will honourably take up the hon. Lady’s offer, because what is going on in Portishead is a very positive piece of news. I look forward to having conversations with her to move that forward.

We are, though, talking about Rose Hill and Hazel Grove. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove has been building a coalition to reinstate his and his constituents’ much-loved services. He has done a very good job. We know him in this place as a hard-working chairman of a Select Committee and a great parliamentarian, but now we also know that he is a hard-working, caring and great constituency MP. He has demonstrated how he is willing to work with others from other political parties to get a result for his, and their, constituents. I put on the record the work that I know has been done on these issues by the hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra). I was pleased that we all had an opportunity to discuss this matter with the managing director of Northern trains last Friday.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove knows, I was concerned to hear that the Rose Hill service had been temporarily removed until December 2020. Let me be clear that Northern took this unwelcome decision itself, to maintain operational performance by increasing services overall while it managed its recovery from covid-19. Alas, prior to the pandemic Northern already had an intensive driver-training-programme backlog, but extra delays caused by the epidemic, combined with staff self-shielding at home, have meant that Northern has had to take steps to prioritise its available-and-competent driver resource to where it is most needed.

Northern made the decision to temporarily suspend services from Rose Hill because it believed that, given the availability of other train routes, stations and public transport options for Rose Hill passengers, that would have less impact for local customers than for those of other stations and routes. Northern says that it did not take the decision lightly. It anticipated and hoped that the provision of a replacement bus service and the availability of train-travel options from other stations close by would enable Rose Hill passengers to return to work and school with minimal disruption. None the less, Northern recognises that the decision, although made with the best interests of its customers network-wide in mind, caused significant concern and frustration among passengers, local-friends groups and Members of Parliament.

As we have been slowly exiting from lockdown and seeing Britons get back to work, the railway has rightly been increasing services to meet passenger demand and expectations. This Monday, on 14 September, there will be an additional service uplift for many passengers across Northern’s network. Train operators overall have been asked to restore a timetable that maximises the opportunities for passenger travel while maintaining the excellent performance levels we see at this point in time. I assure all Members that the rapid return of a good, regular, resilient timetable on the line is our priority.

Having listened to Members’ concerns, I can inform them that Northern has reviewed its timetable and outlined improvements. But I have challenged the operator to do more—immediately—for the passengers in the Rose Hill area. Moving resource around has enabled Northern to provide some glimmer of light for passengers on this line. Northern has prioritised the running of services for its customers that will be both resilient and reliable, rather than ramping up its services quickly. That is something I insist on: we need a reliable railway if we are to have a railway at all. It is focusing its efforts on the morning and evening peak times, using customer feedback to get essential workers to where they need to be. Literally moments before this debate commenced, Northern informed me that it intends to introduce two trains in the morning, Monday to Friday, for Rose Hill Marple from 14 September. They will arrive at 8.11 am and 8.36 am respectively to ensure that Northern can meet key school demand. There will also be an afternoon service to meet school demand, arriving at Rose Hill Marple at 3.14 pm and getting to Manchester Piccadilly half an hour later.

I would like to think that the coalition my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove brought together—the voices of his residents and the voices of Members of Parliament, hopefully amplified by me as the Minister—has been listened to by Northern in the conversations we have all had with the operator.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds - Hansard
10 Sep 2020, 5:16 p.m.

Let me say on behalf of my constituents in Hyde that that is extremely welcome news. A service that focuses on peak demand will go a huge way to meeting the need that is there, putting concerns at rest and keeping people on the railway, which is what we all want. I thank the Minister on behalf of my constituents.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Sep 2020, 5:16 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. He has played a great part in this, as have other hon. Members who have contributed today.

The impact of coronavirus means that the safety of passengers and staff must be paramount. That means the focus right now is on reliability and increased capacity to enable safer travel, with enough space for social distancing where possible. Northern runs a highly complex network and serves an enormous section of the United Kingdom. In fact, about one in five of all United Kingdom stations is a Northern station. It shares the network with nine other train operators, so the decisions it takes, such as moving trains around to run different services, affect the journeys people make all around the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove knows from our last meeting on Friday, Northern apologised for the removal of this service and committed to an internal review to learn the lessons from this issue. Northern is also reviewing options again to see how it can support affected communities until we get to the point where a full reliable service is restored.

More generally, the public sector operator will continue to work with Network Rail to make sure the railway delivers as one, with a single-minded focus on the interests of the passenger. As a part of that, the newly created cross-industry Manchester recovery task- force, co-ordinated by Network Rail, will deliver on recommendations on how best to boost capacity and performance in the short, medium and longer term.

Northern has already begun to deliver many improvements for customers, including the recruitment of more staff, a full train cleaning programme and improvements to many stations. However, there remains much more to do to provide the modern, reliable service that its passengers deserve. Northern really does hope shortly to update everybody further on its plans to transform the service, but until then it will continue to focus on getting the basics right: restoring reliability, increasing capacity and rebuilding trust in the organisation by providing services that all passengers can truly rely on.

Mr William Wragg Portrait Mr Wragg - Hansard
10 Sep 2020, 5:19 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that announcement and for the work he has done to secure it. He mentions the short, medium and longer term. Without wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, I wonder if he could elaborate further. Will Northern prioritise this route for the restoration of services before the deadline in December? Might there perhaps be the potential for better news in the weeks ahead?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Sep 2020, 5:19 p.m.

As my hon. Friend will recognise from my announcement, which was given to me only moments before I entered the Chamber, Northern is working particularly hard to ensure the restoration of service. I will continue to put pressure on it to continue to do that in the lead-up to 14 December, when the next timetable change comes in. I think we have already proved that, working together, we can get some change on our railways, and if we continue to do so, I am sure that will continue to be the case.

I recognise that the decision by Northern has caused serious concern among passengers and the constituents of my hon. Friend and others. The coronavirus outbreak has affected the way we work and go about our daily lives, and that is no different in the rail industry. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward this debate. I should say that, in doing my research for the debate, I came across some interesting claims by another local political party. Interestingly, considering its supposed level of concern, it is not represented here today. It claims to be running a campaign to get the service reinstated, so, thinking I might have missed something, I asked my officials to check whether any representations had been made to my Department by the local councillor concerned about reinstating the services. Unsurprisingly, the answer was no, not a thing. Not a sausage. As per usual, the Lib Dems are very good at moaning about something and happy to make a gripe fester, but in this case they were not interested enough to make representations to the Department that might have been able to help. Perhaps the collection of data in a campaign was more important to them than getting a result.

Fortunately, the people of Hazel Grove have my hon. Friend representing them, and from the very moment he heard about this issue, he made contact with me. Indeed, he did so before I found out about it formally. He has been forcefully and proactively asking the right questions of the right people to get the right results for the people he represents. He is a Member of a party in a Government who are going to level up the economic opportunities across our great nation. The Government understand the importance that communities across the country place on regular train services and the social and economic benefits that these can unlock for local economies.

I hope that the measures being introduced by Northern that I have announced will go some way to assure passengers relying on the Rose Hill Marple services as we come out of the coronavirus outbreak that we are looking to improve that service greatly. Hopefully they will also be pleased with the massive multi-million pound investment in new rolling stock, which I very much hope will be serving this route in the coming months. I hope that that goes some way towards answering my hon. Friend’s question. There is more work to do, but a lot of work has been done by the hon. Members present in the House today to restore some services on the line, and I thank my hon. Friend for all his help in doing that.

Question put and agreed to.

Southern Heathrow Rail Link

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Dr Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con) - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) and the Minister for allowing me to speak in this debate. I also admire my hon. Friend for the strong case—it was a tour de force—she made for a southern rail link, which would provide a local economic boost and create and support jobs in Runnymede and Weybridge at a time when they are sorely needed. It would deliver greater connectivity between Heathrow and London and my constituency, and cement my constituency’s status as one of the best places to live and work—alongside, of course, her constituency of Guildford.

A southern rail link would improve our local infrastructure and economy, but, crucially, it would also help us meet our environmental targets. Air pollution and noise pollution from the M25 and M3 affect Runnymede and Weybridge badly. We want people to use public transport, but the infrastructure needs to be in place. This would support the aviation sector, which both directly and indirectly supports many jobs and businesses in Runnymede and Weybridge. A new train track to Heathrow airport would not just help those who want to head off to Lanzarote—dare I say it, but I think everyone in this country could do with a holiday? It would also create jobs in the sector and help those in those jobs to get to work, day in, day out.

At a critical point in our country’s economic recovery from covid, a southern rail link would help us to not just bounce back but bounce higher.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:02 a.m.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I would like to start by thanking everyone who has contributed and by extending further congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) on securing this debate on the economic benefits of a southern rail link to Heathrow airport. I also congratulate all others who have contributed, including my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) and, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), who is unrelenting in her passion for her town and its core industry, as I think she will find we are in the rail industry, too.

The question my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford asked about the economics of a southern Heathrow rail link is, as she outlined, one that my Department has been considering for some time. Our Heathrow rail access programme was established in December 2016, with the aim of providing a step change in the accessibility of Britain’s busiest airport.

Unless travelling from central London, the current public transport offering to Heathrow is poor. Many people choose to use their own cars instead, leading to the traffic congestion that my hon. Friend outlined. Improving transport links to the airport would open up access for many regions of the United Kingdom, and a southern access scheme would open up new markets across the south-west of London and, indeed, the south-east of the United Kingdom, providing an attractive alternative to the heavily congested road network.

Although demand for air travel has fallen dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are supporting and want to see the recovery of the aviation industry. Thus we recognise the importance of major schemes such as this in encouraging people back to air travel, as well as in supporting passengers as they return.

The scheme my hon. Friend mentions would be part of the Government’s plan to build back better, build back greener and build back faster. We want to rebuild Britain and fuel the economic recovery across the United Kingdom. As she knows, this Government have committed to building a Britain with world-class infrastructure and have established Project Speed, ensuring that we are building the right things better and faster than before. Project Speed is an ideal method of dealing with some of the delays with the southern link.

The Heathrow rail access programme comprises two major schemes: the western rail link to Heathrow, serving Reading to London Paddington via a new tunnel to Heathrow, is the other one. I, too, am pleased to see the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) in his place. Not only does he give proper scrutiny to everything I try to do in the Department; he is also passionate about making sure that the western rail link to Heathrow actually comes about and does what it says on the tin for his constituents and others. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, I am pleased to see him in this debate.

The southern access link is at a much earlier stage of development than the western rail link project. It is intended to link terminal 5 directly to the south-west of London, potentially as far out as Surrey and Hampshire. I know that that is welcomed not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Guilford but by a whole host of people across Surrey.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra - Hansard

The Minister and I have spoken briefly on this matter since he took up his post. May I make a request to him because I think there is an opportunity in this world of projects to move forward? Sometimes there has not been a coherent debate, a proper assessment and proper criteria against which to evaluate a scheme. In the interests of the hon. Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson), who wants to see support for her constituents, in the interests of regeneration, and knowing that it takes two buses sometimes to get one and a half miles to Heathrow for my constituents as well, for work or for travel, is it time to convene a small cross-party taskforce in this place to look at how we might break through some of that and give those perspectives from our constituencies to help move this forward for the Minister?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

As I hope I will outline, this project is moving forward at a decent pace, but, on extra scrutiny from this place, there will be barriers. There will be people who rightly want to scrutinise any decisions made on this and I think that would be a valuable suggestion to take forward, as the project moves forward.

It is an important project. It is currently led by my Department. It is a pathfinder project, as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford said, seeking to harness all innovative forms of delivery and technology from the private sector to deliver a better service for passengers and ensure better value for money for the taxpayer.

As my hon. Friend said, only about 21% of all passengers travelling to Heathrow airport from the south use public transport instead of private road vehicles, and for areas such as Surrey and Hampshire, and Guildford especially, I am told that the figure is lower still, so we know that a market exists for this. In contrast, almost half of passengers and airport staff travelling to Heathrow airport from London and to the east of the airport do so by public transport.

Good progress is being made. Following the publication of the strategic objectives in November last year, my officials are currently finalising the pre-instituting outline business case—my Department loves a bit of jargon—to outline the case for change and the need for a scheme such as this, and to set out practically how the scheme could and should be taken forward. They continue to work closely with commercial advisers to develop commercial and financial models, with the intention of working alongside the private sector to fund, finance and deliver this scheme.

The scheme is in its infancy and as yet no route or mode has been selected, and there is also the possibility of more than one type of intervention to boost transport options. It can, however, be assumed that heavy rail will play a major part in the southern access to Heathrow.

It is clear that there is a strong case for improving transport links in the region, as I have described, and not just for airport passengers and employees, but for those who live in the wider area and would benefit from the roads being freer around Heathrow and, indeed, the extra public transport options this would bring. So while there are many different options for the scheme, we know the potential benefits are clear. First and foremost, it encourages people from their vehicles on to public transport, reducing congestion. We know this can be achieved through the creation of new and accessible high-frequency, reliable transport links with the interchanges and step-free access this scheme would bring. It also helps us to reduce the environmental impact of aviation and the associated carbon emissions, an important step on the path to net zero, and not only by providing new environmentally friendly journey options but also by utilising sustainable construction methods and materials. It will take into account any key environmental undertakings in that area being developed in collaboration with the relevant local authorities and local enterprise partnerships.

Obviously, this should—this could—help to connect communities, boost economic growth and encourage regeneration. It could provide—it would provide—greater connectivity and journey choices in south-west London, Surrey, and Hampshire to central London and help us with capacity across the south-west rail network as well. It would seek to employ the local workforce and source its apprentices locally, and look to improve trade links locally, nationally and internationally. And not just through passenger trains, because freight is also an important part of this equation, providing a much-needed boost and connection for the local and national economies.

As I said, this scheme is very much in its infancy and there is still much to be developed, but the work carried out to date and the work under way demonstrate that, if we get this right, it will be a really positive step towards the development of transport in the south of the UK and alleviating many of the pressures outlined in this debate, working to meet the needs of so many passengers and to improve the prospects of so many locally and nationally, across the whole of the UK, who travel around that part of our country.

A scheme such as this does not come without challenges. To ensure the safety of passengers, road users and pedestrians, we will not want to increase the usage of level crossings; level crossings are a bind for any rail Minister who has ever stood at this Dispatch Box. The new platforms at terminal 5 are underground, so it will be necessary to excavate tunnels, and the scheme will be required to integrate with new and existing infrastructure, both at terminal 5 and on the south-west main line—to name but a couple of the challenges.

There is, however, already strong market interest from the private sector. Several of the groups interested have developed scheme proposals to varying degrees. The Government tested market appetite in late 2018 and, although many organisations showed interest in developing and delivering a southern scheme, none was able to progress without some form of Government support. So my officials continue to work closely with these scheme promoters, operators, construction companies and capital investors, along with the wider private sector, to harvest the innovation and insight that they can provide, and that we can learn from to build a process for securing the best, and the very best value, scheme possible. The Department will continue to develop the southern access to Heathrow scheme, working alongside Network Rail and Heathrow Airport to integrate it with the western rail link and other major transport projects, ensuring the most efficient design and delivery of the whole scheme.

I am very aware of the strong benefits a southern access to Heathrow scheme will provide, not only to the passengers and employees of Heathrow airport, but to the people living in the surroundings of south-west London, Surrey, Hampshire and beyond. I look forward to working with all who are interested in developing this scheme and I am keen to move forward at pace.

I thank everybody who has taken part in this debate for emphasising the importance of this scheme and of aviation to our country. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford on securing the debate on the economic benefits of the scheme. I wish her, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all who work in the House a peaceful and healthy summer recess.

Question put and agreed to.

Railway Station: Gamesley

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con) - Hansard
15 Jul 2020, 12:07 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) for securing this important debate. It is widely known among his fellow northern MPs that he is a doughty champion for his constituents on a range of issues, not least this important project. In that vein, I wish to take Members on a brief journey, one that I hope will be as enriching and swift as commuters will soon enjoy from Gamesley to Manchester. That journey begins where else but in ancient Rome. In the senates of the Roman republic there was an august member of that body known as Cato Censorius, who was convinced that war was coming between the republic and the city of Carthage for control of the Mediterranean. So convinced of that was he that he began to end every oration with

“Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”

or, “Moreover, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed.” It did not matter what the debate was on, be it taxation, agriculture or the most auspicious date on which to go to the Circus Maximus, each and every speech would end the same way. That was helpfully shortened by 19th century historians to “Carthago delenda est”, which is less of a mouthful.

It was another 2,237 years before there would be another orator to match that clarity of purpose and single-mindedness—Robertus Architectus, or Robert the builder. This champion of the people of Alto Cacumen—High Peak to we mere Anglo-Saxons—has skilfully worked the building of Gamesley station into no fewer than eight debates, covering topics as diverse as rail fares, the economy and the Greater Manchester spatial framework. He has mentioned Gamesley station more times in his eight months as a Member of this House than all his predecessors combined.

That might all be to put a humorous spin on things, and I do so because my hon. Friend is a great friend of mine, but it does not diminish the fact that he is doing what we all came here promising to do: to put the interests of those who elected us first. The construction of Gamesley station will, much as the extension of the Metrolink to Middleton, do a great deal of good for the local economy, the environment, jobs and the prosperity of the region he represents. We are all seized with the idea that we need to get cars off the road and improve transport infrastructure, as well as boost our economy in the post-covid era. As Cato may well have said, this is bonum commune communitatis—for the good of the whole community.

It is an absolute pleasure to participate in this debate and I will bring my thoughts to a close by simply saying: ceterum autem censeo Stationem Ardotaliæ esse ædificandam!

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jul 2020, 5:39 p.m.

What do you say after that? I did two years of Latin at secondary school and I hated every second of it—I am sorry Mr Patterson. I just feel sorry for the Hansard transcribers at this point.

It has been a pleasure to listen to this debate on plans to build a railway station at Gamesley, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) for securing it. I also thank the other Members who have made contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) never misses an opportunity to remind me that other bids for Government spending on railways are available. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) is an expert in rail matters. I am not sure whether he managed eventually to get Gamesley into his contribution, but he proved that he knows what he is talking about. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) has confused me no end with what he said, but he made the point that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak does bang on about Gamesley station a lot. Before he was elected the proposal for a station at Gamesley had not been mentioned in Parliament since 1968, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton said, since he came here only a few months ago it has been mentioned in eight debates. Gamesley is definitely on the levelling up agenda, at least for contributions in the Chamber and, we hope, for development economically as well.

Hon. Members may be aware that I was an MEP for 10 years—this is like Alcoholics Anonymous and we can admit to things in this Chamber—and I represented High Peak, in the glorious region of the East Midlands, and I have been to Gamesley. So not only does the rail Minister know what he is talking about when it comes to stations, but I know exactly the location that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak is talking about. As Members will be aware, this Government are investing record levels in rail funding to deliver the biggest rail modernisation programme for more than a century. We are spending £48 billion over what in the industry lingo we call “control period 6”, which runs from 2019 to 2024, to improve rail services for passengers and freight customers, while maintaining current high levels of safety and reliability.

I was pleased to hear that my hon. Friend had supported a bid to the new stations fund to build a station at Gamesley. As I understand it, and as he has mentioned to me on a number of occasions, the people of Gamesley have waited a long time to have a train station. As Members will know, we launched another—£20 million—round of funding for the new stations fund, to open new train stations across the country, in a fresh boost for towns that lost their rail lines in the Beeching closures. Applications for the fund closed on 5 June, and we hope to announce the successful applications in the autumn. The fund was very over-subscribed because, as Members can tell from the contributions in tonight’s debate, there are lots of places that need to be connected to our rail network, having lost their connections in the past.

My hon. Friend will recall that earlier this year the Secretary of State invited Members, local authorities and community groups from across England and Wales to come forward with proposals on how they could use funding to reinstate axed local services, in an initiative called “Restoring Your Railway”, reversing the Beeching cuts. Thanks to the Government’s £500 million fund, long isolated communities across the country will benefit from better rail connections that will level up regional economies, boost access to jobs and education, and kick-start the restoration of lines closed more than 50 years ago. A sum of £300,000 has been committed to an ideas fund to kick-start the process and encourage innovative ideas that would then be considered for future funding. I suggest to my hon. Friend that this agenda fits very nicely with what he is trying to achieve for his constituents.

I have taken note of the fact that the Transport for Greater Manchester strategy delivery plan for 2020 to 2025 outlines Gamesley as a potential location for a new station. The Transport for Greater Manchester new rail and Metrolink study in 2018, which was commissioned in conjunction with authorities including Derbyshire County Council, identified that further work, including a strategic outline business case, should be produced with regard to Gamesley station. I really do think that we are getting on the right track in terms of my hon. Friend’s plans.

Northern trains has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to provide assurances that it will provide full support to all further work commissioned by Transport for Greater Manchester and Derbyshire County Council and to the development of the business case. With my hon. Friend’s cajoling, a number of key factors have been lined up to get Gamesley station firmly in front of planners.

I would therefore like to reassure my hon. Friend and other Members who took part in the debate that the Government are committed to investing billions of pounds to improve rail services for passengers and freight customers, while maintaining the current high levels of safety and reliability. We are committed to levelling up the country and to build, build, build. That is why we launched the new stations fund to open up new train stations across the country, providing a fresh boost for towns that lost their rail lines in the Beeching closures. I really do hope that the people of Gamesley will be able to benefit from this initiative.

There is some way to go down this route before winners are selected, but the Government are genuinely committed to levelling up opportunity across the United Kingdom, and my hon. Friend has made an extremely powerful case for Gamesley in his constituency.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Thursday 2nd July 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con) - Hansard

What steps his Department is taking to increase the frequency of rail services following reductions in those services as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [904128]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

The rail industry will deliver an uplift in services on Monday 6 July to respond to an increase in post-4 July demand. Service levels will be close to 85% of pre-covid levels.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb - Hansard

The Prime Minister is a big fan of buses, just as I am a big fan of trains—I do not make model trains yet, though—so I am proud to support a Government who are investing £48 billion into railways, giving them the biggest upgrade since Victorian times. Will my hon. Friend assure me that such funding will be used to ensure that communities across all parts of the country such as mine in Stourbridge, have access to reliable, punctual railways?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I had already noted that my hon. Friend has a passion for rail as she has sponsored a bid to reinstate a railways fund for the “Stourbridge Dasher,” which I look forward to examining shortly. Yes, the Government are investing £48 billion in our railways in the period 2019 to 2024—that figure does not include HS2—with the intention to use that money to deliver a reliable rail service that helps to level up our country.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab) - Hansard
2 Jul 2020, midnight

I pay tribute to our wonderful rail workers, who have played a vital role in keeping our nation moving in the midst of a pandemic. As we come out of lockdown, I welcome the Government’s plans to increase the frequency of rail services as, indeed, I wholeheartedly welcomed the Government’s plans and efforts to effectively nationalise our rail services at the start of lockdown. It is disappointing to note, however, that other operators such as Hull Trains have been refused the exact same support from the Government, thereby risking hundreds of jobs.

There is no point in having lots of trains running if people are not using those services because they fear it is not safe to do so. Given the Government’s mixed messaging, with weakening social distancing requirements on the one hand and patchy compliance with the new face-covering law on the other, how does the Minister propose to protect passengers and rail workers while restoring public confidence in our network?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench. We have had a conversation already and I look forward to working with him. Our railways are a very important part of bringing our nation’s economy back. It is quite straightforward: we will have a reliable train service that will be one of the cleanest on the planet. We want to get customers back when they are able to travel, given the appropriate guidance. Working together, I think we can do that.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard

What recent discussions he has had with transport providers on safe access to public transport for people with sight loss as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. [904130]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

The Government remain committed to delivering inclusive transport for all passengers. My officials and I meet regularly with transport providers and make it clear that they must consider the needs of all passengers as transport restarts. My most recent meeting involving a sight loss charity was last Friday.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor [V] - Hansard
2 Jul 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituent Janice, who is blind, is anxious about how to keep safe and stay socially distant on public transport, and she is not alone. The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s director of services, David Clarke, said:

“Social distancing is near-impossible for…blind and partially sighted people which makes it difficult to go out and get food…exercise or attend medical appointments”.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure the RNIB and my constituent by acting early to ensure that all transport providers in England have the funds available for new accessible signage, so that social pressure to keep to the rules does not have an unfair impact on blind and partially sighted people?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question. She is absolutely right in everything she says. I have been working with a whole range of accessibility groups and disability charities to try to make sure that we get our messaging right, because we want to welcome everyone back to our rail system eventually and we want it to be the most accessible in the world. We have a long way to go, but we are working with those groups to deliver that service as best we can.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab) - Hansard

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the (a) freight logistics and (b) road haulage sector of not reaching a deal on the future relationship with the EU by the end of the transition period. [904131]

Break in Debate

Royston Smith (Southampton, Itchen) (Con) - Hansard

What steps his Department is taking to encourage people to use electric cycles. [904137]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

The Government have simplified their cycle to work scheme guidance to help employers to access e-bikes at a discount.

Royston Smith [V] - Hansard

Southampton has received Government funding for additional cycle lanes, many of which lie unused for most of the day. My constituency is surrounded by hills, which is quite a deterrent for people on cycles. E-bikes and e-scooters could make a significant difference. I welcome the news that e-scooters will become legal this weekend, but without relaxing the regulations for privately owned e-scooters, a city centre hire scheme will make little or no difference in Southampton. Will my hon. Friend look again at privately owned e-scooters to encourage more of my constituents out of their cars?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to capitalise on the unprecedented growth in active travel that we have seen recently, especially on bicycles and e-bicycles. He is completely correct about e-scooters; these trials will only include rental scooters. This will allow them to take place in a controlled manner while we assess the safety and other impacts. A wide range of e-scooters are available, building to different standards. I would like to think that the trials will demonstrate how useful they are in the mix for active travel.

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard

Whether the Government plan to make a sustainable transport plan implementation strategy mandatory for every local authority. [904138]

Break in Debate

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab) - Hansard

What recent steps the Government have taken to increase passenger confidence in the railway. [904142]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

The Government have provided guidance to transport operators and the public so that they can travel safely. We have made it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings on public transport in England and, pleasingly, compliance is growing every day.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin [V] - Hansard

Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the railways, but my constituents in Bedford and Kempston have been particularly hard hit. The Bedford-to-Corby electrification is now delayed; the long-awaited return of the East Midlands Railway service is delayed until May next year; the current Thameslink service is slow; and the Bedford-to-Bletchley trains have been stopped altogether. Does the Minister agree that this is a far cry from the transport revolution that his Government promised?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I think he is mixing up the reaction to the obvious pressures we have had because of the pandemic with our plans for the future. Some of the plans that he outlined are delayed, yes, but that is because people were not able to work safely during the pandemic. The train line that he mentioned is no longer serving Bletchley because nobody was using it. These services will all return and they will be reliable and cleaner than ever before.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con) - Hansard

What steps his Department is taking to fast-track construction on transport projects while fewer passengers are using the transport system during the covid-19 outbreak. [904148]

Break in Debate

Chris Green Portrait Chris  Green  (Bolton West)  (Con) - Hansard

  The Government have devolved a great deal of responsibility to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has to deliver on the Greater Manchester spatial framework and a transport infrastructure required to meet the demands of increased house building. The whole project has suffered delay after delay, so vital infrastructure such as the Westhoughton bypass is not being delivered. What can my right hon Friend do to remove the roadblock in the Mayor’s office? [904180]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

We have devolved significant power and funding to metro mayors, including to the metro mayor of Manchester, to ensure that he can deliver the transport schemes needed to unlock housing and growth, so that Greater Manchester’s economy can thrive as the heart of the northern powerhouse. The bypass is one scheme for the Mayor to consider prioritising and thereby, we hope, deliver. We will happily work with him to ensure that conversation continues at pace.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie  Peacock  (Barnsley East) (Lab) - Hansard

  Funding for buses in South Yorkshire has been cut by 40% in the past decade. Will the Minister commit to the additional funding needed to implement the recommendations of the South Yorkshire bus review? [904181]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, £504,000 has been provided to Sheffield City Region Combined Authority to date through the covid-19 bus service support grant. In addition, we are spending a huge amount of money—£3 billion—on a bus strategy going forward. I would like to think we can work together to deliver the service that her constituents require.

Dame Cheryl Gillan Portrait Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con) [V] - Hansard

As the Secretary of State will know, many of my constituents in Chesham and Amersham depend on Heathrow for their work. Do the Government plan to introduce a covid-19 testing programme at airports, and is he working with our trading partners to establish a common international standard for health screening to accelerate the recovery of the aviation sector and rebuild consumer confidence in our airports and our aviation industry? [904182]

Break in Debate

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con) - Hansard

As I am sure my right hon. Friend will be aware, a number of local authorities, such as Dudley Council, can derive a significant income from their shareholding in local airports. Will he and his colleagues in government do all he can to mitigate the negative impact of a substantive loss in income during the pandemic, as that income would have paid for services? [904186]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

The Government recognise the impact on many local authorities that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. We have announced a vast package of support for local authorities, and we are consulting across government on the issues that he has raised today.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab) [V] - Hansard

A worried constituent of mine who has worked for BA for 30 years has helped the Government with vital repatriation flights, which put him at risk and meant heartbreaking self-isolation from loved ones between flights. BA has paid my constituent and his colleagues back with a jobs betrayal that the Transport Committee has called “a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic”. Unite and the BA Betrayal campaign have called on the Minister to act if BA continues with these plans by amending BA’s access to lucrative UK landing slots. Please will the Government agree to this? [904188]

Break in Debate

Joy Morrissey Portrait Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) (Con) - Hansard

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that transport infra- structure will be at the heart of this Government’s levelling up agenda, and that the £100 million that was announced for roads in the Prime Minister’s new deal for Britain is only the start? May I also ask the Minister to spare a thought for the roads and potholes of Beaconsfield? [904191]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

The Government have a massive agenda of levelling up this country and providing transport infrastructure that is fit for years to come. We are doing that, and we are investing in it. We look forward to supporting my hon. Friend in filling potholes in her constituency, too.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard
2 Jul 2020, 12:03 a.m.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.

Dronfield Station:150th Anniversary

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley - Hansard

It was a privilege to celebrate Dronfield station, its supporters, their determination and their grit, and their sheer hard work to make a success of a microcosm of Dronfield as a town and North East Derbyshire as a whole.

To everyone who has been involved in the first 150 years, thank you, and here’s to the next 150. This is a brilliant example, for the Government and the Minister to take note of—a successful community aspiring to do more and coming together to forge a real and enduring success story.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) for securing this fantastic debate on Dronfield station to recognise and commemorate its 150th anniversary. His speech was a beautiful historical recital of Dronfield’s intermittent relationship with our railways. I hope that it will have a very strong relationship with our railways going forward.

I am slightly concerned because this is the fourth Adjournment debate that I have done without the presence of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I am not sure whether even having an Adjournment debate without his presence is in order.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard

Just to help the Minister, as we know, even the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) cannot link himself to 150 years of Dronfield railway station, hence he is not here. As much as he would love to and as much as he may find a connection, I could not put him on the right track for this one.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, midnight

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have just received a text from him, actually; he has got a strong relationship with Dronfield station and wishes it a happy birthday.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire knows, I am a former Member of the European Parliament, and I represented his constituency in the east midlands for a decade, so I know the town pretty well. I have canvassed there—possibly not quite as successfully as he did in recent elections, but I do know it pretty well. I was going through my diaries to see whether I ever did catch a train from the station. I cannot say I ever have, but I very much look forward to having the opportunity of doing so at some point in the future.

My hon. Friend knows that this is a huge milestone for the town of Dronfield. I should start by congratulating him on his support of the Friends of Dronfield Station, and asking him to thank them on behalf of the Department for Transport for everything they do to improve and love their station and its services. I am sure that those who visit the medieval St John’s parish church or Dronfield Hall Barn appreciate the stunning flowers and hanging baskets that adorn the station and how clean it is kept. Until the outbreak of this terrible virus, it was quite possibly one of the cleanest stations on our rail network.

My hon. Friend will know that the Government are investing record levels in rail funding to deliver the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century. In fact, we are spending £48 billion over what we call control period 6—that is the slightly Soviet terminology for a five-year period of rail spending—which runs from last year to 2024, to improve rail services for passengers and freight customers while maintaining current high levels of safety and reliability.

I was extremely pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned that he had supported a bid to the Restoring your Railway fund to reopen the Sheffield to Chesterfield via Barrow Hill line, which includes Dronfield station. As hon. Members on both sides of the House will know, earlier this year the Secretary of State for Transport invited Members, local authorities and community groups across England to come forward with proposals for how they could reinstate axed local services. Thanks to the Government’s £500 million fund, long-isolated communities across the country will benefit from better rail connections that will level up regional economies, boost access to jobs and education, and kick-start the restoration of lines closed more than 50 years ago. So far, we have committed a sum of £300,000 to an ideas fund to kick-start the process to encourage innovative ideas that will be considered for future funding. We are now working with successful bidders, as my hon. Friend said, to agree the scope of the work. We will provide guidance to help each scheme to get to a point where they can develop a full business case to become part of what we nattily call the rail network enhancements portfolio—the big chunk of money that I mentioned earlier.

I know that my hon. Friend is interested in what goes on around his area to help to connect the town of Dronfield and others, and that he is well aware of what is going on in the Hope Valley capacity scheme. That scheme is an important part of the Great North Rail project to transform journeys between the northern powerhouse cities of Manchester and Sheffield by removing a bottleneck in the Hope Valley line. I am pretty sure that he will be pleased to know that we are continuing to look at ways to speed up this work, and I am quite sure that, actually, we might hear quite a lot from the Prime Minister tomorrow about how we are going to speed up all sorts of things when it comes to big chunks of infrastructure in our country.

For example, on this particular line, Network Rail is currently undertaking early signalling design in parallel to the tendering process. This element of the design is very time-consuming and is therefore a significant driver of overall timescales, and we are trying to speed it up. I am pleased to say that this is proceeding to programme, despite challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic. It is also liaising with train and freight operating companies to secure possessions, where we take control of the whole track and close it down for a period of time, so we can do proper work and agree any changes to the network that may be required during construction. These activities are normally decided once the contract to deliver the scheme has been let, so we are beginning to work out how to improve the network.

I shall turn now to the midland main line upgrade. As Members know, we are investing huge sums of money in the midland main line, which was completed in 1870. It will enable improved long-distance passenger services between Sheffield, Nottingham and London, as well as improved services between Corby, Kettering and London. There will be more seats, faster inter-city journeys, and new fast and efficient inter-city and express trains. For long-distance journeys, we will reduce journey times by up to 20 minutes in the peak and a brand new fleet of bi-mode trains will be introduced. For journeys from Corby through Luton into London, including from Wellingborough, passengers will benefit from a new and dedicated electric service. From 2021, the trains will be fast—like today, but longer and with more seats. This means more comfortable journeys for long-distance and commuting passengers at the busiest times of the day. These measures will provide over 50% more seats into London in the peak, once the upgrade is complete.

My hon. Friend mentioned a concern to me previously about reducing the direct calls at Dronfield in the existing East Midlands rail service to Manchester and Liverpool. I can assure him, having checked, that I do not know of any such proposals and my officials do not either, so I would like to think that they are safe, at least for the time being.

This has been a celebration of a town and its relationship with the railway. My hon. Friend mentioned the successful campaign led by Dr Peter Hayward and Natascha Engel, the former MP for the area. I know how much they worked together to ensure that the reintroduced Nottingham to Leeds service did actually stop in Dronfield.

My hon. Friend also talked about the success of this railway. Railways are very much like “Field of Dreams” moments with Kevin Costner, because when you build it, people do come. They really do use their service, and they fall in love with it. Sometimes it is a love-hate relationship, but they absolutely do love it—because when it disappears, as it had done for a period of time, my word, do we, as politicians, hear about it. As he mentioned, there were just 32,000 people using trains from Dronfield in 2006, going up to a quarter of a million in 2018. It is a fantastic success story.

I am quite sure that with my hon. Friend at the helm and with the amazingly strong campaign by Friends of Dronfield Station, the station has a fantastically bright future in our railways. Dronfield station can feel tremendous pride in this magnificent milestone and has a tremendous amount to look forward to.

Question put and agreed to.

Transport in Carshalton and Wallington

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 8:14 p.m.

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the Speaker’s Office for granting this Adjournment debate to discuss transport issues in Carshalton and Wallington. Along with St Helier Hospital, education and, more recently, issues relating to coronavirus, transport remains one of the most common issues that appear in my postbag. It is also something that affects me as someone who commutes to this place every day.

Because my constituency sits within a London borough, the borough of Sutton, there is an assumption that we must be well covered by public transport, but the statistics tell a very different story. Sutton has an average public transport accessibility level—PTAL—of just 2, with the majority of Carshalton and Wallington ranking at 2, 1 or even zero in some places. The borough is ranked 29th out the 32 London boroughs and the City of London for connectivity and is the only borough in London that does not have access to an underground, Overground or Crossrail station. We are also not on the map for Crossrail 2. The only reason we are not dead last for connectivity is that technically we have access to a tram within our borders, but I will talk more about that later.

Notwithstanding the ability to walk, cycle or drive, this situation means that Carshalton and Wallington residents have a choice between limited bus and National Rail services when travelling by public transport. One might argue that this reflects the borough’s contribution towards the Mayor’s council tax precepts, which stands at 28th out of the 32 London boroughs, but this argument immediately falls down because the remaining four boroughs have received higher funding and have greater connectivity than Sutton.

This poor level of access to transport cannot continue. As the population of Sutton continues to grow, our ability to have economic growth, access services and play our part in tackling the climate crisis is severely stunted without better transport connections. Carshalton and Wallington is in a London borough, and that borough is the eighth most economically active in London. It is time we had investment in our transport networks that reflected those realities and allowed us to reach our full potential.

I will turn first to rail connectivity. My constituency is home to Carshalton, Wallington, Hackbridge and Carshalton Beeches stations, providing northbound services to central London and southbound services to Sutton, Epsom and beyond. Of course, reliability is always an issue raised by Members, and it is no different for me. I will be working constructively with Southern and Thameslink, the rail operating companies that serve my constituency, to ensure that improvements continue to be made. I would also be grateful if the Minister could comment on the work the Government are doing to ensure greater reliability on our rail network.

One of the primary issues for my constituents, however, is rail frequency. Prior to lockdown, peak services would be full by the time they reached our local stations, meaning an uncomfortable or even delayed journey for many and pushing some to reconsider using the rail network or even their employment in order to avoid it. Having met with Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail since being elected, I am clear that there are two primary issues preventing additional services from being run on our lines. The first is something I know many colleagues have raised in the House: infrastructure on the railway. Often it is so outdated that it prevents trains from being turned around as quickly as they are on the London Underground, for example, which would allow additional time and space for more trains to be put on the line. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on updating our rail infrastructure, including things such as digital signalling, electrification and joint command centres between rail operating companies and Network Rail.

Nevertheless, it appears that congestion is the real barrier to running additional services. Many, if not most, of my services run through Selhurst junction, which is currently massively congested, and Network Rail has just launched a consultation on its plans for what it calls the Croydon bottleneck scheme. It is designed primarily to unlock congestion on the Brighton main line but would have the knock-on effect of allowing more frequent services to run through my constituency. I am encouraging constituents to take part to demonstrate the huge support there is for putting on additional services once that is unlocked. Could the Minister comment on whether the Government support the Croydon bottleneck project?

There are things that can be done in the here and now, however, to help commuters once the lockdown measures are eased. First, there is safety. The gap between the train and the platform at Hackbridge and Carshalton Beeches in particular is so high that even the use of ramps is not particularly safe. I have raised this with GTR and Network Rail, and I hope to see the platforms heightened, at least in places, to make it safer to board and depart from trains. Secondly, there is accessibility. The southbound platform at Carshalton Beeches does not have step-free access, so I have submitted a bid in order to help to secure funding to deliver that. I hope that that will be favourably looked on by the Department.

Finally, there is the issue of the platforms themselves, with the platform at Hackbridge, for example, able to accommodate only seven cars. If there could be an extension to allow it to accommodate 10 cars, which it currently runs at peak services, that would reduce congestion on the concourse. These changes, plus a commitment to investment in infrastructure and the Croydon bottleneck project, will help to unlock many of the transport issues of my constituents.

Apart from trains, buses are the only other public transport option for my constituents. It is fair to say that, as we heard in the previous statutory instrument debate, compared with other parts of the country, Carshalton and Wallington does have okay bus services, but they are certainly not perfect. Again, access is an issue for some, particularly those living in Clockhouse and the more rural parts of Carshalton Beeches. It is possible to get around the borough fairly easily by the bus services that operate there. The introduction of the Go Sutton bus, which Transport for London operated on a trial basis as an Uber-style on-demand bus service travelling to more or less every part of the borough, was very welcome. I hope the Minister would agree that TfL should seek to reinstate this service as soon as possible. It is currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There are also a number of bus services that go to and from Croydon, but a limited number that go outside the borough to any other destinations such as Merton, Wandsworth or Kingston. There are also very few services that travel southwards outside the Greater London Authority area and into Surrey, with which I share a border. I will say more about this problem later. As Carshalton and Wallington grows, connecting us up to new destinations by bus, as well as increasing the frequency of some routes and making busier services double-decker, would help to connect Sutton with its surrounding areas and make it easier to travel within the borough as well.

However, improvements in the rail and bus networks are only part of the solution, and in order to reach our full potential we need new transport options. Of all the potential options, perhaps none has been discussed for so long as a Sutton extension of the London Tramlink. The long and convoluted history of the Tramlink could be an Adjournment debate in itself, so I will not bore the Minister with too much back story, particularly as discussions about this started as early as 2002, only two years after the Croydon Tramlink was launched. However, I do want to draw to his attention the fact that sadly, if anything demonstrates that the current Mayor of London seems to forget that Sutton exists as a London borough, it is the Croydon Tramlink. When he was a Transport Minister in this place, he said:

“I am not sure what the Mayor’s priorities are, but they are not the Croydon Tramlink”.—[Official Report, 28 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 939.]

How fitting that 10 years on, the same could be said of him.

In a London Assembly report released last year, it was shown that Sutton came dead last for investment from City Hall out of all the London boroughs. Just £16 million has been spent in the borough since the Mayor was elected in 2016, compared with, for example, £2.1 billion of investment for Newham. The previous Labour Mayor of London showed that he was not particularly interested in outer London, and unfortunately the current Mayor seems to be following in his footsteps. Funding was set aside by the previous Conservative Mayor to help to deliver this project, which equated to £100 million. Unfortunately, the current Mayor redistributed that funding. After lobbying from our excellent London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, the Mayor has agreed to set aside a smaller figure of £70 million to put towards the project. Sutton Council and Merton Council have also set aside some moneys for it. However, the overall projected cost of delivering the Sutton extension to the Tramlink has been rising considerably since it was first mooted. Perhaps if the Mayor had not driven down TfL’s finances to such a state, particularly in allowing Crossrail to get out of control, we would not be in this position.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, technically my constituency has two tram stops on the route. However, these are in the far north-east corner of my constituency on the border with Croydon and Merton. They are behind an industrial estate and serve a very, very small number of residents who live just outside that area. The next residential streets are more than a 30-minute walk away, and they are much closer to other transport options. Extending the tram to Sutton would therefore do wonders for the local economy but also connect Carshalton and Wallington residents up with new destinations.

TfL has now completed a consultation, agreed the route, and agreed, indeed, to go with the tram rather than the alternative bus rapid transit option, but we are now at a standstill. The project is ready to move on to the next stage of official designs and to go into the planning system. Even the Mayor himself has said that he estimates that the first services could be in place in the next few years if there was no delay, but without any additional funding this project will not go anywhere. Local, regional and national Government need to come together on this issue to ensure that the consultation is not allowed to collect dust, become too expensive and ultimately be consigned to the dustbin of history, so can the Minister give me any view on how the Government see the Sutton extension of the Croydon Tramlink?

As we work towards that extension, I hope the House will indulge me if I throw another possibility into the mix. Hackbridge is an important part of my constituency that is currently experiencing considerable growth. The New Mill Quarter development will bring 805 new homes and well over 1,000 new residents to the area, and Hackbridge definitely needs additional transport capacity to be able to cope. Currently, many residents go to Mitcham Junction, which is just one stop up the train line from Hackbridge, to intercept the tram. I wonder whether there is an argument for TfL doing exploratory work and extending the tram down the Network Rail line, perhaps running a single track alongside the Network Rail route, to provide tram services to Hackbridge. I hope that the Minister would agree that is at least worth TfL’s taking a look at such a project.

Next, I wish to draw attention to another potential extension that I believe would benefit Carshalton and Wallington residents: extending the London Overground service to Sutton, via Waddon, Wallington and West Croydon—an idea backed by Neil Garratt, our excellent candidate for the London Assembly. The London Overground could directly connect local residents to destinations that they cannot currently reach without making more than one change. It is my understanding that Sutton was originally mooted as the end point for the London Overground service, but it was decided that it would end at West Croydon instead because the service would be too popular with Sutton residents and therefore too busy by the time it got to Croydon. I hope the Minister agrees that that is a nonsensical argument, because surely that only demonstrates the need for such a service and how much capacity could increase on the line.

Luckily, there is an existing rail line between Sutton and West Croydon, so to make the change, all that would have to happen is that the trains would quite simply have to keep on going and not stop. Of course, I realise that things are never quite as simple as that, and there would be difficulties with congestion and the potential timetable changes needed to deliver it, but I hope that the Minister agrees that the absence of the need for a large infrastructure project to see the idea through to completion would mean that it would be relatively easy to deliver, so would be worth the work to deliver it.

Finally, I wish to touch on the issue of roads and pavements, because all too often in conversations about transport, roads and pavements are left out. As a borough with one of the highest car ownership rates in London, more than a quarter of journeys are done on foot but more than half are done by car, according to the 2011 census, so conversations about roads and pavements are incredibly important for residents of Carshalton and Wallington. They are also important because just as many—if not more—residents commute south into Surrey by car as commute north into the city by train.

When I talked about buses, I mentioned the difficulties of travelling south, and I wish to outline a problem which I believe many outer-London boroughs suffer: working across the Greater London Authority boundary. The border between the GLA and Surrey County Council is much firmer and more cumbersome than those between the London boroughs, and understandably so for many reasons. However, that presents difficulties when talking about transport, because in essence TfL can look only north and Surrey has no jurisdiction in the area at all. The road network between Sutton and Surrey therefore needs to be strong to allow traffic to flow more easily without causing congestion. Action must also be taken to tackle potholes, and I am grateful for the Government’s pothole funding, which has drastically increased the amount of money that Sutton Council has to repair our roads.

It is also important to make sure that our roads and pavements are safe for other road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists. Again, I thank the Government for the funding to introduce new walking and cycling spaces. I am just sorry that the incompetent Lib Dem council in Sutton did not see fit to work collaboratively to discuss the proposals, despite other councils managing to do so.

The new spaces must be safe and effective; I worry that sometimes cycling routes can be seen as a box-ticking exercise, with a few yards put here and there across boroughs that do not connect up and ultimately lead to nowhere. Any such measures must, though, strike a balance with other road users, such as cars, to ensure that there is no congestion on our roads. As we work towards a greener future, in which safer roads will play an incredibly important part. it is vital to offer incentives to walk or cycle and, indeed, to use electric vehicles. I would be grateful if the Minister could say a little about how the Government are investing in safer streets.

In bringing my remarks to a close, I would just observe that transport is incredibly important for many reasons. It not only connects us but enables us to drive economic growth and it will play a massive part in tackling the climate emergency. Carshalton and Wallington has been left growing without the investment to match it and without reaping much reward from being a London borough. As one of the worst, if not the worst, connected borough in London, it is no longer acceptable to not get our fair share of transport investment. Some changes may take years, but there are those that could be achieved very quickly indeed. I hope the Minister will agree that work should advance on those as soon as possible. We need to unlock the Croydon bottleneck to allow more trains to run through the area and we need to make better use of bus services to connect with surrounding boroughs. The question mark over the tram needs erasing and replacing with a completion date. The London Overground needs to be extended to connect commuters to new destinations, and our roads and pavements must be safe and well maintained for all users.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:09 a.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing this debate on transport in his constituency, and on his enlightening, constructive and extremely wide-ranging speech this evening. As a new Member of Parliament, he has a long list of things that he wants to achieve for his constituents. I very much hope to spend some time guiding him down the right routes this evening, because I think he can achieve a number of his ambitions over his hopefully very long tenure in the seat.

I listened very carefully to my hon. Friend’s representations about transport services in Carshalton and Wallington and I will try to address most of them. He represents a fantastic constituency in a borough where I spent my formative political years campaigning. I have very fond memories of those campaigns across the constituencies of my hon. Friend and his neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). Some of my earliest political friendships were formed in and around my hon. Friend’s constituency: Richard and Lesley Barber; Peter Geiringer, a former councillor—

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, midnight


Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, midnight

A current councillor. He has been around a fair bit in his time, campaigning on these sorts of issues. It is really good to be able to have this joyous trip down memory lane and address the content of my hon. Friend’s excellent speech.

My hon. Friend talked about the tramlink extension that he would like to see—the Sutton link. As he said, transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London and delivered by Transport for London, so this matter is not actually within my portfolio. However, my hon. Friend has registered the importance of that extension to his constituents and his very, very strong ambitions in this area. He also talked about various bus routes. Some are currently paused because of the covid crisis, but fortunately many are still going. I know that TfL is listening to this debate tonight and I will ensure that they reply directly to the points he made that are within its auspices.

On rail—as the rail Minister, I can actually make some fairly solid suggestions—I can inform my hon. Friend that the Government’s priority is for the country’s trains to run on time and to drive growth across the country by giving local leaders a greater say in the running of their railway. That is why we are investing record levels in rail funding—the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century. In fact, we are spending £48 billion over what is called, in the jargon, control period 6, which runs from 2019 to 2024, to improve rail services for passengers and freight customers, while maintaining current high levels of safety and improving reliability.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Brighton main line upgrade programme—or, as we like to call it in the trade, the BMUP. My Department and I recognise the need to upgrade reliability, because we need to improve capacity on the line. It faces major performance challenges due to operational bottlenecks that currently prohibit additional capacity. In view of that, we have now committed over £50 million to improve the services on Brighton main line and it is connecting lines, which, if the upgrade scheme goes ahead, will benefit commuters in the region, including my hon. Friend’s constituents. Network Rail is currently working on the development of the Brighton main line upgrade programme, in which the main element would be a rebuild of the main line itself through central Croydon, comprising additional tracks, platforms and flyovers to deconflict train movements. A small number of supporting schemes elsewhere on the route are also included in the programme, one of which, the Wallington 12-car turnback, is very important to my hon. Friend. That element of the programme is to assist with the construction staging of Croydon, to facilitate a more frequent service between West Croydon and Wallington in his constituency, to improve performance by decongesting the constrained West Croydon track layout, and to aid Overground growth.

Network Rail is undertaking design work as well as land acquisition and extensive engagement on the Brighton main line upgrade programme, as my hon. Friend mentioned, and his constituents should absolutely get involved in the ongoing consultations. The outline business case is due with the Department next month, and in the subsequent weeks and months a decision will be made on whether to progress and fund the next stage of the rail network enhancements pipeline to the final business case stage—jargon for a very important gateway to investment.

The Department is currently considering whether Wallington, alongside some smaller Brighton main line upgrade programme schemes, should become independent of the Brighton main line upgrade programme in order to complete enabling work quickly. Should that be funded, the work in Wallington is scheduled to be delivered in the next three years.

My hon. Friend talked about Govia Thameslink Railway. In December 2018, the Department announced that GTR would contribute £15 million towards tangible improvements for passengers in reaction to the service disruption following the May 2018 timetable changes, which many hundreds of his constituents will have written to a former Rail Minister to complain about. GTR managed the engagement of passenger groups and stakeholders to determine what improvement schemes the programme would fund. The three-month stakeholder engagement programme ended on 31 July last year, and more than 4,000 responses were received to the surveys.

From that, funding for the following shortlisted schemes will be delivered in my hon. Friend’s constituency. At Carshalton Beeches, there will be toilet and waiting room refurbishments and cycle parking facilities—extremely important cycle parking facilities; I am also the Minister with responsibility for cycling. In Carshalton, there will be a new toilet floor, repainting of the waiting rooms, additional platform seating, cycle parking facilities —he might spot a theme—landscaping and new signage. At Hackbridge, there will be additional platform seating, a canopy over the ticket vending machine—that is actually unbelievably important for many of his constituents—and a new platform waiting shelter and signage. At Wallington, there will be a new platform waiting shelter and additional platform seating.

We expect the work on those schemes to commence in the next couple of months. Those are all stations I used when I lived in and around this area of London. I am not sure they have had much of a refresh since I moved out, so I am pleased that they are getting one now.

My hon. Friend will also be pleased to hear that GTR’s operational performance has improved in the past 12 months. Its current public performance measure—the percentage of trains that arrive within five minutes of their scheduled time—has improved by two percentage points to 85.6%, and its on-time performance has also improved. Performance has also improved more specifically in my hon. Friend’s constituency. These figures take into account Southern and Thameslink services. During the rail periods in the current pandemic, PPMs have improved even further; they are running at or around 96%, in delivery of a service that has allowed key workers to get to where they need to be—delivered to those places, actually, by key workers in the rail industry—in the last 12 or 13 weeks.

A further theme of my hon. Friend’s speech was that of accessibility. Delivering a transport system that is truly accessible to all is of huge importance to the Government, and of personal importance to me. An accessible transport network is central to the Government’s wider ambition to build a society that works for all. Many stations date from a time when the needs of disabled customers were simply not considered, and the situation at Carshalton Beeches that my hon. Friend describes is unfortunately far from unique. As he knows, the station was not selected for the last round of access for all funding. That was chiefly because the programme was amazingly heavily oversubscribed and there were many other nominated stations within the London area with higher footfall. I know that that was, and is, disappointing to my hon. Friend, who has actively lobbied me on many occasions about this. I hope he continues to do so in the future, but I would like to assure him that I take improving access seriously.

In 2018, the Government published an inclusive transport strategy setting out what we were doing to improve access across all transport modes, and we will continue to seek further opportunities and funding to make more improvements. Where we can, I am pushing my Department to do more, and more quickly. In addition, wherever infrastructure work is undertaken at a station by the industry, it must also comply with the relevant accessibility standards. My hon. Friend might therefore wish to contact Network Rail—I know that he already has, but it might be worth a further conversation—to see if any work is planned that might trigger these requirements. In the meantime, if a person cannot use the station, they can book alternative transport, which the industry is obliged to provide at no additional cost.

I shall conclude by thanking my hon. Friend for securing this debate. As I am sure he appreciates, rail plays a very important part in people’s lives across the country, and especially in his constituency. As I say, I used to commute from stations around there in my time. Today, he has brought up a huge, wide, diverse range of issues. I want to reassure the House that the Government are investing record levels in rail funding, in buses, in cycling and in a whole host of other areas including pothole filling, in order to deliver the best transport infrastructure we possibly can, and the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century. As I mentioned earlier, we have committed more than £50 million to improving services on the Brighton main line and its connecting lines. That is an upgrade that will absolutely improve the lot of commuters across the region, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Question put and agreed to.

Roadworks: Rayleigh

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Friday 13th March 2020

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Transport
Mr Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con) - Hansard
13 Mar 2020, 2:39 p.m.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you and Mr Speaker for granting me this Adjournment debate on a subject that, as you will see, is of pressing importance to many of my constituents.

It is good to see the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), at the Dispatch Box to reply for Her Majesty’s Government. I have known him for many years. Ironically, I lobbied him very recently about the atrocious performance of Abellio Greater Anglia on the Southend to Liverpool Street line. However, as today’s debate is about roadworks, I will concentrate my remarks on those—but the rail line is not getting any better.

Let me give the background. Last autumn, Essex County Council’s Essex Highways granted three property developers, Barratt David Wilson, Countryside Properties and Silver City Estates, permission to begin digging up the roads in and around Rayleigh, all at the same time, in some cases on the day that schools resumed after the summer holidays. Unsurprisingly, that led to traffic chaos in and around Rayleigh, including in nearby Hullbridge. As the local MP, I had to intervene repeatedly with Essex Highways and all three developers to try to sort the situation out. Crucially, this included Countryside agreeing to lift its contraflows during the morning and evening rush hour on Rawreth Lane, and Barratt David Wilson working 24/7 in Hullbridge to finish the job.

After an autumn of severe disruption, the works finally concluded, and I held a summit in my Westminster office with Essex Highways, the developers, local councillors and residents’ groups, at which we all faithfully agreed that this could never be allowed to happen again. Crucially, we agreed that when further planned works took place in Rayleigh in the following year, it would be necessary to separate the works, and ideally lift the contraflows during morning and evening peaks, and during the school run, to make the situation liveable for local residents, even if it took longer to complete the works as a result.

However, a further meeting took place at Rochford Hundred golf club in February this year, at which Essex Highways and the developers agreed a new schedule of works, to commence in March, principally on the A129, London Road—a single carriageway that is one of the principal arteries in and out of Rayleigh. It now transpires that Essex Highways officers granted Silver City permission to work throughout March, seven days a week, from 7 am to 7 pm, with contraflows in place throughout that time—that is, they were not to be lifted during the morning and evening peak and the school run, as was previously suggested.

Moreover, Countryside was then told that it could work for three months on its much larger site from early April to late June, again from 7 am to 7 pm. In other words, the developers would be able to dig up one of the primary arteries in and out of Rayleigh for 12 hours every day for four months. Thereafter, Barratt David Wilson would begin work off Rawreth Lane to construct a new major roundabout. Some of that work can be undertaken offline, but there will still be weeks of disruption when the roundabout is connected to the main carriageway. Yet again, that work is permitted to be carried out from 7 am to 7 pm. For the avoidance of doubt, I declare that I am a resident in the Rawreth Lane area.

I am afraid to say that part of this has occurred because of a total lack of effective oversight by Essex Highways, which has clearly reneged on the commitments it gave me in my Westminster office prior to Christmas. Moreover, there appears to be an unhealthily cosy relationship between the highways officers and the developers, much of it based on first-name terms, with the county council failing my constituents in its regulatory duties to oversee the roadworks effectively.

As a result of those decisions, Silver City began its work early in March and, to cut a long story short, my constituents have gone up the wall. There have been extremely long tailbacks trying to get in and out of Rayleigh during the rush hour and the school run, with some constituents reporting journeys that would normally take about 15 minutes now taking well over an hour each way. In some cases, it is even worse. Businesses have suffered, with one small dance school having been put in real financial jeopardy because parents have cancelled lessons. Medical appointments have also been missed and children’s education has been interrupted.

No one undertook any strategic communications to warn my constituents of these four months of impending chaos until I posted a video on Wednesday evening on my Facebook page to explain to my constituents exactly what is going on. The Minister might like to know that that post has since been viewed by more than 24,000 people. Aside from perhaps coronavirus, this is currently the overwhelming topic of conversation in Rayleigh. Many residents have left comments, of which the following four stood out. Mr A said:

“Well done Mark. And thanks for the best efforts possible. It’s a shame it’s all about the fast profit for fat cat companies in construction, and the quick buck and fast turn over in more council tax, etc. Than the thought of others losing out from struggles to get to work or schools.”

Mr P said it is an

“Absolute joke of a system. How can we get them out of a job? It’s the only thing they will listen to. Enough is enough—crazy when a five minute journey takes 40 minutes.”

Ms B said:

“It’s completely unacceptable that these two works run consecutively. That in itself should not happen. Developers should be inconvenienced, not existing residents and our livelihoods…Developers in this situation should be forced to work nights irrespective of cost to them. As per usual, why is it the general public that appear to have more common sense than the idiots that make decisions”?

Lastly, Ms C said:

“24/7 working is a fantastic ethic to implement. Silver City should cover the cost for overtime or be fined if they don’t complete by a certain timeframe. I live on Little Wheatley Chase”—

one of the local roads—

“and I can tell you…the workmen don’t seem to be in any rush! Lots of cups of tea…smoking…slowly walking up and down whilst cars sit in queues. It is very distressing.”

There have been some instances of residents abusing the workmen. For the avoidance of doubt, I completely deprecate that behaviour, but that does give some idea of how frustrated local people have become. Yet again, I have had to intervene on behalf of my constituents to try to sort out this mess, which I was faithfully promised by Essex Highways would never happen again. In the last week I have had meetings in Westminster with the managing director of Silver City, the new corporate chief executive of Countryside and County Councillor Kevin Bentley, the current deputy leader of Essex County Council and cabinet member for infrastructure, including roads.

I asked both Silver City and Countryside if they would consider lifting the contraflows during the rush hour in order to make the disruption more bearable. I also asked Countryside, whose work site is a couple of hundred yards away from any inhabited dwelling, if it would consider working 24/7—as, indeed, Barratt David Wilson did in Hullbridge last year—in order to try to accelerate the works as much as possible. I regret to inform the Minister and the House that neither has been forthcoming. In the case of Silver City Estates, which is based in Rochford, I received a two-paragraph email, written with the grammar of an eight-year-old, effectively saying that it intended to carry on regardless. The company is clearly only interested in its own profits, and obviously does not give a damn about my constituents, who I hope would not want to buy its houses in return. This is the two-paragraph memo—I am ripping it up to show the House what I think of Silver City Estates.

Countryside, conversely, has written me several charming letters, admittedly saying that it would look into all this, but not actually promising to do anything at all. Given my experience of dealing with developers over nearly 20 years as an MP, particularly last autumn and this spring, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that they generally do not give a damn about the disruption they cause to local communities, and that all they are really interested in is maintaining at least a 20% profit margin on house sales while keeping construction costs, including for labour and roadworks, to an absolute minimum.

I know that the Minister is not responsible for housing, but I think that one of the reasons that almost any major housing development in this country is met with hordes of placard-waving local residents is that they have come to realise the utterly hard-nosed attitude of the developers and the local traffic chaos that is likely to result if and when the houses are actually built. In fairness, that is a challenge for the whole house building industry, not just the three companies that I have highlighted today, but I throw it out there none the less, and will be interested to see whether any of the developers have the moral courage to reply.

When I met Councillor Kevin Bentley two days ago, he agreed that the situation was unacceptable and said that he would look again at Essex County Council’s process for giving consent to these proposals—not least as I understand that Essex County Council has not yet signed Countryside’s permits to legally allow it to commence the work. In other words, it has agreed in principle, but has not formally permitted it. County Councillor Bentley has now agreed to review the situation to see if the proposals can be altered, and I am very grateful to him for doing so. Silver City is clearly beyond the pale, but I do hope that Countryside might yet be reasonable, perhaps encouraged by Essex County Council, and might yet adopt some of the mitigating proposals that I have recommended before its work commences on the London Road in April. I shall certainly be keeping up the pressure on it to do so.

One thing that I have learned from this whole debacle is that the regulation of roadworks in this country is a mess. One of the great frustrations in modern life is queuing for ages to get through a contraflow on the highway to then discover that there is no one actually working on the site in the first place. The whole process is massively weighted in favour of the developers and the utility companies, at the clear expense of local residents and motorists. Indeed, Councillor Bentley has told me frankly that he would like to see the law changed to give highways authorities much greater powers to limit how and when people should be able to dig up the roads.

By sheer chance, after 19 years in this place, for the first time ever I got a placing in the private Members’ Bill ballot this year, and my Control of Roadworks Bill is now due for its Second Reading on Friday 12 June. I plan to publish a draft Bill—for consultation with interested parties in May—designed to materially speed up roadworks in this country and to fine heavily those who do not comply. I very much hope that Ministers in the Department for Transport might look favourably on this initiative, and see it as an opportunity to help to address one of the great banes of our everyday lives. I very much hope that the Minister will carry back to the Department my genuine desire to try to improve the situation for all concerned, and to promote a sense of urgency among anyone who tries to dig up our roads.

In summary, I had honestly hoped that lessons had been learnt from the chaos last autumn and that I would never again need to intervene like this. Nevertheless, now that these problems have arisen once again, I have sought to raise them in the House of Commons and, in so doing, to reflect the extreme frustration of many of my constituents at the whole way that this has been badly maladministered. I hope that County Councillor Kevin Bentley will now indeed act proactively to help sort this mess out, and that Countryside, and Barratt David Wilson after it, will adopt a more co-operative approach, even if it costs them money.

Finally, I hope to get legislation on to the statute book to codify the regulation of roadworks, which is currently spread across multiple pieces of legislation, into one clear and simple Bill that everyone can follow. That will be designed to ensure that when people do unfortunately have to dig up the roads, they will do so with a sense of urgency, rather than complacency, and with a determination to respect the local communities within which they are working. I earnestly hope that the Minister can offer me some comfort that in that aspiration I might yet receive Government support. Thank you for your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard
13 Mar 2020, 2:45 p.m.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for securing the debate. Having recently had a number of meetings with him about his constituents’ concerns about their rail service, I am pleased that this debate is about the roads. I am quite sure that, following his speech, members and officers of Essex County Council will take a much more pragmatic and hands-on approach to the issues he has raised.

I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing a private Member’s Bill—it is a lottery that I have won previously—and on the thoughts, views and ideas that he is clearly giving towards how the impact of roadworks on congestion can be reduced. I promise that my Department will work with him constructively on his Bill, and I look forward to seeing a draft in due course.

We all use our highways to travel every day, and how we manage them has a direct impact on everyone’s lives. Congestion, with all its causes, and the condition of our roads are recurring themes that the Government hear about regularly, so it is a clear focus of attention for my colleagues in the Department for Transport. That focus is only going to become more important as, over the coming years, the number of roadworks will increase as a result of new housing developments and in order to deliver the Government’s commitment that full-fibre and gigabit broadband will be available for every home and business across the UK as soon as possible. That will involve digging up a lot of roads.

We all want out road network to be improved, and my right hon. Friend will be pleased to have heard the commitment in Wednesday’s Budget that £2.5 billion will be available to fix potholes and to resurface roads in England over the next five years. We know that there will continue to be roadworks, but that does not mean that they should last any longer than is needed. We all want the services provided by utility companies, and we want them to maintain and improve their infrastructure, but we also know that there are over 2 million roadworks taking place in England each year, and that these result in about £4 billion of congestion costs. That is a nut that it is worth trying to crack.

There is a great deal of scope for works to be planned, managed and co-ordinated more effectively, and for the public to be told about when works are happening and warned about the impact they might have on their journeys. That is why the Government have taken a number of actions in recent years. We have invested over £10 million in the new street manager digital service, which will transform the planning, management and communication of roadworks. This new service will be used by all local authorities and utility companies from 1 April this year. From July we plan to publish open data on live and planned works for technology and sat-nav companies and app developers to develop products for road users so that they, in turn, can plan their journeys more effectively.

Street Manager will deliver many benefits, including data that can be used to monitor performance. It will support greater co-ordination, forward planning and more joint works. All local authorities, utility companies and their contractors will be able to have a single view of the street and visibility of the whole network, to plan and co-ordinate works for the benefit of road users. We also have a commitment to continue improving the service to ensure that it continues to meet users’ needs.

Street works permit schemes have been available for local authorities to operate since 2007. Those have proved to be a very effective way of managing and co-ordinating works. Authorities that operate schemes have also seen that road user satisfaction is much improved. We have strongly encouraged all authorities to introduce schemes, and almost every authority now has a scheme in place. Essex County Council has operated a scheme since 2015. We will continue to ensure that all authorities have schemes in place, and as a result, there will be greater consistency for the industry and benefits for all road users.

We will shortly publish an updated technical specification for reinstatements, which will improve quality and performance. Reinstatements are needed after works have been completed. That update will be the first since 2010, and it will support and allow greater innovation and improve quality and performance.

We announced in 2019 that local authorities can introduce lane rental schemes, which allow authorities to charge utilities up to £2,500 per day for works on the busiest roads at the busiest times. That is normally around 5% of the authority’s network. Charges encourage companies to move the location of their works, carry them out at less busy times, complete them as soon as possible or carry out joint works, which can attract discounts or charges that can be waived. Any surplus revenue can be spent by the authority on ways of reducing the impact of works on congestion. Two schemes are operating at the moment in Kent and on Transport for London’s network. Authorities that want to set up schemes can bid to the Secretary of State for approval, and we have issued bidding guidance on how they can do that.

We will continue our work and plan to look at other aspects of how to regulate roadworks, to see whether further improvements to those schemes can be made. For example, works start and stop notices at weekends, which are needed to give real-time updates to road users, do not need to be sent until 10 am the following Monday, and overrun charges do not currently apply at weekends. An amendment to legislation following a period of consultation, including within Government, would be needed to resolve that—indeed, my right hon. Friend might choose to look at that in his private Member’s Bill. The Department is amazingly sympathetic to the issue and will consider that, as well as other specific problems.

Mr Mark Francois Portrait Mr Francois - Hansard
13 Mar 2020, 2:52 p.m.

I have only been a Member of Parliament for 19 years, but I have learned when not to look a gift horse in the mouth. If there is a lacuna in the current legislation, I would be pleased to talk to the Minister and his colleagues about how I might genuinely be able to help them address it.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

Private Members’ Bills on a Friday—some people think they are not worth a hoot, but we can achieve some great things.

On the issue of fines and penalties, a range of criminal penalties are already in place, covering, for example, safety and compliance with permits. Local authorities can also issue overrun charges of up to £10,000 per day for works that are not completed in time. I know that Essex County Council is using those powers. In the last year, 513 charges were issued for overrunning works, imposing charges of just under £500,000. We are not convinced of the need to raise those limits any further, but the powers do exist.

I understand that the situation in my right hon. Friend’s constituency mirrors the experience of many others, but I also understand that Essex County Council is using the powers available to it and that it is working with developers and utility companies to co-ordinate works and ensure that they are completed as soon as possible or that work is done during off-peak times or school holidays, to minimise the impact on local road users.

To conclude, I thank my right hon. Friend for the way he has gone about this debate, for his positive contribution —as positive as it can be in the circumstances— and for quite rightly being demanding on behalf of his constituents. I hope and expect that we will all see improvements in the way that works are planned and managed as a result of Street Manager, greater use of permit schemes and the other reforms we are taking forward, and perhaps his private Member’s Bill will add to that.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Heaton-Harris Excerpts
Thursday 12th March 2020

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Transport
Stephen Morgan Portrait Mr Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab) - Hansard

9. What steps he is taking to reduce the cost of rail fares. [901497]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:37 a.m.

Fares are crucial to funding railway operations and our upgrade programme. We have frozen regulated rail fares in line with inflation for the seventh year running.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:38 a.m.

Given that rail fares have gone up by a massive 40% since 2010, we now have the second most expensive railway in Europe. However, I still have a situation where constituents in the Northwich part of my constituency cannot get a reliable train service—in fact, disabled passengers cannot get one on one side at all. What are the Minister and the Government going to do about that?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:38 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman would probably like to know that 98p of every £1 paid in fares goes back into the railways, which allows investment in all the areas where he would like to see it, including accessibility for his constituents.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:38 a.m.

Under the Conservatives, rail fares have rocketed by 40%. An annual season ticket from Coventry to London is now £5,760, to Birmingham it is £1,400 and to Nuneaton it is £1,200. That unfairly puts rail travel beyond the reach of many of my constituents and it discourages green travel. Privatisation has failed, so will the Government bring our railways into public ownership to slash fares and combat the climate emergency?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I am sure the hon. Lady will look forward, as I do, to the issuing of the Williams review, which answers some of the questions she raised, but she should be careful what she wishes for because, today, using a single fare—£7, I believe it is—to go from London to Coventry, a host of Conservative Members are going to campaign in her hyper-marginal seat, at very good value for money.

Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:39 a.m.

Trade unions represent the hard-working staff on Northern who have had to take the brunt of passenger frustrations as the franchise has collapsed under Arriva Rail North. Will the Minister explain why, with Northern having been taken back into public ownership, the expert advisory panel established to guide the new service through its first 100 days excludes rail unions, the experience and expertise of which could ensure that passengers in the north finally get the rail service that they need and deserve?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:40 a.m.

It is a fair question. The answer is that Richard George, the head of the operator of last resort, is working closely with the unions and will continue to do so, because the workforce is all important to the delivery of a reliable service for passengers.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Mr Morgan - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:40 a.m.

Many Portsmouth people rely heavily on South Western Railway for their daily commute. The service that they receive is substandard, with less than 50% of mainline services operating on time, while rail fares have soared by 2.7%. Put simply, Portsmouth people are paying more but getting less. Will the Minister confirm what steps his Department is taking to address this injustice for my community?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:41 a.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his correspondence and the way that he has engaged with my Department over this issue. He has been representing his constituents on this matter very well. As he knows, a request for a proposal has been issued to the south-west franchise owners, FirstGroup and MTR, and to the operator of last resort. Parliament will be kept informed of those developments. It is all about trying to improve the service for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:41 a.m.

As we have heard, rail passengers throughout the country are struggling with the exorbitant cost of train travel, with fares having risen by a staggering 40% since the Conservatives took office. In stark contrast, Germany has recently cut rail fares, and in Luxembourg public transport has been made entirely free, thereby both supporting families and helping to tackle the climate crisis. The Government used yesterday’s Budget to prioritise once again unsustainable and expensive new roads ahead of support for public transport. When will the Government finally treat this issue seriously and take the urgent action that is needed?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:42 a.m.

I completely get where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but he should understand that taxpayers already subsidise the rail network by more than £4 billion a year, meaning that 54% of our transport budget is spent on the 2% of journeys that the railways account for. He mentions Germany, which has cut rail fares, but to do that Germany cut the VAT on rail fares from 19% to 7%; he might like to know that we charge no VAT on rail fares in this country.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con) - Hansard

Question 18, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] Will my hon. Friend give an indication of his estimate for completing the new airports national policy statement? Will there be sufficient time to take into account—

Break in Debate

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:42 a.m.

I note that the questions that my honourable and hairy friend has answered so far were about reducing the cost of rail fares, but that implies that either more people must make more journeys by rail, or taxpayers generally, such as those in Lincoln, must subsidise the rail industry more. Which would my hon. Friend prefer? Does he have any plans to improve the franchise process to make bidding for them more attractive to businesses?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:43 a.m.

We are going to change the franchise model—the Williams review is absolutely going to change how our franchise model operates—but my hon. Friend will have to wait a bit longer to see how that is going to happen. We have strong views on the direction of travel and look forward to informing the House shortly.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:43 a.m.

It is important to have affordable rail fares so that residents can access our railways, but many of my constituents do not have any access to trains at all because they do not have a local train station. The people of Gamesley were promised a railway station more than 50 years ago, but it has still not been delivered. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the bid for Gamesley train station?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:44 a.m.

My hon. Friend wisely highlights a proposal that will be considered among the bids for the Restoring Your Railway fund. I would be delighted to meet him to talk about it.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con) - Hansard

The Secretary of State is already aware of how unhappy my constituents who use Lockerbie station are—after fare increases, they have seen an appalling level of service from TransPennine. TransPennine has now made certain commitments to improve the service; what can the Department do to ensure that it meets those commitments?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:44 a.m.

The Secretary of State and I met the TransPennine leadership not so long ago to put the very points that my right hon. Friend has just made. As he knows, there has been quite a big change at the head of that franchise. We are working with the new management to ensure that the new trains operate correctly and that the service his constituents would like is actually delivered for them.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:45 a.m.

While rail fares remain too high, the cost of disruption to our commuters when services go wrong, as is so often the case with Southern, is considerable. Although Delay Repay has been helpful, it does not reflect the true cost of taxis, hotels and loss of work that our constituents have been suffering. Can the Minister tell us whether the new ombudsman is going to tackle the issue and make sure that we have a compensation scheme that accurately reflects the costs that our commuters and constituents suffer?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:45 a.m.

It is absolutely true that there are huge numbers of delays and cancellations on our railway on a daily basis. That completely disrupts people going to work and kids going to school, and it also affects students and people just socialising. Different plans are being mooted. The Williams review will have a fuller plan, on which I will be able to communicate with my hon. Friend.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 9:46 a.m.

People who live and work in Nottingham need Ministers to do something about fares, sooner rather than later. Highways England’s partial closure of the A52 Clifton bridge is making their car journeys unbearable, and we urgently need more people to use trains, trams and buses to get into the city. Will the Minister or one of his colleagues meet me and other hon. Members representing constituencies in and around Nottingham, to discuss how the Department and Highways England can support Nottingham City Council and its efforts to get our city moving during this serious disruption?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

Again, the hon. Lady raises valid points on behalf of her constituents. I or perhaps another appropriate member of the ministerial team will be delighted to do that.

Craig Tracey Portrait Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con) - Hansard

3. What steps he is taking to improve bus links in North Warwickshire. [901491]

Break in Debate

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab) - Hansard

19. What recent assessment he has made of the viability of the rail franchising system. [901509]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 10:11 a.m.

Keith Williams has been tasked by the Government with leading a root and branch review into the rail industry, and he has confirmed that he will recommend scrapping the current franchising system. Full details will be set out in the White Paper which, all being well, will be published before summer.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 10:12 a.m.

I thank the Minister for his comments. Passengers in my constituency and across northern England welcomed the decision to bring Northern Rail into public ownership on 1 March, following the collapse of Arriva Rail North. In the past decade, more than £178 million has been paid in dividends to Northern Rail shareholders, while simultaneously, there have been cuts to safety-critical staff on trains and stations. Research has shown that if our railway was in public ownership, we would save £1 billion a year—enough to fund an 18% cut in rail fares. Will the Minister assure Members that Northern Rail will be kept in public ownership, to rebuild the trust and confidence of rail users, and that it will not be privatised at the earliest opportunity?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 10:13 a.m.

First, may I push back on the hon. Lady’s point about safety, which is completely incorrect? That issue is regulated by an independent body, and she is wrong. Since privatisation, we have seen the number of passenger journeys more than double, as well as more services and better trains. Northern Rail’s fleet is now being replaced with new trains, and that will be finished by the end of May. I very much hope that the new system will include a profuse and large group of private companies that want to run services for us.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 10:13 a.m.

Problems with the franchising system mean that London North Eastern Railway is now under control of the Minister’s Department. He will be aware of my long-running campaign to get through trains from King’s Cross to Cleethorpes. Can he tell me when that will happen?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard

I cannot answer my hon. Friend from the Dispatch Box today, but we are working to deliver the service that he has outlined, certainly at the beginning and end of each day to start with.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab) - Hansard

20. If he will bring forward legislative proposals for the mandatory collection of bus accident data by bus companies for publication by local authorities. [901510]

Break in Debate

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling (Clacton) (Con) - Hansard

T2. Greater Anglia, which runs the trains round our way, is currently introducing a £1.4 billion fleet of brand new trains—very good. Among other benefits, that will support the local economy and tackle social exclusion. However, the great eastern main line needs to be upgraded quickly. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that key upgrades, such as the Bow junction remodelling, extra loops between Chelmsford and Colchester, and the provision of digital signalling, are delivered within the next five to 10 years? [901515]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 10:19 a.m.

The new Greater Anglia train fleet will certainly deliver many benefits, including extra passenger capacity on the great eastern main line. I am particularly interested, too, in seeing the results of the great eastern main line taskforce study work on the upgrades my hon. Friend mentions, and the renewal of the strategic outline business case and wider economic benefit studies so we can move forward.

Karl Turner Portrait Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab) - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 10:19 a.m.

More than 12 months has passed since the Government announced a consultation on banning old tyres from public service vehicles. The Tyred campaign and tens of thousands of supporters have waited far too long. I pay tribute to Frances Molloy and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for the work they have done. The Secretary of State has the power to act now before more innocent people are needlessly killed. Is it not time for the Government to get this done?

Break in Debate

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab) - Hansard

T9. Yesterday’s Budget provided no further clarity on the £350 million for cycling that the Prime Minister mentioned on 11 February. As a consequence, from the start of next month, local authorities outside London have nothing earmarked for their local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. Will the Minister explain why cyclists were forgotten in yesterday’s Budget? [901522]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris - Hansard
12 Mar 2020, 10:19 a.m.

The hon. Lady will recall that when it was announced that we would go ahead with HS2, a £5 billion fund for buses and cycling was also announced. Cycling will get a very good chunk of that money and that will be outlined in the forthcoming spending review, but I absolutely understand the point that she has made. We are working to ensure that the gap that there could be in funding is resolved.

Mr William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con) - Hansard

T5. A short-sighted decision by Transport for Greater Manchester and Stagecoach to scrap the 375 bus service, serving my constituents in Mellor and Hawk Green, has been met with dismay. Will my hon. Friend, the excellent Minister, meet me urgently so that we can maintain this important service and keep the wheels on the 375 bus going round and round? [901518]

Break in Debate