Transport

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(2 months ago)

Written Corrections
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Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood
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I will be brief. In my reading of the Department for Transport website and the “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” research report, at no point is it mentioned that it is an interim or draft report. Will the hon. Member elaborate on that and explain, if it is an interim report, when the final report is expected?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted that. The final report will be this summer.

[Official Report, 20 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 272WH.]

Written correction submitted by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman):

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted that. The final guidance will be this summer.

Bus Services: England

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Vaz. I congratulate my city colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), on securing this important debate. Bus services are extremely important to everyone in the Potteries and right across England—notably for those in deprived and remote communities, but also for those who are wedded to their cars. Road congestion would be even worse for those people if bus services did not take some of that strain.

We all have a stake in bus services being attractive and successful. Of course, that does not mean that bus services are always the optimal solution to road congestion, because often local rail or trams will be more efficient than buses in that regard. However, it does mean that buses are a necessary part of the mix, and we need to ensure that they are attractive enough to tempt more people out of their cars.

I very much support the initiative proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North on the fare cap, which is causing severe issues for many of our constituents. I visited Strathmore College, in my constituency, on Friday. It provides education to young people with special educational needs, and college staff told me about the challenges of the 9.30 am start, and the impact on their young people’s ability to access education. I was talking to the principal there, Kate Ward, about some of the travel training that they are providing to young people, and the impact that the 9.30 am start has on them. I very much support my hon. Friend’s campaign to address that issue.

The focus of my comments in the debate will be on non-metropolitan areas of England, outside London. This particularly means north Staffordshire, which includes, but extends further than, the Potteries bus network, which itself extends further than the city of Stoke-on-Trent. If that sounds complicated, I should also add that the city is cut in two by Network Rail management areas, which all adds up to public transport solutions being harder to come by than public transport problems in north Staffordshire. The decline of bus services in our area over many years now is partly because we lack seamless public transport services and partly because we suffer some of the worst road congestion in Europe. We need to increase demand for bus travel in order to keep services financially viable in the future.

That gives me a welcome opportunity to plug my private Member’s Bill to preserve and enhance high streets through mandatory improvement plans. The Bill received its Second Reading in the other place last Friday, ably moved by my noble Friend Lord Whitby, the former leader of Birmingham City Council. Optimal accessibility by bus to designated and improved high streets under my Bill will surely be a part of any local authority’s considerations in its high street reviews. That will be particularly important in the market hub towns identified by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that have high streets of importance to surrounding rural areas. In proximity to my constituency, these include Cheadle and Stone. Many residents living in villages throughout parts of north Staffordshire, such as Forsbrook, Tean and Alton, have raised with me the lack of effective bus services.

Locally, I am glad that the bus service improvement plan, on which we, as MPs, were active and contributing consultees and for which we helped to secure Government funding, is making it cheaper to travel by bus. The fare is £3.50 per day now—or £12.50 per week—in the Potteries “smart” area, which I think will be a massive bonus for attracting more people on to the bus network. The plan combines with work from the transforming cities fund, which we also helped to secure, making it easier to catch a bus, and more desirable to travel by bus.

However, unfortunately it has been painful for us, as MPs, to see how slowly our city councillors delivered on any of the funding that we worked so hard to secure. The package needs to be delivered with greater urgency. I thank the Department for its patience, and I hope Ministers will continue to press the city council to get all the promised and funded schemes over the line without any further watering-down of ambition by the current Labour council leadership.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend, because I am aware that he is making a number of points, but I take his point about the council. I just want to make it very clear that we will continue to press the council to respond and produce the results that it clearly needs to produce. I also echo and endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) that responsibility for concessionary fares absolutely lies with the local authority.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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I thank my hon. Friend—actually, I think he is right honourable.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am not.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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Well, he should be. I thank him for the work that he has been doing in the Department to push on some of these issues. That has been a great assistance, and I know he will continue to work hard for us in the Department.

On the TCF package, we were promised that if funding was won, the city council would deliver a more efficient bus-rail interchange at Stoke station. Works are starting on the site this week, but we need further action to reinstate some of those cross-city bus routes that serve the places that rail cannot reach without people having to change and wait at our city centre in Hanley.

It will be a betrayal if the city council fails to deliver effectively the package promised. Our local buses now routinely take card payments, in line with 93% of buses across England. In fact, the worry now is not that buses will not take cards, but that they will not take cash in the future. We must nip such fears in the bud, and I would welcome any comments from the Minister on ensuring that cash payment will continue to be accepted on buses well in the future.

Under BSIP and TCF, it is now far more usual for Stoke-on-Trent bus stops to be elevated above the standard kerb height so that wheelchairs, prams and so on can be more easily wheeled on and off services. Those who find the step up and step down from the bus more challenging no longer struggle so much—except, of course, when the bus cannot pull into the bus stop because someone has decided to park there, often hurling abuse at the bus driver who tries to move them on. Thankfully, it is rare that these things turn violent, but the range of antisocial behaviour we see on public transport, whether against drivers or against other passengers, seems to be widening. That is why I particularly welcome Government funding for new transport safety officers to help reduce ASB on buses and trains throughout Stoke-on-Trent.

London continues to dominate the bus statistics, accounting for 52.2% of all passenger journeys in the year to March 2023, but it is encouraging that non-metropolitan England has seen the strongest recovery in passenger journeys over the past two years, with the number up 133.4%. That beats metropolitan areas, where they are up 111.4%, and London, where they are up 106.3%. Over the past two years, bus mileage in non-metropolitan England is up 11.3%, which compares favourably with the 2.1% increase in metropolitan England and the decline of 1.3% in London. But—I pause deliberately, because it is a big but—all three areas saw declines in bus mileage in the latter year of the two-year period. I am afraid that reflects what we are seeing on the ground: some bus routes have been cut from, say, half-hourly to hourly, and rural stretches have been cut altogether.

However, the decline that we have seen over many years may be about to reverse because of the £31 million bus improvement funding that we have secured. We are seeking new and expanded routes, particularly in the evenings and at weekends, across the Potteries. Thanks to the funding, Lightwood, which has not had a service for many years, has just had one reinstated, with the extension of the No. 50. More services in the evenings and at weekends will help shift workers, who often struggle to get to and from their shifts. A number of other services have been extended: the No. 6 has an earlier start at weekends; evening services have been introduced on the No. 11; Sunday services of the No. 23 have been extended to Newstead; the No. 26 has an extra service every hour; and the new 36/36A service in the evenings for Meir and Meir Park will make a massive difference to those areas.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said, local operators are starting to have a much more positive outlook, with First also looking to restore services to communities such as Sandford Hill and Saxon Fields, which lost its services some years ago. I very much also support my hon. Friend’s campaign to get the fleet renewed, because we need investment in new, zero-emission and sustainable buses throughout north Staffordshire. I join him in urging Stoke-on-Trent City Council to take seriously the proposals by First to invest in upgrading the fleet, which will help to attract more people back on to our bus services and help to address some of the serious air quality issues that we have seen in a number of parts of Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire.

It is not just about buses; local rail should also be taking a bigger share of public transport demand in north Staffordshire. Sadly, in accordance with Beeching’s proposals, Stoke-on-Trent lost the entire loop line that served four of the six towns, leaving three with no town centre trains at all, while the fourth town, Fenton in my constituency, lost its stations on both the Crewe-Derby line and the Stoke-Leek line. The suburbs of Trentham and Meir in my constituency also lost their stations. Relying on buses to absorb the traffic, as Beeching claimed they would, has proven to be a great mistake—so notably so that Meir, I am delighted to say, is set to have its station rebuilt under the restoring your railway programme. I continue to push for it to be delivered with every urgency, and connected to local bus services too. Importantly, restoring your railway is a reversal of the Beeching mindset, not just the Beeching cuts. It has been accepted that bus services alone cannot solve the pressing issues of transport deprivation and chronic road congestion in Meir.

In Trentham, the effect of the Beeching axe has been compounded by the decision of the last Labour Government to close the nearby stations at Wedgwood and Barlaston. That very Beeching-mindset move very marginally speed up the west coast main line through the Potteries arc, but only for the benefit of people travelling between Manchester and London. Again, local buses have not filled the gap in the south of the city, and I am pressing the West Midlands Rail Executive and Network Rail to forge ahead with their work towards restoring a station in the south of the city to replace at least one of the three that have been lost.

In Fenton, again, the problem of road congestion and pollution is cannot be solved by buses alone. We need Fenton Manor station on the Stoke-Leek line restored—my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North has been a great champion of that, too. The station was closed to passenger traffic in 1956, but it is now advancing through the restoring your railway fund, and it was committed for delivery in the Government’s Network North Command Paper.

It will, of course, be crucial that those rail infrastructure projects are connected to bus services and that we achieve multi-modal public transport journeys that are as seamless as possible. That should include a station at Bucknall that offers easy interchange with existing bus services along the Werrington Road to places such as Tean, and along Dividy Road to places such as Parl Hall.

In 2022, on average, people in households without access to a car made over six times as many local bus trips as those with access to a car; the figures were 131 trips per person and 20 trips per person respectively. Local bus services account for over half of all public transport trips made by people in households without access to a car. Bus services will continue to be a lifeline, but more effectively so if we can marry them up seamlessly with a growing local rail network. I note that among people in households with access to a car, under half—45%—of all public transport trips are made by bus, which suggests that people with cars are more easily tempted out of them by trains than by buses. The mix needs to be right.

I conclude with a plea to local companies to add more bus services to the mix in north Staffordshire that do not involve having to change at Hanley. Restoration of a route from Trentham to Cheadle, via Longton, Blythe Bridge, Tean, and Forsbrook, is a top priority; in peak season, it could run to Alton Towers. Thanks to this Government, with TCF, BSIP and RYR, the progress and momentum are definitely there for north Staffordshire to enjoy a meaningful revolution, frankly, in public transport provision. We must keep the momentum going and make travelling by bus more attractive, more viable and more connected, seamlessly with local rail.

--- Later in debate ---
Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. Before I thank the Minister, I will say that we on the Island are fortunate for many reasons, but one of them is that we still have a very healthy set of bus routes by rural standards. Even in my little hamlet in the Back of the Wight, in west Wight, where we are served by the No. 12 bus, we have eight services from Newport per working day and seven in the other direction, if my memory serves me. The last time I used the bus, and indeed our wonderful £2 bus fare, which I will come to shortly, was the week before last, when I needed to get to Carisbrooke castle for the wonderful Walk the Wight event in aid of the Isle of Wight hospice.

Being a Minister is often a thankless task, so it is nice to have a Minister who goes the extra mile for Conservative colleagues and, I strongly suspect, Members of Parliament on the other side of the House. I thank him for helping us to get the electric bus bid for the Isle of Wight over the line. We had to push quite hard, but I am delighted that, following a few conversations with my hon. Friend the Minister—he should clearly be my right hon. Friend —we could get it over the line. I am hugely grateful that he was able to support the excellent bid from Southern Vectis and Richard Tyldsley. It is a great little company. Bus drivers on the Island seem to be incredibly friendly and a decent bunch; it is always lovely to see them and I thank them for running such a friendly and reliable service.

Thanks to the funding that we are getting from the Minister, we have already started testing electric buses on the Island. We will soon have zero-emission buses covering route 1 from Newport to Cowes, route 5 from Newport to East Cowes and route 9 from Newport to Ryde. That will mean lower emissions and better air quality for the Island towns of Newport, Ryde, Cowes and East Cowes.

The Minister will also know, because we have talked about it on quite a few occasions, how popular the £2 bus fare is. According to Richard at Southern Vectis, it has undoubtedly got thousands more people a month using the bus network on the Isle of Wight. It was going to be a temporary scheme, but I was not the only Member of Parliament lobbying the Minister—many of us were, including, I am sure, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), whom I thank for organising this great debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton).

I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to extend the scheme because it is really important to help youngsters on the Island to get around. Pensioners get free bus passes—we know about that—but if someone is on the minimum wage or a young person is starting out in their first job and they do not have a lot of money, taxis on the Island are really expensive. We have a vibrant bus network, so having a £2 max fare in one direction—£4 there and back—makes a big difference.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend is talking eloquently about the £2 bus fare, which I utterly endorse. It is the simplest and most persuasive way of getting people back on the buses. The most important thing for me, certainly in my constituency and up and down the country where it has been brought in, is that the impact on people with a low income is off the charts. The ability in tough times, which we have clearly been living through for the last few years, to get to work for an understandable figure that is by far discounted on what it was previously is a genuine game changer.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his intervention. The last time I had a school visit in Parliament, some of the kids said, “Why should we vote Conservative?” I could have talked about the amazing apprenticeships schemes, but the first thing that came into my head was the £2 bus fare. If someone lives in Wales or in Labour-controlled London, fares are going up. If they are in Conservative areas, for the most part there is a fantastic scheme that helps young people get around.

In conclusion, I thank the Minister for finding the money to make sure that the Isle of Wight was included in his electric bus scheme. It will make a big difference and help to drive down emissions and improve air quality on the Island. I also thank him for the £2 bus fare, which has made such a difference and is getting people back on the buses, not least me.

--- Later in debate ---
Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. You wait ages for a debate on bus services and then there are two in a day. It is understandable and appropriate that, for the second time today, I rise to my feet in Westminster Hall to address the state of the nation in terms of our bus network. I will briefly set out, before I am probably interrupted by a vote, some key thoughts.

I endorse the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) that franchising exists already. Local authorities can do this already—[Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) chunters away, having been laughed out of court earlier on, the key point about Labour policy is that it is very keen to propose franchising but there not a squidge of an iota about money. The money that goes to the Mayors for the franchising is the key difference. What the Labour party is proposing is a franchise policy without any fiscal assistance. In reality that will result in a far worse system. If it was so broken, there were 13 years of Labour government when they could have changed it.

When the hon. Member for Sefton Central gets into government—if we were ever so misfortunate for that to happen—he will realise that what he is proposing is genuinely not a good idea without significant extra funding. Labour will not commit to this, as the funding will not follow, so a local authority would struggle to provide even the quality of the services that it is providing at present.

Enough of such claptrap. I move on. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for bringing the debate to the Chamber. It is entirely right that he set out that the covid pandemic has had a massive impact and that slowly but surely the funding situation and take-up is improving. If we look at base funding as a starting point, we have doubled bus funding in this country since 2010. We are in a situation where the degree of support is off the charts compared with yesteryear. We all accept that operators and local transport authorities have been working in a challenging environment over the last few years, but the key point is that there is great collaborative work happening locally between local transport authorities, bus operators and passengers. The regulatory framework put in place by the Bus Services Act 2017 and the largest public investment in bus services in all time—we have announced over £4.5 billion of support to improve services since 2020—are significant.

Over £2 billion of this funding has been allocated to every single local transport authority in England to help to deliver its local bus service improvement plans, which help to deliver more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and cheaper bus services. I want briefly to talk about Stoke-on-Trent specifically. Clearly, the way the funding has been used is an example of the kind of change that we are seeing. Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been allocated over £33 million from the DFT to deliver its bus service improvement plan, including an extra £1.4 million this year in funding redirected from HS2 through Network North. I am pleased to see that investment bearing fruit, with a number of bus service enhancements being introduced across Stoke-on-Trent. That provides better, more frequent services to help people to get to and from work.

I am not going to go through all the villages that have benefited and all the changes also that have taken place in the other parts of Stoke, as they were outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, but the good news does not stop there. The local affordable fares scheme—the £3.50 scheme—is clearly something to be lauded. There is also the £2 single ticket, which is again subsidised and paid for by the taxpayer, arising out of the HS2 funding. There was talk today about funding, but not a word was said about whether that would continue under any Labour authority or any Labour Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) explained, this is the key thing to transform the ability of low-income people to get to work and get about in whatever community. It is such a transformational thing. That £600 million, again, arises out of and is continued by the HS2 funding.

I listened in great detail to all the speeches, and I noticed that many colleagues were keen to laud and be pleased about the zero-emission bus regional areas funding, known as ZEBRA 2. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, who has campaigned and repeatedly beaten a path to my door, managed to secure £4.5 million for zero-emission buses on the Isle of Wight with ZEBRA 2.

Self-evidently, colleagues were keen to extol the £3.1 million ZEBRA funding for Staffordshire, albeit that Stoke is not particularly affected. I am surprised not to be lauded for the fact that Devon County Council has received £5.3 million for zero-emission buses. I was genuinely stunned and amazed to receive no thanks from the local MP, the hon. Member for Sefton Central, for the fact that Liverpool City Council, the combined authority, received £9.4 million, and that the Government are funding zero-emission buses to a massive degree. As always, the glass is half empty and there is no laudable attempt to accept that a transformational difference has taken place with zero-emission buses.

We can also look at the local transport fund, which is utterly key for places such as Stoke. That is due to a decision by the Prime Minister in respect of the second leg of HS2. I am still unaware of the Labour position on that, as always, with no word on funding. That is £4.7 billion of extra funding, of which Stoke-on-Trent benefits to the tune of £134 million. I want to address some of the key points about Stoke on the issue of the cap. I entirely agree with the Prime Minister and not with the local authority leader, I am afraid. This is something that can be entirely addressed by local authority funding. As I am setting out in detail, there is a plethora of extra local authority funding that could be used in this way.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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What about all those cuts in 2010?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Gentleman talks about cuts in 2010. He does not seem to remember Gordon Brown selling the gold, bankrupting the economy, and a note written by a Labour MP that famously said:

“I’m afraid there is no money.”

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What is the state of the economy now?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Gentleman has a brass neck to come to this House and start saying that 2010 was about anything other than a disastrous Labour Government who were rightly voted out. We will move back to Stoke, if I may.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North will be aware that the local transport fund has been transformational. The £134 million can be used for buses and to improve bus routes. It could also build on the substantial investment the Government have put into local transport through the transforming cities fund, where Stoke has again been awarded £34.6 million, as one of the many beneficiaries. I have twice touched on the point about concessionary travel. I regret to say that I manifestly disagree with the local authority leader, and sincerely hope he has the guts to reply, after more than 100 days, to my hon. Friend’s letter.

I am conscious of time and the incoming vote. I have touched on discretionary fares and other key points. It is outstandingly the case that the zero-emission buses will make a huge difference to their areas. I welcome what has taken place on the Isle of Wight and in the other local authorities I have discussed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight rightly said, it is not just in Conservative-run areas or where there are Conservative MPs; it is across the country. On the point about cash, we are aware of the importance of that and would encourage private operators to ensure that alternative payments continue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) made a point about his constituency. It was a pleasure to go to the Fishburn Youth and Community Centre, where I enjoyed a delicious pancake on pancake Tuesday. Clearly, there is some positive news in terms of what Arriva is doing in relation to the X12, but I continue to want to see better work between Durham County Council and the individual provider.

This has clearly been a difficult time, with the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but we absolutely believe that Stoke is doing better and that, with the record funding that is going in, a better future lies ahead for bus services.

Zero-emission Buses

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood (Wakefield) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to respond to this debate on behalf of the official Opposition. I extend my sincere thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating this debate, and to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) for securing it. The hon. Member is a vociferous and passionate advocate for UK manufacturing—not just for Wrightbus in Ballymena, which is in his constituency, but for all bus manufacturers across the United Kingdom; for that I thank him.

This is a vital issue, and it is right that we have had the opportunity today for such robust discussion. I place on record my thanks to the excellent, insightful contributions that we have heard from colleagues throughout this debate, including the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), Chair of the Transport Committee. I share his desire for a vibrant zero-emission bus fleet in the UK, with the majority manufactured on these islands, and I agree on the need for fair competition and that the true cost must be highlighted. I also thank him for his mention of the end-of-life processes for those buses and how those should also be taken into consideration.

I am afraid the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) had me at lemon drizzle cake—I would love to sample that—but he also made the important point about the significant capacity for UK manufacturers to expand their capabilities, given the right conditions and the certainty that they need. The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) raised the real importance of recognising social and environmental benefits when awarding those grants. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.

Labour knows that decarbonising the transport sector is essential to achieving net zero. Decarbonising what is now the single largest source of the UK’s carbon emissions will be no easy feat, but Labour is crystal clear that with those challenges come enormous social and economic opportunities. Across road, rail and bus there are immense opportunities for secure, high-skilled green jobs to power our next industrial revolution. With bus being by far the most utilised mode of public transport, zero-emission buses are central to that.

Across the UK, operators and local transport authorities are already taking great strides to decarbonise their fleets, meaning that demand for zero-emission buses will only continue to rise. However, it is clear that the flagship decarbonisation scheme known as ZEBRA, which was announced with much fanfare two Transport Secretaries ago as part of bus back better, continues to be woefully off-target.

Bus back better promised 4,000 new zero-emission buses on the road, but it also promised to set a date for ending the sale of new diesel buses in the UK. Neither of those promises have been met. The Government continue to dither on the phasing-out date, leaving both manufacturers and operators in the dark. In July 2023, the previous Transport Minister—the right hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden)—promised that a response to the DFT’s consultation would be forthcoming “within months”. Well, almost 12 months later, it is still the case that no Transport Minister is able to tell us on what date they will mandate the end of new diesel bus sales. The current Minister with responsibility for roads and local transport, who is here today, told the House in response to a written parliamentary question in January this year that more information would be provided “in due course”. Almost five months on, we are none the wiser.

In the absence of leadership on this issue from the Government, large operators have resorted to setting their own targets. National Express has committed to operating only zero-emission buses by 2030, and Go-Ahead, First Bus and Stagecoach aim to have fully decarbonised fleets by 2035. Although that is commendable, the continued silence from the Government on the end date for diesel bus sales will doubtless have the biggest impact on smaller and more rural bus operators.

The parameters of the Government’s consultation, which was launched back in 2022, could see a date for phase-out set “between 2025 and 2032”. Operators and manufacturers alike need certainty from this Government. It feels like a profoundly short-sighted, anti-business stance for the Government to refuse to grant that certainty, leaving it up to the sector to guess whether the phase-out could be as soon as next year or in eight years’ time.

As I mentioned, bus back better also pledged 4,000 zero-emission buses. I regularly quiz the DFT on the latest statistics about the roll-out of zero-emission buses funded by ZEBRA. The most recent statistics, which I was able to obtain last month, show that just 313 are on the road and 1,053 have been ordered using ZEBRA 1. That means that to date the Government have achieved barely a quarter of ZEBRA’s potential. The successful bidders in the next phase of ZEBRA—ZEBRA 2—were announced back in March, funding a further 955 zero-emission buses. But even if every single one of those buses is somehow on the road by the end of this Parliament, the Government will still fall considerably short of their target. Even the Chair of the Transport Committee said last year that “it seems increasingly unlikely” that the Government will meet their target.

Despite bold steps by operators, local transport authorities and manufacturers, it is clear that we have a long way to go before we decarbonise our bus sector. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me exactly how many zero-emission buses he thinks he will be able to deliver on the road by the end of this Parliament. For the UK’s leading bus manufacturers—Alexander Dennis, Wrightbus and Optare, or Switch—the ambition and appetite for zero-emission buses is an enormous opportunity. Our bus manufacturing sector directly employs 3,500 staff across the UK and supports a further 10,000 across the supply chain.

Those companies are world-class, trailblazing manufacturers producing some of the most advanced zero-emission and ultra low emission buses anywhere on the globe. Not only are their products world-class, but they are vital employers, contributing millions to the UK economy. I regularly meet them and they frequently tell me about their fantastic apprenticeship schemes and training and upskilling programmes. But under the Government’s approach to decarbonising the bus sector, those companies are at risk.

Research undertaken by Labour and—commendably—by the office of the hon. Member for North Antrim shows that 46% of the money spent by the Government on funding ZEBRA 1 has been used to purchase buses built outside the UK. The Minister will be aware that in addition to recent reports of more Chinese buses being procured, funding from ZEBRA has already been used to procure hundreds of Chinese Yutong buses. In last week’s Transport questions, I told the Secretary of State that it had emerged that a major UK operator was preparing to procure tens of millions of pounds-worth of buses, not from Wrightbus, ADL or Optare, but from China.

Labour is realistic about the fact that, as demand for zero-emission buses increases globally, competitive manufacturers will be involved in the supply chain. However, we are at a crossroads. Britain under the Tories risks losing the global race for the clean industries of the future, losing jobs overseas and betraying communities across the country. The hon. Member for North Antrim is right to question whether taxpayer-funded schemes to support the introduction of zero-emission buses should be delivered in a manner that helps UK bus manufacturing industries more. We must remember that the Government have refused to adopt a full-scale industrial strategy since 2017. We should make no mistake: the lack of a strategy from the Government is putting home-grown bus manufacturers at risk. Alexander Dennis tells me that, with enough joined-up thinking from the Government, the company could spool up production to meet demand, but, in the absence of certainty, it may have to reconsider its future in the UK.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - -

I am listening to the hon. Member’s speech with interest. I want to clarify one point before I address the Chamber. Is the Labour party’s approach to continue to be part of the World Trade Organisation agreement on Government procurement rules made in 2012? Surely that goes to the heart of the debate.

Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not agree with the Minister’s assertion. As others have said, the debate is about highlighting and acknowledging the important social and environmental benefits that UK manufacturing brings to these shores.

UK bus manufacturers are in a profoundly frustrating position when they should be leading our green transition. Support for them has not been sufficiently integrated into the national bus strategy from the start. It is a damning metaphor for the Government’s attitude that the front cover of the “Bus Back Better” document shows an image of a bus manufactured by BYD, a Chinese company.

Labour will always back British industry. A Labour Government will act as a strategic industrial partner, setting out clear priorities to provide the certainty that businesses and investors need to solidify the UK’s position as a leader in clean industry. That extends across the EV supply chain. Labour will accelerate domestic battery-making capacity with a national wealth fund to part-finance the new gigafactory capacity that we will need to support the green transition. Not only will that create thousands of good, green jobs in the supply chain and add billions to the UK economy, but it will provide the certainty that UK bus manufacturers desperately need to continue to play a leading role in the UK’s decarbonisation.

I will finish with a few questions for the Minister. On the battery supply chain, what is he doing to ensure that, as demand for electric bus batteries rises, so too does our battery manufacturing capacity? There are billions of pounds-worth of growth to be unlocked if Ministers get this right. The Government’s battery strategy is a welcome first step, but we are already behind the curve, and the scale of ambition in the strategy does not currently match the scale of the challenge we face to reach 100 GWh of capacity by 2030.

What steps will the Minister take to support UK bus manufacturers, in respect of everything that has been discussed today? In a similar Westminster Hall debate in 2022, the then Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), was asked the same question. She said that she would look into going

“further to understand how we can support British-built buses.”

She went on to say she would explore the factors

“that may help to encourage competitive bids from UK firms”.—[Official Report, 5 July 2022; Vol. 717, c. 290WH.]

I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on whether that work has progressed, and whether he considers the current procurement regime sufficient to back British industry when it comes to bus manufacturing.

Labour stands ready to embrace the green transport revolution and knows that zero-emission buses are essential to that. The UK has a world-class bus manufacturing sector that can, with the right policies from the Government, deliver millions of pounds-worth of economic growth by leading the transition. We need more action from the Government to ensure that our home-grown bus manufacturers can continue to thrive.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I think it is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so since you returned to the House, and you are most welcome.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on securing the debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for recommending that it take place. I welcome it because it is an opportunity for us to discuss the successes and for me to set out the ways in which the Government are supporting the transition to zero-emission buses.

With respect, I welcome the nuanced way in which this debate has to be considered. Quite clearly, buses are at the centre of the public transport network; we are aware, are we not, that there are 4 billion bus journeys a year? It is utterly to the credit of this country that we have created and support a variety of providers.

The hon. Member for North Antrim is right that I am keen to visit Wrightbus, having sought to do so on several occasions in the past. I should, at the very outset, put to rest the cake rumours. Our former Prime Minister was famously ambushed by a cake in an incident that is well known to this nation. When I visited the constituency of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in a former role at the Department for Work and Pensions, I walked into the office and his assistant— I think her name is Claire—ambushed me with a lemon drizzle cake. I will not try the strong Strangford accent, but she said, “You’ll be needing a lemon drizzle straight away after the journey you’ve had, sir.” Sure enough, I was sat down with a large slice of cake before we had our meeting, in circumstances that I am quite sure will be matched, if not surpassed, when I visit Ballymena.

The UK has a proud history and particular expertise in bus manufacturing and it is right that we celebrate our successes. We acknowledge and accept that our bus manufacturers play a vital part in the UK automotive ecosystem, employing well over 3,000 people across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I suggest, with respect, that our bus manufacturers are very competitive. As has been outlined, Wrightbus has the first hydrogen-powered double-decker bus and Alexander Dennis continues to innovate with a new in-house series of electric buses developed with the knowledge and experience gained from working hand in hand with international partners. That has resulted in 2,300 zero-emission buses hitting the UK roads to date. The vast majority of the buses operating in urban areas are produced here in the UK and we are committed to continuing to make the UK one of the best places in the world for automotive investment as we transition to zero- emission vehicles.

There are certain frameworks that I want to try to address as a starting point.

Paul Girvan Portrait Paul Girvan (South Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

Not yet. Let me try to set out the position and then I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The starting position is that the UK is part of the 2012 World Trade Organisation agreement on Government procurement and the related WTO texts. As the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), set out, that is a basis upon which all such organisations have to work. Were there to be any breach leading to unfair competition —the technical term is “dumping”—then, as the Secretary of State set out last Thursday, it would be the responsibility of the Trade Remedies Authority, the independent statutory body, to look at the circumstances.

It is the case that the UK Government support various manufacturers in a variety of ways. I will try to set that out in detail, but before I do so, I will give way to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Paul Girvan).

Paul Girvan Portrait Paul Girvan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to make a point about other countries that are major manufacturers. We will not speak about the elephant in the room—although we probably will; it is China—but some of our neighbours sometimes play fast and loose with what is termed state aid. Unfortunately, companies in those places get the benefit of the opportunity to export at a reduced rate because of help and assistance given to them either directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, the UK tends to be too good at abiding by the rules and does not see that many companies are sliding under the radar and getting our markets because of the shortcuts that they are taking.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

I am told that the companies Yutong and BYD are not state-owned. That is the first key point. The second is that there is a degree to which we debate in this House the extent to which the state supports individual companies in their individual country. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Clearly, on one simple basis, a worker in China is not paid the rate or salary that a worker in this country is paid, with automatic-enrolment pensions and all the welfare support and other bits that come on top of that. That is clearly a difference in scale. But I want to try to address a couple of the key points.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way on the WTO?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

No. I will try to address the point made by the hon. Member for South Antrim. As a Minister in a different Department, I brought forward ESG: environmental, social and governance regulations. Those apply across the City of London, all pension funds and, by and large, to how local authorities conduct their business. Those bodies must give due consideration to ESG in their purchasing. More particularly, under the Cabinet Office public procurement notice 02/23 they have to be mindful and cognisant of modern day slavery in the supply chain. Public sector suppliers must comply with all the applicable human rights and employment laws, as set out in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

As was rightly set out, social value for the tender can be considered—and already is—by local authorities. There is a degree to which organisations seek for Government to say the local authority cannot do this, but it is for the individual local authority to look at the way it is commissioning. Matters of social value, ESG and the interpretation of modern day slavery and its impact are highly relevant when doing that. The fair point has been made by various Members that commissioning an environmentally friendly bus from somewhere 10,000 miles away seems an interesting call, given the consequences.

We must be aware that a lot of companies in this country also receive aid from the Government. I want to try to set that out. Members will be aware, I am sure, of the funding, research and development through the Advanced Propulsion Centre, which allows UK bus manufacturers to be supported by Government to seize opportunities for the future. Through the APC research and development competitions, the UK Government have awarded grants totalling £24.2 million for bus-related projects, with total costs of £52 million.

Those late-stage collaborative R&D competitions are an important part of the Government’s support for the UK automotive sector’s transition to zero-emission vehicles and provide backing for new market-leading technology to underpin battery and fuel cell electric buses. There is also £460 million in dedicated funding provided for the zero-emission buses this Parliament. The innovative technology is to be deployed, we suggest, at scale. More than 5,200 zero-emission buses have been funded across the UK since the Government committed to funding at least 4,000 this Parliament, and UK manufacturers are leading the way.

In March this year, we announced a further £142 million to support almost 1,000 more zero-emission buses. I look forward to UK manufacturers winning more orders. For example, I think Wrightbus has been named the fastest-growing and most successful business in Northern Ireland, having been struggling a few years ago, however one interprets the business as it was. On the back of Government funding for zero-emission buses, the company’s numbers have massively increased, from more than 1,000 to almost double that. Bus funding in this country has pretty much doubled in terms of Government subsidy and support over the past 14 years.

With respect, I suggest that the Government are fully supporting the bus sector, providing financial support, whether through Innovate UK or individual support in relation to hydrogen.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister talked about Government support. In fairness, it was before he was Minister, but he may remember a Transport Committee report that said that Scotland had ordered just over 10 zero-emission buses per 100,000 people, compared with 0.94 zero-emission buses outside of London. Does that highlight the success that the DFT has made of the roll-out?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

There was pretty much nothing in the hon. Member’s speech with which I agreed, aside from his comments in relation to the hon. Member for Strangford. I, too, believe we are better together, in so many different ways. The long and the short of it is that I am proud to stand up and defend the UK bus industry. I am also proud to defend and support the degree to which this Government have supported the bus industry, and we have seen companies such as Wrightbus and others grow on the back of that.

Is everything perfect? No, of course not. Is there still work to be done? Yes, of course. Is there still work to be done to ensure that local authorities and commissioners fully understand their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act, the impact of social value and all the consequences of any commissioning purchase? Can the Government work harder with, for example, the Department for Business and Trade and the Cabinet Office to ensure those rules are then disseminated to the commissioners? I do accept that more can be done in that space.

However, as an example, £76 million in UK export finance loans and guarantees have been provided to UK bus manufacturers in the past few years, which is turbocharging exports. Wrightbus, as I understand it, is exporting to Hong Kong, right on the doorstep of China, and UK manufacturers are continuing to win orders around the world. Although we clearly want UK manufacturers to be commissioned in this country, it is most important, surely, that they can also take orders from around the world; my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South made that fair point. The argument is nuanced. We want our manufacturers to be able to compete worldwide, and I believe they can.

We are also providing certainty for manufacturers on the pathway to a fully zero-emission fleet. The final decision on diesel buses will be made shortly; part of the process is understanding exactly the capacity and capability of our UK bus manufacturing sector—if one sets a date that is too soon, clearly there are consequences, but if one sets a later date, there are also consequences. We are very much engaged with finding the sweet spot for a date, and we will be making a decision without a shadow of a doubt in the very near future. We believe that will provide a greater degree of certainty, allowing further focus on research and development lines, and also shifting production to producing more zero-emission buses at scale.

It is also clear that as a result of the Government’s action, air pollution has reduced significantly, both since 2010 and, more recently, since the introduction of zero-emission buses: since approximately 2016 or 2017, there has been a true ramping up—a massive reduction in CO2.

I want to finish on a couple of the key points that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) rightly made a variety of points. We clearly are working with local authorities, like his good self’s. The £8.3 billion for road resurfacing, redirected because of the HS2 second-leg decision taken by the Prime Minister in October, has benefited all local authorities, not least Nottinghamshire. I saw that when I visited there about three weeks ago and met my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards). I actually visited the site and met some of the councillors and other individuals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield is clearly badgering me about a variety of roads and infrastructure projects. He is passionate about the A614, which, I assure him, is engraved at the very top of my to-do list. I will make sure that we get that project over the line, to the benefit of both his constituents and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Sir Mark Spencer), who has been robust in his recommendations.

I have dealt clearly with the point about competition on labour costs, which is a fact that we cannot disagree with or ignore.

It is hard to disagree with anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South said. I do want to restate the point, though, that this is a nuanced argument. We want our manufacturers to be able to export, as well as to supply in the local environment. That has consequences when it comes to being part of WTO agreements. But we also want to make sure that we, as Government, are supporting manufacturers as much as we possibly can. I have addressed the issues of modern-day slavery and will not necessarily take that any further.

I want to finish, to allow the hon. Member for North Antrim to wrap up the debate with sufficient time. I genuinely welcome this debate. It has been an opportunity for us to cite, laud and praise a growing business in the UK. In these tricky times, there is no doubt that bus manufacturing in the UK is growing substantially. The best evidence is Wrightbus, with its massive increase in numbers. I look forward to visiting and being ambushed by a lemon drizzle cake in the appropriate way, and I greatly welcome the opportunity to set out the degree of support that the Government have given it.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Harris, and thank you for upgrading me to Sir Wera. We are having a good debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) on introducing it so thoroughly. I also congratulate the people who signed the petition so that we could have the debate. Of course, the whole point of these debates is that they come to the House because people want us to debate certain issues, and I am always in favour of doing so; it is important that we do.

In many of our local council areas, low-traffic neighbourhoods have become very contentious, with both opposition and support. The term LTN is new, but the concept is not: the planning principles of LTNs have been used in street design since at least the 1960s. The concept has suddenly become controversial because of the motives behind LTNs, such as reducing traffic and encouraging active travel, and because they are at odds with the Government’s new-found pro-driver policy.

Most of us are all sorts of things: we are motorists, we are pedestrians, and we are cyclists; we use the road in all sorts of ways. It is important to look at the issue in the round and to understand the different uses of the road by different users. It is particularly important, as has been mentioned, to ensure that vulnerable road users are not excluded from our streets. That is an important principle to which all local councils need to adhere.

In Bath, my local council has been very brave in introducing a wide range of LTNs—12 in total. That has created a lot of reasons for people to write to me. I have had 57 people write to me about LTNs, but there are 70,000 people in my constituency, so although 57 is a relatively large number, we have to think about the number of people as a proportion. We are usually written to by people who do not agree with what is being done, rather than by those who agree with what is being done. Among the 57 are people who agree with LTNs. One wrote recently:

“Dear Wera, I just wanted to write in support of these zones. As a cyclist (walker and motorist) they are wonderful for those neighbourhoods. I live on the…estate and there have been moans about the LTZ at Sidney place—I have not noticed a change in the congestion myself and fully support the trial.”

I congratulate my local council on having been brave, as well as on making the LTNs a trial. Councils have to be careful to support what they introduce with data, and I have challenged my own council to provide such data to local communities and to those who oppose LTNs. I have facilitated access between local groups who are opposed to a particular LTN and councillors and council officers, so that we have discussions and so that people understand what LTNs are for, what is being measured, what the council wants to achieve and how LTNs can improve our neighbourhoods. It is important that each council is transparent about what it wants to achieve, provides the data, and communicates and engages, as we have heard. The council must ensure that it includes as many people as possible in the debate about how it wants to move forward.

An official study commissioned by the Prime Minister, which was intended to show that LTNs are unwanted, concluded that they are genuinely popular, particularly once they are implemented. The Department for Transport surveyed residents in LTN trial areas in London, Birmingham, Wigan and York: 45% of respondents supported the schemes, 21% opposed them, and 58% were unaware that they lived in a low-traffic neighbourhood.

It is no wonder that the Government delayed the publication of the study, because ultimately it produced the opposite of what the Government thought it would produce. Despite the results of its own report, the Department for Transport has said that it will no longer provide central funding for LTNs, and there are also plans to cut councils off from Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency databases.

This debate must be evidence-led. As I have said, it should be about the evidence, not about what people fear. Change is always difficult; managing change is one of the most difficult things that we have to do as politicians, as I remember well from my time as a councillor. People are afraid of change, and the most important thing that we need to do as political leaders is respond to and communicate on people’s fears about change.

The debate has to be evidence-based, and there are some legitimate concerns, as we have already heard. For example, disabled people worry about their mobility. In most cases, proper consultation, comprehensive exemptions and more accessible transport options are solutions that widely dispel those fears. LTNs themselves must be fully accessible, with dropped kerbs and no street clutter, otherwise disabled people feel penalised for driving without access to alternatives. As I have already said, whenever there are concerns, people can write to me, and usually those fears are dispelled once they fully understand how the schemes are implemented.

LTNs have clear benefits: they improve air quality, increase the number of journeys made by walking and cycling, and show reductions in street crime. A study found that after three years, street crime decreased by 18%, with an even larger reduction found for violent crimes, and the most significant reduction for sexual assaults. One study found a 50% reduction in road casualties within LTNs with no increase on neighbouring roads. I know the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) is going to speak because what is being done in Bath city centre will affect neighbourhoods in his constituency. People fear the possible result in neighbouring wards or boundary streets, but clear evidence from the surveys shows that there is no such result. If there is evidence of it, of course we need to look at that.

Early findings indicate that LTNs make neighbourhoods a lot safer after they have been introduced. Air pollution is an invisible killer. A claim often made by opponents of LTNs is that emissions increase outside the designated LTN, but there is little evidence to suggest that that is the case. Researchers at Imperial College London found that NO2 declined by 5.7% within liveable neighbourhoods, and 8.9% on boundary roads. The Government’s own report acknowledges:

“By reducing traffic and emissions, LTNs can contribute to a cleaner, safer environment”.

Improvements to air quality, coupled with increases in active travel, contribute to healthier lifestyles, with long-term benefits through reducing demand on the NHS.

It is unfortunate that an unhelpful argument has broken out between central Government and local authorities. Local authorities want to work with Government to reduce emissions and make our roads safer, but this Government are intent on reducing councils’ abilities to do so. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) said that councils should consult more widely, and I agree with that. It is the best way of increasing democracy and allowing people to be part of the decisions made in their neighbourhoods. However, councils do not have the money or resources to do that, so the mandatory requirement is very limited, and although money is being put towards wider consultation, councils are being hampered. I absolutely agree that councils must consult more widely in order to include a wider group of people, but they also need the money to do so, which they currently do not have.

That consultation would be great for democracy, except that we then have to think about how widely we consult. Is it the whole of the city? Is it the whole of the city and North East Somerset? Should it go beyond North East Somerset? Councils often end up consulting just the neighbours who are directly affected. As I have said, I am sad that this issue has ended up in debate, when we could have had an agreement across our communities, local government and central Government.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - -

I will speak at greater length later, but the main thrust of the petition is to seek a review. That is what the Government have done, and that is what we are debating today. The debate is about a review of LTNs, and she is characterising it as a “them or us” situation. With respect, I am not sure that is a fair approximation of the review sought by the petitioners, which is exactly what the Government have provided.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely; I agree. It is meant to be about a review, but I find the argument is often skewed towards the people who simply object. I am happy to listen to what the Government have to say in response and to what the review process is producing. In my constituency of Bath, we are in the middle of a big discussion about LTNs and their principles, and I speak as a constituency MP.

Implementing LTNs must be bottom up and not top down. Councils must work closely with residents when they intend to implement LTNs. I look forward to the wider discussion, but, as I said, there are many proven benefits to the principles of LTNs, and I hope those principles are not neglected in the Government’s review.

--- Later in debate ---
Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I thank the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for her introduction. I particularly thank everybody who submitted their name in support of the respective petitions.

Let me gently push back on the hon. Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood). There is not a question of trying to politicise something given that the very purpose of the Petitions Committee is that we in Parliament answer a petition. It is not from any of us; it is from the people who put forward their names for a petition. Then, there are criteria from the Petitions Committee, and we then try to address and answer those petitions.

While I will get into the substance of this particular debate, the first and fundamental point, surely, is that traffic management has existed under various statutory formats for some considerable time, and the implementation of what is now called low-traffic neighbourhoods dates back in statute to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. As the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) outlined regarding her area of Chiswick, there have been versions of that in some shape or form for a very long time, and local communities have co-existed with them on an ongoing basis.

However, there is no doubt that this issue has caused concern and is upsetting—and, in certain places, dividing—communities. It is also the case that the administration of the blue badge scheme, which dates back to section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, is something that is causing genuine concern—I am going to try to address that in detail—by reason of the implementation of low-traffic neighbourhoods.

I want to try to address this debate as calmly and even-handedly as I possibly can. There are a number of reasons for that: both because I think it is the right thing to do as a Government Minister—where we are trying to navigate different sets of priorities in different local communities—and because, clearly, the purpose of the original petition was for Government to have a review. The review that we published on 17 March sets out in quite some detail the approach that the Government take, but it is a first version. The final version will be produced later this summer.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will know that, as part of any review, it is best to gauge the views of all key stakeholders. One key stakeholder group that really did not have an opportunity to contribute was older and disabled people. For example, the leading charity for transport issues, Transport for All, was not engaged or consulted as part of this review. Will the Minister agree to ensure that, as he publishes the future review, they will be consulted? It is so important that the voices of disabled people and their organisations are heard in this. Will he commit to that?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

With great respect, I am going to push back slightly because, clearly, one of the key purposes of this review, which I am going to set out in quite a lot of detail, is an assessment of issues in relation to what are called exemptions and exceptions. Included as part of that are vehicles exempted from restriction—generally indicated on the traffic signs; those can include permit holders, buses, taxis and disabled badge holders. There is a detailed section on exactly that point, and there are further sections about how implementation should take place for that. More particularly, we are, on an ongoing basis, engaging with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee—or DPTAC—via the Local Government Association and individual local-government organisations. With respect, I will return to that in a little more detail later.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods clearly expanded during the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic. The rapid roll-out led to concerns that they were being imposed, and that communities had not been fully involved in their development. There were also concerns that the roll-out did not properly take into account the needs of many organisations, including disabled people, and representations were made in a whole host of ways, leading up to the actual review itself.

We have to accept that low-traffic neighbourhoods can work where they are well designed and where there is, crucially, local support for them. But they can also do harm where they are poorly thought through and introduced with insufficient public engagement and support.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady yet; I want to try to make some progress. I will, of course, let her come in at a later stage.

The Government have been clear that effective traffic management is not about dictating travel choices, but about enabling more choice in how people make their journeys. Local traffic measures must work for residents, businesses and emergency services. We can bandy about examples of successes and failures—there is no doubt whatever that there have been both—but it is clear that some communities have been upset and antagonised by low-traffic neighbourhoods. That is particularly true in London, and one could give examples from Tower Hamlets and, I believe, Ealing and Streatham. Certainly, as a cyclist in London, I have experienced and seen some, and I did a further visit to the Wandsworth Bridge Road last week. Some of those communities have introduced low-traffic neighbourhoods and then abandoned them.

Similarly, where I live in the north-east, a low-traffic neighbourhood was introduced in Jesmond. It has subsequently been abandoned, in circumstances where there has clearly been an impact on the local community, which was upset about how it was implemented, and a massive effect on businesses. There must be due consideration of the impact on local communities, which we all like to represent in our constituencies, and of the consequences of channelling all traffic, for example, on to one major road, while massively reducing traffic on side roads and impacting on parking. Businesses will unquestionably suffer as a result of a downturn in the local economy, and they have done so.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

I will not give way yet, so let me make some progress. We need to ensure that changes to local roads properly take account of communities’ views and are implemented in a way that does not fundamentally dictate how people should travel.

I want to keep returning to the petitioners, because they are the people we are addressing today. The first petition asks that the Government carry out an independent review of LTNs. After the initial reply was sent in April last year, the Prime Minister announced in July that he was commissioning just such a review. He also set out—a fair point has been made—the plan for drivers, and a fundamental effort was made to look at all aspects of how transport was being undertaken.

The review of LTNs commenced in September last year, and set out to ensure that schemes work for residents, businesses and emergency services, the last of which have not, with respect, been mentioned as much as I thought they would be in the debate. This additional project was separate from the work already under way to review schemes funded through the second tranche of active travel funding, including a deep dive into the impact of segregated cycle lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods. It included a literature review, a survey of local authorities in England, an in-depth study of four schemes, and interviews with key stakeholder groups.

The LTN review completed in January this year and concluded that there are some significant key issues with the implementation of LTN schemes in England. That was based on externally commissioned, independent research and analysis carried out by an independent contractor. I will not go into the details of the particular points that can be found upon reading. There has not been much reference today to the document of 17 March, but I strongly urge all colleagues to read it in detail. However, I have a little time, so I will set out the opening couple of paragraphs:

“Last year, the Department for Transport commissioned a review of low traffic neighbourhoods… The research shows that, while they can work, in the right place, and, crucially, where they are supported, too often local people don’t know enough about them and haven’t been able to have a say. Increasingly and frustratingly, we see larger and larger low traffic schemes being proposed by some councils despite concerted opposition by local residents and by local businesses, and in some cases”

—as I have outlined—

“being removed again. This guidance makes it clear that should not happen.

It also sets out that, even if they are introduced, councils should continue to regularly review low traffic neighbourhoods, ensuring they keep meeting their objectives, aren’t adversely affecting other areas, and are locally supported. This guidance makes clear our expectations, and…will carefully consider how councils follow it, alongside other appropriate factors, when looking at funding decisions.”

I do not propose to read out a substantial review document, but it goes on to say:

“Ultimately government can make changes to the legal framework if advice is overlooked—although working cooperatively with local councils is by far preferred. We need a fair approach, where local support is paramount, and this guidance sets out how that can be achieved.”

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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I do not think anybody in this room would disagree with anything the Minister has read out, because it is about the engagement that local councils have. For that reason, does he not agree that Bath and North East Somerset Council is taking exactly the right approach? It is having a trial period of LTNs, with proper success criteria that can be evidenced. If an LTN does not work against the success criteria, it will be removed. Is that not the right approach?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I do not propose to sit in judgment on an individual local authority’s approach in trying to persuade local communities, which is the purpose of this process, that there should be restrictions on one cohort and that there might be difficulties for other cohorts—I include bus travel, emergency services and problems for the disabled—and to make an assessment of whether that individual local authority is doing a good or a bad thing. What I will say, however, is that, self-evidently, the things we have talked about are not happening up and down the country at present; that is patently clear. We can say that very clearly because a large number of local authorities are abandoning their LTNs.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will let her come in in a second.

In answer to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), she should ensure that her local authority, if she has such influence, sets out an approach that tallies with the guidance and ensures that businesses, disabled groups and key organisations, including public transport and emergency services, are not adversely affected.

I echo the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg): there is a concern and a danger that those who benefit in the inner city will be impacted by those on the outskirts of local communities. We have seen exactly the same thing with traffic-exclusion zones and the ultra low emission zone, where there are very strong arguments for such measures. There is a very small traffic-management approach in the centre of Bristol, for example, but the wider London version measures hundreds of square miles, and the impact can patently be seen in the opposition from some groups and the way in which it has been implemented. I hope that that answers the point from the hon. Member for Bath.

I promised the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) that I would give way, so I will do so now.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds
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Does the Minister accept that his Department has been part of the problem? He talks about enabling choice, but I wrote to the Department for Transport in 2022 to say that there was a need for a joined-up approach and that there were concerns about how bus operators would operate, which was critical for people who were not able to cycle or walk. The response I got back did not say that my city could have a joined-up approach or that it could have longer-term funding. Instead, it effectively said, “This is the programme.” If we really are going to have action on the climate crisis, perhaps his Department should have listened a little more.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I slightly regret giving way to the hon. Lady, who raises an individual letter about her individual city. The review is addressing something that has existed for many years, and the Government think they have come up with a balanced and measured approach. I would also make the point that other aspects of the implementation have to be done, as in her area, by the local authority. It is for her local authority to take the local community with it. If it is not taking the local community with it, it is incumbent on the local authority to look at how it is implementing these things and at whether it can continue to sustain that. With respect, multiple local authorities have failed to do that and have then had to abandon schemes, which sadly reflects badly on those local authorities.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Will the Minister be clear with the House that no more central Government funding will go to these schemes? Government statements have indicated that there are circumstances in which access to the DVLA database might be restricted; how bad does a scheme have to be before the Government will consider taking that step?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I probably should not be taking so many interventions. I am trying to respond to the debate without prejudicing the final version of what is an interim review.

My right hon. Friend is a very experienced Cabinet Minister of old—that is not a very fair way of describing her previous experience—and she will understand that I have an obligation not to prejudice the final version of the review. I merely direct her to paragraph 3 of the foreword, which I did not read out—I was not going to read the whole thing out—but says that

“a consultation will also be launched on targeting the use of DVLA data by councils to enforce substandard LTNs and other anti-motorist traffic schemes.”

If my right hon. Friend looks at the actual review, there are passages contained therein on funding. However, much as I said, the preference is to have worked with local authorities; it is only in extreme circumstances that the issue of funding that my right hon. Friend describes would come into play. I suggest she takes the individual document and awaits the final Government version, which will be there and responded to.

Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood
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Will the Minister give way?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am sorry but I will not. I have taken multiple interventions and am going to try to make some progress. I am only on page 6 of my speech, which was meant to take only 10 minutes.

The review that has taken place has flagged particular concerns over the impact on disabled residents, the high number of penalty charge notices, the cost of the LTN schemes, and even concerns from individual emergency services that delays to crews caught up in LTNs could potentially risk lives. Those are not concerns that should be under-managed in any way.

Many disabled residents, as well as groups representing the views of disabled transport users, felt that inadequate consideration had been given to their needs and the impacts of LTN schemes on disabled people. In addition, several LTN schemes reported by local authorities to the DFT had not carried out equality impact assessments. We believe we have tackled these issues through the draft guidance, which sets out clear expectations for comprehensive and in-depth local engagement and full consideration of the needs of all road users in such a scheme.

We are clear that we will not support LTNs in future unless they are designed and delivered having had regard to the new statutory guidance, which will apply to new and existing schemes. Although it is guidance, we reserve the right to take further action if local authorities do not follow it. Local authorities are expected to consider the guidance. As with the new guidance on 20 mph limits, those that do not follow it could find implications for the future award of funding. As I have set out, I will pass that message on.

On the key accessibility point, the Government are committed to improving transport accessibility and supporting disabled people to have the same access to transport as everyone else. The LTN review found that too many schemes had not fully considered the impact of the changes on disabled people. I make the point that local authorities are bound by the public sector equality duty, and it is for them to ensure that they fully consider the impact of any proposed scheme in such a way. Any infrastructure they install should be delivered in a way that enables them to comply with equalities legislation.

The second petition we are debating requested that a flag be added to DVLA records to identify vehicles that belong to blue badge holders, so that they can be automatically exempted from any restriction and not attract enforcement activity. Although I understand the concern, I am afraid that currently that is not a viable solution. I will try to address in detail why that is the case. Clearly, blue badges are linked to the individual and not the vehicle. A badge holder may travel as a driver or a passenger in any vehicle, including a taxi or minicab, allowing them to access more easily the goods and services that they need to use. Therefore it is not possible to flag with the DVLA every vehicle in which a blue badge holder may travel. Likewise, although local authorities have access to a record of blue badge holders in their area, badges are registered to the individual and not the vehicle in which they travel.

Notwithstanding that, our draft LTN guidance makes it clear that local authorities should always consider exemption from restrictions for blue badge holders, as well as for deliveries and other essential services. It also addresses things such as emergency services. Again, I do not want to read out the entirety of it, but I encourage anyone who is passionately interested or who is contemplating this matter to look at the sections on exemptions and exceptions and how the individual situation for disabled people can be improved. The guidance sets that out in quite a lot of detail.

To answer the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) when she identified particular problems, I make the strong point that there should be considered, ongoing, good-practice principles of monitoring and evaluation, in line with the active travel fund monitoring guidance, but, where local authorities detect hotspots, where a disproportionate number of PCNs are issued or where representations or appeals are being made, that should alert them to a possible need to review the cause. The monitoring of PCNs and challenge levels should be carried out from the outset. That clearly includes monitoring the impact on local communities, the impact on the disabled, the impact on individual businesses, and the way in which the fines are being taken.

I cannot address much more, given the nature of the guidance being an unfinished document that the Government have to respond to.

Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood
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Will the Minister give way on that point?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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Very well.

Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood
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I will be brief. In my reading of the Department for Transport website and the “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” research report, at no point is it mentioned that it is an interim or draft report. Will the hon. Member elaborate on that and explain, if it is an interim report, when the final report is expected?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted that. The final report will be this summer.

The situation in terms of the way ahead is that we need to find a way in which our local communities can use a process that has been around for a considerable time and managed in local communities in, by and large, a satisfactory way, but has clearly been expanded substantially over the last few years. We need to find a way in which the Government can provide the guidance and then local authorities can implement the schemes in an appropriate way. If they are not implemented in an appropriate way, clearly there have to be consequences.

I assure the petitioners, who are the most important people here, that we are working to ensure that local authorities give proper consideration to the needs of all users and gain buy-in across the local community, in all shapes and forms, when discussing and then implementing any local authority LTN schemes.

Oral Answers to Questions

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Thursday 16th May 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
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2. Whether his Department provides grants for the provision of training for D1 licences.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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Although we do not provide direct funding for drivers to obtain D1 licences, the Department makes available more than £3 million a year through the bus service operators grant to community transport operators in England, which are predominantly charities operating vehicles that require D1 licences. They receive £1.60 for every £1 claimed, reflecting the increased costs faced by the sector, and supporting them to continue delivering inclusive and accessible transport across the country.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson
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I thank the Minister for that answer. In Scotland, as across the rest of the UK, there has been a shortage of minibus drivers, with Brexit and the legacy of covid fuelling a crippling shortage of bus drivers. Passenger-carrying vehicle drivers can pursue careers in various fields, including public transport, tour and travel companies, school transportation and private charter services. What more can the Government do to incentivise such training?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Gentleman might not be aware of the recent consultation to reduce the age requirement for bus and HGV drivers from 21 to 18, and I encourage him to speak to the Department for Work and Pensions. We are working closely with the relevant Ministers at DWP to have sector-based work academies and skills boot camps, to encourage greater participation by drivers.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
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4. If he will fund exploratory rail studies on passenger numbers through the local transport fund.

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Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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8. What steps he is taking to support local bus services.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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The Government have provided over £4.5 billion to support and improve bus services since March 2020. Leicestershire County Council received over £3.5 million in emergency recovery funding to help maintain services during and after covid, and has recently been awarded up to £7.6 million to deliver its bus service improvement plan.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen
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As the House will know, the word democracy comes from the Greek “demos”, meaning the people, and “kratos”, meaning power—power to the people. Well, the 1,200 people in North West Leicestershire who signed a petition for the reinstatement of the numbers 16, 29 and 29A bus services on their original routes are not feeling very empowered. Despite a very well run campaign, there is no movement from Arriva or Leicestershire County Council. What can the Minister do to help my constituents?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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Where commercial operators want to change a service, as I understand happened in this community, they have to work with the local authority to replace services where possible and limit disruption. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that Leicestershire County Council has also received over £1 million from the rural mobility fund to trial demand-responsive services, and I encourage him to meet it.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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My constituents and I are extremely concerned about Arriva’s sudden proposals to close its depot in Aylesbury, with no warning that it was even being considered. The company admitted that it would mean ending the vast majority of its services in our area, causing huge problems for those who rely on its buses to get to school, work and hospital. I have demanded an urgent meeting with its senior management, but what can the Department do to help hold Arriva to account and ensure Aylesbury residents have the bus services they need and deserve?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am aware of this problem, which has recently come to light. I would certainly encourage a meeting between the local authority, the bus company and my hon. Friend, and I will assist him in any way in that respect. I am aware that some local operators, in the form of Carousel Buses and the Oxford Bus Company, are running some of the services, but I accept that there is an issue in Aylesbury and I will help him on an ongoing basis.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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9. If he will have discussions with (a) Airbus and (b) Boeing on air safety.

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Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
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13. What recent discussions he has had with Transport for London on the refurbishment of Gallows Corner flyover.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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I am pleased to say that the Gallows Corner scheme was recently approved at outline business case stage, with over £50 million-worth of backing from the Department for Transport. My officials are liaising with Transport for London to progress the scheme to the next stage of the process, and I look forward to TfL submitting the final business case for approval.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell
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I thank the Minister for his announcement of the funding for a makeover of Gallows Corner flyover, but I fear that we must do better. This is a major junction connecting the eastern side of Greater London with Essex, and it is where the A12 and the A127 join together. My constituents in Romford, and those of the wider Essex region, will be disappointed that we are not getting a fundamental restructuring of the junction to address the safety and congestion issues that I have highlighted for decades. Will he speak to Transport for London, go back to the drawing board, and come back with something better and more permanent that will put the safety of road users first?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I will certainly go away and write to my hon. Friend on his specific point, but I reassure him that we are spending over £50 million to improve that particular junction. If my hon. Friend has concerns about the scope of the works, I urge him to take them up with TfL, because it is for TfL to develop the full business case. It is then submitted to the Department for approval, which we hope will happen later this year.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
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14. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to prevent the use of fire and rehire practices in the transport industry.

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Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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T6. The condition of local roads is the No. 1 concern raised with me by Aylesbury residents, whether that is potholes, congestion caused by countless utility works, or simply not enough roads to cope with all the new houses that have been built. Will my hon. Friend reassure local residents that it is under this Conservative Government and our excellent local Conservative council that Aylesbury’s roads will improve for my long-suffering constituents?

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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I recently met the council leader, Martin Tett, who is doing a fantastic job, aided by record investment by this Government of £8.3 billion for road resurfacing and our street works consultation, which will crack down on utility organisations and ensure that they work much faster and much better. We are also giving extra funding on an ongoing basis.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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T3. Every day that Hammersmith bridge remains closed is a reminder that this Government cannot be trusted to fix even the most basic problems. Do the Conservative Government have any intention of keeping the promise they made in 2019 and fixing Hammersmith bridge?

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering)  (Con)
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T8. Junction 10A on the A14 is a crucial piece of future roads infrastructure to support Kettering’s housing expansion. Should North Northamptonshire Council approve the relevant planning application this coming Monday, will my hon. Friend the roads Minister reconfirm his commitment to give the proper direction this project needs to proceed at pace, to visit the site with me and to arrange for me to meet with National Highways to ensure progress?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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Yes, yes and yes.

Chris Webb Portrait Chris Webb  (Blackpool South)  (Lab)
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T4.   Blackpool is experiencing the scourge of unlicensed taxis in our treasured seaside resort. Uber and similar companies, which have no operating licence in Blackpool, are allowing passengers to use their unlicensed taxis uninsured, creating a real public safety risk. These unlicensed taxis are parking in local ranks illegally, taking fares from our hard-working, rule-abiding Blackpool taxi drivers. What is the Minister doing to tackle these unlicensed drivers, and will he meet me to discuss this issue in my constituency?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place? He is a worthy winner and I am delighted to see him in the House. I wish him good fortune. The Government have published updated taxi and private hire vehicle best practice guidance for licensing authorities in England. I will write to the hon. Gentleman in detail and set out the particular points, and then we will see whether a meeting is required thereafter.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Sir Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
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In Horsham we have a significant problem with car racing on specific stretches of road. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a role for speed cameras in deterring those activities and the real risks they represent?

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Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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More people are killed by cows and lightning than by dangerous cyclists, whereas around five people a day are killed on our roads by motor vehicles—a level that has flatlined under this Government. When will the Transport Secretary publish the long-overdue strategic framework for road safety?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The Secretary of State took a decision on road safety yesterday, so clearly we are addressing all these matters on an ongoing basis. I addressed the issue in a Westminster Hall debate recently, but I will write to the hon. Member with more detail.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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The Labour Mayor of South Yorkshire has been given colossal sums of money by this Government. Sadly, it appears that he chooses to spend it on Sheffield supertrams and Sheffield’s transport infrastructure, not Doncaster’s. Will the Minister send a clear message to him that he should spend this money not only wisely, but across the combined authority, not just in Sheffield?

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Road safety organisations and driving instructors are concerned to ensure that young drivers have some experience of night driving. Does the Minister intend to ensure that night driving becomes part of the test?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Gentleman knows that the test has got more difficult and onerous for individuals; we have made it much harder to pass in the first place. We look at all aspects of post-test passing on an ongoing basis, but I will take the matter up with him personally.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I was grateful to the roads Minister for his commitment in an earlier answer to working with us in Buckinghamshire to find a solution to the crisis created by Arriva withdrawing bus services, but does he agree that companies that have been all too happy to take a taxpayer subsidy have a moral duty to maintain those services or give the money back?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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We certainly expect those companies to engage with the local authority to ensure the provision of alternative service. That is what we intend to ensure happens.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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The Government recently announced yet another consultation support mechanism for the production of sustainable aviation fuel. Meanwhile, other countries across the world are getting on with producing SAF at scale. When will the Government get the mechanism in place, and will they meet their unambitious target of five SAF plants by 2025?

Ian Levy Portrait Ian Levy (Blyth Valley) (Con)
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Moor Farm roundabout in Cramlington is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, many of my residents have told me that they actively avoid it. That is exactly why I had the roundabout cleaned and re-marked recently; however, more work needs to be done. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss a more permanent solution, and the progress that I have made with Northumberland County Council and National Highways?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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As someone who knows that roundabout very well, I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, and to ensure that the good work that Northumberland County Council is doing to upgrade and improve the area continue.

Transport

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Wednesday 15th May 2024

(2 months ago)

Written Corrections
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The following extracts are from the Westminster Hall debate on Transport Infrastructure: Devon and Somerset on 23 April 2024.
Ian Liddell-Grainger Portrait Mr Liddell-Grainger
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Of course—it will be a great privilege.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I wanted to try to assist my hon. Friend, because he is referring to two key things. First, by reason of the HS2 funding, for the very first time, local authorities up and down the country—but particularly Devon and Somerset—are being given seven-year funding. They have a certainty of supply of funding, which allows them to purchase new equipment and machinery.

[Official Report, 23 April 2024; Vol. 748, c. 273WH.]

Written correction submitted by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman):

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I wanted to try to assist my hon. Friend, because he is referring to two key things. First, by reason of the HS2 funding, for the very first time, local authorities up and down the country—but particularly Devon and Somerset—are being given 11-year funding. They have a certainty of supply of funding, which allows them to purchase new equipment and machinery.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The reality is that Devon and Somerset received a further funding uplift of approximately £15 million in the spring Budget of 2023, and then £10 million of additional maintenance funding in 2023-24. The point I was trying to make to my hon. Friend is that anyone who has ever worked as a parish, district or county councillor, as a Member of Parliament, or who has run a Department knows that having a long-term, seven-year budget is transformational. Any local authority leader will ask, “Could I have some more money and could I know what I am going to get over the next two to seven years?” That is transformational, that is exactly what the PM has done, and that is why local authorities can do different types of investment.

[Official Report, 23 April 2024; Vol. 748, c. 277WH.]

Written correction submitted by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman):

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

The reality is that Devon and Somerset received a further funding uplift of approximately £15 million in the spring Budget of 2023, and then £10 million of additional maintenance funding in 2023-24. The point I was trying to make to my hon. Friend is that anyone who has ever worked as a parish, district or county councillor, as a Member of Parliament, or who has run a Department knows that having a long-term, 11-year budget is transformational. Any local authority leader will ask, “Could I have some more money and could I know what I am going to get over the next two to 11 years?” That is transformational, that is exactly what the PM has done, and that is why local authorities can do different types of investment.

Tamar Crossings

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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It is an honour and a privilege to respond to my esteemed colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray). She has once again made the case for her constituents with her usual assiduity, verve and passion, and I salute her for that. This is not the first time she has raised this matter in the House, and nor, I suspect, will it be the last; and it is not the first time I have received correspondence from her. Indeed, I receive it on a virtually bi-monthly basis, but I salute her for that as well. What she is doing is standing up for her constituents, and this is an issue that dates back quite some time.

I shall have to choose my words slightly carefully, for reasons that my hon. Friend will understand. An application for a toll revision, received on 2 May, will be considered by the Secretary of State in accordance with the Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954, and that will constitute a quasi-judicial decision that I do not want to prejudice in any way. However, I want to give my hon. Friend as many answers as I can, in as much detail as I can. I am also aware that a petition dated 23 March has been presented by, among others, my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), my hon. Friend herself, my hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). It is to their credit that they have made the case, as indeed have thousands of residents of the local area, and it is to their credit that they have been able to come to the House and be heard in an appropriate way.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I am so sorry, but not going to give way at this stage.

I am of course conscious of a detailed file of correspondence dating back some considerable time. As the hon. Lady will know, there are a number of bridges and tunnels on local public roads up and down the country that are operated either by the local highway authority or by private companies. Tolls continue to help repay the costs of the construction and continued maintenance of those crossings. I do not want to go into the nuts and bolts of the Tamar Bridge Act 1957, because I think I would fail to speak with the same eloquence as my hon. Friend, who is clearly acquainted with the Act and the consequential secondary provisions, the schedules and all matters pertaining, and has probably read the Committee notes in great detail as well.

The Tamar bridge and Torpoint ferry are tied together under the 1957 Act, which ensures that proceeds from the crossings are ringfenced and expenditure is limited to the operation, maintenance and improvements of the crossings. Crucially, it also limits any unjustified accumulation of reserves. The bridge and the ferry are jointly owned and operated by Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council, but, as my hon. Friend said, they constitute a vital piece of infrastructure, carrying some 18 million vehicles a year. She rightly made the point on behalf of her constituents, but the freight industry benefits massively—today I met representatives of the RHA, who were passionate about making that point.

The money that is needed to operate, maintain and improve the two crossings currently comes from toll charges, with no specific funding from the Government or the owners of the two crossings. However, some money is contributed indirectly. National Highways makes an operational contribution each year, which enables the Tamar bridge and Torpoint ferry joint committee to monitor the Saltash tunnel tidal flow system. As was announced recently, there is funding for the A38 Manadon interchange transport scheme, promoted by the city council, amounting to about £132 million, with an outline business case stage of £156 million. Communications on that will be issued shortly. Welcome announcements have also been made about the A374, A386 and A3064 Plymouth improvements schemes, amounting to £42 million, with a total estimate of £49 million at the OBC stage.

My hon. Friend will also be aware that the Government have, on the back of the increased settlement at the last Budget in 2023, and by reason of the decisions on the second leg of High Speed 2, provided enhanced funding arising from the £8.3 billion that is shared out around the local authorities, but with a £36 million total for 2024-25 for Cornwall, and an increased total in relation to Plymouth, as I understand it.

In relation to the specifics, on 8 February, in response to my hon. Friend’s parliamentary question, and in subsequent correspondence, I have set out the position in relation to river and estuarial crossings. They will usually be funded by tolls, recognising the extra cost of their construction and maintenance, as well as the substantial benefits for users. The Prime Minister then also answered my hon. Friend at Prime Minister’s questions on 20 March, when he was pleased to indicate that the Transport Minister would address the matter shortly, and I was of course delighted to receive that instruction. I will not go into Hansard in detail, but he explained that any application for a toll revision, whereby the responsible authorities can seek a change, would need to be considered by the Secretary of State for Transport, who is my boss.

I can confirm that, since that exchange, a toll revision application in respect of the Tamar crossings was received on 2 May. The next step in the process is that an application for a toll increase will be advertised in the local press with details of the proposal to users of the crossings. There is then a 42-day objection period. If any objections to the proposed revisions—whether from individuals or collective bodies—are not subsequently withdrawn, a public inquiry is held. Where such an inquiry is held, the Secretary of State must have regard to its findings when deciding whether to revise the toll. I cannot address the findings of the Secretary of State, but clearly all representations made on these issues are considered, and clearly my hon. Friend will make many representations—I think that is a given.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

I will not give way; I will echo the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall.

It is the responsibility of the Tamar bridge and Torpoint ferry joint committee to work to find efficiencies in the operating costs so that the crossings are run as cost- effectively as possible. I would also like to raise an important initiative that is being taken forward locally: the Tamar bridge and Torpoint ferry joint committee has agreed its new “Tamar 50” approach. I cast no aspersions on whether it is a good or bad approach—it would not be appropriate for me to do so—but it is important that I put on the record that the Government are aware of the approach.

Clearly, the nine-point plan that the committee has set out provides users of the crossings with a more stable and certain future. Ideally, there is a degree of confidence on the way ahead, and people can see visible improvements to the structure. Critical safety works and the operational necessities that apply need to be seen. As I understand it, the plan includes work to look at the feasibility of free-flow tolling. That could be considered when a suitable funding source becomes available. My hon. Friend has addressed that, and I take her points with due seriousness.

As the Prime Minister outlined on 20 March, this is a real opportunity for key stakeholders to make their views about the crossings heard, and I encourage all colleagues and constituents—not just the thousands with strongly held views who have submitted the petition, and not just my hon. Friend with her many letters—to come forward with their views.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister allow me to come forward with my view now?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

I do not think it appropriate in these particular circumstances, bearing in mind the individual restrictions that I have in addressing these points.

My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has put her points strongly on the record. We take due notice of that. There is a quasi-judicial process that follows, and we hope that will be expedited and take place very soon.

Question put and agreed to.

A226 Galley Hill Road

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) on securing the debate and speaking, notwithstanding what is clearly a pretty bad sore throat.

Let me start with one key point. At the end of his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham said that this is a small matter inside the vast portfolio of the Department for Transport. It is not a small matter to the people of Swanscombe and the surrounding area; it is a massive issue. I accept that, I acknowledge it, and I appreciate it. All of us comprehend the scale of the problem. It is a bad day when Government in all their glory—or not glory—start thinking, “Oh, this is too small for us to get involved.” I promise my hon. Friend, all colleagues and anybody who is watching or reading this debate that we take this seriously. We are here to help, and we believe that there are things we can do to facilitate a resolution. The Government’s acceptance of this issue as significant—I put that on the record—is utterly vital. I give credit to both of my colleagues today and to Councillor Harman, who embodies the rich tradition of councillors who really get involved and go above and beyond to try to resolve local issues. Full credit to him.

I accept and acknowledge that Kent County Council has a difficult job. In the time that I have, I will try to both assess and analyse the extent of the difficulty and explain some of the causation of the ongoing problems and show some sort of light at the end of the tunnel we all face. In the first instance, what can the Department for Transport do? The first key point that must be accepted is that this is a significant road failure, which is not a standard thing that local authorities deal with. That is evidenced, bluntly, by the degree and number of surveys that are required to be completed before, first and foremost, the cause of the problem can be identified. Then, sadly, there will have to be an attribution of blame.

So how is the problem to be fixed? While it is the desire of everyone in this room or watching or reading the debate to fix the problem, solidifying a road on the base we are dealing with is clearly very technical and difficult, and there is no simple solution. To pretend otherwise is naive. However, I am very keen to ensure—it is already happening—that the technical experts at the Department for Transport, who build major roads and highways, are available to Kent County Council to work hand in hand with it.

Without getting too much into the nuts and bolts, the core funding for Kent has gone up considerably. It has received £181 million in funding for highway maintenance since 2019. It has also been a beneficiary of the Network North funding, following the Prime Minister’s decision in October last year on the second leg of HS2. Kent will receive £135 million in total between 2023 and 2034, and that funding comes in addition to local transport funding from the last funding review.

I acknowledge and accept that this will be a very expensive process. The tricky part is that until we identify the cause, which requires the surveys that Kent is trying to do, we will struggle. I echo and endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford: it is vital that Kent progresses this matter. If it is required to take legal action, then so be it—legal action should be taken and it should be expedited. I will also put in a plea to the owner of the third property to consider the situation. While two of the properties have given their consent, the third property has not. This can be challenged and overcome through a legal process, but it will cost the taxpayer money and it will take time. I urge the third owner to reconsider and to be aware of the responsibilities we all need to discharge. I ask them to avoid the legal process that sadly will be necessary, but in which unquestionably—I cannot commit courts to this in the future, but I am confident, having been a lawyer for 20 years—Kent will be successful, although it will take time.

Once one has identified the cause of the problem—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford set out, there are huge amounts of leaks and water egress relating to the demise of the road—the question thereafter remains: was that caused by the collapse of the road or did it cause that collapse? None of us are structural engineers or water engineers who can assess that, so I am more interested in the long-term solution: how does one reconstruct a road on such friable land? That is not simple, but DFT is on hand to assist in whatever way it can.

The basic principle, which we cannot get around, is that under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, which was passed by this House, all local authorities are liable for the maintenance and repair of their local roads. That obligation continues to this day, and it is in no way the norm for the Department for Transport to step in and say, “Do not worry about the statutory obligations that are set out under the Highways Act and have been acknowledged under repeated Governments; we will step in and fix this particular problem.” So that is not, with respect, what I would propose. Kent Council is unquestionably the organisation on the ground best able to ascertain the problem and find a solution to it.

However, it is unacceptable that not all the parties in the room are talking on an ongoing basis. I do not want to get into a “he said, she said” situation with Thames Water or its respective legal teams or the lawyers who represent everybody. What I want to do is to talk about the art of the possible and the art of the possible, surely, is this. I, as a Minister, can declare at the Dispatch Box that my door is open to convene a meeting with Thames Water and with Kent County Council. To follow up, I will write a letter tomorrow to the Thames Water chief executive, inviting him in the next few weeks to come in, if necessary with legal teams, to discuss the way ahead.

It is complicated, because self-evidently everybody would like the road to be fixed just like that. However, it is impossible to do anything until we can identify causation and what a structural engineer says good repair looks like. However, there is a clear middle ground, whereby if, and this is an “if”, one can enter a legal agreement with the respective parties, Kent County Council and Thames Water, such that all parties put aside any issue of blame for the present and allow any mediation to go ahead on a blame basis, in either a court of law or a standard tribunal, which is regularly done with these sorts of things, as there is a standard tribunal that can be entered into for the collapse of roads, either in a court or in mediation—if that process is allowed to go ahead, the Government will step in and assist in whatever way they can to try and resolve the issue as fast as possible. That, it seems to me, is the best way ahead.

It is not the case that Government can fund this unilaterally. There is no specific pot that exists that the Department for Transport can dip into to bail out individual local authorities in these circumstances. However, I can definitely see the potential, whereby, provided we have a legal agreement that party A or party B will meet the end costs at the end of the day, so that the taxpayer is not out of pocket, particularly—this is the key point—if Thames Water is liable for this, we would then be in a position where the Government can step in and assist.

Clearly, there are a lot of ifs and buts in all that, but I want to assure my hon. Friends for Dartford and for Gravesham that we will try our hardest to resolve this issue in that way. That would be going above and beyond anything that has ever been done before, frankly, and I think there is nothing more that one could do, over and above that.

I must also be very conscious, first, that I have the funds within my portfolio at the Department for Transport to pay for what could be a very significant project, because any project that the Department proceeds with is taking up the project money of something else that is not proceeded with. Secondly, because I am liable for taxpayers’ money, clearly I must ensure that that money is spent in an appropriate way, when the normal course of events is that a local authority and a transgressor—whether a water company or any other landlord, or whatever—have to thrash things out between the two of them.

That is what I propose to try and do. It is unquestionably the case that the local authority will assist on an ongoing basis. I will certainly write to Thames Water to back up the email that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford has sent, and will make sure, as I have publicly stated, that our door is open to try and resolve this situation. Clearly, Thames Water has its own issues, which we are all acutely aware of. However, at the same time it is a water company serving all our constituents and it has obligations, just as much as anybody else; and, if it is a matter of law, then the law can be paused whilst we resolve this between ourselves. That is what I propose; that is what I hope we will be able to do.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford has set out, my predecessor—the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden)—visited the site. My hon. Friend knows that he was in his constituency today, although I did not go to Galley Hill, to be fair. I am acutely aware of the wider impact, not only on his local businesses but on the daily lives of his constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham. We will do what we can, going forward. That is my solemn pledge to this House. I genuinely hope—

Gareth Johnson Portrait Gareth Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is, of course, responsible for National Highways. If the A226 was any bigger, it would come under the responsibility of National Highways. Does he therefore have any objections, when we come to construction or rebuilding, to Kent County Council’s highways department contacting National Highways in order to seek some of its expertise?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

No. In fact, I would go further than that and say that that is what I would expect to happen on an ongoing basis. It is in the interests of National Highways that one of the key roads leading into the Dartford Crossing and the A2 is functioning properly. There is no doubt whatsoever that the breakdown of this particular road and the consequences of that impact upon lots of other things in the surrounding area. I want to make clear—if I have not done so, I will try again—that when I say DFT officials will give full co-operation, as far as I am concerned, that includes National Highways. It is in the interests of National Highways that this road is up and running as soon as possible, which is in the wider national interest, not just the interest of the good people of Swanscombe and the surrounding areas. We are very keen for this to happen, because there are clearly consequences if the matter is not resolved.

Question put and agreed to.

Draft Goods Vehicles (International Road Transport Permits and Haulage Within the EU) Regulations 2024

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Monday 29th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

General Committees
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Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Goods Vehicles (International Road Transport Permits and Haulage Within the EU) Regulations 2024.

These regulations are necessary to ensure that the UK upholds a key part of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, thereby ensuring that the movement of goods and trade can continue to take place between the UK and EU. They also ensure that the UK’s bilateral agreements are properly reflected in legislation. They support the UK haulage industry by discouraging undercutting by cheaper foreign operators. I commend them to the Committee.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Do you wish to respond, Minister?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - -

I have nothing to add.

Question put and agreed to.

Light Dues 2024-25

Guy Opperman Excerpts
Wednesday 24th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Written Statements
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Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - -

My noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Davies of Gower) has made the following ministerial statement:

A strong and growing maritime industry is vital to the economy of the United Kingdom.

The work of the general lighthouse authorities, which provide and maintain marine aids to navigation and respond to new wrecks and navigation dangers in some of the busiest waters in the world, is crucial to maintaining our vigorous safety record and continuously improving safety standards.

Light dues for 2024-25 will not be changed but we will look to increase the maximum charge of the tonnage cap from 1 April 2025 to 50,000 tonnes.

The freeze in light dues for 2024-25 will provide industry with much needed clarity for planning at a time of uncertainty in shipping across the globe. The tonnage cap has remained unchanged since 2010, but the number of very larger vessels has changed considerably. Increasing the cap would provide an uplift to revenues that will enable the essential replacement of GLA vessels and potentially avoid increasing light dues over the coming years.

Light dues will continue to be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that the general lighthouse authorities are challenged to provide an effective and efficient service which offers value for money to light dues payers.

[HCWS425]