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Transport (Ten-Year Plan)

1.6 pm

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): Transport is a subject that has been close to my heart for all my working life in and out of Parliament. However, for decades it has been in decline--dogged by stop-go funding and a short-term approach.

On Tuesday, the Chancellor set out how we can now begin to invest properly in our public services. He was able to do that because we have dealt with debt and sorted out the public finances. That meant that we had to stick to the depressed Tory spending figures that we inherited. We continued the previous Government's fuel duty escalator, both to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to restore public finances. That was not easy. It was not popular, believe me; but it was the right thing to do. Now, we can build and invest for the future.

Decades of under-investment and the lack of strategic planning left us with a transport system in crisis. That is already changing. In three years, we have made real improvements--[Interruption.] If hon. Members will listen, they will be able to make a judgment. These are the facts: we have begun to tackle the road maintenance backlog; the overall decline in bus passengers has been halted, and in many areas passenger numbers are rising for the first time; the number of rail passengers has increased by 17 per cent. and rail freight by 22 per cent. since the general election. That is what has happened during the past three years.

Transport is now a growth industry, and many of the problems that it faces are of expansion--not of decline. We have laid the foundations for the long term. We needed to integrate the Departments of Environment and Transport--we have done that. We needed to set out a new strategy--we have done that. We needed to bring in radical new legislation--we have done that. We needed to introduce new forms of finance; we have done that. Today, I am announcing new resources to bring about a step change in transport.

These are new ideas, new powers and new resources--a new approach for a new century. It is on these foundations that we are building today's 10-year programme. It is based on long-term investment by Government and industry to modernise the country's transport system. That is vital for our economic success, and for the quality of our lives. It is excellent news for manufacturers and for the construction sector, which will be able to plan for the long term. Much of that sector had closed down because of the short-term approach to investment in industry.

On Tuesday, the Chancellor announced that, over the next three years, public spending on transport will rise from £5 billion to more than £9 billion. Real-terms capital investment will double. That has been widely welcomed. The Automobile Association said that it was


The Rail Users Committee said that the announcement was


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There is now a broad consensus about what is needed to reduce congestion and to provide a bigger, better and safer railway and a real choice in public transport. With public investment keeping pace with economic growth after the year 2004, total spending over the 10 years--public and private--will now be £180 billion. One hundred and thirty-two billion pounds of that--almost three quarters--will come from the public purse. This is not all new money, but even if we maintained this year's spending as the norm, that means over £50 billion of extra public expenditure. Capital investment by Government and industry together will be 75 per cent. more in real terms than over the last decade.

The plan addresses the issue in a realistic and businesslike way. There are no frills, no promises of a rosy, traffic-free future: just our best judgments--based on a detailed analysis--of what the new resources will deliver.

We are securing long-term investment through long-term partnership contracts: new rail franchises lasting up to 20 years, 30-year contracts for roads and 30-year contracts for the London underground. But let me make it absolutely clear. If we put in public money, we expect rail and bus companies--and local authorities--to deliver the goods: more investment and better services for the travelling public, on budget and on time.

The policy that we inherited on the railways planned for decline and reduced public support. Our programme includes £60 billion for a bigger, better and safer railway--the biggest investment in railways for generations.

We shall deliver better quality for the travelling public, lower regulated fares, 50 per cent. more passengers and 80 per cent. more rail freight, and a new Strategic Rail Authority with a new rail modernisation fund of £7 billion to help deliver these goals. So we shall deliver a railway system that is better for the passengers, better for freight, better for the economy and better for the environment--win, win, win and win again.

Our programme includes £59 billion for modernising local transport in every region throughout the country. It will increase bus use by 10 per cent., with guided buses, priority routes, park and ride and a modern fleet, building on the £400 million of private investment that has already taken place.

Light rail can transform our cities. Manchester and other cities have shown what a difference it can make. So we are going to provide resources for up to 25 new light rail projects in our major cities. We shall create greater social justice with more accessible buses, trains and taxis for disabled people, and cut-price fares for pensioners and disabled people, and for the first time we are recognising the problems of people who live in poorly served, deprived urban areas, cut off from jobs and services. They can look to help from a new urban bus challenge fund to provide new links to their communities.

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Our successful rural transport fund, which has already secured over 2,000 extra services in rural areas, will now rise from £60 million to £95 million a year, with rural transport partnerships established in every county.

Both urban and rural communities will benefit from an extension to the fuel duty rebate for community transport.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): That is our policy.

Mr. Prescott: The hon. Gentleman is in opposition--has he not heard?

Small-scale local improvements can make a big difference to people's lives, such as schemes to make walking and cycling safer and easier, and 20 mph zones, especially where children are most at risk. We shall increase funding for those schemes.

In London, our great capital city, we inherited a creaking transport system, congested roads and overcrowded trains--I do not think that anyone disputes that. We have already made major investments in the capital, with the Jubilee line, docklands light railway extension and other projects. Over the next 10 years, our programme provides £25 billion to support the London transport strategy, with better buses, less crowded trains and less congestion on the roads. This will be enough to produce a real step change in bus services, town-centre improvements and safer walking and cycling. The public-private partnership will secure investment in the existing underground. We have made provision for new links; an orbital London railway and longer-term projects such as the new east-west rail link and east Thames crossings. We are determined to use refranchising to get better and more reliable rail services for commuters.

Those major improvements in public transport throughout the country will help to reduce congestion and pollution. Sensible land-use planning and new technology can make a difference. However, we need also to make better use of our existing road network. We have already set up studies into our busiest transport corridors to find solutions that will involve all types of transport in the multi-modal studies. The first conclusions will emerge over the next few months, and we are providing the resources to implement the results.

The programme includes £21 billion for the strategic road network. This is enough to widen 360 miles of the most congested roads, such as the A1 and the M6, and to invest in "electronic motorways" to manage traffic better and to keep drivers better informed. There will be 100 new bypasses to take traffic out of hard-pressed villages and towns, schemes to tackle congestion and safety hotspots and low-noise surfaces on 60 per cent. of the trunk road network, including all concrete roads.

We have already dealt with the backlog of trunk road repairs. We will enable local authorities to get rid of the backlog on local roads with a £30 billion maintenance programme, which is covered under the heading "Local Transport".

Without the measures set out in the plan, congestion is forecast to grow by 28 per cent. on inter-urban trunk roads and by 15 per cent. in larger urban areas. With the plan, we shall not only eliminate this forecast growth but reduce congestion below current levels by 2010. Our proposals will produce savings in greenhouse gas emissions, helping us to achieve our Kyoto targets and more. We will improve air quality, with new resources to encourage cleaner fuels and vehicles.

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Safety is fundamental to the plan and important to the House. The terrible accidents at Ladbroke Grove and Southall, and more than 3,000 deaths on our roads every year, are a vivid reminder that we can never afford to be complacent. We will ensure the installation of train protection systems, as recommended by Sir David Davies. I have stressed repeatedly that we will not pre-empt Lord Cullen's inquiry. I give a categoric assurance that the plan will deliver any further measures arising from Lord Cullen's inquiry. Safety will always be first in my priorities.

Under various Governments, our roads are already among the safest in Europe. Over the next decade, we are determined to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents by 40 per cent., and by 50 per cent. for children. We are providing the resources to enable government, the Highways Agency and local authorities to play their part in achieving these targets.

It has often been the role of Labour Governments to modernise this country's infrastructure, and that is what we are doing again with our 10-year plan. There will be long-term investment and public-private partnership to increase choice and cut congestion. The Opposition have plans only to cut public spending. They have no plans to cut congestion. The public will ask them to declare where they would make cuts in our programme.

A Labour Government are working with business to deliver the long-term investment that is needed to rebuild our infrastructure, cut congestion, improve public transport and give people greater choice. I hope that people will understand that modernising the transport system will take time and create inconvenience and problems. Making the necessary changes, will at least mean that people will be aware that we are making long-term decisions and dealing with the cause and not the symptoms of a congested system.

New roads and railways are not built overnight. However, with sustained government investment and the backing of industry, we shall make year-on-year improvements to get the job done. The plan will get Britain moving and give the people of this country a transport system on which they can rely. The British people have waited decades for a long-term approach such as this. It is what they deserve, and I commend it to the House.


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