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Of course, there has been good news in Chorley, as we have the wonderful new railway station. Chorley used to be dominated by a great organisation called the Royal Ordnance factory. At its height, more than 35,000 people worked there. The casing for Barnes Wallace's bouncing bomb was made there. The factory has fought its way and played its part through all of the wars up to the beginning of the Afghanistan war, but it no longer exists. It is good that we no longer need big armaments factories, but there was a dividend to be paid-a huge brownfield site that had to be decontaminated. We now have about 800 to 900 acres of brownfield land, which is the biggest single piece of land available for redevelopment in Europe. We are redeveloping it, which is wonderful. However, it was said at the time that it must have a railway station, but that still has not been built. As part of the section 106 agreement, Chorley borough council got about £3.5 million and stuck it in the bank. However, it sat on the money for too long instead of spending it and the cost of the station went up.
Chorley borough council ended up with a shortfall of £3.5 million. It took a Labour Minister to listen-I was knocking on his door and chasing Ministers around-and make up the difference of £3.5 million. I thank the Minister for the fact it is a Labour Government who have ensured that the railway station goes ahead. The only thing I would say is that the money is in the bank, but the spade is still not in the ground. I want to know why Network Rail has not started, because the money is there. We do not want to be in this stupid situation, where we have the £7 million but by the time we get around to constructing the station the cost has gone up to £8 million. I ask the Minister to put pressure on Network Rail and make the railway station happen now, not later.
Chorley borough has played a crafty one. While I was banging on to the Minister to give us £3.5 million, another chunk of Royal Ordnance land came along and Chorley borough got section 106 money-£3.5 million for transport. Of course, it does not need that for the railway station, because the Government are paying for it. I say to the Minister that it is important to consider that there is £3.5 million extra in Chorley's coffers. Chorley is not a transport authority; it is a borough council. I am not sure what it is going to do with the £3.5 million that it is sitting on, but I know that as part of the 106 agreement, they have that money.
Perhaps we ought to hand the money over to the county, which is the transport authority, because it could make a real difference. That £3.5 million could be spent on bus services, such as the 124 between Chorley and Blackburn. That bus no longer uses its old route, because unfortunately the subsidies have gone, but we have £3.5 million that we can put into subsidising the routes and buses in Chorley. I urge the Minister to pressurise Chorley borough to deliver a transport service that is second to none. With £3.5 million in the bank for transport, we can make a real difference to the people of Chorley. That is what we need to be doing.
Of course, it is fantastic that people in Chorley have benefited from the freedom pass, and that pensioners can go out on the buses for free. However, we should extend the pass to trains. Perhaps we ought to run a pilot scheme. There is £3.5 million in the tiny district
authority account waiting to be spent, so perhaps we ought to trial a young people's freedom pass. If we could give the schoolchildren and teenagers of Chorley the freedom pass, it would make a real difference. We should consider that challenge, because it would mean that young people in Chorley would benefit, just like young people in London, so it is a good idea. Using the £3.5 million in such a way would make a difference, and if people have a freedom pass when they are at school or college, it will get them into the habit of using public transport. We cannot force people to use public transport; we have to make public transport attractive, and my proposal is a way of doing so.
Mr. Goodwill: Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to see the scheme in operation in Kent, which was brought in by Conservative-controlled Kent county council? It established a young people's freedom pass and it is working very well indeed. That could be the model for other local authorities up and down the country.
Mr. Hoyle: Absolutely. In Chorley, such a scheme would not cost the Government or council tax payers a penny, because the money is there as a result of the section 106 agreement. We could trial the scheme without any cost, then we could say, "Has it been good or has it been bad?" I suspect that everyone would say such a scheme was good, and we could then begin to roll out a programme. We have a real opportunity to test such a scheme.
The issue is about those trains; it is about Buckshaw village; and it is about the railway station and electrification. There were some listed arches-called the flying arches-between Chorley and Euxton, which were taken down by Network Rail, and stored up at Garstang. Network Rail keeps saying to us, "Don't worry, we're going to put them back." I have to tell the Minister that they have not reappeared. I am highly suspicious that Network Rail is hoping that people will forget. The arches are listed, and I wonder if the Minister can get Network Rail to ensure that it takes up the agreement, which was that the arches would be replaced once the work had been carried out. The work has been done, but the arches have not returned, so if the Minister could consider the matter, it would be useful.
On the frequency of train services, as time goes on, more and more people commute from my wonderful village of Adlington-it is just outside Chorley and there is a wonderful railway station. We used to be able to get on the train and go direct to Manchester Piccadilly, but all that has changed. Network Rail has suddenly decided that the train gets too overcrowded before it reaches Bolton. It seems to me that if the train is too overcrowded before it gets to Bolton, more carriages and trains should be put on. Network Rail does not agree. It has said that trains will not stop at Adlington station any more, so that some capacity will be left when they get to Bolton. That is not the answer; we are deluding ourselves. People in Adlington have decided to drive up the line and park on the park-and-ride.
Network Rail's response does not make sense environmentally, and it does not achieve the objective. If it is struggling with capacity, provision should be extended, but that has not happened. Network Rail is still failing the people of Adlington and the railway station there. I hope the Minister will take the matter
up, ask Network Rail to reconsider its decision, and make sure that we return to having the same number of trains to Piccadilly that we used to. People do not want to change trains at Bolton, and doing so offers no advantage because it simply leads to crowding at Bolton. I would be really happy if the Minister looked into that issue.
I also wish to raise the Preston to Southport line and the benefits of it being single track. Part of my constituency that I am unfortunately losing is at the Croston end of that line. We need major investment in that single-track line and we must ensure that it has a strong future. We need to put the beneficial extra curve into that line. If the Minister looked at that, I would be grateful. As I said, I will lose that part of the constituency, but I do not believe that we should give up the argument of ensuring that the track is developed.
I do not know whether this is the case in other constituencies, but in a town such a Chorley, which is a growth area and, logistically, a great place where people want to live and commute from, huge estates have been built by developers, but unfortunately the roads have not been adopted. It suits the developers not to finish such roads properly and the local authority will not take over the roads because they are not up to standard. The problem is that the people who live on such roads pay full council tax, but receive absolutely no benefits. They are living on roads that are not up to standard, and thousands of households in Chorley suffer as a result of living on unadopted roads. We need to pressurise developers to ensure that those roads, bus shelters and litter bins-everything that goes with adoptions-are of the appropriate standard. I hope that we can do something for those people who pay full council tax and receive no benefits. If the road is flooded, nobody wants to know. If the road is iced over and needs salting, nobody will grit it because it is not the responsibility of the Highways Agency.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that local councils should insist as a condition of the development going ahead that the roads are brought up to adoptable standards, so that the borough council will adopt them?
Mr. Hoyle: Of course. That is what was agreed in the beginning, but it never quite happens. At one time, a bond had to be put up. However, these days, I understand that people do not bother with a bond; they have a licence and other things. The developers build the houses and put in a basic road, but the road needs a finished surface, which never gets done. In addition, the manholes are often raised, but not finished.
Developers are on their uppers at the moment, so not bringing the roads up to full adoptive standards is a way for them to avoid spending money. It is right that an adopted road is not put in before the houses are built, because when heavy traffic is put down the road, it churns it up. The developers put in roads that are not of a complete standard, which should come when the estate is finished. The best way of ensuring that that is the case is to have a bond, so that if the developers fail to finish the roads, the local authority can do it through a bond. The answer might be for local authorities to use the bond system and say, "You aren't doing it. We've got the money; we will finish it off." We need to ensure
the local authority has enough money to do so. The incentive would then be for the developers to ensure that the road is of an adoptable standard.
The same issue arises in relation to bus shelters. No one takes responsibility for the bus shelters-sometimes they are broken, smashed up, sprayed or vandalised. If the roads are not looked after, the same problem quickly spirals to a new area. That is why it is important to ensure that roads and footpaths are adopted at an early stage. I would appreciate the Minister's help in ensuring that that happens. Hon. Members from the north-west who are here will rightly want to put their case in relation to that. As I said, when we look back, we can see that the Government have done much for transport, and much has been envisaged for the future. I want to see the high-speed rail link and electrification, and I want to see young people's bus passes trialled.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a great champion for transport in the north-west and in his constituency. He mentioned the future and jobs. Is not one of the key schemes in the north-west, and one that would also be affected by the M6, the proposed Mersey gateway bridge, because the capacity of the current bridge has been far exceeded, leading to congestion? Furthermore, its building would lead to hundreds of construction jobs, and 5,000 to 6,000 jobs would be created for economic benefit. Is not that also the sort of scheme we want to see in the north-west?
Mr. Hoyle: I totally agree, because we could all benefit from that. Such a major bridge would lead to many construction jobs, as my hon. Friend has said. The building work and the steel needed for such a bridge would all lead to good, valuable jobs. The best way to come out of a recession is to have a thriving construction industry, so of course I back that proposal. The opening up of the Mersey gateway is important to us. Anyone who has been on the old Widnes bridge will know what a problem crossing it can be. It is a beautiful bridge, of course, but that is not the answer-we need a second crossing. It is about the north-west, but it is not about being parochial. Chorley is the centre of the north-west, but I recognise that people from other areas could take advantage of that proposal.
With regard to Network Rail, we have a serious problem at Rylands crossing-a level crossing with an unmanned gate where people walk across the line. There have been fatalities at that crossing and serious injuries. The link between the east of Chorley and the town centre where people cross the railway line is crucial, but we must put safety first, as it is important to us. Network Rail is committed to building a footbridge over the crossing. Can the Minister assure us that he will chase that up on our behalf, because it is crucial that the footbridge goes ahead? That would make a real difference for trains, as it would save them having to slow down, sound the horn and do everything they must do when approaching the crossing. That would make a real difference for people who live on the east side of Chorley when they travel into the town centre. Overall, I say well done to the Minister, but we can do more and need the return of the Government to do it.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab):
Mr. Howarth, you might well ask why a proud Yorkshireman such as
myself-I look forward to the clashes in June between Yorkshire and Lancashire at the cricket ground in Headingly and intend to be there-is contributing to a debate on transport in the north-west. I will not try the patience of Members for long because I know that several wish to speak, but I want to contribute for some of the reasons indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), whom I congratulate on securing the debate and on introducing it with his usual passion and verve. Transport links in the north-west are important not only to the north-west, but to the whole of the north of England. I intend to refer briefly to two matters where that is certainly true: the trans-Pennine rail link and Jarvis Rail's maintenance work, which is so important across the north of England.
I have a particular regard for Stalybridge railway station, which has a magnificent pub on the platform. At one stage in my life, when I was working in Wolverhampton during the week and returning to Yorkshire on a Friday, my weekend began when I arrived at Stalybridge and its magnificent pub. It is one of only a few such pubs on railway station platforms in England-Huddersfield station has another, I think. The trans-Pennine link is so important, and I praise the current operator First Trans Pennine, which has definitely improved the service enormously. The line's punctuality figures are among the best in the country, even though they were among the worst when the operator took on the franchise. There has also been investment in the rolling stock.
Whatever party forms the next Government, real consideration should be given to extending that franchise, which I understand is a possibility under its terms. That would lead to certainty on the line, and I think that the operator has done broadly a good job. Incidentally, we are probably looking at having high-speed rail in the future, so I hope that we will not abandon the ambition of high-speed rail across the Pennines.
Mr. Grogan: I agree entirely. I also think that in the shorter term we need to look at track configuration and investment in the track around Manchester, because there is a need for investment. Some of the track is not up to the best standards, and that really clogs up the whole of the north of England. Investment is needed in Manchester in particular to improve the efficiency of the train network there.
Incidentally, I also think that Manchester airport is a beacon in the north's economy and that it is important not only to the north-west, but to Yorkshire. It is ridiculous that there are no rail links to Manchester airport on Boxing day, its busiest day of the year. Many airports in the south of England, such as Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted, are all linked by train on Boxing day. The next time the trans-Pennine franchise is up for renewal, I hope that it is specified that services should be provided on that line, which is so important for the economy of the whole of the north of England, at least 364 days a year and on Boxing day. Direct links from Manchester airport to Selby, my constituency, have been cut, and I hope that they can be restored at
some stage, perhaps the next time the trans-Pennine franchise is negotiated. There are proposals for an open-access operator to compete with the franchise operator on trans-Pennine links. That might be a good thing. It has certainly helped with the east coast main line.
The other matter I wanted to discuss is Jarvis Rail, and it affects both the north-west and Yorkshire. I got the job figures from the administrator, Deloitte, earlier today. In the north-west, 63 jobs have been lost in Manchester and 10 have been lost in Liverpool. In Yorkshire, on the other side of the Pennines, 302 jobs have been lost in Doncaster, 62 have been lost in Leeds and 213 have been lost in York. I am not sure that the response of either the Ministers or Network Rail to the crisis for Jarvis and for all of those whose jobs have been affected has been up to scratch.
Ministers could have invoked the powers of the Railways Act 1993 and set up a railway administration order. That would not have prevented Jarvis from disappearing, but it would have meant that the contracts had to be funded by the Department for Transport or Network Rail. It would have meant that the appointed railway administrator had to keep the contracts intact and that people would have been paid last week over the Easter holidays. The railway administrator would then have had to sell on the contracts in an orderly way. That was envisaged under the terms of the 1993 Act, so I am not sure why it was not called upon last week. The whole of Jarvis, including Jarvis Rail, is now in administration, so we are where we are, as they say.
I sought advice from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole). He told me that that is in the hands of Network Rail, which is now responsible for deciding what happens to the important maintenance contracts Jarvis was undertaking. He suggested that I contact Network Rail and seek a meeting. I did so and received a reply from Iain Coucher, who, incidentally, is paid £555,000 a year plus a £250,000 bonus. He said he was not prepared for Network Rail to meet me and possibly MPs from the north-west. He had taken legal advice and was not prepared to do that, although I had been advised to go to his office by the Minister. It is disgraceful. He has a responsibility to the whole rail industry and there are many constituents in the north-west who have been made redundant and who are eager to learn what will happen to Jarvis's contracts and whether there is any possibility that they will get work in the future.
Many constituents have rung my office and asked whether the railways are safe now that Jarvis has gone into liquidation and what is happening to the maintenance work it was doing as part of its contracts. Those are questions that Network Rail should be prepared to discuss with elected representatives. Incidentally, Mr. Coucher-£555,000 a year and a £250,000 bonus-last week refused me a meeting on the station car park at Selby, which we want to be developed, not least so that more people can go to Manchester airport on the trans-Pennine rail link.
In my 13 years as an MP, I have never encountered such an arrogant attitude from an organisation. The spokesman from Network Rail said that it was not a public organisation, as if that was an excuse. An organisation that exhibited capitalism red in tooth and claw would not decline a meeting with an MP.
I very much hope that in the next Parliament MPs from the north-west, Yorkshire and across the north can make Network Rail a little more accountable for the money that it spends on our behalf. I hope that even at this late stage-Parliament will not be dissolved until Monday-the Minister, powerful man that he is, can perhaps get Network Rail at least to speak to concerned MPs about the future of the rail contracts that were lost last week, which were important to the north-west and Yorkshire.
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): The great transport revolutions in this country happened in the north-west. The first canal, the Bridgewater canal, was built in the region. Incidentally, the last major canal built in this country, the Manchester ship canal, was built there too. The first passenger railway station was built between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool in the early 1830s. Most people have forgotten, but the first part of the motorway system was the Preston bypass, which was built in the region. The rest of the motorway system came out of it.
The Secretary of State for Transport has said that high-speed rail is part of a new revolution. It is certainly a change in the order of magnitude in terms of transport, but it is not starting in the north of England. It is starting in the south, and I want to examine some of the reasons for that and explain why I think that it should not be happening.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) on bringing this important matter before the House. He has been a distinguished MP for Chorley. One only has to listen to his speech to know how deeply he has the interests of his constituents at heart, and how much he understands the area that he represents.
If one looks at the expenditure figures per head of population for the north-west, the north of England, Yorkshire or, in this case, for the slightly wider area covered by passenger transport executives, which includes even the west midlands-I shall use those figures because they make the case more powerfully-one sees that the ratio of expenditure per head of population is £836 for London and the south-east and £269 for the PTE areas. Those figures are from the Passenger Transport Executive Group. Not only are they wide apart, but they are getting wider apart. The rate of expenditure growth in the south is about twice what it is in the regions, and one gets an even greater ratio when comparing London and the south-east with, for instance, Yorkshire. As a member of the Transport Committee, I have for many years been asking for a justification of that, but there is not one, as far as I can see. I have the greatest respect for my right hon. Friend the Minister and others, but they have never adequately explained to the Committee why that has happened.
The Select Committee has just done a report-I assume it is a coincidence that we got a reply in our pigeonholes today-on "Priorities for investment in the railways". We took a tangential look at the situation. One of our conclusions states:
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