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"Too often, however, the Government prioritises its spending on rail projects based on current and forecast demand, which has contributed to a disproportionate increase in the ratio of investment into London compared to the regions."
The response to that point is long, for a Government response. They have never really had a reason for doing what they are doing, so they waffle a bit about wider implications. Our conclusion states that if they carry on following demand, they will fuel it and will always put investment in the south-east while ignoring other social and economic impacts in their assessments. Part of the Government response states:
"While this advice"-
"is not mandatory because it is still being refined and a method for applying the advice being developed by taking outputs from the appropriate transport model, it has been used in the case of several major projects including HS2"-
That is not satisfactory. If we continue to use models of demand, all the money will go to the south-east, and that will carry on, in effect subsidising congestion. If more money is put in, more people will go to the south-east, so greater demand will be projected, so more money will go to the south-east. That is not acceptable.
Given that we have Thameslink, Crossrail, the investment in transport for the Olympics and the mess that the public-private partnership for the tube is in-billions and billions of pounds are going into the tube system-I think that high-speed rail should start in the north of England for some of the reasons that my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley and for Selby (Mr. Grogan) gave. It could easily start with a link between Manchester and Leeds to give a crossing time over the Pennines of a matter of minutes, and then, like the motorway, railway and canal systems, it could move southwards. If this or any other Government are serious about dealing with economic priorities, they have to change the way in which they assess and invest in major infrastructure projects, and look at social and economic benefits, and the economies of the regions, which are underutilised.
I respect my right hon. Friend the Minister, and I think that the ministerial team that the current Secretary of State has put around him since he has been in power offers a breath of fresh air. It has been a peculiar delight and pleasure to see officials and Ministers coming along to the Select Committee and saying exactly the opposite on investment in the high-speed rail system to what they had been saying for the previous 11 or 12 years, when they poured cold water on it. In cahoots with the Treasury, they initiated the Eddington report, which said that we did not need high-speed links, and that the network was good enough. It is a Treasury view, is it not, that everything will be fine if we just widen a few pinch points in the network. It will not be fine. We need serious investment in the infrastructure.
As far as I am concerned, my right hon. Friend the Minister and the transport team have killed off Eddington, and I hope that they have educated some of the officials in the Department who have been giving such appalling advice. Having listened to them give advice against high-speed rail over the years, I thought that if they had been around in 1820, they would have been telling us what a jolly good thing the stagecoach was, and that those newfangled railways would never catch on. The advice on high-speed rail was of that ilk.
Mr. Goodwill: I will not be tempted. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the new Secretary of State's change of tack on high-speed rail had anything at all to do with the announcement by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), at the Conservative party conference two years ago that we were backing high-speed rail, not only to Birmingham, but to Manchester and Leeds?
Graham Stringer: I am pleased that the Conservatives and, for that matter, the Liberal Democrats support high-speed rail, but, to answer the question directly, no, I do not. If people look back at what the Secretary of State has said, they will see that he has been a long-term supporter of high-speed rail. He has a clear case to make-a much clearer and better case than the Conservative case, which came about simply because that party needed an answer to a question put to the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. In order to win an election-we all want to do that, so I understand him-he said that he was against the third runway at Heathrow airport, but there had to be an answer to the question, "What will you do?" The answer was high-speed rail, but, having announced it, the Conservatives are a bit confused about where they want it to go, how it will be funded and whether they will support it. The Conservatives came to their view to win the mayoralty in London, whereas the Secretary of State based his conclusions on a clear analysis of what the country needs, which is being linked to the continental high-speed system.
I want to mention two or three other things, such as the Manchester hub-now called the northern hub-and the pinch points in that system. Part of the case for high-speed rail is linking the great economic generators, the great cities of this country: Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and eventually Liverpool, Hull, Glasgow and Edinburgh. We should get the investment-it is a shame not to have had it earlier-to take out the pinch points and to create the Manchester hub but, even if we do, the journey time predicted by Network Rail between Manchester and Leeds is 43 minutes. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby might have a better recollection of the distance between Manchester and Leeds, but I guess about 40 miles-only averaging 60 mph. In 2010-when completed, in 2018 or 2019 possibly-we should have better connections than that on routes dedicated to just one form of transport. The issue of pinch points, therefore, is dealt with by the Manchester hub, which ought to be prioritised by the Network Rail capital programme period between 2014 and 2019, as the Select Committee recommended. I understand that Network Rail is doing feasibility work, and I hope that, on conclusion in 12 months, it and the Government will support that investment.
The other way of dealing with capacity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley said when talking about Adlington station, is to increase the number of coaches in the north-west. At the start of the current Network Rail investment period, 182 new coaches were thought necessary-according to Government and Network Rail figures. Many people in the passenger transport executives involved with the Northern Rail franchise-I think it is five-thought the figure was too low. However, of those 182 carriages, 18 have been ordered, and I understand
that 50 for the northern franchise are waiting for a signature. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister told me whether that contract will be signed before Parliament is prorogued, because we are right at the last minute, and certainty about the matter is important. The Secretary of State has been good enough to see my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) and me about the issue on two or three occasions. I hope for confirmation of the good news about the contract before we all go to fight elections, retire or do whatever we shall do over the next four weeks.
I would also like a firm commitment about where we are on phase 2 of the contract. Can the Minister give any more reassurance about whether we shall get new or refurbished trains? I would like him to tell us as much as he can about the latest situation on the 50 carriages and on the second phase of the scheme.
The north of England-not just the north-west, but the whole of those regions of England-have not had a fair deal in transport compared with the investment going into the south-east of England, partly because of the methodology used at the Department for Transport. My hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues have made a fantastic start, but I hope that they get into the guts of the technicalities, so that they can follow their natural political instincts and ensure a fair deal on transport investment for all the regions.
I compliment the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) on securing the debate, which I am sure is of great interest to his constituents, just as it is to mine. He referred to the debate a few days ago on high-speed rail, to which a number of us present today were lucky enough to contribute. Some of the arguments might well be repeated but, frankly, they bear repetition, because of their importance.
I want to start with the issue on which most people so far have spoken in detail-high-speed rail. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of high-speed rail, not only to the north-west, the most important region of the country, but to the rest of the nation. High-speed rail would encourage a modal or paradigm shift to rail from private car transport and, I hope, from domestic aviation as well. High-speed rail would have a big impact on business travel in particular in the north-west. Surveys show that 70 per cent. of rail journeys in the north-west are made for business or commuter purposes. Passenger journeys overall increased by fully 20 per cent. between 1999 and 2005.
On the economic front, we know that high-speed rail construction could create as many as 10,000 jobs over seven years, according to High Speed 2 studies. A further study by KPMG earlier this year showed that high-speed rail might create between 25,000 and 42,000 extra jobs, boosting the UK economy by 2 per cent. by 2040. The greatest economic gains, of course, would come in such regions as the north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber, Scotland and the west midlands. A lot of support for high-speed rail comes from the business sector. A survey of 500 businesses of various sizes was carried out in December 2008. When specifically
asked which would help their business more, almost four in 10 of the businessmen surveyed chose the high-speed rail link and fewer than one in 10 the third runway at Heathrow.
High-speed rail will also free up space on the established or classic rail network. The background to our debate today is the increase in rail travel: up by more than 50 per cent. in the past 26 years, and by 36 per cent. in the past decade alone. In an area such as the commuter station of Gatley in my constituency, rail passenger numbers have increased by 130 per cent. in the past 10 years. Our railways clearly have an awful lot more potential if the capacity is available. However, the picture is not all rosy. In 2008-09, 18.8 per cent. of trains on the east coast main line were running late, as were more than 26 per cent. of all Virgin trains, with which those of us who use the west coast main line regularly are familiar. If and when we get high-speed rail, trains will be capable of travelling at up to 250 mph and journey times will be significantly reduced: London to Birmingham 49 minutes, down from an hour and 24 minutes; London to Manchester an hour and 20 minutes, down from two hours and eight minutes; and London to Edinburgh three hours and 30 minutes, down from four and a half hours as now.
I want to make an important, if parochial, point: we do not want to lose stops that are well established and well supported by the travelling public. I am referring to the stop at Stockport; the station is just outside my constituency but is well used by residents of the wider area and is at risk because of the new high-speed rail line. I have asked Ministers to guarantee that any new high-speed rail link would continue to stop in Stockport, but that guarantee has not been forthcoming. It is obvious that the train operating companies are looking to reduce journey times by cutting out established stops that are well used and well liked by our constituents.
The Liberal Democrats regard high-speed rail not as an alternative to other rail schemes, but as a complement to them. There is, as we have heard, currently a huge transport spending gap between London and the north. It is crucial that that be addressed in this debate. Spending per head on transport is far lower in the north than in London. As we know from the Transport Committee report of 2009, the north-east and Yorkshire receive only 72 per cent. of the UK average per head of population. London, by comparison, receives 195 per cent. per head of population and Scotland receives 162 per cent. There is a similar gulf in capital investment. In the five years to 2008, investment rose by 35 per cent. in the north-east and 37 per cent. in Yorkshire, but over the same period investment in London rose by 80 per cent.
We are committed to electrification of virtually the entire network by 2050. At the moment only 39 per cent. of our rail network is electrified, compared with more than 50 per cent. in Germany. In France, fully 90 per cent. of passenger traffic travels over electrified lines. Why is this important? Put simply, electric trains emit around 20 to 35 per cent. less carbon than conventional trains.
We would like the Government to give greater consideration to reopening old lines. We have said that we would set up a rail expansion fund worth up to £3 billion, from which councils and transport authorities could bid for more money to pay for rail improvement
and expansion projects. That would be paid for by cutting part of the major roads budget. I shall be clear on this point. We are suggesting not a moratorium but a presumption against new road schemes, except where there is an exceptional case. Hon. Members might ask what I mean by "exceptional case". I have a perfect example right in the middle of my constituency: the A555 relief road that links a roundabout on the Bramhall-Woodford boundary with a roundabout on the Heald Green-Handforth boundary. If that relief road is not completed, it will stand as a permanent testimony of the follies of short-term transport planning.
Graham Stringer: I am resisting caricaturing the hon. Gentleman's party as the one in favour of potholes. Can he give us a list of Lib-Dem Members who do not want an exception for their constituents in respect of road schemes?
Mark Hunter: The hon. Gentleman will understand that I find that temptation utterly resistible. I am happy to confirm that the earlier part of his jibe is fallacious. I will give him a further example. Liberal Democrat-led Stockport council has this year put an additional £2 million into its road repair budget. I hope that he will consider further the point that he made.
There is potential for reopening thousands of miles of railway lines across the UK, once again establishing a truly national rail network. As we have seen from the figures mentioned earlier, and from what other hon. Members have said, the public at large are clearly interested in and willing to use trains as a better method of transport. The simple problem at the moment is that the capacity and the infrastructure do not support the demand.
Mr. Goodwill: I should like to give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to reconfirm the Liberal Democrat pledge to cut the major roads budget by 90 per cent. There will not be a lot left for the marginal Lib-Dem seats.
Mr. George Howarth (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) proceeds, it would be helpful if, from time to time, he related his argument back to the north-west, which is what we are debating today.
Mark Hunter: Thank you for the observation, Mr. Howarth, but my constituency is in the north-west of England, the schemes that I have mentioned are transport schemes and the title of the debate is "Transport in the north-west". I await further guidance on that matter.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) made a point about the reduction in the major roads budget, but he knows that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), our party's Front-Bench spokesman, has already dealt with that question. For reasons of time, I do not wish to go over that again.
I want to say a word or two about overcrowding, because the 2007 White Paper forecast the need to provide additional capacity for in excess of 4,000 people in morning peak times and to ensure that the average load factor on the trains was no more than 45 per cent. The Department for Transport's rolling stock strategy,
published in 2008, identified 182 additional carriages for Northern Rail, as the hon. Member for Chorley mentioned, which covers the north-west of England. Later that year, the Department announced a plan to purchase 200 diesel carriages, including those 182 carriages that I have already mentioned. That plan has since been cancelled, owing to the higher than expected procurement costs. The DFT has issued a revised proposal that will introduce 80 to 100 carriages in the first phase. As other hon. Members have indicated, an update from the Minister today on those carriages would be most appreciated, not least by the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority, which has been in touch with the Transport Minister about this matter, which is of great concern to us.
The cost of buses has increased more than the cost in any other sector since the current Government came to power. Between 1997 and 2008 the real cost of motoring declined by 10 per cent. and the real cost of coach and bus fares increased by 13 per cent. That is not to say that the cost of motoring is too low, but it is an argument for saying that the cost of bus and coach fares is too high. The background is that the vast majority of local transport journeys are made by bus or coach. In 2008-09, 5.2 billion such journeys were made, compared with 5.1 billion in 2007-08. Between 1985-86 and 2006-07, the number of bus journeys fell by 30 per cent. in Scotland, by 28 per cent. in Wales and by 22 per cent. in English non-metropolitan areas.
With prices and operating profits going up, and journey numbers going down, the whole system must be revaluated to provide a better deal for passengers in the north-west and beyond. The Liberal Democrats would like the Tories' bus deregulation of the 1980s to be reversed, with local authorities being given much more control over pricing and planning services.
Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman is generous with his time. I agree with his arguments. I supported the Transport Act 2008. Can he tell us why the Liberal-led integrated transport authority does not use the powers in that Act to bring in quality contracts in Greater Manchester?
Mark Hunter: Having recently met the chair of the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority, I know that it is concerned about this matter, which is currently receiving attention. Following your guidance earlier, Mr. Howarth, to stick to the main subject, I do not propose to be diverted further, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that discussions on that matter continue.
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