“Member States will be asked to confirm the value and structure of the total financing of the projects concerned, and any project for which confirmation is not forthcoming will be replaced by the next highest-ranked project.”
Those words are chilling, and unless that criterion has changed, they highlight the urgent need for the Government to get in place their plan in relation to CCS, so that that opportunity is not missed.
The Government held an industry day just before Christmas, which many people were hoping would answer some questions. Given the questions and answers published on the Minister’s website and the views of people who attended that event, I do not think it answered many questions, other than to say that at some point questions would be answered. I hope the Minister takes this opportunity to answer those important questions.
Scotland is at the forefront of this pioneering low-carbon technology, which could hugely benefit our energy security and how energy policy is taken forward across the UK and more widely around the world. However, as hon. Members have highlighted, the right support from the Government is needed to get that opportunity up and running. It is time for the Minister and the Government to bring the uncertainty to an end, to provide clarity and to come clean on CCS.
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The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Howarth. I begin with an abject apology to you and to the House for my late arrival. I am afraid that there was confusion in my office about the time at which the debate started; I therefore turned up slightly late. I apologise profusely and will write to Mr Speaker to make my apologies known to the House.
In particular, I had wanted to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). He has shown a strong personal commitment to the issue that goes way beyond the interests of his constituency alone, to look much more broadly at the interests of carbon capture and storage and future energy development in the United Kingdom and particularly in Scotland. I am profoundly grateful to him for his interest and the expertise that he has shown, and I was keen to hear his remarks in full—I will read them—but of course I accept his request for a meeting. If he and other hon. Members wish to talk to me about their concerns in more detail at any point, they are more than welcome to do so.
We have had an extremely valuable debate, characterised by the extent to which hon. Members have spoken with both commitment and expertise. It reinforces why we all desire the issue to be seen as outside politics, and there is an enormous prize for our whole country. People looking to invest want to see as much clarity and agreement between the parties as possible, to which the tone of the debate has been conducive. We are all frustrated about the pace of progress and we are all disappointed that the Longannet project could not be made to work within the budgetary framework, but we are all equally committed to taking the issues forward, to ensure that the United Kingdom is one of the most attractive places in the world in which to invest in CCS. The UK has unique facilities, which should put it at the forefront of developing CCS, and Scotland is at the forefront in the United Kingdom. The industry’s potential for Scotland, for existing industry and for new industries that want to support CCS and to provide part of the supply chain is extremely comprehensive.
The frustration was outlined before the general election by Paddy Tipping, then the Member of Parliament for Sherwood and a member of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, who said it was a competition without end—the competition for CCS seems to have gone on for ever. Given that we must now proceed with new urgency on setting a new competition, it is not lost on any of us that we wasted the chance over a number of years to take the opportunity forward, and we must now do so with extra vigour.
Thomas Docherty: Does the Minister share my observation that part of the problem with the previous competition was people’s apparent belief that it was a case of the last bidder standing, rather than of having technology that worked? Can he ensure therefore that much more robust criteria are set down at the start, so that everyone understands what the competition is?
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in pre-combustion technologies, such as the BP project at Peterhead, could not qualify. The assumption at the time was that the technology could then be sold to China and elsewhere to retrofit old plants, but the Chinese are now clearly quickly developing their own technology that they want to sell to the rest of the world, so we need to look at a wider range of technologies. An added complication, which I will come to later, is retrofitting an old technology to an old plant, with the significant extra costs inevitably occurred in bringing that plant up to scratch, to give it decades of future life, on top of the cost of the CCS alone.
We all agree that CCS can play a fundamental part in delivering our secure, low-carbon energy needs. It provides us with a generation option that other technologies do not: its flexibility can provide a balance between the intermittency associated with renewables and the base-load nature of nuclear. It allows fossil fuels to play a full part in our low-carbon future and allows the decarbonisation of industrial emissions. We—the whole of the United Kingdom and the Government—remain firmly committed to working with industry to achieve that.
We have made available £1 billion of capital funding to support early CCS projects, and I will say more on that in a moment, in response to the questions. We are establishing a market for CCS electricity through our reforms to the electricity market. We are continuing to lead the world in putting in place the regulatory framework to support CCS, including legislation on third-party access to pipelines. We are supporting essential research and development, including opening the UK’s first carbon capture demo at the Ferrybridge power station. We have also established the CCS development forum, which has drawn together around 40 members from the industry to be directly involved in delivering CCS in the United Kingdom, together with representatives from the international academic and non-governmental organisation communities.
There are many different ways to achieve the decarbonisation of the power sector. At this stage, it is not possible to predict which will be the most cost-effective route or what exactly the power sector will look like in 2030. Nevertheless, we can use economic models to produce projections, using the best evidence currently available. Analysis undertaken for the carbon plan of the Department of Energy and Climate Change suggests that around 40 to 70 GW of new low-carbon electricity generating capacity will be needed by 2030, depending on demand and the mix of generation built. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), a strong continuing role for gas is envisaged in that mix.
Ian Swales: The Minister mentioned economic modelling. Do the Government have any wider modelling that takes into account the whole picture, not only carbon capture and the grants that might be required to get it going, but—my earlier point—petroleum revenue tax resulting from enhanced oil recovery?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting and valuable point. Our focus so far has been on how to advance the technology and to make it commercially viable and on how to bring down the cost. Our focus therefore has been on the energy sector, but he is absolutely right about a range of other benefits, not least in PRT
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or revenue that might come through enhanced oil recovery, which I will come back to, as well the supply-chain opportunities, the wealth that that creates for the economy and the tax revenues that will come into play.
Our analysis shows that CCS could contribute 10 GW of capacity to the UK electricity market by 2030 and up to 40 GW by 2050. I want to be absolutely clear that we are not setting targets for separate technologies. The industry’s ambition for CCS, as set out by the Carbon Capture and Storage Association strategy paper last year, is significantly higher than in our modelling, seeking 20 to 30 GW by 2030. We would be happy with such deployment, provided that it is the most cost-effective way to meet our decarbonisation targets—an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat). We must do three things to make that possible: provide incentives for investment, bring down the costs of the technology and tackle barriers to deployment.
The key to delivering the investment that we need in the UK electricity sector is confidence, for both technology developers and investors in the long-term future for their technology, and in the certainty of opportunity for those who want to take forward CCS and other low-carbon technologies. That is why the Government are implementing the biggest reforms to the electricity market for a generation, to provide the certainty that investors require and to create an industry for CCS, rather than only a few pilot projects. We are committed to reforming the electricity market to incentivise the deployment of low-carbon generating capacity.
Electricity market reform is a game changer for CCS. The reforms that we have announced offer the prospect of a future market for CCS electricity that will drive investment in commercial CCS plants. We are considering reforms that offer a range of benefits: longer-term contracts to provide stable financial incentives; support for early CCS projects, with contracts designed to recognise the associated uncertainties; an emissions performance standard set at the equivalent of 450 grams of carbon dioxide per kWh; and a carbon price floor that will further incentivise investment in low-carbon generation. With such incentives in place, the deployment rate for CCS will be dependent on the costs of the technology and how they stack up against nuclear and renewables.
If CCS is to be competitive with other low-carbon technologies, we and the industry must work together to understand the costs and how they can be reduced. There are two elements: technical discovery, through both research and development and learning by doing, and reducing the perceived risk of investing in a new technology, which leads to higher premiums for investment. We are tackling these issues in two main ways: through our £125 million research and development programme, which will continue to provide support for projects such as the UK’s first carbon capture pilot at Ferrybridge, which was opened by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change last year; and through our new CCS delivery programme, which will support larger-scale projects, delivering learning by doing, moving the technology forward and reducing risk premiums. The programme will focus on achieving the overall outcome of cost-competitive, low-carbon electricity from fossil fuel power stations in the 2020s, thus achieving exactly what we want, which is a long-term industry in the sector.
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Thomas Docherty: The Minister will recall that I previously met him to discuss transmission charging. At that time, we referred to the fact that fossil fuels that come up and down are charged on their capacity rather than what goes to the grid. Will he set out briefly the Government’s thinking on that and how we can change the system?
Charles Hendry: The hon. Gentleman’s point is critical to the whole Scottish electricity sector. The work is being taken forward by Ofgem through Project TransmiT, which is considering the appropriate regime for charging when electricity is transmitted over long distances. It will set out its thoughts during the next few weeks, and that can be discussed in more detail. I am very encouraged by the progress that I understand is being made to find a formula that will work for those who are developing projects north of the border and in other parts of the country. More detail will be available shortly, but it is critical to the development not just of CCS in Scotland, but to the whole electricity generating sector north of the border.
We are putting in place a strong financial offer for early CCS projects, and it is one of the best offers anywhere in the world. It includes the £1 billion that is available for the up-front capital costs of projects, the potential for low-carbon contracts for difference to support operational costs and the potential for European new entrant reserve funding, which we fully support.
In response to the point made by the shadow Minister, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said that, realistically, because the programme is being put back, the money that we had anticipated being spent in this spending round is unlikely to be spent, and it cannot be spent in the time scale originally intended. If Longannet had gone ahead, it could have started to be drawn down this year and certainly into 2013. With new projects coming through, that will happen at the very end of this spending round and primarily into the next one. However, there is a clear commitment, and the £1 billion remains.
In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, good progress is also being made on finding additional sources of funding to bring into the process. Discussion is taking place with sovereign wealth funds overseas to trap their investment in this area. We are seeing a greater appetite from industrial investors to put in their own funding, instead of the Government providing funding. Projects involving enhanced oil recovery might also make a significant financial contribution.
Tom Greatrex: I am grateful to the Minister for his partial answer to one of my questions. May I press him on how much of that £1 billion will be available during the current CSR period and the current Parliament if demand is present and whether the projects are advanced enough for the money to be available to spend? How much of that £1 billion could be spent on CCS during this time, or has it been subsumed into a wider infrastructure pot?
Certainly, the funding that was assumed would be spent on CCS in the middle of this spending round and that will not now be spent and cannot be spent is being made available to other infrastructure projects. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes
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that, because it will help to drive forward our economic recovery. Until we have seen the scale and type of the projects and the extent to which they will co-operate and collaborate, we cannot set out exactly what the funding will be. Some of them will access the new entrant reserve fund; some will be more dependent on a predictable income stream through the contracts for difference; and some will need more up-front funding. Until we know exactly what the projects will be, we cannot say exactly how they need to be financed. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wants clarity now, but until we understand the nature of the front-runner projects, we cannot say with certainty exactly how that funding should come forward.
Tom Greatrex: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. How much money would be available if those projects were advanced to a stage where they would be considered to be appropriate for that funding? How much of that funding would be available for projects in this comprehensive spending review period if they were in that position? Would the figure be up to £500 million, £200 million or £300 million? How much would be available from that £1 billion during this CSR period if the projects had the applicable framework for that money?
Charles Hendry: The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to go out of line, but I am reluctant to pursue that approach. Until we understand the nature of the projects, I cannot explain to him how they will be funded. They will all have a different funding requirement for longer-term running costs or up-front capital, which may come from one or two sources. We want to make it clear that we want projects to try to find other investors to enter the process. There will inevitably be a process of discovery and of trying to find out exactly what the best projects are, but we have made it absolutely clear that that £1 billion remains available. The hon. Gentleman understands that the time scale has been moved backwards because of the decision on Longannet, but the £1 billion remains ring-fenced.
Dr Whiteford: I appreciate the Minister’s candour in outlining how he is trying to find alternative sources of funding, but Shell and Scottish and Southern Energy hope to begin a full-scale field study of the Peterhead project in the second half of this year. They have made it clear that they will need funding in years 2 and 3, and it would be helpful if the Minister indicated what the funding prospects were for that time scale.
The hon. Lady makes exactly the point that I am keen to focus on: there are investors who might want to come into the project—international investors who want to be part of the early development of this game-changing technology because of its global potential. We are encouraging them to try to talk to other potential investors, and we are looking at a range of projects. We are discussing one that could come
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through the new competition, but it is not the only one. Other projects are viable and would have greater scope for accessing the new entrant reserve fund, but until we have seen their scope and the collaboration and co-operation between different industrial players, it is hard to come to a final decision. However, I give the hon. Lady the commitment that we have a real desire to take the competition forward much more rapidly than the previous competition, and during the next few weeks, we will provide the details.
We had an industry day in December, and during the next month we will have a further industry day to provide more detail on how the competition will work. We will then open up the competition shortly afterwards with a tight time scale to encourage firms to come back. Having lost time, we want to make up for that and to see the full range of projects that can benefit from funding and find out how we can take that forward.
Gordon Banks: While the Minister is winding up, will he respond to a point that I made that fits in with the one that he is making about new competition and external funding? What discussions has he had with the Scottish Government about them playing a financial role? Did the First Minister approach the Minister’s Department on Longannet or any future projects?
Charles Hendry: I was not remotely close to winding up until I took so many interventions, but I must now do so swiftly. On Longannet, the Scottish Government did not offer funding but, to be fair, they were not asked for funding. The project is seen to be a UK energy policy with funding from the UK Exchequer. We had constructive discussions with the Scottish Government ahead of it. I think that we all share the disappointment at the reaction, and perhaps the lesson is not to announce decisions just before the Scottish National party’s annual conference. We must try to move forward in a way that takes such issues out of politics. The gain from what can be achieved to the United Kingdom is so substantial that we all need to pull together and to work together.
The hon. Gentleman said that the decision on Longannet did not send out the right message, but it was the only decision we could have made, because at the end of the day there was so much difference between what it was going to cost and what was available. We want to take the technology forward, but we cannot do so at any price. Even if funding had been available from the Scottish Government, it could not have made up the difference to enable the project to go ahead.
Much more work needs to be done, and we are taking it forward urgently on regulatory reform, storage, the supply chain, transport and storage infrastructure and planning. In England, we can certainly make it clear through national policy statements and the infrastructure planning commission that that process will work much more smoothly and without the time delays about which people have expressed concern, although planning in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. More details will come forward very shortly—
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Music Venues (Disabled Access)
Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, and I am glad that the Minister responsible for culture, communications and creative industries is able to attend the debate.
I am delighted to have secured this debate on access to live music for deaf and disabled people both because it is an issue close to my heart, and because I believe that there is a strong and principled business case for the proposals that I shall set out. I can personally attest to the importance of this subject, and to the difference that equal access for disabled people makes to those passionate about music. My involvement in this issue is due to a close friend of mine, Dom Pardey, who had a love of life and of music but who without warning at the age of 28 suffered a serious stroke and is now confined to a wheelchair. Although life became more difficult, his passion for music has never wavered. It is what keeps him going, and I regularly travel with him and take him to music venues, and comedy or theatre productions, along with a wide network of friends. He is one representative of many people across the country whose passion for music is their reason to live. From that experience, I know what a difference good access can make. It is not only about ramps but about toilet facilities and hearing loops, and just one step can make the difference between an inspirational event watched by somebody in a wheelchair, and a sad disappointment.
I am proud to be patron of the charity Attitude is Everything, which exists to improve the accessibility of music venues for deaf and disabled people. It began as an idea by Suzanne Ball 20 years ago. She was attending a major festival and almost died in the crowd because of the pressure on the disabled listeners who were sitting at the front. Attitude is Everything became a pilot project in September 2000 in direct response to deaf and disabled people’s calls for fair treatment at music venues, clubs and festivals, and it set out to address the music industry’s apparent lack of awareness about its responsibilities, obligations and duties under disability discrimination legislation.
Last December, Attitude is Everything released a report entitled “State of Access”, which I launched in Portcullis house. It is the first piece of systematic research into access to live music for disabled people, and it examines approaches to access across the industry. The report was compiled by 100 deaf and disabled music lovers who acted as mystery shoppers, just as a food critic may act in a restaurant. Those people are directly affected by issues of access, and their extensive input made the report valuable and powerful. I would like publicly to thank all the mystery shoppers who took part in that exercise and volunteered their time to ensure that the report was so strong. The report examines views and approaches to access across the live music industry, promotes best practice, and suggests solutions to improve the current situation. I thoroughly recommend it to any hon. Members who are interested in improving access for disabled people.
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for the enforcement of existing legislation, and I shall address those points in turn. There is a strong commercial argument for venues to adopt the Attitude is Everything charter of best practice. Charter venues and festivals, such as the Latitude festival in Suffolk which I highly recommend, and local authorities that follow the charter’s principles, such as Kent county council and Tower Hamlets, vouch for the scheme and demonstrate the benefits of good access. Some of the most powerful advocates for improving access are venues and festivals that have already improved access and seen the improvement in business that followed.
Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): I would not have been aware of this debate had I not attended the previous discussion, and I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue because it is obviously something close to my heart. He is absolutely right about the business case. Disabled people do not go to music festivals or the theatre on their own; they go with friends or in groups of friends, and by barring one member of the group, venues are often effectively barring everybody in it. That is why there is a good economic argument for making all venues fully wheelchair accessible.
Matthew Hancock: I am extremely grateful for that intervention; the hon. Lady has taken a page of my speech by expressing that point more strongly than I could have done. The annual spending power of deaf and disabled customers is estimated at around £80 billion per year—a serious market. For example, estimates suggest that hearing loss currently affects more than 10 million people in the UK. That is about one in six of the population, and rising.
Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this worthy debate. He mentions larger music festivals, but does he agree that it is equally important to have the access that he describes in some of the smaller venues? Is he aware of my “Rock the House” competition that asks people to nominate their favourite live venue in their constituencies? We would encourage all disadvantaged groups to nominate their favourite pub and so on.
Matthew Hancock: I certainly join my hon. Friend in encouraging disabled groups and disabled music lovers—whether in a group or not—to nominate their favourite live venue, and I hope that his work in live music will take into account improved access for disabled people. Given his interest in this area, I am grateful that he is attending the debate today.
About 2 million people in the UK use hearing aids, which is a huge potential customer base. In a major survey by Action on Hearing Loss, more than two fifths of respondents said that they would go out of their way to visit a shop or service with a hearing loop, and almost three quarters said that deaf-aware staff would make them more likely to use a particular service. The potential is there, but all too often loops are not turned on or do not function properly. It is critical to be both aware of the issue and to put the technology in place.
I do not want to pretend that things are not moving in the right direction. For example, over the past few years, the number of disabled people attending the Reading and Leeds festivals increased by 25% each
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year, demonstrating the impact of Attitude is Everything and other such groups. I also pay tribute to Festival Republic which is involved in and enthusiastic about the agenda.
We have all seen the photographs that were taken at the Glastonbury festival last summer in the pouring rain, of people signing on stage in order to ensure that deaf people at the festival could fully participate in what was going on. Once Glastonbury began to improve its access facilities, attendance by disabled customers increased threefold in three years.
“We have numerous customers who specifically visit our venue, regularly…because of its excellent access. Many of them bring their families who appreciate a stress free outing.”
The success that I have described can be repeated at large and small venues throughout the industry. The truth is that doing that does not have to be very expensive. The report shows that progress can be made in three key areas. First, the cheapest and easiest adjustment is simply providing information—on how people can access the venue, where they can park and so on. Detailed information provided in advance on the internet can allow people to make informed decisions and know before they arrive at a venue exactly how they can get the most out of their visit.
The second adjustment, which is also cheap, is to improve staff understanding. It is highlighted again and again that simply understanding the needs of people who are in wheelchairs or have other disabilities improves access and the experience of disabled people and their friends and families who go with them to the venues.
The third issue is small changes to infrastructure—for instance, step-free access and the induction loops that I have already talked about. Those often simple measures are at the heart of the charter of best practice. I encourage all venues to sign up to the charter. I hope that the charter will become the minimum standard for access and that in time it can be expanded to include things such as standards for disabled toilets and disabled hotel rooms.
The report’s second recommendation is a call for enforcement of existing legislation. Businesses have an obligation under law to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled people to access their goods, facilities and services. Unfortunately, access requirements are seldom enforced and often only under the heavy hand of the courts when a disabled person sues a venue under disability discrimination legislation. I am here today to call not for new legislation, but merely for the enforcement of what is already in place.
Supportive music venues, key festival organisers, local authorities and licensing officers should work together, with organisations such as Attitude is Everything, to make access normally a condition for entertainment licences. Scotland made such a change last October, and I hope that the Minister can consider it today. It would be an ideal tool with which to ensure that, incrementally, we move towards improved standards throughout the industry, with all the benefits that that could bring.
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The list of venues and festivals that support the proposals is long and growing. Make no mistake: there has been progress. I am delighted to say that the festival at which Suzanne nearly died 20 years ago now has a regular clientele of more than 700 disabled customers, an accessible campsite and viewing platforms at nearly all the stages. That is good progress, but there is much more to do. We should do all that we reasonably can to ensure that being disabled does not mean that one has to live a life less rich, less varied or less full. Music is a central part of our shared cultural experience, and nothing compares to the live performance. For some, it is a lifeline. It should, wherever this is realistically possible, be accessible to all.
If adopted, the proposals would make an immense difference to the lives of deaf and disabled music lovers. It is vital that we move towards a situation in which good disabled access is the norm, not the exception. Such a goal is morally right, legally required already and commercially viable. This debate is a small step on the road to achieving that ambition. I look forward very much to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a great honour to appear under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) on calling for the debate. He has already asked me about this issue during questions in the House. This cause has no better advocate than him, because he comes to it with a genuine passion, having been engaged with the issue for many years before he came into the House. He also brings his considerable skills to bear to highlight the campaign.
I thank the hon. Members who have made a contribution to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) has made the cause of music one of his passions in the House and has advanced it very strongly, particularly with his highly successful “Rock the House” campaign. I noted his intervention calling for disabled users to nominate their favourite live venue. Perhaps I may make a suggestion in return—that the judging criteria for the best live venue could include accessibility criteria, because that would certainly increase awareness of this important aspect of the debate.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who needs no introduction because she has long been campaigning on these important issues, made a crucial point that we must all take on board: if we bar one disabled user, we in effect bar many more—those who would be accompanying the disabled user to the venue. What has emerged from the debate is that, if a venue provides the appropriate facilities for disabled users, it will end up having no more loyal customers than those people, who come not only to enjoy the music, but to enjoy as hassle-free an experience as possible. All those points apply. One may say that providing those facilities is simply the right thing to do, but one may also appeal to self-interest. Music venues up and down the country should realise that making themselves more accessible is not a burden to be complied with, but a huge opportunity to gain a loyal following of fans.
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lucky to have found a stand-out charity such as Attitude is Everything, which has campaigned for so long on these important issues. As he rightly pointed out, the campaign began in September 2000, and Attitude is Everything now has a comprehensive programme of activity. That includes the charter of best practice, which has already been mentioned and involves working with live venues, festivals, clubs and promoters. It includes Club Attitude, showcasing deaf, disabled and non-disabled musicians in fully accessible venues. It includes the disabled people stewarding programme, which involves helping festivals and other events to include deaf and disabled people as stewards; running information tents; and creating employment for deaf and disabled people. It includes disability equality training, access audits and consultancy; that involves creating practice strategies for venues to tackle access issues. Of course, it also includes advocacy and campaigning.
I am delighted that Attitude is Everything receives funding via the Arts Council and, through its new national portfolio funding programme, has received an increase to some £170,000 a year from this financial year, starting in April. We enjoy—well, we do not enjoy but when it comes to media attention we often focus on cuts and restrictions in funding or perhaps some of the more high-profile organisations that the Arts Council funds. It is worth the media focusing on the fact that the Arts Council supports important organisations such as Attitude is Everything. The reason I describe it as a stand-out charity is that its attitude is entirely right. It is an attitude of encouragement, rather than lambasting, and of providing solutions, rather than simply highlighting problems.
Dame Anne Begg: Perhaps the worst venues that exist are not music venues, but comedy venues. They always seem to be in the basement for some reason. The Minister might want to encourage comedy venues in particular to take up the issue with regard to their accessibility, because they are still absolutely appalling.
Mr Vaizey: At the end of the debate, I was going to sum up some of the things I have learned in preparing for it. One thing I would like to take from the debate is the opportunity not only to meet properly with Attitude is Everything, but, potentially, to expand the Department’s work on leading the debate on these issues.
At the moment, the Department has an e-inclusion accessibility forum, which I have been closely involved with since I became a Minister. The forum works with charities to ensure that people in a digital age have access to the internet and to phone technology, but I have been struck by the lack of engagement from business and telecoms companies, which is unbelievably frustrating. In that respect, we would, for example, like to have video technology that enables deaf people to use sign language, and I have told all the telecoms operators, “Please come to me with a cost-effective solution,” but they have not done that. Eventually, of course, I will have to regulate through Ofcom to make them do that, but it would be so much simpler if they came to me and did it.
Similarly, if we bring a group of disabled charities together, we can work to move this agenda forward in respect of not only live music venues, but comedy clubs, as the hon. Lady said. During the debate, I was also
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thinking about cinemas. We have just published a film policy review consultation, which does not cover disability access issues, but when the Government respond to it in the middle of March, we will address those issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk gave a comprehensive summary of Attitude is Everything’s report. He mentioned the Sage Gateshead, an organisation I have got to know extremely well over the years. It is fantastically well led by Anthony Sargent, and it is a great example of a national venue with strong support from a local authority. It is excellent in a whole range of different areas, but I am delighted that it is also a stand-out venue in terms of providing access to people with disabilities. Likewise, it was good to read that KOKO, a commercial venue, has picked up silver status for accessibility. The vast majority of UK music venues are privately run, and it is important to build a good dialogue with such organisations.
I join everyone in the Chamber in congratulating Attitude is Everything on an excellent report. Now, of course, comes the difficult bit, when I have to respond to my hon. Friend’s call for action. He mentioned the recommendations at the end of the report, and specifically the one that disabled access become a condition of music venues receiving entertainment licences. As he will be aware, we have recently consulted on our plans to deregulate licensing, and that process, which is very much in line with the coalition Government’s aim of reducing red tape and, therefore, costs, aims to make it much easier for venues of all shapes and sizes to put on live music, theatre and dance events.
The good thing about deregulation is that more venues will provide live music, but the unintended consequence might be that more venues are under scrutiny for not providing access for people with disabilities. The measures will cover community halls, amateur theatres, circuses and other arts organisations that have found the licensing requirements expensive and restrictive. Of course, other venues, such as schools and village halls, which are used regularly by fundraisers, face the same requirements as commercial operators. Low-risk community events have been cancelled because of the onerous burden of licensing requirements, and we are seeking to put an end to that so that schools and community groups in the third sector have more opportunities to put on such events. That will increase revenues and the money raised for good causes.
Obviously, we start with the attitude that we are not keen to place further conditions on venues that wish to put on events. I do not simply want to say no to my hon. Friend, so let me put the Government’s perspective. As he said, access issues are covered by different legislation. The Equality Act 2010 ensures that organisations that provide goods, facilities and services are required to make a “reasonable adjustment” where a disabled person would be at a “substantial disadvantage” to a person who is not disabled in carrying out a particular job or—this is relevant to today’s debate—in accessing a particular service.
The idea of a “reasonable adjustment” is important, because it makes the judgment dependent on the size of the organisation and the resources available to it. I am delighted that a number of venues offer services such as multiple hearing induction loop systems, but I am not
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sure everyone would agree that it is fair that every venue of every kind, including small village halls, should have to offer such things as a matter of course.
We are confident that the 2010 Act, which subsumed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, provides reasonable assurance for disabled attendees. My hon. Friend mentioned the change made in Scotland, and I will take away a commitment to examine it and to write to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who is responsible for licensing issues, to ask whether it should be a factor in his deliberations.
Matthew Hancock: Nobody would want venues to close or not to offer music as a result of our pursuing this agenda. However, the question is not whether the law is in place, which it is, as my hon. Friend says, but whether there is enforcement. Nobody wants the law to exist, but to be unenforced. In Scotland, the live question is about the improved enforcement of whatever legislation is in place. In that respect, the reasonableness test is important. If we have a rule, however, it is important that we make sure it is enforced.
Mr Vaizey: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. Again, to a certain extent, and perhaps unintentionally, he issues a challenge to different parts of the Government to join up. It is worth my taking away the tone of the debate and communicating with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), who has responsibility for the disabled, about the measures the Government are taking on enforcement across the board under the 2010 Act. If we have a meeting with a group of disabled charities to discuss what is happening on the ground, we can certainly talk about enforcement.
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To return to my point about Attitude is Everything being a stand-out charity, one of the good things it does, besides providing encouragement, is to provide training so that people do not have an excuse for not understanding what the law requires of them. That would be one subject for discussion in relation to how we increase training opportunities for venues and how we work with the music industry and some of the big players to ensure that adequate training programmes are in place for their staff and that there is an adequate understanding at all levels of the requirements of the 2010 Act.
Earlier, I picked up on the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South about the economic self-interest of making changes to attract more customers and, more importantly, more loyal customers. The music industry faces radical changes in a digital age, and it is having to change its business model for selling music, but it is also having to look at live music as a potentially important income stream for the future. That is an important point.
Time is running out, and I want to end by saying that the debate is very timely, because this is the year of the Olympics and, more importantly, the Paralympics. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk that the London 2012 festival, the cultural festival that will run alongside the Olympics, takes these issues very seriously. It is working with all its partners to ensure that disability access is at the forefront of their minds. Some redevelopment will be undertaken on the south bank, and although its primary purpose is to redevelop the site, disability access will be an additional benefit. We also have a number of programmes in the cultural Olympiad. For example, Film Nation: Shorts actively targets disabled film makers.
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Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in Parliament the issue of Westminster council’s parking controls, and particularly the most recent round of proposals, which have generated more controversy than almost any local government matter in recent years. Although I am conscious that much of what is proposed and under discussion relates to the west end—it is good to see the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) here today—I make no apology for introducing the debate. I have no wish to step on the hon. Gentleman’s toes, but Westminster council’s parking policies have an impact far wider than that specific local dimension.
There are two reasons for that: one—and this is one of the themes on which I look forward to the Minister’s response—is that the issue of parking income, and how it is generated and distributed, has a wider context in relation to the agenda of revenue-raising and local taxation. Therefore, everyone in the local authority of the London borough of Westminster has a legitimate interest in how that income is generated and used. Indeed, the wider issues of congestion, displacement and road management are for everyone in the community. Secondly, what happens to the economy of central London is a legitimate matter of concern for us all, since millions of Londoners are affected in their capacity as employees, workers, shoppers, business men and women, worshippers and people who enjoy the cultural and recreational opportunities that central London offers. It is in that context that the Westminster parking proposals have generated such an exceptional level of media interest, particularly, but by no means exclusively, in the Evening Standard. The Evening Standard has, I think, grasped what the majority party on Westminster council seems not to have grasped—that Westminster’s financial problems cannot be solved by any means to hand, without a proper recognition of the impact on the wider economy of London.
To put my cards on the table, I entirely accept that parking income is a legitimate source of revenue-raising for local government, particularly given the severe constraints on the raising of income by other means, and the critical importance of maintaining services for residents. However, the law is clear on the issue, and the law, common sense and political calculation all demand honesty and transparency in the process, as well as that the charges should be fair and proportionate. There has not been adequate honesty and transparency about Westminster council’s financial pressures, and councillors have been found out. They have not told it straight to local people, but instead have given the impression that they have discovered the philosopher’s stone—a way to provide comprehensive, quality services without an adequate tax base.
Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con):
The hon. Lady recognises, I think, the fact that there were considerable legal constraints on the making of the proposed—now shelved—parking changes on the grounds of the finances that were required. There was a big campaign to make a case, which I think was legitimate, about congestion; but no one was fooled about an
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important element of the proposals being driven by the desire to raise more money in times of financial constraint. Would the hon. Lady prefer a much more transparent approach, not just in Westminster but across local government, which would allow an open debate about precisely those problems—the issue of going down the route of increased parking costs, which would affect everyone in the vicinity, or potential cuts in adult and child services, which are the sorts of things she and I know all too well affect many providers in the City of Westminster today?
Ms Buck: There are several issues there, and I shall return to one or two of them, but, yes, we need a broader debate about the role of charging income, property taxation and other forms of income generation by local government. There is no question but that charging has a role to play; but, as the Minister will no doubt confirm, there are particular constraints on the way parking income can be used for revenue generation. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has confirmed what the Secretary of State for Transport said earlier about the suspicion that the charges are being used for revenue generation, rather than parking and traffic management. That is not what parking revenue is supposed to be about.
Mark Field: I think that a perfectly legitimate case was made for traffic management, and concerns about congestion. However, had there not been the big financial constraints, there might not have been such a desire to proceed so quickly. The trouble was, the legislation is so prescriptive that to make the case on financial grounds would have killed it off at the outset. Therefore, much more emphasis was placed on the issue of congestion.
Ms Buck: The hon. Gentleman is almost making my argument for me. We should have a debate about charging income, which could include the proper role of parking income in a local authority’s tax base. That would be fine; but within the present legal constraints we are where we are, and however we approach the matter we need a mature, transparent and honest debate about services and income. That has been spectacularly missing. As I have said, the political fallout from what has happened has been catastrophic for Westminster council. Whether or not the current leader has, as I believe, been the first victim of that miscalculation—it remains to be seen whether he will be the last—a great deal of collateral damage has none the less been done to the council.
To recap on the facts, Westminster council’s plans to ban free evening and Sunday parking on single yellow lines in the west end for more than 8,400 cars have provoked an unprecedented coalition of opposition. They have united the Churches and casinos and the trade unions and big business. They have brought together local residents, visitors to the west end, and those who earn their living there, and united all the major political parties. Indeed, Westminster council has achieved the near impossible—it has found the one thing that Boris Johnson, Brian Paddick and Ken Livingstone all agree on.
The council said that the new charges and the single yellow line parking ban are designed to increase the turnover of cars parking in the area, and to make it easier for those driving into the heart of London to find
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a parking space; but everyone knows that the real reason is to raise the expected £7 million a year that the charges will raise for a council whose cash reserves have fallen by £60 million in the past two years, as Government cuts have bitten and reduced its room for manoeuvre. As Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has said:
“It’s completely mad what Westminster are doing. It will be damaging to business. I’m afraid, as far as I understand the matter, there is a financial issue here for Westminster. In other words, they need the revenue.”
“I’m sure when Westminster thought about what they were going to do with those parking charges they had a sense they might be able to put some extra money in their coffers that they could probably use on public services”.
As I understand that quotation, the Transport Secretary clearly accepts that the local authority was acting at least at the borders, and possibly beyond the borders, of legality. Does the Minister agree with the Mayor of London and the Transport Secretary about Westminster’s true motives, and, in view of that, what is the Department’s line on how to respond, and on what constraints there should be on the proper use of parking revenue?
Mark Field: I confess I look forward to the fulsome praise that the hon. Lady will give to the words of the Mayor of London in the next 107 days, in the run-up to the mayoral election. I do not think there is any suggestion of illegality. Surely the primary purpose of the changes was related to traffic management and congestion, but the hon. Lady and the Transport Secretary are right to suggest that there was also a secondary purpose. That would not make the proposals illegal or illegitimate, but the public at large were not going to be fooled, and they felt that the wool was being pulled over their eyes when the latter priority was denied entirely.
In addition to the question about the proper role of parking income as a source of revenue, the issue that has probably generated the greatest controversy is the risk that the parking charges would present to the central London economy. The independent City forecaster, the Centre for Economics and Business Research, has estimated that the parking charges would cost the west end £800 million a year and threaten more than 5,000 jobs. It is suggested that 9% of the £9.2 billion central London night-time and Sunday economy could disappear as customers and workers are put off by the new charges. The research found that the biggest losses of turnover would be felt by restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes at £330 million, followed by theatres, cinemas, casinos and other places of entertainment at £314 million, and then retailers at £145 million. Recent research by the Society of London Theatre revealed that 16% of London theatregoers used cars to visit the theatre. For those over 55, it was more than 20%, with the reasons being more about access and security than the availability of public transport. Some 90% of London’s theatre ticket revenue was generated within the borough of Westminster. Westminster’s proposals would still, although delayed,
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continue to put at risk some 14.5% of total theatre income, or approximately £72 million a year.
“At a time when the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors are all suffering from the protracted slowdown and reduced consumer confidence and spending, introducing measures that will further discourage customers from coming into central London seems perverse. Westminster’s businesses should not be the unwilling guinea pigs in an experiment of which the outcome could be highly damaging to their viability.”
“Parking is just one of the issues that comes up time and time again. It’s one of the biggest things that stops flow, and for retailers and restaurants it stops their trade. This is just sheer madness”.
There are of course a great many individuals, too, who are low-income employees working in the night-time economy and who have raised concerns about the impact on them at a time when night transport is by no means always available. That raises real concerns about safety, particularly for women travelling at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.
In addition to the impact on business, the Minister will know that some 15,000 people attend churches of all denominations on a Sunday in Westminster, many of whose families used to live in the west end. They see it as part of the family tradition to worship in a west end church. Major Ray Brown of the Salvation Army in Oxford street made the case in clear and unambiguous terms. He said that
“Westminster Council have taken a very short-sighted decision to seriously damage hundreds of years of church community action and spiritual activity for the sake of a quick financial gain. For some members and volunteers at The Salvation Army, this means having to face the terrible decision of having to leave the church they have been involved in all their lives”.
These new charges were originally due to be introduced in early December 2011, just weeks before Christmas, but thanks to pressure from west end retailers and Labour councillors, Westminster reluctantly agreed to postpone implementation until January. Meanwhile, west end restaurateurs, retailers, residents and Churches came together to fund legal action against the council. On 14 December, the High Court ordered Westminster council to halt plans to introduce west end parking charges until the judicial review application is heard in March. In a scathing decision, Mr Justice Collins highlighted
“substantial damage to businesses and churches”
Sensing it was losing the argument, Westminster council leader Colin Barrow promised to listen more in the future and to delay implementation of the new charges until after the 2012 Olympics and the diamond jubilee celebrations. However, just nine days later, at 3.30 pm on 23 December, Councillor Barrow stopped listening and the council announced that it would be axing
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1,200 single yellow line parking spaces under the guise of helping the elderly and the disabled cross the road more easily. Of course, everybody supports double yellow lines at dropped kerbs in order to make crossing the road safer for the disabled, the elderly and parents, but Westminster council’s proposals go way beyond just protecting dropped kerbs from parked cars. They were used as an excuse to remove 5 miles of safe evening parking from the west end, and were a deliberate attempt to get round the High Court ban on implementing plans to remove more than 8,400 free parking spaces on single yellow lines.
Then, just last week, Westminster council dropped another bombshell when it became clear that figures on the number of parking spaces that would be lost through the council’s plans were not accurate. Originally we were given to understand that 1,700 yellow line parking spaces would be lost through the council’s proposals, when the real figure was actually more than 8,400. That is a 500% difference. The significance of this monumental blunder is fundamental. The council had no idea how many parking spaces would be lost when it took the decision in August 2011 to ban parking on single yellow lines in the evening and on Sundays. Nor did the council have the correct figures when it consulted residents and businesses before and after the decision.
“At the time the Cabinet agreed the proposals in August 2011 Members were not provided with any information on the number of single yellow line parking spaces that would be lost. Cabinet members were therefore unable to give proper consideration to all the material facts. Members were not informed of a figure for lost parking spaces until nearly 2 months later…The Council’s further public consultation that ran up until early December 2011 did not provide any figures on the number of single yellow line parking places to be lost and the only figure in the public domain during the consultation period was the incorrect figure of 1,700 provided by the Council”.
Whatever happens next—it is hard to see how the proposed charges can survive the leadership contest that Councillor Barrow has unleashed—Westminster’s problems are not over. Either the highest profile charging row in recent memory will lead to reinstatement, or a financial crisis looms, to be dealt with by a council weakened in trust and credibility. I look forward to the Minister’s response, but I believe that the policy disaster that has befallen Westminster has much wider ramifications for local government finance, and those need to be addressed too.
We all believe that parking and car use in inner cities has to be controlled and managed, but any changes with impacts and ramifications such as these need to be handled on the basis of accurate data, and with effective consultation. The changes need to take with them public trust and confidence. I am sorry to say that Westminster council has lost that trust and confidence, with major implications for the wider economy, and is in danger of undermining this Government’s and future Governments’ more thoughtful approaches to traffic management and parking. If the council will not act effectively to get itself out of the hole it has dug, I look to the Minister to assure us that the Government will step in.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Howarth. I apologise that the Minister responsible for local government is not here. I am stepping in on his behalf. He is in Newcastle, although I know that he would have liked to have been at this debate. Some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) may need to be dealt with by letter.
As the hon. Lady knows as a former Under-Secretary of State for Transport, it would be wrong and improper for me to get drawn into the decisions of the judicial review. I stress that some of the comments she made seemed to pre-empt what the judges at the judicial review will look into. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) in his place.
The Government are fully aware of the strength of feeling surrounding the proposed changes by Westminster council. It is difficult not to be, given what is in the local press and on the local news. The strong views expressed, and the concerns raised by residents and businesses in Westminster, show just how important issues such as this are, not just for Westminster, but across the country as a whole. It is essential that local authorities do all they can to get the balance right and to develop and maintain an effective parking and traffic management strategy that serves the interests of all stakeholders in as fair and equitable a way as possible.
There will be a little repetition, for which I apologise, but it is important that the Government set out their position. Among other things, Westminster has to strive to understand the needs of industry, shops, restaurants, clubs, theatres and Churches, as the hon. Lady alluded to, as well as the needs of the employees, customers and residents in the area affected.
Mark Field: It is also worth stressing, and this point perhaps relates to something that the hon. Lady said, that the west end and the centre of London seem to belong to more than just one or two constituencies. It is fair to say that relatively few of my constituents—my residential constituents—wrote to me about this scheme and of those who did a number were in favour of it. However, it is also the case that a lot of businesses, particularly independent businesses, are implacably opposed to the scheme. There are specific issues in Westminster because of the nature of our local authority, which means that this scheme has become a higher-profile issue and aspects of it would not necessarily be transferrable to other local authorities throughout the country; I disagree with the hon. Lady that they would be transferrable.
Mike Penning: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The character of this part of town—a town in which I was born and brought up—is unique in the country. However, I will come on to the issues relating to parking and parking spaces, and revenues that are surplus to the cost of creating those parking spaces. They are important issues, and they were the issues that the hon. Lady was referring to.
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Many people choose to travel by public transport, but many others usually use their car or van. Also, parking spaces are clearly limited, both on and off the street, and there is considerable demand for road space in one of the busiest areas not only in London but in the country. Without doubt, congestion—one of the areas covered in my portfolio—is a real problem. I can understand the competing concerns that the local authority in Westminster has to address. There are very difficult issues that need to be addressed when developing appropriate parking strategies in such circumstances.
The hon. Lady referred to the fact that Mary Portas produced a report for the Government on high streets, recommending that local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes in their town centres wherever possible. However, I am not certain that such a scheme would work brilliantly within Westminster, for obvious reasons.
The Portas review points out that the high street is in serious threat of decline. No matter where we look around the country we can see that, and Westminster is no exception. Town centre shopping is affected by the internet and out-of-town stores. The number of shops in the country as a whole has gone down by 25,000 during the past 10 years, so it is not something that has just suddenly happened, and Opposition parties cannot blame everything on the current Government; that decline has been going on for some considerable time. The case that Mary Portas makes in her report is that a range of measures—not just parking measures—should be used to encourage people to use secondary and main high streets, and it is an absolutely important case.
However, as the hon. Lady said, the report by Mary Portas indicates the crucial role of parking in making an area vibrant, and I think that that is the biggest point that we have heard today. The Government agree with the report by Mary Portas on that. I am not saying whether the Government fully agree with the comments that the hon. Lady said that Mary Portas had made, because I have not actually seen those comments, but I am sure that Mary Portas is more than capable of standing up for her own comments. So we are encouraging local authorities to look closely at how parking provision and charges work.
The Government understand that these issues have a massive effect. So, in January 2011, we amended the national planning guidance to remove Whitehall restrictions that imposed maximum numbers of parking places in new residential developments; to change a policy that inhibited competition between council areas, so that one parking charge would be imposed and another would not, which related to in and out of town centre developments; to introduce a policy that parking enforcement should be proportionate, and I stress proportionate; to remove the policy that encouraged councils to set car parking charges to discourage the use of cars; and to increase support for electric car power-charging infrastructure in parking areas.
The Government’s draft national planning policy framework follows through on those changes by removing the restrictions that impose maximum numbers of parking spaces in new non-residential developments. That will also relieve pressure on on-street parking.
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As we know, Westminster council has now postponed its plans until beyond the Olympics and the jubilee celebrations. The Government welcome that decision, but we will wait—I think everyone will wait—for the judicial review to reach its own conclusions. It is up to Westminster council—if we believe in localism, we must leave it to the council—to come forward and make its decisions, based on the guidance that it has.
We appreciate Westminster council keeping Department for Transport Ministers fully informed, and council representatives have had several meetings and conversations with Ministers; I myself had a phone conversation yesterday with Westminster’s chief whip, Mr Caplan, about this debate. I understand that Westminster council has agreed to use the intervening period to discuss its policy and to continue to listen to the concerns of residents, visitors and businesses, who I am sure also want to find solutions to the ongoing pressures that the hon. Lady alluded to in her speech. The key is achieving a sustainable economy for the residents and the businesses together, and that is something that we all want to achieve.
It would perhaps be useful if I provided some context and said where Westminster is in the legal framework; the hon. Lady referred to the legal framework. The Department issues operational guidance to local authorities on parking policy and enforcement. That guidance was revised in November 2010, and it supports and complements the statutory guidance published under section 87 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, to which local authorities must have regard—I stress the word “must”.
Local authorities have long been responsible for managing all on-street parking and some off-street parking, and their relevant powers were first laid out in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Section 16 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 imposes an explicit duty on local authorities when they are carrying out these functions to manage their network so as to reduce congestion and disruption, and to appoint a traffic manager.
Following the provisions for authorities to manage parking that are laid out in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, the Road Traffic Act 1991 significantly changed the way that on-street parking restrictions are enforced. Before the 1991 Act, the police and traffic wardens were responsible for enforcement, and income from fixed penalty notices specifically went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the police found that the impact of parking enforcement on the resources of a number of forces supported the idea that another agency should take responsibility for such enforcement.
The potential road safety and congestion implications of a lack of enforcement were unacceptable, so the 1991 Act made it mandatory for London boroughs and optional for other local authorities to take on the civil enforcement of non-endorsable parking contraventions; in other words, parking fines where a driver does not receive points on their licence. In London, boroughs were responsible for enforcement of such fines and some other authorities also enforced such fines. The legal framework for enforcement authorities is now contained in part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004.
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The Department for Transport supports local authorities by issuing both statutory and operational guidance on parking policy and enforcement. The guidance makes it clear that each local authority should have a clear idea of what its parking policy is and what it intends to achieve by having that policy. Then the local authority needs to make traffic regulation orders to put parking arrangements in place, displaying appropriate traffic signs to show the public what the restrictions mean.
The parking strategy needs to take account of planning policies and transport powers; the needs of the many and various road users, businesses and residents in the area; the appropriate scale and type of provision that it will undertake; the balance between short and long-term provision; and the level of charges, which must be formally addressed.
On the issue of charges, I should add that both the statutory and operational guidance make it clear that parking charges are a tool to manage the demand for parking and should not be used as a revenue-raising measure. I will return to that point in a few moments if I can. The Department also recommends that authorities should consult the public on parking policies as they formulate or appraise them, before coming to a decision.
What I think the hon. Member for Westminster North was asking about earlier, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster alluded to it too, is what happens if a council tries to reduce congestion and address the parking issues—as set out in the guidance—and there is a surplus. In my constituency, there is a surplus. We have looked very carefully at how we fix the charges, and there were lots of discussions about whether there should be a charge of £1, £1.50 or £1.75, and there were all the arguments about the change and so on. The figure ended up being, say, £2, and then the surplus comes.
I do not think that there is any doubt that Westminster council knew—I think that it has been very open about it—that there would be a surplus and that that surplus would be used. However, it is quite specifically set out in the regulations and the guidance how that money—the surplus—should be used within the community. So I think what the Secretary of State for Transport was alluding to in her comments was that there was a knowledge that there would be a surplus, but the main reason Westminster council was introducing this scheme was to reduce congestion and to ensure that it is possible for the local community, businesses and people—
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Noise Reduction (M54)
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I compliment the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), on his management of the previous debate, and I hope that he feels a lot more comfortable with this one, which is far more firmly within his brief. It is a great privilege to have secured this debate in Westminster Hall, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who inspired me to request it, by pointing out what the Government could do to reduce the negative impact of road noise in many constituencies, including mine.
Often, when we talk about new developments such as motorways and railways, people who object to them are accused of being nimbys—not in my back yard—and of not wanting the developments because they are not concerned about the national interest. However, the fact is that they are often concerned because they are not fully confident that the Government, of whatever political colour, will do all that they can to mitigate the effects of noise from roads, railways or other major infrastructure projects.
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour on securing this debate. I completely agree with him, and I re-emphasise how much the Government can do. In my constituency, the resurfacing four to five years ago of the M6 between junctions 12 and 13 greatly improved the lives of people living round and about who were plagued by the noise from the old surface.
Gavin Williamson: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is not that the Government are unable to act or incapable of doing anything to improve the lives of people who live close or adjacent to motorways; they can have an enormous effect and make enormous improvements in people’s lives.
One of the key reasons for requesting this debate was the fact that road noise had once again been highlighted in my constituency, on the back of some very good and positive news: the announcement by Jaguar Land Rover that it is to build a major new engine factory on the i54 South Staffordshire industrial estate. That is fantastic news, because the new factory will bring many jobs and great prosperity, not just to my constituency, but to my hon. Friend’s constituency of Stafford and many others right across the west midlands. However, to secure the development, our local authorities—South Staffordshire district council and Staffordshire county council, working in conjunction with Wolverhampton city council—had to put money forward for a direct link between the i54 site and the M54.
Any such major construction project will have an effect on local residents, and in this case the residents of Coven Heath village adjacent to the motorway are particularly affected. Residents of not just Coven Heath but neighbouring villages up and down the M54 have raised many concerns about the impact a Jaguar Land Rover plant will have, with increased traffic movement
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from heavy goods vehicles and from the many people who will visit the site every day. That has focused many people’s minds on the inadequacies of the M54 and on the failure of many Governments in the past to take action to reduce the impact of noise on local communities.
I am not sure whether hon. Members have had the pleasure of driving along the M54 regularly, but perhaps I can tell them a bit about it. The Minister will probably correct me if I make a mistake, but I believe that the motorway was one of the first to use the construction method of concrete slabs. That was a revolutionary idea, and it became incredibly fashionable in motorway construction throughout the country, but unfortunately, as with many things that were fashionable in the 1970s, with the benefit of hindsight, the idea was not such a good one. Concrete construction causes excessive road noise, much more than the tarmacadam system used on many motorways, and the problem has been recognised often, including by the 1994 royal commission and the 1997 addition to that.
Road noise has a very detrimental effect on many people’s lives, and the Government have recognised both that and the need to reduce its impact on people living near motorways, as outlined in the Hansard list back in, I think, 2000 or 2001. It is my firm belief that the M54 meets the criteria of that list because the noise coming off it causes sufficient disturbance to the many communities not just in South Staffordshire but in Wolverhampton and across the county boundary into Shropshire.
When people leave the M6 and turn on to the M54, they immediately drive on a tarmacadam road until junction 2. Unfortunately, it is not a low-noise-impact surface, and as soon as they pass junction 2, there is a concrete slab construction all the way to Telford. We all know that rather than absorbing noise, concrete sends it out, causing local residents great concern.
I appreciate that finances are tight, and I do not imagine that the Minister has a bottomless pit of money—if he does, I am keen to hear about it—but I urge him to look at the issues on the M54, not just in connection with the Jaguar Land Rover development on the i54 site, which, I emphasise, all my constituents welcome. We do not stand in the way of progress in South Staffordshire; we embrace it and make it happen, as we have been doing with the development on the i54. However, we look to the Government to reduce the impact of such developments, and I ask the Minister to look very closely at junction 2 and the flyover that will be constructed from the i54 to the M54 and to reassure my constituents that the Government will do all they can to reduce the impact of noise, light and other pollution, including by ensuring that sound barriers are constructed.
Jeremy Lefroy: My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way again. Does he agree that when the M6 managed motorway scheme that the Government recently announced, for which I am extremely grateful—I thank the Minister for his part in that—is being progressed, improving sound insulation, in particular between junctions 13 and 14, as the M6 passes right through the middle of Stafford, could be looked at, for the benefit of my residents who live right up against the motorway?
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Gavin Williamson: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Where motorways cut through urban areas or pass close to communities, the Government should be duty bound to do everything within their power to reduce the impact. If they wish to cultivate a positive image of infrastructure improvements—that they need not have a detrimental effect on people’s lives—they should take every step to ensure that the effects are minimised at every level. I must confess that I would like the barriers, which my hon. Friend mentioned, to be in place from the start of the M6 all the way past Manchester, but I am unsure whether the Minister will give so generously of sound barriers. Local communities often demand them, and the Government should always do everything within their power to ensure that local communities get them. I particularly ask the Minister to ensure that such measures are put in place for junction 2 and the flyover, along with noise-reducing or whisper tarmac.
James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is so important to his constituents. It is typical of his approach that, having been at the forefront of the campaign to deliver the Jaguar Land Rover investment for his constituency, with colleagues including my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), he now follows through to ensure that it happens in a way that benefits his constituents most effectively. In the Department for Transport’s forward spending plan, £310 million was taken out of resource funding for road resurfacing and management, but £150 million is being invested in capital spending. Is that capital spending not exactly the sort of spending that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) is calling for to improve the road and deliver a better quality of life for the constituency he so ably represents?
Gavin Williamson: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. He makes a valid point; there is a danger that the Department for Transport wants to spend all its money in the Chilterns, and we do not want that. We want to ensure that it goes to the west midlands and further afield. I hope that the Minister will assure us that some money will be spent on the M54 and many other such schemes in the west midlands.
I ask that the Minister assures my constituents that everything will be done to protect residents during the construction phase of the flyover, not only in Coven Heath, but much further afield, so that the impact of the Jaguar Land Rover plant and the i54 is minimised at all costs. Will he urgently look at the whole motorway, from the M6 to junction 2 onwards, to assure my constituents that low-noise, low-impact whisper tarmac will be used when the road surface is replaced, to ensure that they do not have to hear the roar of the M54? Will he ensure that we do not have the travesty of a concrete slab motorway surface all the way from junction 2 to Telford? Will it be properly surfaced with low-noise, low-impact tarmac, thus enhancing and improving the lives of many people, not only in my constituency, but along the length of the M54?
I hope that the Minister can assure me that the use of silent or low-noise tarmac along the whole motorway will be considered in the maintenance schedule. When will that be planned over the next few years? Those assurances will give my constituents hope that the Government will act to improve their quality of life.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) will be pleased to know that roads are part of my portfolio, so I should be able to handle the debate slightly better than the previous one. I congratulate him on securing the debate and giving me the first opportunity to congratulate him on his work in getting Jaguar Land Rover to invest in his constituency. It is the sort of investment we desperately need.
With investment comes infrastructure issues, particularly in my Department. I am sure that all my hon. Friend’s constituents welcome the investment and the new jobs, but, interestingly, with that often comes enhancement—we could call that 106s, “planning bribes” or whatever we call them these days. As he knows better than me, there will be a lot of work on junction 2, which I will come on to in a moment. We have already moved in the debate from the whole length of the M6 to the Chilterns, so it is a shame that we have only another 15 minutes or so.
I assure my hon. Friends that investment in High Speed 2 has no effect on the money secured from the Treasury for road improvement and infrastructure. I had about £1.4 billion to spend on capital road infrastructure over the three years of the spending round and was then given just over £1 billion in the autumn statement, which is about £2.5 billion, give or take, over three years. We would not have dreamed of such investment when we entered coalition Government and inherited the financial mess 18 months ago, but the money has been found for good reasons—the biggest of which is that without infrastructure, we cannot have growth, and without growth we cannot get out of the financial mess we inherited.
My hon. Friend has done his homework correctly. There have been fads in construction over the years, and I say “fads”, because one minute something is the greatest piece of design technology we have ever seen and needs to be protected, and the next minute it is out of fashion and out of the way. There are two sides to concrete road construction. The upside is that such roads last for a very long time and do not wear out like flexible coverings—that is a technical term for tarmac. The bad news is that the concrete part of the M54 is unlikely to need resurfacing for 10 years. We will keep a close eye on it and ensure that, if it starts to deteriorate more quickly than that, we will address it immediately.
The downside to concrete is noise, and I freely admit that. It often depends on the type of tyre used on the vehicle. We have so far—touch wood—not had the worst winter, and my stockpiles of salt are doing remarkably well at the moment, but this time last year we had had a severe winter already. People—lorry drivers and hauliers—are starting to think about switching to the tyres that they use at other times of the year. That has a massive effect on noise. If people address the type of tyre they need for the environment they are working in, we will have fewer breakdowns and blockages, so it is a positive step. There have been fantastic developments in the tyre industry. In the old days, there would be a town tyre and a town and country tyre. There are much better developments now, but noise is an issue. No matter where I go in this great country of ours, road noise is an issue in every constituency, including mine.
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Gavin Williamson: I would like clarification of the Minister’s remarks about when concrete-topped surfaces need repair. Will he confirm that when the road needs repair, it will not be repaired with more concrete but with a low-noise surface?
Mike Penning: There is a difference between repair and replacement. I cannot guarantee that that will be the case when the road is repaired—in other words, when potholes and so on are fixed—but what is needed to repair it will be done. I will come on to replacement in a moment.
We do not have a huge amount of concrete road, but a lot of local authority roads are concrete, and for maintenance, the longevity of the investment is an issue. My hon. Friend is right about the rest of the tarmac on the M54; low-noise surfacing, which reduces noise by about 50%, is not on that part of the motorway. I have never heard it called “whisper” tarmac, but developing that would be fantastic for everybody. The i54 development, with which he was involved, will lead to significant changes to junction 2 and the slip road, which I know the local authority has planned carefully. We will work with it to ensure that the project works for the local community and Jaguar Land Rover. I can categorically say that all the new parts of it will be low-noise.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was told by the European Commission—not many good things have come out of the Commission over the past few years, but this is one good thing—that it should do a noise survey of the whole country, including the road network. I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend that this particular part of the M54 does not fit the criteria for being excessively noisy. That offers no comfort or solace to residents in his constituency, but think about how bad the problem is on the road network in other parts of the country. Interestingly, the A449 going north from junction 2 meets the criteria and will be resurfaced imminently with low-noise tarmac. It already needs replacing, but it is deemed to have a significant problem with noise.
That is nearly all the bad news. The tarmac on the M54 where the concrete stops is also in good condition. We do not predict that we will need to replace the tarmac on the M54 for approximately four years. Although there will be new tarmac on the new roads—new, low-noise tarmac on the A449—it will be a considerable time before the M54 concrete-tarmac is resurfaced. However, I assure my hon. Friend that, when that is done, low-noise tarmac will be used on the concrete as well as on the existing tarmac.
The solution might seem simple—as I have asked my officials, surely we can lay the tarmac on the concrete, because it provides a strong sub-base—but that is not the case. It will have to be broken up and created as a sub-base, and the tarmac will then have to be re-laid in great depth on top, because the product is flexible, not rigid. Wear can cause so many problems.
My hon. Friend has alluded to the debate that is taking place, rightly, in all our constituencies throughout the country. I hold up my hand—it is happening in my constituency, where I have had exactly the same discussions. I have to look at the money available for maintenance and for capital projects that will keep the country going, and I must spend that as wisely as possible. I do not have the bottomless pit of money to which my hon.
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Friend has alluded, and in many ways I am pleased that I do not, because it gives me the opportunity to study carefully where our money is being spent. That makes me popular in certain parts of the country. I am pleased that the M6 widening project will be popular. It will give us capacity, and road safety will be significantly enhanced.
As an ex-fireman, I was very sceptical about managed motorways, because they were taking away the hard shoulders. Then I thought back to my time in service. Where did I see the major, serious fatalities on a motorway? It was on the hard shoulder. One of the first incidents that I ever went to involved an ice cream van parked on the hard shoulder. It is not the most robust of vehicles, because of the chassis, engine and fibreglass on top. It had broken down, pulled over to the hard shoulder and been hit by a lorry. The driver thought he was safe. Fortunately, he had left the vehicle to walk to an SOS phone. The vehicle resembled a skateboard—we would never have known that it was an ice cream van. It had been completely wiped out. If people’s vehicles break down on the motorway, they should pull over to the hard shoulder and then get out and on to the other side of the barriers, which is where they will be safest. Modern technology on the motorways means that assistance should get to them quickly. SOS phones are available and mobile phones have enhanced safety enormously on our roads.
Managed motorways have rescue areas and sanctuaries that allow us to sweat the existing assets. We do not have to go through planning all over again, because the motorway has already been built and the hard shoulder is up to road standard. It is interesting that, while hard shoulders were built to road standard all those years ago, we are only starting to use them now. The M42 pilot project showed that it works and road safety on such roads has been enhanced. We can get more vehicles on and it is much easier to control the flow of congestion. If we look at the M42, we see that there are far fewer traffic jams and stationary traffic. I would much rather see traffic running at 40 or 50 mph than it being stationary before rushing off at 70 mph and having to stop again later.
I cannot promise to put up sound barriers all along the motorway. I have made a note—and my officials are present—to look specifically at junctions 13 and 14, as my hon. Friend has asked me to do, and I will write to him about that.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for being so generous in giving way again. I welcome his reassurance that low-noise, low-impact tar will be used across the whole stretch of the M54 when it is resurfaced. He has pointed out that the road between the M6 and junction 2 already has a tarmacadam, or flexible, surface. Can he give my constituents and me an idea of when the resurfacing will realistically happen? Will it happen in my lifetime or in my daughter’s lifetime? My top priority as a constituency Member of Parliament—I am being
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selfish; there are no Members from Shropshire present—would be from junction 2 to Telford and on to junction 3. When could that happen?
Mike Penning: It will be during my hon. Friend’s time as a constituency MP for his area—he is going to be there for a long time, because he is such a hard-working constituency MP. The time scale for the expected replacement of the tarmacadam part is four years from now. It may wear out slightly earlier than that, or—I am crossing my fingers—it may last a little longer. The longer it lasts, the more money we will have in the pot. I fully understand that that would be good news for my hon. Friend, and it would be good news for me regarding the budget. The faster it is replaced, the faster the low-noise tarmac will come in.
Sound screens will also be used and some are already up. They help, but they are not, under any circumstances, the answer to the problem. Mounding or bunding is another option—I know that that has been done in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Trees help, but they have to be placed at such depth. They have to be at about 10-plus metres before they can provide any tangible benefits. They look pretty, but if people stand on the other side of them—as I have done on many an occasion—they will see that they do not really help. We will put in sound-proofing, particularly wood-panel sound-proofing, where we can, but it is not feasible to do so across the motorway network and the A-road network.
We are looking at specific areas. On areas where we are doing new works in particular—this is why I touched on the M6—it is built into the project that we look at the issue. I am sure that that has happened with junctions 13 and 14, but please do not think that that is not also true of the A15, A16 and A17—we probably have done it. It is a massive advantage that, if we can sweat the assets, it leaves us some money elsewhere to do the sort of advanced projects to which my hon. Friend has alluded.
On the concept itself, the i54 project is so important not just to my hon. Friend’s constituency—I fully understand that—but to the country as a whole. It sends a message that this country is open for trading and investment. I was lucky to be on the Thames estuary when DP World announced a £1.5 billion investment in the newest port—it is huge—in the United Kingdom, just at the time when people were saying how difficult the situation was. Yes, the situation is difficult, but there are people who are willing to invest, and that will lock straight into the M25 and give us an opportunity.
Even though I have not said that this issue will be resolved imminently, works will be done soon in relation not only to the local authority and the i54 development, but to the A449. When the roads wear out, we will resurface them with low-noise tarmac. The estimated time is four years for the tarmac and 10 years for the concrete. I stress that the concrete is a major job and not something that can be done overnight, because the expense will be huge.