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Infrastructure Bill [Lords]

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 8th December 2014.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:45 pm, 8th December 2014

My hon. Friend is right on that point. As well as being a shadow Minister with responsibility for roads, I have the honour of chairing the all-party motor group. Fortunately, the days of seeing the motor vehicle as an inevitable enemy of environmental protection are long gone. There is a great deal of innovation going on in the automotive industry. Although the hon. Lady has some very serious points to make, she should understand who brought in the Climate Change Act 2008, and who was Energy Secretary when some of the best initiatives on preserving the environment were taken in Britain. That should give her a little more confidence that the Opposition take our environmental responsibilities seriously.

Another area that the Bill does not tackle is that of local roads. The Minister talks about a roads revolution, but in reality this Bill addresses just 2% of the road network, as 98% of the roads in this country are local roads. Two-thirds of traffic is on local roads. Motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, HGV drivers and motorcyclists all rely on roads to get around. Nearly all our journeys start and finish on local roads, but it is those roads that are the most creaking part of our road infrastructure. A third of local roads are in urgent need of attention. There is a £12 billion pothole backlog that will take 12 years to fix, and congestion on local roads is set to rise by 61% by 2040. A record 91% of the public are dissatisfied with the condition of local roads. Nearly 90% of businesses surveyed by the CBI expect local roads to get worse, not better. That is not surprising, because spending on local road maintenance is down 11% since 2010. Under this Government, it will decline further in real terms by 2020. There is a risk that the Bill will make the situation worse.

Local government and transport campaigners have warned that giving strategic roads management to an arm’s length company could create a two-tier road system, pushing traffic on to local roads and into our towns and cities. We need proper joined-up planning between strategic and local road networks, with devolved bodies and local authorities having greater powers over local transport and traffic management to tackle congestion. That is why we on the Opposition Benches are committed to English devolution. City regions face huge congestion pressure between now and 2040. They are planning their 20-year growth strategies, and need confidence that the Highways Agency, or whatever it is called, is working to similar horizons. We need an independent commission to take that long-term view.

Ring-fencing money for environmental protection, innovation, cycling and safety is important, which is why I am pleased that there is a £100 million budget for cycling on strategic roads. The problem is that it is yet another one-off announcement. It is not the long-term commitment to funding to get Britain cycling. As far as

I can tell, the Department for Transport still has no clear budget for cycling, and funding is set to end by 2016 when the local sustainable transport fund finishes. It seems ludicrous that we will have five years of that.

After two years of calling for safety targets to be reinstated, I am pleased that the Government have finally recognised that axing them was a mistake. It is good to see in the road investment strategy a target to cut deaths and serious injuries by 40% on strategic roads by 2020. However, if it is right to have road safety targets for the strategic road network, why cannot we have safety commitments and targets for all UK roads?

It seems ludicrous that we will have five years of road and rail plans that will not be joined up. One of the most pressing transport problems is that, too often, decisions on road, rail and airports are taken in individual silos. Investments are not joined up and maximised. The Government’s proposals to study the options for HS3 include a tunnel under the Peak district and other trans-Pennine road improvements, but they are being considered separately when they should be looked at together. Where is the requirement for the new company and Network Rail to share forecasts, and to map and plan investment in a co-ordinated way?