Rail Electrification

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th May 2016.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester 12:00 am, 25th May 2016

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on rail electrification in Wales.

Photo of Guto Bebb Guto Bebb Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

This Government’s rail investment strategy is historic in its scale and ambition, and will benefit passengers in both north and south Wales. We are electrifying the Great Western main line all the way to Swansea, and we are developing the north Wales main line through a £43 million programme of modernisation and investment.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

The Department for Transport seems to be making precious little progress on the Crewe to Chester-north Wales coast electrification, so will the Minister get together with his DFT colleagues and perhaps the Welsh Assembly Government, and I will even come along myself, to get a full engineering survey to find out the costs and the timescale for the electrification process, which is so important to the growth of the area?

Photo of Guto Bebb Guto Bebb Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

I understand the importance of the north Wales main line to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and the whole of north Wales. We are engaged in a £43 million programme of investment and modernisation and we are seeing the benefits of that investment. For example, there has already been vast improvement in services from Chester to Euston, which also benefits north Wales. I would thoroughly welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with the hon. Gentleman as part of our strategy for a north Wales growth deal.

Photo of James Davies James Davies Conservative, Vale of Clwyd

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the recent decision by the Office of Rail and Road to permit regular new direct rail services from north Wales and Chester to Manchester airport? Does he agree that journey times remain too lengthy? With that in mind, will he encourage Network Rail to increase line speeds and pave the way for electrification by prioritising the replacement of Victorian signalling systems—works that had been due for completion last year?

Photo of Guto Bebb Guto Bebb Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend touches on the crucial point. I pay tribute to his work since he came into the House. I remember his first Adjournment debate on north Wales transport links, in which he talked about the importance of the north Wales rail line and the A55. He is right to highlight the fantastic investment from Arriva Trains, which will see a tripling of the services from Llandudno in my constituency to Manchester airport. That development is most welcome to people in north Wales. I thoroughly accept that we need to modernise the signalling system, which is why we have a £47 million programme of investment during control period 5 and control period 6. That has slipped somewhat, which is a shame, but it is interesting to note that it did not preclude the decision by Arriva Trains to increase its services dramatically.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Labour, Ogmore

When the Secretary of State was serving as the Under-Secretary, he met my predecessor to discuss the Pencoed level crossing, which causes a significant amount of chaos in the town and the Ogmore constituency. Will he agree to meet me and constituents from Pencoed to carry on those positive discussions about improving the Pencoed crossing?

Photo of Guto Bebb Guto Bebb Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place. I am aware that the Wales Office has been working with local government and the Welsh Government in relation to the Pencoed issue. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman—after all, my first by-election was in Ogmore. It was a very wet by-election. I would be delighted to meet residents of Pencoed once again.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

There is great momentum in north Wales and north-west England to improve transport links. This is a time for the Welsh Government and the UK Government to work together to improve those links. May we therefore have candour? The £43 million that the Minister referred to was actually investment by the Welsh Government, so will the UK Government step up to the plate and invest a penny piece in infrastructure in north Wales? That would be very welcome.

Photo of Guto Bebb Guto Bebb Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

It is important and imperative that we work together—the Welsh Government, local authorities and the UK Government—in developing transport links throughout north Wales. That is why we have opened the door for a north Wales growth deal, on which we are working in partnership with the Mersey Dee Alliance and the North Wales Economic Ambition Board. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that a real, effective change in north Wales will depend upon co-operation between Westminster and the Welsh Government.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

The new Welsh Government are ready; cross-party and cross-border, Members of Parliament and local authorities are ready; and most important of the lot, we north Walians are very ready. May we have a commitment for proper electrification so that we end up with a growth deal that is worth the name?

Photo of Guto Bebb Guto Bebb Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

It is imperative that we look carefully at the best value for money from investment in our transport infrastructure. I accept that there is a need to work together, but I also highlight the fact that the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses this morning called for more action from the Welsh Government. We hear that £200 million has been allocated for the A55, for example, but we have yet to see any action. We do need to work together; finger-pointing does not help.