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Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 5:50 pm, 5th February 2020

My colleagues on the Department for Transport Front Bench have one of the most difficult problems in government, because not only are they dealing with constituencies that have different transport needs—I only have to compare the needs of the constituents of my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds with those of mine in Basingstoke just a few miles away—and with different rural and suburban transport challenges, but they also have to deal with decarbonisation and with eye-wateringly long lead times when trying make a meaningful difference to this country’s transport mix.

That is the Ministers’ challenge, and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire was right to say that we will tackle the problem only with a cross-party approach. I hope everybody welcomes the Government putting an extra £1 billion into the development of next-generation electric vehicles, and their plan to bring forward the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars to 2035. We all see Government policies trickling down into our constituencies. I certainly have in Basingstoke, with the proliferation of charging points, particularly rapid charging points, and the renewal of the bus fleet, with Stagecoach launching 32 new low-emission buses in Basingstoke just before Christmas. So there are signs that some of the policy changes are trickling down, but I will focus on two particular issues that we have not said a great deal about so far in this debate. The people whom we represent would think we were living in a parallel universe if we did not talk about the importance of improving road transport as well as public transport more generally.

If we are to ease congestion on our roads, we have to be prepared to talk about this. Roadside emissions massively contribute not only to overall climate change emissions, but to some of the health problems that many of our constituents experience. I commend the British Lung Foundation and Breathe Easy Basingstoke for their work in raising awareness of the importance of tackling roadside emissions. Basingstoke council has run a “clear the air” campaign to encourage people to cut their engines when in congestion, and Members should consider something similar for their own constituencies. We must also tackle congestion pinch points if we are to tackle roadside emissions. I put on the record my thanks to Basingstoke’s local enterprise partnership for securing around £50 million to improve pinch points around the Brighton Hill roundabout and a whole host of other roundabouts, which are causing so many problems in terms of increasing pollution levels.

The other thing I want to focus on is the importance of investing in south-east England, which Ministers would of course expect me to raise in this debate. The truth is that transport expenditure in the south-east is 15% below the UK average. If we are to rebalance the economy, I urge Ministers to work closely with councils in the south-east to ensure that the region moves from receiving the lowest public sector expenditure per head of population to receiving something nearer the average.