Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the debate, and it is a pleasure to follow Damian Hinds. I would like to speak about two important transport issues. The first is the campaign to save the Queensbury tunnel in my constituency. The second is the urgent need for more transport investment in the north and the fact that the Government must deliver both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The Queensbury tunnel is a 1.4 mile-long heritage rail tunnel that lies beneath the village of Queensbury, which is situated between Bradford and Halifax. The last train ran through it in 1956, but there is an exciting local plan to transform the tunnel into a walking and cycling route. Unfortunately, Highways England has mismanaged the tunnel over several years and is now spending millions of pounds to pump out flood water to prepare for the tunnel’s abandonment. There is widespread local and national opposition to this, with more than 6,000 people objecting, and Members from both sides of this House are supporting the campaign to save it. Put simply, the Government have a choice. Either they can spend a significant amount of money to abandon the tunnel, destroying an historical asset with no public benefit, or they can invest for the future by restoring the tunnel and transforming it into the centrepiece of a new walking and cycling route between Bradford and Halifax. I know that the Secretary of State and other Ministers in his Department are aware of the situation, and I ask them once again to commit to visiting the tunnel and, more importantly, to working with me and the local authority to get this situation resolved.
Turning to the broader question of transport in West Yorkshire and across the north, the Government’s own Industrial Strategy Council said this week that
“regional differences in UK productivity are at their highest level for over a century.”
Clearly there is no silver bullet to solve this long-standing problem, but as I have said many times in this place, improving the north’s outdated transport system must be part of the solution. We can begin by getting rid of the either/or choice between HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. We all know that this would not be a question if it was being asked about London. The north needs and deserves both projects. All we are asking for is fairness in funding and a rebalancing to ensure that the economy of the north is no longer held back by underinvestment. For my constituents to really benefit from these projects, the Government must commit to Bradford having a city centre stop on Northern Powerhouse Rail.
However, we must go beyond those big-ticket infra- structure projects, and buses must be at the heart of this. Funding cuts, services being withdrawn and fare increases over the past 10 years have let passengers down. They deserve reliable and affordable services; that is the only way we can build a sustainable and balanced economy. The Government can use all the soundbites in the world, but that will not solve regional inequalities. What my constituents and people across the north want and need is fair funding to fix a creaking transport system. The north is a diverse and complex place, but the Government are apparently reluctant or unable to invest in its infrastructure at the same levels as in other parts of the country, which has undoubtedly led to a twin-track economy. That needs to end, and it needs to end now.