Transport for the North - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:29 am on 18th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 11:29 am, 18th January 2018

To ask Her Majesty's Government what support they are providing in relation to Transport for the North’s draft Strategic Transport Plan, published on 16 January.

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, Transport for the North’s draft strategic transport plan is an important step forward towards the north setting out its vision and priorities for transport with one voice. We have committed up to £260 million for TfN to establish itself as England’s first statutory sub-national transport body, to develop the business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail, and to implement smart ticketing across the north of England. We are providing substantial technical support at official level.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the strategic transport plan for the north covers the whole of the north of England, and that is a good thing. However, it is based on the seven or eight largest cities in the north of England and has very little to say about what I would call the areas at the edges and the places in between, particularly smaller towns and rural areas. Does the Minister agree that if all the proposals that are put forward and implied in this document were to be carried out, the cost at today’s prices would certainly be more than £100 billion? Does the Government’s enthusiasm for this imply that their previous policy that such schemes were really considered only if they were in London or the south-east has now been changed?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I am not sure that that was the previous government policy. The strategy which has been set out is out for consultation, and Transport for the North will be speaking to people across the north to develop and finalise it. We will see the final plan in the summer and respond to it then. On the noble Lord’s point about it focusing on specific cities, it actually suggests strategic development corridors that cover the whole of the north and the central Pennines area, which I know will interest the noble Lord. I encourage everybody to contribute to that consultation.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Will my noble friend update the House on the progress being made on the improvements to the A1 between Newcastle and Berwick?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, the strategic road between London and Newcastle will be upgraded to a full motorway by the end of the year, but I am aware that there are still issues north of Newcastle on the way up to Scotland. As I mentioned before, one of the strategic development corridors includes the east coast of Scotland and will be looking at exactly this project. I am aware that it may be some months before we see the final plan, and I will certainly see if we can take action quicker.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, I have no intention of storming out of your Lordships’ House, but I share my noble friend Lord Prescott’s concern that strategic plans that have no chance of being implemented mislead people in the north of England into believing that something is about to happen. If the linked rail and road across the Pennines linking Hull, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Newcastle is to become a reality, it will take real government investment. Will the Minister speak to the beleaguered Transport Secretary about turning mythology into reality?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his continued presence, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, who was not able to stay for the full launch of the plan. We have worked carefully with people from across the north on ensuring that we get the right balance of powers here, and we are looking forward to seeing the plan. The Secretary of State has ultimate accountability to Parliament, and with his statutory role, it is right that he makes the final decisions. We will be considering that project carefully, and we will be ready to make the investment.

Photo of Lord Whitby Lord Whitby Conservative

My Lords, the Midlands is the largest economic area outside London. It attracts more inward investment and creates more start-up businesses than anywhere in the United Kingdom outside the capital. Its companies export to 178 countries worldwide, and it is still the only region in the United Kingdom with a trading surplus with China. In order to capitalise on and build on this robust achievement and complement the Government’s growth agenda, will Minister say whether Midlands Connect can benefit from devolution arrangements similar to those of Transport for the North?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Yes, my Lords. We fully intend to create more statutory transport bodies, and I welcome the work of Midlands Connect in bringing together local authorities and partners, including Highways England, HS2 and Network Rail. My noble friend rightly points out the potential of the Midlands. We look forward to seeing the proposal for Midlands Connect, and we hope that it will become England’s second statutory transport body.

Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this document is very ambitious and there are some very expensive proposals. However, within it, Transport for the North talks about some of the precursors, including the Great North Rail Project—the trans-Pennine route upgrade—and indicates that it would like to see a firm commitment about that upgrade and electrification in early 2018. That is where we have now arrived. Can the Minister give that commitment?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, we are absolutely committed to improving journeys on the trans-Pennine route, bringing in the state-of-the-art trains, longer carriages and more frequent services that the passengers would like. We want to go further and are planning to spend £3 billion to upgrade the key routes between Manchester, Leeds and York to give passengers those better, faster and more reliable journeys.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for this Question because it has caused me to look at the document. You have to get to page 86 before it says anything about money:

“TfN’s status as a pan-regional organisation, with a range of stakeholders but limited fiscal powers, means that a bespoke but credible funding and financing framework will be required. A substantial element of funding will come from central Government budgets.”

Is the Secretary of State going to buy into this plan and that substantial element of funding?

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, absolutely—we are waiting to see the final plan which we will then of course consider. If the initial funding settlement for TfN does not include the funding for transport projects, it will be allocated separately from central government funds.