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UK Innovation Corridor - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:18 pm on 30th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 9:18 pm, 30th April 2019

My Lords, the good news is that I may take up fewer than the 10 minutes that I am allowed. Like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, on securing this debate. He has had an invaluable and proactive involvement in promoting the infrastructure needs of the London-Stansted-Cambridge innovation corridor, not least through his role as chair, unremunerated, of the West Anglia Taskforce and the case made in its report for investment in rail to support growth. I wondered, given what the noble Lord said earlier—not about the confusion but about the fact that some people do not people see the West Anglia line as necessarily being in what they would regard as East Anglia—whether it ought to be called the “West-East Anglia main line” to clarify the situation.

We have heard one word of caution and I am sure other noble Lords have had a briefing from the National Trust, of which I, along with many others, am currently a member. The trust has referred to the significant growth and infrastructure development planned for Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas through the UK innovation corridor and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The trust goes on to say that without proper oversight or a comprehensive approach, the concurrence of two major development projects in the same region increases the likelihood that the developments will fail to protect nature, the countryside and the heritage of the whole region. A more specific concern is about Wimpole Hall and the grade 1 listed parkland in which it sits, which are apparently within both the UK innovation corridor and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. It would be helpful if the Minister could give some meaningful assurances about the concerns of the National Trust, which has the support of a great many people for what it does, not least older people who are the group most likely to vote. Of course, major projects cannot be allowed to grind to a halt, but neither can we have a free for all for developers over what they can do and where in areas designated for expansion and development.

I shall repeat without apology what the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, says in his foreword to the West Anglia Taskforce report:

“London and the East of England are two of the fastest growing regions in the UK, and the West Anglia Main Line links them together. The railway is essential for bringing jobs, homes and businesses together”.

The taskforce’s terms of reference were to improve connections to an expanding Stansted Airport and Cambridge from Liverpool Street and to encourage opportunities for economic growth along the route, including the expansion of services in the Lea Valley. Some provisions for service improvements, including new trains, were contained in the franchise agreement for Greater Anglia, which the Dutch state-owned company retained in 2016 for another nine years.

The taskforce concentrated on practical and feasible recommendations on cost, impact and effectiveness, and particularly, as has been said, on the need for four-tracking of the line from just south of Tottenham Hale station to just north of Broxbourne station. This is the most pressing need on a line that already suffers performance and capacity-wise, under even the current volume of traffic, from being two-track, a problem that will remain for much of the rest of the line south of Tottenham Hale to nearly into Liverpool Street. Four-tracking of the stretch identified in the report will also be vital if the Crossrail 2 project is to go ahead. On that score, one hopes it has not been seriously blighted by the delays and cost issues now associated with Crossrail 1.

At the launch of the report in late 2016, the then Minister for Rail said that he was impressed by the level of support that the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, had gathered across the political spectrum from local government, national government in the form of the Department for Transport, London government and many companies and private individuals who had come together to support the report. The same Minister then told the Commons in a debate on 8 November 2016:

“The report also makes a clear and compelling case for action, so it is just the sort I want”.

He went on to say that the report’s recommendations,

“deserve careful consideration. We need to assess them against the case for investment across the network as a whole. The Government will now give the report the consideration it deserves, which will be a thorough and careful assessment, so that we can respond formally next year”.—[Official Report,Commons, 8/11/16; cols. 538-9WH.]

I hope that in her response the Minister will be able to spell out precisely what decisions and actions on transport infrastructure in the London-Stansted-Cambridge innovation corridor the Government—including Network Rail, for which the Government are responsible—have taken on, and in the light of, the recommendations, including on four-tracking, in the taskforce report since that debate in the Commons some two and a half years ago, in view of the enthusiastic response to the report from the then Minister. We shall be able to see from the Government’s reply to this debate whether that enthusiastic response from the Minister has been matched by actions as opposed to words.