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UK Innovation Corridor - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:24 pm on 30th April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 9:24 pm, 30th April 2019

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Haselhurst on securing this debate and on raising and highlighting the role of the innovation corridor in our nation’s economy. I thank all noble Lords for sharing their insights and—I think no one would disagree—unique expertise in this area.

Many noble Lords raised helpful challenges to the Government’s response to this report, but perhaps it is a rare pleasure to be considering a report that deals with the problems of success. The innovation corridor is one of Britain’s fastest growing regions. It is a hub of knowledge, with world-class universities and cutting-edge clusters of commercial innovation, advanced technology and bioscience. This combination is driving a vibrant, thriving economic success story—one that the Government support and will continue to support in future.

My noble friend has raised his concerns that transport infrastructure may become a barrier to growth in the area, particularly rail capacity on the West Anglia line given the likely continued growth at Stansted and Cambridge. However, as my noble friend is aware, trying to increase capacity on the West Anglia line is not easy without new infrastructure. I appreciate very much his range of suggestions about the ways one might do this. As noble Lords have noted, the railway is already at capacity with today’s rail services, although measures are being taken to try to increase reliability and capacity. I am not sure I will be able to deliver quite the enthusiasm that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, seeks, but I will do my best to set out the work that has been done.

The business case for delivering four-tracking along this route is expected to represent high value for money, if the rest of the proposed Crossrail 2 scheme is built. However, as a stand-alone proposition, analysis suggests that the scheme does not facilitate sufficient additional services to generate the benefits required to offset the capital expenditure. Given the uncertainty around Crossrail 2, we need to identify what can be done in the short to medium term to support growth on the line. I will share two examples with your Lordships.

First, to build on the work already undertaken, Network Rail hopes to undertake a study of the West Anglia main line that will sketch out options for future funders. Secondly, although we do not currently intend to develop a digital signalling scheme—that is difficult to say late at night—on the Anglia route for delivery in the current control period, the 2018 digital railway strategy identified it as a potential candidate for further consideration for delivery in the medium term, meaning in control period 7.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised her concerns about progress with Crossrail 2 and the detrimental effects it might have on the West Anglia main line. She wisely reminded your Lordships’ House of the importance to learn from other schemes in development. Here, I draw the House’s attention to the recent publication by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority on this subject, titled Lessons from Transport for the Sponsorship of Major Projects. The department will consider the report’s findings very carefully.

The Government remain focused on improving the affordability of the Crossrail 2 scheme. In its current form it comes with a large price tag and, as yet, no final decisions have been made. The Government have launched an independent affordability review, chaired by Mike Gerrard, which is making good progress, and the department and Transport for London received initial recommendations for further work on this. This further work is now completed and will inform the next steps of the project and the completion of the review.

Recognising the constraints on providing new infrastructure, as I have mentioned, in the meantime measures are being taken to try to increase reliability and capacity, not least the £1.4 billion investment in a brand new fleet of trains for every single service and route that Greater Anglia operates across the entire network. The trains will be phased in during 2019-20, with the first trains running on the Stansted Express route from summer 2019.

A number of noble Lords raised concerns about the ability to support growth at Stansted. The Government are sensitive to those concerns and are working through our longer-term aviation strategy to make sure that the infrastructure needs of the aviation industry are met.

The important points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about carbon reduction and the potential to move freight from the roads on to the rail network were well made. I draw the noble Lord’s attention to our recent strategy on the future of urban mobility, which has a big focus on carbon reduction and active travel.

I will mention some of the ways in which the department is supporting growth in this important corridor but, before I do that, I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about the points made by the National Trust. We are aware of the National Trust’s concerns about the development of infrastructure in the corridor, and those delivering that infrastructure will engage with the National Trust during the consultation process and will continue working with it as plans develop to make sure that its views are taken into account. We were pleased to see that the National Trust acknowledged the work in the environment Bill to make sure that a net gain for biodiversity is part of such projects.

Recognising the importance of infrastructure in supporting economic growth and prosperity, the Government are providing significant funding to enhance journeys and connectivity. For example, we are upgrading a 21-mile section of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon. This new road, which is due to be completed by the end of 2020, will cut a significant amount of time from journeys. We will also seek to cut journey times around Harlow by building new junction 7A on the M11—I hope your Lordships have a map in your minds—and will continue further investment on the M11 in future road programmes. I undertake to write to my noble friend regarding the issues he raised in relation to junction 8.

We also recognise the importance of rail as a key transport element connecting the region to its innovative business clusters and international gateways. We recognise that needs change as an area develops and so Network Rail has recently undertaken the Cambridge corridor study, which identified a series of infrastructure improvements to accommodate the expected growth across the railway in and around Cambridgeshire over the next 15 to 25 years, and will allow funders to make informed decisions about planning the network for the years to come.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked where we were in the decision-making process. Obviously, these ideas are at a very early stage of development and the study does not make any assumptions about which organisation, if any, will fund the proposals, so it is too early for the department to say which schemes we will do and who might fund them. As soon as plans for that are available, we will share them.

Another example of development work we are engaging with in the area is the considerable interest and support for new stations in Cambridgeshire. The Department for Transport has partnered with three local partners—AstraZeneca, the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority—to fund Network Rail to design proposals for a new Cambridge south station, which would primarily serve Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The Government are also supporting Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority with a £95 million investment over five years through the department’s Transforming Cities Fund, which will transform connectivity in the combined authority through a range of investments in transport and infrastructure.

In response to the request by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for the Government to support the CAM scheme that is being developed, I will mention it to Ministers and make sure that they are aware that the plans are being worked up.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made the point that transport needs need to be taken into account when supporting housing growth in an area, and that is what the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund is aiming to do. Two housing infrastructure funds from the corridor have been successful. One is the Docklands Light Railway scheme, which has been allocated £290 million, and the other is the Cambridge north-eastern fringe scheme, which has been allocated £227 million. Finally, we are supporting local enterprise partnerships in the corridor to improve transport links within the region.

In conclusion, while I recognise the concerns raised by my noble friend and other noble Lords around the West Anglia main line, I hope I have gone some way to reassure him that the innovation corridor is recognised for its contribution to the nation’s economy, and while further progress is made with Crossrail 2, the corridor is being supported by significant investment in the interim. The aim of that investment is to improve connectivity and to deliver the vision of a more integrated, reliable, safe, reduced-carbon transport network that supports the continuing growth of the economy within the innovation corridor.