Transport Infrastructure - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:22 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 3:22 pm, 11th February 2020

My Lords, I feel sorry for the Minister, having to repeat all that. But what the Statement boasted in juvenile, rhetorical flourishes it lacked in detail on all fronts. It reminded me of one of those exercises that teachers give primary school children to expand their vocabulary. But it lacked detail, and transport is all about detail.

Like the noble Lord, I went through the Statement carefully and was struck by the fact that the first thing this Government apparently committed to was net zero by 2050, and the first thing they are going to do is build lots of new roads. Everyone who knows about transport knows that if you build a road, it gets full of cars immediately. We will still have cars from today on the roads in 20 years’ time. The electric vehicle revolution will not come that quickly and we cannot reach net zero if we go on with large-scale road-building projects.

What was said about east-west rail links is good, but it needs to go way beyond the few examples here. There is a lack of detail on buses beyond a nice big, shiny figure. I ask the Minister to provide us with more detail on the buses, because we can have the bus revolution a great deal more quickly than we can have the railway revolution. We could revolutionise our buses within a couple of years if we had the money and the legislative framework to do it.

I was very pleased, of course, to hear that HS2 is not going to be cancelled, but again disappointed and really frustrated by the fact that there are just a few hints of how this will go ahead in the future—a couple of avenues have been closed off, but there is no detail on how it will work or how the future will be better than the past. “We are going to change it, we are going to have a Minister”—with all due respect, it is not ministerial control that has been lacking, but good, solid day-to-day project management. However, we will obviously have to wait patiently for some time still to get the detail that we need.

I say to the Minister that this is a very grandiose series of visions but, in reality, people need certainty and consistency. They need to know the details of what will happen and, given the scale of the ambition in this announcement, it is way beyond the capacity of the Department for Transport to deal with. Work will have to be done across government. I will give just one example of what needs thinking about. If you are to have all these new buses—one hopes they will be electric or hydrogen, but in the short term we are probably talking about electric—we will need to totally reinvent the electricity grid to cope in certain parts of the country. The Minister looks doubtful: I have just come from a lunchtime event where experts in the field confirmed that we need a massive increase in our electricity capacity in parts of the country. There are lots of questions for her to answer.