Transport Infrastructure - Statement

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:22 pm, 11th February 2020

With the leave of the House, I will certainly do that to answer the questions as fully as I can at this stage. I was slightly disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, felt that there were not enough hard commitments: I felt that the Statement was full of very hard commitments. The commitment to HS2 draws a line in the sand and removes any doubt about whether the project will go ahead. It means that phase 1 can continue at pace and that the Bill for phase 2a can come back to your Lordships’ House, because I know there is work to be done on it. We will be pushing the western leg towards Manchester and look at the eastern leg and other northern areas, where we are looking at connections into Northern Powerhouse Rail too. A very quick infrastructure plan for rail in the north will be carried out to make sure that that entire structure works well together. If it does not, clearly HS2 will not be as beneficial as it would otherwise be.

I shall stay with HS2 and then move on to buses in due course. The noble Lord mentioned governance and accountability. That is key to the way we approach HS2 and the way we interact with HS2 Ltd in future. This is not necessarily to denigrate the current management of HS2 Ltd: over successive managements there have been a series of failings, as I am sure a number of noble Lords will agree. We want to draw a line under this and start a new relationship between it and the department, representing the taxpayer to make sure that we get the best result.

This new Minister—poor thing—will have an incredibly important role to play. They will hold HS2 to account and report to Parliament every six months on its progress. Furthermore, we will encourage a culture of transparency and accountability, as stated by the Secretary of State some time ago. That is particularly important. There will be members on the board of HS2 Ltd from both the DfT and the Treasury to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent as effectively as it possibly can be. We will also ask the IPA to report on progress every year. There will be a step change in the governance of HS2 going forward.

I apologise if I did not explain the delivery arrangements well enough. HS2 Ltd will continue as currently on phases 1 and 2a and there will be separate delivery arrangements for Euston and phase 2b. The schedule for phase 1 is 2029 to 2033; the ambition is to get trains on the track by the end of the decade.

Beyond HS2, there is the issue of buses. I have a personal love of buses. Being the Buses Minister, I obviously welcome this funding of £5 billion over five years. Noble Lords have said that there is no detail. There is a reason for that: we wanted to show local authorities and bus operators the scale of our ambition for buses. Historically, buses have known roughly what they were going to get, but this is a step change in ambition. We wanted to get that message across so that our national bus strategy, which we will develop at pace over the coming months, will set out how this investment can best be spent. There will be investment in capital and in revenue but until we have the national bus strategy I cannot say for certain exactly where all this money will go.

Another reason I cannot say this for certain is that, as we look at integrated transport systems going forward, the most important thing to think about is place-based funding. Often funding based on places is not single-modal. There might be some bus funding from one pot and some cycling funding from another pot, but a certain place will bid and, rather like with the TCF, it will offer a cohesive and integrated plan for improving local transport. We cannot just say, “Here you go, Barnsley, have an extra £1 million.” It must be more thought through than that. That will come out of how we look at the framework for the national bus strategy and how we integrate the strategy with getting local authorities to step up in partnership with their bus operators, which is essential, to make the best use of the money.

I wanted to talk about this very important issue and that same partnership. We do not need new legislation to do this. We already have the Bus Services Act, which has partnerships in it. Where partnerships exist, the ridership of buses goes up significantly. Bristol has seen amazing gains, as has South Gloucestershire, because the local authority has a really good partnership with the bus operator. The local authority puts in place bus priority measures, steps up and says, “I will give you your buses and services.” That will come to fruition over the coming months. We will work closely, as we have already started to do, with local authorities and bus operators to make sure that they are ready to seize this level of ambition. It must be collaborative.

Cycling is at a very similar stage to the bus strategy in that we need to consider the means by which we can get it to the most needed places, alongside other funding, if that makes sense.

I think I have answered all the questions. If not, I will write.