Hull to York Transport Gateway

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 7th June 2006.

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Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 11:00 am, 7th June 2006

I am delighted to have secured this debate and to have an opportunity to shine a light on and raise the profile of the corridor from Hull to York—often known as the 1079 corridor because of the A1079, which unfortunately is famous more for its accident record, congestion and failure to support a powerful and dynamic growth area than for any other reason. I am grateful to the Minister for being here today and I am glad to welcome her to her new post.

The issue is of growing importance to many of my constituents in Beverley and Holderness, in respect of not only car transport but transport of freight and public transport. First, I plan to discuss the economic and social transformation that has taken place in the region over the past decade and the growing demand for a viable, expanding transport infrastructure that is commensurate with and supportive of that growth. I plan then to concentrate on two specific issues: the A1079, which runs between Hull and York; and the proposed reopening of the Hull to York railway line, including the section that no longer exists between Beverley and York. I shall then focus on the relatively poor funding that the East Riding of Yorkshire receives from central Government for local transport and conclude by making a plea to the Minister to work on correcting all those injustices.

The East Riding of Yorkshire is performing strongly. The local economy is doing well, business investment has increased significantly in recent years and more people are moving to the area than ever before. Population growth in the region is now the second fastest outside London. People are attracted to the area by its relatively high standards of living, excellent leisure opportunities and an education system which, despite being one of the lowest funded in the country, continues to achieve year-on-year improvements under the guidance of the East Riding of Yorkshire council.

Meanwhile, the two cities of Hull and York remain powerful economic regional players. Hull is currently one of the largest cities in the country, with a population approaching 330,000. It hopes to take strides towards becoming one of the country's top 10 cities. It is recognised as an international leader in telecommunications and is an important gateway to mainland Europe, with a successful port that caters for more than 1 million passengers a year. The port of Hull on the north side of the River Humber is a regional priority and has had more than £94 million-worth of investment in the past 15 years alone. It is the leading timber port in the country, and it is estimated that up to 16,000 jobs have been generated in Hull directly from the operation of the port itself or from the presence of local businesses that have established themselves in the area because of relatively easy access to the continent.

It would be fair to say that Hull is a sleeping giant. Like many of the great football teams that languished in the old second division or the current championship but year after year hoped for life and premiership performance to come their way, Hull is working to make that happen. In fact, this year the people of Hull showed at the ballot box their preparedness for change. Whoever is in power, it is hoped that Hull city council will provide fresher and more dynamic leadership. There are real prospects for future premiership performance for the city of Hull.

That strong regional performance has been achieved in spite of, not because of, a regional transport infrastructure that has grown increasingly inadequate. The cities of Hull and, in particular, York continue to be let down by the sorry state of local transport links. At present, there is no direct rail link between Hull and York. Instead, rail passengers must travel three sides of a triangle via Brough and Selby, which can take the best part of 90 minutes. The main road linking the two cities, the A1079, is certainly not fit for purpose. It runs through the urban centres of Beverley, Market Weighton and Pocklington and is predominantly rural in nature. It is used by an estimated 15,000-plus vehicles a day. That number increased by 9 per cent. in just four years up to 2003. However, only 4.5 km of the road is dual carriageway, with the remaining 39.5 km single carriageway. As hon. Members can imagine, journey times can be long indeed, especially in the morning and evening rush hours.

We all recognise the progress that has been made in reducing road casualties and accidents over the past years, but that road has a dreadful safety record. According to Government figures, there have been more than 275 accidents in the past five years alone. Sixteen people have lost their lives, including three people in a single incident in November 2004. That is undoubtedly an issue of major concern to my constituents. As one local resident said in a recent local authority consultation exercise, there is almost no margin for error when driving on the A1079. Martin Ward, a Market Weighton resident, was involved in two accidents on the road last year. He recently stated:

"There are too many junctions without slip-roads that are opposite one another, which leaves every motivation for people to dash across the carriageway."

For motorcyclists such as Mr. Ward, the road is unacceptably unsafe.

Put simply, the road is crying out for a major programme of improvement. The East Riding of Yorkshire council, which prepared a position statement to assess congestion levels on the A1079, concluded that the road is operating

"near to its theoretical capacity for a single carriageway of its width and characteristics."

It is simply not sustainable in the long term to promote significant migration into a region without taking steps simultaneously to invest in local infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure.

Realistically, we must start thinking about widening the A1079 to cope with the growing demand. However, that will not come cheaply. For example, the published target cost for widening the A453, which is predominantly a rural road, is £90 million for a 12 km stretch. That is based on an estimated cost of some £8 million per kilometre. Given that the A1079 currently has 40 km of single carriageway, widening it clearly will involve a major investment and almost certainly will require significant Government assistance.

The Yorkshire and Humber regional transport strategy identified the A1079 as an important link and a main public transport corridor. The analysis deals with the importance of Hull and the port, but the assessment of local transport links is focused too much on improving the M62-A63 transport corridor, which, as Members may be aware, is the main route into Hull from the west of the city. The strategy goes no further than to acknowledge that

"Access between Hull and York is also poor", which is an understatement if ever there was one.

Moreover, the Minister may be aware that the Department for Transport de-trunked the A1079 in 2003 and handed it over to the local authority to maintain. With growing traffic on that road, it is easy to understand why local people believe that that was a cop-out. An important regional road that was already running over capacity was de-trunked and, most importantly—I shall return to this issue—funding was not provided to go with that de-trunking. In effect, the Department left the road to the local authority without offering support. I would be interested to hear the Minister's thoughts on that point. If she cannot offer a guarantee that the Department will review the local funding arrangement, will she pledge to consider taking the road back?

Serious attention should also be given to the proposed reopening of the Hull to York railway line. The Hull to Beverley line is still in existence, but the extension from Beverley to York was axed in 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts and has never been reopened. Recently, however, there has been growing political pressure—people pressure, from the ground up—for its return. A local interest group, the Minsters Rail Campaign, was set up two years ago to put pressure on local council leaders and others to consider reopening the line. As a result, East Riding of Yorkshire council responded in March 2004 by appointing a consultancy group to carry out a feasibility study. The results were positive.

The group estimated that 2004 passenger figures would total 395,000 journeys per annum, based on the running of one train an hour; 584,000 journeys per annum for two trains an hour; and 622,000 journeys per annum for two trains an hour, with one journey extended to and from Leeds. A point worth making in that context is that transport in the region, particularly at the northern end of the A1079, is about not just reaching York but accessing Leeds and other areas. Any changes and improvements should recognise that, by providing east Yorkshire with access to other places and other markets.

Moreover, basing its analysis on a series of roadside interview surveys that took place in March 2004, the consultancy group Carl Bro estimated that 15 per cent. of users of the A1079 would be likely to switch to the train if a decent, reliable service linking Hull, Beverley and York were provided. That could result in the removal of large numbers of vehicles a day from the A1079, which would undoubtedly help to reduce congestion on the road, meet Government targets on reducing the use of the car, and reduce the number of accidents from the current unacceptable level.

The sticking point is cost, which was estimated in 2004 to be in the region of £239 million. That included a £28 million risk allowance and a 15 per cent. optimism bias allocation—an excellent idea to put into the funding of any project—as required by the Department for Transport. Carl Bro considered a number of different scenarios, including the running of the line as a community rail project—again, in line with Government thinking—which, according to that expert transport consultancy, would increase revenues and reduce costs. As a result, the economic assessment over a 60-year period shows a benefit-cost ratio of between 1.26 and 2.04, with the non-revenue benefits boosting the economic situation to provide a positive net present value in all cases.

Despite taking that into account, however, the initial assessment based on current costs and fares is that the operation would not be financially self-supporting from fare income alone and would require ongoing financial support. That is one reason for this debate. It has become increasingly clear that if East Riding is to sustain current growth and investment levels and establish a transport infrastructure that will allow it to compete with other regions, it will require a level of Government support far higher than it currently receives.

There is growing evidence of a systematic lack of investment in integrated transport in the Yorkshire region as a whole and specifically in East Riding. The Yorkshire Post recently launched a campaign, "Road to Ruin", which aims to highlight the huge discrepancy between regions in funding for transport. It has pointed out that, for example, Yorkshire receives just £224.21 a person in transport funding overall, as compared with the staggering £667 a person handed out to transport projects in London.

Like other Yorkshire MPs, I recognise the special case of London and would not suggest that the comparison is entirely valid. None the less, the discrepancy cannot be justified. According to research by the passenger transport executive group, Yorkshire receives just 7.6 per cent of the total transport budget for England, while London receives almost 34 per cent. That is a huge discrepancy, especially when one takes into account population growth in Yorkshire and the Humber, where nearly 5 million people now reside.

The unfairness of the current funding system can be seen more clearly at an even more local level. Recent data from East Riding of Yorkshire council show that the area receives just £9.12 a person a year from central Government to spend on integrated transport. That compares with a regional average of £14.47 a person and with the £19.13 a person that is distributed to York. That level of underfunding could have a devastating impact on local businesses, stop the regeneration of the area and prevent the effective meeting of Government targets and aims.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman. On regeneration and links between Hull and York, does he agree that one of the main drivers of that regeneration is the increasing collaboration between the two universities on projects such as a joint medical school, but that that is increasingly hampered by the transport situation that he has described?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The hon. Gentleman is right and speaks from his constituency perspective. There are growing connections, but unfortunately the Hull-York bid for the dental school was not successful. However, that effort and the way in which the bid was put together, which was widely praised, was symbolic of growing work between the universities and the cities. The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on that work, which forms one of a number of strands that link the two cities together, involving local communities along the route, so I am grateful for his intervention.

The level of underfunding could have a devastating impact on local businesses. Terry Hodgkinson, who was chairman of Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, said recently:

"I am very optimistic that our region's future is bright, but ultimately, how well we do will depend on our success in securing these improvements"— meaning the infrastructure improvements necessary to deliver. As the new chief executive of Yorkshire Forward also said recently, it is not regional development agencies that create wealth, but businesses. The fundamental role of Government is to create a framework and an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurialism and success, if we are to deliver Government aspirations and those of the people whom we represent.

To conclude, East Riding of Yorkshire is the second fastest growing region in the country outside London. Its economic, social and environmental performance depends on the strength of its transport infrastructure. Critical to that is the corridor between Hull and York, but it is simply not up to scratch. The main road running between the two cities is running at above its design capacity and has a bad history of accidents. The old railway line is for the most part still available, and according to a local consultancy—if Leeds counts as local—can be reopened and, although requiring some support, be run at a passenger subsidy well below that needed for many other lines, while offering a positive cost-benefit ratio that could be supported by the Government.

The region has been systematically underfunded for too long. I urge the Minister to look into the matter and to come forward with funding to support the dualling of the A1079 road and the proposed reopening of the Hull to York rail link, which has the support of a number of MPs in the region. I am glad to the see Mr. Grogan in the Chamber and I have spoken at length to other hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, who supports the main arguments that I have put forward.

East Riding has taken great strides forward in recent years, but that development is at serious risk because of a transport infrastructure that remains unfit for purpose in this new century. I and other hon. Members from all parties recognise the pressures on Government funding and, although I might be optimistic in hoping for a positive response in all respects to this debate, I hope at least that the Minister will take on board the arguments. I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight the issue and hope that this debate can play a part in our long-term analysis of how to deliver improvements for the benefit of constituents and the country.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 11:18 am, 7th June 2006

I congratulate Mr. Stuart on securing this debate, to which I have listened carefully. I also thank him for his kind remarks welcoming me to my new post.

Before dealing with the specific concerns raised, I shall make some general but important points to give some context to my response to the hon. Gentleman. The Government and my Department certainly recognise the importance of good transport links for economic and social regeneration, and for improving access to jobs and key services. Better access to and from urban centres such as Hull and York, whether by bus, rail or car, is crucial to achieving that.

The pressures on the transport system are well known and familiar to us all. We have a legacy of under-investment that goes back decades, and as our economy has grown and prospered, that has brought further pressures on all modes of transport. That is why the Government are committed to sustained long-term investment in transport and have doubled transport spending in the past few years.

Our transport strategy is about reducing social exclusion, tackling congestion and pollution and enhancing people's quality of life by improving all types of transport in ways that increase choice and as an investment for the future. In all of this, however, there is a need for realism. We cannot satisfy every demand for transport infrastructure enhancements, whether road or rail, as the hon. Gentleman said. Major infrastructure improvements are expensive, which he acknowledged, and they take time to deliver. Our job is to prioritise and to be realistic.

Partly because of that experience, we have introduced a much more transparent system for seeking the regions' views on their transport investment priorities within regional funding allocations. Regional and local bodies now have a much clearer picture of the resources that are likely to be available to their region in the next 10 years, and we have given them the opportunity to advise the Government on how they believe those resources should be allocated to best serve the region's needs and objectives. That advice, which included the Beverley integrated transport scheme, was received from the regions at the end of January, and we plan to respond to it shortly.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that good local transport is fundamental to building thriving and prosperous communities. However, I should like to clarify for him the truth of the financial situation. Since 2000-01, we have more than doubled the funding to local authorities for transport in every region, taking it up to more than £1.6 billion in 2006-07. Funding for local transport in the Yorkshire and Humber region has increased from £75 million to £160 million in 2006-07. The East Riding of Yorkshire alone will benefit from £11 million for local transport this year—a significant increase from £2.9 million in 2000-01.

The hon. Gentleman raised two specific issues. I shall deal first with the question of highways investment in his area and, in particular, the A1079. That road provides a regionally significant link between Hull and York and the urban centres of Beverley, Market Weighton and Pocklington in between. On 1 April 2003, the remaining sections of the A1079 between Kexby Bridge and Barmston drain were detrunked, and the responsibility for maintenance was taken over by East Riding of Yorkshire council. The full route, between the York city boundary and the Hull city boundary, is some 44 km in length and is now part of the authority's primary route network.

I advise the hon. Gentleman that, contrary to his suggestion, the local authority wished to take on that responsibility. I can assure him and his constituents that, as part of the detrunking agreement, the Highways Agency made a settlement of more than £500,000 per year to East Riding of Yorkshire council to fund works that otherwise would have been undertaken by the agency. In addition, since detrunking, more than £4m has been provided for carriageway maintenance and £1m for bridge maintenance on the A1079 in recognition of its status as an important corridor on the primary route network.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Obviously, all funding that has been provided is welcome, but does the Minister accept that the funding is still inadequate and that the number of fatalities that have occurred on the road—16 in five years—is not good enough on a road such as that? As she says, East Riding of Yorkshire council is happy to look after the road, but only if it is provided with sufficient funds, and the council's opinion is that the funding is not sufficient to provide the quality of road and the safety standards that both the council and the Government want.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In its second local transport plan, East Riding of Yorkshire council has considered further dualling of the A1079 north of Hull to address the safety issues that arise, particularly when drivers are overtaking. It is exploring the prospects of dualling schemes for the highway between Killingwoldgraves roundabout and Dunswell and between Shiptonthorpe and Pocklington. My Department will consider those ideas if and when firm proposals are made and they receive regional support through the regional funding allocations process.

Without a doubt, safety on the A1079 is a major concern. I am pleased to say that the Humberside safety camera partnership is installing six safety cameras on Market Weighton's Arras hill. A further seven cameras will be installed on Beverley bypass by the end of this month. Judging by the record of the Humberside safety camera partnership so far, that should, I would hope, halve the number of accidents and save the pain and misery suffered by many families each year.

In view of the time, I shall now discuss the York to Beverley railway line. Before its closure, the line served a number of settlements, and in recent years there has been interest in reopening the line. The most recent local transport plan refers to the potential for reopening, bearing in mind the need for careful evaluation and the realities of funding constraints. I am aware of a study commissioned by the Countryside Agency and published in 2003, which examined the possibility of reopening disused railway lines in Yorkshire and the Humber. The study identified a number of potential benefits of reopening the line in question, but it also highlighted several major obstacles in the form of development across the track bed. It suggested that those might be dealt with through new alignments, but it also noted that at Stamford Bridge and Market Weighton, creating new alignments would be more difficult due to the level of development that has occurred. The study concluded that although the York to Beverley line should be considered for reopening in the longer term—10 years or more into the future—it should be protected from further development in the meantime.

As the hon. Gentleman said, a further study was undertaken by the consultants at Carl Bro for East Riding of Yorkshire council, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to consider it. As he also said, it reported that the operation would not be financially self-supporting from fare income and would require ongoing public subsidy.

The decision to protect a section of railway is a matter for local planning authorities, in line with national, regional and local planning policies. I would expect such decisions to be based on discussion with relevant stakeholders, including Network Rail, and consideration of the costs involved.

It is important to note that, although the railways are growing faster than ever and we have not closed our mind to the expansion of rail, the Government's investment priorities must be driven by an objective assessment of where the greatest benefit, economic and environmental, is to be delivered. Generally, that follows strong patterns of established demand.

For that reason and because of the poor historical performance of a range of branch lines and experimental services, it would be unfair of me to suggest that consideration of the proposal outlined by the hon. Gentleman is likely to be a realistic priority for the Government in the immediate future. Of course, it is always open to local planning authorities to produce their own proposals on the basis of their own committed funding, but such a proposal must also be subject to rigorous scrutiny, starting with consideration of whether it offers the most effective transport option. The production of a business case involves a considerable investment of time and resources, and any authority would consider carefully its own priorities in the context of local, regional and national plans, just as central Government do.

This year, the Government are spending £110 million every week to improve the railways. That commitment to our rail network is helping to bring in further substantial investment from the private sector. In addition, there have been significant improvements in the railways in recent years, which have led to a considerable increase in the number of rail passenger journeys. For example, in 2003-04, for the first time since 1961, more than 1 billion rail journeys were made. Importantly, the Government recently announced £370 million to deliver access improvements to stations across the network in line with the new provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

I confirm that we are working to improve transport connectivity in east Yorkshire as a whole. The local transport plan system has provided more certainty of funding for local authorities, so that they can tackle local issues. We are making progress on improving transport and we are committed to continuing to do so.

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o'clock.