Regional Transport Infrastructure — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:40 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:40 pm, 5th March 2019

I am sorry, I do not have time.

I want to see a focus on decarbonisation and decongestion as a priority for my city of York. Over the next 12 months, Labour’s citizens and transport commission will achieve that.

We have heard about inequality of spending across the country. The north-east has the worst levels of investment. That must change. It was also interesting to hear about the need for greater investment on the Isle of Wight, which shows that our infrastructure needs to be brought up to the modern era.

When we are making these investments, we have to plan for our railway system over a 30 to 40 year period—the length of time our infrastructure is sustained. Therefore, we need to ensure not only that the infrastructure is right, but that we have the skills to serve the infrastructure. While the Government have issued great plans around energy, construction and the transport system for future engineering projects, I say to the Minister—I am sure he has had similar conversations himself—that we are facing a skills cliff edge at the moment, given our ageing demographic and Brexit. The industry is doubtful that the infrastructure projects mentioned will be delivered. At the same time, there is a draw-down into the south-east, which means that we may not see the development across the country that we want.

We are seriously concerned about the emphasis on road building as opposed to moving forward into modern transport systems, bringing about modal shift, and ensuring that people are moving from their cars to public transport and to active travel for local journeys, which constitute 80% of journeys. We need to focus on a modern system, such as exists in Strasbourg, Copenhagen and much of the Netherlands. That is the kind of ambition that Labour has, and why we believe that we will deliver strongly in the transport brief.

We also recognise that there have been some good initiatives. The tram-train project in Sheffield has taken forward a mechanism of good, clean energy for the future. Importantly, it serves not only the city, but the more rural areas. As has been mentioned, this is about drawing in people from the towns and wider conurbations, so that people can get to work and travel for leisure. That is so important.

Opposition Members spoke about bus services. The Government’s profit-driven bus plan—I use the word “plan” lightly—does not deliver for the public. We believe that buses should be brought under public control. When we look at places such as Reading, where we see an increase in patronage and a service that meets the needs of residents, day and night, we can see what is possible when bus services are integrated into economic development. There are powerful testimonies to that from elsewhere. Coaches never get a mention, but I want to mention them, because they can also form part of a modal shift and bring rapid change. I believe that we must explore all options.

The trans-Pennine route was mentioned yet again. I say to the Minister that it is really important at this stage to scope out the work for the full electrification project, and to ensure that the scope includes opportunity for future freight. Labour will electrify that line and ensure that freight is deliverable on it. Speaking of freight—which, again, has not been mentioned yet—it is important that we build a freight system for the future, putting as much freight as we can on to rail and ensuring that all long-distance journeys are accessible, reliable and timely for freight. Therefore, we need to see a real move in that direction, as well as investment in urban consolidation centres, which will enable us to stop heavy goods vehicles travelling into town centres.

Finally, I want to touch on inter-modal connectivity. Joining everything up is really important. We have been quite startled by the fact that HS2 is being placed at Curzon Street, as opposed to New Street, meaning that people will have to trundle through the middle of Birmingham. I am sure that might be an advantage to Birmingham, but it does not really address the connectivity that is needed. We need to ensure that there is good connectivity across all transport modes. We expect the Government to look again at the way that they have put transport into siloes. Labour believes that inter-modal connectivity and moving people more on to public transport is the way forward, and that is what we will deliver in government.