Transport Questions

24th October 2019

George Freeman MP answers MPs’ questions to the Department for Transport.

George Freeman MP speaking at the dispatch box, Transport Questions, October 2019

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency: Industrial Action

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency on industrial action by its staff. [900109]

May I say, Mr Speaker, what a pleasure it is to be back under your chairmanship in this new role as Minister of State for the future of transport?

On 7 October, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency entered into talks with the Public and Commercial Services Union. They have met three times. The DVSA is expecting to continue the talks, which are supported by ACAS, at the start of November.

On 30 August, I met DVSA employees in Nottingham who are taking industrial action, as they want to work in an environment free from bullying and where they are listened to and valued. My hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and I wrote to Baroness Vere of Norbiton requesting a meeting to make these representations. She declined. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State take that meeting instead, so that they can hear important feedback from critical members of staff?

For the benefit of the House, I should say we are talking about the modernised employment contract for DVSA staff. This is a matter between the DVSA and staff. The impact will be two hours extra a week for training, which increases the working hours from 35 to 37. Lunch breaks are being protected. We very much hope that the union returns to the negotiations with the DVSA. I might perhaps gently ask the Labour party, which is reliant on the unions, to exercise their good influence on behalf of the travelling public.


Transport Infrastructure: London Region

10. What plans his Department has to construct new transport infra- structure to serve growing towns on the outskirts of London. [900117]

Transport in the Greater London area is devolved to the Mayor and delivered on his behalf by TfL. The Department continues to fund investment in major transport projects benefiting London, such as Crossrail and the Thameslink upgrade. The Department is also working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to plan transport infrastructure as part of sustainable house building, particularly through the housing infrastructure fund and the garden communities programme.

I thank the Minister for his response, but has he looked into the possibility of expanding his investment programme to the Gallows Corner area of my constituency—a major hub from Essex into London? Its 50-year-old structure now needs to be replaced. Is it not time that the Government stepped in to make sure that this happens?

I am delighted to confirm that we are indeed stepping in. My hon. Friend is a dogged advocate of the needs of Romford and, along with his companion Buster, has done more than anyone to put this subject on the map. I know that as well as Brexit he wants “Hexit”—he wants control of Havering taken back into Essex. However, I can confirm that we are looking at this scheme with TfL to develop a series of major structural renewals at Gallows Corner, as announced by the Government in October 2018.

I am pleased that last week, TfL launched its new consultation on the Bakerloo Line extension. Will the Minister commit to exploring funding options for that scheme with HM Treasury and TfL?

Those conversations are ongoing, and I am aware that the hon. Lady met the Rail Minister last week.

On the grounds that Thurrock is somewhat more geographically deserving than Truro and Falmouth in respect of this question, I call Jackie Doyle-Price.

Plans to deliver 3,000 new homes in Purfleet in my constituency have ground to a halt following Highways England’s decision to reject any planning application for more than 250 houses due to pressure on the A13. I find it difficult to explain to my constituents why Highways England is putting a new motorway through Thurrock while preventing us from planning and delivering new homes. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the matter?

Yes, I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. She will be pleased to know that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport are working on the much closer integration of housing and transport.

High Speed 1 is one of the most successful pieces of infrastructure at enabling commuting into London. Indeed, it is so successful and reliable that many services, particularly at peak hours, are massively overcrowded. In the Department’s radical look at the future of the rail network, will Ministers consider the provision of extra rolling stock on HS1, so that my constituents in Ashford and people in other places along the lines can have more comfortable journeys to and from work?

My right hon. Friend makes a typically excellent point, and I am delighted to confirm that the Rail Minister met the relevant decision makers yesterday to discuss that proposal.


Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989

11. Whether he plans to review the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989. [900118]

On 23 July 2019, the Government announced a review of the available evidence to see whether a more flexible approach to the regulations permitting the use of red flashing lights by road recovery operators may be appropriate. The Department is in the process of commissioning the study, and a decision to review the regulations will be taken once the study has reported.

I am grateful for that response. The partner of my constituent Sam was killed while recovering a vehicle on the M25. Since then, she and others have been campaigning for the roadside recovery industry to be able to use red lights, rather than amber, during recoveries. The police and others have now dropped their objections, and the science shows a difference in reactions to amber light and red light, so will the Minister now give the green light to the change?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her campaign, and the whole House sends its condolences to her constituent. Our motorways are actually the safest roads, but she raises an important point. If the public feel that the use of red lights will help them feel safer, we will be minded, after looking at the evidence, to approve the change.

My constituent Jason Mercer is dead because of the Government’s ill-conceived all-lane-running scheme on the M1. Will the Minister please meet me and Claire Mercer, Jason’s widow, to discuss the safety implications of the scheme and the stopping of next year’s roll-out?

Yes, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady, as will the Roads Minister, Baroness Vere. I am also delighted to confirm that the Secretary of State will be announcing a short review so that we can deal with that problem quickly.

Many of my constituents have told me about car headlights that seem undipped or exceptionally bright. This is a slightly different issue from the one we are discussing, but will there be regulations to ensure that headlights do not have an impact upon vehicles coming the other way? These lights can cause accidents.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are going to take a quick look at the evidence and introduce a framework to ensure that people are safe on the edges of our motorways and that drivers know that the right regulations have been put in place for them.


Transport Infrastructure

13. What steps he is taking to ensure that all regions have sufficient transport infrastructure to support economic growth. [900120]

14. What steps he is taking to ensure that all regions have sufficient transport infrastructure to support economic growth. [900121]

17. What steps he is taking to ensure that all regions have sufficient transport infrastructure to support economic growth. [900125]

Since 2015, we have doubled our capital investment in the transport system, and we are investing over £72 billion in transport infrastructure in the five years to 2020-21. The Prime Minister has set out his commitment to enhancing and levelling up connectivity across the country and, as such, we are investing an average of £248 per person in the north, compared with £236 per person in the south.

One of the main projects that has been identified as essential for future economic growth in the midlands is the A5 upgrade in north Warwickshire. Will the Minister commit to working with me, the A5 partnership and Midlands Connect to help deliver these vital improvements?

Yes. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and we are in discussions right now on that important golden triangle. We will shortly be announcing our plans for the A5 in the road investment strategy.

Middlewich is clearly on the Government’s map for both road and rail investment, with £50 million for a bypass and funding for the business case for reopening the railway station. Will the Minister assure me that both projects are continuing at pace, and will he meet me to discuss it?

Yes, I am delighted to reassure my hon. Friend that we will make sure the pace is kept up and that the change in political control does not slow it down. We will make a decision on the final funding once a business case has been properly considered.

On the reinstatement of passenger rail services via Middlewich, my officials are now working with local partners on the development of that business case, which we will consider with Transport for the North.

The A64, which runs through my constituency and the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), is desperately in need of dualling. Will the Minister answer the calls of all MPs, businesses, local authorities, residents and hundreds of thousands of tourists and commit to this very important project?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner for the A64, and I can assure him that his message, both today and in his various correspondence and meetings, has been heard loud and clear. We will shortly be announcing the second road investment strategy, as promised in the first. We have plans for the A64, so I urge him just to wait for a few weeks and months.

For economic growth to be properly supported, transport infrastructure needs to be properly accessible, so will the Minister and the Government commit to making sure that every local railway station, such as Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road in my constituency, is fully accessible?

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point—I have a railway station in my constituency that is in desperate need of disability access—and that is why we have launched the Access for All programme. We will be looking to make sure that all those stations with the most urgent access challenges are sorted in the right order.

Buses are a very important part of transport infrastructure, and my constituents will benefit enormously from the announcement by the metro Mayor of the Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, of a new metrocard. When will we improve bus service integration across the country by ensuring that we have a single smartcard, not different cards in different parts of the country?

I note the omission of thanks for the major package of investment in bus infrastructure, and I simply make the point that the Mayor has those powers. I am leading the Department’s work on smart ticketing, and we are keen to see Transport for the North and the Mayor lead that programme so people in that area can have integrated ticketing.

I am sure the Minister shares my frustration that rail passengers in the north will have to continue enduring the use of Pacer trains well into 2020, despite assurances from Northern that they would be taken out of service by the end of this year. Does he believe that passengers should be compensated as a result?

The Department shares the disappointment that the new rolling stock has been delayed. Pacer trains are not fit for purpose for the 21st century. Northern retired the first of its 102 Pacers in August, and it plans to remove two thirds by December 2019. Northern advises that, subject to receiving appropriate dispensation, up to 34 Pacers will remain in the fleet, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are determined to make sure the fleet is properly modernised.

Labour knows the true value of connecting towns and cities across the north. Our integrated transport plan will invest in public transport, in public ownership, to work for the passengers not the shareholders. We will start by investing £39 billion in the whole Crossrail for the north project. How much will the Minister commit to the project today? Only £15 billion?

I think the nation will be interested to hear the Opposition Front Bench team announcing major plans for investment, given that their economic plans will see a massive loss of investment in this country and massive economic damage. We can fund good transport infrastructure and a good NHS only when we have economic growth. The truth is that this Government are proceeding with the biggest investment package in road, rail and infrastructure in this country since the Victorians—£72 billion—and we are spending more per head on passengers in the north than in the south. This Government have the interests of the north at their heart.


Topical Questions

T9.   The permanent closure of the Army and Navy flyover has created a transport emergency across Chelmsford and mid-Essex. Can the Minister confirm that officials from the Department for Transport are working at pace with Essex County Council and focusing every effort on developing, funding and delivering a long-term solution to this junction? [900141]

I am delighted to say that the noble Baroness Vere who deals with these issues and I met yesterday, and we both commend my hon. Friend for her leadership on this issue. This has been a very serious emergency situation, causing huge congestion in her part of the world, and we are determined to ensure that we get the solution right. That means not necessarily rebuilding what was there before, but getting a proper state-of-the-art solution.

After a widely supported and successful campaign against a relief road in Harrogate, the transport authority is now looking at a package of sustainable measures to take transport forward in the area. What support will the Government provide to North Yorkshire County Council and other such councils developing sustainable transport packages?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. We are currently in the midst of talking to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about a much more fundamental integration of housing and transport through the housing infrastructure fund. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to talk this through to make sure that it works for local places so that housing comes with proper transport.


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