Transport Questions

30th January 2020

George Freeman answers MPs questions to the Department for Transport.

George Freeman MP speaking at the dispatch box, Hosue of Commons, Jan 2020

Oxford-Cambridge Expressway

10. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of proposals for an Oxford-Cambridge expressway. [900510]

The Government are completely committed to the east-west innovation corridor, the arc, and the Varsity line—one of the most exciting pieces of corridor infrastructure in the country. We are committed to the rail link, and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced, we are looking closely at the business and sustainability case of the expressway.

I was pleased to hear the Minister reconfirm that a review will take place. Of course, that was finally agreed to in the heat of the election campaign, perhaps because of concerns that were heard about the expressway. It would be very helpful to understand the parameters of that review: when will it be taking place; who will be involved; and will local authorities and groups such as the No Expressway Group be invited? We really need to know about this if that promise of a review is to be a reality.

I am delighted to say that we are listening to all the representations that we have received. There will be an announcement coming very shortly. Let me reiterate that this is about our commitment to sustainable and integrated public transport with housing. That corridor is a vital housing and growth corridor and we want to make sure that it is sustainable transport that works for the benefit of the people who live there.

On infrastructure and paying in, we in Iver in Beaconsfield receive very little money for transport infrastructure. We would love to see our footpaths and our roads used, but we simply do not have the money coming in from bodies such as TfL. Will the Minister look into expanding investment in places like Iver, so that we can have an Iver relief road and actually get the south of Bucks moving again?

May I advise Members that their questions should be linked to the main question? If a certain area is specified, your questions are meant to be about that area. You cannot just have a free for all. Minister, if you can pick something out of that, please do so.

At a stretch, Mr Speaker, I think that Buckinghamshire touches the east-west corridor. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to look at a place-based solution for sustainable housing and transport.

Martin Tugwell of England’s Economic Heartland sub-national transport body described the expressway as a 20th century solution to a 21st century challenge. Is it not absolutely clear that the real answer is a public railway, an electrified railway, with an interchange with HS2?

The hon. Gentleman is bowling outside my off stump, but he knows that we are deeply committed to rail, to connectivity, and to sustainable transport. I cannot pre-empt the Secretary of State’s announcement on the expressway, but let me be very clear: we are committed to sustainable integration of housing with public transport, and that rail link is an absolute priority.

My constituents were very relieved when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited Verney Junction during the general election and said that there would be a priority review of the expressway. He gave a commitment that were the expressway to be cancelled, funds would be made available for improvements to existing roads. Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that, should it be cancelled, those funds will be available?

I am delighted to give an assurance that, were the expressway to be cancelled, we would absolutely recognise that significant investment in other and even more important road links in that corridor would be needed.

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Foot and Bicycle Journeys

11. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of journeys taken by (a) foot and (b) bicycle.[900511]

As the Minister for the future of transport, I am committed both to creating a framework for UK leadership in transport technology and innovation and to bolder measures for place-based cleaner, greener and healthier transport and decarbonisation. I am delighted that, as a result of the £2 billion that we invested during the previous Parliament, we have seen a 13% increase in cycling and walking, and we are committed to a 100% increase over this Parliament.

The Minister will be aware that transport accounts for a higher share of overall emissions than any other sector, so helping people to drive less and cycle more is crucial to tackling the climate crisis. We currently spent £7 per head on cycling infrastructure, but the Walking and Cycling Alliance recommends that we should be spending £17 per head on cycling infrastructure if we are serious about improving cycling. He will be aware that the Conservatives’ pledge to spend £350 million on cycling infrastructure actually reduced that spend to £1.18—[Interruption.]

Order. I call the Minister.

As the new Minister for the decarbonisation of transport, I can say that the Government are absolutely committed to this, and we have a cycling Prime Minister who is committed to it. We have announced £350 million for cycling infrastructure. As I have said, we are completely committed over this Parliament to doubling the number of people cycling and walking.

Walking and cycling have a vital role to play in easing congestion, cutting carbon emissions and helping people lead healthier lives, yet cycling and walking rates are flatlining in this country, and we are a very long way from Dutch or Danish rates. Interestingly, a report from University College London has criticised the Government for approving new housing developments that are dominated by roads and do not take account of pedestrians or cyclists. It found, quite simply, that three quarters of developments should not have been given planning permission because of the lack of safe cycling and walking routes. When will the Government address this important issue?

Right now—we already are addressing it. We are quite a long way from Denmark in all respects, but we are completely committed to this. It is true that for decades this country has not put cycling and walking at the heart of housing development—that was as true under the Labour Government as it has been over the past 40 years. We are committed to it, through the work we are doing with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with the housing infrastructure fund and our new single housing infrastructure fund. I am talking to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about how we can ensure that every housing development has proper cycling, walking and public transport integration. If we are to achieve our decarbonisation targets, we have to do this.

Cycling is extremely popular in my constituency of Ynys Môn, with its 125 miles of stunning coastline and unspoilt countryside. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are committed to doubling cycling by 2025, and what difference does he think the £350 million cycling infrastructure fund will make in achieving that?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for Ynys Môn. I can confirm that commitment, and she is right that it will have a big impact on cycling and walking.

Very complementary to cycling and walking are electric scooters, which are increasingly popular and commonplace in cities across the continent—they have just been legalised in Germany—yet they remain illegal in this country. Can we at last have a review to regularise the situation, because they are environmentally friendly and could make a huge contribution to reducing congestion, and it is a hip and cool thing to do?

Again, I seem to be a purveyor of good news. My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that as part of our innovation strategy we will shortly be announcing that we want to test scooters as part of a mixed economy for sustainable transport.

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Topical Questions

I welcome the fresh new approach of this Front-Bench team. Given the importance of sustainable transport and sustainable housing, do Ministers agree that building low-density housing on greenfield sites is bad for sustainable transport, bad for sustainable housing and bad for our environment, because it is so car-dependent, which is why so many of our constituents object?

I commend my hon. Friend on that point and his “Island Manifesto”, in which he makes that point. We are working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that we move the dial on much better integration of cycling, walking and public transport in new housing.

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Yesterday, Highways England published the latest plans for the proposed lower Thames crossing. In that set of plans, the proposal for a Tilbury junction, which would divert HGVs from my constituency road network, has been removed. Does the Minister agree that, if we are going to get a road that the community does not want, it is incumbent on Highways England to ensure that it works for us?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I would be delighted to meet her and the roads Minister, Baroness Vere, who is in the Gallery.

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I of course welcome any review of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway, but my constituents are worried that it is going to lead to more delays to improvements on the A34, in particular safety improvements and work on the Lodge Hill junction, which I understand is further delayed. Can the Minister reassure my constituents that there is no way any dither and delay on the Oxford to Cambridge expressway will affect improvements to the A34?

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The Secretary of State will be aware of the implications of his announcement a few minutes ago about the preferred route of East West Rail for housing growth in the east of my constituency. Will his Department commit to looking once again at realignment of the A1?

My hon. Friend has been active in making representations on this issue, which we hear loud and clear. Following the announcement, I look forward to talking to him, to councils, and to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the proper integration of housing, rail, and the A1 junction.

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My constituent, Marjorie Johnson, was badly injured when, as she crossed the road, a mobility scooter hit her full force. Seven months on, injuries to her legs still restrict her mobility. Because the scooter driver was not insured, no action has been taken against him. What will the Secretary of State do about that?

As part of the regulatory review of future mobility and mobility scooters, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to ensure that the issues involved in that case are properly addressed.

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