HS2 in Hansard 06/02/2013

England-Wales Transport Links

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting

be now adjourned.—(Mr Simon Burns.)

9.30 am

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): It is a privilege

to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Betts,

and to raise cross-border travel, which is critical for

Wales. It was the subject of two inquiries by the Select

Committee onWelsh Affairs in the previous Parliament,

and, as is so often the case with such inquiries, the issue

is now being revisited by the present Committee. The

Government will of course have the opportunity to

respond when we have agreed our report.

I shall not pre-empt that, but would mention one way

in which the reports are characterised: there has been a

lot of discussion of north Wales and south Wales

connectivity, quite rightly, but some colleagues may

empathise with me when I say that mid-Wales is often

lost in the debate. However, a few Select Committee

veterans are here amongmy hon. Friends and colleagues,

and others with border constituencies will no doubt

want to talk about the important issues of Severn

bridge tolls, First GreatWestern franchise arrangements

and the quest for electrification in north Wales. Should

I stray intermittently into devolved matters, I apologise

from the outset, but responsibility for transport is

fragmented, as our report of 2009 stated, and that

requires robust co-ordination between the Governments

at Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

The 2009 Select Committee report said that rail

“improvement schemes are too often only evaluated on their local

benefits”,

that we require greater co-ordination of rail franchises

and that we have seen

“a general failure to predict increases in passenger demand

and…insufficient rolling stock is available on certain routes particularly

at busy times.”

Those, certainly, are characteristics of the debate about

the rail line that ends inmy constituency in Aberystwyth

and passes through that of the hon. Member for

Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies).

Arriva Trains Wales operates the Cambrian coast

line service between Birmingham International and

Aberystwyth. The absence of an hourly service across

mid-Wales is not merely a parochial matter, nor is the

loss of a direct service between Aberystwyth and London

some 20 years ago. The economic benefits of connectivity,

for the movement of people and of goods and services,

should not be understated. The town of Aberystwyth

has strategic significance. We do not hear much about

the mid-Wales corridor. We hear a lot about the A55

and the M4 corridor, but there is a mid-Wales corridor,

and the Select Committee made that point in another of

our many inquiries—we are a very busy Committee—into

inward investment:

“We are concerned by evidence that the quality of transport

links in Mid and North Wales and the connectivity between the

rest of Wales and England deters overseas investment in parts of

Wales.”

Part of that debate is about roads, and colleagues may

want to talk about that, but I want to discuss rail and

my belief that mid-Wales is being held back, which is

why arrangements across the border are so critical. The

local perception is that we have a second-rate service.

That is not always a failure of the franchisee. Sometimes,

it is a failure of political will and opportunity.

My enthusiasm on the matter led me to suggest to the

Select Committee Chair that not only should we take

evidence on transport matters in Aberystwyth, but we

should travel there by train. Not all members of the

Committeewere brave enough to experience that, although

some were. I salute the hon. Members for Carmarthen

East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) and for Swansea

East (Mrs James), for their support in travelling by train.

I could have written a soap opera script.We left Euston

on time, to embark on our journey of four hours and

40 minutes. It was regrettable that that was compounded

by a two-hour wait at Birmingham International station,

as we missed the connection. There are limits on what

one can do for two hours at Birmingham International

station.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South

Pembrokeshire) (Con):Aword of advice: go toPaddington.

It is much easier to get to Aberystwyth from there.

Mr Williams: Sadly, in my constituency, people then

have to contend with the roads—I live in the north of

Ceredigion. I enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of

the hon. Members for Swansea East and for Carmarthen

East and Dinefwr, but two hours sitting there waiting is

a trial in many ways.

In evidence to the Select Committee, Passenger Focus

“identified inter-franchise connections as one of the main sources

of dissatisfaction with cross-border services amongst passengers.”

The report was produced in 2009, under the previous

Government, so perhaps the Minister can give some

good news now, but we concluded:

“At present, there is no incentive for different train operating

companies to provide connecting services or to ensure that connections

are maintained when there are delays.”

When we finally got on our train, the journey continued

to Machynlleth, in Powys. There we had the spectacle of

the four carriages being reduced to two, and passengers

scurrying from the back of the train to the front, to get

into carriages to Aberystwyth; otherwise they would

risk a prolonged although scenic journey—but it was

getting late—up to Pwllheli. Those are the realities of

the service that my constituents must use.

There has, overall, in the generality of Wales, been

progress since the report was produced, not least because

of the coalition Government’s commitment to rail

electrification in southWales. That is commendable and

necessary, and progress is being made, for which I

commend the Government. A debate is emerging on

rail electrification in north Wales—the arrival in the

Chamber of the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto

Bebb) is timely, as is this important debate. The Assembly

Minister announced in January that he will draw up a

business case for that, and I look forward to hearing

from the Minister about the liaison and discussion

73WH 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 74WH

[Mr Mark Williams]

between theGovernment andAssembly Ministers.However,

the lack of an hourly service in mid-Wales and the twohour

wait between trains across mid-Wales is not simply

a matter of mild inconvenience. It is an impediment to

the area’s growth.

During its inquiry on inward investment, the Welsh

Affairs Committee heard fromProfessor Stuart Cole, of

the university of Glamorgan, that

“if Wales was to compete successfully with countries in Eastern

Europe, its transport facilities had to be able to help overcome the

cost differentials and distances from these markets by becoming

ultra-efficient and influence competitiveness for inward investment”.

If that is a message for Wales as a whole, it is a very

poignant one for mid-Wales. We heard from UK Trade

and Investment officials, who said that the current

transport infrastructure inWales could act as a potential

deterrent to investors.We need to make sure that existing

businesses and manufacturers are not hamstrung by

any impediment such as lack of development of the

transport network. The pressures that that could put on

the tourism sector and the all-important higher education

sector in my constituency are something that I reflect

on. The Wales Tourism Alliance has said:

“If we are to succeed, we must get visitors, the lifeblood of the

economies of Wales, into each and every corner of our country.

At present internally and cross border we simply do not have the

transport infrastructure to deliver the economic potential of

many of our leading destinations.”

I contend—surprise, surprise—that many of those

destinations are on the west Wales coast.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr)

(PC): The hon. Gentleman is talking about the historic

under-investment in transport inWales. If High Speed 2

—essentially an England-only railway—goes ahead

and given that, despite the fact that transport is not

actually devolved, Crossrail resulted in a 100% Barnett

consequential, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a

Barnett consequential for HS2 investment is essential,

so that theWelsh transport infrastructure can keep pace

with developments in England?

Mr Williams: I welcome that intervention. If the hon.

Gentleman will allow me, I shall come on to that point

becauseHS2is of great interest tomany of our constituents.

This is a historic debate. Seven years ago the National

Assembly’s development committee heard evidence from

the mid-Wales manufacturing group in Newtown. At

the top of its list of key requirements for businesses to

flourish were improved roads, rail and broadband. I

would give five out of 10 for broadband but fewer

marks out of 10 on rail.

What we need—there is a role for both Governments

in this—is a stimulus that supports growth and creates

a dynamic transport network in Wales. Much of the

debate is internal and the exclusive responsibility of our

National Assembly Government, but while that is

appropriate, the fact that 16.4 million people live within

50 miles of the border makes cross-border services vital.

Over the years of the rail franchise, we have seen strong

development in that area, with Arriva Trains Wales

reporting growth in its cross-border services of typically

between 8% and 13%. On the Cambrian main line, which

is a primary cross-border route connecting Aberystwyth

to Shrewsbury and beyond, 900,000 journeys are made

every year, and the average loading—I hesitate to use

the word load to describe passengers, but it feels a bit

like that sometimes—is about 125 passengers, which is

slightly higher than theUKaverage. Although I appreciate

that, in the current economic climate, there are great

constraints on theGovernments inCardiff andWestminster,

small, limited enhancements could bring genuine benefits

to the community.

I will start with the modest aspirations. SARPA, the

Shrewsbury-Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association,

has called for the improved utilisation of rolling stock

resources, which could bring improvements to the service

at minimal increased cost. Dealing with commuter trains

in and out of Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth would be a

good start. For example, at Shrewsbury, there is an early

arrival from Aberystwyth at 7.11 am, but the next train

arrives at 9.25 am, which does not make sense for the

many people who need to get to work or college by

9 am. There is a lot of demand for travel to and from

Shrewsbury for job opportunities, further education

and medical services that are not readily available in

mid-Wales, but the current timetable does not serve that

demand effectively. Since privatisation, franchise holders

have been instructed by the passenger service requirement

to run trains with a two-hour frequency. Operators have

happily taken the subsidy offered, but little thought

seems to have been given by the franchisee to providing

a service that reflects the demand for travel across the

border.

I acknowledged at the start of my speech that transport

policy is fragmented between the AssemblyGovernment

and the UK Department for Transport, but I know that

there is a healthy dialogue between the Welsh and UK

Departments because the Minister convinced me of

thatwhen I questioned him in theWelsh Affairs Committee.

We also took evidence in Aberystwyth from the Welsh

Minister Carl Sargeant, who spoke of an emerging

much more positive relationship, so I know that to be

the case.

Network Rail is, however, the responsibility of the

Department for Transport. I salute the work of its

Welsh division—the very fact that we have a Welsh

division is an important message for those of us who

believe in devolution. Network Rail has undertaken

extensive infrastructure work, including the building of

passing loops on our line, and we acted as guinea pigs

for the development of the European rail traffic

management system—the new signalling system that

will be rolled out across Great Britain.

I am interested, however, in the Minister’s view on

why we still do not have the hourly service. I do not

want to damage his relationship with Mr Carl Sargeant,

but does he regret, as I do, the apparent lack of will at

Cardiff ? There has been promise after promise after

promise. Since 1999, we have been told that we will have

our hourly service, and we have now been told that, as

we do not figure sufficiently high in the priorities, we

will have to wait until 2015. The service would plug an

important gap in the timetable and make genuine

commuting opportunities possible across mid-Wales.

At the same time, the Welsh Government have tried

to kick-start a market between north and south Wales,

with 10 services between Cardiff and north Wales and

lower passenger numbers, and many argue that the

route could effectively be served by three or four trains,

75WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 76WH

rather than the 10 that it enjoys. An hourly service is a

modest aspiration. We have been promised it before,

and I hope we can push further for it following this

debate.

There is a more ambitious proposal for train services

in and out of mid-Wales and to London, which is the

re-establishment of a direct service between Aberystwyth

and London. Three years ago, we faced more

disappointment when the Office of Rail Regulation

threw out Arriva Trains Wales’s bid to develop the

direct service. I declare an interest: I spend up to 10 hours

a week on the train, somewhere between London and

Aberystwyth. I have rarely driven here. My wife used to

be an employee of Arriva Trains Wales—and a very

good job she did, too. Arriva Trains Wales’s bid was an

attempt to right a wrong that had emanated from

privatisation legislation, which had meant the withdrawal

by the successors to British Rail of a direct link to the

capital.

In 2010, Arriva Trains Wales’s bid for a twice-daily

service to London Marylebonewas rejected. The company

stated that the bid would unlock the potential of the

mid-Wales rail market and bring it in line—that was

music to my ears—with that of south and north Wales.

It proposed to route a line for the direct service via

Shrewsbury and Birmingham International, and the

latter is important because many of my constituents

and those who live in other parts of mid-Wales use the

airport there; it is the airport formid-Wales. The proposed

service would have continued through Banbury, West

Ruislip andWembley to London Marylebone, and plans

were drawn up for timetabling and rolling stock. The

Office of Rail Regulation gave as its reason for rejecting

the bid a concern about the “financial viability” of the

new service. There were concerns about the abstraction

of revenue fromthe sadly nowformerWrexham, Shropshire

and Marylebone Railway Company, and there were

concerns from Chiltern Railways.

I well remember nearly 30 years ago InterCity 125s

leaving Aberystwyth at 7 am. It was not exactly robust

commuter traffic on a daily basis, but it sent an important

signal of connectivity from a peripheral area to the rest

of the country. I also remember freight being delivered

on that service to Aberystwyth. I am flying the kite to

the Minister, resurrecting the ghost of that service, in

the expectation that he can help us, and that the Minister

at Cardiff Bay is listening, too. We should at least

explore the possibility of a direct service once again,

and I hope that the Department for Transport and the

Assembly Government will look favourably on that.

The consequences of the rejection of the Arriva Trains

Wales bid has been that, since 1991, Aberystwyth is one

of the few towns in Britain left without a direct link to

the capital.

I want just to touch on two other things; I know that

colleagues want to talk about issues that affect their

localities. In 2018, the ArrivaWales franchise will be up

for renewal, so can the Minister clarify who has ultimate

responsibility for arrival at the new franchise? Can he

confirmthat there are two signatures on the documentation

for it? Or, is it the sole responsibility of our Assembly

Government? Either way, the matters will, I am sure, be

part of the Silk commission’s work when we look at the

devolution of responsibility. Clarity about rail franchises

will be considered as Paul Silk embarks on part 2 of his

inquiry into further powers.

I also want to talk about the historical matter of the

initial subsidy agreement, which was not signed under

the Minister’s watch, between the then Strategic Rail

Authority and ArrivaTrainsWales. Therewas an agreement

for a one-year subsidy of £120 million, which would

reduce over the 15 years of the franchise to less than

£100 million. TheWelsh Assembly Government, rightly

within their remit, have decided to pursue a positive

policy, including increasing train lengths, acquiring new

trains and extending platforms, but I just wish we could

see a bit more of the money in mid-Wales.

The policy resulted in the subsidy increasing, in 2012,

to £140 million, and it has been suggested by some,

including our Select Committee, that some of the problems

with congestion and overcrowding are the result of

inadequate modelling of predictions for growth in the

industry. The Select Committee concluded in its 2009

report that

“overcrowding is the result of poorly designed franchises which

paid no heed to industry forecasts for passenger growth.”

Consequently, the Government in Wales are paying for

investment. Some have suggested that Wales is being

short-changed.

Many people I talk to have a wrong perception that

HS2 will directly affect train travel in and out of Wales.

HS2 will have an effect. Perhaps if we get the electrification

that we all want in north Wales, it will have a positive

effect on travel. I am dispelling a perception in my

constituency that, somehow, we might step off a slow

Arriva Trains Wales train somewhere in Birmingham

and hop on to a fast train and head off down to

London with 40 minutes taken off our journey. Of

course, that is not the reality, which leads me to question

the benefits that will accrue to large parts of Wales. The

hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr made

a point about the scheme’s possible Barnett consequences.

I could go on at great length. The debate is as broad

as the border is long. I could talk about so many issues,

but I am keen to flag up one persistent problem: the

more we talk about north Wales and south Wales, the

more our constituents in mid-Wales say that we are

somehow being short-changed. We are not getting the

service that we need, not just for those daily trips in and

out of Shrewsbury to do some shopping at Marks and

Spencer, but to access the services that we require to

develop our area economically.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I appreciate the hon.

Gentleman’s comments on north Wales, south Wales

and the exclusion of mid-Wales, but does he recognise,

for example, the Conwy Valley railway line in my

constituency? The line links to Meirionnydd, which I

define as being in mid-Wales. One of the key issues for

the Conwy Valley railway line is that timetabling means

someone leaving Blaenau Ffestiniog on the 7 o’clock

train to Llandudno junction will miss the trains to

Chester and London by four minutes. Is timetabling not

part of better servicing mid-Wales?

Mr Williams: I commend the hon. Gentleman on his

arrival. I am not sure whether he was here when I talked

about timetabling. Franchise arrangements are slightly

different in that instance, but there is a need for franchise

agreements to ensure synergy between timetables, because

77WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 78WH

[Mr Mark Williams]

one of my constituents’ persistent complaints is that we

do not have the integrated approach that he and I both

want.

I have used this at the end of many debates onWales,

and I say “chwarae teg” for trains in mid-Wales.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Seven hon. Members

want to speak. If I allow 10 minutes for the wind-ups,

there is a maximum of seven minutes for everyone who

speaks. I cannot enforce the guideline, which is advisory,

but it would be helpful if Members kept to it.

9.52 am

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Well done to

the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for

securing this debate. I am sorry that I was unable to be

on his marathon six-hour train journey, but he has

made a persuasive case for mid-Wales, and I amsure the

Minister is listening. I also thank him for giving us an

opportunity to lobby on other transport matters. As a

south Wales MP, I will address the Severn bridge tolls

and rail, which he has already mentioned.

The Severn bridge tolls are a thorny issue. A Wales

Office Minister recently told me that reports commissioned

on the impact of the tolls on Wales gave a mixed

picture. He may well say that, but constituents and

businesses tell me loud and clear how hard they find

absorbing the increased tolls each year when their pay is

frozen, their hours are reduced and the cost of living is

rising. I am aware of their misery, because it is a major

local issue about which I am contacted as an MP.

Businesses, particularly those in the haulage industry,

say the tolls mean they bear a cost that competitors

across the bridge do not and that they have to add that

cost to their bottom line,which hits their competitiveness.

AWelsh Assembly study, about which the Minister may

be aware, shows that scrapping the tolls altogether

would improve the economic output of south Wales by

some £107 million.

For many, the light at the end of the tunnel is the end

of the concession in a few years’ time. I say a few years’

time, because every time someone ventures to say the

concession will end on a certain date, the duration of

the concession lengthens, which is worrying to say the

least. That is mild: I think the concession is becoming a

farce. In 2005, the concession would end in 2016; last

year, it was 2017; and it now appears to be shifting to

the end of 2018. Will the Minister confirm his current

estimate?

The first reason given for extending the concession

was reduced traffic due to the downturn; then it was the

cost of installing the card-handling system, then industrial

building allowances and then higher VAT. Now, because

the concession may well extend beyond 2018 into 2020,

we have the mystery debt from the construction of the

bridges, about which another Minister wrote to the

Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and which might

push the date further into the future. The announcement

in December obtained by the Chair of theWelsh Affairs

Committee, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David

T. C. Davies), was news to all of us on the Committee.

The information was never mentioned in our recently

completed inquiry. Will the Minister explain how the

debt came about and why we were never told of it?

That highlights the problem with the concession. I

note that Ministers have recently been using the Severn

bridge concession as an example of why private companies’

investing to improve our roads, with motorists paying

tolls, is a good idea. I have heard Ministers say on the

radio and on television that there are tolls on the M6.

Well, I think that the Severn bridge concession is a

terrible example. The concession, fixed by law years

ago, allows the company to whack up the tolls every

year until it reaches its target. The toll is completely

inflexible, as we saw when there were calls to accept

debit and credit card payments. Help for regular users,

off-peak travel for businesses and the ability for car

sharers to share the tab are all too difficult for the

concessionaires who just care about getting the revenue.

Calls from customers for any sort of flexibility fall on

deaf ears, and the motorist yet again gets stung, with no

protection when times are hard, as they are now.

We need something to look forward to when the

concession ends. There is a niggling fear that the Treasury

sees the bridges as a useful revenue stream after 2017,

2018 or 2019, or whenever the concession ends, and is

looking to bank in advance the anticipated revenue

from the bridge tolls. Will the Minister please tell me

that is not the case?

We need to know what discussions are taking place

and whether the Department is engaging with the issue

now, rather than waiting until the last minute. Crucially,

we need to know that not only reduced tolls, but other

creative ideas such as reductions for regular users and

off-peak travel for businesses are being considered.

Jonathan Edwards: Does the hon. Lady agree that, on

the announcement we heard in evidence to the Welsh

Affairs Committee that the UK Government intend to

continue the tolls at their current level, following the

return to public ownership because of a previously

undisclosed debt, the general impression in Wales is

that the UK Government are fleecing Welsh motorists?

Jessica Morden: I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Obviously, theWelsh Assembly has expressed an interest

in running the bridges when the concession ends, and I

would be happy with that, as I suspect would many of

my constituents, if it pledges in advance to reduce the

tolls. It would be helpful if the Minister told us what

discussions are ongoing with the Welsh Assembly

Government.

The Severn tolls are the highest in the UK. It is true

that we have to pay the tolls because the bridges had to

be built, but the situation is now out of control. The

Government stepped in for the Humber bridge and the

Dartford crossing, and they ought to do the same for

the Severn bridges and give us some reassurance for the

future.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I agree with my

hon. Friend that the Severn bridge in south-east Wales

is seen as an opportunity for the company to fleece

motorists. Is the toll not also a real economic difficulty

that places the Welsh lorry and logistics industries at a

competitive disadvantage?

Jessica Morden: I agree with my hon. Friend. The

logistics and haulage industries, many of which are

based in our constituencies, are hit hard by the toll

because they cannot pass on the extra costs that their

competitors do not bear.

79WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 80WH

On train connectivity, many of my constituents travel

to work in places such as Bristol. Constituents at the

Monmouth end of Newport East have for years faced

ill-thought-out connections, which the hon. Member

for Ceredigion mentioned, and a decline in the number

of train services stopping from places such as Severn

Tunnel Junction. A local campaign group, the Severn

tunnel action group, have fought a tremendous and

successful campaign to bring back many of the services

that that station lost. The group has highlighted the

local demand for commuter services. The station’s footfall

has increased substantially recently—by about 14%—and

it is ideally placed to be a major park-and-ride station,

with investment.

Even after winning back services that were due to be

axed, STAG pointed out that the station’s potential was

not being fully realised. STAGhighlighted the ill-thoughtout

timetable, which failed to recognise the importance

of connecting commuter trains to services coming from

places such as Lydney, Chepstow and Caldicot. For

example, Arriva Trains Wales eliminated a service at

Severn Tunnel Junction that connected to the First

Great Western service and that STAG had negotiated

and won back only six months earlier. The replacement

Arriva cross-country service leaves SevernTunnel Junction

just minutes before the First Great Western service

arrives, so passengers must wait hours for connecting

trains, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned.

That is not acceptable. Moreover, peak trains are often

so full that passengers must stand for the whole journey

or wait a few hours until the next one.

All those factors, particularly cross-border connectivity,

put commuters off local train services. I ask the Minister

to bear those points in mind when he talks to train

operators, and perhaps to agree to meet the Severn

tunnel action group—a fantastic example of a local

group campaigning for rail services.

10.1 am

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): It is a pleasure

to serve under your guidance, Mr Betts. I congratulate

my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (MrWilliams)

on securing this debate on a matter that is of huge

interest to me and has been for most of my adult life. I

want to address specifically howwe deal with cross-border

links in a devolved United Kingdom. It is not just

because my constituency is Montgomeryshire; I worked

for a long time to develop the economy in mid-Wales

with my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and

Radnorshire (Roger Williams), and one part of the

strategy thatwe always knewwas importantwas transport

links. It was much more important for mid-Wales to

have a link out than it is for England to have a link in,

which lies at the root of the problem.

I was going to talk about road links, particularly two

specific ones, but as my hon. Friend the Member for

Ceredigion mentioned rail links, I should say howimportant

they are as well. When we discussed the Aberystwyth-

Euston link, it was part of an initiative that we in

mid-Wales developed. We got every organisation there

to come together in a partnership and invest in the

Cambrian line, because it was so important to us.

Although we have lost the Aber link, we hope that the

Shrewsbury-Euston link will be restored soon. I hope

that the Minister will reconfirm the position on that; we

have been left feeling optimistic about it.

The hourly service that we all desperately want is now

in the lap of the National Assembly for Wales. The

investment in the line has been made; it now just needs

extra investment in the infrastructure—the trains and

the cost of the line. I am hopeful that it will happen at

some stage. It has been delayed, because there is cost

pressure on all forms of Government, including the

Welsh Government, but I amhopeful that it will happen

before too long.

The Shrewsbury-Euston line is important. Clearly,

we would like the line to go to Aberystwyth, but the

Shrewsbury line is key because Shrewsbury is so accessible

to us. If we were confident in that line, there would be

investment in car parking. Particularly as the prison in

Shrewsbury is closing, I can see opportunities for that

station to become a key station for mid-Wales, but the

link to Euston is important. The newly renegotiated

Virgin contract may deliver that.

Road links are hugely important to us in mid-Wales,

and there are two that I want to speak about. One is

called the Middletown bypass; it is actually the connection

betweenWelshpool and the improved road to Shrewsbury.

I am talking about half the length of that road. The

same principle applies to the Llanymynech-Pant bypass,

but it is much further down the pecking order, so I will

base my points on the Middletown bypass.

When I was involved in developing the economy in

mid-Wales in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the bypass

was a key part, and we thought we had secured it. Then

an Act was introduced relating to protecting the badger

population, and it was suddenly found that the agreed

line, which would almost certainly have gone ahead, ran

through a badger sett, which delayed things at a key

time in the early 1990s. The Government then, like the

current Government, needed to cut expenditure, and

there was a bit of a fashion to be anti-roads. At that

stage, the scheme slipped back and back, although it

has been resurrected since then.

The Assembly Government are enthusiastic to proceed

with their part of the scheme, and would make the

commitment. I do not know the exact figures, but the

road scheme would probably cost about £30 million.

TheWelsh Governmentwould commit about £25 million,

and the Highways Agency over the border would commit

about £5 million. TheWelsh Government want to do it,

but the Highways Agency has no priority whatever to

come intoWales. There is no economic benefit, and any

cost-benefit analysis will give it no priority, so the

scheme cannot go ahead.

As a consequence of devolution, cross-border schemes

—not just in mid-Wales; I think that there are four or

five—have simply been put on the back burner, and

there is no prospect that they will ever proceed. That is a

massive blow to mid-Wales, because we need that road

out. Anybody who has travelled from Welshpool to

Wollaston Cross knows that it is the most appalling

road. Drivers settle in to travel at 30 or 40 mph, because

that is the way it is; they get stuck behind lorries they

cannot overtake. That is not acceptable. The whole

economy depends on it.

We need the Government atWestminster to recognise

that it is not just the cost-benefit analysis for the west

midlands that counts; Westminster must consider the

impact in Wales. That applies to every single devolved

service. If we do not consider the impact on Wales,

81WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 82WH

[Glyn Davies]

although we do not have a direct responsibility, the

post-devolution United Kingdom cannot operate with

anything like the fairness or efficiency that it should.

The same issue applies to the Llanymynech-Pant

bypass. That scheme is further down the pecking order,

but it has been seriously considered in the past. The

bulk of that scheme is in England, so I can see why the

issue will be much more difficult to resolve. Again, the

west midlands body will consider that scheme, as it has

done, and put it right down the list. There is a big local

campaign—I have been to public meetings—because

anyone who travels through Pant and Llanymynech can

see that it is not a modern highway. It attaches to the

road to Manchester and Liverpool and the north of

England, which is crucial to the economy. It is not good

enough.

We have cross-border links, but devolved Britain—

nobody is more committed than I am to a devolved

Britain that works—works negatively in terms of crossborder

roads. We must address that, not just from the

Welsh side but from the English side. We all want

devolution towork.Wewant a countrywhose governance

operateswell and efficiently, so thatwe can feel comfortable

with it, but in mid-Wales—certainly among those who

depend on its economy or are trying to create jobs

there—we are furious. It is one of the biggest negatives

about devolution that could possibly be created, and I

think it will get worse. I hope that the Minister has

heard the points that I have made and will not only

address them today but ensure that they become part of

the Government’s thinking.

10.8 am

Nick Smith (BlaenauGwent) (Lab): I, too, congratulate

the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on

securing this important debate. I know that the Welsh

Affairs Committee reviewed this key issue recently, and

doubtless will return to it.

Good transport links are a crucial part of the

infrastructure needed to support economic regeneration

in Blaenau Gwent, which is one of the most deprived

county boroughs in the UK, with 24% worklessness and

17% youth unemployment, twice theWales average.We

are high in the league tables for deprivation. Having

said that, in recent years, we have received investment in

major transport projects that have made our valleys

communities much more accessible. For example,

considerable progress has been made in dualling the

A465 to improve regional and national connectivity.

The Tredegar to Merthyr section of the A465 is terrific,

and the Cwm bypass is a big success as well. In recent

years, the hourly train service from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff

has been a stellar success. However, an hourly service is

not good enough.

This progress has enabled access to the perhaps underrecognised

advantages of BlaenauGwent of an attractive

environment—we have the Brecon Beacons national

park on our doorstep—and proximity to the urban

centres of Newport, Cardiff, and Swansea in Wales

and, importantly, to our east, Birmingham and Bristol.

We have goodish access to the M4 and, to help our

economy,we retain significant capability in manufacturing.

These geographical advantages see us well placed to

take the opportunities that improved cross-border transport

could bring. It is helpful that the designation of Ebbw

Vale as an enterprise zone specialising in manufacturing

offers us new investment potential. Already, private

sector developers want to site a world-class motor sport

development in the area. That is exciting. Connectivity

to markets in the midlands and south Wales, and on

into London, is an important element of those developers’

investment plans.However, given our economic challenges,

much more still needs to be done on transport connectivity.

Lille in France is often cited as a town with a similar

history of reliance on heavy industry and of decline,

comparable with areas in south-east Wales, such as

Blaenau Gwent. A high-speed rail link has boosted the

regeneration of Lille and I think that similar good

transport links could help south-east Wales and our

valleys, too.

Last Easter, the Secretary of State for Transport was

considering proposals for the electrification of the valley

lines. I spoke to commuters on the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff

line, to hear what they thought of existing services but

also to find out their ambitions for future services. Over

a two-week period during the Easter holidays,we surveyed

350 passengers and gained in-depth knowledge of their

concerns and ideas for improvement. Unsurprisingly,

almost 70% of passengers supported electrification. I

welcome the Government’s confirmation last year that

all the valley lines will be electrified—that is important

to the eastern valleys. However, the job now is to ensure

a completion date, rather than a start date, of 2019. I

hope that the Minister will confirm that date later in the

debate.

Although a majority of my local commuters value

their current service, they want a more frequent service,

which I hope electrification will deliver. This will really

open up our valley towns.However, there is also support—

important in this debate—for extending electrification

to Newport and then on to Bristol. Many respondents

thought this a good idea.

Recently, I spoke to constituents who have a car club

and together travel every day to the Ministry of Defence

facility at Abbey Wood, near Bristol. Bristol now has

enterprise zone status, focusing on creative and technological

industries. People from south-east Wales may want to

take higher-paid job opportunities, which would be

available if commuting was made feasible.

The nub of the matter is that we need through trains

or improved links through to south-west England from

southWales; that is crucial for the economy of Blaenau

Gwent and the eastern valleys.

I hope that the Welsh Government, the South-East

Wales Transport Alliance, neighbouring English local

authorities—it is a shame there are not more English

Members from the other side of the Severn here—and

the Department for Transport will all work together, to

deliver the accessible, sustainable and integrated transport

system that Blaenau Gwent and all our communities on

the Welsh-English border deserve.

10.13 am

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is

a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts.

I congratulatemy hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion

(Mr Williams) on calling this important debate. It is a

83WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 84WH

privilege to have a UK Minister with responsibility for

transport, particularly in England, here to respond to

points that we make about our connectivity across the

border.

The issue is especially relevant to my constituents, as

Brecon and Radnorshire covers almost a third of the

Welsh border with England but is relatively poorly

served by transport connections between the two countries.

The A44 and A438 are key east-west routes connecting

Leominster in the north of Herefordshire to Rhayader,

and Hereford with Brecon. It is always a bit of a

disadvantage for me to follow my hon. Friend the

Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), because

he makes many of the points that I would like to make.

However, I should like to reinforce those points.

These trunk roads are the busiest in my constituency

and are managed by the Welsh Assembly Government

through a partnership between Powys and Ceredigion

county councils, but they still require an input and

funding from the English Highways Agency, tomaximise

the benefits of any improvements that are to be made.

That can be a problem, as I have highlighted before with

my Assembly colleague, KirstyWilliams, because priorities

in England are continually focused on the larger

conurbations. Consequently, priorities do not match up

and inputs and funding are inadequate to make changes

that are essential for road safety and making general

improvements to our economic development.

The A483 Pant to Llanymynech bypass scheme was

considered by the West Midlands Regional Transport

Board as part of the regional prioritisation in 2006, in

which the region considered the relative priority of

major schemes in the region. The board advised that

this scheme was a low priority due to its low cost-benefit

score and the modest contributions it was thought to

make towards economic development and housing in

the area. Following the decision of the West Midlands

Regional Transport Board in 2006, the scheme was

reviewed to assess whether its cost could be reduced

while maintaining a substantial proportion of its benefits.

However, due to the route’s not being deemed a priority,

that study concluded that possible small-scale solutions

along the route would still offer poor value for money.

Consequently, the Highways Agency was instructed by

the Minister to stop developing the scheme altogether

and that it could be revisited in future only if the West

Midlands Regional Transport Board decided that it was

a priority.Finally, inMay 2012, theGovernment announced

a series of schemes that would be developed to enable

potential construction in the next spending review. This

scheme was not selected and no work is currently being

undertaken by the Highways Agency.

The A40, which travels through my constituency and

forms a section of the unsigned Euroroute E30, has

been described by the Welsh Assembly Government as

“one of the lowest standard sections of the Trans European Road

Network in the United Kingdom”,

because of prioritisation discrepancies between England

and Wales.

We still require a reciprocal agreement between England

andWales on bus passes.At the moment,Welsh residents

can travel only on buses that start or finish their journey

in Wales—likewise, English passengers. For example,

consider passengers on a bus journey from Hay-on-Wye

to Hereford. Hay is intersected by the Herefordshire

border, which is also theWales-England border, but due

to bus passes being issued by Powys county council in

Wales, those passengers are not able to travel to Hereford

without being charged a small fee for doing so.

For many the bus is a lifeline, not only in respect of

health, but for those who need to travel for specialist

treatment and for jobs, and suchlike, in Hereford and

Shrewsbury.My colleague in theWelsh Assembly, Kirsty

Williams, inquired into this matter in 2010, asking

Ieuan Wyn Jones, then Minister with responsibility:

“Will the Minister make a statement on what discussions he

has had recentlywith theUKGovernment and ScottishGovernment

about the harmonisation of the concessionary bus pass schemes

in England, Scotland and Wales across the United Kingdom?”

Ieuan Wyn Jones answered:

“I have had no recent discussions with UK and Scottish

Government Ministers about the harmonisation of concessionary

bus travel schemes across the UK.”

I ask the Minister, have there been any discussions on

this important matter?

Turning briefly to rail matters, my hon. Friend the

Member for Ceredigion stressed the need for better

train services. I amdelighted thatNetworkRail’s 10-year,

£1 billion modernisation plan for Wales’s somewhat

antiquated line is about to take place, and the £220 million

electrification of the valleys line will bring a lot of

benefit, but we need to make a start on the electrification

of the London to Cardiff line, which will also reduce

journey times to Swansea. I am pleased to see the

inclusion of a scheme to re-signal the critical Marches

route between Newport and Shrewsbury, which will

provide train companies with the ability to run more

frequent and faster trains between north and south

Wales, serving a number of my constituents. I am by no

means calling for a reversal of Dr Beeching’s axe of

1963, but the reshaping of the rail network inWales will

still leave large towns inmy constituency, such as Brecon

and Ystradgynlais, without any connection. People from

those towns will have to travel 20 miles to reach a

railway station.

I amsometimes told that the people living in Painscastle

and Rhosgoch in my constituency take longer to get to

New York than anyone living in any other part of the

UK. Isolation and peripherality—if that is a word—are

not only a perception for the people I represent, but a

reality. Small changes, however, couldmake a real difference

to their lives.

10.21 am

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Thank you for

calling me, Mr Betts, and I thank the hon. Member for

Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for introducing the debate.

He focused on some important issues for his constituency,

and I intend to focus on important issues for mine,

which need to be addressed by the Government.

North-eastWales is adjacent to England and we form

part of the powerhouse economy of the United Kingdom.

We have some big businesses in my part of the world—

Airbus, steel, paper and tourism—and my constituents

work in those areas and depend on such jobs, but they

alsowork in England, in places such as Chester,Liverpool,

Manchester and Ellesmere Port. The cross-border

connectivity inmy part of the world is not a north-south

issue, but an east-west one. That east-west link is vital

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[Mr David Hanson]

for the development of jobs and services and of the

economy of our area. In the short time available, I want

to focus the Minister on four particular matters.

First, rail electrification for northWales is an important,

long-standing issue, and, to give the Government some

credit, the Secretary of State for Wales is looking at it.

My colleague, Carl Sargeant, who represents Alyn and

Deeside in the Assembly and who the Minister knows

well from previous travel to the area, is now the Welsh

Assembly Transport Minister.He is developing a business

case for the electrification of the north Wales main

railway line. It will be a robust case that emphasises the

social, economic and public benefits. I want the Minister

to place on record where the Government are on the

business case for electrification. What is the time scale?

What co-operation and discussions are there with the

Welsh Assembly on the electrification business case?

How can we start to put it on the table as part of the

wider discussions of rail development in north Wales?

We have good rail links to my part of the world. Over

the past 15 years, we have improved the rail service to

north Wales, but we still need to develop electrification

to bring tourists and business to north Wales, and to

ensure that we have a better, more environmentally

friendly rail service in the area. That ismy first challenge

to the Minister.

Secondly, how does rail electrification fit with High

Speed 2? I want to place on the record my support for

HS2, which will bring speedier links to the north as a

whole—north-west and north-east. In particular, I want

to hear the Minister’s view on how to ensure connectivity

at Crewe. He is planning, as part of HS2, a development

at Crewe, which will be a major hub for north-west

England and will improve links to Manchester airport.

I put it to him that there is also potential to improve

links to north Wales, speeding the traffic there and

providing northWales with a speedier link to Manchester

airport, our nearest major airport hub. That needs to be

looked at as part of the long-term development of HS2.

I would welcome some genuine engagement with the

Minister on such issues.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport

(Mr Simon Burns): The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely

right. HS2 in its existing spine form up the centre of

England will bring improvements to people in north

and mid-Wales through connections from the various

parts of Wales to Birmingham and to Crewe. HS2 is a

spine at the moment, but there is nothing to stop spurs

running off it—given a business case, a justification and

a need—to northWales, southWales, the south-west of

England or wherever the demand is.

MrHanson: I amgrateful for theMinister’s contribution.

In the spirit of a cross-party wish to improve transport

links—HS2was discussed under the previousGovernment

—I want the benefits of that valuable north-south link

to be extended, so we can look at how to achieve

connectivity with the potentially electrified northWales

line and with a better spine from Crewe, including links

to Manchester airport, so that my constituents get a

speedier train route to the airport through the HS2

development, which many people inmy area, businesses

and others, would welcome.

I live in the town of Flint, where the main link station

is on the north Wales line in my constituency, and the

towncouncil is very concerned to support rail electrification

and to look at the benefits of HS2. I will report back to

the council on the Minister’s encouragement. We will

look at how to work on that in due course.

I also want the Minister to focus on the Barnett

consequential for Wales as a result of HS2. Can he put

a figure on that now? If so, what discussions will he

have with the Welsh Assembly on how it might be

spent?

I have a couple of quick, final points. As the Minister

knows, my part of the world has a great need to link to

Liverpool. I can open my bedroom window in the

morning and see both Liverpool cathedrals, and I can

easily drive to Liverpool on dual carriageway, but there

is no connectivity by rail. The pressure put on previous

Governments, and indeed on thisGovernment, to improve

the Wrexham to Bidston line, so that my part of Wales

can have connectivity, is extremely significant. I hope he

responds to that point in his winding-up speech, because

connectivity is important to economics, jobs and our

ability to attract business to help our economy to grow.

It would also help the commuters of my constituency.

Finally, I support the hon. Member for Brecon and

Radnorshire (Roger Williams) in his concern about bus

passes. I, too, am a border MP. We have a free bus pass

inWales and a free bus pass in England, but the two are

not connected.Many of my constituents cannot understand

why on one bus pass they can travel to one part of my

constituency, which might be 20 miles away, but they

cannot travel to Chester, which is 5 or 6 miles away.

That connectivity would be useful.

10.28 am

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate the hon.

Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing the

debate, because we all know that getting connectivity

right across the UK is economically important.

I welcome the Government U-turn on electrification

to Swansea, restoring the original Labour plans. It is a

pity that we had to spend time on that discussion when

we could have spent it discussing going further west

with the electrification, which is obviously a direction in

which I would like to see it go.

In this country, we have a real difference between

east-west and north-south connectivity. I remember,

when I was at school, drawing a map of the UK

according to how long it took someone to get from

A to B, and the elongation from east to west was clear.

That is exactly the same today. I take two hours to get

from London to Cardiff, which is 150 miles, and a

further two hours to travel the 50 miles from Cardiff to

Llanelli. The main reason for that is the change at

Swansea station, which is a lot pleasanter now because

we have a nice newwaiting room—verymuch improved—

but much as I enjoy the company of tourists and the

families going on the boat to Ireland in the summer, in

winter it can be extremely lonely, dark and open to the

Swansea high street.

The real reason that puts people off coming to and

investing in west Wales is not enough through trains.

We must look at that and perhaps in the new franchise

insist on many more through trains all the way from

London to west Wales.

87WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 88WH

The first problem we encounter when travelling from

London to west Wales is Reading where, for ever and a

day, there seem to be delays, problems and congestion. I

hope that the Minister will look at that and prioritise

the way through Reading so that we are not held up at

the first point on our way westwards.

The recent wet weather saw access through Bristol

Parkway limited because of flooding and the perennial

problems with the Severn tunnel. I want the Minister to

ensure that everything is being done to try to bring

together the relevant agencies to improve flood prevention

in the Bristol and Severn tunnel areas. The sort of

floods we saw recently are unlikely to be an isolated

event, and will be repeated.

Iwelcome theWelshGovernment’s intention to purchase

Cardiff airport. It is a tremendous opportunity to turn

it around from a rather run-down business and to

increase the opportunities so that people do not have

to travel all the way from Wales to Heathrow with all

the costs involved—often an overnight stay or high car

parking charges. It will open up an opportunity for

people in many areas around Wales, such as Worcester,

Gloucester, Cheltenham and Bristol, to come to Cardiff

airport for their flights abroad. That will depend on

transport into Wales, and at the moment, apart from

the M4, there is weakness in that midlands area, as the

hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger

Williams) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies)

highlighted. There is a significant need for improvement.

When I went to the Corby by-election, it was quicker

to go via London. South Wales has good links to

London, and to Manchester and from there to the

north and the north-east, but there is a weakness in

anything that goes through the midlands. Trying to

travel sensibly and as the map would suggest through

the middle of England seems to be incredibly difficult,

and we need a further emphasis on what can be done to

make services better. The north has the trans-Pennine

route, but we do not have an equivalent route from

Birmingham to the east midlands, linking back into the

constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion. We

must improve that.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Lady is making a valid

point. Perhaps one of the great benefits of electrification

—we all welcome it, and it is coming to Swansea—is

that, as some transport experts have suggested, a case

could be made for the possibility of a regional Eurostar

service to Paris and Brussels. That would open upWales

to the wider European Union market.

Nia Griffith: Indeed, but for that to be successful we

need many more through trains, and connectivity when

we come into London so that we are not stopped half

way because of difficulties in Reading, Bristol and the

Severn tunnel area. I hope that the Minister will look at

the matter in the round and try to improve our east-west

connectivity in this country.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Order. I intend to start

the wind-ups no later than 10.40.

10.33 am

Mrs Siân C. James (Swansea East) (Lab): I will be

very brief, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for

Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for securing this important

debate, and I welcome the opportunity to contribute to

it. As many hon. Members know, I have a personal

interest in transport, and specifically rail.Myconstituency

will benefit from the rail electrification all the way to

Swansea and the advent of city region status, which is

really important formy locality. A lot will be happening,

and I thank the Government for that. However, I am a

little concerned about the Landore maintenance depot,

and perhaps the Minister will think about that. There is

a possibility that we may not have that depot in its

current shape and formfor the maintenance of high-speed

trains. Iwould appreciate an update, and any information.

The development of infrastructure inWales has been

vital to everything, and I have been involved in that

since 1999 when I worked for the rail industry. Much

has happened. I have looked back at previous reports of

the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, and many of

the things we asked for have been achieved or are

moving forward. That is heartening to hear and good to

know. However, we keep returning to the basic problem

of interconnectivity, and the joined-up writing and

ideas for timetables and how to link successfully and

efficiently places inWales beyond Swansea and into the

hinterland. People in west Wales and mid-Wales are

equally deserving.

I am worried about the problem in Swansea because

it is the gateway to west and mid-Wales. Many people

have to come to Swansea, as previous speakers have

said, and must change trains. One thing we know about

passengers is that they do not like changing trains. It

puts people off, and delays them. If we want to move

forward economically in south-west and mid-Wales, we

must have interconnectivity. I urge the Minister that,

when speaking to his counterpart in Cardiff Bay, he

puts that at the top of the agenda.

The local authorities have been working together,

and the various rail groups and franchises are working

together. We have seen huge improvements and big

leaps forward. Working in isolation is no longer an

option in the rail industry. We have seen the piecemeal

break-up of the rail industry, and I am constantly

amazed at how many people still refer to it as British

Rail. I meet people on the train every day when I travel.

I invariably travel by train because I ama great supporter

of public transport, and in the eight years that I have

been aMember of Parliament I have not once driven to

London, but have relied on the trains. Through thick

and thin, I have stuck with them.

The industry is a growing exponentially and becoming

more popular. We need a world-class service, which is

why Iwas so adamant about fighting for rail electrification

to Swansea. We must not be left behind. We do not

want to be left behind. It is imperative to recognise the

interdependency of local authorities, service providers,

transport initiatives and so on, because the issue is all

about the economic well-being of Wales; the economic

well-being of south-west andmid-Wales. It is not reinventing

the wheel. The economics and ideas are simple, but they

are very important.

Tourism is a key and growing industry for us in

south-west Wales. We have a wonderful product and

many marvellous places that are accessed via the rail

infrastructure inWales. It is well worth coming toWales

to see them. They are world-status places, and many

people visit them. I do not want them to be put off

visitingWales or—this is my horror—to have to depend

89WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 90WH

[Mrs Siân C. James]

on the car. If we want improved public transport,

people must use it and have confidence in it. I urge the

Minister to put that at the heart of his discussions.

When the Minister next meets Carl Sargeant at Cardiff

Bay, will he discuss interconnectivity of the timetable?

We have heard from the hon. Member for Ceredigion

about our wonderful experience of travelling to

Aberystwyth, missing a train by one minute and then

having to wait two hours at Birmingham International

station. Itwas good to be there, and I met some interesting

people, but they had tales of woe about how that

happens too often. Like my hon. Friend the Member

for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), I meet people at Swansea

station who must get off the train, carrying their bags,

because they are going on to a much longer journey.

Nia Griffith: Does my hon. Friend agree that if only

part of the trainwent on, thatwould be a vast improvement

in the service, and that we also need more carriages for

the crowded parts of the route from London to Bristol?

Mrs Siân C. James: I certainly agree. When I worked

for the rail industry, we had more through trains. At the

time, I described it as “the thin end of the wedge”, as we

contracted that service, including the regular service

down to the ferry ports in far-westWales. It is not a joke

when you are travelling there. It is very picturesque,

lovely, and it is great to be on the train enjoying yourself,

but it is a long haul, wearisome and sometimes very

frustrating for people. I do not want them to be left with

that impression of Wales. I want them to have the

impression of Wales as a modern country with a modern

infrastructure, so that they will want to come back.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): I thank everyone for

their co-operation in ensuring that everyone could make

a contribution, and for getting to the wind-ups on time.

10.40 am

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I congratulate

the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on

securing the debate, and I have listened with interest to

the knowledgeable contributions by hon. Members from

all across Wales.

This is an important debate, as has been said. Transport

links and connectivity are not only a lifeline, but vital

for business investment, thereby improving employment

prospects and reducing poverty. Historically, Wales has

suffered from under-investment, leading to congested

road and rail links between England and Wales. It is

suffering from very high tolls levied on the Severn

bridge on passengers travelling into Wales only, and it

continues to suffer from disputes over responsibility

and fragmentation and more distant relationships between

Welsh local authorities and Whitehall than with the

Welsh Government.

Roads are still the main link between England and

Wales, but there is heavy congestion. The M4, which is

the main route, is still inadequate at key points, and it

runs close to capacity, with traffic volumes expected to

grow. For example, around Newport, as I am sure my

hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica

Morden) knows, there are concerns about capacity,

safety and resilience at peak periods. That is not the

only area by any means, and I welcome the Welsh

Assembly consultation on measures to tackle the

shortcomings, and I await with interest the outcome of

its appraisal of possible solutions.

As was mentioned by the hon. Members for

Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) and for Brecon and

Radnorshire (Roger Williams), there are also other

issues. I highlight one: the A494 is an important link,

but improvements to the road have only been made on

the English side, so the good road stops at Wales.

Co-ordination is needed on those important issues.

I turn to the Severn bridge, which my hon. Friend the

Member for Newport East mentioned so ably. It is a

vital link, but the toll has been increased above inflation

to £6.20, and it only applies to traffic entering Wales.

Business groups have long said that that is a barrier to

much-needed investment in businesses in Wales. What

are the Government’s proposals to remedy the situation

and what options are they considering when ownership

of the bridge returns to the UK Government? I support

my hon. Friend in wanting certainty over when that will

be. I believed that that would happen in 2018.

Jonathan Edwards: As the hon. Lady is aware, it is the

policy of theWelsh Government, who are controlled by

the Labour party, to seek ownership of the Severn

bridges.Will she give a commitment today to the people

of Wales that, if Labour form the next Government

after the general election in 2015, those bridges will be

passed on to the people of Wales?

Yvonne Fovargue: I was going to come to that point.

Early discussions with theWelshGovernment are essential,

and there should be acceptance of the underlying principle

that they should play a central role in determining

future arrangements, and in accessing and utilising any

future revenue streams for the people of Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn

(Mr Hanson) and the hon. Member for Brecon and

Radnorshire spoke about buses, which are a lifeline for

many people, particularly pensioners, but the two national

concessionary bus passes are not valid for pensioners

who wish to cross the border from either side. They are

left to rely on voluntary schemes provided by local

authorities. There is also a lack of awareness about the

convenience of bus routes into Wales from Bristol,

despite the fact that they have a competitive price, due

to exemption from tolls. Will the Minister say what is

being done to address both those issues and how he will

promote cross-border bus services?

I turn to rail, where there are significant challenges,

as we have heard, around capacity and infrastructure. I

am pleased that the Labour Administration in Wales is

exploring not-for-profit models, including the co-operative

mutual model, when the Wales and Border franchise,

currently operated by Arriva Trains Wales, expires in

2018. I hope that that will prove a pathfinder for England.

A major electrification project for the Great Western

railway line to Swansea was introduced by the previous

Labour Government, but put on hold by the coalition.

Despite that delay on the Government line—perhaps it

was caused by the weather, perhaps by leaves—that has

now been reconfirmed, and the journey time from

Paddington to Swansea could be reduced by 20 minutes.

However, will the Minister say why the work is to start

in London and not in Wales?

91WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 92WH

As we have heard many times, closer co-operation

between train companies is vital if they are to be

financially viable.What is the Minister doing to promote

that? Inter-franchise connectivity is a key component,

as has been mentioned, and it is certainly not helpful to

have companies such asWrexham and Shropshire, which

ran the cross-border services between 2008 and 2011,

withdraw, as they were not allowed to stop at Virgin-run

stations. It is important that franchises co-operate with

each other to ensure that journeys are made with the

minimum disruption and that they do not have to go

through convenient stations, simply because they are

operated by another franchise holder.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion will be interested in

the fact that the Welsh Government have committed to

a long-awaited hourly service between Aberystwyth

and Shrewsbury—I am sure that 2015 is too far away

for him—but more emphasis needs to be put on improving

services to northWales, as we heard from my right hon.

Friend the Member for Delyn, and electrification is a

key component. Will the Minister update us on the

progress of the business plan for that?

Mr Mark Williams: Does the hon. Lady accept that

the 16 years that we have been waiting for this really is

too long? We were promised in the previous Assembly

Administration that the moneywas there, that the remedial

engineering work had been done and that there was no

impediment to getting that service. Here we are, years

on, still waiting, only to be told by a Welsh Assembly

Minister that we now have to wait another two and a

half or three years to have that service. That wait really

is unacceptable, is it not?

Yvonne Fovargue: It certainly is an extremely long

time, and the Administration have said that it will

happen by 2015, so let us hope that they will advance it

further and that they have listened to the pleas of hon.

Members from all around.

OntheHS2connection at Crewe station and connectivity,

the Government need to give proper consideration to

ensuring that the benefits extend into Wales. I am

pleased that the Minister intervened to give support and

provide information about the electrification of the

southWales line, which needs to be progressed urgently.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I apologise for not

being present for the earlier part of the debate; I was

chairing another meeting. It is absolutely essential that

we get fast trains stopping at Crewe. With the upgrade

on the west coast main line, although many fast trains

went to Manchester and Liverpool, they did not stop at

Crewe, so people going to northWales and west of that

did not benefit. It is essential that we get that in HS2.

Yvonne Fovargue: My hon. Friend makes the point

well that Crewe is an essential stopping-off point for

Wales. HS2 needs to stop there, and there should be

connectivity, so that people are not waiting for a long

time at Crewe to get to Wales. I hope that the Minister

will explain more fully the impact on cross-border links

and say exactly howmuch the project will benefitWales.

Equally, it is not only about people who travel, but

about freight. TheWalesFreight Groupwas disappointing,

and I hope that the establishment of the new group will

invigorate the discussion and look at providing sustainable

solutions for freight. We have heard of the problems

that hauliers have had, particularly with the Severn

bridge.

In conclusion, I believe that there is a general agreement

that cross-border links are vital, and I am sure that no

one would disagree with Carl Sargeant, the Minister in

the Welsh Assembly with responsibility for transport in

Wales, that good transport is critical for economic

growth, social inclusion and the reduction of poverty. It

is clear that roads, rail and buses all have an important

role to play. Addressing any barrier to integration between

England and Wales is vital, as is linking with the

communities in northWales, southWales, and mid-Wales

that have high deprivation.We are committed, in England

and Wales, to achieving that aim.

10.49 am

The Minister of State, Department for Transport

(Mr Simon Burns): It is a pleasure to speak under your

chairmanship,Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member

for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) on what has been

her first debate as a shadowMinister in this Chamber. I

also congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion

(MrWilliams) on securing what has been an interesting,

useful and important debate on transport links across

the England-Wales border.He raised a number of issues,

as did many other hon. Members. Sadly, given the time

available to me, I will not be able to respond to all their

questions, but I can give an assurance that I will write to

them to answer points that I cannot deal with in the

debate.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion will know, as a

member of the Welsh Affairs Committee—he raised

this from time to time in his remarks—that cross-border

links have been subject to inquiry by the Committee

more than once. Its work has been extremely useful and

has helped to give a greater understanding of the

complexities and importance of the issue. As he will be

aware—I, too, am aware, as I gave evidence to the

Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for

Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), last October—it is

currently considering the issue again. I look forward to

the publication of its report.

The Government have made clear in the coalition

agreement our commitment to a modern low-carbon

transport infrastructure as an essential element of a

dynamic and entrepreneurial economy. We have also

reiterated the importance of investment in our

infrastructure, including our rail and strategic road

networks, to ensure that they can support the economic

performance of the country, including, equally importantly,

that of Wales. Transport and travel are rarely ends in

themselves. It is as a driver of economic growth that the

Government attach so much importance to, and place

so much stress on, investing in transport infrastructure.

We consider the cross-border movement of people and

goods in the context of growing the economies of

England and Wales.

Apositive return on investment requires a background

of good governance. The hon. Member for Ceredigion

will know that co-operation on and, where appropriate,

the co-ordination of transport matters between the

Department for Transport and the Welsh Government

are important to the successful development of cross-border

links, as well as to improving transport infrastructure

93WH England-Wales Transport Links 6 FEBRUARY 2013 England-Wales Transport Links 94WH

[Mr Simon Burns]

and connectivity within Wales. Relationships between

theWelshGovernment transport group and the Department

for Transport have advanced significantly, and processes

have been agreed to further that. TheWelsh Government

and the Department for Transport enjoy a constructive

working relationship that enables officials to provide

their Ministers with the best advice possible to deliver

on the aspirations of the respective Governments. That

includes recognition of the importance of engaging on

devolved and reserved issues.

On a personal basis, I am extremely pleased about

what I consider—I am fairly confident that I will not be

contradicted—to be the relationship that I have established

with Carl Sargeant in the past five months since I have

been at the Department for Transport.We speak regularly

on the telephone. He has met my right hon. Friend the

Secretary of State for Transport, and I look forward to

having a meeting with Carl Sargeant in about a month’s

time, when we will be able to discuss issues such as those

raised by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs

James) and, I am sure, a number of other issues that

have emerged during the debate. I will, rather than

going into some of the details of what I was going to

say on the generality, seek now to answer some of the

questions that hon. Members have asked.

Anumber of hon. Members talked about electrification.

I welcome their support for what the Government are

doing with regard to the electrification of the Great

Western line from London through to Cardiff and on

via Bridgend to Swansea and of theWelsh Valleys lines.

A question was asked about the time scale. I hope that

hon. Members will be pleased to know that the time

scales for completing the electrification are, between

London and Cardiff, 2017; between Cardiff and Swansea,

2018; and throughout the Welsh valleys, 2019.

The hon. Member for Swansea East talked about the

importance of the depot near Swansea. I can fully

appreciate her concerns about that. I would be grateful

if she left that issue with me; I will look into it and get

back to her.

Equally importantly, a number of hon. Members

raised the electrification of the North Wales line. I can

fully appreciate that for those hon. Members whose

constituencies are along that line, that is an important

thing. As they will be aware, a bid was not put in,

through the Welsh Government, in the relevant control

period for electrification of that line. We recognise, and

I am sure that the Welsh Government also recognise,

the importance of looking at that, to seek improvements

in the quality of journeys and standards.

Albert Owen: The Minister is right to talk about the

importance of electrification for northWales constituencies

and north Wales as a whole, but it is also important for

links to Ireland, to get fast movement of people and

goods to the Republic of Ireland, which is our biggest

trading partner.

Mr Burns: I fully appreciate the valid point that the

hon. Gentleman makes. My understanding is that, in

recognition of the importance of this matter, the Welsh

Government are currently looking into it. They are

looking at the requirements, the business case, a cost

analysis and so on, with a view that it could be included

in the next control period, control period 6, which will

run from 2019 to 2024. We will have to await the

outcome of their producing a business case and working

with Network Rail and others to see how that can be

moved forward.

The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson)

referred to the Bidston-Wrexham line and asked whether

there could be an update on the current situation. I

hope that it will be helpful if I tell him that both

Merseytravel and theWelsh Government are keen to see

that line electrified. However, the quoted Network Rail

cost of £207 million has been considered poor value for

money and unaffordable for both bodies. Merseytravel

is currently considering other options to improve services

on the line, which could include partial electrification.

The specification, funding and management of ATW

services between Wrexham and Bidston is a matter for

the Welsh Government, and we are encouraging them

to continue to work with Merseytravel on that issue.

Anumber of hon. Members raised individual, specific

issues with regard to train timetables and the number of

trains travelling within their constituencies and beyond

their constituency borders inside Wales. My advice to

all those who raised those important issues is that, as

they will appreciate, the operation of the railways within

Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

Where hon. Members believe that there should be

improvements, I would urge them to lobby the Welsh

Government and bring their concerns to their attention

if they are not already aware of them.

With regard to a direct service between London and

Shrewsbury, which would certainly help mid-Wales, as I

think was said by my hon. Friend the Member for

Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), the hon. Member for

Brecon and Radnorshire (RogerWilliams) and possibly

the hon. Member for Ceredigion, although I am not

quite so confident on that point, I have some encouraging

news. As the Secretary of State announced a few months

ago, as a result of the extension of Virgin carrying on

with the west coast main line, it will be providing from, I

believe, December of this year a direct service from

Shrewsbury through to Euston.

Mr Betts, I do not want to fall foul of you by running

out of time and we are coming up—to use a phrase—

against the buffers. I have not been able to answer all the

points made by hon. Members, but I will certainly

ensure that they all get letters giving responses to the

issues that they raised that we have not had time to discuss today.

 

High Speed 2 Railway Line

Mr Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State

for Transport what assessment he has made of the

potential benefits to the residents of Gloucestershire of

High Speed 2; and if he will make a statement. [141333]

MrSimon Burns:Nospecific assessment of the potential

benefits to Gloucestershire residents of High Speed 2

has been made. High Speed rail will bring benefits for

the whole country, including generating jobs, rebalancing

the economy and helping to secure future prosperity.

Rail passengers from Gloucester stand to benefit from

improved journey times from Birmingham to destinations

further north.

Latest estimates published in August 2012 suggest

that in total HS2 will deliver net benefits of £64 billion,

including over £15 billion in wider economic impacts.

Jeremy Lefroy: To ask the Secretary of State for

Transport what estimate he has made of the potential

economic benefits to businesses and residents in

Stafford constituency as a result of phase two of High

Speed 2. [141345]

Mr Simon Burns: Phase Two of High Speed 2 will

transformjourney times, capacity and connectivity between

major cities of the north,Midlands and London, enabling

northern regions to fulfil their economic potential. The

Staffordshire area will benefit from the high speed

services delivered by Phase One of the scheme. HS2 will

also free up space for additional commuter, regional

and freight services on theWest Coast Mainline offering

more opportunity for services to meet local needs. Latest

243W Written Answers 6 FEBRUARY 2013 Written Answers 244W

estimates published in August 2012 suggest HS2 will

deliver net benefits of £64 billion including over £15 billion

in wider economic impacts. If local areas seize the

opportunity offered by HS2 these benefits could be

greater. HS2 Ltd will undertake further work to assess

the sub-national, regional and local economic impacts

of HS2.

Jeremy Lefroy: To ask the Secretary of State for

Transport how many high speed train services will stop

daily at Stafford train station on the non-High Speed 2

train network under initial plans for phase two of the

High Speed 2 line. [141348]

MrSimon Burns: HS2Ltd has published an explanation

of the service patterns at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/updatedeconomic-

case-for-hs2-august-2012-explanation-of-theservice-

patterns

These are indicative service patterns and HS2Ltd will

continue to work with people to get this right. In

addition, Network Rail will be undertaking a study of

the potential capacity benefits for the existing rail network

from the advent of HS2 working with Passenger Focus.

Terms of reference for this study were included in the

Phase Two announcement details of which are at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/high-speed-railinvesting-

in-britains-future-phase-two-the-route-to-leedsmanchester-

and-beyond

Christopher Pincher: To ask the Secretary of State for

Transport what criteria the contractors who gave

evidence to his Department on the proposed High

Speed 2 extension to Leeds applied in making their

assessments with regard to Tamworth constituency and

the (a) local environment, (b) landscape and (c)

proximity to the M42 road of that area. [141534]

MrSimon Burns: The Sustainability Summary, published

on 28 January and which has been placed in the Libraries

of both Houses, describes the potential impacts on

people and the environment of the Government’s initial

preferred scheme for Phase Two of HS2. Appraisal

work is ongoing, but the summary reflects the findings

of the appraisal undertaken to date. We are at an early

stage in the development of the scheme; more work will

be undertaken to refine the alignment and include mitigation

such as landscaping and noise barriers, and a number of

the impacts that are described in this report will reduce

as the designs are progressed.

Christopher Pincher: To ask the Secretary of State for

Transport what surveys the contractors who gave

advice to his Department on the proposed High

Speed 2 extension to Leeds conducted in Tamworth

constituency. [141537]

Mr Simon Burns: No surveys have been undertaken

to date in the Tamworth constituency to develop the

initial preferred scheme for Phase Two of HS2. The

advice submitted by HS2 Ltd for Phase Two identifies

options which best meet the remit for HS2 Ltd in terms

of passenger demand, cost, ease of build, journey time

and sustainability. An environmental impact assessment

for Phase Two which will take account of a wide range

of environmental information, including baseline site

surveys, is proposed to commence in 2015. Further details

can be found in the Command Paper and Sustainability

Summary documents, published on 28 January and

placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Christopher Pincher: To ask the Secretary of State for

Transport what criteria he will apply to compensation

claims for people whose properties will be affected by

the High Speed 2 extension to Leeds. [141538]

Mr Simon Burns: The Government has announced a

public consultation on the proposed Exceptional Hardship

Scheme (EHS) for Phase Two of HS2. It will run until

29 April 2013. This is an interim scheme which would

remain in place only until such time as the statutory

blight provisions apply to properties affected by Phase

Two or we introduce a wider package of discretionary

measures broadly consistent with those for Phase One.

At a later stage, following a decision on the final route,

and if the Secretary of State decided to use compulsory

purchase powers to acquire land, the normal statutory

provisions for the assessment and payment of compensation

would apply.

MrWard: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport

what steps he is taking to ensure that Bradford and

Leeds-Bradford airport receive the maximum potential

economic benefit from Phase 2 of High Speed 2.

[141539]

Mr Simon Burns: Phase Two of High Speed 2 will

transformjourney times, capacity and connectivity between

major cities of the north,Midlands and London, enabling

northern regions to fulfil their economic potential.

HS2 will also free up space on the existing rail network

for additional commuter, regional and freight services,

offering more opportunity for services to meet local

needs. Latest estimates published inAugust 2012 suggest

HS2 will deliver net benefits of £64 billion including

over £15 billion in wider economic impacts. If local

areas seize the opportunity offered by HS2 these benefits

could be greater. HS2 Ltd will undertake further work

to assess the sub-national, regional and local economic

impacts of HS2.

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