The DfT in Parliament


On Thursday 17th June, the new Ministerial team at the DfT faced their first parliamentary question time. Falling in the midst of spending review and budget statements there were several holding answers. A number of questions of local interest came up, however.

Our comments are in italics.

Dartford Crossing

2. Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): If he will take steps to reduce congestion at the Dartford crossing. [2711]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): The Department and the Highways Agency are committed to improving the levels of service experienced by users of the Dartford crossing. The Highways Agency and I will consider a package of measures, including better information and traffic management to help reduce the congestion at the Dartford crossing.

Mr Whittingdale: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but is he aware that, since the tolls increased, the delays when approaching the tolling booths are anything up to 45 minutes and more? That causes enormous frustration to those who use the crossing, which is increased by the fact that the original intention was to scrap the tolls once the bridge was paid for rather than to put them up.

Mike Penning: My hon. Friend knows that I am personally aware of the problems at the Dartford crossing, having used it for many years. The £40 million net that we recover from the crossing is a significant income, but we need to consider technology that is being used in other parts of the world, particularly in Australia, so that we can remove the barriers and increase the speed at which traffic comes through while also picking up the revenue that the country desperately needs.

[Note that there is no mention here of the plan to sell off the Bridge as part of the “Cash in the Attic” exercise inherited from the last administration. It is worthy of note that the devolved administration in Scotland removed bridge tolls from the River Forth crossing. So is it one Barnett formula for the users of the Humber and Dartford bridges and another for the Fifers? Why does the “High School Musical” tune “We’re all in this together” spring to mind? – MWM]

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I urge my right hon. Friend, when considering how best to expand rail, to consider branch lines off high-speed rail links to service some of the commuter towns disfranchised under the Beeching review.

Mr Hammond: Although we want to continue to increase passenger usage of the railways, we have to operate within a tightly constrained public spending environment. Our first priority must be to maintain and improve the trunk railway network that we have already. I will consider any proposals for reopening branch lines, but I have grave doubts about whether it is likely to be affordable in the foreseeable future.

Mr Shelbrooke linked commuter towns with High Speed Lines – was he specifically thinking of repeating the Javelin experience at the time?

[Was that Norman Baker shuffling uncomfortably on the Treasury Bench as the prospects for a Lewes Uckfield re-opening slipped back into the mists of time. Will the anomaly of short diesel trains from Uckfield running into London mainline termini already under pressure to use platforms efficiently continue for the unforeseeable future? – MWM]
East London Line (Extension)

9. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Whether his Department’s value for money evaluation of the proposed Surrey Canal Road station on the East London line extension has been completed. [2718]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): A value for money assessment of the proposed Surrey Canal Road station was carried out by Transport for London and Lewisham council last year. The Department for Transport has some concerns regarding the business case. I have asked officials to provide full advice on the matter and expect to make a decision in the near future.

Joan Ruddock: I welcome the right hon. Lady to her position, and I am grateful for that reply. However, she needs to remember that Transport for London has found that the proposal more than meets the business case that was applicable to all other stations in London, and that it is pivotal to the development of 2,500 new homes and to the job prospects of the 2.9 million people expected to use the station. Will she meet with me to see how to get the station built now, alongside the construction of the railway?

Mrs Villiers: I am happy to meet the right hon. Lady as soon as possible to discuss this important issue. She has fought hard on the campaign, and I am looking into the proposal with great care. I am discussing it with officials and, as I have said, I have asked them for extra briefing. It is important to take into account local views, TfL’s views and the views of other stakeholders. However, I must also make it clear that we need to assess such programmes carefully for affordability, given the state of the public finances and the deficit that we have inherited from Labour.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Does the Minister accept that this issue has a cross-borough and cross-constituency resonance, and that there is widespread support for the proposal across the parties? Will she meet all of us who have an interest in it? I hope that we shall be able to persuade her of its merits, because we have a very good case.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Just say yes!

Mrs Villiers: Yes.

[Somehow, Surrey Canal Road did not get mentioned during the first meeting between the Mayor and the new Secretary of State much to the irritation of Mesdames Shawcross and Pidgeon when this was revealed at Mayor’s Question Time, answers from which will be summarised shortly – MWM]

Topical Questions

T3. [2733] Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): As Ministers work out how best to transfer travel from plane to train, where that is possible, will they prioritise talks with European colleagues to make sure that the European rail network works and with colleagues in this country to make sure that high-speed rail will allow people to go through the capital without having to change trains?

Mr Hammond: I thank my hon. Friend, who makes a very important point. Now that we have made it clear that there will be no third runway at Heathrow airport, modal shift from air to rail becomes crucially important, including for journeys through to Europe. I have asked HS2 Ltd to look at the options and the costs of providing a direct link from the proposed HS2 to the existing high-speed rail network to the Channel tunnel.

[Someone just turned a common sense light on at the end of the tunnel. It will be interesting to see how this plays into the ideas of using a rebuilt Euston as the London end of HS2.High Speed platforms underground running northeast to south west whilst WCML tracks head north west up Camden Bank? – MWM]

Written by Mwmbwls