East-west rail ‘should be priority’

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MINISTERS need to have a clearer plan for future transport projects which will boost the economies of regions such as Yorkshire including improved east-west rail links, according to MPs.

The Government is praised for setting out the planning rules which will apply to major transport projects to try and streamline the process by the Commons Transport Committee.

But Ministers are criticised for not being more specific about the kind of projects that will be needed.

The MPs’ report, published today, suggests schemes that should be included are improvements to “east-west connectivity” on the rail network as well as roads to airports and ports.

It also suggests there should be an explicit reference to linking the new high speed rail line between Yorkshire and London, HS2, into the existing rail network.

Business leaders in Yorkshire have consistently argued that improved east-west, including transpennine, transport connections are as important to the region’s economy as links to London and Scotland.

The Government’s National Policy Statement on National Networks is aimed at making the planning rules around major transport projects clear.

It is hoped that the statement will keep planning inquiries about controversial proposals remain focused on the scheme in question and not become bogged down in arguments about Government policy.

In a separate report, the committee also warns that significant investment will be needed in the next decade when Government spending is project to fall.

Committee chairman Louise Ellman MP said: “The Department for Transport must plan for new road and rail investment by looking at future passenger and freight demand by route or region, not by looking at road or rail in isolation from each other, as is done at the moment.

“There must also be a more transparent system for road planning as part of a wider national transport strategy.

“If our recommendations are overlooked the UK won’t develop the kind of transport infrastructure that it needs over the longer term.”

The committee’s report on the future of the road network says that “new funding streams” will be needed to support future spending on major roads.

It says a consensus between the major parties would be needed to say the introduction of road charging.

The Government is also urged to look at how simple measures such as car-sharing and off-peak deliveries can cut congestion.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We are tripling the amount of investment in our roads to over £3 billion a year and will spend £28 billion up to 2021.

“Our reforms to the Highways Agency will make sure this money is spent efficiently by introducing long-term funding and independent scrutiny.”

She added: “Alongside our national policy statement which supports a balanced package of developments across the road and rail networks - including investment in sustainable transport - our plans will ensure road users get a network that is fit for the 21st century.”

The AA said it agreed with the committee’s view that there needed to be a substantial increase in investment for roads.

AA President Edmund King said: “Motorists currently contribute around £46 billion per annum in taxes yet little more than £8 billion is spent on the roads.”