Priti Patel calls for more investment in strategic rail and roads in Essex to support jobs and growth

Posted on: February 27, 2018

Priti Patel calls for more investment in strategic rail and roads in Essex and East Anglia to support jobs and growth in the region.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who has made a clear case for the vital role of transport infrastructure across our country. I want to talk specifically about the great county of Essex and our transport needs today. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that Essex contributes more than £38 billion in gross value added to the UK economy, but with investment in transport infrastructure, we have the potential to do so much more.

I want to focus today on strategic rail and strategic road investments. Essex and East Anglia have historically missed out on funding from central Government sources. As a country, we are investing more in the railways since the Victorian era—something we should be proud of—with public and private sector funds making a significant contribution. Investment in the rail network now could put our economy in an even stronger position as we look to future-proof and grow our economy accordingly. Much of the investment in rail infrastructure comes from the public purse, and last year the Government announced their statement of funds available—famously known as SOFA—which totals £47.9 billion for control period 6, which covers from 2019 to 2024. That level of investment is of course welcome, and it is possible only because of this Government’s record on sound finances and the strong economy.

Within the Greater Anglia region, Network Rail’s route manager is seeking more than £2 billion of that funding for the Anglia route. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be well aware of the bids that are coming through, and I hope that the Government will look favourably on that particular request. However, that investment would be for renewals and maintenance, and it would not include major strategic enhancements. Because of the changes that the Government are making, major infrastructure schemes are determined through a new process rather than through multi-year strategic control periods.

The great eastern main line needs significant improvements, and I know that the Department is well and truly versed in its needs, because Members of Parliament from Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, north Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire came together through the GEML Taskforce to develop a prospectus for rail investment. That prospectus, published in 2014, was supported by the Government, including the former Chancellor, and contained a number of long-term proposals to improve services particularly for our long-suffering commuters, including new trains, which are coming, and, importantly, infrastructure enhancements such as the Witham loops to boost capacity, the Trowse swing bridge, upgrades to Hawley junction, re-signalling south of Colchester, improvements to Liverpool Street station and other schemes that can no longer be kicked into the long grass.

Investing in these schemes will add over £4 billion to our economy, meaning more jobs, more income for families and more revenue for the Exchequer. That is based on a 2014 analysis, and I am sure a more recent review of the figures, given the additional housing supply in that part of Essex and in East Anglia, will project a greater boost.

Passengers who use the GEML pay more in fares each year, and over the next few years they will be subsidising the rest of the rail network by providing the Treasury with a £3.7 billion windfall. We would like to see that money coming back for long-term investments, because it is rail users in the region who are paying for that. They are contributing hugely and want to see the benefits coming back within the region. It is a complete “no-brainer.” The Government and the Chancellor spoke favourably about this at questions today and understand the significance of it all.

I also want to touch on the two roads that impact on Essex: the A12 and the A120, which connects Stansted to Harwich. They are economic corridors, and delays and congestion on them hold business back, costing companies millions of pounds each year. These roads have been earmarked for widening schemes, but they are subject to various processes within the Department for Transport, and I plead with the Minister to ensure we unblock any bottlenecks to those schemes.

As we consider the supply estimates today, I urge the Minister and the Government to ensure that these schemes can progress and are developed for the long-term benefit of the east of England.


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