Transport in the North
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing this debate, which is really important and timely, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.
The A19 is one of the principal economic drivers—no pun intended—in my constituency. It is vital for the export-focused manufacturing businesses in my region, particularly Caterpillar, NSK Bearings, and—until it closes just before Christmas—the Walkers potato crisp factory. Many businesses are dependent on a functioning A19, which too often is left at a standstill for hours on end following multiple road accidents, which are almost a daily occurrence. The lack of investment, maintenance and upgrading of this vital economic highway is clearly holding back businesses in my constituency. I have tabled numerous questions on this, and I urge Conservative MPs who want to work co-operatively to sign early-day motion 267. The Government have yet to deliver on a proper investment strategy for this vital road. We need a Government with some foresight who seek to future-proof our infrastructure and support the development of our regional economy. The billions that, as colleagues have mentioned, are being ploughed into Crossrail in London, which already has an embarrassment of riches in terms of excellent public transport links, will see the capital pull further away from the regions, particularly the northern regions.
I welcome the Government’s decision to invest in the new railway station at Horden, which will create much needed links with towns all across the region. However, that needs to be linked with a new fleet of trains and improvements at Seaham station—and of course we need to keep the guard on the train. If we genuinely want to rebalance the economy, an airport congestion charge would help to lower airfares in under-utilised regional airports like our own at Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley while charging a premium to use the most congested and polluting airports like Heathrow. The Metro system is a fantastic service serving the people of Newcastle and Sunderland, but we need it to connect our entire region. I will never stop calling for the Metro to be extended into my constituency. However, this seems like a fanciful dream when we consider that the Government are still haggling over the replacement of the Metro trains, which are 47 years old, and rolling stock that is simply not fit for purpose. The Government need to replace their rhetoric with action.
The north-east is a fantastic region, neglected by Governments who have been unwilling to invest and support a better future. My constituency offers many hidden gems. We have a vibrant and active arts community, with the East Durham Artists Network. There are iconic public artworks such as the Tommy and Marra statues. We have an award-winning heritage coastline, with the England coastal path running through my constituency. There is the local nature reserve in Easington and our ancient woodland of Castle Eden Dene. These are hidden gems, and they will remain so until we have the infrastructure that will connect our past and our heritage to our future.
The north-east and east Durham have the skills, the history and the heritage to succeed in business, manufacturing, and tourism. What we lack is a Government who are committed to delivering real investment for our region. I commend Durham County Council and all the local authorities in the region for working around some of the most difficult budget cuts imposed by central Government, which have disproportionately affected my region and my constituency. The longer we allow the lack of investment to continue, the greater the economic divide between London and the south-east and the rest of the country will become. The Government need to future-proof our infrastructure, invest in our economy and reap the benefits of a more prosperous north-east.