Nottingham Express Transit Extension: 14th September 2016

Anna Soubry
Does my hon. Friend agree that we might have an interesting debate in this place about the safety of tram tracks and bicycles? There are many examples in Sheffield and Edinburgh, I believe, and not just in Nottingham, of people who have suffered. I have a constituent who nearly died as a result of their wheels getting stuck in tram tracks. Does my hon. Friend share my concern? I can assure him that in a large part of the scheme in Nottingham, including in my constituency, the tram track and cycle routes are coterminous.
 
Paul Maynard
My right hon. Friend tempts me into what risks becoming a specialist subject of mine—the safety of the tram tracks in my own constituency. Whenever the road and the tram occupy the same space, it can be very difficult, particularly for visitors who are not familiar with the road layout. For Blackpool, being a tourist town, that is a particular concern. People do not realise that the tram track is in fact the tram track. I will be delighted to have that debate at some point. My frustration might be that I have to be the replying Minister, who therefore cannot take part in it.

I noted my right hon. Friend’s important points about the public inquiry system. The process has to be collaborative from the beginning. As she noted, the project had to follow proper planning approval processes prior to construction, leading to a public inquiry. These inquiries are overseen by an independent inspector and the process allows both supporters and objectors to raise concerns, including consideration of the route alignment, whether alternative modes could be considered, and the anticipated transport, regeneration, environmental and socio-economic impact and benefits of such a scheme. As she knows, just such a public inquiry was held for Nottingham express transit phase 2, which would have considered views of all parties. However, I genuinely hear the points that she makes about the need for a balanced approach to ensure that everybody who has an interest gets a fair chance to have their say, and that those contributions are considered in the round, rather than it being a case of he who shouts loudest. I look forward to hearing her views when she writes to me and we will look closely at them.

I note why the issue is important, with HS2 potentially coming to Toton. I know that the Secretary of State is yet to make an official decision, but I gather that no alternative location is currently being considered. That may well mean a serious application to extend the tramway to Toton, which would raise all these concerns yet again. We have to learn from what we did the first time around and ensure that, if the tramway is extended, those mistakes are not made again.

In conclusion, we will continue to work with the light rail and tram sector to help to bring down costs, but the decision over which schemes to develop will continue to rest with local areas. That said, it is vital that lessons are learned about minimising disruption with all sorts of infrastructure projects, allowing more communities around the country a say in how light rail—or, indeed, other solutions—is developed to benefit their communities.

I am a Minister with responsibility for light rail who is not unacquainted with trams. Light rail as a whole will have an important role to play, but it has to happen with communities and not simply to them. That will be my watchword as we move forward. I hope that we will see the growth of light rail across the country where it is most appropriate, working with the communities who will be affected, not against them.

Question put and agreed to.