3 Lord Bishop of Manchester debates involving the Department for Transport

National Networks National Policy Statement

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Wednesday 8th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Woodland Trust and president, patron or vice-president of a range of environmental organisations. I support the Motion to Regret tabled by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. He got to the Table Office about 30 seconds before I did with my version of the Motion. He will pay for that in future.

I want to challenge the previous statements, with all respect to Voltaire. This is not a question of it not being necessary to update the previous policy statement. It is very overdue to update the previous policy statement, but, alas, this version is badly out of kilter with a whole suite of other policy commitments that the Government have already made, including environmental and other targets. Voltaire might have said that the best is the enemy of the good, but this is far from being “the best”—and it is not even “the good”. Let us press on.

It is amazing how many respectable bodies have criticised this policy, because this revised version has significant implications for the delivery of the key objectives of the UK Government on climate and the environment. The Government have missed many of their targets for years. In its most recent assessment of the Department for Transport, the National Audit Office gave a “black” rating—the worst possible rating—to the likelihood and impact of the risk that the Department for Transport would

“not deliver sufficient action in the transport sector to provide carbon savings, meet air quality and biodiversity targets, and adapt to climate change”.

That is pretty forthright. We have to remind ourselves that these targets are, for the most part, enshrined in law.

The Transport Select Committee had a go at this. It was highly critical of the draft NNNPS, but the Government rejected the vast majority of its findings. The Climate Change Committee’s 2023 progress report to Parliament stressed the need for

“a systematic review of all current and proposed road schemes”,

with only those that

“meaningfully support cost-effective delivery of Net Zero and climate adaptation”

to be taken forward. But that did not seem to be picked up by the Government. In fact, the Department for Transport flatly refused to undertake any assessment of schemes, and the revised NNNPS would now permit an increase in emissions, when we are already not on track to meet our future carbon budgets. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, road transport emissions are almost one-third of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. We must take action in transport if we are to meet these overall binding targets.

The NNNPS is not just failing on net-zero targets; it does next to nothing to reduce the significant impact on key habitats, such as ancient woodlands, of the strategic road and rail programmes. So far, HS2 has caused the greatest ever destruction of and damage to irreplaceable ancient woodlands of any major infra- structure project. The successive stages that have emerged since the early part have not shown any improvement whatever—and neither has East West Rail in its planning process. The most valuable fragments of ancient woodland often occur in the open spaces between areas of built development. New roads and railways make a kind of beeline for those open spaces, since they provide a green field route with nothing getting in the way—except irreplaceable habitats. In fact, it often looks like roads and rail routes simply join up the dots of the ancient woodland fragments that should be protected.

The Woodland Trust ran an assessment of the impacts of the schemes in the Department for Transport’s road investment strategies 1 and 2, which cover the last 10 years. Some 29% of the schemes have resulted in a confirmed impact on ancient woodlands and ancient trees.

There is one small crumb of comfort in the proposed NNNPS. It adopts the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework that loss or damage to these key habitats should be allowed only where there are “wholly exceptional reasons”. However, the DfT then goes on to argue that nationally significant infrastructure project roads are wholly exceptional due to national needs—so a fat lot of good the slightly tougher wording turns out to be.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about the debate in the other place on the NNNPS. It was a bit desultory—to use the kindest phrase I can think of. It was scheduled as virtually the last business before the Easter Recess: sort of the equivalent of a wet Tuesday night at the Aberdeen Empire. That is not a great way to deal with such an important policy statement. Although several Members made compelling points, the Minister barely noticed that they had happened. This development since the debate in the other place is crucial: the High Court’s judgment last week declaring the Government’s climate change action plan unlawful is absolutely fundamental.

In the light of that, it seems unwise for the Government to seek to designate the NNNPS now. A lawful plan will inevitably require a fundamental shift in government approach to transport planning, since transport policy represents 70% of the gap in delivery policies across all economic sectors. Therefore, a lack of progress to decarbonise transport, in effect, kicks the legs out from under the whole net-zero agenda.

There is an elegant way for the Government to get out from under the car crash in which they find themselves as a result of the High Court ruling. In February 2022, the energy national policy statements were withdrawn for further review in light of the BEIS Committee calling for stronger emphasis on net zero, so there is a precedent. In my book, the DfT should gracefully do the same, and commission an independent review of the NNNPS and of the projects that are beneath its overarching framework to make sure that transport policy can deliver what is needed for the Government to achieve their statutory targets, both in climate change and in the broader environment.

Can the Minister confirm that he will, in fact, gracefully withdraw the NNNPS? If he is not prepared to do that, why not, and how are the Government planning to meet their statutory climate and environment commitments and to respond to the verdict of the High Court?

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, as it seems compulsory in this short debate to quote Voltaire, perhaps I might take us to his wonderful creation, Dr Pangloss, who continues to assert:

“All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”


even while the horrors are descending around him. I feel there is something of that in the statement; it is a bit Panglossian. As noble Lords have already said, we face a climate emergency and crisis, and this statement is not adequate to the seriousness of the situation that we are in.

In Greater Manchester, we have made a commitment through our combined authority to become a net-zero city by 2038. It is no good us doing that if everybody else is going the opposite way. My wife is a priest in a parish underneath a motorway interchange. Motorways are, of course, exempt from all the clean air regulations that apply to many other roads. We desperately need every policy to be thoroughly tested to ensure that it will get us to net zero in the time and at the pace that we need, and at the moment, this is not good enough.

Lord Goddard of Stockport Portrait Lord Goddard of Stockport (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is quite right to highlight the Government’s failure to carry out the systematic review of road projects recommended by the Climate Change Committee, and addressing the risk of insufficient environmental action by the Department for Transport that was highlighted. I just want to speak about the effect that has on the levelling-up agenda, which it links to. All these actions are interactions, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Young of Old Scone, are quite right to highlight the environmental impacts of these decisions. However, there are even bigger and more important issues, which I will highlight to the House.

As an aside, my need to stay for two nights in London to take part in this debate tonight is also relevant, as well as the thousands of people who were going to come London today but who cannot do so because of a national rail strike. That is not directly connected to this but it is symptomatic of how the Government are dealing with the people who deal with that infrastructure. After two years, ASLEF has still not resolved a pay dispute, but it is not all its fault. This is on the record: I am not having a go at Avanti trains tonight. The infrastructure—Network Rail—is to blame along the way as well. Trains are blocked and lines are down and not working. I can tell you where they are; people need to know where they are. If you go to Milton Keynes or Watford, lines are down. It affects the travel anywhere around that area and affects everything coming into London, including people.

Avanti Trains

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Tuesday 27th February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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The noble Lord asks about the Govia Thameslink Railway service. The new service quality regime was introduced in 2023, and the targets set for that period were drawn from the best available information at that time. We have been able to review and evaluate the outcomes of a standard set in 2022-23, with new levels for 2023-24. The department regularly discusses and reviews performance with Govia Thameslink Railway, and its service quality regime results have improved year on year. We will continue to hold it to account to deliver further improvements for passengers.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, a number of times in this short session, we seem to have had it suggested that somehow the Avanti staff are to blame. I suffer along with the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, regularly on that Manchester Piccadilly to Euston route. The staff are wonderful; it is not the driver’s fault if they are eight minutes late, or the fault of the person bringing you a cup of tea if they are 40 minutes late. The problem does not lie with the Avanti staff, who are working under incredibly difficult conditions. Can the Minister join me in expressing support for those staff in the work that they are doing under very trying circumstances?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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I absolutely agree with the right reverend Prelate. I travel from Wales on the GWR system. Yesterday, we were an hour late arriving at Paddington. The staff are very good, and they keep us informed as to what the issues are. As I have said previously, the issues are not always the operators’ fault; they are very often to do with infrastructure.

Avanti West Coast

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Thursday 23rd March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am absolutely not blaming the workforce here. I have never said that I was, but the noble Baroness will be unsurprised to hear that I am putting a little blame at the door of the trade unions. On the process for the next round of contracts for the west coast—because there will have to be a contract—the publication of the 10-year period was a statutory notice. Should it go to Avanti, the six-month contracts would be taken off it. Should it go to another operator, it might be for up to 10 years. The noble Baroness should not read too much into it; it could be any period up to 10 years.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, as a fellow traveller on Avanti, often in the same coach as the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, I agree entirely with his comments. It is not only that trains are delayed or cancelled; sometimes the services on those trains are not provided, particularly food. These are long journeys and often at the very last moment, when you are sitting on the train and have been told that there will be food, you are then told, “We haven’t been able to load the food; there are no refreshments on the journey”. Can we please bear in mind that it is a whole service? The staff are wonderful, but they are labouring against impossible circumstances at the moment.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate is entirely right. That is one of the things on which we hold Avanti to account. Passenger experience is at the heart of what we want to do with our railway system, and as we look to the future for Avanti, and indeed for all train operating companies, passenger experience is one of the key things that they are judged on.