I was pleased to take part in aSevern Tunnel Action Group roundtable meeting in Caldicot last Friday to discuss the future of the Wales and Borders rail franchise, and the needs of commuters and communities in Newport, Monmouthshire and the Forest of Dean.
The new franchise – currently run by Arriva Train Wales – is nearing its end, with a new franchise due to be awarded in 2018 to one of four shortlisted bidders; Arriva, Abellio, Keolis or MTR. The successful bidder will be run the new franchise for 15 years, and will have responsibility for the incoming South Wales Metro system alongside Welsh Government.
The meeting offered stakeholders from Newport, Monmouthshire and the Forest of Dean an opportunity to discuss their key priorities for the new franchise, including improvements to stations, rolling stock and capacity. Among the wide range of stakeholders attending were representatives from the local branch of the RMT union, Monmouthshire County Council, the Forest of Dean District Council, Lydney Town Council, Magor with Undy Community Council, Severn Tunnel Action Group, and the Magor Action Group on Rail, as well as county councillors and local rail experts, including Professor Stuart Cole, Professor of Transport at the University of South Wales and Rowland Pittard of Rail Future Cymru.. Members of staff from the offices of David Davies MP (Monmouth) and Mark Harper MP (Forest of Dean) were also in attendance.
I’m very grateful to the Severn Tunnel Action Group for organising the meeting. It was good to have a variety of voices around the table to discuss what local communities are looking for from the new Wales and Borders franchise, and the importance of developing a joined-up approach to meet the needs of current and future stations on the railway line between Newport and Cheltenham. We discussed the need for continued improvements at Severn Tunnel Junction, Caldicot and Lydney stations, and the potential of a new station for Magor as part of the forthcoming Metro system. A key theme that emerged from discussions was the need to ensure that smaller stations don’t fall between the cracks in the midst of larger projects like electrification of the South Wales main line and the development of the Metro.
We also discussed the fact that – despite the substantial growth of passenger numbers at local stations – there is still a low frequency of services – there are only 12 trains a day from Chepstow to Cardiff. Further to this, we also heard good contributions on freight, and the need for future service providers to develop increased freight transport between Newport, the Forest of Dean and further afield.
There was also agreement that we needed a strong local input into the Transport for Wales consultation on the Wales and Borders Franchise.
Speaking after the meeting, David Flint of the Severn Tunnel Action group said “We’d like to thank the Mayor of Caldicot and the Caldicot Town Council for the use of the Council Chamber for today’s meeting. A small committee representing Lydney, Chepstow, Caldicot and Severn Tunnel Junction stations will now be pulling together to develop all the thoughts expressed during the meeting before reporting back. The aim is to jointly present these joint ideas and objectives to the franchise bidders, as well as to Transport for Wales and Welsh Government."
Transport Focus are requesting that regular passengers on the Newport-Cheltenham line complete a passenger survey at: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/rail-metro
I was pleased to take part in aSevern Tunnel Action Group roundtable meeting in Caldicot last Friday to discuss the future of the Wales and Borders rail franchise, and the...
As you will be aware, last week the Government published the Article 50 Bill, and it was debated over two days in the House of Commons this week.
The vote on triggering Article 50 represented a difficult decision for every MP, especially for those like myself who campaigned and voted to remain in the European Union.
The Labour Party voted in favour of the European Union Referendum Act in 2015, which paved the way for the referendum to take place, and all of us who campaigned knew the outcome would be decisive.
A majority of voters – both here in Wales and across the UK as whole – opted to leave the European Union. I believe it is important to respect this democratic decision, and not block the Article 50 negotiations. Therefore I voted to allow the triggering of Article 50 following the second reading of the Bill.
However, I am clear that does not mean giving the Government a blank cheque to enact a damaging Brexit, and Labour will be seeking to make important amendments to the Bill in Parliament next week when it enters its committee stage.
Whilst the British people voted to leave the EU, it seems clear to me that no one in Newport East was voting for watered-down rights at work, less protection for our natural environment, or economic harm to British industries and workers whose livelihoods rely on trade with the EU.
Labour has proposed targeted amendments in the following key areas:
1. To allow for a meaningful vote in the House of Commons on the final Brexit deal;
2. To establish a number of broad principles the Government must seek to negotiate with regard to, protecting workers’ rights and securing full tariff and impediment-free access to the Single Market;
3. To ensure the Government must seek to retain all existing EU tax avoidance and evasion measures post-Brexit;
4. To require the Government to report to the House of Commons at regular intervals on the progress of Brexit negotiations;
5. To guarantee legal rights for EU nationals living in the UK before Brexit negotiations begin;
6. To require the Government to consult regularly with the governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland;
7. To require the Government to publish any impact assessment that has been carried out on the potential impact of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. A separate amendment would ensure that any new relationship with the EU must be accompanied by an Equality Impact Assessment.
Since the result of the referendum last June, the Government has failed to address concerns about what leaving the European Union will mean in practice. Now is the time for proper scrutiny and accountability, as we know that the Article 50 Bill will represent the start rather than the end of the Brexit process. We are leaving the EU, but we need to ensure we leave in the right way.
Please rest assured that my Labour colleagues and I will continue to hold the Government to account every step of the way, and will do all we can to ensure we get a Brexit deal that works for the people of Newport East, Wales and the UK.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any queries or concerns on this or any other matter.
As you will be aware, last week the Government published the Article 50 Bill, and it was debated over two days in the House of Commons this week. The vote...
I attended an event in Parliament this week to show support for World Cancer Day, which takes place this Saturday 4th February, 2017. At the event I met with representatives from seven of the UK’s leading charities who have joined forces to unite the nation and help people affected by cancer.
Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, Breast Cancer Now, CLIC Sargent, Anthony Nolan, Bowel Cancer UK and Marie Curie are calling on people across Newport East and Gwent to show their support by wearing a Unity Band or donating. By joining forces, the charities aim to make a bigger impact in transforming the lives of millions who are affected by cancer.
The Unity Bands are made of two parts, knotted together, to symbolise strength in unity and the power of what can be achieved when people join forces. The bands are available from each charity on their websites, shops and other retail outlets for a suggested donation of £2. All money raised from the Unity Bands will go towards the charities individual work.
One in two people born in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime.
The incidence of all cancers in the Gwent region is slightly higher than the Welsh average, and I know that thousands of families across my constituency are affected by it every year. I’m calling on people in Newport East to join me by wearing a Unity Band, making a donation or spreading the word on social media in support of World Cancer Day which is on this Saturday 4th February.
Whatever your motivation – to remember a loved one, celebrate people who have overcome the disease, or to rally in support of those going through treatment - World Cancer Day is a chance to get involved and transform the lives of millions of people who are affected by cancer.
I attended an event in Parliament this week to show support for World Cancer Day, which takes place this Saturday 4th February, 2017. At the event I met with representatives...
I was pleased to secure a Westminster Hall debate on the future operation of the Severn Bridges this week, and had the opportunity to raise concerns of constituents and businesses with the Government's Transport Minister.
You can read the full transcript of the debate, including the Minister's response here.
Here's my speech and concluding remarks from the debate:
On 13 January the Government announced their consultation on the future management of the Severn bridges. We were promised it in the autumn, with the Government saying it would be about a year to go until the handover, but better late than never. I have called this debate in part to recognise that the Government have moved some way towards recognising how hard hit we in south Wales have been by the level of tolls, although they have not gone far enough—I will move on to that later—but also, crucially, to get more clarity from the Minister on what the Government are planning when, at long last, the Severn bridges concession ends. We need that clarity because there is not long to go now; Severn River Crossing could reach its revenue target in October this year and the Government consultation ends on 10 March. Now that the concession is drawing to a close, this is the first opportunity that Members have had in 25 years to shape the new regime for the benefit of our constituents and businesses.
This is a critical stage to get this right for the future. Given the inflexibility of the 1992 legislation, it is important that we scrutinise the plans now and future-proof them so that we will not need to unpick things in years to come, for example because we had not thought about vehicle categories. That is a very important point. We must be able to shape the new regime for the benefit of our constituents and businesses.
Getting more clarity about the direction of travel is important for my constituents who commute, the businesses who do business across the bridges and those who work on the bridges. In recent years those people have had to suffer the highest toll in the UK, and commuters have just had to absorb the annual increases, however unfair they are. Constituents have had to turn down job offers because the toll is equivalent to nearly an hour on the minimum wage. Just this morning I received an email from a constituent, who said: “The tolls add a considerable amount to the cost of travel to Bristol, where a lot of attractive jobs for young graduates like myself exist. Many of my friends who have graduated from university recently and are looking for a job fail to look at Bristol because in my opinion, the toll gives…the impression that Bristol is out of reach, even though in actual fact, travel time is not much more than to Cardiff.”
Businesses, especially those in logistics and the provision of services, are trying to compete with firms in the south-west that do not have to factor in the toll, and they are losing out. Some businesses in my constituency are hit by up to half a million pounds a year, which just has to come off the bottom line. At present there are no effective discounts or incentives for off-peak travel. The arguments have been well rehearsed over many years, but it is worth reiterating just how hard people have been hit and therefore how strongly they feel about the issue.
The Severn crossings are a key link in our transport and economic infrastructure as part of the M4 corridor—the gateway to Wales—which allows access to markets in the UK, but also as part of the E30 route. As has been said many times before, the Severn tolls have been a tax on Welsh business and commuters. I recognise that the Government have gone some way towards acknowledging that. They announced in January that tolls could be reduced to £3 for cars and vans and £10 for lorries when the concession ends, but the message from many of my constituents and businesses is that the Government are not going far enough.
I want to thank the many constituents, businesses and groups, such as the Freight Transport Association, that have worked with me, other hon. Members and the Welsh Affairs Committee over the years on this campaign. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who attended the Severn bridges summit that I organised with the FTA here last year, so that the people affected could put their views to him directly.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) mentioned, we should also pay tribute to the maintenance and toll staff, who are incredibly hard-working and knowledgeable about the Severn bridges. I hope that the Minister will ensure that they have a key voice in future decisions, because they have the expertise that we need and that we must keep. I urge him to ensure that there are regular meetings with management and staff so that they are fully informed of announcements and discussions. We should acknowledge that it is a sensitive time.
On tolling, the Government have announced that they will seek to reduce the tolls and that they will use the toll revenue for operations, maintenance and debt repayment. The Minister will be aware that there is a strong consensus in the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh Government and among many users of the bridges that the tolls should be scrapped altogether, not least because removing them would boost productivity in Wales by up to £100 million, as a recent Welsh Government study has shown. Tolls represent an unfair tax. In an ideal world the UK Government would pay for the maintenance, not the people and businesses of Wales, particularly after such a lengthy period with such eye-watering tolls.
Scrapping the tolls would be a symbolic move, especially with the uncertainty around Brexit. It would be helpful to hear from the Government why they have not included that option in the consultation. I am sure that many people would like to back it. I hope that the consultation is a true one, not just a paper exercise, and that the Government have an open mind on it.
The Minister will say that halving the tolls will allow an assessment of the impact on traffic. The traffic using the bridges has increased and, as recent media coverage shows, many people are choosing to relocate from Bristol and the south-west to Newport and Monmouthshire as a lifestyle choice—a very good choice, as it is an absolutely wonderful place to live. In response, the UK and Welsh Governments need to work on a holistic transport plan that includes the metro, and the Government must help to make up the shortfall from the loss of EU funds. While I am being parochial, the Government should support a new station bid for Magor and provide greater rail capacity, especially on the commuter services from Newport and the Severn tunnel junction, which have been dubbed the “sardine express”—I have had debates on that in the past—and the Welsh Government should look at the matters that are devolved.
Will the Minister tell us where the figure quoted in the public consultation of a 17% traffic increase over 10 years has come from? How much of that will be in the first year? In fact, it would be particularly helpful if he could publish all the research that the Government have commissioned on traffic modelling in relation to the end of the concessions and the traffic flows. I know that all hon. Members would be grateful for that.
If, as the consultation indicates, the Government decide to continue tolling, the toll level should not exceed the cost of operating the two bridges. Severn River Crossing collects about £90 million-plus each year, and that is going up. Maintenance and operation costs are between £13 million and £15 million. Based on a rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation, that requires a toll of about £1, which means the Government will still be charging three times more for cars and 10 times more for lorries. The Government argue that they will have to recoup a £60 million debt for fixing defects but, as the Welsh Affairs Committee has documented, they have done very well out of the bridges so far: the Treasury has received £154 million-plus since 2003 in unexpected VAT—more than enough to cover the debt and undertake the resurfacing work, which the Government value at £12 million, with a lot left over.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), why do we have to pay for resurfacing on this stretch of road out of bridge tolls, when for any other stretch of road the cost is taken out of general taxation?
Given that they have absorbed the VAT charges into the general Treasury coffers, surely we should be dipping into the Treasury’s coffers to pay for the resurfacing work.
The Government have recouped a substantial pot of money. We should not forget that they wiped £150 million of debt from the Humber bridge. Wales deserves the same. Has the Minister estimated the date by which the outstanding Government debt will be paid off? I understand that, under their current plans, it could take 18 months. Is their intention to reduce tolls at that point to reflect that?
Will the Minister tell us how the Government calculated the £3 figure? There is no rationale for how it was reached, and it would be really helpful to have a breakdown to know how the tolls will be spent. Will the Minister confirm what ongoing method will be used to calculate the tolls in future? The consultation does not make that clear, and we need to know how the Department for Transport will assess the tolls annually, because we have suffered years of annual increases.
It is also crucial that we know from the Government when the new tolling regime will come into force. We are currently no clearer about the expected timing of the handover of the crossings. It is anticipated that the revenue target will be met in October, and that the actual transfer of services will occur at some stage after that. What is the current plan? It is important that we get clarity about the handover period and know when the bridges are formally to be run by the Department for Transport. If there is a gap, and VAT comes off the bridges but the tolls remain at the current level, there will potentially be a period when businesses that claim back their VAT will, in effect, have to pay more. Have the Government given any thought to that?
The Department for Transport said that it is a year to go until handover. When does it expect that date to be? Does that mean, for instance, that if the formal handover has not taken place by January 2018, we will have to endure yet another retail prices index increase next year?
The mention of free flow is welcome, but many will be disappointed that it may not be seen for some years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said, the main benefit is the reduction in journey times and congestion. Although free flow is clearly a future consideration, I ask for two things: first, that under free flow the tolls will not go up for a return journey; and secondly, that all back-office functions for dealing with evasion and administration should be sited locally. It would be an advantage for free flow if those who carry out the back-office functions know the local area and the local issues. Will the Minister give us some clarity about the Government’s current estimate of the costs of free flow?
Free flow will be looked at in future, but what thought has been given to improving the TAG? It is the fastest current form of payment—it takes about six seconds—but it is important to improve it if we are to tackle congestion. Severn River Crossing has made strenuous efforts to promote the TAG, and nearly 30% of users now use that method of payment, but only an improved season TAG discount and a first-time trip TAG discount beyond a halving of the toll will materially affect TAG take-up. With that in mind, will the Government consider a more ambitious future for the TAG to speed up traffic in the short term?
I am pleased that the long-awaited consultation has been published. I will certainly encourage all those with an interest to contribute their thoughts to it.
I think that, after many years of pretty eye-watering tolls on this bridge, it is time we looked for a much fairer regime for people who live in south-east Wales. The tolls have hit my constituents and businesses especially hard. As I have said, there is a strong call, supported by the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government, to scrap the tolls altogether, and I have huge sympathy with that. If this Government are not willing to go that far, as indicated in the consultation, we should surely have a £1 maintenance-only toll.
The consultation contains more detail about the options that are not being considered than about those that are on the table. It says that Highways England will have the responsibility in future, but will it contract out any elements of the operation or maintenance of the bridges? What maintenance charges, other than for the resurfacing, do the Department for Transport anticipate for the bridges in the first 18 months?
The consultation mentions the option of removing tolls between 10 pm and 6 am—off-peak travel—but does not seek views. Will the Government speak to businesses and others to gauge their views? Business representatives I met in my constituency on Friday said they thought it would be extremely attractive to companies based in south Wales, particularly in the logistics industry, so more work should be done to pursue that option.
To conclude, the Severn Bridges Act was written almost 30 years ago. As we have said many times, it was an inflexible piece of legislation that was not future-proofed. I have one plea for the Minister: whatever legislation we have to pass—the consultation made mention of statutory instruments—we as local Members should be consulted properly. We and our constituents need to be able to take part, because in the months to come we will have many more detailed questions, although I hope that the Minister can answer some today. I appreciate other hon. Members supporting the debate and I look forward to their contributions.
I am not sure whether we are that much clearer about the breakdown of the £3 toll. I will hold him to his promise to break that down for us in more detail. I am also not sure whether we are that much closer to understanding the handover plan. The Department for Transport clearly cannot take over the bridges the minute the last car pays up and the revenue target is reached, so it would be useful to know about that, not least because I would not want constituents to face another annual increase in January 2018. I would also like more detail from the Minister on what can be done about the tag reduction. I hope that this time we end up with a lasting solution that means we can future-proof the legislation. Will the Minister respond in writing to anything else we have raised in the debate? That would be particularly helpful. As in all our efforts in talking about the Severn bridge tolls, we do so for our constituents, our businesses and the wider economy of south Wales, which have been hit hard by the tolls over the years.
I was pleased to secure a Westminster Hall debate on the future operation of the Severn Bridges this week, and had the opportunity to raise concerns of constituents and businesses...
I'm pleased to have secured a parliamentary debate on the future operation of the Severn Bridges next Tuesday.
Any constituents & businesses from Newport East who want to share views, please email email@example.com
I'm pleased to have secured a parliamentary debate on the future operation of the Severn Bridges next Tuesday. Any constituents & businesses from Newport East who want to share views,...
I welcome this week's new report from All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Steel containing key recommendations for securing a long-term future for the British steel industry, including in Newport. The report – ‘Steel 2020: Forging a future for the British steel industry’ – demands that the UK Government takes ‘urgent and strategic action’ to enable the industry to re-build and thrive, and to ensure that steel plays a central role in developing an industrial strategy for an expanded manufacturing base in the UK.
This is a wide-ranging report which offers a path towards a brighter future for the UK steel industry if imminent action is taken. While highlighting that steel industry in the UK remains in an increasingly precarious position, the report rightly emphasises that steel is not a ‘sunset industry’ and can actually play a key role at the frontline of innovation – over two thirds of the steel we produce in the UK today did not exist a decade ago. I was delighted that the report identified the huge potential of cutting-edge steel work in Newport East at the Zodiac plant in Llanwern and the electric steels facility at Orb.
The economic costs of the loss of the British steel industry are far greater than the costs of investment. We need the UK Government to support the development of a more competitive environment for our steel industry before it is too late. Steelworkers in South Wales and across the UK are counting on them.
Key recommendations to the UK Government outlined in the report include:
- Asking Ministers to take urgent action to reduce the UK’s uncompetitive industrial energy costs;
- Calling for action against illegal steel dumping by China – including through opposing any future attempts by China to secure Market Economy Status;
- Imploring Government to introduce stronger procurement rules to increase domestic steel content in manufacturing and construction;
- A call for greater investment in skills and research & development, with consideration given to a nationwide programme based on the Welsh Government’s ProAct scheme to provide wage subsidy support for the steel industry to help retain skilled staff;
- An emphasis on the need for greater worker and trade union representation on UK steel company boards, based on the relative success of this model in parts of Europe and the USA.
The report also highlights the crucial importance of the UK securing a constructive free trade deal with the EU after Brexit, given that the UK currently exports three times as much steel to other EU countries as it does to all other export markets put together.
The Argus covered the report launch here: http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/15042481.7_point_plan_set_out_for_steel_industry
I welcome this week's new report from All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Steel containing key recommendations for securing a long-term future for the British steel industry, including in Newport....
This week I spoke in a House of Commons debate on the future of infrastructure projects in Wales post-Brexit, and called on the Government to be "crystal clear" about guaranteeing funding for the South Wales metro after we leave the European Union.
Wales has secured around €5 billion in structural funds for the period 2014 to 2020. Although the UK Government has said it will guarantee funding for projects funded by the EU, it has still been unable to clarify comments made by the Chancellor in last year’s Autumn Statement that this applies to those projects “signed before the autumn statement”, and that those signed afterwards would have to be assessed by the Treasury against a set of criteria.
EU structural funds have been used in South East Wales to fund urban development including regeneration in Newport, the Wetlands, and £106 million will be needed as a contribution to the South Wales Metro.
The development of the South Wales Metro is crucial to economic development and connectivity in my constituency. Whilst we have had some assurances from the UK Government Ministers that they will support projects like the metro, we still don't have any guarantees post-2020, and there is uncertainty about those projects signed off after the Autumn statement.
The South Wales Metro would mean quicker and more regular services for stations in and around Newport, and include connecting communities in Magor and Llanwern. It could also pave the way for further development, ensuring that Newport has the infrastructure it needs to grow and build on the excellent work of the Welsh Government and Newport City Council.
This week I spoke in a House of Commons debate on the future of infrastructure projects in Wales post-Brexit, and called on the Government to be "crystal clear" about guaranteeing funding for the...
I was honoured to sign the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment in Parliament this week ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day.
Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on Friday 27th January, marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.
Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people from Newport East and across the country to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust, remembering the millions of lives that were cut short in horrific circumstances. It is also an occasion to pay tribute to the survivors of the Holocaust – their memories of the horrors they witnessed and endured serve as a harrowing warning to us all to challenge racism, intolerance and hatred in all its forms.
To find out more about the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, visit: http://www.het.org.uk
I was honoured to sign the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment in Parliament this week ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day. Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on Friday 27th January, marking...
I am glad the Government have finally published the consultation on future tolling on the Severn Bridges, once they come back into public ownership.
You can take part in the consultation which runs until 10th March 2017.
There are online forms or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org,
or you can write to:
Severn Consultation Team
Roads Investment Strategy Futures
33 Horseferry Road
The proposals are here:
I am glad the Government have finally published the consultation on future tolling on the Severn Bridges, once they come back into public ownership. You can take part in the...
The long-awaited Hendry Review on Tidal Lagoons was published today. The Hendry Review recommends that the Government support the construction of a Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which would serve as a pathfinder project for other lagoons across the UK, including in Newport, Cardiff and North Wales.
Speaking at the launch of the review in Parliament, Charles Hendry called on the UK to ‘take the lead’ on tidal lagoon power before other countries do so.
I have previously spoken in Parliament about the compelling arguments for harnessing tidal power energy off the South Wales coast, and what a wonderful opportunity it could be for Newport. The Hendry Review outlines how lagoons can provide an affordable and predictable source of low-carbon energy, with the potential to create thousands of new jobs in the manufacturing and construction process – in addition to the potential for other employment opportunities in tourism and the supply chain.
We know that there is already support for tidal lagoons from Welsh Government and industry in South Wales. Natural Resources Wales will now make its own assessment before granting a marine license, and I would I echo Charles Hendry’s call for the UK Government to move swiftly to final stage negotiations on the pathfinder lagoon for Swansea Bay.
The Hendry Review claims a future Newport lagoon could support as many as 6,386 jobs, and cites the cooperative relationship that could be forged with ‘green steel’ businesses based in Newport - Liberty House Group and Simec.
The long-awaited Hendry Review on Tidal Lagoons was published today. The Hendry Review recommends that the Government support the construction of a Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which would serve as...