Unfortunately I was not called to speak during the annual Welsh Affairs debate today due to restrictions on the number of speakers. Here’s what I was hoping to say:
Thank you and appreciate the opportunity to speak today in this St David’s Day debate. And Da Iawn to my honorable friend for Cardiff West for securing and opening this debate with his customary flair.
As time is short and the list of colleagues wanting to speak long, I’ll concentrate on an issue of importance to Newport East that is very firmly one of this Tory Government’s responsibilities and that’s rail investment, and the continued and chronic under investment in Welsh rail infrastructure. Its not good enough for Tory Ministers in Westminster to continually point the finger at Welsh Government when this issue falls within their remit and is in their gift to remedy.
And the evidence is stark. Total UK Government rail enhancement investment in Wales from 2001 to 2029 is around £2.2 billion. If that spend was based on population allocation, this should have been £5.1Bn or on the basis of network route length, £10.2bn. So we are looking at an underinvestment in Welsh rail of between £2.9Bn and £8Bn. Meanwhile major projects that would benefit all of South Wales, like electrification to Swansea, have been cancelled.
The underinvestment in rail infrastructure in South East Wales specifically was identified in Lord Burns and the South Wales Transport Commission’s recent report, which made the case for new stations for Magor, Llanwern and Somerton in Newport East which is much welcomed. Many of the recommendations in the report were for the UK Government, including the need for an upgrade and reconfiguration of the South Wales relief lines, which the report suggest would cost between £130m and £180m. This measure would greatly help the campaign for a station for Magor, which is something I have supported for a number of years. Magor is a fast-growing community with many people who commute, and a new station would help relieve pressure on Severn Tunnel Junction and reduce congestion locally.
In normal times large numbers of constituents already commute to work in Bristol and beyond from Newport and Severn Tunnel Junction, which has been one of the fastest-growing passenger stations on the Great Western mainline over the last two decades – despite having lost a significant number services on the Great Western franchise, and more recently the Cross Country service.. Over the last ten years total passenger growth has been 66% and over the last 20 years 266% – three times the growth the of the UK average.
In normal times, these cross-border services are plagued by overcrowding and a lack of reliability. I have raised this issue with ministers on a numouros occasions and something needs to be done. And It certainly does not help that the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales are restricted by the Department for Transport from providing any additional cross-border services under the current terms of the Wales and Borders Franchise. Extra services would help alleviate some of the pressure, and it’s not clear why the DfT are still blocking this from happening, So my appeal today to the Welsh Ministers is please get on with working in Government to address the asks in the Burns report which are in your gift.
Finally in recent debates I’ve thanked all those working in the health services, emergency services, key workers and local authorities in my constituency for their amazing work over this last year and praise too to all those involved in the enormous task of delivering vaccinations. Well done Wales for ensuring we are the first nation to offer the top four priority groups a covid jab and putting in place the best contact tracing system in the UK. Well done Welsh Government for offering the most generous support package in the UK – safeguarding over 140,000 jobs through the £2 billion Economic Resilience Fund – and on behalf of the many constituents who have mentioned it, well done to Mark Drakeford for his measured, careful, and science-led leadership during the pandemic; taking decisive action to protect people.