On Wednesday 17th June 2015 the House of Lords debated a Government motion in the name of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon “that this House takes note of transport connectivity and infrastructure in the north of England.” The Bishop of Derby, Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, spoke in the debate, highlighting transport, infrastructure and investment questions for the east Midlands and Derby diocesan area.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his clear, optimistic and encouraging introduction, and associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and his desire for this to proceed quickly and effectively. I declare an interest in that I come from Derby in the east Midlands, so I feel a bit like an interloper in this debate about the north—although part of our diocese is the Peak District, which may just qualify as the north.
I have three short points to make and three questions that I would like to ask the Minister. The OECD report shows that infrastructure in the UK has suffered underinvestment compared to many of our competitor countries. That underinvestment is not just in the north, of course; it is right across the country, including in the east and the south-west. Similarly, the disparate quality of infrastructure between the south-east, which includes London, and the rest of the country is not just in relation to the north—it is in relation to many other parts of the country. So my first question is: for a Government who are committed quite rightly to a one-nation approach, what is in mind, alongside this very proper and right investment in this project in the north, to enable other parts of the country to be part of a strategy for the development of infrastructure, transport and communication?
Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said, last week we were debating the cities and local government proposals. How does the Minister see the relationship between the structure of the northern cities in the report behind today’s discussion and the proposals in the cities and local government report that there should be quite a lot of freedom to design political and economic working units that might best suit and enable growth? How are we going to bring these two maps, and these two possible combinations of cities and their hinterlands, together? That is a very important question. The Minister is leading both discussions on the Front Bench, and I would be interested to know how there is going to be coherence between the freedom given to make political and economic units that can guarantee growth under the cities and local government proposals and this proposal involving a number of northern cities.
My final point returns to the east Midlands and Derby. The east Midlands has attracted a very small share of the high-value regionally allocated pipeline projects but is still creating jobs and growth. Noble Lords may have noticed that this week the city of Derby has been designated the fastest-growing economy in the UK. That growth is drawn from manufacturing and engineering, with Rolls-Royce, Bombardier and Toyota. Over the five years of the economic downturn, that manufacturing sector around those great industrial giants bucked the trend, creating growth, jobs and international trade. My final question to the Minister is: as we rightly look to develop the infrastructure and potential of the north, how are we going to ensure that that kind of manufacturing base, which has been so hard earned, also participates in the proper investment in infrastructure and communication so that those elements, too, remain in the cutting edge of our international competitiveness and economic performance?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): [extract] .. We have been talking today about transport for the north, and it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby who said that he felt like an interloper. Imagine how I, someone from Wimbledon, feel talking about transport for the north…
..The issue we have discussed today is important. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby talked about connectivity in the north not being exclusive. I share that. He talked about how industry in the Midlands has been a big success story. It is important that in anything we do there is connectivity across the country. Certainly that is what we are seeking to achieve with our strategy….