Transport Questions: A bridge becomes a football

 

Transport questions in the Commons have become a raucous affair in recent months - in no small part due to the ferry-related travails of the secretary of state himself.

In the session on Thursday (13 June) only the Scottish National Party saw the benefit of hammering away on the no-deal ferry debacle.

The responsibility for ignoring questions on this issue has now fallen to transport minister Nusrat Ghani rather than Mr Grayling himself, but she was equally able to look beyond the point being made across the aisle.

SNP members of the House asked: ‘What’s the estimate for the next legal settlement?' and pointed out that so far the no deal ferry failure has cost us ‘£43.8m in termination payouts to Brittany Ferries and DFDS, £800,000 on consultancy fees, £33m to Eurotunnel and P&O expects £33m plus legal fees to be added...so it will be over £110m. What’s being sacrificed to pay for this?’

Ms Ghani loftily reminded members of the house that Department for Transport (DfT) spending on no deal preparation for freight was just 1% of the overall budget for no-deal planning - one being a much smaller than 110 million despite in this case them meaning roughly the same thing.

After a somewhat baffling, or 'boggling' as the speaker said, number of questions on Kettering, the debate became really heated around the issue of road building and the environment.

Rachael Maskell MP Labour (Co-Op) gave an impassioned performance asking: ‘Can the secretary of state explain why he has failed to undertake a full environmental audit of the Road Investment Strategy 2 - the most ecologically and environmentally damaging road building programme for a generation?’

Mr Grayling rounded on Labour with the familiar cry of ‘war on the motorist’ in response. Heckling ran back and forth and as did accusations of wrecking the economy and/or the planet.

As for practical suggestions as to how to help congestion, Mr Grayling did receive one from the opposite bench, which he seemed genuinely interested in.

‘Has the minister had any discussion with the Treasury on a public transport voucher scheme that could be taken from wages pre-tax to encourage people to plan to use and thereby lower our carbon emissions in cities?’

Mr Grayling said no, but was happy to discuss further.

Also on the issue of public transport, Mr Grayling seemed ironically quite pleased to announce that he has ‘not received one single proposal or request to introduce bus franchising under the 2017 [Bus Services Act]'.

Labour shadow secretary for transport Andy McDonald's comeback response from his seat was drowned out by heckling, but it may well have had something to do with hoops, jumping and budgets.

Hammersmith Bridge - recently closed to motor vehicles - was in bad enough shape before it was kicked around the Commons as a political football. The latest update on repairs suggests it might be closed for as long as three years.

New roads minister Michael Ellis informed the house that 'neither the borough [of Hammersmith and Fulham] nor TfL [Transport for London] have approached DfT to seek funding to repair Hammersmith bridge'.

London MP Zac Goldsmith called on the DfT to take a ‘proper interest in Hammersmith bridge’ but added he was disappointed that TfL and council have not contacted the department.

To this criticism, Andy Slaughter Labour MP for Hammersmith came back with the point that he at least had written to the minister asking for assistance with the funding. ‘So please can we stop the party politicking on this?’

Doubtful, any opportunity given to criticise London mayor Sadiq Khan was taken no matter how opportunist - the Conservatives clearly see him as vulnerable - to cries of 'cheap' from Labour.

With estimates for the repair of £40m being thrown around, the Hammersmith Bridge issue is anything but cheap where local government is concerned, but as Ms Ghani might say, they should look on the bright side - that's less than 0.5% of the total no-deal prepartion budget.

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