Neil called for increased rail capacity and better broadband in a Parliamentary debate on boosting jobs and growth in the South West.
The debate centred on the South West Growth Charter and made the case for Government infrastructure spending in the South West to help the regional economy take off. The debate co-incided with the launch of the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s 20-year plan to increase rail resilience and capacity in the South West. The Charter was presented to Downing Street later the same day.
Neil's contributions are below and the full debate can be read at this link:
Neil: I am delighted that my hon. Friend has secured this debate. We can do much more on the second rail link between Waterloo and Exeter to increase the number of trains and to add more loops so that we can get many more trains through to Exeter and further down into the west country. I would like a junction connecting the rail link to the trams at Seaton.
Gary Streeter MP (South West Devon): My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for his region, and I know he speaks to the Government. I am sure he knows that, by sheer coincidence, the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s 20-year plan will be launched at 11 o’clock this morning. The plan will spell out the improvement we seek to our rail infrastructure, and it will include the measures he mentions to equip our region for the 21st century.
Neil: I am encouraged by that, but is part of the strategy broadband? When we talk about superfast and extra-superfast, can we make sure that the rural areas of this country are connected with some form of broadband?
Jesse Norman (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister): As my hon. Friend understands, I am not the Minister for Culture, Media and Support. He also knows that when I was Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I took an active interest in that issue, and we commissioned a very reputable report from a group of academics and industry experts, which found, among other things, that BT Openreach was under-investing in its network by hundreds of millions of pounds a year. It was accretive to investors and was not down to its cost of capital. I do not want to speculate on the reasons for that, but its effect has been massively to penalise people—particularly those in rural areas. I am sure my hon. Friend supports today’s announcement of a new fund to support other players in fibre through balance sheet-matched funding, which will enable fibre roll-out, particularly in rural and suburban areas, to proceed much faster than hitherto. That is a very welcome development.