Oral Question: Road Infrastructure Investment

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John Stevenson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the priorities in the long run, beyond the work on the A591 and Pooley bridge, must be to invest in and renew our road infrastructure in Cumbria?

Tim Farron: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. He is doing an excellent job for his constituents in Carlisle. He is right that the investment now will help the county in the long run. I ask the Government to invest in making sure that the A591 is rebuilt and reopened in a matter of weeks, not months, because the current situation is devastating for the local economy.

There is also a plan on the table from Cumbria Tourism that the Government need to provide funding for right now. There is a short-term, immediate strategy—as in, today—to boost the economy up to Christmas through a marketing campaign and a medium-term campaign to make sure we get back on our feet.

Other parts of the Lake district have been hugely hit. The village of Staveley has been cut in two by the closure of its bridge. Again, we need support for that in weeks, not months. Likewise, the bridge that connects the two communities at Backbarrow, which was lost six years ago in 2009, is closed again and needs investment straight away to make sure it is reopened.

It is important that people get the message, and that the Government get out the message that Cumbria is open for business. I was in Grasmere yesterday. I cannot think of a more Christmassy place to be at this moment, but equally I cannot think of a quieter place. People are not going there because they think the place is closed. It is not. Please go there. Please will the Government get the message out that that is what people need to do?

I have a quick note about farmers. I am very concerned that the Government are planning to close the Lyth valley pumps in June. I was there yesterday and we cannot allow that to happen. Will the Government commit to funding the pumps beyond the end of June? Will they also commit to help farmers who have lost stock in tragic circumstances up and down the county? They must recognise that much of the money that goes into keeping the Lyth valley dry is about protecting infrastructure, which the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) mentioned. The A590 is often flooded as a consequence of that farmland not being drained, so the pumps are important for infrastructure too.

I want to make a final point about the long-termism that is needed. We often hear the phrase “long-term economic plan”. The problem is that we had an autumn statement recently in which the Chancellor pulled out of his hat lots of white rabbits, but none of those white rabbits were for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Department for Communities and Local Government. The three Departments that we desperately need to be on the frontline to protect people in Cumbria are massively denuded. We have local authorities—South Lakeland District Council, Cumbria County Council and others—working very hard and doing a very good job, but with about 20% less people and resources than they had six years ago. It is therefore vital that the Government commit to providing the £500 million that PricewaterhouseCoopers has identified so that we can rebuild our communities, support our damaged people and communities, get people back in their homes, and do so quickly.

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