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11.15 am

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): I congratulate the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on bringing this debate before the House. It is important that all colleagues from the area are able to express views. I am grateful to him. I shall make two points, but will be as brief as I can because I recognise that others are waiting to speak.

As joint chairman, along with the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), of the all-party group concerned with the west coast main line ever since the group was

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formed, the matter has been dear to my heart for many years, as it has to the many other hon. Members whose constituencies are along the route. I am pleased to say that, after many years of slow progress, we are beginning, dare I say it, to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Which one?

Mr. Day: Indeed.

The west coast main line is very important, not only to Greater Manchester, but to constituencies beyond, such as Carlisle. The main body of manufacturing industry in the north-west of England is still largely based in Greater Manchester. I wish those involved in upgrading the line and providing the long overdue and much needed new rolling stock much success. It is a long awaited improvement.

Secondly, I should like to address a matter that is also dear to the hearts of my constituents, except much closer to home, and pertinent to the Government's integrated transport policy. I remember Jim Hacker in "Yes Minister" being desperate to avoid such a policy. It was passed around Westminster because nobody wanted to deal with it. I am still at a loss to understand what an integrated transport policy is. The only result that my constituents have thus far witnessed from this so-called policy, to their great disadvantage, is the cancellation of a bypass--a third of which has been built, but goes nowhere--for which they have waited 30 years.

I accept that the Government are involved in a study of the transport needs of the so-called south-eastern quadrant of Greater Manchester, in which the constituency of Cheadle falls. I wish the Minister luck in the exercise, although to me, it is rather pointless, as I am sure my constituents think, too. Officials in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions know full well of the need to complete the Manchester airport eastern link road. Its title says it all. The central section has been built, but it does not join the airport. How ridiculous!

The central section of the much-needed bypass was built because two shopping cities--one at Handforth Dean and the other at Cheadle Royal--invested money in it. That was fine, although the expectation was that the whole road would be completed. At the public inquiry into the MAELR, and the north-south A34(M), which has already been built, it was projected that, by 2000, the new shopping cities would result in my constituents suffering an extra 20,000 car movements a day. That figure has already been surpassed.

I say to the Minister that my constituents in Bramall, Woodford and Heald Green are suffering massive traffic flows to and from the airport. They feel that, under any integrated transport policy--whatever that may be and, once it is defined, whatever success it may have--they face nothing but increased traffic in the short term. It is absolutely essential at some point--even during the review--for the Minister to come to see for herself.

The people who live in certain roads in Woodford and in Heald Green cannot get their cars out of their driveways. Those roads were never intended to carry the volume of traffic that they are currently suffering. The whole roads system links up with the A6(M) Hazel Grove bypass--the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell)

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will no doubt want to speak on that matter--and with the Poynton bypass, which is part of the eastern section of the Manchester airport eastern link road, for which we have been waiting 30 years and which is also missing.

It was planned that all that would, eventually, link up to the M60 circular route around Manchester, but, south of the M63, there is no direct east-west or south to north-west link to Manchester airport. I thank the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton for raising this matter.

Mr. Jack: Does my hon. Friend think that, because the Government claim to believe in joined-up government, there will be a commitment to the policy that he seeks for his local roads system?

Mr. Day: I hope that my right hon. Friend is right. I am not trying to make any clever points; I am simply appealing on behalf of my constituents, who desperately need the Minister to listen to what is being said. This whole project, if completed--the A6(M), the Poynton bypass and the MAELR linking up to the M60--would provide the strategic road links that the Greater Manchester area desperately needs, for all sorts of reasons.

I make a final plea. If we are to have an integrated transport policy, please will the Government make it clear that--although they want improvements in rail and want to move as much traffic from road to rail as they can, and although everyone sees sense in that--they do not, as a matter of principle, exclude road building from that policy. They should not exclude schemes that have already started, because that would leave nothing but a future of misery for people in the areas that are affected. I hope that the Government will allow my constituents to escape from that misery.

11.23 am

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin), not only on securing the debate but on his excellent speech. It covered not only his constituency, but the rest of the north-west.

I shall concentrate on the issues appertaining to Cumbria. We have the most excellent motorway anywhere in the country, and anyone who came over the Lancashire border--Lancashire is a fine county, I am sure of that--would be impressed, as they went through the Howgills and over Shap, by the Pennine hills on one side and the Lake district on the other. They would come to the historic city of Carlisle, which would be on the left as they went towards Scotland.

Although the M6 is excellent, it stops at Carlisle and becomes the A74. For nine miles, it is a dual carriageway all-purpose road. The Scottish Office is building a motorway to the border, but the road called the Cumberland gap is dangerous. People think that they are on the motorway but, all of a sudden, they see farm vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists on the road. That leads to accidents.

The previous Government took the road out of the road proposals, and even scrapped it at one point. I talked to a senior civil servant at the then Department of Transport, who said, "Of course, Mr. Martlew, this road goes nowhere." What he meant was that it went to Scotland,

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so it was not the Department's responsibility. Not filling the Cumberland gap would be nonsense, because it is a dangerous road, and completing it would mean that we would have a motorway link from Brighton on the south coast to Stirling. We must finish that nine-mile stretch to give us a first-class road on the west side of the country.

I understand that the Government have agreed that we should continue to consider upgrading the road to motorway standard, for at least the next three months. I am pleased about that. I accept that the Government have to make some savings on road building--everyone accepts that we cannot build roads in the way that we have previously--but we must continue with this road.

Cumbria county council, of which I was a member, is concerned about the detrunking of the A590, the A595 and the A7. I understand the logic behind the Government's thinking on detrunking, which is to give local authorities more influence and more power. There is concern over whether the money will come to the local authority with detrunking, but I am sure that it can. The county council's real concern is the reduction in a road's status following detrunking. These areas are trying to attract inward investment, and they are afraid that that will send the wrong message to organisations. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can reassure us on that issue.

The A66 is not in my constituency, but in that of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). There is no doubt, however, that the village of Temple Sowerby needs a bypass. Every year there is carnage on that stretch of the road. The previous Government failed to provide a bypass for that stretch of the A66; I hope that this Government will be able to do so.

In my constituency of Carlisle we are not very keen on building new roads. Hon. Members should consider our record over the past 50 years: we built half a ring road, but we realised that building the road was the wrong decision so we cancelled the rest of it. However, we need a north-west bypass. I understand that it may be built under a private finance initiative scheme. The vast majority of my constituents will welcome that, although certain individuals are concerned that the road may go through the corner of a nature reserve. My opinion is that the environmental problems created by not completing the bypass would be much greater than those that we will have if building goes on to the fringe of the nature reserve.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day)--who sits across the way and is co-chairman of the west coast main line all-party group--has mentioned some of the points relating to the west coast main line that we have debated. We do not get a good service on Virgin Trains, but I have travelled with it seven times this year and--touch wood--have never been late. It may be that the service is getting better, but it may be that I have been lucky. We have concerns--[Interruption.] From the noise made by hon. Members, I suspect that I have been lucky.

We are concerned that Railtrack is starting to downgrade the upgrade and will do it on the cheap. I hope that that is not the case, because it would affect the high-speed tilting trains that are due to be used on the west coast main line very soon. We are also worried about the point made in The Guardian recently about considerable disruption in the vicinity of Euston station because of the upgrade. That will obviously cause problems for residents.

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There has been talk about a public inquiry. A public inquiry, as we understand it, would be a disaster for the west coast main line. It would mean years and years of delay and the economy of the north-west and Scotland could not stand that problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton did not have an opportunity to mention the Select Committee document on regional Eurostar services, which is now in the Vote Office. My hon. Friend the Minister may have seen it. According to the first sentence, the regions have been cheated. The document goes on to say that the House gave permission for the construction of the channel tunnel in the belief that all the regions would benefit from it. We have seen no benefit. We need an assurance from the Government--perhaps not today--that the regions will have direct access to Europe through Eurostar services on the west coast.

A Railtrack document that I saw recently said that there were plans to provide Eurostar services between Glasgow and Edinburgh and on the east coast. That would not satisfy hon. Members who are in the Chamber today. I understand that there are also safety problems with east coast services, but that west coast services could be up and running soon. I hope that the Minister will address the difficulties.

I welcome the debate, and hope that the present Government will make good what went wrong under the last. We have reasonable communications in Cumbria, but they could be better. We have a particular problem with the roads that go from west Cumbria to eastern England, and we hope that the Government will put things right.


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