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11.31 am

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I thank the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) for breaking ground for me by raising some of the issues that I want to put to the Minister. Our constituencies, on the south-eastern side of Greater Manchester, experience problems caused not just by congestion and commuters, but by renewed economic growth.

Traffic flows were mentioned by both the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) and the hon. Member for Cheadle. Manchester airport is expanding rapidly; it is clearly very successful, and it is planned to become even more successful with the opening of the second runway by 2005. It is anticipated that the number of passengers travelling to and from the airport will increase from 16 million to 30 million, and that there will an additional 30,000 jobs in and around it.

A sensible strategy has been devised to divert as many passengers and workers as is feasible to public transport: the target is 25 per cent., and a vigorous start has been made. It is, however, a challenging target, which will be difficult to achieve. The development of the Metrolink, the opening of the southern link to the airport railway station and the provision of many new rail and coach services to various parts of the country will all help.

Let me make a constituency plea. Even if all the targets are met, as I hope they will be, an extra 8 million passengers will be travelling by road to the airport following its expansion. If the 25 per cent. target is achieved, 22,000 of the 30,000 extra jobs will still be filled by people travelling by road. According to my calculations--I shall be interested to hear whether the

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Minister thinks differently--that means an extra 70,000 road trips per day in and out of the airport and the surrounding area.

As well as the severe congestion which--as the hon. Member for Cheadle pointed out--already exists, the opening of the second runway and the economic regeneration of the area will lead to an extra 70,000 road trips per day, even if the public transport strategy works to a T. Those of us who represent communities to the east of the airport--Hazel Grove, Bredbury and Romiley, for instance--face the prospect not just of passengers from our area and people with jobs at the airport travelling to it, but people whose homes are further to the east in Oldham, Tameside or even Sheffield using the conventional road system to filter through my area and that of the hon. Member for Cheadle and reach the airport.

In an intervention, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) hinted at the need for not just joined-up thinking, but joined-up roads to make the connection to the airport. This will allow the large majority of people who, according to any projection, will be using the road system to do so without destroying the local communities and environment.

In the past, Governments have recognised some of the needs. There are dotted lines on maps. Very shortly, the opening of the M60 link around the east side of Greater Manchester will provide a direct route from the M62 around the east of Manchester to the airport and the national motorway network on the west side of England. There is just one problem--the M60, as it passes through Stockport where for part of its length it has two lanes. It is already heavily congested during commuting times, and people use alternative routes, all of which run through my constituency. I am faced with the opening of a new motorway link from the M62 which points straight at the heart of my constituency, and, on the other side, I am faced with the Manchester airport eastern link road, which is partly finished and which also points straight at the heart of my constituency. In the middle is my constituency, with conventional, suburban, built-up roads that are already heavily congested, and will shortly experience the onslaught of new airport passengers and workers.

Mr. Day: Is it not important for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to accede to the requests that I understand will be made by both Stockport and Macclesfield borough councils for the western and eastern sections of the Manchester airport eastern link road, the Poynton bypass and the Hazel Grove bypass--the A6M--to remain a protected line of route?

Mr. Stunell: I agree. In fact, last Thursday Stockport metropolitan borough council decided to make that specific recommendation as part of its submission to the Minister. I have seen Lord Whitty--I know that the hon. Member for Cheadle has done the same--and talked to him about, in particular, the projected multi-modal study of the south-east quadrant of Greater Manchester, a tremendous mouthful. I gather that the study is due to start in the spring, and that it will take two years to produce a report. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. I do not know how long it will take to implement the report, but there will probably be considerably more delay before my constituents are relieved of their problems.

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When I spoke to Lord Whitty, he gave me the clear impression that discussions would take place with local councils about the criteria for the study, and that they would have opportunities to be consulted and to participate. I have, however, heard from Stockport council the worrying suggestion that consultation on the criteria has not taken place, and is not projected to take place. Can the Minister assure me that it will?

Let me briefly make two points that were also made by the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton, and with which I entirely agree. One relates to the difficulties that First North West Trains seems to be having in providing efficient and effective commuter services for my constituents and, no doubt, his. I hope that the Minister will keep a sharp eye on the franchise of that company, as I know that the passenger transport authority is doing, to ensure that it performs to the level that it is required to do by its franchise, and can reasonably be expected to do.

I pick up the point that was made by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) relating to the Eurostar link. Last autumn, I wrote to the Minister and raised the issue of when Virgin's request to run Eurostar services would be considered. I understand that a review is going on. I had the impression that that would have reached a conclusion and that an announcement would have been made before Christmas. Unless I have missed it, I do not think that it has happened yet. Again, I ask the Minister whether that straightforward, simple step to improve our links with Europe and the rest of the world can be given an urgent push forward.

11.40 am

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley): I declare some old interests in transport. For a long period--13 years--I was a paid director of the Manchester Ship Canal Company and of Manchester Ship Canal Development, which eventually became a wholly owned subsidiary of Peel Holdings, which now owns Liverpool airport. I spent 13 years as a director of Manchester airport and 11 years as a member of the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on securing the debate and on the comprehensive review that he gave of transport in Greater Manchester and the north-west.

On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) made about Eurostar, I had the difficult choice of whether to come to the debate, or to go to the press conference to launch the report on Eurostar by the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. It is a fascinating report and I commend it to all hon. Members who are present. It says simply that the regions were conned during the debate on investment in the channel tunnel into believing that there would be some benefit to the regions from having regional rail services.

When we examined the witnesses, including witnesses from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, we found not only that there is no benefit at the moment because we do not have Euro regional rail services to Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but that the witnesses did not know what the impact of the channel tunnel on current links was; nor could they project what the impact might be if such regional rail services started.

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My guess is that, because of all the investment in the south-east, the effect of the channel tunnel has been negative on the regional economies, but no one knows because the work has not been done. It should be.

At present, hundreds of millions of pounds worth of Eurostar regional rolling stock is kept in the sidings doing nothing. There is a simple choice for the Government; either they take up Virgin's offer to run the services at no cost to the taxpayer--one can be sceptical about that; not everything that Virgin promises comes into being--or there needs to be a subsidy.

The decision that the Government came to in sorting out London and Continental's financial mess and in agreeing the deal that will complete the channel tunnel link into London has meant that that service cannot subsidise the regions, so either there needs to be a small subsidy, or a commercial operator needs to be put in place that will carry through the services.

That would benefit the regions, particularly if we allowed that service to carry passengers who were not going all the way. It would bring immediate benefit for those people travelling from the regions just into London or somewhere beyond.

Another aspect of transport in the north-west that I want to talk about is airport and aviation policy. I start with two facts. In 1996, 10 million passengers from the north of England travelled on international scheduled services. Of those 10 million passengers, 4 million--four out of every 10--were forced into the south-east system to make connections.

We do not know how many of those intercontinental passengers did not go into the south-east, did not catch their intercontinental flight from this country, but chose Schipol, Frankfurt, Paris, Copenhagen or another European hub. The statistics would be worse if we could get that information. The money associated with those flights was lost.

Another fact illustrates how we could benefit if those passengers used regional airports, whether it be Manchester or Liverpool. About three years ago, a comparative study was undertaken of the airports at Schipol and Manchester. It showed that, if we looked at the economy immediately surrounding Schipol and at the north-west economy, Manchester airport--we could throw in Liverpool airport for these purposes too--was carrying only about a third of the passengers that Schipol airport was carrying. That fact ties in neatly with the fact that many passengers have been forced into the south-east system and probably into other European hubs.

What can we do about that? I want to be positive; it was slightly negative to start off with the failure of Eurostar to benefit the regions. What can we do to improve the position of the assets of the north-west, which Manchester and Liverpool airports certainly are?

Two relatively simple things can be done to enable business and leisure passengers who want to travel from the north-west and do not particularly want to change planes in London to do so. First, the previous Government declared unilaterally an open-skies policy with America, so that American planes could fly in and take passengers. For regional airports, again, unilaterally, we should declare an open-skies policy--we have done it partially--so that foreign carriers can fly in and pick up passengers.

For sensible commercial reasons, British carriers want a hub in the south-east and it is in their interests to concentrate on the south-east. If they want to do that, that is

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entirely justified. We should however give passengers the right to get on to those carriers that want to fly in and out of regional airports. There would be an immediate benefit. When a previous Minister with responsibility for transport, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire(Sir B. Mawhinney), agreed an open-skies policy with North America for the regions, there was, over a fairly short period, a gradual, but immediate increase in the number of flights by American carriers into Manchester airport.

The second thing involves a complicated legal issue and would need legislation. Manchester airport is a highly profitable company; now that Liverpool airport is owned by a positive, commercially active private company, things have improved enormously compared with the time when British Aerospace was in control. Manchester airport has one of the best profits to capital employed ratios of any company in the private or public sector, but because, effectively, it is only allowed to do those things that its owners are allowed to do by law--10 authorities own it--it cannot take full advantage of commercial partnership arrangements, for example, with Liverpool.

One of the first things that the Deputy Prime Minister did when he took up his post was to participate in the announcement by Manchester and Liverpool airports that they wanted to co-operate. Those airports may want to buy other airports, to go into joint marketing ventures, and to do what the rest of the transport industry is doing: amalgamating with bus and train companies. Certainly the separation that was there five years ago is no more. To do that, there has to be a change in the vires that freeze up Manchester airport and any similar airport, so that we can get the benefit of those changes in the law.

The old solution of the previous Government, which was that, if there is a problem, privatise it, would be completely wrong. Manchester airport would not be the success it is today had it been privatised 20 years ago. I am not saying that some privatisations have not been successful--they have--but the necessary long-term view of infrastructure investment would not have happened had there been short-term decisions.

Those are the solutions. I was heartened to hear that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister told the Select Committee that he had long advocated that northern airports should not be disadvantaged because of the interests of southern airports such as Heathrow. I take that to mean that he understands that there has to be an uncoupling of the negotiations around British Airways and Heathrow and access to Heathrow in the interests of the northern airports. If that happens, we will see huge benefits for the north-west, with the airports working together trying to benefit the entire region in a new legal framework.

There is a great deal of controversy about roads. Roads can bring economic advantages and disadvantages--we do not always know. They can take jobs away as easily as they can provide them. That is true of many other forms of transport investment, but it is not true of airports. There is a straight correlation between the number of passengers using an airport and the jobs created. In virtually every airport that has ever been studied in western economies--whether it is northern Europe or western Europe--for every 1 million passengers who fly through the airport about 1,000 jobs are created on site and about 1,000 are created in related industries close by. That is 2,000 jobs without saying anything about what is induced in the local economy because the business flier is able to fly in and

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out and invest. A complicated economic analysis is involved. There is no doubt that the growth of those airports is the fundamental driver of the north-west economy in the same way as cotton was important 200 years ago and engineering was important about 50 or 100 years ago. I hope that we can see some movement to support the growth of those airports.

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