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Mr. Dawson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brady: I would very much like to, but I am afraid that I have very little time, as I am keen to leave time for the Minister to respond.

To study the capacity constraints on the M6 one needs merely to drive up it and experience the bottlenecks at numerous points. There is also a study into congestion in the south-east quadrant of Manchester. Improvements are urgently needed and should be started without delay. The M6 was designed to carry between 70,000 and 80,000 vehicles a day but it is already carrying more than 140,000. As 90 per cent. of exports from the north-west travel through the west midlands, that transport link must be improved for the health of our economy.

I could not conclude my remarks without referring to the Birmingham northern relief road, which is essential not only to the north-west but to the west midlands. It has been termed the single most important strategic highway in the United Kingdom, and I endorse that. These congestion problems must be tackled as a matter of urgency.

Several hon. Members mentioned the airport link roads. They are of great importance to the local communities in Bramhall, Poynton, Woodford, Heald Green and Hazel Grove, as well as to the economy of Manchester and the north-west generally. Without a proper infrastructure providing links to the airport at a time of rapid growth, the region's economic development will be hindered. It is essential that the road schemes should be completed.

The Minister has been asked many questions, and I will remind her of one or two. The Birmingham northern relief road is perhaps the most important strategic link for our region. Further improvements are needed along the M6, and not only on the section leading up to Carlisle and on to Scotland; for many, indeed all, of us, it is perhaps even more important that the bottlenecks all along the M6 are tackled. The road links to the airport--without which the airport's growth and development will be a problem and a hindrance to local communities, rather than a benefit--have been mentioned. Clarity in the proposed arrangements for the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services would be helpful, and we need proper safety guarantees at a time when the airport may be disrupted by safety concerns.

As a Member who represents the north-west, I would be delighted to continue raising concerns about the region. However, I am conscious of the desire of all Members to hear the Minister's response, to which I look forward as well.

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12.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box--although I regret that his appearance did not confirm some of the stories circulating in the press. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on obtaining this important debate. I feel I should declare an interest, as I was born and raised in the north-west.

All hon. Members have underlined the importance of transport--and particularly integrated transport systems--to employment, regeneration and the protection of our environment. Many issues have been raised, not least the west coast main line, Eurostar services and regional airports. The west coast main line was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton and for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day).

Railtrack has announced a £1.35 billion improvement of the west coast main line as part of the modernisation process. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, who has been reading stories about modernisation being done on the cheap, that I will certainly raise his concerns with the Health and Safety Executive. There can be no reduction in or infringement of the safety requirements on our railways.

Eurostar was referred to by several hon. Members, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). My hon. Friend serves on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, and the Government welcome the Committee's recent report. We intend to consider carefully its recommendations and, of course, we will publish a full response in due course.

We expect the report to contain the criteria for the review that we are commissioning on Eurostar regional services. The Government believe--as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has made clear on many occasions--that people living beyond London should have convenient and effective access to the channel tunnel rail services. That is why we are undertaking an independent review of those services, and we will make further announcements soon on that issue of national importance.

What has come out of this morning's debate is the remarkable difference between the approach of the Government to the issues of transport and integration and the lamentable failures of the previous Administration. Much has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the particular difficulties within their constituencies--a point made by the hon. Members for Cheadle and for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). They referred to the unbearable congestion and inevitable pollution that impacts upon their constituents because of the complete failure of the previous Administration, over 18 years, to begin to tackle the difficulties caused by the belief that the solution to all our transport difficulties was the old predict-and-provide system. They refused to acknowledge the fact that improving roads exclusively simply increased traffic.

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The Government have moved markedly away from that benighted approach, and that is the reason for our integrated transport strategy. However, it is not just a matter of policy. We are giving practical funding to local authorities to ensure that their local transport plans can bring into play the necessary integration to ensure that we make the best possible use of existing infrastructure, and begin to move away from the idea that only one form of transport infrastructure can possibly meet this nation's economic and environmental needs.

We have envisaged an important planning and co-ordinating role at a regional level--for all regions. We have proposed that regional planning guidance should include a regional transport strategy. That will be a key task for a north-west regional assembly. The strategy will set out regional priorities for transport investment, including the role of trunk and local roads.

At this point, I confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle that detrunking is by no means equivalent to demoting. Local authorities have been arguing for a considerable time that they would like to take on the responsibility for those roads, and that is the subject of discussions. My hon. Friend also referred to finance, and we envisage a time when the whole life-costs of a road will be considered during the detrunking process.

Another recurring theme of the debate this morning was the importance of regional air services--a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley. He will be aware that the Government have announced a series of regional air studies--the fourth of these, which will examine regional air services in the north-east, the north-west and York and Humberside, will be announced shortly. He was right--as were other hon. Members--about the importance of our airports, but even more importantly, the importance of surface access to them; a point made by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove.

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We are asking regions to work together, and we must get away from the idea that local authorities must argue exclusively for their own concerns, because those can impact upon contingent local authorities. Much good work, however, has been done in the north-west.

Mr. Day: During the review of transport needs in the south-east quadrant of Greater Manchester, would the Minister be willing to visit the problem areas that have been identified in the debate? Will the requests from Macclesfield borough council and Stockport borough council for protection of the line of route of the roads referred to in the debate be looked upon favourably?

Ms Jackson: In terms of my possible visit to the sites, that is highly unlikely in the immediate to short term, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman on both of those issues.

It will be important for a regional strategy to take account of all the transport studies that have been referred in the debate when considering an integrated transport strategy for the region. That is very much the thrust of our White Paper. We must get away from the blind wisdom that said that we could build roads to meet ever-growing demand. We must have longer-term, sustainable solutions, and that is the message we are receiving from the travelling public. That was the clear message from the extensive consultation that we undertook prior to publishing our White Paper.

We must reduce dependency on the car, and switch to more sustainable transport modes--train, bus, cycling, walking. Our aim is to increase choice for all by improving alternative modes of transport to secure sustainable mobility. Emphasis is very much on a package of measures. There is no big idea to solve all the problems of transport and the environment--the problems are complex. That was a recurring theme of all the speeches that we have heard. A range of different solutions tailored to local circumstances will be needed--

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