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10 Jul 2001 : Column 240WH

Hazel Grove Bypass

1.29 pm

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the issue of the Hazel Grove bypass, and I am grateful to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), for being here to listen to my plea. I hope to be even more grateful when he acknowledges that plea and grants my heart's desire.

I have been campaigning for a bypass for Hazel Grove for more than 12 years. During that time, there have been petitions, debates in the House, questions to Ministers and deputations. I am a new hand compared to some residents of Hazel Grove, who tell me that they have been waiting 30 years. Indeed, some people who claim to have met Lloyd George say that they have been waiting 60 years. It is a long-standing and definite need, and from time to time it has been supported by all political parties. Indeed, my Labour opponent in the general election assured residents that he supported that plea.

The argument is not only about another bypass. We are also asking the Government to put their heart and their money into a comprehensive attack on pollution and congestion across a wide swathe of Greater Manchester. On top of the national traffic growth projections, which are horrific enough even on a modest estimate of 20 per cent. by 2010, my constituency has three specific local circumstances that aggravate the traffic and congestion problems.

The first problem is the opening of the final section of the M60 link road that circles Manchester. That has resulted in a great deal of additional traffic being directed into my constituency, filtering through the area and increasing congestion. The second problem is the opening of the second runway at Manchester airport, which has resulted in a rapid and large increase in the number of passengers travelling to and from the airport. The map shows the motorway is on one side of my constituency and the airport on the other—the congestion is in the middle.

As if those two problems were not enough, Greater Manchester is something of an economic hot spot in the north-west; and the south-eastern part of Greater Manchester is particularly so, as a result of the increased prosperity created by the airport. It is estimated that current traffic movements of about 18 million passengers a year will rise to 32 million a year by 2010 and to 42 million by 2015. There will be an additional 70,000 trips per day through my constituency to the airport.

At the heart of that economic hot spot, with the motorway on one side and the airport on the other, the community is in decline. I know that the Minister comes from Plymouth, which is rather a long way from Hazel Grove. Indeed, until this debate, he might not have known where Hazel Grove was. The heart of the issue is the A6 trunk road from Manchester down to Derby, which is straddled by my constituency. In the area that we are talking about, the A6 has two lanes running in each direction through an urban shopping centre. The road takes a great deal of heavy freight traffic to the

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north-west, particularly transporting minerals from the Peak District. It carries a high load of commuter traffic, as well as traffic seeking access to the M60.

The public transport infrastructure in the area is not good. I have been a persistent critic of First North Western, with its 40-year-old rolling stock, its unreliable services and its overcrowded carriages. The stations have no access ramps, and sometimes no toilets. The alternatives are scarcely in place at the moment.

The road scheme has been a line on the map for many years. It has gone through what I would call engineering overkill. Each time a new group of engineers examined the plans from 10 years earlier they added a couple of lanes each way and a couple of interchanges, so that by 1995 the scheme had reached enormous proportions. It is not altogether surprising that it ran into trouble on cost and other grounds.

The Conservatives took the so-called Stepping Hill link out of the national road programme. They cancelled the Disley and High Lane bypass. In 1997, the new Government dropped the central part of the scheme—the so-called A6M. In the meantime, there has been a steady increase in traffic, congestion, pollution, noise and fatalities. There have been a number of tragic deaths on that length of road. If one examines a map of traffic accidents and incidents in the borough of Stockport, one finds that every junction of the A6 is clustered with accidents and fatalities. Having stood there a few times over the past couple of months, I can say that in wet conditions it is horrific for people standing on the pavements, who are sprayed by the vehicles that race through the town.

The Government established the south-east Manchester multi-modal study—SEMMS—and the transport consultants conducting it are due to report within the next few weeks. That report is eagerly awaited by my colleagues in Stockport, and by the residents of Hazel Grove in particular. We know from the preliminary report that the consultants will put great emphasis on deflection and diversion strategies. Those strategies have my complete support—I am not making a plea for a road at any cost or as the only solution. However, one of the diversion strategies being prayed in aid is the airport authority's intention that a quarter of all journeys to the airport should be made by public transport. That is an excellent aim, which I strongly support. However, even if that aim is achieved, 30 million such journeys will be made by road annually by 2015—double the number made today. When the diversion tactics are in place, road traffic levels will still significantly increase.

I hope that the SEMMS study will state that First North Western should be replaced and that we should have a franchise-holder that can deliver services properly for local commuters. I hope that the report will state that there should be a rail service introduced from Marple to Stockport. I also hope that it will argue that the Metrolink tram should be extended not just to Stockport but on to Bredbury, where it could join up with heavy rail routes. There are plans for quality bus routes along the A6, part of which is already in place. All those provisions will help to give people alternatives to using their cars.

However, even when all that has been done, road traffic congestion will increase. We still, therefore, need those missing road links. The first and highest priority

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is a link road round the Hazel Grove shopping centre. Stockport council was so concerned about the decline of that shopping centre that it commissioned shopping consultants to see what might be done to bring it back to life. The consultants, Drivers Jonas, produced a report that said that there were various ways in which the council could try to revive the centre, but that the fundamental problem was the traffic going through the centre. The report stated that until or unless that was got rid of, the centre would continue to die on its feet.

Getting the Stepping Hill link to bypass the shopping centre is a very high priority. We also need to ensure that we have a road that connects the M60 at Bredbury with the Manchester airport eastern link road at Woodford and on to the airport. It used to be called the A6M, but I do not argue that we need the heavily engineered motorway solution that was once on offer. We need a vehicle-only route that safeguards local communities and leaves the citizens of Bredbury, Romiley and Hazel Grove with a reasonable and peaceful environment in which to work.

I want the Minister first to acknowledge the severe problems that local residents and commuters face. Secondly, I want him to show some recognition of the exceptional levels of traffic growth that are starting and which are foreseeable with the expansion of the airport. Thirdly, I want him to put his weight behind the options to be published in the SEMMS report, which we know will be a mixture of public transport and road-based solutions. Their implementation as quickly as possible is essential for the well-being of my area, especially Hazel Grove. Fourthly, I want him to be ready to commit resources for the implementation of those transport solutions.

When I last spoke to the consultants—I am in frequent contact with them, as hon. Members will imagine—they told me that they planned to publish on a time scale that would allow the local authorities to incorporate their ideas in the integrated transport plans that they will propose to the Minister. The timetable is desperately short. Those submissions have to be made in the next six to eight weeks, and the report has still not been published. It is important for the Minister to signal to the local authorities that he will be ready to respond favourably when they include the ideas in their integrated transport plan submission.

In Hazel Grove, we have had plans for decades. Special extra pigeon holes have had to be built for them. Every time someone reconsiders them, they scratch their heads, say that the problem should have been dealt with and call for another plan. The residents of Hazel Grove have reservations and concerns about yet another plan. They do not want just a plan, but an implementation package. I ask the Minister to please accept the plan, provide the resources and give us an implementation package, so that the residents of Hazel Grove do not have to put up with the problem any longer.

1.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) on securing the debate, on raising a subject that is important to his constituents, and also on his well-considered and thoughtful approach. He has been a tenacious advocate of the bypass on behalf of his constituents.

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I am not sure that I will be able to provide something today that will instantly meet the heart's desire of all the hon. Gentleman's constituents. However, I will try to outline the Government's position on bypasses and consider the context in which a decision will be made on the Manchester and Stockport area. I accept his points about pollution and congestion. Although I represent Plymouth, I assure him that the Government represent the United Kingdom. We have a broad brief and understand the issues. Even though I may not be familiar with every piece of gravel at the side of the road in his area, I am exceedingly well informed on the issues by officials.

The hon. Gentleman said that some of his constituents had waited a long time—some thought it 20 years, some 60 years—for the bypass. However, the subject is now being discussed in a different context. The road is no longer part of the major trunk road system, but part of the local road system and will be discussed as part of the local road strategy. There are some differences and, in that context, the Government's role has changed somewhat. He might consider that that is good news, in that the issues will be discussed locally, and local priorities will be brought to bear on the decisions that are made.

Mr. Stunell : The Minister is right about the transfer. I draw his attention to the fact that that will not happen until April next year—so there is plenty of time for him to chip in some money.

Mr. Jamieson : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and for having raised this topic. It is both interesting and useful to hear at first hand about the impact that traffic congestion and pollution have on the economic, social and environmental well-being of Hazel Grove residents, and he has set out the case for transport improvements very clearly.

We recognise that both quality of life and the economy depend upon transport. Motor vehicles have revolutionised the way in which we live, bringing greater flexibility and widening people's horizons. However, the use of our vehicles has a price—for the economy, for our health and for the environment. That is particularly true in urban areas such as Hazel Grove, where the steady increase in traffic over many years has led to increased congestion and the negative effects on communities that the hon. Gentleman has so graphically described.

We made it clear in our White Paper "A New Deal for Transport" that we are committed to improving the environment in towns and cities. We want people to be able to move around easily and in safety. By removing a large proportion of the through traffic from a community, a bypass can certainly bring about an improvement in safety for residents. The severance effect of high traffic flows is reduced and accessibility is increased. Residents face fewer risks when crossing the road and, if the footway is inadequate, when simply walking on the pavement in close proximity to traffic. I am informed that that applies in the area that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

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A bypass also improves the quality of the built environment. Noise levels are reduced and air quality is improved. The removal of heavy traffic allows communities to develop their opportunities to improve the reliability of public transport and to provide better facilities for cycling or walking. The removal of through traffic can also boost an area's commercial and retail vitality, providing a safer, cleaner and more attractive place in which to shop and to do business. That is also particularly relevant to today's debate.

However, it is also possible to make a harmful impact on the enviroment. People who formerly enjoyed a quiet environment might find themselves near a busy road that has become the bypass for another area. A bypass might adversely affect designated areas. Some of these consequences might be unavoidable, but they should be carefully considered when deciding whether or not to proceed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that environmental and other matters should figure in our consideration of bypasses.

As the hon. Member for Hazel Grove said, there are proposals of between 20 and 60 years standing for a bypass of Hazel Grove as part of the larger north-south bypass of Stockport to relieve the A6. Some development work has been undertaken. There are now, as he mentioned, endless pigeonholes with plans in them. As he knows, a public inquiry was held in 1987-88, and orders were made in 1989 and 1990. Supplementary orders were published in 1991 and 1992. However, following a reappraisal of the scheme, the Conservative Administration decided to withdraw those orders.

At the time of this Government's 1997-98 roads review, the Stockport north-south bypass had not been sufficiently developed for us to consider it as a candidate for the targeted programme of trunk road improvements. In addition, the scheme was on a part of the trunk road network that we concluded was not of sufficient strategic national importance to justify its inclusion in the core trunk road network.

The core network will continue to be a direct central Government responsibility, with non-core routes being transferred to local highway authorities in accordance with the policy that was set out in "A New Deal for Transport", which was subsequently the subject of consultation. In all, we propose to de-trunk some 3,000 km—about 2,000 miles—of non-core routes. That will be done in a phased programme with the first tranche of 500 km due to be de-trunked in 2001-02. Non-core trunk roads, which include the A6 and A523 in Greater Manchester, mainly serve local and regional traffic. We concluded that those routes would be more appropriately managed by local highway authorities, to enable decisions about them to be taken locally, and better to integrate them with local transport and land use issues.

Nineteen schemes in the road programme that we inherited from the previous Administration were on non-core routes proposed for de-trunking. They were withdrawn from the national trunk road programme, and the relevant local highway authorities were invited to consider taking them forward as local road schemes within their local transport plans. Among those schemes were the A6 Stockport north-south bypass, the A555-A523 Poynton bypass and the A555 Manchester airport link west.

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Rather than put forward immediate bids for the schemes, it was decided to look at the problems that they were designed to address. The south-east Manchester multimodal study is one of several multimodal studies dealing with particularly complex problems that can be tackled only by examining all forms of transport in the relevant area and seeking balanced solutions that will contribute to our integrated transport policy. In recognition of the importance of the problems in south-east Manchester, SEMMS was one of the first multimodalstudies to be commissioned.

It may be helpful to explain the process of the study. A consortium led by Steer Davies Gleave was appointed following competitive tender in December 1999. We are funding the study and the Government office for the north-west is leading, in partnership with key interested parties in the study area. As for all the multimodal studies, we have established a steering group that is responsible for its management and direction. Membership is wide and incorporates all district and county councils that are covered by the study, the Strategic Rail Authority, the Highways Agency and the regional development agency, together with other business interests including Manchester airport and a representative of local environmental and community groups.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove asked about implementation. Perhaps I can steer things his way a little, even if I cannot give him his heart's desire. The study is going through a well-structured process. Much time has been spent analysing in depth the transport, planning, social and economic issues within the study area. The work has confirmed many of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman about the adverse impact of congestion on parts of the study area, including Hazel Grove and the A6 corridor, and the lack of attractive, sustainable alternatives to the car. Problems have also been identified associated with long-term land use planning decisions and with the adverse impact that stone lorries can have, particularly in his constituency. There are also areas of significant deprivation within the study area, which have their own transport problems and needs.

The study, having produced recognition and understanding of the severity of the problems, is also developing solutions. Working with the steering group, the consultants have identified a range of possible measures to address the problems. Potential solutions being examined include the construction of bypasses; Metrolink extensions beyond those agreed by the Government in March last year; an extension of the Greater Manchester quality bus corridor programme;a significant enhancement of the quality and reliability of rail services, which has been developed in close co-operation with the Strategic Rail Authority's work in Greater Manchester; measures to assist cyclists and

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pedestrians; the better management of freight movements; and a significant intensification of efforts to promote a change in travel behaviour.

Those measures have been assembled into a number of strategies covering the full range of transport activity. Their potential impact has been appraised in detail to get a broad picture of the potential costs and benefits of the various options. The consultants and the steering group are now engaged—literally as we speak, for they are meeting in Manchester today—in putting together a recommended strategy based on the results of that work. I understand that the recommended strategy is expected to include proposals for bypasses to alleviate traffic for local communities, extensions to the Metrolink and an upgrade in the availability and quality of alternatives to the car.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove will be aware that consultation is playing a very important part in the study process. Emphasis has been placed from an early stage on giving people, their elected representatives and interested organisations the opportunity to participate in identifying problems, formulating strategy and deriving solutions. There have been regular newsletters, consultation meetings and briefing sessions, and I believe that on three occasions the hon. Gentleman has met with the Government office for the north west and its consultants. There will be a further opportunity for consultation offered shortly, once a recommended strategy has been developed, and officials will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman should he wish for further briefing.

We expect the final report on SEMMS to be made in August. The regional planning body will then make its recommendations to Ministers in the light of the report. If the case for an A6 by-pass to take traffic out of Hazel Grove is accepted, it will be for Stockport metropolitan borough council to take the lead in working up the scheme and to submit it for consideration for funding as part of the Greater Manchester local transport plan. In the 10-year plan, we have made a clear commitment to fund the outcomes of the multimodal study process. My officials are already discussing how major schemes proposed by SEMMS can be taken forward through the local transport plan system.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those matters. I am sure that, like me, he is looking forward to seeing the results of the study. He can be assured that the issues that he has raised will be considered with great care at all levels. I thank him once again for raising those matters in such a measured way. I am sure that this will not be the last time that we hear from him; perhaps the heart's desires of his constituents will one day be achieved.

Question put and agreed to.

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