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15 Oct 2002 : Column 160—continued

South-East Manchester Multi-modal Study

2. Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): If he will make a statement on progress on the South-East Manchester multi-modal transport scheme. [71413]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): We announced in March 2002 our endorsement of the recommended strategy of the south-east Manchester multi-modal transport study and asked the delivery agencies to develop the elements of the strategy in more detail. An implementation group has been established and progress is being made.

Mr. Stunell : I thank the Minister for his reply and for the prompt and positive start that has been made on implementing the study. He will be aware of the importance to my constituency of the Hazel Grove bypass, which is part of the integrated transport package. Will he agree to meet a deputation from Stockport to see whether ways can be found to take advantage of the consents granted at the original public inquiry a decade ago, so that time is not lost, public money is not wasted and, more to the point, the scheme is not delayed?

Mr. Jamieson: I note the hon. Gentleman's welcome not only for the multi-modal study but for the Government's swift action in looking at the plan. I am sure that he also welcomes the extra funding that we have made available through the local transport plans in his area and the #9 million that was made available to Manchester and Cheshire to take forward some of the initial programme of work in the scheme.

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are problems with the road that he mentioned because of the planning inquiry conducted at the time by the Highways

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Agency and through the Secretary of State. The road has now been detrunked and I accept that there are some problems with going through the whole procedure again.

I met a cross-party group from Stockport when I was in the area in April. If the hon. Gentleman wants to bring another cross-party group to talk with me about these concerns, I shall of course be delighted to meet both him and them.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): In essence I support the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). Would the Minister be happy for a Cheshire Member to be included in this deputation, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne)? Although in my area there is some difference regarding the improvements that are required, does the Minister believe it right that the Macclesfield silk road, which is a wonderful dual carriageway, should, between Macclesfield and Poynton, become a single carriageway with just some on-line improvements, to link up with the Poynton bypass which is also a single carriageway and would link up with the Manchester airport eastern link road? Does he accept that SEMMMS is dealing with the country's road requirements for 2021 onwards, while the Government's recommendations do not even deal with the roads that are required today?

Mr. Jamieson: I am not quite sure which Cheshire Member the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir N. Winterton) had in mind for me to meet, although I would be happy to meet the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) as well.

The multi-modal studies were established to enable local authorities to work closely with each other and the other delivery agencies—the Strategic Rail Authority, the Highways Agency and the Government office in the area—to come up with solutions that were based on local knowledge. On the road to which the hon. Gentleman refers, the recommendation came not from the Government but from local groups that know the situation in the area. I appreciate his point about inward development, prosperity in the area and the need for those road links, but I reiterate that those proposals came not from the Government but from his own area, perhaps from some of his own councillors. He may want to use some of his energies and efforts to address matters locally. If he wants to join in discussions about it, I say the more the merrier.

Trans-European Networks

3. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): What recent discussions he has held with his European counterparts on the development of trans-European networks. [71414]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): I have met my European counterparts at four Transport Council meetings over the past year, and on each occasion the future development of the trans-European transport network has been discussed. In that time I

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have also met Transport Ministers from Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands bilaterally, and each time the network was included in our discussions.

Mr. David : I thank the Minister for that response. He will of course acknowledge the importance of trans-European networks for Britain and for the European Union as a whole. However, agreement was not reached at the last Transport Council meeting on the new list of specific projects under trans-European networks. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that at the next Transport Council meeting on 5 and 6 December, British interests will be firmly upheld?

Mr. Spellar: They certainly will, but as my hon. Friend will know, the question of further routes under the TENS programme is also being addressed by the Transport Ministers Council, as is the percentage of grant that will go to those programmes and the overall size of the budget. Therefore, all those factors must be reconciled. It was not possible to do so at the last Transport Council meeting, but I know that the Commission and the presidency will be working hard to get agreement for the December Council.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): The west coast main line is part of the trans-European network of railway lines. Given that last week the Secretary of State was unable to say how much of the money for the much-needed improvements on that line was to come from the private sector and how much from the public sector, will the Minister at least tell the House whether he anticipates that any money for those improvements will come from the European Union? On the private sector money, given that the Government have rejected Liberal Democrat proposals for the future of Railtrack, is it not the case that another Liberal Democrat proposal on the use of bonds is about to be adopted?

Mr. Spellar: It is always interesting to receive Liberal Democrat proposals, even when they are multitudinous and varied, come from all parts of the Liberal Democrat party and are often inconsistent and incompatible, as we see with monotonous regularity in the House on roads programmes. To return to railways, part of the Secretary of State's answer was that until we know the outcome of the Rail Regulator's review on track access charges, we will not know the balance of funding that will go into the west coast main line in the long term. What we do know is that getting a grip of the management of that programme—having a longer period of closures on certain sections of the line to improve it—will bring it forward by about two years. That is making considerable progress. On the final point, the hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): During the long periods of closure on the west coast main line, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that there is additional capacity on alternative routes and on domestic flights into Manchester airport in particular?

Mr. Spellar: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has looked carefully at the plan, given the location of his

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constituency, and will realise that the Strategic Rail Authority has put considerable effort into ensuring continuing access to Manchester and the surrounding area, consistent with making a step change in the time scale of the project and its cost. I am sure that the SRA will be willing to engage with him on particular rail issues on behalf of his constituents. On aviation, obviously he may wish to take up that matter with Manchester airport and, indeed, the operators that operate out of there. If the hon. Gentleman is going to lobby for more flights, I hope that he will not then complain here about the impact of the noise on his constituents, which might qualify him for being a Liberal Democrat.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): When my right hon. Friend is discussing trans-European networks with his colleagues, does he discuss the lamentable failure of train operators that operate through the channel tunnel to honour their promise that there would be direct services beyond London to Manchester and to other cities? That is still an outstanding demand. It is right and proper that there should be services to the great cities of this country, to link them to the great cities of the rest of Europe.

Mr. Spellar: I fully understand my hon. Friend's concerns and the concern that has regularly been raised from the regions. Given the lamentable state in which the railways were left by the previous Administration, we must have a list of priorities for investment. The number one priority for his region is the completion of the west coast main line and improving that important artery for rail traffic and for the north-west.


4. Mr A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): If he will make a statement about the A1 multi-modal study. [71415]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): We are currently considering the recommendations of the A1 multi-modal study. We will make a statement once we have fully considered all the issues.

Mr. Beith: In considering the issues, will the Minister take account of the views of most of the local authorities and the general public that the failure of the study to recommend dualling of the A1 right up to the border will leave a serious gap in the road system? Head-on collisions regularly take place on that road and at least one of the vehicles involved has usually just travelled a long distance on dual carriageway. Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that there is considerable scepticism that the promised train improvements will ever take place or will be sufficient to meet the needs of people living in areas such as Belford or Widrington, which are not specifically included?

Mr. Spellar: All the multi-modal studies have to weigh up the balance within the regions and, nationally, we must consider how those fit together. The right hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that the north-east will benefit considerably from the widening of the A1 further south in Yorkshire and into Northumberland, which,

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although it is not in his region, will be be of considerable benefit to the north-east. Beyond that, the multi-modal study had to look at the volume of traffic being carried and also—another important consideration—the road safety aspects.

The right hon. Gentleman is right: there have been comments from some local bodies, but many local authorities and other interest groups in the region were involved in the study group, as indeed they have been in all other regions. We are evaluating the study, both internally for the north-east and as regards other investment across the country, to see how it fits into the national transport network. I shall take the right hon. Gentleman's views into account as we undertake that evaluation.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow): I will buy the Minister a pint in the bar tonight if he can give me a comparable example of two major neighbouring cities the size of Newcastle and Edinburgh that are not linked by dual carriageway. We all know about multi-modal rubbish, but I remind the Minister that people who use roads such as the A1 are not computers—so will he review the position with a view to throwing the study in the bin and getting a proper road between Edinburgh and Newcastle, instead of linking them, in some parts, by no more than a glorified country lane?

Mr. Spellar: Ah well, I will be buying my own pint again tonight.

My hon. Friend will be aware that there is another party to the discussion—the Scottish Executive. They will have views about the priority among Scotland's roads that they give the A1 from the border up to Edinburgh.

A number of road schemes have already been developed. Other multi-modal studies will be coming in. I have already mentioned the widening of the A1 to motorway standard going up to the north-east. I also made an announcement recently about the dualling of the A66 from the north-west to the north-east. Those are major schemes and the proposals have to be evaluated. To some extent that is what the local organisations represented on the study group were doing.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): May I draw the House's attention to my declaration of interest in the Register of Members' Interests?

I welcome the conclusion in the multi-modal study that the A1 will be made up to motorway status between Bramham and Barton. Does the Minister join me in regretting that it will be a full seven years at least before that road is built? Will he give a commitment to the House today that there will be a moratorium on the building of motorway service stations on that stretch until we know exactly where the new motorway will be?

Mr. Spellar: I would point out to the hon. Lady that, when in government, her party removed a number of the powers in respect of motorway service station location and allowed motorway service operators to make their own bids. Of course, if that question was a bid for us to change that particular legislative position we might have a look at it.

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As regards the time taken to build the road, a key issue for the highways authorities—especially with any major widening project—is that, for understandable reasons, they want to do only so much at any one time, precisely because of the inevitable delays for on-going traffic. It is much easier when building a new road, such as the Birmingham northern relief road: widening an existing highway is a different issue. We are, therefore, trying to speed up the process, partly in the time taken by planning but also by estimating and engineering work. We are doing much of that work in parallel, rather than taking one step after another. That is compressing the time between making a decision to build a road and actually opening that road. As the hon. Lady knows, we have also been looking at how we can improve planning, while maintaining the proper right of people to lodge objections and taking into account environmental impact assessments. We are considering whether that needs to take so much time and how we can compress it. We have made some progress but we still have a way to go and we are working on that.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): May I add my support to the points that have been made about the A1 north of Newcastle? There is also a very serious problem on that road around the Tyneside conurbation, and specifically on the Gateshead western bypass. Although I welcome the fact that the proposal to relieve that problem by building another bypass through Gateshead's green belt has now been dropped from the plan, there is still a growing problem on that road—a serious problem, which is getting worse week by week. The road is very often brought to a standstill because of the congestion. I ask my right hon. Friend to look at that as a matter of urgency, and also particularly to look at the imaginative proposals of Gateshead council to relieve congestion on that road.

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend has indeed raised this matter with me before. I undertake to have a further look at the new proposals, which he has just mentioned, and come back to him with a reply.

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