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Spending Allocations (North-West)

3. Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the priorities for the north-west outlined in his announcement of 2 December on 2005–06 local transport spending allocations. [206092]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): Decisions on which schemes should receive funding were based on the progress of each scheme, the transport and wider benefits that would be delivered, as well as the effects of existing commitments.

Andy Burnham: May I urge my right hon. Friend, in his discussions on the Metrolink scheme, to bear in mind the transport needs of the whole of Greater Manchester? Links west to Leigh are poor, and the Department for Transport has rightly given the Leigh guided busway provisional funding approval. As part of any bid to the transport innovation fund in respect of the Metrolink scheme, may I urge him to look favourably on the Leigh guided busway? Does he agree that congestion charging in Greater Manchester is a non-starter until my constituents get fair access to public transport?

Mr. Darling: I know of the importance of the Leigh guided busway and I know from my discussions with my hon. Friend that he has done a great deal to ensure that the Department has it very much at the front of its mind, which will continue to be the case. I have said to Greater Manchester passenger transport executive that we want a comprehensive approach to transport, which will include guided busways as well as Metrolink and   other measures. Greater Manchester has a superb opportunity, building on what it has already done, to establish itself as a leader in this country in tackling transport problems. I very much hope that it will do that. We can then consider any proposals that it makes in the context of the transport innovation fund.

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle) (LD): Can the Secretary of State explain why, with worsening road traffic congestion in Greater Manchester, he has cancelled the   procurement of Metrolink phase 3 from Manchester to Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Rochdale and Manchester airport, so delaying investment in new light rail lines by at least two years, failed to find funding for the implementation of the south-east Manchester multi-modal study's recommendations for transport
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investment, and failed to recognise that an estimated £60 million of investment is required in signalling and track on the Manchester-Oldham-Rochdale railway line, which would not have been needed if Metrolink phase 3 had been approved? [Interruption.] Is it because so much has—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is a lot for the Secretary of State to take in.

Mr. Darling: I think, Mr. Speaker, that I have got the long and the short of it. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) can feel confident that his position as principal spokesman for the Liberals is not under threat. [Hon. Members: Shame!] I am about to give the hon. Lady a Christmas present, which is the latest Liberal party policy: it is to call a halt to all new road building. Everything she said about road plans in Greater Manchester rings rather hollow, given her own party's policy.

On Metrolink, the more serious point, the costs on the project to build three additional lines went from £280 million in 2000 to £520 million a year later, and it is now agreed that it would cost at least £900 million. No Government—not even a Liberal Democrat one—could simply nod through a proposal that had trebled in cost in just four years. If the hon. Lady reflects on that, she, too, will surely agree that it is quite right that Greater Manchester and ourselves should sit down and ask how better to control costs. I have made it clear that I want Metrolink to be expanded, and I have made a proposal to Greater Manchester that will, I think, enable that to   happen. It must be clear, however, not just in Manchester but across the rest of the country, that costs have to be kept under control, even in Liberal Democrat-land.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that local authorities drawing up local transport plans often have urban regeneration as their prime objective? The Government's priorities of reducing accidents and congestion and increasing accessibility and air quality do not hit that point. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending the objectives for local transport plans to include urban regeneration, and can he assure people in Greater Manchester that he will not rule out a comprehensive transport plan for the whole of the area if it does not include a congestion charge?

Mr. Darling: We have made it clear to local authorities that they need to consider the option of congestion charging, but it will not necessarily be the right solution in every place. I would strongly encourage Greater Manchester to look at every possibility for managing traffic in future. What precisely it comes up with is a matter for Greater Manchester, and the Government will, of course, consider it.

On the wider point, regeneration is often an important part of a transport proposal, but we should reflect on the value of any proposal in relation to its transport terms first and foremost. Other things may need to be considered, but just having regeneration opportunities does not necessarily convert a project into a good one. As far as Greater Manchester as a whole is concerned, the PTE has a big opportunity and I hope it will seize it.
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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has pulled the plug on the A34 Alderley Edge bypass scheme, which was part of the south-east Manchester multi-modal study, and that the person who passes himself off as the director of spatial development for the Government office for the north-west has just said that, while the bypass was provisionally approved by the Government,

Will the Secretary of State at least give me a chance to come and see him with local councillors to put the case   for the A34 scheme, which is important to my constituents? The A34 is a major transport link, and is important to the whole of the north-west.

Mr. Darling: The A34 is important. Perhaps I should explain to the hon. Gentleman, and for the benefit of the   House, that we were able to approve in the last month or so substantial investment in the north-west— something like £870 million over the next three years. Other proposals are still in the pipeline and will be considered. They are not being cancelled or scrapped. They are still there, but under any system, we have to prioritise. Of course the hon. Gentleman can come and see one of my ministerial colleagues, but I say to him, in the nicest possible way, that he might want to reflect that his party is signed up to cutting transport spending by £1.8 billion. If it did so, not just the A34 but a few other projects would fall by the wayside permanently.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab): Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), will the Transport Secretary confirm that the unsuccessful local transport plan bid for a Rochdale interchange could be part of a successful bid to the transport innovation fund? Will my right hon. Friend remember that the Labour authorities made sure that the Oldham and Rochdale metro scheme remained a priority—no thanks to the Liberals, who kept trying to shunt it off to Hazel Grove?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friends played a prominent role in ensuring that the metro remained on track and that we tried to face up to the difficulties. My hon. Friend has played a substantial part in making sure that   the Rochdale interchange remained on the Department's books. I expect it to be one of the many considerations taken into account by Greater Manchester PTE. What I want from the PTE and other local authorities is a comprehensive package of measures to tackle congestion and to make transport better. I know that the Rochdale interchange is an important part of that and my hon. Friend is right to raise it.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware how much damage his decision on Metrolink is causing in the north-west? Now that it is clear from today's borrowing figures that Government borrowing is out of control, is the real reason for his refusal to stump up any more money for the north-west the fact that he fears that his Department's budget will be cut substantially in response to the growing
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borrowing crisis, over and above the cut of £800 million that he has already made to the Department's spending in the current year?

Mr. Darling: I notice that the hon. Gentleman committed himself to fund the Manchester metro whatever the cost. It does not bode well for the future if that is his attitude to public spending. He may be telling us that if a project trebles in price, it is all right and he does not mind. If so, he may want to have a word with the shadow Chancellor, who on one of his more sensible days may caution him against such a view. As for the Government's position generally, I remind the hon. Gentleman that for the past seven years we have seen substantial, continued and strong economic growth, which has allowed us to fund public services—not just transport but other services. That is something that the   Conservatives did not manage to do during the 18 years that they were in power. They produced two of the deepest recessions and savage spending cuts for transport. Perhaps he can tell us what would go as a result of the £1.8 billion of cuts to which his party is signed up.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is aware of the benefits of the metro, but also aware of the benefits of investment in the west coast main line. He could add to that benefit by reopening the station at Coppull on that line, which is a priority for people in Lancashire.

Mr. Darling: I am certainly aware of the potential benefits of the metro extension, which is why I should like to work with Greater Manchester PTE to make that possible. The west coast main line is another example of   substantial investment made possible by this Government that did not happen in the 18 years the Conservatives were in power. Of course we will look at   the possibility of opening stations on the west coast main line, but the more stations that are opened, the   more trains will have to stop and the greater the disruption to the longer distance services. I cannot promise my hon. Friend anything on that, but he is right to point to the importance of continued high levels of investment.

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