The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Highways Agency is working with the local highway authority to consider the benefits and disadvantages of providing an upgraded link road between the M54 and the M6/M6 toll motorway. The study work is in its early stages and an initial assessment of the options will be complete by the autumn of 2006.
planned. He recognised the importance of that link road to strengthen not only the economy of mid-Wales, but those of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and greater Shropshire
We have already recognised that, in principle, we would be minded to support the scheme, but we must consider the details. In particular, one of the things that we must decide before we design such a scheme is where the new capacity between the midlands and the north-west will be providedwill the M6 be
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widened, or will there be a parallel toll road? Until we make that decision, we cannot decide on the design of the junction.
David Wright: And wider Shropshire, of course. However, one of the problems that the business community in particular complains about is the fact that people cannot go northbound directly off the M54 on to the M6, and there is no direct link, of course, to the M6 toll road. It would be particularly advantageous to local business in Telford and across Shropshire if those links could be made. Will the Minister look very seriously at the proposal?
Dr. Ladyman: I have no doubt that the quality of the drive experience on the M54 and the destinations that can be reached on it are responsible for its popularity. On paper, the case for the scheme looks very strong I can certainly understand the benefits to the local economybut we must consider it very carefully, and we must also consider the disadvantages and weigh the benefits against those disadvantages. In particular, we must know what we are going to do with the M6 before we can finalise the design scheme, so we cannot commit ourselves at this stage, although I repeat that it looks as though there is a strong case.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman realise that any such road will almost certainly go through my constituency, that there is great uncertainty in South Staffordshire, because of the doubtful outcome of the M6 inquiries, and that the sooner we can know precisely what the Government will propose, the better?
Dr. Ladyman: I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and such things must be disconcerting for his constituents. This matter has been going on for many years, even before this Government came to power, so I certainly understand his concerns and realise that he wants as early a decision as possible. I undertake to provide as early a decision as I can. I understand that he has already met the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss the issue, and if I can be in any way helpful to the hon. Gentleman's constituents in the meantime, I will certainly try to do so.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): The non-trunk roads that motorists are using in the absence of the link road are mostly in the Stafford constituency, so may I assure the Minister that there is a lot of public support locally for the link, that it would make rural roads safer and that it could solve the problem of the present bottleneck where the M6 toll road joins the M6 motorway? May I add my voice to that of those who are urging him to treat this matter with some urgency?
Once again, I can certainly understand the need for a degree of urgency in this matter, but my
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hon. Friend has already been engaged in detailed discussions with me about the future of the M6, which is also a matter of great concern to him, so he will understand that there is also a lot of sensitivity about that. I cannot make assumptions about the design of the M6 until we have finished our consultation, so we cannot make assumptions about the design of the junction until we have made that decision. I will offer urgency proportionate to the complexity of the decisions that must be taken.
Daniel Kawczynski: I should like to echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) about the importance of this road. As I have mentioned on many occasions, Shrewsbury is the only county town without a direct rail link to London.
Dr. Ladyman: All I can do is repeat again that the case for the scheme looks strong on paper. It looks strong on economic grounds and on the basis of its benefits for the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but we have to examine it carefully. We must consider the design carefully and weigh up the disadvantages before we can make a final decision. I heard what the hon. Gentleman said and I am happy to continue discussing the matter with him in the future.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): The saver return and season ticket fares from Cardiff to London are regulated and limited to an average annual increase of 1 per cent. above inflation. There is also a wide range of other unregulated fares. They are set by operators and will often offer cheaper travel, especially if booked in advance.
Julie Morgan: I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that the first class return fare from Cardiff to Paddington is £199 and that one can fly to Athens and back for less? Is he also aware that the Apex return fare is £24.50? Is there anything that he can do to try to make Apex returns more widely available and less restricted so that many more of our constituents can travel up to London to visit us?
Fares must be competitive. Unregulated fares must compete with the fares of airlines and buses and the cost of using a car. However, regulated fares are lower in real terms than they were in 1995. There is a balance to be struck between what the taxpayer and the fare payer pay. As my hon. Friend
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says, there are quite a number of good deals on lower fares. It is important that they are publicised and that people are aware that they are available.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Will the Minister assist people from my Bridgend constituency who are disabled and may wish to go to Cardiff to shop, or come to London to see their Member? They have to plan their journey at least 24 hours in advance so that they can access the platform without going over horrendous sets of steps. The railway station insists that it must be given a minimum of 24 hours' notice to open a side gate to give people access to the London and Cardiff-bound platform. Can the Department give any assistance?
Derek Twigg: I will have a look at that and get in touch with the operator. We have announced the £370 million access for all fund to make access to the railway better for disabled people and those with prams. We will make an announcement in the near future about the stations that will be part of the first stage of the programme.
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