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1 July 2008 : Column 185WH—continued

As I said, although the Government have not taken a firm or final view in relation to the review’s recommendations, we can certainly see the merit in the principles on which it bases its recommendations. Indeed, we acknowledge the considerable support for the strategic review body. We also acknowledge that there have been others who have been critical of it, and they have raised
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concerns. Their feedback to the strategic review will also be important as Lord Ashdown and his colleagues form their final conclusions.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk asked whether I was confident that all the process could be in place by April next year, and he asked a number of other questions. Frankly, the answers depend on the time scale of the strategic review of parading as much as anything else. If the review body reports in November, we will have to see what it recommends. If it recommends that the Parades Commission is replaced by another system, such as the one that it has outlined in its interim consultative report, and we accept that recommendation, then legislation will be necessary. However, we would, of course, have to take our turn, as it were, in the parliamentary process here.

It is important that we ensure that people’s expectations are realistic. In relation to Northern Ireland, we have perhaps grown too familiar with emergency legislation that goes through the next day or the next week. We would have to expect legislation on parading to take its place alongside a whole raft of other legislation that the Government introduce. However, there are still no firm decisions on legislation because we first need to see what the strategic review of parading comes up with. If its recommendation requires legislation, we stand ready to legislate if that will facilitate a sustainable, long-term solution for parading in Northern Ireland.

We look forward to the final report from the strategic review of parading. As I said, if it requires legislation, we stand ready to legislate. However, what is most important is that everybody works together now with the strategic review body to ensure that we have a system that works in practice as well as on paper and has widespread support. I say that because, in the end, the whole point of establishing the strategic review of parading was to ensure that we did not lurch from one parade to the next, or from one year to the next, and instead have a sustainable, long-term solution that sits happily with everyone so that, whether people wish to parade or protest, there is a place for all to do so, without fear of violence and conflict. That is a prize well worth achieving. Indeed, as we achieve that prize, as I am confident we will, that solution will take its place alongside some of the other issues that still need to be resolved and will be a building block for a Northern Ireland that is peaceful and prosperous, in the long term as well as the short term.

10.54 am

Sitting suspended.

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TIF (Greater Manchester)

11 am

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I am pleased to open this debate on the consultation process for the Greater Manchester bid for funding from the transport innovation fund under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble.

The bid and the linked proposals for a congestion charge are key concerns for my constituency of Worsley. From the outset, I have said that I want my constituents to have their say on the proposals, and I shall describe why I think that that is important. The aim of the TIF bid and the congestion charge proposals is to cut the levels of congestion in and out of Manchester at peak times. In 2005, the Department for Transport said that it was seeking proposals that combined some form of demand management such as road pricing with better public transport, including the better use of buses, trams and light rail schemes, provided they offered good value for money.

From the outset, my concern about Greater Manchester’s bid was that my constituents would not benefit from better public transport yet would end up paying congestion charges on journeys into Manchester and on local journeys to Salford and surrounding areas such as Trafford and Bolton. Many of my constituents commute to work in central Salford or Manchester, and the poor state of the public transport run by privatised service providers means that many have no option but to travel by car. The congestion charging proposals will mean that they will have to pay from £500 to £1,200 annually just to get to work.

Many other Worsley constituents face charges when they cross charging zones on more local journeys. Examples include parents taking their children to school or teachers travelling to work at schools such as Bridgewater school, which is inside the zone. Salford council has a plan to merge St. George’s high school in Walkden, which is outside the charging zone, with another school at a location inside the charging zone. Congestion charges would make the merger proposal very unpopular with staff and parents alike.

Patients attending appointments at Salford Royal or Christie hospitals, and family carers attending with, or visiting, them would also be charged. I have already received expressions of concern from constituents about that. Staff at the hospitals will be affected, as will businesses delivering to the hospitals. Students and staff at Salford, Pendleton and Eccles colleges and Salford university will also be affected.

Shopping facilities in Walkden, Little Hulton and Worsley do not cater sufficiently for local people. Most local people travel to other nearby locations such as Eccles, Swinton and the Trafford centre. All three locations are across the congestion charge boundary, so charges would be incurred by constituents who want to shop in those areas at certain times. People working at, or visiting, the town hall in Salford such as councillors, those attending meetings or even people just paying bills will be affected, as will local business people who cross the zones during peak times with deliveries. Worsley ward and neighbouring areas such as Swinton, Barton, Eccles and Winton all fall within the proposed outer charging zone. Paying to travel to those local areas will have a significant impact on my constituents.

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The improvements to Greater Manchester public transport that will be funded by the TIF bid seem to be geared towards city centre improvements, with much of the investment intended for the expansion of Metrolink. Only a small number of my constituents use that facility. The main method of travel into Manchester for Worsley constituents is by car or, to a much lesser extent, by heavy rail. There is only limited use of rail networks through Atherton and Walkden for commuting into Manchester, because the services are overcrowded and subject to other problems, too. Express trains from Atherton do not stop at Walkden, because of the limited length of the platform. The two-carriage trains that do stop there tend to be full, and 30, 40 or more people are regularly left there in the morning peak hour, because they cannot get on the overcrowded trains.

Access to Walkden station is poor. There are two flights of stairs and no lift. The facilities are outdated and the station infrastructure is in urgent need of renewal. There are no car-parking facilities at the station apart from parking in nearby residential streets. An issue that we might draw out in this debate is the impact of informal park and ride arrangements on many parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation if the proposals go ahead. The proposed improvements in the TIF bid which would benefit Worsley are limited, and include things such as investment in improved real-time passenger information, CCTV and signage at Walkden station; extra carriages on rail lines via Atherton and Eccles, from which, incidentally, we will not benefit unless the problems at Walkden are fixed; and a share of Salford’s 10 new school buses, which would mean possibly two or three of the yellow school buses.

Further improvements have been discussed, and much of the press coverage tends to focus on things such as the guided busway running from Leigh through Worsley and Salford to Manchester. However, the service is not funded in the TIF bid, and when I speak to constituents about transport matters, the Leigh guided busway is not a popular solution. At the Leigh end of Worsley constituency, the construction of the bus route would bring noise and constant disturbance to people living near the former railway line, which has become a peaceful backwater. In Walkden and Worsley, the guided busway would take up one lane of the two-lane East Lancashire road, and there are fears that it would serve to intensify congestion at peak times.

The bus services serving Worsley constituency are poor. Over the past two years, the privatised bus services provided by First in Manchester have been cut across Worsley constituency and Salford more generally. I have campaigned for improved services for my constituents but First has not listened to its customers or to me. Services that were vital to commuters and important to other bus users were cut. There are too many examples to detail, but I shall provide a few. The No. 35 service used by commuters to Manchester from Leigh via Atherton, Tyldesley, Mosley Common, Boothstown and Worsley—all key commuting destinations into Manchester—was withdrawn in 2006. The No. 553 service from Bolton to Boothstown and the No. 552 service from Bolton to Leigh were withdrawn, leaving no direct links from Tyldesley or Boothstown to Bolton.

Routes have also been changed. The bus service that linked Boothstown and Manchester, which was important to commuters, was cut back to one bus an hour. A vital
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bus service to the Trafford centre from Bolton via Little Hulton, Walkden and Worsley no longer stops at Little Hulton. I have received complaints from constituents, as I am sure many Members in the Chamber have, about the level of service on the buses. They range from complaints about frequency and lack of capacity during peak periods to examples of poor standards of service such as drivers refusing parents with a buggy access to the bus. Services need to improve dramatically before my constituents would use them instead of a car, but I cannot see any dramatic improvements on the horizon. In fact, when her local bus service was withdrawn, one of my constituents said:

Over the past two years, such issues have caused many of my constituents to switch to the car.

Given the situation with public transport, it is my firm view that the consultation proposed by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and the passenger transport executive is not up to the task. What has been proposed is a consultation brochure with a response form for each household; an exhibition bus with three roving exhibitions per local authority; some public meetings, and a website. Those of us who have tried to organise campaigns would not organise one around a single thing being delivered to each household, or depend on public meetings and websites. None of us would think that that was much of a campaign. The planned costs of the consultation are about £3 million, of which just under half is to be spent on advertising and opinion polling. After the first advertisements were aired this weekend, other MPs and I received angry e-mails about perceived bias in the advertising campaign and requests for the adverts to put both sides of the argument.

Some compelling points need to be aired during the debate. First, the charging zone in Greater Manchester is considerably larger than for any other existing scheme. It will cover 76 square miles, or 15 per cent., of Greater Manchester, compared with 8 square miles covered by the original London charging cordon and 11 square miles in Stockholm. The charging cordon for Greater Rome covers an area of just 2 square miles, or 3 per cent. of the city. The economic base of the Greater Manchester zone is fundamentally different from other charging locations. Charging schemes have been introduced in high-density employment areas such as city centres, which have an established public transport infrastructure. I have made it clear that no such infrastructure exists, certainly not in my constituency, whereas in London, 80 per cent. of workers in the zone already travelled to work by public transport before the charge was introduced. As I have mentioned, Worsley and other parts of the proposed Greater Manchester charging zone do not have effective public transport alternatives.

The other key difference is that, in London, public transport is controlled by Transport for London and the Mayor of London, who was able to invest the congestion charge funds in a fleet of new buses, for example, which improved public transport. In Greater Manchester, much of the TIF funding will be spent on the expansion of Metrolink, which will benefit only certain areas, and I have to say that my constituency is not one of them.

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Another key issue that needs to be aired is the question of whether Manchester is so congested that the changes are justified and whether the proposed changes and charges will make enough of a difference. One of the main traffic bottlenecks in my constituency is at junctions 12 and 13 on the M60 motorway, and it is almost entirely due to poor junction design. For a number of years, the Highways Agency proposed a scheme to improve those junctions, because there was such a traffic bottleneck. Traffic filters on and off the M62 and M602 motorways across a very tight area. However, this problem—our worst problem—would not be tackled or improved by the TIF proposals. Other parts of Greater Manchester also have traffic bottlenecks that need to be tackled by the Highways Agency.

I travel around my constituency, both during peak hours and outside those hours. Compared with the situation in London before the congestion charge was introduced, we have a traffic peak at the start of the day and in the afternoon/early evening. I used to work in London a couple of days a month before congestion charging was introduced, and there is no comparison between the scale of the gridlock in London and the situation in Greater Manchester. It would be difficult for many of my constituents to pay congestion charges just to get to work in Manchester or central Salford. It would lead to staff making demands on employers to take on some or all of the cost of congestion charging, which might be a big factor in respect of Manchester and Salford becoming employment destinations. Businesses are fearful about that and the consequent impact it would have on them.

Towns such as Eccles and Swinton struggle to survive against competition from retail and business centres elsewhere. It would be tempting for businesses to relocate from those places and for staff to change jobs to locations outside the charging zone. Similarly, schools, colleges and Salford university might find it harder to attract staff and students if those people could switch to similar establishments outside the charging zones. Many of my constituents work and shop at the Trafford centre, but there would be an incentive for them to travel instead to other out-of-town shopping centres. Many unintended consequences would have an adverse impact on life for all the businesses and organisations within the charging zone.

I am pleased to have opened this debate today. When the Transport Act 2000, which provided for the introduction of road charging outside London, was introduced the then Deputy Prime Minister said that if congestion charging schemes were to be introduced and approved, certain changes must be met, including the condition that public transport should be improved before charging schemes began to offer motorists a proper choice. A further condition was that local people must be consulted. As I have made clear, I do not believe that public transport can be improved enough in my constituency to offer motorists a proper choice. My constituents should be properly consulted, and I will work to make sure that they get as much information as possible and have a chance to have their say.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs. Joan Humble (in the Chair): Order. Several hon. Members wish to contribute to this debate. I intend to call Front Bench speakers at 12 pm, so if hon. Members can limit their contributions I hope that everybody can get in.

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11.14 am

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble. I congratulate the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) on securing it. She spoke eloquently and knowledgably, and I agree with pretty much everything she said.

I should like briefly to make clear my own view about congestion charging schemes before discussing the consultation on which the debate is focused. I accept that there is a good case to be made for a national congestion charging scheme. Such a scheme will be in place probably within 15 or 20 years, at least on our motorways and trunk roads. However, it is difficult to overestimate—I choose my words carefully—the seething resentment in some parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation about being used as a laboratory experiment in respect of this scheme.

My contention is that this particular scheme, not road charging generally, is fundamentally flawed. I say that because its success depends pretty much on the number of cars travelling in and out of the city centre continuing at the same level. If the scheme is successful in deterring motorists from travelling in and out of the city at peak times, which is what it is supposed to do, it will mean that less revenue is raised to go towards the promised public transport investments. It cannot work, because if the scheme is successful in discouraging motorists from using their cars to get in and out of town, less revenue will be raised and there will be less money for the promised public transport improvements. The scheme depends on motorists continuing to drive in and out of the city centre at the same rate.

A cornerstone of the case for the congestion charging scheme appears to be the suggestion that is being developed for a referendum. I want to focus particularly on why that is not necessarily the right way forward and why I am certainly not persuaded that it is the best way of going about things. Incidentally, I have no doubt that if a referendum is to happen, the scheme will go down and I will oppose the idea of holding a referendum because it is not the right way forward. I say that clearly, because the premise on which the question is based in a referendum will be different depending on where people live.

If people live in the inner ring around Manchester, wherever that line is finally drawn, why would they not vote for the proposed scheme—the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) might want to add something on this later—because they will get pretty much all the benefits at none of the cost? Those in the inner ring will not pay at all to travel into and out of the city centre. Because of the way the rings will work, most of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech), who will live between the first and second rings, will be asked to pay once to travel into the city centre, and they may think that that is a price worth paying for the promised improvements. However, my constituents in Cheadle, whom I have the privilege of representing, and the vast majority of people in Stockport borough will be paying twice. So the premise is not the same. I can understand why people in the city centre might vote for the scheme, but people outside the second ring will be asked to pay twice. What makes it even more invidious is that the
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people in Stockport borough will not get the promised public transport improvements—not in the foreseeable future, anyway.

My other key point is that all of this is premised on the Government’s saying, “If you accept this scheme, more money will be made available for public transport.” We would all welcome more investment in public transport; we all know that it needs it. However, hon. Members’ first duty is to represent the interests of the people who elect us to Parliament. Ask anybody in Stockport and they will say that the talk about promised extensions of the Metrolink system to Stockport town centre has been going on for years. I was previously leader of Stockport council and I am a former member of the passenger transport authority in Greater Manchester. The Metrolink scheme has always been developed on the basis that, eventually, we would all benefit from it. I have to say to the Minister that some of us are still waiting. We are no closer to the extension of the Metrolink system to Stockport and this consultation will not bring it any closer.

There is also an issue in my constituency, which affects the whole south side of Greater Manchester, about completing the A555 relief road. I know that the Minister is well aware of the compelling case that we have made, on a number of occasions, for that project to be given the go-ahead. However, without confirmation that we are going to get a Metrolink extension to Stockport and that the A555 road scheme will go ahead, the people in Stockport are being asked by the Government to take too much on trust. The Government have fully used their reservoir of good will for these ideas in my area.

Three of the 10 Greater Manchester authorities are already on the record as opposing the scheme. I am not sure of the current status of the proposed referendum in Bolton, but it is likely that a fourth will come out against the scheme. My key question to the Minister is how on earth will such a scheme be imposed on Greater Manchester residents on the basis that certainly three and perhaps four of its 10 authorities will not want to co-operate?

I hope that the Minister will address those genuine concerns in her response. I understand why, in some cases, the scheme may make sense for some hon. Members and that they will want to support it, but I am afraid that many of us can see no tangible benefit for our constituents. The constituents whom I have the privilege of representing will be asked to pay twice to get in and out of the city centre with no corresponding increase or improvement in public transport. If we end up with a conurbation-wide referendum, it will be without my support.

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