Previous Section Index Home Page

1 July 2008 : Column 199WH—continued

Failsworth is part of Oldham. It is just about the only part of Oldham that is inside the M60 ring and it faces being terribly disadvantaged if those Oldham citizens want to travel to their own sub-regional centre at peak times. For them, it would be a charge too far.

I shall conclude by saying that, if the consultation is to be meaningful, it will need to have answers to those questions. The leaflets, consultation documents, website and exhibitions will need to address such concerns, which will apply not only in my constituency but, as we have heard, right around the M60. My continued strong support for the TIF proposition—it is strong support—will depend on the answers to questions such as those.

11.47 am

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) on obtaining the debate. I do not share her central premise on the TIF bid in any shape or form—I am a genuine supporter—but nevertheless the debate is important because there has to be the utmost clarity in the TIF bid process if people are to be convinced that it is in the collective interests of people across Greater Manchester, and the consultation process, in any case, has at least to allow for the type of points that we have heard. My hon. Friends the Members for Ashton-under-Lyne (David Heyes) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) raised points of great detail. Nevertheless, the fact that they are points of detail does not invalidate them. Those are exactly the
1 July 2008 : Column 200WH
type of detailed points that people will want to have answered community by community. That will affect my own constituents in the centre of the conurbation.

The one thing that I find disappointing about the nay, nay and nay again position of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) is that Cheadle is very much the part of Greater Manchester that benefits from the city centre. The relatively affluent people who live in Cheadle have always benefited from their ability to travel into the centre. They have benefited, in particular, from the economic base and they have benefited from the social base. In historical terms, they have never been the ones who have borne the problems caused by the conurbation. Some of the problems are intense, and I shall come to those. His constituents will have an interest in the resolution of some of those problems, because congestion has costs. That is an important issue. I could go on at great length about the importance of dealing with the production of greenhouse gases and about the need to do something practical about the use of the motor car in our society and the need for congestion charging simply on that basis. That matters to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Cheadle as it does to mine in inner-city Manchester.

Mark Hunter: I accept that it may not be a central point in his contribution, but as the hon. Gentleman mentioned my constituency I feel that I ought to respond. I put it to him that the residents of Stockport borough, and my constituents in particular, have already contributed handsomely to the cost of developing the Metrolink system. We are reluctant to pay any more until we can see the benefits. I entirely take his point about Manchester being the regional capital, and I am a proud Mancunian, but he should give us a bit more credit.

Tony Lloyd: I give the hon. Gentleman’s constituents much more credit. I have a far more noble view of them; they, too, recognise the need to do something practical about congestion. They also recognise, as I do, like my constituents and all who live in the conurbation, that there are big costs to bear. Those costs even include health, because we know that the impact of vehicle-borne pollution, particularly on the lungs of young people, is serious and increasing.

Frankly, it is not responsible to say that we will see an indefinite number of vehicles coming into the centre of Manchester and that the children in a constituency such as mine will bear the cost of that air pollution—although I realise that it travels across the conurbation—and then say that it is not an issue for the people. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would want that either. The important factor is that Cheadle has always depended economically on Greater Manchester, and particularly on the economy of Manchester.

The real damage of congestion is straightforward. Independent surveys have come up with numbers—for instance, that the conurbation will lose 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. We can dispute the exact numbers, but it would be a very foolish person who said that congestion would not have a serious impact on the labour market. That is borne out by the experience of others cities, such as Dublin and Bristol, where economic growth has slowed because they failed to deal with congestion in a timely fashion. There are profound and important reasons why Manchester will have to deal with congestion, and those who are opposed to the scheme have failed to address them.

1 July 2008 : Column 201WH

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con) rose—

Tony Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman will have 10 minutes to speak. I have far less time, so I hope that he will forgive me if I simply say that he will have to come up with far better answers on the question of jobs than his party has done so far—either in Greater Manchester, where Conservative councils are against it, or nationally.

The consultation is tremendously important. The inner ring goes across my constituency, and there will of course be a local impact. The details will matter to my constituents. For instance, it would be absurd if people found themselves unable to take their children to school on the way to work. Those are normal daily patterns, and it is not satisfactory to say that people should walk. That is not a reasonable proposition. Local people, community by community, will need reassurance on such matters, and the consultation must deal with them.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) follows the matter with real interest, and he has raised some important technical points. We need to ensure that the information base is fair. For example, we must be sure that big organisations such as Peel Holdings that are opposed to the congestion charge also play a responsible and acceptable role and do not simply engage in propaganda. We need a proper debate.

The reality is that there are real opportunities for public transport improvements across the conurbation. Stockport rail station will benefit if it becomes part of a local interchange. That will have a considerable effect on people throughout the borough of Stockport, including those in Cheadle; and my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley knows that the dedicated bus corridor that goes through Salford and on to Manchester will benefit her constituents. Those things have to be measured in the balance, because people will have different views of the opportunities that the scheme affords them.

I realise that others wish to speak, so I shall conclude by saying that we need a debate that genuinely considers the opportunities. The conurbation could have first-class—indeed, world-class—public transport. We should not deny that. We should not say that it can be achieved in other ways. Indeed, no hon. Member has explained how else we could achieve a public transport uplift if the bid did not go ahead. That is important.

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

We must not deceive the public into thinking that there is a plan B. There is not. It is important that the information put forward in the consultation recognises that there are important questions, such as the economic cost of congestion, but it is also important that those who take the consultation process forward listen carefully to the important points of detail that, in the end, will be the basis on which local people vote.

I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will persuade Tory councillors in Greater Manchester to accept that the legitimate way to take this forward is to have a county-wide referendum. That would give every individual the opportunity to have a say and to make their vote count. That would result in a proper transport system, with a proper structure across the conurbation. It would not simply be selfish voices being raised from particular parts at the expense of the wider community.

1 July 2008 : Column 202WH
11.55 am

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab): May I say to my colleagues that for a quarter of a century I have represented the most westerly and south-westerly part of the Greater Manchester conurbation? Over the past quarter of a century, through the general taxation and local authority taxation systems and the annual precepts to the Greater Manchester Transport Authority, my constituents have subsidised and paid for large measures of investment infrastructure in the city of Manchester. They have had not a single penny in return.

One of the big things for us—this is why I support the bid—is that for the first time we see a plan for multi-million-pound investment in new infrastructure and schemes to update the dilapidated infrastructure in the most westerly parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation. The only way that my constituents can get to work in Manchester is by car. There is no network of bus services. There is no train network worth the name. My constituents invest their skills, knowledge and commitment in Manchester to produce the wealth and the goods and services, and they use Manchester’s wonderful facilities for the arts, crafts and sports—all that makes it such a wonderful city we all support, admire and commit ourselves to—but although they have had to pay, they receive nothing in return.

The importance of the transport innovation fund and the critical arguments about the environment all pale into insignificance if people say, “If I’m going to pay for this, what do I get back in return?” It is important that the consultation process makes a great effort to listen to what ordinary people have to say about what the bid means in practical terms to their daily lives and about the resources needed to improve them. For my constituents, I hope that it will mean new and refurbished stations and a new bus network. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) said, we could all present a list of things that we would like for our constituencies. Even with an hour-and-a-half debate on that one subject, I could not cover everything. However, one thing is certain. If the bid does not get through, if it is undermined and nothing happens—we could add all those things that we have not discussed plus everything in the bid—we would still be left with congestion. We will still be left with constituents who, like mine, pay through the precept to subsidise the city’s transport infrastructure and receive nothing back.

With the additional cost of transport, one thing is certain. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) said, the cost of transport will continue to rise, and fuel will become scarcer and more expensive. Unless the bid succeeds, the only alternative for my constituents will be to use the car. The bid must succeed and allow major infrastructure investments. My hon. Friend was right to say that it will not solve all the problems. He listed all the things in his constituency that it would not cover. I, too, could make a list. For instance, it would not give me a northern bypass around Ashton-in-Makerfield; and it would not remove the disturbances on the M6, which goes through my constituency. Every day, thousands of heavy vehicles go through my constituency on the old Victorian road system, but TIF will not resolve that problem. However, I still have the bottle to argue the case for TIF.

1 July 2008 : Column 203WH

Some of my constituents may say that there is not much in it for them, but one thing is absolutely certain. We cannot go on as we are, paying every day in pollution and through our rates and getting nothing back. TIF could start to reverse that process. I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that factor. As for the consultation, organisations such as Network Rail have a responsibility. The Secretary of State made a statement on 9 June, and we supported her, but two or three days later, Network Rail criticised the TIF bid and arrangements in my constituency in the local press, which is not acceptable. Network Rail has its own agenda, and it is not the same as the agenda on which my constituents sent me to Parliament. If we are going to have a proper debate on the matter and win the argument, organisations such as Network Rail should put their hand up and accept that they have a responsibility to help to improve the infrastructure, and not put barriers up to prevent that. I received commitments from the Secretary of State on the day, which she has followed through in writing, as has the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), as well as the passenger transport authority and executive. I expect, with my right hon. and hon. Friends’ support, meetings in the next few weeks to ensure that promises given to my constituents on the TIF bid are realised sooner rather than later.

Mr. Brady rose—

Mr. David Wilshire (in the Chair): We are at the point at which spokesmen would normally begin their speeches. Mr. Brady gave a reasonable reason for being late and said that he would make a short contribution. I cannot stop you, Mr. Brady, once you start, but I am minded to ask you to restrict yourself to a minute or so.

12 noon

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I appreciate that very much, Mr. Wilshire. I congratulate the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) on securing the debate, and I am pleased to make a brief contribution to the debate.

I think that the scheme is deeply flawed, for three key reasons. First, a congestion charging scheme should be easy to afford, but this scheme is not. It will cost many people £5 a day but, as has already been admitted, it could cost others as much as £10. There will be no discount for residents, unlike the London scheme, which people need to understand in the consultation process. Residents are going to be hit very hard.

Secondly, such schemes can work only when public transport in the area is good enough. At the moment in Greater Manchester, public transport is such a long way from being good enough to replace the use of the car that many people, including the constituents of my friend, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), will continue to pay, without getting the return that he hopes they will get.

Thirdly, such a scheme must be simple to understand. However flawed and one-sided the consultation, it will highlight the fact that the scheme is not easily understandable and is incredibly, absurdly complex. Two circles are already proposed, and a third, outer ring might be introduced in due course. People do not understand the scheme, it will be complicated to operate, and it will cause endless confusion and complication in people’s daily lives if it is introduced.

1 July 2008 : Column 204WH
12.2 pm

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) on securing this debate, which is on an incredibly important issue for the whole of Greater Manchester. Getting the consultation right and ensuring that people have a say on the proposals is absolutely vital.

Opinions are divided on the merits or otherwise of a road charging scheme for Manchester, and not along the political divide, contrary to the comments made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). The leader of Manchester city council is strongly in favour of introducing congestion charging, yet the former leader of the council, the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) is totally opposed. LibDem-run Stockport, which will once again miss out on Metrolink and which stands to gain little from the proposals, is opposed to the scheme, yet LibDem-run Rochdale, which would benefit significantly if the Metrolink expansion to the town centre goes ahead, is in favour of the plans.

The hon. Member for Worsley and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) made impassioned pleas about the fact that their constituents will not benefit from the great improvements in public transport promised by the proposals. My hon. Friend also highlighted a problem that might arise if the scheme is successful. If people change their behaviour, the charging scheme might not raise enough money, which would make bridging the funding gap a problem. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish gave an excellent example of a constituent who would be hit by the proposals because of where the boundaries will be set, and the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley questioned whether the scheme would improve bus services and result in less congestion. He also made a valid point about the need for independence in any referendum on the matter.

The issue of congestion charging and road-user pricing is contentious, especially when people are feeling the pinch of higher fuel costs, mortgages, food prices and energy bills. There is a danger that the debate will become about just another tax on the motorist. Nationally, the Liberal Democrats have avoided the problem by proposing a cost-neutral national road user pricing scheme for motorways and trunk roads, as well as committing to a multi-billion pound investment in our rail network.

Any local scheme must generate revenue to pay back the cost of improving public transport, which has been hopelessly underfunded by successive Governments in the past 30-odd years. That is why the Liberal Democrats in Manchester proposed a Greater Manchester-wide referendum on the plans, so that everyone in the conurbation could have their say. I was therefore delighted to hear the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), the Conservative transport spokesperson, apparently supporting the principle of a referendum when she questioned the Secretary of State for Transport during the announcement that Manchester’s TIF bid had been granted programme entry and that the Government were making £1.5 billion available to the city. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) will confirm whether the Conservatives support a Greater Manchester-wide referendum.

1 July 2008 : Column 205WH

Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman should not be surprised about that. He and I sat through endless sittings of the Local Transport Bill Committee, in one of which I moved an amendment in favour of a referendum. I am staggered that he finds it so surprising.

Mr. Leech: I did not say that I found it surprising. I simply hoped that he would confirm that that was the official position of the Conservative party.

Perhaps more significant than the Conservatives’ support for a referendum is the Damascus road-style conversion of the leader of Manchester city council, Sir Richard Leese, to supporting a referendum. A referendum would not necessarily be defeated. Giving the example of Edinburgh, many argue that a referendum will automatically guarantee that a bid will be unsuccessful. However, a referendum on congestion charging was won in Stockholm, although I accept that there are some questions about its validity. When I carried out an unscientific poll in my constituency, slightly more respondents were in favour than were opposed to a proposal for a congestion charge featuring transport improvements. However, I am willing to accept that there will be differences from one constituency to the next, which is why I support a referendum.

The consultation process is not only about a referendum. Before a referendum can be carried out, there must be a period of consultation on the proposals. The consultation must be meaningful, clear and unbiased, and residents must be given the full facts. Unfortunately, the evidence that I have seen does not give me any confidence that that will happen. A document entitled “What would you say to a transformed transport network?” has been sent out in Greater Manchester. I saw it only because it was delivered with the local free newspaper to my parents’ house in Leigh. I imagine that I did not receive one through my door because we do not receive a free local newspaper any more. Does that mean that thousands of other residents of Greater Manchester and I will not receive a copy of that document? Free papers are often not delivered to the most isolated or socially disadvantaged areas, and it is simply not good enough for people to be engaged in the consultation process only through those papers. That said, many who have received the document will be none the wiser as to how the scheme will affect them because the details are so sketchy.

I have personally come in for criticism from my Labour opponents for not taking a definitive view on the proposals but, like many people in my constituency, I would like to know the full details of the scheme rather than blindly supporting or opposing it. My constituents in Chorlton, for instance, want to know where the boundaries will be and what impact the scheme will have before making a decision. One option is for the inner ring to bisect Wilbraham road. Some residents may see being inside the inner ring as an advantage, because they would not face a charge for driving into the city centre, but they might take the opposite view, because residents on the other side of Wilbraham road might choose to park their cars inside the inner ring and cause parking chaos on what are already heavily congested streets.

Next Section Index Home Page