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24 Mar 2010 : Column 124WH—continued

The present proposal is for everything to be de facto pedestrianised, except the public transport systems. The Oxford Road corridor goes through the university area of the city, which is a heavily congested part of the road system in the morning, so the concept makes a degree of sense. The problem is what happens to the traffic that is displaced from that corridor. The planners told me that in their view, traffic will simply disappear long before it hits the central part of the city, and people will find other ways into the city leading to a reduction in car transport. However, the models are frankly bizarre and perverse. I was shown what was described as the industry model. I do not say this boastfully, but many years ago I used to be a statistician so I probably know a little about mathematical modelling. I know that the old concept in life, "Garbage in, garbage out," applies to mathematical and road transport models just as it applies
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to everything else. If we do not provide the proper parameters on the way in, we do not get the results coming out.

One bizarre thing that the model showed me was how traffic coming in from the south of the city in the morning-this will mean something to local people; I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Minister to follow it in detail-would turn right past Manchester Royal infirmary and then turn right again as it passed the infirmary, which would take it back out south of the city. No one going into the city in the morning chooses to joyride and hit the congestion zone simply to go out of the city again at that point, or at least if they do, they are crazy, and there cannot be too many people in Greater Manchester who are crazy enough to want to do that. Therefore the model, of itself, did not fill me with confidence that the modellers knew what they were doing.

I am concerned that there will be a displacement factor and that the displacement will move the traffic that currently uses the Wilmslow Road and Oxford Road corridor on to, in particular, the Lloyd Street corridor in Moss Side. That road has a number of secondary and primary schools. It is a residential part of the city. When the planners said to me that they wanted a reduction in the accident rate because some students are injured in accidents on the Oxford Road corridor, which is a serious point, I said that we do not advantage things if we reduce accident rates for students and simply move the problem on to younger people and young children on a road a little way away as we move the traffic past those schools.

The point that I want to establish for the Minister is that the modelling has not been convincing. When I challenged those putting the case, they were not convincing in their response. That is the first point. The second point is that in a system such as the one that we are discussing, there may be a benefit, but we must ensure that there are not disbenefits that are sufficiently large or sufficiently concentrated to outweigh it, at least for those local communities.

There is another part of my constituency where there will be other traffic flows. I am referring to Upper Brook street and the fact that there is already the disadvantage that some of my constituents are cut off from the university area. I want to see that situation made better, not worse.

My final point is that significant public moneys will be put into the scheme. We need to know that it has been robustly tested so that the costs are acceptable to those who will bear them, that the benefits are real and that the cost-benefit in total is worth having, but that case has not yet been made.

4.22 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean; I think that this is the first time that I have done so. I place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) for securing this debate on cross-city bus travel. I am grateful for his contribution and for that of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd). They managed to articulate, in a short time, their passion for ensuring that we get good
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value for taxpayers' money and reminded me and the Government as a whole of some of the unintended consequences of good intentions that can arise when people try to improve public transport and the knock-on problems that that can cause to other parts of the public transport family.

Let me say at the outset that I will be considering shortly whether to grant initial funding approval for the cross-city bus corridor and I have been persuaded to take into account the points raised by both my hon. Friends this afternoon before I decide what I shall do with the scheme. As I said, it will come before me shortly. I will not go through the 15 pages of my speech, which I had envisaged doing. What I will do is write to both my hon. Friends with specific points that I cannot address during my speech. I want to deal with the specific points that they raised.

My hon. Friends will be aware that the Greater Manchester passenger transport executive is the promoter of the scheme, but the ITA is the governing body to which the PTE reports. I have no brief to defend them or to speak on their behalf, but I am sure that it will be appreciated that it is far better that decisions on public transport are taken locally rather than by me, sitting in Whitehall and not appreciating what happens locally.

Over the last period, we have spent record amounts on public transport, including buses. This year, we are spending £2.9 billion, and more journeys are being made on our buses this year than at any time since deregulation in the mid-1980s. Some 4.5 billion journeys are made a year, and millions of journeys are made in Manchester. However, my hon. Friends reminded me that if we are to encourage more people to use buses, simply putting more buses on the road is not enough. We need to ensure that bus passengers have punctual and reliable services on clean and efficient vehicles. PTEs have a huge role in ensuring that that is the case.

Greater Manchester PTE has been working in partnership with Manchester, Rochdale and Salford councils to identify how to improve local transport connections. Their proposals include introducing highway, bus priority and congestion management measures, together with significant improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. The scheme that we are discussing forms part of the package to be funded through the Greater Manchester transport fund, which relates to a proposed investment programme of £1.5 billion for prioritised transport schemes designed to deliver the maximum economic benefit to Greater Manchester. That is why I am so pleased that my hon. Friends have reminded me, on the day when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an outstanding Budget statement, of the importance of securing value for money for every single penny that is spent.

The PTE expects the cross-city bus package scheme to enhance the existing Greater Manchester quality bus corridor network and to help to address the unique problems of the Oxford Road corridor, which has the highest demand for bus travel in Greater Manchester but the poorest results in terms of performance, which causes me huge concern.

My hon. Friends have demonstrated that they know the area much better than I do. I have been told that the Oxford Road corridor is the location of Manchester Royal infirmary and the higher education precinct, which comprises the sites of two universities. It is also a
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significant economic centre and includes about 4 per cent. of the city's business stock. The PTE has predicted that the employment potential of Oxford road will increase from 36,000 jobs in 2008 to more than 55,000 by 2020. The proposed scheme is designed to enhance public transport links between areas of deprivation to the north and west of Manchester.

I am aware-my hon. Friends raised these points very well-of the concerns that they have about the public consultation on the proposed measures, which I understand took place last October, November and December. I understand that there will be a further opportunity to provide feedback as part of the traffic regulation order process, which the local highway authorities are promoting on the PTE's behalf. In addition, I have been reminded that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central will meet representatives of the ITA this Friday to discuss, in particular, his concerns about displacement of traffic on to residential routes in Moss Side. I have taken on board the points that my hon. Friends raised on consultation.

It is worth reminding my hon. Friends of what my role is. Since receipt of the business case, the Department has been working closely with the PTE, but we are not yet in a position to approve the proposed scheme for entry to the programme of local major transport schemes. We had concerns about some of the issues relating to the application given to us, which we have worked through with the scheme's promoters. Our assessment of the bid for the scheme has focused on the traffic appraisal, which has highlighted a number of issues on which the PTE and its consultants have had to undertake further work. I hope that that is another reassurance that we, too, spotted some problems with the scheme
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and we have asked for further work to be undertaken. We have now received the results of the additional work. One concern related to the modelling. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central remembers his days as a statistician. He will be reassured that my officials, too, thought that there were issues, which led us to ask for further work to be undertaken.

I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friends have raised about the scheme in today's debate. I note the concerns about the impact on their constituents of the proposed implementation of the measures both along the Rochdale Road corridor and in Moss Side. I take on board the concerns raised about quality contracts. We have done all that we can to encourage local authorities to use that important tool to improve services. My hon. Friends will be aware that the Conservative party has made a commitment to abolish it from the toolkit of local authorities. We are also considering how we can revamp the way in which we subsidise bus-operating companies in order to ensure that we get maximum value for money. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley raised concerns about some of the challenges of governance, particularly in relation to leaders from different political parties.

Let me reassure my hon. Friends that I will take on board what they have said. I will read Hansard tomorrow morning to ensure that I take on board the points that they have raised before I make a decision. If there are specific points that I have not been able to answer due to the shortage of time, I apologise. I will write to both of them this week to give them the answers that they need so that they are armed with the necessary tools, including for the meeting on Friday with the ITA, to ensure that they get the best possible service for their constituents, who deserve nothing less.

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Queen's Diamond Jubilee

4.30 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): It is a great pleasure, Mrs. Dean, to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the Minister for taking time out of his busy diary to respond to this debate. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) here, as he has done so much on this matter with his private Member's Bill.

It is very much within the context of the Government's planning for Her Majesty's diamond jubilee that I believe we should have a festival of Britain, and I am keen to push the idea to the Minister. Indeed, I have raised the subject before in the main Chamber, and I was most grateful for his response; the idea of that happening in conjunction with Her Majesty's diamond jubilee was something that he welcomed as having an excellent socialist genus.

I believe that we have the opportunity to hold a year-long festival of Britain, with the Olympic games being a dramatic crescendo. I would like particularly to thank Mr. Malcolm Felberg, who took the effort to lobby me on the idea; he is a constituent of the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks). It would give us the opportunity, in line with the Government's approach, to have activities taking place in villages, towns and cities across the country, perhaps avoiding some of the pitfalls of the grand projets that sometimes come with such occasions.

It has been the style and approach of the Government to give good notice of the jubilee week. It is testament to the way in which the Government are listening to proposals that nothing is cast in stone at this stage. However, a good deal of planning would be necessary. I believe that it would be right to have some activity on the south bank, and I am grateful for the local and regional media's interest today in the idea of having a 1951-style festival. It would be most apposite, given the First Secretary of State's antecedents and his grandfather's involvement in the 1951 festival.

It would be good to have some activity on the original south bank site; that would cheer the nation and promote British technology. Indeed, although there might be a danger of there being some Wilsonian white-heat-of-technology ideas, it would nevertheless be useful to celebrate manufacturing excellence, given that the Government are trying to manage the economy in such a way as to reduce slightly our dependence on financial services.

Most importantly, however, it will give us the chance to celebrate these glorious Elizabethan years. It will also give us a chance to capture the attention of visitors to the United Kingdom during the Olympic year and, in line with the Labour Government's slogan of 1946, to show that "Britain can make it". These are challenging times-times of austerity, perhaps-and to be able to say that we have excellence in manufacturing and that Britain can thrive and recover would be a good theme between now and 2012, as the economy recovers.

The year 2012 should be a festival of Britain that celebrates British talent in art, culture and sport as well as in industry. However, there is clearly an important royal process for it. Only Queen Victoria has celebrated a diamond jubilee. That was pushed for by Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, who really wanted to celebrate the British empire.

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Now is our chance, with such a celebration, to reflect positively on our Commonwealth ties, and to consider the changing nature of British society in the context of our imperial history. It is regrettable that our children do not learn as much about our imperial past as they could, particularly as its history has made our country what it is today. Such teaching would go a long way towards redefining the nature of migration in the minds of the young. I hope that I do not offend too many colleagues in the Chamber by saying this, but it would also provide many salutary examples of how foolhardy military engagements in far-off places can be a great trap for our nation.

Beyond schools, I believe that a 2012 festival of Britain would bring the chance for scholarships and apprenticeships to assist the disadvantaged, to show that their talents are most applicable as Britain rebuilds her economy and as we move away from services-particularly financial services-to manufacturing, technology, innovation and science. Perhaps we could have diamond jubilee scholarships, open to students from Commonwealth countries, that could foster British values overseas.

It is right that we should have a physical presence. I am aware of the danger of being accused of saying that significant public sector finances should be made available for such an initiative, but we would clearly want to catch the spirit of the silver jubilee. I remember attending street parties in 1977-I am sure that other Members remember it too-and I believe that that is the community approach that the Government would like to adopt.

It might be appropriate, with many people going to the Olympic site, for them also to have the opportunity to go to a site here in the centre of London, behind the London Eye. It might be apt to have a new Skylon. I know that Winston Churchill took the original down very snappily after he was re-elected. That emblem of the original festival of Britain was the subject of teasing; it was said that, like the economy, it had no visible means of support. Perhaps that approach could be pursued now.

I am attracted by the idea of a permanent legacy for the festival of Britain jubilee year. In some ways, that is a criticism of what is going on with the Olympics. Some of the legacy prospects for the Olympics are less ambitious than they were at the start, and some of the ambitions for a cultural Olympiad have unfortunately had to be put to one side. Perhaps that is something that could be dealt with as part of a diamond jubilee for Her Majesty. After all, when we look around our country, we see in many towns and villages that a great many of our commemorations of Queen Victoria are the result of her diamond jubilee.

Hardly ever does a debate go by without my mentioning Croydon; I have mentioned Croydon 42 times during this Session of Parliament. A permanent legacy could be found in the neighbourhood of the London borough of Croydon in a rebuilt crystal palace. Another Minister described me as living on another planet for suggesting the idea, but there would be some value to it. Situated in the demographically dynamic south of London, a new palace could embody all the elements of art, culture, sport and industry that the festival would promote.

A crowning glory in jubilee year would be for a British museum extension to be built in south London-a testimony to south London and to Britain's global
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reach. After all, it was after the 1851 exhibition that the original palace was exported to Crystal Palace. In many ways, one can see a continuity in the prospects for any general exhibitions that we might have. The 1851 exhibition was clearly industrial and technological, and the 1951 exhibition was about post-war reconstruction.

A 2012 jubilee commemoration and exhibition could be based on green jobs and technology, perhaps emphasising LED technology. In Croydon, a green energy technology exhibition could rejuvenate the failed Skyline project, which I am sad to report to the House went into administration this week. It would also brighten up our lives in this time of economic downturn, perhaps with a project to light up London. That would be a very bright way in which to celebrate.

I feel that Her Majesty commands our respect and allegiance as our monarch, but she has earned our love by the manner of her reign. As in previous jubilee years, we can look to our sovereign lady as a symbol of unity in difficult times.

Moreover, there is much to celebrate from the original festival of Britain. I am pleased to have a facsimile of the official festival of Britain book, which was produced by HMSO and written by Mr. Ian Cox. Many of the themes mentioned are similar to those of today. Tolerance, for example, was one such theme, although ethnicity was somewhat different. The book said that the British nation was one of the most mixed people in the world, and it emphasised the importance of tolerance. Moreover, it tried to define-this was one of the difficult challenges-what it is to be British.

When I was on the Education and Skills Committee, we asked our witnesses, "How do you treat Britishness?" They had the temerity to reply, "How do we define that?" It is a very difficult thing to do. The HMSO book defined Britishness as a mixture of the lion and the unicorn, the lion being about realism and strength and the unicorn about fantasy, independence-something that I very much appreciate-and imagination.

Colleagues will be most amused to hear that reference is also made to a new initiative in west London-the new London airport sited 15 miles west of London. The HMSO book said that the terminal would be grouped on a 50 acre site in the centre of nine main runways, and that the facilities would enable the airport to handle "4,000 passengers". That shows how modest the ambitions were, and how easy it is for a project to grow and grow-no talk there of third runways.

I feel that the jubilee festival of 2012 provides us with an excellent opportunity to celebrate our cultural diversity and helps us to crystallise a sense of national identity.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on proposing this debate. He has extensively referred to the Commonwealth and the importance of involving countries with strong historical ties to Britain. Does he agree that this is also an opportunity to involve those countries and territories that still remain part of the United Kingdom? We have 16 British overseas territories and five Crown dependencies. Does he feel that they should be included in this great celebration of Britain? May I also say that the idea of a festival of Britain is something that I wholeheartedly endorse?

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