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Roads (North-West)

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2003

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6.

If he will make a statement on investment in the trunk road infrastructure in the north-west of England. [112572]

The Highways Agency is planning to spend around £135 million this year on maintaining the motorway and trunk road infrastructure in the north-west. A further £30 million will be spent on small schemes aimed at tackling safety and congestion. In addition to that, the Highways Agency's programme includes seven major capital schemes to the value of around £400 million, which will be delivered over the next 5 years.

I thank the Secretary of State for that detailed response. Does he accept that adequate roads are vital to a successful transport infrastructure? I am concerned that the proposals of the south-east Manchester multi-modal study are totally inadequate in respect of the roads going from Macclesfield to the north. We have a wonderful silk road that sweeps out of the centre of Macclesfield to the north, but it turns into a very inadequate single-carriageway road. Will the Secretary of State look at the provision of a dual carriageway road from the end of the silk road to connect with the Poynton bypass? We need a dual-carriageway road so that large companies such as Astra Zeneca, which employs more than 7,000 people, can adequately connect to the motorway network and Manchester international airport?

I agree that a transport policy must be balanced and that we need adequate road and rail infrastructure. I am aware of the problem that the hon. Gentleman raises, particularly as regards the connection with the A523, which was the subject of the multi-modal study on which my predecessor announced his conclusions in March 2002. As I understand it, the consultants recommended, and the study concluded, that there ought to be a single-carriageway road. That proposal is being worked up by Cheshire county council, in consultation with Macclesfield borough council.

I know the hon. Gentleman's views on the matter. I had a brief opportunity this morning to look into its history, and I can see that there are differences of opinion at various levels. It is for Cheshire county council to decide what is appropriate for the road, and its view at the moment, as I understand it, is that a single carriageway, perhaps realigned, would be the right thing. The hon. Gentleman's representations ought, in the first instance, to be made to Cheshire county council.

My right hon. Friend will recognise that investment in motorways and trunk roads is essential for securing jobs and investment in Burnley and east Lancashire. He will know that the M65 going east ends in Colne, in the Pendle constituency. I have always wanted it to go east into Yorkshire, but since that is not going to happen, will he ensure that the necessary bypasses are built on A and trunk roads from Pendle into Yorkshire to ensure that communications are better on that side of the country? The M62 is too far south and makes a long diversion for much of our industrial traffic.

I understand the problem. We shall spend something like £13 billion over 10 years on new construction that is necessary to improve access and help industry, as my hon. Friend said, in various parts of the country. Choices must be made, however, and it is not possible to do all the things that everybody wants. I am aware of the general problem because my honourable friend has talked to me about it before. I cannot give any particular undertaking, but if he wants to come to me with specific proposals, I shall be happy to speak to him.

Given that the Secretary of State has performed a welcome U-turn in dropping the Government's original presumption against new road building, will he review, and if necessary reverse, the decision to de-trunk many roads in the north-west, including the A595 in Cumbria, the A570 in Lancashire and the A500 in Cheshire?

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, the 10-yeas plan envisaged substantial new construction, where necessary, to tackle congestion, involving widening roads and so on. My announcement before Christmas simply implemented what the Government had said we would do. However, I am grateful for his welcome, such as it was.

De-trunking has taken place in the north-west and other areas with the agreement of local authorities. It makes sense for the Government to be responsible, through the Highways Agency, for the strategic road network, but where roads are an integral part of local transport, it makes sense for local authorities to be responsible for them. That policy is right, and I am not aware of any great clamour to reverse it.