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Road Infrastructure (North-West)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

The north-west will receive £345 million over the next three years for local authority road and public transport projects and Highways Agency major schemes. We will continue to take advice from the region on how investment should be prioritised.

Is the Minister aware that the letter from the previous Under-Secretary in her Department to me and others relating to the south-east Manchester multi-modal recommendation has created immense anger among all local authorities—Labour, Liberal and Conservative—in Cheshire, Macclesfield and Greater Manchester? It really is about time that areas such as Cheshire and Macclesfield, as well as Greater Manchester, had a fairer distribution of money for road improvements up to 2022. Will the Minister receive a delegation from me, including Members from all parties, to discuss the matter?

I have read the letter that the Under-Secretary sent to Members of Parliament in which the offer was made that a meeting would be arranged with local councils and Department for Transport officials. I believe that meeting will be on 23 July. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) has already approached me about meeting a delegation of MPs and I am more than happy to do so, but I suggest that we wait until after the meeting on Monday, in order to see what is resolved there.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to her new job, and I very much welcome the offer she has made to meet all Members of Parliament with an interest in the SEMMS relief road. Will she consider all the options for progressing the road, which is vital to relieving congestion on the A6 in my constituency, including building part or all of it as a toll road?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are certainly committed to working in close collaboration with the local authorities to look at all the possible funding options. As I said, when the meeting on Monday has taken place, we should sit down and look at the various proposals. I understand her point about toll roads. I hope that we will be able to take this matter forward. As I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members are aware, the cost of the scheme has escalated—looking at some of the funding options—up to £1 billion. We have to recognise that we need to explore the different options very closely.

Is the Minister aware that the recommendations by the regional authorities have caused my constituents great anger? They mean that we have very little infrastructure investment in county roads such as the A34, which runs from Manchester and is a major commuter road south through Congleton to Stoke-on-Trent. When the long-overdue Alderley Edge bypass is completed, that will merely decant vast amounts of traffic into areas in and around the town of Congleton. When are we going to get a bypass, and when will some money be spent in rural areas, rather than just in the large metropolitan areas?

It is important to recognise that the north-west region has a 10-year regional funding allocation of £1.245 billion, and that local transport funding has doubled in the past seven years. However, it is also important to recognise that the Department takes advice from the region about the region’s priorities, which is the right approach. We will continue discussions, but it is important to remember that that is the principle on which we work.

The Minister will be aware that the north-west has enjoyed unprecedented growth over the past 10 years, yet still lags behind the national average. One of the reasons for that is our poor road infrastructure. May I invite the Minister to meet the Northwest Development Agency and see all the plans that we have in the north-west, and—I hope—put some more money into our infrastructure, so that we can have economic growth at the same level as the rest of the country?

My hon. Friend is right to say that transport infrastructure is an important part of economic growth, particularly at the regional level. I thank him for his kind invitation. I would be more than happy to meet him, and perhaps the regional development agency, to discuss some of the issues that are clearly of such great interest to Members.