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Mottram-Tintwistle Bypass

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 21 December 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Crabb.)

I am grateful to Mr Speaker for giving me the chance to raise with the Minister responsible for roads—especially when the prevailing weather conditions are occupying his thoughts at this difficult time—the vital need for a bypass around the village of Tintwistle and the surrounding area in my constituency. As the final parliamentary act of 2010, I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for attending this evening at a time when, like many of our colleagues, he would rather be heading off home to his family and his constituents.

The relative serenity in the Chamber tonight is something that many of my constituents living adjacent to the A57 and A628 in Glossop and Tintwistle crave. Every day, about 36,000 commuting cars and heavy lorries drive through the two places, creating severe traffic jams and pollution on those two trunk roads. They are also ruining some stunning local landscapes and shaking parts of the village of Tintwistle to their very foundations. This is also having a knock-on effect as the congestion forces many other vehicles on to small back roads through tiny villages such as Charlesworth, pushing congestion and traffic dangers into a wider area.

When I made my maiden speech, on 8 June this year, I stressed the urgent need for this scheme. I recognised then that money is tight and will be for some time, but subsequently I have had the Prime Minister’s assurance that some £30 billion is still available for transport investment, which means that there will be schemes that can go ahead. I hope to get the Minister to see that this scheme should be one that gets the green light.

The need for a bypass is not new. When researching for this debate, I found a parliamentary question answered in 1962. The then Minister’s response informed the House that a scheme for the improvement of this road was included in the five-year trunk roads programme, so for almost 50 years my constituents have been given such promises. For almost 50 years, they have put up with the congestion and the rumbling of around 4,000 heavy goods vehicles a day pounding through their villages and past their schools. For almost 50 years, they have been told yes, but not now—later.

The need for this bypass is older than I am. My aim tonight is to convince the Minister not that Tintwistle and Glossop need a bypass—as I will explain, that case has been made already. Instead, I hope to convince him that they have a compelling case for being one of the sites to be developed during this round of spending. If I cannot get him to agree to that tonight, I will look to him to confirm at the very least that he will agree to come and see the need for himself. He could, of course, take the quick and easy option and simply give the scheme the go ahead today—after all, it is Christmas, and miracles have happened at Christmas before.

If the Minister is in need of further persuasion, however, and agrees to come to my constituency, he will see why the Highways Agency is so convinced that a bypass is the only way forward. The status quo is untenable and detrimental not only to local communities but to the local and regional economy. The plans for a bypass in the area date back to the 1990s, following publication of the 1989 “Roads for Prosperity” White Paper. A route was chosen in October 1993, but then plans were put on hold in 1996, when the national road building programme was revised.

Ministers from several administrations have visited High Peak, and seen the beauty of the area and how it, and the lives of the people who live there, were being badly affected by the constant stream of traffic. They each recognised the importance of such a scheme, although gaining support from the top has not guaranteed action. I understand that one Minister made the journey, promised that something would be done, but was sacked on his journey back to London. According to Lord Pendry, the former Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, the former Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson), visited the area and tried to cross Manchester road to attend a meeting at the then Tintwistle parish council offices, whereupon she narrowly escaped being knocked down by a truck.

Unsurprisingly, that proved to be a persuasive argument, and in 1998 the Labour Government published “A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England”, which included the bypass. Then, however, more difficult arguments started to emerge as the preferred route for a bypass became an issue. The new road entered the Peak District national park, whose representatives naturally raised concerns. However, many objections were also raised by people who were not familiar with the area and assumed that all of the new bypass would be in the park. The Highways Agency’s submission to the regional planning bodies in November 2002 concluded that there was no realistic alternative to a bypass if we are to solve the problems that exist.

A public inquiry was convened in June 2007, but was adjourned indefinitely in 2008, after the Highways Agency admitted that it had submitted incorrect data. Later that year, the scheme was officially abandoned because the cost of undertaking the project had escalated and funds had been redirected to other areas. Some £20 million had been spent on investigations at this point—an utter waste of public money spent raising and then dashing the hopes of local people that the misery they endured daily had an end in sight. Indeed, I believe that the Minister tabled questions on this subject in the previous Parliament. So, with £20 million already spent and almost 50 years of acceptance that the route is a problem and that something needs to be done, the sad story that is the Mottram-Tintwistle bypass, like the traffic through the villages, rumbles on.

The problems that a bypass is needed to address can be clearly identified, and I will take a few moments to outline them. Many will recognise part of the A57 by another name—the snake pass. Particularly with the snow at the moment, it is often mentioned on the radio. It is the name given to the higher reaches of the road that are notoriously dangerous because they snake across the Pennines. This route, which takes motorists from the M67, through the centre of Glossop and on to Sheffield, is one of the busiest A roads in the country. Linking Greater Manchester with Sheffield and south Yorkshire, the road passes through Glossop, where there are numerous junctions and pelican crossings, which cause long delays for traffic, especially where on-street parking makes the road narrow, causing great disruption to the flow of the massive level of traffic trying to get through the town.

The congestion created in Glossop is not only causing misery for motorists and residents alike, but is now having a detrimental effect on the economy of this famous old town. My constituent, Gareth Lewis, of Online Selling Ltd, tells me that the congestion

“has stopped our business clients coming to visit us”,

which causes his company to hold client meetings as far away as Manchester airport in an attempt to avoid the jams. Mr Lewis goes on to ask what the point is of taking office space in Glossop when his clients refuse to visit due to the congestion. In my work with Glossopdale businesses before and since I was elected, this has become an all-too-familiar story.

The second major road that would be relieved by a bypass is the A628, which is also known by another name—Woodhead road. It is of particular concern to my constituents from the small village of Tintwistle, which, together with neighbouring Mottram, in a neighbouring constituency, gives the bypass its name. Tintwistle is a small Derbyshire village, which, if it were a typical small Derbyshire village, would be quiet and peaceful, but it is not. The village shakes and shudders, as wagon after wagon and car after car trundle through relentlessly. Another of my constituents—a resident of Tintwistle called Anthony Hall—wrote to me only last month to tell me that he had

“counted over 50 HGVs rumble past my home in the last half hour.”

Many houses in Tintwistle are only a yard from the side of the road—or, from their frontages. What Mr Hall described is not something that I would wish to tolerate. I am sure that it is not something that the Minister would wish to tolerate, and it is not something that I wish my constituents to tolerate for much longer either.

Although I do not wish to give the Minister an exhaustive account of each and every bend of the A628—unless forcing him to beg for mercy would help my case—while I have his ear, let me point out that the eastern end of the A628, through the village of Dodworth, has already enjoyed significant investment and road improvements. My constituents deserve the same concern, the same action and the same relief from their ongoing nightmare. Time and again, they have been told that the case for the bypass has been made. Time and again, they have been told that their misery will come to an end, that funds have been set aside and that work will start. Time and again, programmes have been redrawn, money has been diverted and bureaucracy has got in the way, and still the villages tremble at the freight vehicles thundering through, choking our businesses to the point that they cannot function.

The bypass would relieve not one but two major roads connecting the west of the country to the east. It would provide relief not for one, but for numerous small villages, both along the route and beyond, and would make existing roads immeasurably safer. I know that there are environmental questions that will doubtless be asked, but as I watch stationary cars and wagons belching out exhaust fumes in Glossop, Tintwistle and beyond, I am convinced that this can only be worse than having free-flowing traffic. My constituents have suffered too long and too much. That is why, as a fitting end to my first year in this House, I have asked to bring the issue before Parliament this evening. It would be a merry Christmas indeed for my local residents if we were able to make some progress tonight.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) on securing this debate, and on providing an opportunity for the House to debate funding for highways and, specifically, the bypass that he so keenly wants for Tintwistle. This is an issue on which he has already made representations to me, and on which he clearly sets a high priority. His constituents can take comfort from the fact that he is actively championing their cause here in the House.

Let me preface my remarks by referring to the recent statements by both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor, and the related documents, which have been placed in the Library, on investment in strategic highways, and local major transport schemes. As the Chancellor stated in the October spending review announcement, the Government are determined to invest in Britain’s long-term economic growth, through areas such as transport, science and green energy, as these will help to ensure that the economy is broadly based and less susceptible to failures in one sector. It is for that reason that transport spending has been prioritised as one of the main areas of capital investment over the next four years. On 26 October, the Transport Secretary was able to announce his plans for investment in strategic and local roads. On the strategic road network, he was able to commit to completing the eight major road schemes currently under construction by 2015, at a total cost of £900 million, as well as a further £1.4 billion to fund new strategic schemes between now and 2015.

In addition to that, we are able to provide more than £1.5 billion for local authority major schemes over the same period. Around £600 million of that is for schemes that are already under construction or that have conditional approval, including two schemes that will provide some benefit to the area in question, namely the £120.9 million Metrolink extensions from Chorlton to East Didsbury, and from Droylsden to Ashton, and the £40.5 million Greater Manchester retaining walls maintenance scheme. On top of that, we are committed nationally to a further £900 million of investment for new local authority major schemes. Taken together, that level of investment is greater than the average Department for Transport spend on local authority major schemes over the last 10 years.

In taking our decisions, we have looked carefully at the value for money offered by schemes, their strategic value—whether for local, regional or national journeys—and the degree of development and certainty of deliverability, as well as important non-monetised impacts including, of course, environmental impact. As a result of this prioritisation exercise, we are satisfied that we have chosen the most appropriate strategic schemes to start between now and 2015, subject to the reviews announced by the Transport Secretary. Although we are committed to significant investment in local major schemes as well as schemes on the strategic road network, it is inevitable that we have had to prioritise and make some hard decisions to select those schemes that offer the best value for investment.

I shall turn now to the specific issue that my hon. Friend has raised tonight. He has made a number of points about the long-standing ambitions to develop road solutions in Tintwistle and the surrounding area. As I have mentioned, he and other local MPs have already contacted me to ask why a scheme to deal with this problem was not prioritised as part of the spending review. The reason, as the Transport Secretary explained on 26 October, is that a fundamental requirement used to decide whether a scheme would be considered for funding, when spending review decisions were being made earlier this year, was that the Department needed to have received a business case before 10 June 2010, the date on which the Transport Secretary announced the suspension of all scheme work pending the outcome of the spending review. Given that no agreed solution has yet been proposed for Tintwistle and the surrounding area, we simply do not have a scheme sufficiently worked out that could be considered for funding.

It is also clear that, despite our considerable investment, the number of the schemes prioritised under the previous system of regional funding allocations is no longer affordable, and we are having to do our best to rationalise the programme. That is why the spending review reconfirmed that the 29 schemes with full approval, many of which are already under construction, would go ahead. In addition, three schemes have conditional approval, and we have placed a further 10 schemes in the supported pool and 22 schemes in the development pool. There are a further 34 schemes in the pre-qualification pool.

I should make it plain to my hon. Friend that the problem that we inherited—apart from the appalling financial situation, with which he is doubtless familiar—was a complete over-promise by the previous Administration of what could sensibly be delivered. They left us with an enormous pipeline of schemes all over the country, which, even if the economy had been working to its best effect, could not have been delivered within the available resources. They led many Members and individuals up the garden path, because they simply could not deliver on their promises.

The Secretary of State therefore had to bring the portcullis down, if I can put it in those terms, on 10 June, and to consider, in the light of the moneys available, which schemes had got past a certain point. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend’s scheme had not got past that point on 10 June, for reasons with which he is familiar. So what happened was not a commentary on the value of his proposal; it was simply a recognition of how far the scheme had progressed through the pipeline by that point. That is why we are in this position now. I strongly regret that people across the country were led up the garden path by the previous Government and led to expect something that simply could not be delivered.

We have protected the transport budget significantly in the spending review, and the Department for Transport has done very well on capital projects because the Government recognise the value of investment in them. Even with that good settlement, however, the enormous pipeline of schemes that we inherited simply could not be delivered. I am very sorry for my hon. Friend’s constituents, who have had to wait 50 years for a solution to this problem, and I fear that I shall have to disappoint him again tonight. I understand the issues that he has raised, however, and he is quite right to do so.

I fully appreciate that there is a long and complicated history to the particular problems in Tintwistle and the surrounding area, stretching back many years, with strong views for and against any proposals. More recently, a full bypass of Mottram, Hollingsworth and Tintwistle was identified by the Highways Agency as a means of addressing the disturbance from high volumes of traffic on those sections of the A57 and A628. A local authority scheme known as the Glossop spur was also promoted by Tameside metropolitan borough council and Derbyshire county council to provide a link to Glossop from the proposed bypass. It was dependent on the Highways Agency scheme being constructed.

A public inquiry commenced in June 2007, but in September 2007 errors were found in the Highways Agency traffic model on which the evidence for the scheme was based. That was clearly very unfortunate. Pending production of revised traffic forecasts incorporating new national traffic growth forecasts, the inquiry was adjourned in December 2007.

In July of the following year, revised cost estimates were produced which showed the central scheme cost estimate rising to some £270 million, with a potential maximum cost of some £315 million. That made the scheme unaffordable under the proposed timetable. It was deferred by four years until 2016-17 in the north-west regional funding advice programme, with the Glossop spur development consequently also deferred until 2017-18.

The delays led the Highways Agency to recommend to the then Secretary of State in March 2009 that it should withdraw from the public inquiry, and that recommendation was accepted. The scheme was subsequently removed from the Highways Agency’s programme to allow regional partners to undertake further consideration of the most appropriate scope of future work to solve the transport problems in the area. I am afraid that there are currently no plans to reinstate the Highways Agency scheme in the programme, but the agency continues to monitor conditions on the A57 and A628, and will invest in its future maintenance in line with its established approach for safe roads.

I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration at the ongoing difficulties experienced on that section of the network, but it is now for the parties to consider the options in the current funding environment. Let me put that in context. The total contribution requested from the Department for Transport for new major local authority schemes that we are considering in the current spending review period—after the coming down of the June 2010 portcullis—is £1.7 billion, nearly double the available finance of £900 million for such schemes. We are trying to reduce the ratio through improved funding offers from promoters and through sifting of schemes, but it means that at present we cannot consider schemes other than those already announced for the current spending review period, or accept any new bids for schemes that were not prioritised in the last Government’s regional funding allocations process.

I want to view the future constructively. We intend to work in partnership with local communities to develop a new framework for the funding of major local transport schemes over time. We want it to involve a reduced role for central Government and give a proper voice to locally elected representatives and business interests, with local enterprise partnerships—individually or in consortiums—playing a role in strategic investment choices in functional economic areas. In that context, we intend to enable local communities to identify and invest in what they consider to be their priorities in the next spending review period. So one possible avenue is central Government funding after 2015, if the present arrangement continues; another is the creation of LEPs which will be able to influence local priorities.

However, other avenues might be explored. They could include tax increment funding, details of which will be announced in due course, and the local sustainable transport fund, for which I am responsible and details of which I announced recently. Although the LSTF is not designed to support the cost of a full major scheme, it would potentially fund a package of complementary measures to support economic growth and reduce carbon. For parts of the route, Greater Manchester might choose to look to its own resources through the transport fund that it has created for a possible solution, particularly if it can free up resources as a result of successful bids to the regional growth fund or the LSTF for other projects. There could be a knock-on effect.

I understand that earlier this year Tameside metropolitan borough council, together with the Government office for the north-west, led a study group which included the Highways Agency and Greater Manchester to steer the development of an alternative integrated package of options, mainly in the Longdendale area, known as the Longdendale integrated transport strategy. I imagine that my hon. Friend is familiar with it. I understand that Tameside has since consulted on a list of options including new and improved railway stations—I must confess that, having looked at the map, I am not sure where they would be, but perhaps my hon. Friend knows—a short bypass of Mottram together with a revised Glossop spur, and innovative new treatments for the existing trunk road including new junctions, bus lanes and reduced speeds.

My hon. Friend is right about the smaller scheme, but Tameside council designed it without consulting High Peak, and many of its proposals were not in its gift because they required the consent of the Highways Agency and Derbyshire county council. In my view—I was and still am a councillor, and of course am now the local Member of Parliament—it did nothing for High Peak, nothing for Tintwistle, and nothing for Hadfield. I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about the general scheme of things and I understand the position, but the proposal that was advanced earlier in the year did not strike me as beneficial to my constituency in any way.

I hear what my hon. Friend says and I am sorry that that is the analysis locally of the proposals put forward in the transport strategy. I was trying to find some crumbs of comfort for him in a difficult situation.

I understand that no final recommendations have been identified or proposed for that strategy, but Tameside council tells me that it intends to publish early in the new year the results of the consultation exercise which it thinks has been carried out. I understand that before the spending review, Greater Manchester authorities had also identified £100 million to fund the agreed outcome of the strategy, but that relied on a significant contribution from the regional funding allocation budget, which no longer exists. It is up to the Greater Manchester authorities whether they wish to proceed with their own funding for that.

For the future, any new scheme to deal with the traffic problems in Tintwistle and the surrounding area will have to meet the challenge laid down by the Secretary of State in his October statement to compete for finite resources against other projects in future spending rounds. Serious consideration needs to be given to how schemes can be delivered more efficiently and economically—in other words, to get the cost down and the cost-benefit ratio up—particularly where greater access is possible to alternative sources of funding, including the private sector.

I fully understand my hon. Friend’s desire to see a positive decision on the funding for a solution to the transport problems in Tintwistle and the surrounding area. However, I hope he will acknowledge that the Government have had to make some difficult decisions on the best use of the funding available for an unrealistically large number of competing projects. It will now be important to look at how schemes can be made more cost-effective, and to identify new funding sources and systems for funding. Although I will continue to consider any future proposals for dealing with the transport problems in the area, I am afraid that I can offer no particular assurances at this stage regarding the future availability of funding for such proposals.

My hon. Friend asked whether I would come and visit his constituency. I do not wish to raise false hopes, for the reasons that I have given tonight, but if he wants me to come and visit, I am happy to do so and look at the problems first hand. I cannot give him a Christmas present of a bypass, but I can give him a Christmas present of a visit, although the precedent that he mentioned when a previous Minister went up there and got sacked on the way back does not encourage such a visit.

Sitting suspended (Order, 19 December).


I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Consolidated Fund Act 2010

Identity Documents Act 2010

Loans to Ireland Act 2010.

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).