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Public Transport (Greater Manchester)

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2015

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

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting me this debate on an issue of vital importance to me and the vast majority of the 2.7 million people who live in Greater Manchester. I was advised as a new MP never to request the last Adjournment debate of the week with a title broader than my constituency. I appreciate that this is the last parliamentary business before the summer recess and have no doubt that you, Mr Speaker, like me, the Minister and other hon. Members present are itching to get out of this place and into a pair of Speedos as soon as possible, so I hope the debate will be an excellent way to start the summer. I thank all colleagues present in the Chamber: my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and on the Government Benches the hon. Members for Bolton West (Chris Green) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). [Interruption.] Yes, and the Labour Whip is from London. I also thank the Minister for his attendance and response and Transport for Greater Manchester for its assistance to me in preparing for the debate.

This debate is particularly timely, as devolution to northern cities as part of the Government’s much-vaunted northern powerhouse initiative offers a huge opportunity for improvements in Greater Manchester’s public transport. My aim for this debate is to make my own contribution on what I and my constituents would like to see happen, and to ask the Minister whether he believes the powers to achieve that will be forthcoming.

Greater Manchester needs an improved public transport system, and in particular greater capacity. Improvements have been made in recent years, such as the expansion of our iconic Metrolink system, but more needs to be done to meet the needs of our growing city. We need these improvements to cater for increased demand for leisure travel in a city where the population is expanding, but crucially we need them for the economic benefit that a vastly improved public transport system would bring. If Greater Manchester is truly to thrive, as London has, the movement of a skilled workforce around the conurbation is vital.

I am sure the Minister will agree with that, not least because over a third of jobseekers in Greater Manchester state that lack of transport is one of the top barriers to their attending an interview or getting a job. Furthermore, the expected growth in Greater Manchester jobs is likely to mean at least 30,000 more trips into the city centre at peak times in the near future, while at the same time 31% of households in Greater Manchester have no access to a car.

One of the main points I wish to make in this debate, however, is that it is not just travel into the city centre and back out again that needs to be upgraded, but, fundamentally, travel between the outer parts of Greater Manchester to facilitate the easier movement of people to jobs, and to ensure places like Tameside do not miss out on the benefits of “devo-Manc”. Currently, our public transport system is largely based on getting into and out of the city centre, but I am convinced that we must improve the connectivity between the outer parts of Greater Manchester if we are to unlock its economic potential, and I am absolutely certain that we can do that. In this debate I shall address the issues around rail, rolling stock, Metrolink, buses and car use that I want to see tackled in order to achieve that.

I must start on a negative point, however: the incredibly disappointing news regarding the electrification of the trans-Pennine line that the Government disclosed recently. When the electrification of the trans-Pennine route was first announced back in 2011 I was very pleased and very supportive, not least because it would finally end the problems of under-capacity and unreliable services that my constituents in Stalybridge and Mossley, and those of other Members in the Chamber, were enduring daily. Coupled with the wider Rail North and northern hub work, the benefits would be huge, and I was delighted that my constituents would be able to see the improvement. I was also hoping to see my casework decrease, as poor, overcrowded services from Stalybridge are rightly regularly raised with me as an issue. Yet four years later that optimism and anticipation has all but disappeared thanks to this Government’s handling of rail policy.

I was incredibly disappointed to be told of what the Government describe as an “indefinite pause” of work on the trans-Pennine electrification, a disappointment shared by my constituents and colleagues on both sides of the House. The Manchester Evening News even went so far as to describe this as the “Northern Powercut”, which should give the Minister some sense of the anger rail users in Greater Manchester feel. We are still yet to receive a full explanation of why the work has been delayed, with the Government principally blaming Network Rail. I hope the Minister will shed some more light on this in his reply. The Prime Minister denied in a recent reply to me in this House that this amounted to a cancellation of the work, although announcing a “pause” without setting a date for work to be completed, or even restarted, seems to me to be pretty close to a cancellation. Therefore, I want to press the Minister on whether he can give a cast-iron guarantee before the House today that the electrification work will definitely be completed, even if he cannot give a date for its completion. That would provide some much needed clarity for rail users in Greater Manchester.

One related issue, which deserves specific attention, is that of the poor-quality rolling stock on all lines serving Greater Manchester. The Pacer trains used by Northern Rail are quite frankly not fit for purpose and in desperate need of replacement. If the Minister is not aware of the type of trains I am talking about, their nicknames, which include boneshakers, cattle trucks, bus bodies and pacemaker trains, should give him some idea of the esteem in which they are held by fed-up commuters in Greater Manchester.

The trains were of course intended as a stop-gap solution for rolling stock back in the 1980s, but they are still in use today on major commuter routes in and out of Manchester city centre, screeching round corners and disliked by almost everyone who travels on them. The Prime Minister himself has promised to end their use in the north of England, yet commuters see no progress, so will the Minister in his reply tell the House how he intends to achieve this?

The one bright light at the end of the tunnel, I understand, is that those trains will have to be gone by 2020, as they do not comply with disability discrimination legislation. I appreciate that there are good intentions on the issue, but because of the wider problems in train franchising, stemming from the west coast main line debacle, in my constituency we actually saw the threat of newer trains being removed and transferred to the home counties. The pressure on the remaining fleet of diesel trains has become acute and will only get worse until electrification is completed. We fought off that proposal, but it means that my constituents repeatedly hear negative stories about the trains in our area, and I want to give them some hope for the future.

One area of public transport in Greater Manchester that has expanded successfully is the Metrolink network, and the new lines recently opened to Rochdale, Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne have been very welcome. It is no coincidence that the number of passenger journeys, which has been increasing year on year, reached 31 million in 2014-15, and Metrolink has become a visible symbol of Manchester.

There are issues that Metrolink does need to address, because customer satisfaction is not as high as it could be, and there have been some teething problems along the new routes. But overall I believe that Metrolink is a hugely important asset, and I would like to see it extended to my own constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde. Extending Metrolink to my constituency could be a radical new phase for the network.

As I previously noted, greater orbital connectivity between areas outside Manchester city centre would be of great benefit to Greater Manchester as a whole. To use the example of my own borough, Tameside has a significant inter-dependence with the neighbouring boroughs of Stockport and Oldham, not least because Stockport has nearly three times as many jobs as Tameside, and many Tameside residents fill those jobs.

As well as being a Tameside colleague, I am a Stockport Member of Parliament. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the need for orbital public transport around Greater Manchester. On existing infrastructure, he will know that there is a very under-used line between Stockport and Stalybridge, which serves Reddish South and Denton stations, with one train a week in one direction only. Is that not precisely the infrastructure that could be utilised to bring about the orbital service to which he refers?

It absolutely is. It seems absurd, given the cost of creating new rail capacity, to have a line that is not utilised, when the reason it was not originally closed but turned into what is called a parliamentary service no longer applies, because transport patterns have changed so much. When we consider the bus links between Tameside and Stockport, with less than one bus an hour in some parts of my constituency, it does seem absurd.

In putting forward this case, I want people to recognise the crucial point that, primarily due to the completion of the M60 motorway, people now choose more than ever before to live and work in different parts of Greater Manchester. Our public transport network needs to reflect that change in travel patterns. Many boroughs, including Tameside, are very keen to see an orbital expansion of the Metrolink network to connect key town centres, and to see it extended to Manchester airport, with the huge potential for jobs and growth that could bring. I would love to see Metrolink extended to run from Stockport town centre, through to Denton and Hyde, and then on to Ashton to create a genuine circle line for south and east Manchester.

Metrolink is wholly operated by Transport for Greater Manchester, but central Government have always been instrumental in supporting it, including when it comes to expansion, so I would be interested to know the Minister’s thoughts on whether this Government would support further Metrolink expansion—perhaps using Government funds to match the retained revenue from the increase in business rates that might occur through expansion.

There will be profound disappointment among my constituents, who have suffered the installation—or part-installation—of the Leigh guided busway, which is a gross mistake. We should have had Metrolink built. Guided busway schemes are expensive, and that one should never have been installed.

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about that. The expansion of Metrolink could certainly fulfil such a need.

I want to go on to the subject of buses. Journeys by bus within Greater Manchester remain the predominant form of public transport used, with over 210 million journeys last year, but bus patronage continues to flatline, as opposed to what we have seen in London, where it has vastly increased. Transport for Greater Manchester recognises that that is an issue, and the preferred answer seems to be much further transport devolution.

I am very much in favour of bus regulation, similar to that in London. I know that Transport for Greater Manchester, too, is keen to explore the benefits of bus franchising in order to properly integrate and co-ordinate the public transport network so as to secure the growth in bus usage that has been lacking in recent years. A model such as the London one would mean a simpler single identity and a set of easier multi-modal fares and tickets across Greater Manchester as passengers’ travel patterns change. A good recent example of why this is necessary is surely the Healthier Together hospital reorganisation initiative, which shows that there is a crucial need for local transport authorities to be able to plan bus services and not be at the whim of timetables that do not always suit passengers’ requirements. We also need to be able to guarantee transport services in order to better provide other public services.

Of course, the true test of a region’s public transport success is whether it manages to decrease the number of car journeys taken—something that Greater Manchester has not yet achieved. The benefits of this are obvious, not least in terms of emissions and air quality, about which, as the shadow climate change Minister, I care a great deal. We should want people to get out of their cars and on to public transport, both for leisure and for commuting purposes. Greater Manchester did attempt this in a rather crude way with a proposal to bring in a London-style congestion charge back in 2008. The proposal was put to the people of Greater Manchester, and to say that it was overwhelmingly rejected would be an understatement, with 79% of votes cast being against bringing it in. I always smile when we talk about the Scottish independence referendum and it is suggested that it is difficult to make the case for voting no. That was not our experience in Greater Manchester with the congestion charge proposal.

That shows the scale of the challenge faced. One of the reasons why so many people were against bringing in that congestion charge was that they felt that the public transport infrastructure was not adequate for them to feel confident enough to ditch their cars. There is an argument that this was a chicken and egg scenario, and that public transport would be sufficiently improved if the demand existed, but that the demand would never materialise while the public transport infrastructure was not deemed adequate.

My hon. Friend will be aware that there are difficulties with the capacity and the reach of bus services, and that in recent weeks we have seen the withdrawal of night bus services. Does he agree that our strategy should be a 24-hour transport strategy for a 24-hour city?

Absolutely. I look enviously at the night tube proposal for London. In big cities, so much of the offer within the evening economy is attractive, yet for people who live in my constituency, which is a relatively short distance from Manchester city centre, access is severely limited. The trains do not run and night buses are infrequent and under threat, so it is a huge issue.

If the investment is put into the public transport infrastructure, people will be more than willing to use it if it meets their needs. The benefits to the area, to the economy and to people’s health should not be understated. We often hear a great deal about London in terms of health and life expectancy because of the pollution issues, but those problems are seen in Greater Manchester too. Progress has been good, with improvements year on year in the number of non-car journeys, and I know that Transport for Greater Manchester is committed to further improvement. I also believe that there is huge potential in cities for the expansion of electric car use. I recently tested our electric car charging infrastructure in Greater Manchester, but I will leave that for another Adjournment debate.

An improved public transport system in Greater Manchester is vital to the region’s economic growth and to the success of “devo-Manc” and the northern powerhouse initiative, as I am sure the Minister would agree. A fully integrated transport network including all modes of public transport is key to this, and can be achieved only by devolving further powers to the region. In particular, I believe public transport should be one of the directly elected Mayor of Manchester’s key areas of responsibility, much as it is in London.

I hope that in his reply the Minister will be full of warm words for Greater Manchester and for the northern powerhouse, and feel able to express his agreement with a lot of what I have said regarding what Greater Manchester needs. What I want most from him, however, are not just words, but a firm commitment that the Government recognise the need in Greater Manchester, and that powers and access to funding will be forthcoming in order to allow us to fulfil that need. One thing that can always be said of us in Greater Manchester is that if we are given the tools we will always do the job.

I assume the hon. Lady has the consent both of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and of the Minister.

I wish to make only a small number of points, because my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) made an excellent speech and most of us from the area would agree with almost everything—if not everything—he said. As an MP representing Salford, Worsley and Eccles South, I wish to talk briefly about the knock-on effect that this delay in rail electrification is having on planned upgrades affecting local rail services. We were in a ridiculous situation over the winter. As a result of rail electrification, we faced greatly increased congestion and delays while a bridge was rebuilt just off the A6 in Salford. It caused problems and tailbacks for commuters. We went through weeks and months of delays on the roads so that a bridge could be rebuilt for a project that has now been delayed. That sort of thing makes people really angry. All we have now are the delays and uncertainty.

Excellent work is being done by the Friends of Eccles Station, the Friends of Patricroft Station and the Friends of Walkden Station, which are dedicated friends groups in my constituency. They do award-winning work, brightening up the stations with flower planting, gardening, murals and other artwork, but they do not want just to make the stations better; they want better rail services too. They do not only talk to me about the wonderful work that they are doing to make commuting easier for people. They are as aware as I am that, for example, 70 to 80 people are left on the platform at Walkden station at peak times in the morning because we do not have the rolling stock and they cannot get on the trains. Those groups are all committed to improving our rail services. They want more services to stop at the stations on the way into Manchester, more and better carriages, and improved, up-to-date rolling stock. The promise—the tantalising, faraway thing—was that rail electrification would have a knock-on effect, and that rolling stock would become available for our local rail services. What we now have is uncertainty and delay. Those excellent groups, which do all that work in trying to get that modal shift, are profoundly disappointed.

Junction 13 of the M60 is one of the most congested anywhere in the country. Transport Ministers are looking at the string of motorways—the M60, M62 and M602— that span around my constituency to try to do something about the congestion, given that we do not have the congestion charge, thank goodness. But there is no improvement in sight. We cannot shift people on to rail, because there is no capacity, so we have truly faced the northern power cut to which our excellent Manchester Evening News has referred—and all the while congestion is building up. I implore the Minister to think of all those wonderful campaigning groups and the wonderful work they do in trying to improve our rail services, and tell us what hope we can give them that all their work is not in vain and that some improvement is in the distance.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on obtaining this Adjournment debate and on making such an excellent speech about transport in Greater Manchester. I wish to make three relatively simple points, the first of which is about the congestion charge. Greater Manchester has done better than most conurbations during this recession in terms of creating jobs and getting local people into those jobs. Our economy is thriving, with the city itself and Greater Manchester feeling vibrant and healthy. I have to say that had we had the congestion charge, none of that would have happened. The congestion charge would have actually created more congestion, it would have imposed a tax on individuals in low-paid jobs and on business, and it would have been a disaster for Greater Manchester. People such as my hon. Friends who campaigned against it are to be praised and that outcome is to be celebrated.

My second point is that I welcome the Government’s announcement that they will introduce a buses Bill, which will allow a franchising system for buses in Greater Manchester on a similar pattern to the one that we have in Greater London. Since buses were deregulated in 1985, it has undoubtedly led to a loss of patronage on the buses and a concentration of bus routes on radial routes into and out of the city centre.

That brings me to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde raised, because while it is important to connect communities—towns—to the centre of Manchester, it is almost as important to connect those towns. The fact that private bus companies operating in a deregulated system can make more profit on radial routes means that there is a focus on those routes. The private Stagecoach and First Group pull their buses off routes that go around the periphery of Greater Manchester and put them on radial routes, and that leads to the isolation of those communities.

Many communities that are served well, or have an adequate bus service, during the day are not served at all at weekends and in the evening, which makes it difficult for people to access hospitals and employment. If, and when, the Government introduce a franchising system for Greater Manchester, I am sure that Transport for Greater Manchester will use that system to ensure that those communities get a better service.

Does the Minister have a timetable or schedule for the introduction of the Bill? I would be interested to see one, because people in The Dog and Duck and other public houses in Greater Manchester, and on buses and trams, talk about the regulation of buses in a way that they do not talk about many of the things that happen in this House. Bus deregulation is a real, live issue for the people of Greater Manchester.

My third point—my hon. Friends the Members for Stalybridge and Hyde and for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) referred to it—is on the pause, or stopping, of the electrification of the railway between Leeds and Manchester. Just as communications within Greater Manchester by buses and trams are important for the economy, the connections with other cities are vital for the improvement of the economy in Greater Manchester, and there is huge disappointment that that scheme has been paused. I would ask the Minister, if he can, to clarify some of the issues.

In the Transport Committee yesterday we had an interesting evidence session with the Secretary of State for Transport. I have the most enormous respect for him as a Member of this House and as a Cabinet Minister, but he was unable, or unwilling, to provide some of the evidence that would help hon. Members for Greater Manchester and the people of Greater Manchester to understand what has really happened and the reason for the pause. When he was asked what the overrunning cost was on the great western line, there was no answer from him. However, it was not just a matter of the figures, although he certainly did not trust the Committee enough to tell us what they were. His permanent secretary tried to help him by saying that in addition to the finance was the difficulty, on that very old route out to Bristol and the south-west, of obtaining planning permissions and dealing with some genuinely difficult engineering works. If it is the latter, it should not affect the midland main line, down the east of the city, and it certainly should not affect the Manchester-Leeds route. If it is the former, we need to know the cash figure. That makes me very suspicious about what is really going on, as the electrification of the two lines that have been paused was central to the Government’s election campaign a few weeks ago. We need to understand that issue.

The other thing that puzzled me yesterday was that when the Secretary of State talked about the reasons for the pause—the rail Minister, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), has said very similar things—we were told that the electrification was being done back to front, with stanchions for the electric wires being put up before the route had been aligned. That is clearly the wrong way to do it. This is vital to transport in Greater Manchester, so I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), can explain the reason for the pause. Is it because of an overrun of costs in the south-west? Is it because the planning of the Manchester-Leeds route was done backwards and there is going to be, in the words of the rail Minister, a better, more efficient and more effective scheme? Whichever reason it is, that will be key to how long it takes for the project to get started again and to be the basis of the northern powerhouse.

Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde on bringing very important matters about Greater Manchester to the House and on giving the Minister an opportunity, I hope, to clarify them for the people of Greater Manchester and for right hon. and hon. Members.

I, too, commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) for securing this important debate, albeit that it has perhaps kept a number of Greater Manchester MPs in the House of Commons for longer than they had anticipated on the last day before the summer recess.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) for making some very important points, not least about bus deregulation. He has long championed the cause of re-regulation of bus services in Greater Manchester, but not in the old monolithic way. He has been quite progressive in that he has always said openly that he is not against competition between bus companies, but that it should not be on-street, causing the chaos that we have seen over the past 20-odd years. It should be done in a controlled manner in a tendering system whereby Transport for Greater Manchester—or Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, as it used to be known—could set the standards, the network and the ticketing arrangements, and we could have the properly planned and effective bus network across the county that, sadly, we have been missing for far too long.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde talked about rail services and his desire, which I share, to have some kind of orbital service. Orbital services, not necessarily involving trains but certainly involving buses, are not new; we used to have them. Until about 10 or 15 years ago, there was a service that ran from Bolton in the north through Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Denton and Stockport all the way to Manchester airport—the 400 Trans- Lancs Express. That was great for getting from Bolton in the north of the county through to Manchester airport in the south, along the eastern towns. There were similar services in other parts of Greater Manchester. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton said, those services, sadly, were removed in favour of services into Manchester. The perversity of the current transport network in Greater Manchester is that 15 years ago someone who lived in Denton and wanted to get to Manchester airport could get a bus, but now they have to get a bus into town and then a bus out of town. The journey is twice as long and twice as expensive so, realistically, most people will not use that method of getting to Manchester airport from my constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde raised an important point about the underuse of the existing rail infrastructure in Greater Manchester. If ever there is a line that highlights that best, it is sadly the Stockport to Stalybridge line, which runs through my constituency.

Perhaps the Minister does not know the history of that line. It used to serve a useful purpose back when trans-Pennine trains went into Manchester Victoria. Services from the south of the country go into Manchester Piccadilly, so if one was connecting from one of those services to a trans-Pennine service in the days before Metrolink, rather than going into Manchester Piccadilly and trudging across Manchester city centre with one’s baggage to Manchester Victoria, one would get off at Stockport and use the very useful service from Stockport to Stalybridge, where they could connect to the trans-Pennine trains. When trans-Pennine trains were diverted into Manchester Piccadilly, that link was no longer necessary.

Having said that, the eastern side of the conurbation has grown and travel patterns, including travel-to-work patterns, have changed. We now have a piece of infrastructure with two stations, Reddish South and Denton, that are sadly served by one train a week in one direction only. The service is so pathetic that one cannot even get a return ticket from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde to mine.

We have two excellent friends groups: the Friends of Reddish South Station and the Friends of Denton Station. For seven or eight years, they have championed the desire for a train service that uses the Stockport to Stalybridge line, or at least part of it. There is even a connection just north of Ashton Moss that would allow trains to be diverted along the line into Manchester city centre. I urge the Minister to look carefully at their campaigns, which I fully support, and to try to get Northern Rail and Network Rail to include in the new franchise a proper passenger service that utilises that line.

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who is not here, I want to mention the importance of keeping such urban rail lines open. Leigh must be one of the last places in the country that has no railway and no stations at all. I am sure that he would have added to this debate if he had been here. It is vital to keep such lines open.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Apart from Denton and Reddish South, which do have rail lines and stations, Leigh is probably the poorest served community by rail in Greater Manchester.

Lastly, I want to mention integration. It is all fine and well having great rail services and Metrolink services; possibly one day even having tram-train services, with trams using some of the under-utilised rail infrastructure across Greater Manchester, thereby reducing the capital investment that new tram lines cost the taxpayer; and having improved bus services when we have a properly franchised, re-regulated system, but none of that is any good to my constituents unless there is joined-up transport planning and integration.

The Chancellor announced in the Budget that the northern powerhouse is to secure an Oyster-style card that may, by the sounds of it, be used across the whole of the Northern franchise. That is an important step forward, although I am not sure that we want to be using state-of-the-art technology on 1980s, clapped-out Pacer trains, so I hope that the Minister will answer the questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton on the timing of the upgrades and the introduction of the new rolling stock in Greater Manchester.

My one desire is that we end up with a transport system like that in London. Ten years ago when I first became a Member of Parliament, I could not believe it when London MPs complained about the state of public transport in the capital city. If I decided to start a journey on one mode of transport in Greater Manchester—tram, for example—and then connect to a train and finish my journey by bus, as someone can in London with an Oyster card where the services join up, people in Greater Manchester would have thought I was bonkers. The services do not join up, and that is the problem. Someone would be left stranded on some station in the middle of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, without the opportunity to get a return ticket.

My hon. Friend makes a fine point. We have probably all had the experience of standing at Stockport station, perhaps on the way home, and working out that it is quicker to get back to London than to a place such as Stalybridge on public transport. That really illustrates the point.

My hon. Friend is right. It is frustrating because someone can be so near to home, yet so far when they look at that board at Stockport station and realise that they have to wait for such a long time to get a connecting service to somewhere relatively close.

I know that Ministers are in the process of devolving powers to the mayor and the combined authority, which is right. We believe in devolution, and we know that our elected representatives in Greater Manchester have the capacity to take on those new powers, and to plan and prepare for a better transport system. We also need help and understanding from the Department for Transport, because where the transport system in Greater Manchester is today is not where we wish it to be. To get it to where we want it to be will require not only local leadership, direction and commitment, but also that same level of commitment and resources to flow from central Government.

I urge the Minister to answer the points that my hon. Friends have raised about electrification and orbital transport, and also, please, to give us some hope that this pause will not be for long. We desperately need a better transport system in all parts of Greater Manchester.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on securing this debate about public transport in Greater Manchester. There are so many positives to this subject that it provides a fitting conclusion to our business in the House this afternoon.

There is a vibrancy to the city of Manchester and the surrounding area, which transport investment has helped to create. Last year there were 267 million public transport journeys in that area, linking people with jobs, services, shops, leisure opportunities, and of course friends and family. It is an issue on which we and partners in Greater Manchester agree, recognising the intrinsic link between transport and growth, targeting our joint resources at locally determined priorities, and revolutionising the relationship between Westminster and those best placed to take—and be held accountable for—local investment decisions.

Because Greater Manchester has a track record of strong governance and effective delivery, the Government have supported it with investment and the devolution of powers. That has delivered the largest public transport investment programme outside London, and placed Greater Manchester at the heart of the northern powerhouse.

Local leaders have expressed their support for what is happening. They are very positive, although I did not always catch that tone of positivity in the speeches of some hon. Members who spoke earlier. This is a golden time for public transport investment, not just in Greater Manchester but across our country, and Greater Manchester is showing the way. Other areas are looking at what it is achieving with some envy.

Let me mention some of the revolution that has taken place in public transport in Greater Manchester in recent times. I remember clearly the opening of the first phase of Metrolink between Bury and Altrincham in 1992, and it has continued to grow. The extension to Greater Manchester airport was delivered last year ahead of time and on budget. In between those two milestones, we have seen Metrolink lines opened to serve Ashton-under-Lyne, Chorlton, Droylsden, East Didsbury, Eccles, Media Village, Oldham, Rochdale and Wythenshawe. Metrolink is now the largest light rail network in the UK with 60 miles of track, 92 stops and—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

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

Metrolink will see investment of more than £240 million in 120 new trams by 2017: it will be brighter, more spacious and reliable. It is also hugely popular with the travelling public, with more than 31 million passenger journeys last year and we expect that figure to reach 40 million by the end of the decade.

Work is now under way to develop a further line to the Trafford centre—a key element of our devolution deal with the Greater Manchester combined authority, which gives it control of a reformed “earn back” deal for 30 years, giving it the certainty needed to invest in that and other schemes. Hon. Members have talked about growth in the network. I am all in favour of growth, but it will be determined locally and supported nationally.

It is not just Metrolink that is seeing investment rise and passenger numbers grow. That is also happening on the rail network. Successive Governments have failed to invest properly in our rail network, much of which dates back to the Victorian era. When the Government came to power, we faced a choice between putting a brake on growth and opportunity and cutting investment, or investing in public transport to drive growth. The Government chose to invest for the future.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on securing this vital debate.

The Farnworth tunnel in Bolton is being expanded to provide the capacity needed for the electrification of the rail line from Manchester, through Bolton and on to Preston. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows our commitment to improving public transport in Greater Manchester?

I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a timely intervention. Only yesterday the giant tunnelling machine was named “Fillie” by a local schoolgirl who has links with the area. The tunnelling machine being used for the Farnworth tunnel is greater in scale than those used on Crossrail, so this is a significant investment.

Rail is a big success story. Our rail industry is struggling to cope with the scale of passenger demand. Over the last 20 years, passenger numbers have grown from 750 million to 1.6 billion. In Greater Manchester last year there were 25 million rail journeys, compared with just 22 million five years ago and 18 million 10 years ago. Rail is vital to the local economy, and more and more passengers are using Manchester Piccadilly, Victoria and Oxford Road. Town centre stations, such as Stockport and Bolton, remain among the busiest in the Greater Manchester area, and that is excellent news. But passenger growth needs to be provided for, and the rail network in Greater Manchester needs investment to improve people’s journeys and to support economic prosperity. That is why the investment in the northern hub has been so important—something that Greater Manchester and the north have called for for years. It was supported across parties and regions—I am a Yorkshire Member, but I heartily supported that investment and lobbied for it in the last Parliament.

The northern hub is a significant scheme and commitment that will deliver better journeys, modern trains and more seats, including electrification between Manchester and Liverpool, with new trains and quicker journeys. Further electrification is under way between Manchester and Bolton and, further afield, planned between Blackpool and Preston. The magnificent redevelopment of Manchester Victoria station and the provision of a fourth platform at Manchester airport station have been completed.

We have also seen the reopening of Todmorden curve, which is providing a direct link between Manchester and Burnley for the first time in 40 years. As hon. Members mentioned, most importantly and popularly, the outdated Pacers will disappear from the north’s railways. I am aware of Pacer trains, as they serve the Leeds-Harrogate-York line and I catch them most weeks—indeed, I think most colleagues representing northern constituencies are aware of them. They are disappearing, and that was part of the invitation to tender in the franchise process.

Several hon. Members mentioned their concern regarding the recent announcement of the pause on trans-Pennine electrification. That is most certainly very disappointing. An improvement in the area’s rail links is critical, but it is because it is critical that we have to get a grip on Network Rail’s management of the work. We cannot tolerate cost overruns on the scale last seen on the west coast main line upgrade. The Transport Secretary has taken action to reset the programme and to get it back on track. This includes pausing the work on midland main line electrification and north trans-Pennine electrification east of Stalybridge, but let me be absolutely clear: this is a pause; it is not a stop. This is about getting the project back on track. To do that, we have a new chair of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, who has a proven track record of delivering on major transport challenges. He will report in autumn to the Transport Secretary on how that will be achieved.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) talked about work on rail in her constituency. That work is not paused. The area of trans-Pennine investment in northern electrification that is paused is to the east of Stalybridge. If she would like any further information, I am of course more than happy to help to provide it after the debate.

The uncertainty is twofold. I mentioned the excellent friends groups. The Minister should take them into account in terms of the expansion of passenger numbers, because they do a great job in letting people know about rail services. They are constantly frustrated by Network Rail, because it has not been willing to talk to them or to consider timetable changes. Nothing moves for them in terms of getting the better services through these stations. If there is to be a report, these local aspects of our urban services really need to be looked at, too.

I agree that friends groups across many parts of the north do a very valuable job and the hon. Lady is right to highlight that. In terms of having a responsive rail service, part of that is having franchises that generate growth. Of course, the previous Northern franchise was a no-growth franchise. Her basic point, however, about listening, communicating with the public and supporting those seeking to drive public transport usage is clearly appropriate.

Let me be absolutely clear: this is a pause, not a stop. Even without electrification, we will see significant improvements to rail in the north. On trans-Pennine services between Leeds and Manchester, there will be better journeys, more modern trains and additional capacity as part of the new franchise. The new franchise arrangements will be awarded later this year, to come in from April next year. To put to one side any concerns hon. Members may have, let me say that the budget for rail enhancements remains intact.

There is one huge rail project that has not yet had a mention in the debate: HS2. I have to mention it, because it will have a significant impact on public transport in Greater Manchester. We are committed to building the full Y network of HS2, including building the line from Birmingham to Crewe earlier. There is more work to be done on further analysis and final decisions on the preferred route. We are also looking at the case for accelerating construction of the Leeds to Sheffield part of the line. HS2 will transform north-south connectivity throughout our country and cut journey times. For example, the journey time between Manchester and Birmingham will be cut to 41 minutes—currently it is one hour and 28 minutes—which is a saving of 47 minutes.

The point, however, is not really about speed, but capacity on the network. We have not built a railway line north of London in our country since the reign of Queen Victoria. Indeed, our railway network is only a fraction of the size it was. The Beeching cuts might have been appropriate at the time—they were before I was even born—but they might not look quite so right now. We have failed to invest historically in our rail infrastructure, and HS2 is a part of correcting that.

I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning HS2, of which many in the Chamber are firm supporters in the light of what it will bring to Greater Manchester. I say to him, however, that because a project of that size has a high price tag, it often arouses public cynicism about whether it is worth the money. It would be a grave problem as regards public opinion in Greater Manchester if the work was seen to proceed without trans-Pennine electrification being reinstated and a clear date being set for completion. From representations I have had, I think that could be a significant problem. I wanted to highlight that to him in good faith because I think he will appreciate the point I am making.

I do indeed appreciate the points being made—they have been made to me before—but as regards investment in our classic rail network and in HS2, I make the point that it is not one or the other; it is both. Progress on both needs to happen in parallel. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman and those who have contacted him.

The huge increase in capacity that HS2 will deliver will transform rail connections around our country, but even that will not be enough. Many rail journeys in the north, particularly east-west journeys, are too slow, too infrequent and suffer from unacceptable overcrowding, which has put people off using our rail network and certainly discourages development of city-to-city connections and business. The Government are determined to improve the situation, and we will do this in partnership with the north.

In the Budget, the Chancellor allocated £30 million to Transport for the North, which will act as a single voice for the whole of the north and work with us to identify the strategic transport investment priorities across the entire region. It is fantastic that we are seeing far more devolution. We should be working on the principle that decisions affecting local services should be taken as near as possible to where those services are delivered, so that they are more tailored to local needs. Incidentally, that devolution in transport is mirrored by other areas of devolution and is very encouraging and long overdue.

I would like to say a little about local transport. Most journeys in Greater Manchester are local and often less than 5 miles. We have invested heavily, alongside Greater Manchester, through our local major scheme budgets—the local sustainable transport fund and the cycle city ambition grant—and most recently with the local growth deals through which more than £500 million has been provided to support local transport investment, including improvements to the Bolton to Manchester bus corridor; enhancements to Salford central station; and new transport interchanges in Ashton and Stockport; plus, of course, the new trams for Metrolink.

Most journeys by public transport in Greater Manchester are by bus. In 2014, out of the 267 million public transport journeys I mentioned earlier, 211 million were on the bus network. Buses are vital. I am a huge champion of them. They are part of the answer to our public transport challenge. As the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned, unlike with Metrolink and rail, passenger numbers are not growing and, despite significant investment in facilities and vehicles, have continued to decline. Greater Manchester has ambitious plans to arrest this decline, and it is right that areas with ambitious plans to grow and develop should be given the powers they need to promote an integrated transport system.

We signed a groundbreaking devolution deal with Greater Manchester last year in which we committed to providing it with powers to franchise its bus services, and we will legislate to make this deal a reality. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) asked about the timing. I will have to check with the Leader of the House, but I am expecting a bus Bill to come through the House later this year. Areas such as Greater Manchester that are given the powers to franchise their services will be able to better integrate buses with other public transport modes and plan services to link with new developments or regeneration projects.

Franchising will provide local areas with the opportunity to introduce more Oyster-style smart ticketing—not necessarily the exact same technology—to improve service for passengers. It is a powerful tool for making public transport more attractive by making it more convenient and removing some of the barriers that people encounter in switching from one mode of transport to another. Smart ticketing integrates bus, train and tram journeys, driving convenience. Our aim is for public transport in Greater Manchester and across the north to become more convenient and attractive and for it to build on the enormous growth in demand that we are seeing. We know that a better transport system supports economic growth.

Before I finish, I would like to add that although this debate has focused on public transport, we are by no means neglecting the motorist. We have incredibly ambitious plans for our road network up and down the country. Specifically in Manchester, the M62 will provide a continuous four-lane smart motorway to Leeds. Similarly, the M60 between junctions 8 and 18 is being improved and will become a smart motorway. The south-east quadrant of the M60, between junctions 24 and 4, is also being upgraded.

I understand that the Minister is taking a very positive outlook in his speech, but I should tell him that the M60 smart motorway roadworks are an out-and-out disaster, causing my constituents and many others to be kept awake at weekends and leading to great delays. I am happy to seek an Adjournment debate to tell him about it at much greater length, but we have got two years of torment ahead of us, so please can he not adopt such an optimistic outlook?

I am somebody who is generally a glass-half-full person. I find it reasonably difficult not to take quite a positive tone and, as I have just gone through the significant transport investments and the progress being made in Greater Manchester, I am feeling relentlessly cheerful, so I am not entirely sure that I can change the tone with which I operate. However, I nevertheless agree that it is unsettling and causes problems when we have roadworks. I regularly use the M1, about 40% of which has seen the introduction of smart motorways, and I have not yet found a way—and nor has Highways England—to work on the roads without having some roadworks.

Will the Minister therefore accept my invitation to come along and tour the bit of the M60 motorway that goes through my constituency—we have three motorways in my constituency; I am really lucky—so that I can show him the extent of the disruption and the problems caused for my constituents? I would be happy to do that.

I have some knowledge of the area, having driven along that road only very recently, and there is indeed a challenge. I recognise the difficulties—I do not mean to make light of them—and we see that all over the country where road works are taking place. We are in the middle of a huge period of road investment. We are seeing a tripling of the budget in our first road investment strategy and we will be opening the process for the second road investment strategy—RIS2—later this year. Delivering such a significant scale of investment will cause some disruption. I am certainly keen to hear from colleagues about the challenges they are facing locally, and I will be taking them up with Highways England, but we need to get through this period. In part, this goes back to the long-standing failure to invest in our transport infrastructure over decades. We are playing catch-up and it is not at all straightforward.

Hon. Members have asked about the powers and the finances to deliver our ambitions. This Government are driving devolution and investing in public transport in record numbers. I would say gently to hon. Members that they are pushing at an open door. This Government are buying the idea that transport investment is a driver of economic growth—a regenerator of communities—and has a positive social function. Devolution is taking place in an unprecedented way. I hope that provides some comfort to hon. Members.

In summary, I hope I have been able to demonstrate just how important public transport in Greater Manchester is to this Government. We are committed to working alongside Greater Manchester in delivering the improvements that it decides are the most important for its economy, its residents and its future.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.