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South Manchester Transport Infrastructure

Volume 613: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2016

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That the House has considered transport infrastructure in South Manchester.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Main, and to see other Members here in Westminster Hall. I take this opportunity to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), whom I am pleased to see is still in his post after what has been a very busy day.

I have worked with fellow members of the Communities and Local Government Committee to scrutinise the Government’s landmark devolution legislation. I must confess that, as the Member for Cheadle, I have a vested interest in its success. Cheadle is a constituency that sits within the Greater Manchester city region, which has already benefited from £7.6 billion funding towards the northern powerhouse.

Good transport links are key to the success of the northern powerhouse. Indeed, the enabling powers in the devolution legislation are crucial for regional ambitions for business to deliver prosperity at a time when now, more than ever, effective connectivity and transport infrastructure from the suburbs to the city are vital. I am therefore grateful to be able to raise this issue with the Minister, thereby providing an opportunity for my constituents to be reassured that the Government are committed to building the northern powerhouse, to encouraging investment in transport, and to underwriting our ambition as a city region that is easy to do business with. We need to correct traditional regional imbalances, and transport is a vital element of achieving that objective.

Greater Manchester is a major region, with 2.7 million inhabitants. In total, our Government aim to spend £13 billion on transport during this Parliament to support a growing economy and our increasing population. It is within the context of the Government’s devolution agenda that further powers will place transport choices in the hands of local communities. Thus, the way that people travel and do business is set to change for the better.

I applaud my hon. Friend for securing this very important debate. My constituency of High Peak does not qualify as part of south Manchester, even though economically it looks to south Manchester. Does she agree that, although the transport links within south Manchester are crucial, to make the northern powerhouse work we have to get the trans-Pennine links that the Minister knows well from visiting my constituency—the A628 and the A57, the links from Greater Manchester across to Sheffield and the rest of Yorkshire—working well? They are just as vital as other links for what she is trying to achieve.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Indeed, it is the wider links across the region that need to be considered in this discussion, because we need to do business and we need to change, and we need to make that change a change for the better, with the potential to generate local and international business, creating global connectivity for Britain’s second city, as well as for the periphery.

The Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040 and its consultation document, which was released last week, are explicit about the need for transport to address long-term challenges in Greater Manchester that are inclusive of but not limited to our growing population.

As local plans are put in place to deliver the housing needs of the city region, our local road network is the infrastructure workhorse of our communities, and as growth is planned we must remember that our roads are not only lines on a map but a vital means for people to live their lives. Clearly, there are areas where roads are stretched beyond their capacity. A prime example is what was once a simple junction connecting the communities of Cheadle and Gatley that now blights the lives of pedestrians and drivers. It is in the light of these pressures that I will talk about the road network in my constituency. One of the most pressing issues for my constituents is indeed the junction of the A34 and the A560 at Gatley.

Unfortunately, well-intentioned but small-scale interventions over the past 20 years have not been enough to tackle the problems of this junction and to make it fit for the future. As one of the five busiest junctions in Greater Manchester, it experiences the passage of 74,500 cars a week. In addition, esure insurance recently found it to be the sixth worst junction in the country for drivers jumping red lights. Plainly, it is operationally substandard.

That has placed a great strain on the wider road network, creating tailbacks along the M60 just a few hundred metres away and creating congestion for a considerable part of my constituency and on to the A34 Kingsway. The M60, which has two slip roads on to the A34, further adds to local congestion and environmental challenges. Over time, efforts to improve the working of the junction have included the creation of an eastbound left-turn lane for traffic approaching from Gatley, as well as the installation of traffic signals on the nearby off-slip from the M60 to better regulate traffic flow into the junction. More recently, the junction has benefited from the actuation systems to adjust signal timings in response to changes in traffic flow. However, it remains a major problem for the area.

Long-term transport problems were identified in the catchily titled South East Manchester Multi Modal Strategy, which is known locally as SEMMMS. SEMMMS was first produced in 2001 and is now due for reconsideration.

I am also aware of the memorably titled SEMMMS project. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main causes of road congestion in Stockport is the lack of an A6 bypass from Hazel Grove to Bredbury, which would join with the M60? If she does, will she urge the Minister to consider that project for future funding?

My hon. Friend, whose constituency is right next to mine, knows full well how important that link would be. Indeed, I will add my words to his in pressing for that project to be considered.

I look forward to the refreshment of the SEMMMS plan, which is ongoing, and I will press for further consideration of the A34 corridor plan, which will explore the A34’s intersection with the M60. That plan will enable Transport for Greater Manchester to develop a more detailed understanding of the long-term growth implications along the A34 and to identify further areas of improvement to manage congestion. These problems need to be addressed both imminently—indeed, immediately —and for the longer term. This junction is broken and we need to fix it.

It is a fact that alongside Greater Manchester’s growing economic strength—growth that creates new employment and development opportunities across the wider conurbation, including Stockport—pressure continues to be put on local highway networks. There is particular pressure at junctions where there are complex flows of traffic wanting to access the city, Manchester Airport, the M60, the M56 and, very importantly for my constituents, local facilities and residential areas.

Further pressures on the general network and the A34 corridor are also in the spotlight as the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and the Cheshire East local plan are being drawn up. It is clear that local plans must take into account the implications of increased developments, and where there are cross-boundary transport infrastructure issues it is vital to have co-operation between all stakeholders, including central Government.

I will highlight for the Minister the need for continued investment in the north. I welcome all the investment that we have had so far, but I am firmly focused on the north’s future. I have also stressed the importance of smaller infrastructure projects—yes, we need High Speed 2 and High Speed 3, but we also need to underwrite this ambition with support for large but more local projects.

I am pleased that for Members whose constituencies have problematic junctions, the Government have committed themselves to investment, delivering the biggest road improvement programme since the 1970s. Continuing that commitment will be imperative.

Infrastructure investment is represented by the £475 million Local Majors fund, which is designed to support local transport projects. That is an example of the type of investment funds we need in the wake of the referendum. Indeed, these smaller scale but large local projects also need prioritising.

I have had meetings with the interim mayor of Greater Manchester and the strategic transport director of Transport for Greater Manchester to discuss applications for the fund and the role I can play in facilitating them. I encourage the Minister to continue making local authorities aware so that we can all benefit from the potential prosperity the funds can generate. In my constituency, we look forward to progress being made on the changes so urgently required at the Gatley junction, and that should be considered as part of the wider SEMMMS strategy.

I am conscious of time, but I want to touch briefly on the ambitious developments in high-speed rail. HS2 will sweep into the north. I know I am touching on the programme with a brevity that does not do justice to its importance, but with phase 2a to Crewe opening in 2027 and the delivery of phase 2b marked for completion in 2033, there can be no further delay to the roll-out of the UK’s largest infrastructure project, through which the north can benefit from increased capacity to meet demand. I therefore look forward to the legislation being brought forward later this year for phase 1. Although I appreciate the extension of timetables for delivery to allow the petitions process, I urge the Government to take steps to prevent further delays to the opening of the first step to high-speed rail.

From a local perspective, I am pleased that the ambitious project of HS2 will come close to Cheadle at Manchester airport, but I would welcome further assurances on that crucial airport link to move from planes to trains. Additionally, I welcome the commitment to modernise and renew the rolling stock, with a move away from Pacer trains—many commuters between Cheadle and Manchester will echo my views—following Arriva’s new franchise around Manchester. I know passengers would welcome an increase in the capacity and comfort of local journeys. I also highlight the need for investment in stations, particularly through working cross-departmentally with the Department for Communities and Local Government to improve station environments, such as that at Cheadle Hulme in my constituency. In addition, I will be looking for greater responsibilities for franchises to invest in ticketing, to make it easier and more comfortable to travel and to use the networks to the full.

Does my hon. Friend agree about the importance of working with friends groups at those stations? They can do great work in drawing attention to the needs of the stations and to station improvements.

I echo my hon. Friend’s point. Friends groups in all walks of life play an important part in our constituencies, particularly with regard to our railway stations. I am looking forward to hearing about improvements that could be made to get much needed disability access in our stations. We have so many people calling for that; it is about time it was delivered.

Better bus services are also critical to unlocking growth in our communities, reducing congestion, supporting the elderly in socialising and helping to improve our environment. The Bus Services Bill, which hands franchising powers down to local authorities, will better enable those authorities to tackle priorities for improvements that will increase passenger numbers and deliver more benefits. Those benefits must continue to include connectivity, and, whether it be through smart cards or better branding, getting more people to hop on a bus rather than get in the car. Central to that are more frequent services. It is always disappointing when we hear about services being reduced, such as the X57 service, or withdrawn, such as the 373. That takes away a valuable link between constituents and their work, home and hospitals. I am keen to see measures put in place to enable local authorities to influence timetabling to better reflect local need. Furthermore, the Bill and franchising offer the prospect of improved disability access, which we need, whether that is through innovative visual or audio capability or better disability training, so that drivers know where to pull in at bus stops. I have drawn local stakeholders’ attention to Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers report on improving access for young disabled people.

In closing, I seek assurance from the Minister that current and future programmes will continue to be funded as has already been pledged. We all appreciate the changes now in train—excuse the pun—owing to recent national developments, but the future prosperity of the north and my constituency must be maintained. Following the decision made three weeks ago tomorrow, there is a strong argument for more infrastructure investment and delivery, and that needs to take place with the small-scale and long-term, large-scale projects.

The northern powerhouse concept is crucial not only to the prosperity of the north-west of England, but to the whole of the north and the country itself. If it is to succeed, we must be committed to its funding, to improvements to roads and junctions, to the construction of HS2 and HS3, and to the transport infrastructure of Greater Manchester in all its forms. This is undoubtedly an exciting time for the Greater Manchester region. Now more than ever our attention is turning to the north, and power is moving from Whitehall to local communities as a result of our devolution process. I look forward to the prosperity I know that will bring to my constituents, Manchester and the north.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) on securing this debate. Transport is hugely important to Greater Manchester. We agree entirely that it is essential for growth and we are, as she said, investing significantly in it. Through our devolution deals, we are putting Greater Manchester at the heart of the northern powerhouse.

As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed to creating a northern powerhouse, which is effectively about rebalancing our economy. It is part of a much broader national long-term plan. We have created Transport for the North to be a key partner and delivery body within that agenda. Its job will be to develop and drive forward transport plans to support the economic growth of the north. In terms of capital expenditure, we will invest £13 billion in this Parliament to better connect the region so that northern towns and cities can pool their strengths and create a single economy. From being a fragmented economy, it will become a much more cohesive one that is more than the sum of its parts.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend: this is an exciting time for Greater Manchester. There is no question about that. Greater Manchester is at the heart of an exciting agenda. It is a centre of innovation, education, industry and culture. Its local enterprise partnership describes it as the fastest growing economy outside London and Europe’s most competitive business location. South Manchester, with its key assets such as Manchester airport and Stockport, is obviously right at the heart of the region’s success.

My hon. Friend was broad in her sweep of transport in the area, and I will try to match that and then focus on some of the local points that were made. Manchester airport is the UK’s third largest airport. It employs 20,000 people, indirectly supports a further 25,000 and contributes £1.8 billion annually to the economy. That is a fantastic record. In addition, the £650 million airport city enterprise zone promises to create between 7,000 and 13,000 jobs. The airport announced its £1 billion transformation programme last June, through which it will employ more people and create more wealth in the area. The airport’s success is tremendous news for the north as a whole and in particular for Greater Manchester and my hon. Friend’s constituents. However, transport infrastructure needs to be in place to support that growth. People need to be able to get to the airport to benefit from it.

The south-east Manchester multi-modal strategy, or SEMMMS, highlighted the significant problems experienced in south Manchester. The proposed solutions have sat on the shelf for years, including the A6 to Manchester airport relief road. I am delighted that we have been able to support that important scheme, which brings significant benefits to the residents of the areas where traffic will be reduced, to those who will be able to access Manchester airport much more easily and to all those who will benefit from the economic growth that the scheme will bring across the area. Our support for the scheme shows that we are serious about working with local partners, because a partnership has brought the scheme to fruition. The overall budget is well over £200 million, but the Department’s contribution is £165 million or so. It is a proper partnership that shows we are serious about engaging with local partners to deliver the world-class transport network that the area requires.

My hon. Friend mentioned the strategic road network. The road network is under pressure in Manchester, because of a growing population and growing economic activity. We are investing £1.5 billion in the north-west in our road investment strategy, which will deliver the biggest increase in capacity since 1971. That includes an upgrade to the strategic roads serving south Manchester. Work is under way to deliver the smart motorway upgrade for the M60 junction 8 to M62 junction 20, and the A556 Knutsford to Bowdon scheme, which will improve the main southern access to Manchester. Further work is planned to upgrade the M60 to a smart motorway between junctions 24 and 4, and to upgrade the M56 to a smart motorway between junctions 6 and 8. In addition, my Department has an ongoing study on the case for building a trans-Pennine tunnel, which is potentially a transformational project. It has been long discussed in the north, as the hon. Lady knows—for decades. We are investigating the potential for that transformational new connection between Manchester and Sheffield. A study on the M60 north-west quadrant is looking at improvements that could benefit the area and the whole M60 route.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) never misses an opportunity to highlight the extreme importance of developing the trans-Pennine links. As ever, we are in full agreement on this issue. He is right to champion them and our commitment has not wavered.

We are starting the process for the second road investment strategy, which will be for the period post-2020. We are trying to make it a much more open and locally driven procedure. Contributions are coming in from local highways authorities, local councils, local enterprise partnerships and Transport for the North, and they will help to determine the priorities for the strategy. I have written to colleagues, as have Highways England, so that the in-depth knowledge that MPs have of the area, its problems and the potential for future development can inform the process and make it as good as it can be.

Rail in the area is obviously fundamentally important as well. We have the biggest programme of railway modernisation under way since the reign of Queen Victoria. The north of England rail infrastructure upgrade programme will transform rail travel in the region. Work has begun and we are already seeing some real progress. In 2013, we saw the first phase of north-west electrification, enabling electric trains to run from Manchester airport to Glasgow. In 2014, we knocked 15 minutes off the fastest journey time between Liverpool and Manchester, and in 2015, we completed the electrification of the railway between Liverpool and Manchester, and Liverpool and Wigan. I have been to see the progress made, have experienced the benefits, and have spoken to some of the train operating company’s team working there, and some passengers. It has been very well received. But of course there is much more to be done.

Our programme of more than £1 billion includes a substantial electrification programme and other track, station and signalling improvements, to increase capacity and the number of services, making journeys faster and more reliable. The transformative new TransPennine Express and Northern Rail franchises will deliver high-quality services for passengers. For south Manchester, that will include a significant increase in the capacity into Manchester in the morning peak and more seats on TransPennine Express trains; more trains to a range of major destinations right across the north; new and refurbished trains offering significantly enhanced passenger benefits; and—this has caught people’s attention more than any other element of the announcements—the outdated Pacers will go. They will go from the north’s railways by 2019, to be replaced with significantly upgraded trains. I know the frustration that people have with the Pacers; they also serve my own line and I use them on a weekly basis.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle made a good point that it is not just about rolling stock or infrastructure—we need station enhancements too. That is clearly a priority. Disability access is a top priority for the Department, as part of the access programme. The Department is producing an accessibility action plan, which will be published later this year, and will focus on how we can make the public transport network much more friendly for everybody within our communities. It is worth highlighting that Northern has committed to spend more than £30 million on station upgrades across the franchise over the coming years. That might address some of my hon. Friend’s concerns about Cheadle Hulme station. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) is right: friends groups play a great role in being champions for their stations and making them open, friendly, informative places that people go to rather than scuttle through in a hurry, as they might have in the past.

We must mention HS2, which will be a huge boost to Manchester and the surrounding area. It will bring jobs, growth and regeneration opportunities. A station at Manchester airport will help bring those benefits to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, as well as to many other constituencies in the area. It will provide additional connectivity for the region, allowing passengers to access the high-speed rail network without first travelling into central Manchester. I agree with my hon. Friend’s request for urgency. It is an important scheme, which is critical to the Government’s programme, and we do not want to see any delay.

Local transport was a key part of my hon. Friend’s contribution. She clearly identified the pressure that the local highway network is under in south Manchester. There has been some investment to address that, but it is a significant challenge. Measures to improve traffic flow on the M60 at junctions 1, 3 and 4 are underway, as is work on the traffic signal control at the junction of the M60 and the A34.

Moving on to public transport, improvements at Cheadle Hulme and Hazel Grove railway stations are under way, as are priority bus routes into central Manchester. Metrolink has been extended to Manchester airport, where a third rail platform has just opened. New transport interchanges have been built at Altrincham and Wythenshawe. Some £115 million from the local growth fund is being invested to improve transport access in Stockport town centre. It is a very exciting time to be involved in public transport in Greater Manchester.

There are clear pinch points. The junction of the A34 and the A560, as highlighted by my hon. Friend, is a well-known problem. I understand that she met recently with a former colleague, the interim mayor Tony Lloyd, to discuss that junction. I am sure she will be aware of the A34 corridor plan being developed as part of a wider refresh of the south-east Manchester multi-modal strategy. Although I share her sense that this is a priority, it is a local network and local decision. She must therefore work closely with local partners to ensure that they are aware of the concerns and bring forward robust proposals to tackle the congestion. It is well known not just in her own area, but beyond. I will make sure that officials from the Department for Transport keep in touch with that work as it develops and inform me of progress so that I can see what is happening.

We have covered a lot of ground, and have not even got to the Bus Services Bill, which is an opportunity for change in the bus market. The Bill is about to have its third day in Committee in the House of Lords, and will head to our place shortly, I hope. Greater Manchester has said that it is keen to explore franchising options. The Bill will include powers to enable local authorities to have greater input and control over the bus market. Buses are part of the future of public transport. They are underestimated and underinvested in, but my hon. Friend was right to highlight their importance. They are essential to deliver the heavy lifting of our public transport system, as well as air quality improvements in our towns and city centres. The Bus Services Bill is very interesting.

We are investing heavily in transport across the UK, but especially in the north as part of our initiative to drive the northern powerhouse. That work is taking place right across modes of transport. We are seeing significant, record-breaking levels of investment and the Department is working in partnership with local bodies, especially Transport for the North, which we will put on to a statutory basis within some months, to make sure that the plans reflect local need, and that we deliver the transport for the area required to make the economy thrive for the future.

Question put and agreed to.