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A6-M60 Relief Road

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017

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

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to Mr Speaker for granting this Adjournment debate on the need for the A6-M60 relief road. It is particularly appropriate that we debate the issue now, exactly 242 years to the week since residents in and around my constituency first made representations to the House calling for a similar road to relieve local congestion on what was then known as the London road, which is now the A6.

Records in the Library show that on 27 February 1775, a petition was presented to the House from

“the Inhabitants and Owners of Houses and Lands, within the Town and Township of Stockport…Setting forth, That the town of Stockport is very populous, and a Place of great Trade and Business”—

just as it is now—

“and the Inhabitants thereof, and Persons resorting thereto, suffer great Inconveniences…and that the great public Road from Manchester and other adjacent Towns, to the Metropolis, lies through the town of Stockport; and that several Streets and Passages, within the said Town, through which the said public Road runs, are too narrow, and are very incommodious.”

It was

“Ordered, That the…Petition be referred to the Consideration of a Committee”

and that a certain Mr Egerton and Mr Crew were to meet

“To-morrow Morning, at Nine of the Clock, in the Speaker’s Chamber”.

Quite what happened in the Speaker’s chamber the next day is anyone’s guess.

Fast forward nearly 250 years and the inhabitants of Stockport and surrounding towns—including Hazel Grove and Bredbury, both of which are in my constituency—are still suffering the inconveniences of incommodious roads that cause travel and commuting misery for tens of thousands of residents. Of all Greater Manchester boroughs, Stockport has the highest number of daily commuting movements in and out of the city of Manchester. The largest commuting flow between the districts is a broadly north-south movement between Stockport and Manchester, and the largest equivalent flow across the Greater Manchester boundary is a north-south movement between Cheshire and Stockport. Much of this traffic is made up of journeys that start or finish within the borough of Stockport, mostly either accessing local areas off the A6, or using the A6 to access the M60 and the wider motorway network.

More than 30,000 vehicles a day pass through the residential and commercial areas of Hazel Grove. On a daily basis, there are high volumes of slow-moving traffic. Average peak hour vehicle speeds are less than 10 mph. That makes the road network one of the worst congested, if not the worst, in the country. Journey times on this arterial route are longer than in all other large urban areas across the UK, including London. There are particular congestion problems along the A6 and in the urban centres, including Bredbury, Hazel Grove and Offerton. We are at the point where congestion is causing poor and unreliable journey times, and that is becoming a constraint to economic growth.

What is urgently needed, therefore, is a road between the M60 at Bredbury and the A6 at Hazel Grove, following the once proposed alignment for the A6(M). The A6-M60 relief road would remove unnecessary traffic from the A6 through Stockport and Hazel Grove, allow for better connection to the M60, and directly facilitate these two largest commuting movements to support the Greater Manchester economy.

Thankfully, there has been significant consideration of such a relief road since 1775. In 2000, the then Government undertook a thorough study into the travel and traffic issues facing the south-east quadrant of Greater Manchester, in partnership with Stockport Council and its neighbouring local authorities. The south-east Manchester multi-modal strategy—pithily known as SEMMMS—reported in September 2001. It recommended three new highway schemes, including the A6-M60 relief road. Since then, work is being undertaken on the first two schemes, supported by funding from a range of sources, not solely central Government: the new airport road is under construction; and the Poynton bypass is in its planning stages, with construction expected to start in 2018. The A6-M60 relief road is thus the final highway component of the SEMMMS strategy yet to be actioned.

I would like to outline briefly the design and benefits of the A6-M60 relief road scheme. If it is given the go-ahead, it will provide 5 miles of new two-lane 50 mph dual carriageway on a north-south route from junction 25 of the M60 at Bredbury to the A6 near Hazel Grove. It will also provide a short link road to improve access to Stepping Hill hospital.

It will come as no surprise to at least one Member of this House—namely, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley)—that the present scheme is very close in layout, route and objectives to an earlier proposal for a Stockport bypass, and this time that proposal is from a period during my lifetime, albeit when I was a mere 18 months old. Rooting through some old files, I came across a letter from one of my predecessors, Sir Tom Arnold, to a constituent. It declared:

“Go-ahead to End Traffic Chaos.”

Attached to it was a Department for Transport press release from June 1989, which quotes my hon. Friend, who was then the Minister for Roads and Traffic, as saying:

“Good road connections encourage industrial and economic expansion...This further investment for the North West and for South East Manchester will be a major help in encouraging the growth of enterprise.”

In his covering letter to his constituents, Sir Tom added:

“It is our firm conviction that the Bypass will have a profound and beneficial impact upon the future quality of life and the environment in Hazel Grove”—

I could not agree more. Construction of the A6(M) bypass around Stockport was due to begin in 1992; alas, it was never started. As we have seen that improvements to, or a bypass of, the A6 have been proposed in 1775, 1989 and again in 2001, we are now fully up to date with the history.

In the 2015 Budget, the Treasury granted £350,000 to undertake a contemporary review of the case for the road. Stage 1 of that feasibility study concluded that the travel and traffic congestion problems that existed at the time of the SEMMMS publication are more acute than ever. The study found that the A6-M60 relief road would bring about significant improvements in congestion, thereby not only making people’s lives easier, but bringing about significant economic benefits. By removing congestion from local roads, the scheme would also contribute towards enabling a better integrated public transport system by improving the reliability of bus journey times. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you, like other Members of the House, are still composing yourself after the thrilling excitement of yesterday’s Second Reading debate on the Bus Services Bill.

As well as considering direct local benefits, it is important to think about the road in its wider regional and national context, and the context of the Government’s overall aims. The scheme aligns with several national policy objectives. In recognition of the large increase in traffic on the strategic road network that is forecasted, Highways England is prepared to invest in local road infrastructure improvements that will help. The scheme would also provide improved access and more reliable journey times to Manchester airport not only for airline passengers, but for heavy goods vehicle freight. The scheme would therefore support the Government’s freight policy. Furthermore, providing better access to Manchester airport is identified as one of the key components of the northern powerhouse.

Regionally, the A6-M60 road would directly contribute to the delivery of two elements of the Greater Manchester transport strategy 2040: supporting sustainable economic growth; and improving quality of life. The scheme also forms part of the wider SEMMMS, as I mentioned, and would complement the two other road network schemes that are already under way. It is important to note that once the new airport link road is finished, the amount of traffic using the A6 is predicted to increase, which makes the need for the A6-M60 relief road ever more pressing.

I have outlined the benefits of the scheme as I see them, as supported by the feasibility study. However, I am aware that, as with any large infrastructure project, there are important environmental considerations, and a number of my constituents have sincerely held concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed road. I stress that I am not blind to these concerns; this is a major new road scheme that is set to run through some areas of countryside. However, I note that the 2003 environmental assessments found the wider SEMMMS to be acceptable in principle, subject to appropriate mitigation. The environmental impact should be fully examined as part of the process of progressing the business case, and it should accord with environmental protections and legislation. By relieving congestion, the new road would help the environment by improving air quality, which is currently affected by emissions from slow-moving and stationary traffic.

Population growth was identified as a factor in the feasibility study. I am clear that the road is required to deal with the already congested and overstretched infrastructure in the area. It should not be viewed as a catalyst or justification for the drive for excessive residential development that is envisaged in the Greater Manchester spatial framework.

In summary, the problems identified in 2001 are still present. Indeed, worsening traffic conditions mean that the need for intervention that was identified by the original SEMMMS is as great as ever. The scheme would address issues around peak hour congestion, air quality and connectivity. It would also increase the reliability of public transport. It is consistent with national, regional and local transport policies, and the growth aspirations of Greater Manchester and the national Government.

The Government have supported feasibility studies regarding the road up to this point. We now need the stage 2 study to develop a strategic outline business case for the scheme in line with Department for Transport guidance. Further work will be required, based on new traffic forecasts, to take account of the airport link road and environmental assessments, and I will work closely with Highways England on that.

Will the Minister confirm the Government’s commitment to investing in road infrastructure as a means of relieving existing congestion and driving economic growth? Does he appreciate and share my frustration, and that of local residents, about the length of time that the scheme has been in the proposal, draft and study stages, and the amount of appalling traffic, congestion, delays, inconveniences and pollution that people have had to put up with during that time? Can he suggest how I might best work with him and others to ensure that this project remains high on the agenda? Does he support progression to the stage 2 feasibility study for the business case? Will he give an indication of when the time for studies and reports may come to an end and the building of this vital and long-anticipated road can begin?

The case for this road has now been made and studied in three separate centuries—the 18th, 20th and 21st—and I am pleased to have been able to make the case yet again today. I hope that the time for studying will soon end and that the time for construction will begin. I look forward to the Minister’s answers, for both he and the Government should know that on this issue, much like the traffic in my constituency, I am not going anywhere.

May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) on securing this debate about the proposed A6-M60 road scheme, also known as the Stockport north-south bypass? I have to say that 242 years as a local issue is a record in my experience of transport. However, as ever, my hon. Friend demonstrated his passion for the area and his knowledge of it.

I will address my hon. Friend’s questions, but I just want to put in a degree of context the underlying point he was making about the importance of transport investment. Transport investment is hugely important to Greater Manchester, as it is, indeed, to our whole country. We agree with local partners that it is essential for growth, and that is why we are investing significantly in it. That includes record spends on rail and road, with £38 billion on rail—excluding High Speed 2—£15 billion on our strategic road network and £5 billion for local schemes through the local growth fund. That investment is designed to drive the economic growth we all want, as well as to relieve communities and the wider economy of the effects of congestion, as was so eloquently highlighted by my hon. Friend.

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 that northern powerhouse to rebalance our economy. That is part of our longer-term economic plan, and one we share with the north. We have created Transport for the North to develop and drive forward transport plans that support economic growth. We will invest £13 billion during this Parliament to better connect the region, so that our towns and cities can pool their strengths and work together to create a single economy.

Greater Manchester is right at the heart of this. As my hon. Friend knows, it is a centre for innovation, education, industry and culture. The population is 2.7 million and rising. Greater Manchester generates £48 billion of gross value added—a 4% share of our national economy. It is the UK city region outside London most likely to be able to increase its long-term growth rates, with its access to international markets and its strong connections to the rest of the world, so there is real scale and real opportunity in the Greater Manchester economy.

South Manchester, with key assets such as Stockport and Manchester airport, is a critical element of that success. The airport is the UK’s third largest, employing over 20,000 people, and it indirectly supports a further 25,000, contributing £1.8 billion per year to the economy. In addition, the airport city enterprise zone promises to create between 7,000 and 13,000 jobs. That is tremendous news for not just the north and the northern powerhouse but Greater Manchester and my hon. Friend’s constituents.

However, to make that growth happen, we need transport infrastructure in place to support it. That is why we are heavily investing in the area. SEMMMS highlighted the significant problems we all know everybody experiences in south Manchester. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the proposed solutions have sat on the shelf for too long—I was unaware that it has been over 240 years, but I think we can all agree it has been too long.

That is why I am delighted that the Government have been able to approve the first of the schemes recommended in that study—the A6 to Manchester airport relief road. The road is currently under construction, and it is due to open at the end of the year. It is an important scheme, and it will not just bring significant benefits to the residents of south-east Manchester, including those of my hon. Friend’s constituency, but have much broader benefits. It will certainly make access to Manchester airport much easier, which will help to drive economic growth, therefore benefiting the whole area.

As my hon. Friend said, initial approval has been given to the second of the three schemes in the SEMMMS report—the Poynton bypass. That is subject only to Cheshire East obtaining the necessary legal permissions and showing us that the scheme is value for money. The funding is available for this scheme, and we want to see it in place.

That leaves the third scheme—the Stockport north-south bypass, which is the topic of our debate. This scheme would build on the other two. It will clearly bring additional benefits to residents of Stockport and Hazel Grove, primarily through the much needed and long-awaited relief from the congestion on the A6 and other roads in the area. Residents will also benefit from airport access and economic growth. My hon. Friend highlighted his concerns about the time it has taken for the scheme to get to this point. He is clearly correct. As the scheme is not on the strategic road network, it is the responsibility of local partners, and decision making rests with them. It is possible that the high cost of all the SEMMMS schemes, and the many other improvements in the area that have taken place right across Manchester from a transport perspective, will have been a factor in local partners’ decisions on which schemes to prioritise for delivery.

I understand—my hon. Friend articulated this with great sensitivity—the concern about the possible adverse effects on the green belt and the local community that could occur with the housing that may be developed in the wake of this scheme. Indeed, he raised this issue with the Prime Minister last week. I would echo the commitment that the Prime Minister made. The Government are very clear that the green belt should be protected. Boundaries should be altered only when local authorities have fully examined all other reasonable options. Any changes should be balanced with improving the quality or accessibility of the remaining green-belt land so that it can be enjoyed. Green belt is a critical part of the protection of our local environments, and I think we are all passionate about seeing it protected.

I am aware that Greater Manchester Combined Authority has recently consulted on its draft spatial framework and that this has stimulated much debate. It will be for the local planning authorities to make sure that the much needed housing will be situated in ways that limit any effect on the green belt. It will also be for the road scheme’s designers to be sensitive to the area through which it will pass. I commend my hon. Friend for his work in seeking his constituents’ views on how the construction of the A6 to Manchester airport relief road has affected them, and on what lessons Stockport Council and the construction company can learn for future projects. It has to be accepted that there will be some adverse effects on residents while these new transport schemes are built, but every opportunity should be taken to minimise these problems and learn lessons for the future.

My hon. Friend asked whether we support the proposed scheme. Yes, we have shown our support for it by providing Greater Manchester Combined Authority with £350,000 to fund a feasibility study for the route. That study, I understand, is due to be completed in May this year. It will then be for the combined authority and Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council to decide what to do next. They could decide to fund the scheme from their own or from third-party sources, or they could seek access to Government funds. If the study is sufficiently detailed, they could bid for funding from our large local majors fund—the vehicle to support schemes like this through the Department for Transport. That fund is designed to help councils to build transport schemes that are too large to be funded through the usual source of funding—the local growth fund—but not big enough to be classed as of national strategic importance. However, I have to warn my hon. Friend that this fund is very popular and likely to be oversubscribed—and this scheme will be an expensive one. Nevertheless, our support for the scheme shows that we are serious about working with local partners to deliver a world-class transport network to improve the lives of local people.

I should highlight the fact that we are investing in many other parts of the local transport network. Transport in Greater Manchester is being transformed. Indeed, I have spoken at conferences where colleagues from Transport for Greater Manchester have said that this is a golden age for public transport and investment in Greater Manchester.

On the strategic road network, we are investing £1.5 billion in the north-west to provide the biggest increase in capacity to be delivered there since 1971. It includes an upgrade to strategic roads serving south Manchester, such as the smart motorway on the M60 and the M62; and the A556 Knutsford to Bowdon scheme, which also improves the main southern access to Manchester. Those are live schemes in the plan.

We are also looking at future projects. We are running studies of the case for building a trans-Pennine tunnel between Manchester and Sheffield, and for improvements that could benefit the area of the M60 north-west quadrant and therefore the whole M60 route. The process is now under way to set the next road investment strategy, which will cover the period post 2020.

We are working closely with partners in Greater Manchester and Transport for the North to determine future priorities. I am sure my hon. Friend, with his customary diligence, has raised the matter with them, but I will certainly mention this debate next time I meet Transport for the North and highlight my hon. Friend’s concerns, to make sure that they are firmly on its radar.

We also have the biggest programme of railway modernisation since the Victorian era. The north of England rail infrastructure upgrade programme will transform rail in the region. Work has begun, and we are seeing real progress. The first phase of north-west electrification enables electric trains to run from Manchester Airport to Glasgow. Journeys are faster following the completion of track improvements and electrification between Liverpool and Manchester, and Liverpool and Wigan. Particularly topical is the significant progress made on the Ordsall chord. That included last week the lifting into place, using two of the largest cranes in this country, of the world’s first asymmetrical network arch railway bridge. That attracted a lot of attention, and some quite good time-lapse photography shows the bridge being inserted into position.

Those are positive developments, but there is clearly much more to be done. Our programme of more than £1 billion includes a substantial electrification programme and other track, signalling and station improvements. They will all increase capacity and the number of services, making journeys faster and more reliable. We will certainly see transformative change through the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises, which will deliver high-quality services to passengers. The residents of south Manchester will see benefits, which will include significant increases in capacity into Manchester in the morning peak; more trains to a range of major destinations across the north; new and refurbished trains; and—if my hon. Friend’s constituency is like mine, this will be particularly welcomed—the disappearance of the outdated Pacers.

Looking to the future, HS2 will be coming into south Manchester—it will go straight through to central Manchester, too—and will be a huge boost to the whole region. It will bring with it jobs, growth, and magnificent regeneration opportunities. Those are big schemes already under way, in planning or in study form, all of which will have an impact on the north-west.

We are not just talking about big national schemes; we are also looking to improve our local public transport network. We should be celebrating the achievements that we have made, which include improvements at Cheadle Hulme and Hazel Grove railway stations; priority bus routes into central Manchester from south-east Manchester; extensions to the Metrolink system—I congratulate Greater Manchester on the opening of the second city crossing this week—and new transport interchanges in Altrincham and Wythenshawe. In addition, £115 million of local growth fund is being invested to improve transport access in Stockport town centre. Those have all received contributions from central Government, so our support for the area is significant at a strategic and a local level.

I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that this Government are committed to improving transport in Manchester as a whole, including in south Manchester and in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We have shown that support by providing significant funding for a wide range of improvements, as well as the specific funding for a feasibility study of the A6-M60 scheme. He has made a great case—I would expect him to do so, as a local champion for his area—highlighting the benefits very clearly and showing great sensitivity to environmental concerns. I very much look forward to receiving a copy of the report once it has been completed. Once the promoters have looked at the study, I expect it—should they choose to seek our support—to arrive in the Department, where it will be considered and given a very good hearing.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.