HC Deb 05 July 1982 vol 27 cc124-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Archie Hamilton.]

11.30 pm
Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight the need for the Altrincham and Sale western bypass. I deprecate the attitude of the Labour-controlled Greater Manchester county council and its decision, which takes some understanding, to abandon the scheme for the bypass. To say that the decision came as a bombshell in my constituency would not be under-estimating the feelings of people.

Ever since the late 1950s, there has been the line of a bypass which proves that the need has existed for this type of road over the past 20 years. The route runs entirely through green belt land and would not necessitate the destruction of any houses. It would cost little to safeguard. The bypass was shown as a priority scheme in the recently approved structure plan. For this reason, Trafford council, which is keenly in favour of the bypass, did not argue for it at the recent examination in public.

Of course, if Trafford council had had any notion that the Labour-controlled Greater Manchester council intended to perform a U-turn on the issue and to change its mind in two years, the Trafford council would have argued forcibly in public the need for the road.

As the bypass forms part of the approved structure plan, Trafford council finds difficulty in understanding the arguments now put forward by Greater Manchester council. The minutes of the transportation strategy committee of the Greater Manchester council on 13 May 1982 state: It was felt that the scheme went against the broad themes of the structure plan which sought to revive the centre of the conurbation and discourage further outward movement of population and development. Yet this is the same structure plan that was approved by the Secretary of State in March 1981 and which lists the Altrincham and Sale western bypass as one of only six schemes that were labelled "first priority group". It seems that on this issue Greater Manchester council speaks with two voices.

In 1978 the official Department of Transport estimate of hazardous loads moved to and from the Shell complex at Carrington was 6,000 tonnes a week. Trafford council's own estimate now is 8,000 to 9,000 tonnes a week. A tremendous problem is caused in some parts of my constituency. A great deal of aggravation is involved. I have attended protest meetings of local residents who feel strongly about heavy lorries and the hazardous loads carried through their area.

I think particularly of the Harboro Road and Harboro Way in Sale, where the residents have been up in arms about this problem for many years. They are concerned about the effects on their properties of so many heavy lorries using the roads. For many people in my constituency, the Altrincham-Sale western bypass would be a godsend, because it would take much of the heavy traffic that at present causes them much annoyance, and give them peace and quiet in their homes.

However, it is not only the residents in my constituency who feel strongly about the bypass, because it also has the support of industry. Both the Broadheath industrial estate joint committee and Shell UK Ltd., support the scheme.

They realise that the bypass, if built, would improve communications for both the Broadheath industrial estate and the Carrington industrial complex.

The bypass would give access to the western side of the Broadheath estate, and this would be an enormous asset to the firms on the estate. This also ties in with what was regarded as Greater Manchester council policy on employment in the south-west sector of Greater Manchester. The draft structure plan states: The only area without a large high quality industrial estate is the south-western part of the county. The local planning authority intends to make provision for an industrial estate in the area. Although this policy was not approved by the Secretary of State, it was clear, and, the county council accepted, that this was not because the Secretary of State disputed the need for such employment, but because a separate policy was superfluous in the context of other approved bodies. The county council, on receiving the Secretary of State's decision, confirmed that it still intended to seek to implement the intention of the policy.

Further, a bypass would provide a direct approach to the inner city and to Trafford Park, with its enormous industrial estate, and, as a consequence, an entry to the Trafford Park-Salford docks enterprise zone. Trafford council was recently informed that because Trafford is an enterprise zone authority, it is being included in the possible distribution of urban programme resources.

The important point is that Trafford has at last been recognised as having an inner urban need, which bears on the related need for industrial development in Broadheath and Partington and is an extra argument in favour of the western bypass.

It is strange that for years we have been trying to point out, under successive Governments, that there is an urgent need in Trafford. It does not consist only of residential property, and areas such as Old Trafford have enormous urban problems that compare both with Salford and the city of Manchester, which have done well under urban programmes while Trafford had been ignored. Under this Government, at last some help is being given.

I also remind my hon. Friend of the policy enunciated by the Government. We recognise the environmental problems created by heavy lorries. Recently, the Department of Transport published circular 3/82, which states: Wherever possible bypass schemes and urban road projects designed to relieve the problems caused by heavy lorries, should be given the highest priority by county councils. Perhaps my hon. Friend will comment on that aspect of Government policy in the light of the decision by Greater Manchester council to allow the urban traffic congestion in this area to continue.

It is ironic that one of the reasons for the council's decision is what was referred to in the minutes of its transport committee as The possible abstraction of commuters from the parallel rail line. I know that we have a good rail link between my constituency and the city of Manchester, but to argue against the road on the basis that it would take passengers away from the railways is nonsense. I can only hope that whoever dreamed up that objection would like to face some of my constituents who work in Manchester when we are in the throes of a rail strike.

Our local paper, the Sale Guardian, said last week: Commuter chaos hit Sale workers on Monday and early on Tuesday morning as the train service halted for what amounted to a one and a half day strike. Later, it stated: The only inconvenience suffered by bus passengers on Monday and early on Tuesday was that of delays caused by increased traffic on the roads—the main A56 through Sale was affected by delays for commuters on their way to Manchester". It is not only when there are rail strikes that there are delays on the A56. The A56 is a very crowded road; that is one reason why we believe that the bypass is essential to our area. I remind my hon. Friend of what is referred to as the rate of return. The county council's own traffic study—"Salford and West Trafford Study—Report of Findings 1981"—stated that the bypass would reduce traffic on the A56 by 35 per cent. to 40 per cent., thus improving conditions for pedestrians, buses and local traffic; reduce commercial traffic by 20 per cent. in Altrincham and by 50 per cent. in Sale; and have a first-year rate of return of over 20 per cent. That means that when the cost of the bypass was compared with the benefits that would accrue, the council reckoned that there would be a 20 per cent. return on investment in the first year.

I shall sum up my reasons for believing that Greater Manchester council is wrong and that the bypass should be kept in the programme. First, at present there is gross overloading on the A56. That road runs right through my constituency, right through the town of Altrincham and through Sale. If runs through a residential area and a shopping area. It is not a particularly wide road, but it carries a tremendous volume of traffic. Therefore, in rush hour there is congestion, which causes delays. Those delays could be avoided if we only had the western bypass.

Secondly, if the bypass is built it will take many heavy lorries and hazardous loads away from residential areas. I should have thought that that was in accord with Government thinking on the issue. If the bypass were built and there were fewer lorries and hazardous loads going though our residential streets, it would be widely welcomed by my constituents.

Thirdly, at present we face a critical situation at the Carrington industrial complex. Jobs are at stake. It must be remembered that the Manchester overspill estate was built at Partington in the 1960s with the prospect of jobs being available nearby. Therefore, anything that is done to improve the infrastructure of the area must be beneficial and the bypass would certainly be a help.

The bypass would certainly help Broadheath industrial estate, which also has had serious problems. Access at the eastern end of the estate is not particularly good, while there is virtually no access at the western end of the estate. The bypass would provide good, modern access at the western end and that would be of enormous benefit to the firms on the Broadheath estate.

I do not know whether the Minister is aware of the fact, but I am told that the county engineer believes that the project should be retained. Therefore, the decision by the Labour-controlled transportation strategy committee of the Greater Manchester council is at variance with the views of its chief official. Surely the views of a technical expert should carry some weight with the laymen on the committee.

Finally, the Greater Manchester surface transport action group wrote to the chief executive of the Greater Manchester council on 16 February in a letter entitled: Sale and Altrincham Westerly Bypass. The letter said: Members of the Surface Transport Action Group are concerned over the proposal to abandon the Sale and Altrincham Westerly Bypass and urge the County Council to reconsider this decision. We believe the bypass is urgently needed on economic and environmental grounds to (a) improve access to and advance industrial development in the Trafford District, (b) relieve the heavily congested A56 and (c) link the existing M56 motorway to the proposed Carrington spur. Although we are pleased that the Carrington Spur is scheduled to start in 1983–84 we feel that this will not be the complete solution to Trafford's problems. Without the Sale and Altrincham Westerly Bypass local industrial traffic will be forced to make longer and more costly journeys which could result in a decline of industry in Trafford and loss of jobs. We are also concerned about the need to segregate the movement of hazardous goods from residential areas. The present road system makes such segregation impossible in Trafford. I hope you will take our comments into consideration and that the Sale and Altrincham Westerly Bypass will be retained in the firm programme. That states succinctly the overwhelming case for the road. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell me that she agrees with it when she replies to the debate.

11.45 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) was fortunate to secure the Adjournment debate, because he has assiduously supported proposals for a new road to the west of Altrincham and Sale.

Only last week I was in Manchester to meet the Greater Manchester council, the City of Salford and Trafford borough council to discuss principally trunk road matters, but at the same time I heard something about local roads and saw some of the problems on the ground. I do not lack understanding of what my hon. Friend has been telling the House.

There is no dispute between us about the importance of roads. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the North-West has fared relatively well over the years. It is arguable that it has one of the best and most complete highway networks anywhere in the country. It has the greatest mileage of motorway next to London and the South-East, with especially good communications between Liverpool and Manchester and across the Pennines. It has first-class links to the North and South, which are provided by the M6 and complemented by the M61.

However, as the local authority representatives said during my visit to Manchester last week, there are still essential improvements to be made. We need bypasses for the sake of an improved environment, particularly for those affected by heavy goods vehicles. We must remember that 80 per cent. of freight movements are by road. British industry depends on lorries. We recognise the economic benefits to be gained by reducing traffic delays and in reducing the cost of accidents, especially to local communities. These are the Government's objectives.

The bypass goes back to the SELNEC highway plan of 1962 and beyond, which was a blueprint for a strategic highway network for south-east Lancashire and north-east Cheshire for the 1970s and 1980s. It was an ambitious concept which, even allowing for the more buoyant economy of the 1960s and 1970s, did not have sufficient regard to the question of the funds that were likely to be available. Subsequent revisions of that plan provide the basis for today's highway network in the larger part of what is now Greater Manchester.

The plan's evolution through the 1970s and 1980s means that many of the schemes have had to be reviewed in the light of changing needs and resources. The Altrincham and Sale westerly bypass was planned as a major road linking the M56 motorway at Bowden to a junction on the M63—the Stretford-Eccles bypass, which is now part of the Manchester outer ring road—at Urmston. Its role was to act as a replacement for the A56 by providing a route for through traffic to the M62 trans-Pennine motorway and for local traffic between Altrincham and Manchester.

When the Greater Manchester council inherited the SELNEC transportation plan in 1974 it systematically reviewed the proposals. The Altrincham and Sale scheme was examined both as part of the study of the strategic network in Greater Manchester and as part of a specific study of the Salford and West Trafford area.

The conclusions arising from these deliberations have given rise to the debate. It was on 13 May that the GMC resolved that there is no longer any need to maintain the protection currently afforded to the route of the Altrincham and Sale westerly bypass … for development control purposes and that such protection is abandoned. My hon. Friend is well aware that I am not permitted to intervene in that decision. Whether any local road proposal such as this should go ahead is a matter for the statutory local highway authority alone. I realise that my hon. Friend may find that hard to accept, but it has long been the way in which our decisions on road schemes have been made.

My hon. Friend, as always, argued forcibly in favour of the proposal. Although I understand exactly why he raised the matter, he must put the case directly to the Greater Manchester council, beause it must make the decision. My hon. Friend might have it in mind that the by-pass should be constructed as a trunk road. A case for that cannot be sustained in the light of all the other plans. Altrincham and Sale are already by-passed to the east by the M56, opened in 1974, which connects with the Manchester outer ring road, but it does not take the traffic that wishes to go directly from Sale to the Manchester conurbation.

We acknowledged in 1978 that, by de-trunking the A.56, with the agreement of the Greater Manchester council, that would be the pattern in my hon. Friend's area. The A56, which I accept is a busy road now forms part of the local network. Greater Manchester council has not argued that a westerly by-pass of Altrincham and Sale would be anything other than a local road scheme. It has not tried to persuade the Government that it should be a trunk road.

Apart from those considerations, it would be wrong to assume that trunk road status confers priority. Many worthwhile and desirable schemes are already in the pipeline and, regrettably, some of them are now suspended. There is a great problem about assessing carefully the priorities across Britain.

In our recent White Paper "Policy for Roads: England 1981", we made it clear that bypasses, along with roads that aid economic recovery, are being given top priority, but that does not mean that we can press ahead with every scheme at once. In the 1982–83 transport supplementary grant settlement, about 35 new local bypasses were accepted for grant and we have already made it clear that we shall give favourable consideration to bypass proposals in the coming year's settlement and give tangible support to the councils whose programmes included schemes to remove heavy traffic from towns and villages.

In that respect, the Department is offering a carrot but it has no stick. We can encourage local authorities to formulate proposals but we cannot compel them to make them. Decisions as to whether local schemes are to go ahead are left, rightly, for the local highway authorities.

I know that this will be a dispappointing answer for my hon. Friend, but I am not in a position to do what he asked me tonight. He referred to the problem of heavy lorries in his constituency and although there are no easy solutions to that problem, I assure him that we are conscious of the importance of those vehicles and all freight movements, 80 per cent. of which now go by road. We are considering the possibilities of transferring large quantities of freight to rail, but they are limited and they become more so now, as my hon. Friend will understand.

Therefore, we must strike a balance between the impact of heavy vehicles on the environment and the needs of industry and commerce. That is why we are proceeding to make lorries safer and quieter, to enforce higher standards of braking and loading and we shall make sure that there is no lack of power available to local authorities to ensure that lorries are kept off roads not designed to take them. Where considerable environmental benefits are expected, there is justification for imposing detours on heavy traffic.

I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxiety about hazardous loads. In my part of the country we have similar problems. My hon. Friend mentioned the Carrington spur, which will serve the large plant at Carrington. One thing my hon. Friend did not mention, was the way in which any bypass along the route that he has discussed would cut through open land that I am advised is of a high agricultural quality—grade 2. That in itself is not an overriding consideration, but it is an important factor that we have to consider with all the others.

I have already said to my hon. Friend, and he is well aware of the fact, that his area is well served by the M56 to the east and M63 to the north. While they cannot take all the problems off his local roads, he must accept that that area has motorways while many other towns and villages are waiting for their first bypass, and are many miles from the nearest motorway. I fully understand my hon. Friend's disappointment about the fact that I cannot intervene. I cannot disregard the fact that the A56 passes through a commercial and industrial area and generates a good deal of its own heavy traffic.

I wish to end on a more encouraging note. I have already mentioned my recent visit to Manchester when there was some discussion about a local bypass, which is of considerable interest and importance to an area of Trafford adjoining his constituency. That is where I return to the Carrington spur. It is a Greater Manchester council proposal to link the Carrington petrochemical complex and other industrial sites with the M63 motorway. The Greater Manchester council is anxious that that should go ahead quickly, and will be including it in its transport policies and programmes for 1983–84. I am certain that that will bring relief to my hon. Friend's constituents.

A prerequisite of the scheme is that certain associated improvements are carried out to the M63 which is, in part, a two-lane road with closely spaced junctions. I gave the Greater Manchester council an assurance that I would do everything possible to enable that important scheme to go ahead. It will remove heavy traffic—some of it carrying chemicals—from residential streets in my hon. Friend's area.

My officials are already working closely with the Greater Manchester council on the design of the Carrington spur-M63 junction and my hon. Friend will be aware that we have employed consultants to design and supervise improvements to Barton high level bridge, which has been a notorious bottle neck from which traffic can often tail back to the area of which he has been speaking.

I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that my encouraging words about the Carrington spur proposal are the best that I can do tonight. I know that the route it will take forms part of the Altrincham and Sale westerly bypass, for which he has argued so strongly. It is a little help towards a difficult problem over which I do not have the full power of decision. My hon. Friend has made plain his anxieties and those of his constituents over the Greater Manchester council's decision to abandon the bypass. I hope that he will understand that that decision, quite properly, is the authority's alone. It is the statutory authority and I cannot interfere.

I understand the problem of the impact on the environment along the A56, of which he has spoken, and I hope that there may be other routeing proposals that may bring a little relief, even if I have no power to intervene as he would wish over the westerly bypass.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Twelve o'clock.