HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc284-90

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

11.42 pm
Mr. Tom Arnold (Hazel Grove)

I am most grateful for this opportunity to address the House on the subject of road schemes in the metropolitan borough of Stockport. I should like to touch on a number of schemes presently being funded by the Government and make some comments.

There is a great deal of congestion in Stockport at present. My view is that, whatever local people may think, it cannot be dealt with satisfactorily until the road building programme has been completed. Although it is extremely frustrating to have to put up with the serious delays that motorists and other travellers are finding in a number of areas of the borough today, until such time as the motorway programme and the bypass relief programme in particular have been completed, I am afraid the congestion will continue.

However, we must deal with the through traffic in the areas. Any visitor to the borough of Stockport will have noticed that travel speeds are frequently less than 10 miles an hour. I gather that this is a reflection of the fact that traffic growth in Stockport is above the national average and that two and indeed three-car families are now quite common.

Fortunately, the Government have come forward with a very large, very expensive programme. I am delighted to have had in the various campaigns with which I have been associated the support of a number of other hon. Members in persuading the Government to go ahead, and wish to thank successive Ministers for the interest that they have taken.

The problems locally were well summed up in a letter of 18 November last I received from the veteran director of works, Mr. Donald Wroe, who gave the following graphic description of the situation in Stockport: If you look at the topography of Stockport you will see that it lies on the confluence of three valleys, and the highways tend to follow the valley routes. This results in the fact that the traffic has to get in before it can get out. Consequently, the result is a whirlpool of congestion, particularly on the eastern side of the town. The constituency of Hazel Grove lies on the eastern side of the town, and it is to the schemes there that I wish to draw the attention of the House.

Beginning with the Portwood-to-Brinnington M63 motorway and the Portwood-to-Denton M66 motorway, I understand that these schemes are due for completion in the spring of 1989. I should be grateful for clarification of that point from my hon. Friend. In other words, can we expect completion of these motorways on time in the spring of 1989? I gather that at that moment the motorways will be redesignated the M60, which is slightly confusing.

There is a point about road signs which I should like to put to my hon. Friend. I gather from the director of works of Stockport council that there is a proposal in the Department of Transport to re-sign Stockport on a number of roads leading towards the borough in other parts of the north-west so that the signs will say "Manchester, South" instead of "Stockport". The word "Stockport" is, I understand, to be removed from the signs. That proposal has been badly received locally. If it is serious, I hope that the Minister will consider it again. Far from introducing clarity, it is felt that it would provoke confusion.

On the construction of the motorways, their completion will remove a tremendous amount of pressure in the northern part of the Hazel Grove constituency, with particular reference to the area of Bredbury. I moved recently to Marple, but having lived for four years on the Stockport road in Bredbury, I have been a witness, sometimes daily, to the severe build-up of traffic at peak periods. I believe that the construction of these motorways will make an enormous difference to hard-pressed motorists in the Bredbury and Romiley areas. Will the Minister confirm that as part of these schemes he is going ahead with the construction of an all-purpose road from Ashton road to Portwood, which will run adjacent to the motorway and provide further relief to traffic in the area?

In the central and southern areas of the constituency, the great event is the public inquiry which is still taking place into the Hazel Grove bypass, technically known as the A6(M) Stockport north-south bypass. The history of this project goes back many decades—indeed, to a time long before both the Minister and I were born. I believe that 1934 is the earliest record of a specific proposal for a bypass round Hazel Grove. The Government have committed themselves to constructing a motorway at considerable expense and have chosen as the preferred option a route known locally and colloquially as the blue route. I emphasise once again that the blue route has my full support.

I have campaigned long and hard for the construction of the bypass. I have almost lost count of the number of my right hon. Friends who have been to Hazel Grove, at my invitation and at the invitation of other hon. Members. You will doubtless remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, Maurice Orbach and Tom McNally. We all campaigned together for this road, along with Sir Tom Normanton, MEP, and other distinguished former Members of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) have all been there in recent years and they have all expressed support for the project. It is high time that it went ahead.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to say that his right hon. Friend will decide quickly, following the inspector's report, that we shall have a decision this year and that that decision, should it be favourable, as I hope it will be, will be followed by a quick start. Can we look forward to completion of the project by, shall we say, the spring of 1992? We have to accommodate local needs as quickly as we can.

Although there are a number of controversial issues —the Minister and I have had a lengthy correspondence about Halliday Hill farm, a site of historic interest, and I hope that the inspector will be able to accommodate some of these points without undermining the principles on which the blue route has been designed—nevertheless I hope that the Government will reiterate their determination to go ahead with all possible speed.

Turning now to the most recent developments, I was delighted to receive the news from the Minister that he has taken his work on the A6 Highlane-Disley bypass a good deal further. Indeed, he is mounting an exhibition this week in the village of Highlane and I am looking forward to attending it on Friday. I suspect that further improvements will be needed to other roads in the area if this scheme goes ahead and I would draw my hon. Friend's attention to improvements which will be required on the Windlehurst road between Highlane and Marple.

I am firmly of the opinion that construction of the Highlane-Disley bypass will have far-reaching effects on the town of Marple, where traffic at the moment is particularly severe. Indeed, last Saturday I had a meeting with the Marple community council and tried to persuade the members of that body, which, albeit unelected, is locally influential, that the construction of this road will indeed be of great benefit to Marple. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to touch upon the reasons he sees for the construction of this further road.

I also understand from the director of works at Stockport council that a proposal is now being considered in the Department of Transport for a Poynton bypass, which would connect the blue route, to which I have already referred, with the A523 to Macclesfield south of Poynton, and that were such a scheme to be in my hon. Friend's mind this could represent the start of a Manchester airport eastern link road, which again has been talked about for decades and is something which in principle I support.

My specific question to the Minister is, does he intend to make this Poynton bypass a trunk road? Clearly that has important spending implications. An answer to that question, if not tonight at any rate in the near future, would be most welcome.

As can be seen, there is a formidable programme of work under way—four schemes in the process of being completed, about to start or at the stage of a preliminary exhibition following the consultant's report. Indeed, I have referred to another scheme, making five altogether, which I believe my hon. Friend the Minister may be contemplating. This is a formidable and an expensive programme. It is a recognition of the way in which successive Ministers and local Members of Parliament—not just myself, but my colleagues—have fought long and hard to deal with the traffic problems in Stockport, with particular reference to the east side of the town. We have to bring about a situation in which we get the through traffic off the present roads and on to the new roads.

I believe that when this programme is completed it will enhance the quality of life in our area considerably. People who are opposed to these roads and advance a case based on a very real fear of change ought, I think, to look at what thousands of people have to put up with at present. I am referring to the frustrations not just of motorists but of people who have to run shops and look after businesses — for example, on the London road, Hazel Grove, where conditions are frequently chaotic and where the noise, pollution levels and damage to the environment in terms of the sheer quantity of filth, soot and dirt which have gathered over the years have made life very difficult for many people.

I am strongly of the opinion that when these roads are built, a new sense of civic pride will be engendered in a number of the areas to which I have made reference, because the traffic jams which have been a daily, miserable feature of life in recent years may rapidly become a thing of the past.

It is in a spirit of optimistic assessment of what the Government are seeking to achieve that I have raised these issues tonight, in the firm belief that only this programme and its successful completion will deal with the very serious problem of traffic congestion and all that it entails in the metropolitan borough of Stockport and in my own constituency of Hazel Grove.

11.54 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) on the work that he has done for his constituency and for Stockport generally. I asked in the Department when he started campaigning for better roads for Stockport, and I was told that it was 15 years ago. I have had the opportunity to read the debate that he had with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) in, I think, 1983. I do not think that anyone could have done more, and I echo his basic, underlying theme—that one cannot have a decent environment, casualty reduction and a prosperous community without effective communications. As he pointed out, trunk roads—national as well as local roads—are a major element in this.

There are major national roads coming into the borough of Stockport. The M56 and M63 motorways from the west give access to Manchester airport, the outer ring road and the national motorway network. The most recent extension of the M63, the Stockport east-west bypass, opened in 1982. There is the A560 eastwards to Bredbury, and the M67 at Mottram and on into Yorkshire. There is the A6 south-eastwards through Hazel Grove and High Lane into Derbyshire, and the A523 southwards towards Poynton, Macclesfield and south Cheshire.

Within the borough there are six miles of trunk road motorway and seven miles of all-purpose trunk road. Local roads, which Stockport looks after itself, total about 560 miles. So, in essence, it has 98 per cent. of the roads in Stockport. Those miles include the A6 and the A560 within the old county borough.

There are four major schemes under construction or planned in the borough. They represent a total investment in the next few years of almost £150 million for works alone, and nearer £200 million when land acquisition and other costs are taken into account. Almost every other borough in the country will be envious of this sort of infrastructure input, but I do not want anyone to believe that it is just because of my hon. Friend's representations that Stockport is getting that money, or I might find myself breaking what I might call the "George Young record" for Adjournment debates. It is due to a mixture of strong representations and a basic, underlying case.

All the national road schemes meet the three main points of national policy on roads: assisting economic growth and employment, removing through traffic, especially lorries, from unsuitable roads, and enhancing road safety. My hon. Friend has talked about the long gestation of the A6(M) north-south bypass. I keep encountering assurances given by my predecessor and my predecessor's predecessor, and there are one or two that go back to Hore-Belisha.

One of the points that I feel strongly about is that there should be as much relief, as possible from through traffic. The Dutch call it "woonerf", which is both unpronounceable and unspellable. I translate that as PETER—"partial exclusion of traffic and emphasis on residents". My hon. Friend talked about the needs of through traffic, as well as those of residents. We also want enhanced road safety, economic growth, through roads and through traffic.

We know that there are worries in solving one set of problems. Individual schemes, and especially perhaps the A6(M), can create other problems by attracting extra traffic to roads which are not really suitable and which feed into the new scheme. We fully realise the potential problems and plan to do something about them.

In the nature of national road programming and the planning processes, as well as financial realities, we cannot build all interdependent schemes at once. If we did, the traffic speed would not be 10 mph; it might be 1 or 2 mph. Our objective is to build all that we propose as soon as design and statutory procedures permit.

My hon. Friend referred to the M63-M66 Portwood to Denton stretch — five miles of dual two or three-lane motorway with works costing £40 million. Two contracts—Portwood to Brinnington and Brinnington to Denton —are under way for completion in just over a year's time. That will complete the southern section of the Manchester outer ring road and start the eastern side.

My hon. Friend asked about reasonably precise dates for completion. It might be better if I kept him up to date as the construction goes through. He also raised the issue of motorway designation and signs on the motorway. Perhaps I might take advice on those points and let him know our thinking on the matter.

The M63-M66 will lead to some increase of traffic on existing roads. It is also worth stating that much of that increase will be local traffic wanting access to the motorway. We want motorways to act as vacuum cleaners, bringing suitable traffic on to the motorways and taking unsuitable traffic off local roads as far as possible, but that traffic will have to find its way to the motorway.

The A6(M) north-south bypass will reduce the A560 flow. The next major scheme in proposal is the A6(M), to which my hon. Friend has, rightly, given so much time over the years. The estimated works cost for this scheme of more than five miles is about £50 million or more. It is mainly a dual three to four-lane motorway, but there will be a dual two-lane all-purpose stretch at the south end. I cannot go into detail about that, or even pick up the point that my hon. Friend made about it, because of the major public inquiry that is now under way. Subject to the outcome of that and other statutory procedures, construction might start in about 1991, so I do not think that we shall be able to finish it by 1992. If the independent, impartial inspector comes to the view that there should be changes, that will necessarily require extra time.

I, like my predecessors, am grateful for my hon. Friend's long-standing support for the scheme. On behalf of them and myself, I pay tribute to the skill and persistence with which he has pressed his claims on the Department. What I can say about the A6 through Hazel Grove and Stockport is that it carries about 40,000 vehicles a day through a heavily built-up area, including major shopping areas. It is one of the busiest roads of its type that anyone could find, or wish to find. I saw something of it when I went to open the accident seminar in Stockport town hall last October.

With regard to traffic increases expected on the three main routes from development of the A6(M), the A523 towards Poynton, the A6 through Highlane and Disley and the A626 Stockport-to-Marple roads will be affected. As my hon. Friend said, we shall shortly be explaining proposals for major new bypasses at Poynton and DisleyHighlane. Stockport will be considering the need for improvements to the A626 in the light of the prospective opening of the A6(M) and the outcome of our work on the Highlane-Disley bypass.

Not all the problems on the A6 can wait for the bypass. My hon. Friend recently drew attention to a problem at the Commercial road junction in Hazel Grove, for which Stockport and the Department are considering possible solutions. I hope that we shall he able to settle proposals soon for dealing with the long-standing egress problem at Windlehurst road in Highlane.

The A523 Poynton bypass is about three and a half miles long. It is expected to be a dual two-lane carriageway costing about £11 million. It was added to the programme last April and is therefore the least advanced of the four national road proposals. Cheshire county council was appointed as our agent and is in the preliminary stages of design investigations. It could be quite some time before we are able to build, and it depends entirely upon the design and the statutory processes. It seems certain that it will be a considerable time after the prospective opening —if statutory procedures allow—of the A6(M).

We have asked Cheshire county council to study the scope for interim improvements at junctions. Obviously, it is at junctions that most of the injury accidents take place. It is too early to quantify the relief for the A523, but it is expected to be substantial.

The A6 Disley and Highlane bypass is six and a half miles of dual two-lane carriageway and is costing about £40 million. We have just invited comment on the proposed route and, as my hon. Friend has said, there will be four exhibitions this week and the plans will on display until the 4 March. We believe that our route is the only fully acceptable one, and now is the chance for anyone who disagrees to let us know. I understand that concern as already been expressed about effects on Ridge End, Woodend and Waterside. I hope that the Department and the consultants will be able to put people's minds at rest.

We take consultation and public opinion extremely seriously, and I think that anyone who is interested might want to refer to volume 2 of the "National Roads Programme", which came out in April. That programme gives some illustration of how local views have effected our proposals.

Stockport plans to complement the massive national roads schemes investment with three main schemes of its own. One is the town centre western relief road. The council has just completed a distribution ring on the east side of the town centre— the A626 diversion and the southern links road—with national taxpayers' support through the transport supplementary grant. It now proposes to carry out a series of improvements in roads to the west of the town centre— the town centre western relief road. The cost of all the improvements is about £2.5 million.

Another proposal is the Manchester airport eastern link road, which would be a combined venture between Cheshire, Manchester and Stockport councils. It would be expected to form a continuation of the Department's national north-south bypass scheme and might take advantage of part of the route of the A523 Poynton bypass. The cost of the single carriageway, phase 1, in Stockport is likely to be more than £2 million. The cost of a further phase has not been settled. A further proposal is the A34 bypass south of Cheadle. The timing of the schemes is a matter for Stockport county. I predict that, when the appropriate time comes, Stockport will ask the Department to provide national taxpayers' support through the transport supplementary grant scheme.

To use a "Willie Whitelawism" to describe road building plans for Stockport as "robust" risks understatement. Road improvements will reinforce the role of the borough as a centre of communication networks. The borough will have motorways feeding in from three of the four quarters of the compass. This refers to my hon. Friend's point about the three valleys and the roads running through them.

Because the programme is so comprehensive, it is impossible to implement all the schemes simultaneously. The A6(M) in particular will create temporary problems of access. We recognise those problems and we have plans to deal with them on a reasonable time scale.

To conclude this brief, but important, debate, there are times when people say that one can recreate economic prosperity without spending money on infrastructure—on what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I call "roads and bridges". We have had debates on public transport — last night we debated London public transport—and on British Rail. The growth in capital investment both for public transport and for roads is one of the things that have contributed to providing the economic growth, the drop in unemployment and the increase in taxation that allows for better things to happen—hospitals, schools, pensions or whatever.

I believe that if we can keep the roads schemes moving forward in the way that is proposed in the Stockport and Hazel Grove areas we shall do our duty by the people and provide a wealth-creating infrastructure which our successors will use to generate wealth to pay for our pensions when that time comes.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes past Twelve o'clock.