HC Deb 01 July 1988 vol 136 cc702-10

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

2.30 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Today's complex system of travel and goods distribution means that the road system is vital to all of us. Despite the welcome success of British Rail and the passenger transport executives—in west Yorkshire as elsewhere—in attracting more business, the roads continue to carry some 90 per cent. of inland traffic and must therefore bear the brunt of catering for the country's transport needs.

My experience of firms' investment decisions suggests that good transport links command a high priority—almost certainly higher, for example, than the availability of regional grant aid. Poor road links, on the other hand, can hold back an area's development, and I believe that my constituency has missed out on some economic opportunities which would have produced much-needed employment because of its seriously inadequate road connections with other parts of west Yorkshire and the motorway network. In terms of journey time, south Bradford is often closer to Manchester than it is to Keighley, which is within its own district.

This is an opportune moment to consider the major road system on which the Bradford district as a whole relies. Some vital construction is taking place, and more is due to happen before long, and crucial decisions on which a great deal depends apply to projected schemes for the next decade. My hon. Friend the Minister has responsibility for trunk roads, but I am sure that he will agree that the roads for which his Department has responsibility and those which fall under the aegis of Bradford metropolitan council integrate closely with one another. During the lifetime of the former West Yorkshire metropolitan county council virtually no new roads were built in Bradford, compared with other districts in west Yorkshire, but when that council was abolished it passed on to the Bradford council a number of schemes in an advanced state of preparation. That fact, together with developing work on trunk roads, makes Bradford easily the busiest district in west Yorkshire in terms of its construction programme. I know that both the Department of Transport and the city council have been working closely together on their plans for the future.

The Airedale trunk route has been debated and discussed, and has been the subject of inquiries and reports, for decades rather than mere years. Local residents must have wondered whether it would ever come into being, and I think there was even some scepticism when I had the pleasure of cutting the first turf for stage 1 in August 1986. As the route follows river washlands often liable to flooding, it has been necessary to construct an embankment and the amount of disruption and inconvenience which has come about as a result of the massive movements of stone and material has been considerable. People have had to be patient and grit their teeth as heavy lorries have thundered past on roads which were never designed for them. Nevertheless, the contractors, Budge, should be congratulated on meeting the two-year schedule, and we look forward very much to the visit of my hon. Friend on 2 August when he is to declare open stage 1 from Kildwick to Beechcliffe.

This will be a day of celebration for upper Airedale, which will benefit environmentally, with maximum relief accruing to the residents of Eastburn, Steeton and Utley who have suffered too long from traffic disruption and danger to pedestrians. The Steeton and Eastburn parish council has long campaigned for the new road, which will supplant a busy, twisting and dangerous stretch of the A629. Improved road safety will thus be a major benefit, as will the elimination of delays brought about by the replacement of a level crossing by a bridge at Station road, Steeton.

There is some concern that Hard Ings road, Keighley, between Beechliffe and Victoria park, which is an existing single carriageway road linking the dual carriageway sections of stages 1 and 2 of the new route, may have inadequate capacity for the traffic that the roads may generate. In theory, this bypass will carry a smaller volume of traffic than the routes which also serve the needs of traffic heading to and from the town itself, but I believe the situation will have to he watched closely when stages 1 and 2 are open because Hard Ings road could be a source of future problems

The really significant economic advantages will start to come with the completion of stage 2 from Victoria park Keighley, to Crossflatts. Again, work has been proceeding apace, and stage 2 will open very early in 1989. The completion of this part of the route will provide a new and attractive approach to Keighley while relieving the Riddlesden area of heavy traffic.

Before moving too far away from Keighley, may I urge Bradford council to move fast in the direction of a traffic scheme for the town itself. Its streets are badly congested with vehicles throughout each week day, and I welcome the commitment to try to bring about improvements.

It is to the east of Crossflatts that we run into big trouble on the Airedale route. As it passes through Bingley, the A650 is appallingly congested, with dreadful hold-ups for traffic and an intolerable situation for those living or working nearby. The line of the route has essentially been established but, as my hon. Friend's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), pointed out in an Adjournment debate on May 6 1983, the construction of the section to the east of Crossflatts is dependent on a decision on the route to the east of Bingley.

When the first two sections come into use, they will attract extra traffic that does not at present use the new road. However, all those cars and lorries will be funnelled back on to the existing road at Crossflatts, close to one of the most dangerous parts of the A650, which has claimed a number of lives in recent months. The really bad news is not just that work has not started to the east of Crossflatts, but that we appear still to be a very long way off reaching that point. An announcement has been delayed by problems in determining what happens at Cottingley Bar, the eastern extremity of stage 3, because until we know where we go from there it is impossible to complete the planning of the route to Cottingley.

The section from Cottingley Bar to the east of Shipley holds the key to the success of the entire route. In May 1983, three years after the first public inquiry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey said that she was conscious of the need for a decision as quickly as possible, but today—over five years later—we are no further on. I believe that the long delays are largely attributable to the mistaken way in which the Department has brought forward its proposals for public debate and consultation, failing at each stage to provide people with genuine choices between a full range of options.

When the Department's original plan for bypassing Saltaire to the north was rejected by the public inquiry inspector, Mr. Chance, it went out to public consultation with three alternatives, all of them passing closer to the centre of Saltaire but seeking to minimise intrusion in environmental terms for instance by following the line of the railway. A local campaign was mounted against all the routes and a petition with a large number of signatures was submitted. Thus my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey said that the completely new route should end at Cottingley Bar, and alternative solutions would be sought for the section through Saltaire and Shipley.

I found the decision perverse at the time, and subsequent events have, I believe, already proved me right. Just doing nothing could never have been an option. For everybody's sake, there cannot be and must not be a "Chalker Gap". What has happened since that anouncement was entirely predictable. The Department went out again to public consultation with alternative plans which involved gyratory traffic systems and some demolition—in effect, forcing a way through the centre of Saltaire along existing routes. What happened? Of course the public found those plans even more undesirable than those they had seen before. Indeed, some of them said that if they had been aware of the alternatives, they might have supported earlier proposals. Nevertheless, analysing past mistakes will get us nowhere. We must now ask where we go from here.

Things have moved on in a way which demands that we reassess the situation. Traffic volumes have increased dramatically. Since 1982 the total of vehicle miles on England's roads has increased by a third. On some busy roads, the increases have been even more considerable; on motorways for instance, total traffic has gone up by about 70 per cent. partly because the mileage of motorways is greater. Moreover, Airedale has reflected the increase in industrial activity that other areas have experienced. Local manufacturing companies have increased their output and new retail activity is apparent for all to see. The local chambers of trade and the Bradford chamber of commerce and industry are demanding more loudly than ever that the route should be completed to cut the delays which are threatening jobs as firms consider locating elsewhere rather than put up with all this extra cost and inconvenience.

As new sections of the Airedale route open before long, extra traffic will be attracted to it, some from the narrow moorland roads which criss-cross the area, as well as some from other A roads. If we were to contemplate a situation where the Airedale route was completed as far as Cottingley Bar, while a further continuous section of modern and uninterrupted dual carriageway led from Shipley to the motorway south of Bradford, we would be condemning historic Saltaire to having deposited upon it in the foreseeable future up to 50,000 vehicles a day if the roads could carry them. The only factors that could limit the number of vehicles would be the available amount of road space and the horrific queues. Such an outcome would be an environmental nightmare and, what is more, it would undermine the whole basis on which millions of pounds of taxpayers' money are already being spent to improve communications in the Aire valley.

It is also possible that the transport needs of people and companies located outside the immediate area were not previously given adequate attention. In response to my parliamentary question answered on 1 May 1985 concerning submissions considered in reaching a decision, the then Minister forwarded details that omitted a survey, the detailed results of which I had passed to her, which showed that more than 90 per cent. of respondent companies in the Keighley and Upper Airedale area regarded the completion of the road as vital to their future development.

To achieve an acceptable way out of the present impasse, two decisions are necessary. First, it must be agreed that the special historic nature of Saltaire and the protection of the immediate environment require an exceptional financial commitment on the part of the Department of Transport. If it is necessary to construct part of the route in a cut and cover tunnel, that must be done. I believe that a financial analysis would demonstrate that a failure to complete the route would seriously undermine the economic benefits to be gained by constructing the first three stages. If one also takes into account the delays, the environmental intrusion to Saltaire caused by heavy traffic, and, not least, the safety advantages, bearing in mind the announcement this week that the cost of a fatality has been reassessed at £500,000—over twice the previous figure—as a component in the Department's COBA formula, the case for devoting exceptional resources to solving an exceptional problem becomes overwhelming.

Secondly, it is essential that in future public consultation—and I do not think it would be right or productive to proceed without further consultation—the full range of options is put before people at the same time. In no other way is it possible to find out what they really want. It is my belief that, given a realistic choice, most people will opt for a variation on the Department's original proposal that takes proper account of the environmental problems. It would probably incorporate a tunnel and keep well away from the historic heart of Saltaire. Such a proposal was aired by the city council and the former county council during the previous consultative exercise.

This stage represents the keystone to the entire route between upper Airedale and the motorway to the south of Bradford. If this problem can be resolved, the rest falls into place with relative ease. I do not want to speak in detail now about the Shipley eastern bypass nor about the dualling of Canal road for which the city council has responsibility but with the Bradford spine road, of which stage 1 of the inner ring road has already been completed ahead of schedule by the council, with some funding assistance from the European regional development fund, these links constitute a chain which will dramatically improve the way in which people and goods can be transported between different parts of the district, as well as with the national motorway network. Completion of the Bradford spine route will also incidentally enable traffic to be kept out of the centre of Bradford, providing an opportunity to transform it into a far more attractive urban area.

Between the centre of the city and the M606 there are two routes—Manchester road and Wakefield road—the latter of which will be incorporated in the projected Bradford spine route. The M606 is at present a designated district motorway, but I understand that negotiations are in hand for responsibility to be transferred to the Department of Transport. My hon. Friend should be aware that there are already serious delays at the city end of that short stretch of motorway, and I am sure that his Department will be involved with the council in finding ways to overcome the difficulty which has essentially come about through the unexpectedly large increase in traffic to which I have already referred. One solution would be a link between the underpass, which was originally intended to form part of a now abandoned route into the city centre, and a point lower down on Manchester road. The problem here is that, at present, traffic using the outer ring road coincides with traffic entering or exiting the city, and the existing roundabout junctions are inadequate to cope with the massive number of vehicles.

I want to say a word or two about the feasibility study which has been taking place into a possible link between the M62 at Clifton in the vicinity of Brighouse and the M1 near Wakefield. This route lies outside the Bradford district, but its impact would significantly impinge on it. I was pleased when the Department initiated this study because, some six years ago, when I suggested to the Department that it would make good economic sense, I was informed that no case could be made out for its construction. Again, traffic growth has brought about a rethink—and rightly so, because the route could be extremely beneficial economically to the whole of the western part of the county, particularly Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford. In effect, the journey between those communities and the M1 motorway will be reduced in distance by some six or seven miles. I strongly add my voice to those of hon. Members on both sides of the House representing constituencies in the Kirklees district who have pressed for its adoption into the roads programme, pointing also to its environmental benefits.

My message today is that the new route should not be an all-purpose trunk road, as was suggested by my hon. Friend in a recent answer to a parliamentary question from me, but should rather be built to motorway standards. The case for building it as an all-purpose trunk road rests on the premise that it would essentially serve local needs. However, I believe that it would be totally unrealistic to ignore the fact that, once the road was built, it would effectively be regarded and used as part of the strategic road network by a great deal of the traffic changing between a north-south direction and an east-west direction south of Leeds.

A factor that should be taken into account when considering this point is the inadequate capacity of the present junction at Chain Bar, where the M606 meets the M62 south of Bradford. Despite the addition of an extra slip road lane and other traffic measures, we now have the dangerous situation at times where the traffic tailback can stretch back along the nearside lane of the motorway. The Chain Bar roundabout is also one of the locations of the largest number of accidents in the Kirklees district. If it is recognised that the M1-M62 link is part of the strategic network and is therefore built to motorway standards, the Chain Bar junction will be relieved of much of its existing overloading.

There has in the past been a regrettable tendency to build new roads to an inadequate standard, resulting in the need to expand their capacity at very much greater cost. I would ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that even today the M1-M62 link has the potential to attract a considerable amount of traffic. We should come to regret any decision which ignored the route's strategic significance.

I finally want to refer to two bypass schemes on the A65 trunk road through the Wharfe valley—those at Addingham and at Burley-in-Wharfedale. The Addingham saga is a long one, and residents of the village have waited for a considerable time for the bypass to be included in the programme. It was a particular blow when the last Labour Government set it back for many years because of the cuts they were obliged to make at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. We welcome the fact that, following an inquiry, the route has been confirmed, and work is due to commence next year. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to state that a further inquiry into the compulsory purchase and side road orders will not be necessary, because there is a great deal of unanimity in the village about the need for this long-awaited road and the route it should follow. Accidents on the main street through the village occur with almost monotonous regularity, and the elimination of most of these, together with freedom from heavy lorries, will be a blessing for local people.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) has been active on behalf of his constituents in assiduously pressing the case for early construction of the Burley-in-Wharfedale bypass. There have been problems because of the need to divert the course of the river slightly, and fears about the effects that this could have on the downstream print works, which depends on a reliable flow of clear water. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to provide some reassurance today that further delays will be minimised.

We also look forward to seeing the conclusions of the study carried out for the Department into road links between the Wharfe valley and the main north-south corridor to the east. Furthermore, with bypasses at the late planning stage for the communities to both east and west, the needs of Ilkley should not be ignored. I welcome the news that roadside traffic surveys are to be carried out near the town next week to gather information about the volume and movement of vehicles with the objective of identifying traffic problems and remedies.

In conclusion, the Bradford district has an inadequate road system for a city that is changing fast in response to a very different situation from that which existed when it was expanding rapidly in the last century. Despite its problems, the city is looking to the future, not with foreboding but with confidence. By the end of this century we could have a road infrastructure which would be a marvellous asset, or we could still be held back by delay and hesitancy in making essential decisions. I hope we shall go down the first path.

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

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller)—we have known each other during all our time in the House and we have shared many experiences—both as a driver and as a member of this House. He has driven me round his constituency and he has rightly identified the economic advantages, environmental relief and the casualty reduction that comes from having a better road system. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who, although unable to take part in this debate, has been forthright in giving me advice about roads in his constituency. The House will understand his position and I am grateful for the fact that I can concentrate on answering only my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley.

The Department hopes to publish the compulsory purchase orders on the A65 Addingham issue in July. The date may slip a little, but we hope to progress as my hon. Friend has asked. There may be individual issues which I shall not have time to cover in detail and I hope that my hon. Friend will accept it if I write to him about them. I shall deal first with the major issues of Bradford and the Airedale route.

My hon. Friend ended by saying that the alternatives for the future were perfection or misery. Bluntly, it is likely to be somewhere between them. We shall continue to make progress, but we cannot solve all the problems, and it is better to admit that. He referred to the Labour Government's difficulties, which they overcame with help from the International Monetary Fund. One of the consequences was that the new roads programme was virtually halved. Our aim has been to go for sustainable increases in the roads programme, not to have cuts in it, and during the past eight years we have achieved that. There was a slight hiccup at the end of 1983 which affected the whole of the Government, but generally we have seen a slow but steady increase in resources for improving road communications. This year we intend to spend the money that has been budgeted, and we are prepared to take the sort of decisions necessary to make sure that that happens.

Bradford is strategically well placed in the national trunk road and motorway system. My hon. Friend paid tribute to the improvements in British Rail, and it is important that British Rail continues to improve assts services to freight customers as well as the travelling public. We could not take all the freight or travelling public on the roads, and they need to have a choice. That is part of our political philosophy. The more that we can transfer current subsidies to capital investment in all forms of national life, the better. That is how prosperity comes, as the British people have discovered in the past eight years.

The M62 runs immediately south of Bradford, arid links to it are via the M606, soon to be taken over by the Government, and the A650 to the south, which is being improved. The Drighlington bypass construction is due to start next year. The M62 in turn provides nationwide links via the motorway network. It links the east and west coast ports, and it links directly with the M1, A1 and M6 north-south routes—one of the interests of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

To the north-west the A629–650 trunk route is being comprehensively improved. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley rightly referred to two schemes under construction: the Airedale section 1, where he kindly did the turf cutting, and the Airedale section 2. There are three further schemes in the trunk road programme: Airedale section 3, Skipton to Kildwick and the Shipley eastern bypass. Those five schemes will provide 13 miles of new road at a current cost of nearly £80 million.

In Bradford itself, the north-south route is being substantially improved. The major part of the city ring road was recently opened and I had the pleasure of seeing it last year. They are local authority schemes at present, but it is planned to take them over to become a national road. There has been substantial Government assistance, through transport supplementary grant. It is a wise and necessary part of the Government's dedication to and support of the inner cities, and I wish that there was more recognition of that from those who occasionally get reported, probably inadequately, as saying that the Government should spend all their money sorting out traffic jams in London, so that a bishop does not get held up for 20 minutes.

That is a guarded reference to my noble Friend the Bishop of Durham. My advice to a bishop in the north is that, if he allowed a little more time for his journeys, we should be able to go on spending money in the north rather than using it to solve London commuter problems. If a Government spent all their money in London and the south-east, we should be rightly criticised by northern bishops.

I should now like to refer to the Airedale route. It is a difficult area through which to construct new through traffic routes. There is a narrow valley and much development and there are conflicting pressures. It is already crowded, so there are difficult environmental issues with route planning. As my hon. Friend gently and diplomatically said, the Department has been trying for years to achieve acceptable schemes. There has been limited success. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that there has been only limited success. In some areas there is substantial opposition to almost anything. We intend to press on. Our aim is to provide a new continuous high standard route to link Bradford and Skipton.

I pay tribute to successive generations of staff at the Department of Transport, who put up with occasional personal abuse and professional frustration in trying to get people to understand that a decision needs to be made. Often almost any decision is better than none, given the build-up of traffic and the need to provide for more jobs to meet the needs of people growing up in the area. Too often round the country I have seen communities virtually destroyed by through traffic because they have not been willing to decide to go to the left, or the right, to the north or the south, above or underneath. I often think that local community representatives should do what my hon. Friend does nationally, which is to say, "Let's talk through the issues and, if necessary, put them before a public inquiry. An independent impartial inspector can adjudicate and offer advice to the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Transport, but for heaven's sake, whatever we do, let's get on and try to make decisions."

The Department intends to press on and provide that new continuous high standard route. Two schemes will open to traffic this year—the Kildwick to Beechcliffe route and the Victoria park to Crossflatts route. Together they will provide six and half miles of new dual carriageway road at a cost of about £36 million. I look forward to being with my hon. Friend on 2 August for the opening of section 1.

The preferred route for one scheme has just been announced, that is, the Skipton to Kildwick section, linking Skipton bypass and Airedale section 1. That was announced in May after public consultation. Announcements are due this summer, concerning the remaining three sections. The Airedale section 3 has been prepared up to draft order publication stage and can be published as soon as the eastern termination point is confirmed. That means that it depends upon the route of the east of Cottingley Bar scheme. That scheme has a difficult route alignment. Is is a built-up area, with crowded development, and it is environmentally sensitive. There was a nine-month public inquiry into the proposals in 1980. The valley bottom part of the route was rejected by the Department of Transport Minister. There was public consultation in 1984 on several possible options. No acceptable new route was identified and the valley bottom route was again rejected. There was fresh public consultation in 1986 on widening the existing roads, and I announced early last year that alternatives suggested by the public were being examined. That scheme is the constraint upon announcements on the adjacent schemes.

The Shipley eastern bypass links in the south with Bradford city council's schemes. There was public consultation in 1986, jointly with east of Cottingley Bar. There has been no announcement yet as the decision is tied to the termination point of the east of Cottingley Bar scheme. An announcement is promised this summer, as I said to my hon. Friend in April. The announcement is still planned. I ask my hon. Friend to be patient for a little longer as difficult issues need careful study. I think that my hon. Friend will understand that there is no point in giving advance information on options under review because of the blighting effect on property.

This has been a useful debate. We must recognise that building roads is necessary. Covering the whole countryside with concrete is not necessary. We have the greatest difficulty where there are valleys, but we still intend to overcome such difficulties. I ask for understanding and help in the local communities so that it will be accepted that, by going through the procedures, we shall pick the best or the least worst option. The only option that we must reject is doing nothing. The area deserves better than that.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock.