HC Deb 27 January 1999 vol 324 cc279-300

11 am

Mr. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

May 1, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank the Speaker for the opportunity to have this debate. It is good to see other hon. Members from the north-west present in the Chamber. That illustrates the importance of transport issues in our developing economic environment.

The north-west region includes the conurbations of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, the shire counties of Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire, and the unitary authorities of Warrington, Halton, Blackpool and Blackburn, and the High Peak of Derbyshire. The region is mainly urban in character, but has substantial rural aspects. Any transport policy must therefore take account of urban and rural concerns.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on bringing together planning, land use, transport, the environment and regional development. That will provide the opportunity for co-operation in those facets, which has been missing for decades.

I shall make some general points, but I shall tend to concentrate on Greater Manchester. I hope that colleagues will have time to cover the other, no less important areas in the region.

The Government's White Paper, "A New Deal for Transport—Better for Everyone", is the first comprehensive review of national transport policy for well over 20 years, and represents a welcome and much-needed move away from the policies of deregulation and privatisation, which have, sadly, characterised transport policy for the past two decades.

The policies of the previous Government brought considerable hardship to the people of Greater Manchester, with disruption to local bus services accelerating a decline in patronage, and the local rail network being starved of much-needed investment.

The White Paper is a radical attempt to develop a transport strategy that is fully integrated, by which I mean not only integrated between different transport modes to ensure that they are safe, reliable, convenient and easily accessible, but integrated with other Government policies. Only now can transport policy be allowed to play its full and rightful part in the successful regeneration of Greater Manchester, thus contributing to economic growth, providing a sustainable environment and allowing the population to participate fully in the on-going success of the region. Improved traffic links will help to attract industry to the north-west, thereby increasing employment.

Integrated transport cannot be achieved overnight. The previous Government dismantled most of that during their period in office, rather than smoothing the path to full integration. A fine example of the damage caused by the previous Government's transport policies was the 1986 fiasco of bus deregulation. The Transport Act 1985 took away the passenger transport executive's bus operating arm and swept away a mass of regulation.

Bus deregulation, it was said, would increase bus patronage, improve efficiency, reduce fares and cut subsidies. However, the reality in Greater Manchester was very different. Patronage declined by 26 per cent. and fares increased in real terms by about one third. Part of the problem was the chronic instability of the bus network in the free market environment. At one stage there were between 60 and 70 bus operators in the region, and the level of competition meant that there were hordes of buses aggressively vying for the available trade.

Levels of congestion and pollution in town centres and inner suburbs have increased. That has been particularly damaging to the health and quality of life of residents and visitors. The bus operators are not the ones who must bear the cost of the damage.

We hope that the White Paper will provide a framework that will enable the problems to be addressed. The launch in August last year of the Greater Manchester integration project, which is cited in the White Paper as model of best practice for others to follow, will set new standards for travel in the conurbation, and show how working in partnership can provide a public transport system with the qualities that people want.

Profitability in the bus industry depends critically on territorial control without too much competition. That is why, in the past few years, major private sector bus company conglomerates such as Stagecoach have developed. The logic is simple: there is no money in bus operations without a virtual monopoly. Such lack of competition is worrying and imposes increased costs on the passenger transport authority and executive. An economic regulator similar to the system that exists for rail is essential if bus transport is to play its proper role in an integrated transport system.

The dismantling of the UK rail system was another act of sheer vandalism. So far, we know that it has resulted in huge costs, phenomenal complexity, uncertainty and growing customer dissatisfaction. The establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority will provide a vision for the privatised railway, and through tough regulation—not deregulation—will make it more accountable to both passengers and freight customers.

On a more positive note, I shall highlight the considerable achievements of the region in transport terms. Greater Manchester has pioneered projects that are leading the way to the development of an integrated transport policy. As we all know, Greater Manchester is the home of Metrolink, the first modern street-running light rail system in Britain. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), who led Manchester city council at the time that it was introduced.

The first line, from Bury to Altrincham, was opened in 1992 at a cost of £145 million, jointly funded by the public and private sectors. The system—the track, equipment, trams and so on—is wholly owned by the passenger transport executive, but it is operated under a 15-year franchise agreement with the private sector.

Phase 1 runs on former British Rail lines to Bury in the north of the county through to Altrincham in the south. In Manchester, the line runs on-street through the heart of the city centre, for the first time providing rail access to the retail and commercial core, an essential function of any good transport system.

In 1997, 13.7 million journeys were made by Metrolink. The number is continually increasing and studies are being undertaken to examine options for further increasing the capacity of the fleet. If that figure is compared with the 7 million passengers carried on the British Rail lines that Metrolink replaced, the success of the system speaks for itself.

Metrolink appeals to car-owners as well. Studies show that it has replaced 2.6 million car trips on roads in Greater Manchester. The system has brought undoubted benefits to the local economy and has supported efforts to attract new business to the city centre and other town centres in Greater Manchester. It is crucial in the fight against traffic pollution and congestion.

The extension of the Metrolink system is the No. 1 priority. The county now has more developed plans for a full light rail network than any other conurbation and looks forward to its rapid development. Already the first extension to the scheme—the Salford Quays and Eccles extension—is under construction and should be completed by March 2000.

The next priority scheme, which affects my constituency, is the proposed extension to Oldham and Rochdale. I am pleased to see my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas) and for Rochdale (Lorna Fitzsimons) in the Chamber. Conversion of the existing rail route to Metrolink operation will bring about a major transformation, vastly improving reliability and accessibility to the town centres. Predictions are that use of the existing rail line could be increased 10-fold.

Work is continuing on the development of other extensions for the future—for example, to east Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyme, which will provide a substantial boost to the economic and environmental regeneration of east Manchester and Tameside, and provide world-class public transport links for the Commonwealth games. In south Manchester, the Manchester airport link will enhance economic development potential and improve access opportunities to the airport and surrounding area. I shall return to the subject of the airport.

I should also like to take this opportunity to mention the East Lancs rail line in my constituency, which is voluntarily run and managed. It has made a magnificent contribution to tourism in Bury and Rossendale. There is soon to be a Heywood link, which local business is interested in using for freight. The rail line would provide a regular link with the channel tunnel.

The development of a comprehensive bus corridor strategy has been designed to improve the attractiveness and quality of bus travel across the conurbation. Bus priority is essential to improve the reliability of bus services. Until they can be insulated from the effects of traffic congestion, they will never be reliable or attractive enough to entice people out of cars.

I should like to mention another initiative in my constituency. The Middleton traffic initiative is a voluntary transport study group which has produced plans, of which I know the Minister has had sight, to take heavy goods vehicles of more than 17 tonnes out of the town centre. It is important that further transport links do not cause unnecessary harassment or pollution. Traffic congestion caused by HGVs trundling through residential areas is a focus of political and community concern, and must be tackled. That is why the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, headed by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, is crucial.

As part of plans to upgrade the north-west's rail network, a Greater Manchester rail development and investment strategy is to be developed to improve the quality of services and ensure that the passenger transport authority is best placed to exploit the potential of rail in the context of the county's transport strategy.

We cannot debate transport without mentioning the North West Trains company's recent poor performance, which has prompted it to implement a programme of remedial action—known as the recovery plan—which will set a series of targets for rolling stock, driver availability and ticket office opening hours. I hope that it works. The message to Railtrack from this debate and from the House must be that we demand proper investment in the north-west line because it is important to improving the service in the area. The economy would benefit from early investment in north-west links with Eurorail and the channel tunnel. I noticed that a paper on the subject had been put in the Vote Office this morning, although I did not have the opportunity to read it before the debate. Such a link is essential.

Clearly, the task of developing Greater Manchester's public transport network is challenging and will involve securing essential integration of the range of services that passengers and the public generally want to be provided. In taking into account progress to date, including the development of initiatives, such as the integration project and the innovative quality partnership agreement, and proposals to extend Metrolink, which are important to Greater Manchester, I have every confidence that Greater Manchester is well placed to address the Government's objectives of a truly integrated transport network.

Manchester's municipal airport, which I believe is now the second busiest in the United Kingdom, was recently given leave to borrow in order to invest in further and improved transport links in and around the airport. It will be a major player in developing the economic heartland of the north-west and other regions. Such development would be supported by upgrading the west coast main line, rolling stock and subregional links. Further links to the east coast, better trans-Pennine links and links to Scotland and Wales are also desirable. Government support for those necessary transport links would benefit Manchester, Liverpool, Chester and Carlisle, as well as cities in the east, such as Sheffield, Leeds and Hull. Many surrounding towns and large rural areas could also benefit.

This is an important debate for the north-west. The region's economic prosperity depends on its complex transport links. There is no substitute for a properly planned, integrated transport strategy serving commuters, attracting tourists to the north-west's beauty spots—and taking them home again—and, of course, attracting and offering development opportunities to industry. We must plan to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the global economy, and at the same time, protect the environment and our communities. That is what we seek; that is what we hope the Government will support. I shall now end my remarks because I am aware that colleagues have important contributions to make to this debate.

11.15 am
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on bringing this debate before the House. It is important that all colleagues from the area are able to express views. I am grateful to him. I shall make two points, but will be as brief as I can because I recognise that others are waiting to speak.

As joint chairman, along with the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), of the all-party group concerned with the west coast main line ever since the group was formed, the matter has been dear to my heart for many years, as it has to the many other hon. Members whose constituencies are along the route. I am pleased to say that, after many years of slow progress, we are beginning, dare I say it, to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Which one?

Mr. Day


The west coast main line is very important, not only to Greater Manchester, but to constituencies beyond, such as Carlisle. The main body of manufacturing industry in the north-west of England is still largely based in Greater Manchester. I wish those involved in upgrading the line and providing the long overdue and much needed new rolling stock much success. It is a long awaited improvement.

Secondly, I should like to address a matter that is also dear to the hearts of my constituents, except much closer to home, and pertinent to the Government's integrated transport policy. I remember Jim Hacker in "Yes Minister" being desperate to avoid such a policy. It was passed around Westminster because nobody wanted to deal with it. I am still at a loss to understand what an integrated transport policy is. The only result that my constituents have thus far witnessed from this so-called policy, to their great disadvantage, is the cancellation of a bypass—a third of which has been built, but goes nowhere—for which they have waited 30 years.

I accept that the Government are involved in a study of the transport needs of the so-called south-eastern quadrant of Greater Manchester, in which the constituency of Cheadle falls. I wish the Minister luck in the exercise, although to me, it is rather pointless, as I am sure my constituents think, too. Officials in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions know full well of the need to complete the Manchester airport eastern link road. Its title says it all. The central section has been built, but it does not join the airport. How ridiculous!

The central section of the much-needed bypass was built because two shopping cities—one at Handforth Dean and the other at Cheadle Royal—invested money in it. That was fine, although the expectation was that the whole road would be completed. At the public inquiry into the MAELR, and the north-south A34(M), which has already been built, it was projected that, by 2000, the new shopping cities would result in my constituents suffering an extra 20,000 car movements a day. That figure has already been surpassed.

I say to the Minister that my constituents in Bramall, Woodford and Heald Green are suffering massive traffic flows to and from the airport. They feel that, under any integrated transport policy—whatever that may be and, once it is defined, whatever success it may have—they face nothing but increased traffic in the short term. It is absolutely essential at some point—even during the review—for the Minister to come to see for herself.

The people who live in certain roads in Woodford and in Heald Green cannot get their cars out of their driveways. Those roads were never intended to carry the volume of traffic that they are currently suffering. The whole roads system links up with the A6(M) Hazel Grove bypass—the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) will no doubt want to speak on that matter—and with the Poynton bypass, which is part of the eastern section of the Manchester airport eastern link road, for which we have been waiting 30 years and which is also missing.

It was planned that all that would, eventually, link up to the M60 circular route around Manchester, but, south of the M63, there is no direct east-west or south to north-west link to Manchester airport. I thank the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton for raising this matter.

Mr. Jack

Does my hon. Friend think that, because the Government claim to believe in joined-up government, there will be a commitment to the policy that he seeks for his local roads system?

Mr. Day

I hope that my right hon. Friend is right. I am not trying to make any clever points; I am simply appealing on behalf of my constituents, who desperately need the Minister to listen to what is being said. This whole project, if completed—the A6(M), the Poynton bypass and the MAELR linking up to the M60—would provide the strategic road links that the Greater Manchester area desperately needs, for all sorts of reasons.

I make a final plea. If we are to have an integrated transport policy, please will the Government make it clear that—although they want improvements in rail and want to move as much traffic from road to rail as they can, and although everyone sees sense in that—they do not, as a matter of principle, exclude road building from that policy. They should not exclude schemes that have already started, because that would leave nothing but a future of misery for people in the areas that are affected. I hope that the Government will allow my constituents to escape from that misery.

11.23 am
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin), not only on securing the debate but on his excellent speech. It covered not only his constituency, but the rest of the north-west.

I shall concentrate on the issues appertaining to Cumbria. We have the most excellent motorway anywhere in the country, and anyone who came over the Lancashire border—Lancashire is a fine county, I am sure of that—would be impressed, as they went through the Howgills and over Shap, by the Pennine hills on one side and the Lake district on the other. They would come to the historic city of Carlisle, which would be on the left as they went towards Scotland.

Although the M6 is excellent, it stops at Carlisle and becomes the A74. For nine miles, it is a dual carriageway all-purpose road. The Scottish Office is building a motorway to the border, but the road called the Cumberland gap is dangerous. People think that they are on the motorway but, all of a sudden, they see farm vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists on the road. That leads to accidents.

The previous Government took the road out of the road proposals, and even scrapped it at one point. I talked to a senior civil servant at the then Department of Transport, who said, "Of course, Mr. Martlew, this road goes nowhere." What he meant was that it went to Scotland, so it was not the Department's responsibility. Not filling the Cumberland gap would be nonsense, because it is a dangerous road, and completing it would mean that we would have a motorway link from Brighton on the south coast to Stirling. We must finish that nine-mile stretch to give us a first-class road on the west side of the country.

I understand that the Government have agreed that we should continue to consider upgrading the road to motorway standard, for at least the next three months. I am pleased about that. I accept that the Government have to make some savings on road building—everyone accepts that we cannot build roads in the way that we have previously—but we must continue with this road.

Cumbria county council, of which I was a member, is concerned about the detrunking of the A590, the A595 and the A7. I understand the logic behind the Government's thinking on detrunking, which is to give local authorities more influence and more power. There is concern over whether the money will come to the local authority with detrunking, but I am sure that it can. The county council's real concern is the reduction in a road's status following detrunking. These areas are trying to attract inward investment, and they are afraid that that will send the wrong message to organisations. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can reassure us on that issue.

The A66 is not in my constituency, but in that of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). There is no doubt, however, that the village of Temple Sowerby needs a bypass. Every year there is carnage on that stretch of the road. The previous Government failed to provide a bypass for that stretch of the A66; I hope that this Government will be able to do so.

In my constituency of Carlisle we are not very keen on building new roads. Hon. Members should consider our record over the past 50 years: we built half a ring road, but we realised that building the road was the wrong decision so we cancelled the rest of it. However, we need a north-west bypass. I understand that it may be built under a private finance initiative scheme. The vast majority of my constituents will welcome that, although certain individuals are concerned that the road may go through the corner of a nature reserve. My opinion is that the environmental problems created by not completing the bypass would be much greater than those that we will have if building goes on to the fringe of the nature reserve.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day)—who sits across the way and is co-chairman of the west coast main line all-party group—has mentioned some of the points relating to the west coast main line that we have debated. We do not get a good service on Virgin Trains, but I have travelled with it seven times this year and—touch wood—have never been late. It may be that the service is getting better, but it may be that I have been lucky. We have concerns—[Interruption.] From the noise made by hon. Members, I suspect that I have been lucky.

We are concerned that Railtrack is starting to downgrade the upgrade and will do it on the cheap. I hope that that is not the case, because it would affect the high-speed tilting trains that are due to be used on the west coast main line very soon. We are also worried about the point made in The Guardian recently about considerable disruption in the vicinity of Euston station because of the upgrade. That will obviously cause problems for residents.

There has been talk about a public inquiry. A public inquiry, as we understand it, would be a disaster for the west coast main line. It would mean years and years of delay and the economy of the north-west and Scotland could not stand that problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton did not have an opportunity to mention the Select Committee document on regional Eurostar services, which is now in the Vote Office. My hon. Friend the Minister may have seen it. According to the first sentence, the regions have been cheated. The document goes on to say that the House gave permission for the construction of the channel tunnel in the belief that all the regions would benefit from it. We have seen no benefit. We need an assurance from the Government—perhaps not today—that the regions will have direct access to Europe through Eurostar services on the west coast.

A Railtrack document that I saw recently said that there were plans to provide Eurostar services between Glasgow and Edinburgh and on the east coast. That would not satisfy hon. Members who are in the Chamber today. I understand that there are also safety problems with east coast services, but that west coast services could be up and running soon. I hope that the Minister will address the difficulties.

I welcome the debate, and hope that the present Government will make good what went wrong under the last. We have reasonable communications in Cumbria, but they could be better. We have a particular problem with the roads that go from west Cumbria to eastern England, and we hope that the Government will put things right.

11.31 am
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

I thank the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) for breaking ground for me by raising some of the issues that I want to put to the Minister. Our constituencies, on the south-eastern side of Greater Manchester, experience problems caused not just by congestion and commuters, but by renewed economic growth.

Traffic flows were mentioned by both the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) and the hon. Member for Cheadle. Manchester airport is expanding rapidly; it is clearly very successful, and it is planned to become even more successful with the opening of the second runway by 2005. It is anticipated that the number of passengers travelling to and from the airport will increase from 16 million to 30 million, and that there will an additional 30,000 jobs in and around it.

A sensible strategy has been devised to divert as many passengers and workers as is feasible to public transport: the target is 25 per cent., and a vigorous start has been made. It is, however, a challenging target, which will be difficult to achieve. The development of the Metrolink, the opening of the southern link to the airport railway station and the provision of many new rail and coach services to various parts of the country will all help.

Let me make a constituency plea. Even if all the targets are met, as I hope they will be, an extra 8 million passengers will be travelling by road to the airport following its expansion. If the 25 per cent. target is achieved, 22,000 of the 30,000 extra jobs will still be filled by people travelling by road. According to my calculations—I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister thinks differently—that means an extra 70,000 road trips per day in and out of the airport and the surrounding area.

As well as the severe congestion which—as the hon. Member for Cheadle pointed out—already exists, the opening of the second runway and the economic regeneration of the area will lead to an extra 70,000 road trips per day, even if the public transport strategy works to a T. Those of us who represent communities to the east of the airport—Hazel Grove, Bredbury and Romiley, for instance—face the prospect not just of passengers from our area and people with jobs at the airport travelling to it, but people whose homes are further to the east in Oldham, Tameside or even Sheffield using the conventional road system to filter through my area and that of the hon. Member for Cheadle and reach the airport.

In an intervention, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) hinted at the need for not just joined-up thinking, but joined-up roads to make the connection to the airport. This will allow the large majority of people who, according to any projection, will be using the road system to do so without destroying the local communities and environment.

In the past, Governments have recognised some of the needs. There are dotted lines on maps. Very shortly, the opening of the M60 link around the east side of Greater Manchester will provide a direct route from the M62 around the east of Manchester to the airport and the national motorway network on the west side of England. There is just one problem—the M60, as it passes through Stockport where for part of its length it has two lanes. It is already heavily congested during commuting times, and people use alternative routes, all of which run through my constituency. I am faced with the opening of a new motorway link from the M62 which points straight at the heart of my constituency, and, on the other side, I am faced with the Manchester airport eastern link road, which is partly finished and which also points straight at the heart of my constituency. In the middle is my constituency, with conventional, suburban, built-up roads that are already heavily congested, and will shortly experience the onslaught of new airport passengers and workers.

Mr. Day

Is it not important for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to accede to the requests that I understand will be made by both Stockport and Macclesfield borough councils for the western and eastern sections of the Manchester airport eastern link road, the Poynton bypass and the Hazel Grove bypass—the A6M—to remain a protected line of route?

Mr. Stunell

I agree. In fact, last Thursday Stockport metropolitan borough council decided to make that specific recommendation as part of its submission to the Minister. I have seen Lord Whitty—I know that the hon. Member for Cheadle has done the same—and talked to him about, in particular, the projected multi-modal study of the south-east quadrant of Greater Manchester, a tremendous mouthful. I gather that the study is due to start in the spring, and that it will take two years to produce a report. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. I do not know how long it will take to implement the report, but there will probably be considerably more delay before my constituents are relieved of their problems.

When I spoke to Lord Whitty, he gave me the clear impression that discussions would take place with local councils about the criteria for the study, and that they would have opportunities to be consulted and to participate. I have, however, heard from Stockport council the worrying suggestion that consultation on the criteria has not taken place, and is not projected to take place. Can the Minister assure me that it will?

Let me briefly make two points that were also made by the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton, and with which I entirely agree. One relates to the difficulties that First North West Trains seems to be having in providing efficient and effective commuter services for my constituents and, no doubt, his. I hope that the Minister will keep a sharp eye on the franchise of that company, as I know that the passenger transport authority is doing, to ensure that it performs to the level that it is required to do by its franchise, and can reasonably be expected to do.

I pick up the point that was made by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) relating to the Eurostar link. Last autumn, I wrote to the Minister and raised the issue of when Virgin's request to run Eurostar services would be considered. I understand that a review is going on. I had the impression that that would have reached a conclusion and that an announcement would have been made before Christmas. Unless I have missed it, I do not think that it has happened yet. Again, I ask the Minister whether that straightforward, simple step to improve our links with Europe and the rest of the world can be given an urgent push forward.

11.40 am
Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley)

I declare some old interests in transport. For a long period—13 years—I was a paid director of the Manchester Ship Canal Company and of Manchester Ship Canal Development, which eventually became a wholly owned subsidiary of Peel Holdings, which now owns Liverpool airport. I spent 13 years as a director of Manchester airport and 11 years as a member of the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on securing the debate and on the comprehensive review that he gave of transport in Greater Manchester and the north-west.

On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) made about Eurostar; I had the difficult choice of whether to come to the debate, or to go to the press conference to launch the report on Eurostar by the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. It is a fascinating report and I commend it to all hon. Members who are present. It says simply that the regions were conned during the debate on investment in the channel tunnel into believing that there would be some benefit to the regions from having regional rail services.

When we examined the witnesses, including witnesses from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, we found not only that there is no benefit at the moment because we do not have Euro regional Tail services to Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but that the witnesses did not know what the impact of the channel tunnel on current links was; nor could they project what the impact might be if such regional rail services started.

My guess is that, because of all the investment in the south-east, the effect of the channel tunnel has been negative on the regional economies, but no one knows because the work has not been done. It should be.

At present, hundreds of millions of pounds worth of Eurostar regional rolling stock is kept in the sidings doing nothing. There is a simple choice for the Government; either they take up Virgin's offer to run the services at no cost to the taxpayer—one can be sceptical about that; not everything that Virgin promises comes into being—or there needs to be a subsidy.

The decision that the Government came to in sorting out London and Continental's financial mess and in agreeing the deal that will complete the channel tunnel link into London has meant that that service cannot subsidise the regions, so either there needs to be a small subsidy, or a commercial operator needs to be put in place that will carry through the services.

That would benefit the regions, particularly if we allowed that service to carry passengers who were not going all the way. It would bring immediate benefit for those people travelling from the regions just into London or somewhere beyond.

Another aspect of transport in the north-west that I want to talk about is airport and aviation policy. I start with two facts. In 1996, 10 million passengers from the north of England travelled on international scheduled services. Of those 10 million passengers, 4 million—four out of every 10—were forced into the south-east system to make connections.

We do not know how many of those intercontinental passengers did not go into the south-east, did not catch their intercontinental flight from this country, but chose Schipol, Frankfurt, Paris, Copenhagen or another European hub. The statistics would be worse if we could get that information. The money associated with those flights was lost.

Another fact illustrates how we could benefit if those passengers used regional airports, whether it be Manchester or Liverpool. About three years ago, a comparative study was undertaken of the airports at Schipol and Manchester. It showed that, if we looked at the economy immediately surrounding Schipol and at the north-west economy, Manchester airport—we could throw in Liverpool airport for these purposes too—was carrying only about a third of the passengers that Schipol airport was carrying. That fact ties in neatly with the fact that many passengers have been forced into the south-east system and probably into other European hubs.

What can we do about that? I want to be positive; it was slightly negative to start off with the failure of Eurostar to benefit the regions. What can we do to improve the position of the assets of the north-west, which Manchester and Liverpool airports certainly are?

Two relatively simple things can be done to enable business and leisure passengers who want to travel from the north-west and do not particularly want to change planes in London to do so. First, the previous Government declared unilaterally an open-skies policy with America, so that American planes could fly in and take passengers. For regional airports, again, unilaterally, we should declare an open-skies policy—we have done it partially—so that foreign carriers can fly in and pick up passengers.

For sensible commercial reasons, British carriers want a hub in the south-east and it is in their interests to concentrate on the south-east. If they want to do that, that is entirely justified. We should however give passengers the right to get on to those carriers that want to fly in and out of regional airports. There would be an immediate benefit. When a previous Minister with responsibility for transport, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), agreed an open-skies policy with North America for the regions, there was, over a fairly short period, a gradual, but immediate increase in the number of flights by American carriers into Manchester airport.

The second thing involves a complicated legal issue and would need legislation. Manchester airport is a highly profitable company; now that Liverpool airport is owned by a positive, commercially active private company, things have improved enormously compared with the time when British Aerospace was in control. Manchester airport has one of the best profits to capital employed ratios of any company in the private or public sector, but because, effectively, it is only allowed to do those things that its owners are allowed to do by law—10 authorities own it—it cannot take full advantage of commercial partnership arrangements, for example, with Liverpool.

One of the first things that the Deputy Prime Minister did when he took up his post was to participate in the announcement by Manchester and Liverpool airports that they wanted to co-operate. Those airports may want to buy other airports, to go into joint marketing ventures, and to do what the rest of the transport industry is doing: amalgamating with bus and train companies. Certainly the separation that was there five years ago is no more. To do that, there has to be a change in the vires that freeze up Manchester airport and any similar airport, so that we can get the benefit of those changes in the law.

The old solution of the previous Government, which was that, if there is a problem, privatise it, would be completely wrong. Manchester airport would not be the success it is today had it been privatised 20 years ago. I am not saying that some privatisations have not been successful—they have—but the necessary long-term view of infrastructure investment would not have happened had there been short-term decisions.

Those are the solutions. I was heartened to hear that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister told the Select Committee that he had long advocated that northern airports should not be disadvantaged because of the interests of southern airports such as Heathrow. I take that to mean that he understands that there has to be an uncoupling of the negotiations around British Airways and Heathrow and access to Heathrow in the interests of the northern airports. If that happens, we will see huge benefits for the north-west, with the airports working together trying to benefit the entire region in a new legal framework.

There is a great deal of controversy about roads. Roads can bring economic advantages and disadvantages—we do not always know. They can take jobs away as easily as they can provide them. That is true of many other forms of transport investment, but it is not true of airports. There is a straight correlation between the number of passengers using an airport and the jobs created. In virtually every airport that has ever been studied in western economies—whether it is northern Europe or western Europe—for every 1 million passengers who fly through the airport about 1,000 jobs are created on site and about 1,000 are created in related industries close by. That is 2,000 jobs without saying anything about what is induced in the local economy because the business flier is able to fly in and out and invest. A complicated economic analysis is involved. There is no doubt that the growth of those airports is the fundamental driver of the north-west economy in the same way as cotton was important 200 years ago and engineering was important about 50 or 100 years ago. I hope that we can see some movement to support the growth of those airports.

11.52 am
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

The comments of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) about the importance of transport to the vibrancy of the north-west economy reflect what many hon. Members have said in their contributions. The comments so far represent many of the frustrations that we all feel when we are serving the interests of our constituents and trying to put right transport issues, which are vital if we are to achieve our common goal of wanting to see the north-west prosper in the future.

I have heard the M6 mentioned during the debate. I know that work is being undertaken to look at some of the remaining key pinch points on that route. To improve access to the north-west, either by car or lorry, the M6 must be upgraded in parts of the north-west, but not, I hasten to add, near Carlisle. At times, the road appears to be impassable. Its importance cannot be underrated and we should not forget it.

Many hon. Members have commented on the integration of transport. That is an aspiration to which we would all adhere. The ease with which one can move from one mode of transport to another is important, particularly if we are to make public transport a real option for car users. Preston, part of which is in my constituency, illustrates precisely some of the difficulties we face. The rail network is to the west of the town and the bus depot is sited at the north-east of the town. The idea of smooth integration such as that witnessed in, for example, Hammersmith in London, where one can go straight from the bus into the tube system, will remain a dream for Preston. If we are to address the traffic problems in Preston and on the Fylde coast and persuade people to use the railways and buses, that type of integration is the physical solution to which we must aspire. Inevitably, there will be further debates reflecting on that point.

I hope that the Minister might be able to say something about the possibility of eventually extending the M65 all the way to Yorkshire. The developments that have taken place are of enormous benefit but, as other colleagues have observed, although natural routeways exist there are gaps in the system. We are all acutely aware of the pressures on the M62, particularly at peak times, in linking that important north-west corridor to the ports on the east coast.

I endorse what many hon. Members have said about Manchester airport. On public transport, there is still a major education job to be done if we are to alert people to the real benefits of the alternative. Equally, providers must be educated to concentrate on quality issues. In many cases it is difficult to persuade car drivers, including me, out of their cars and on to buses. They realise that the bus will not provide them with the same degree of comfort as they are used to enjoying in their cars. There are bus designs now that are meeting that problem, and public transport providers should reflect on that.

I want to concentrate on a much more localised issue. I am delighted to see the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) in their places because I suspect that they will also want to talk about moss roads. Before people immediately leap to the conclusion that those are some sort of ancient green-covered routeway in the north-west, I shall explain that moss roads are the vernacular expression for a vital series of routeways that pass through the constituencies of Lancaster and Wyre—particularly the Wyre area—West Lancashire and my constituency of Fylde.

Recently, councillor Richard Toon, who looks after transport in Lancashire, made some comments to the local press under the heading: Crumbling roads face being shut". The fact that I am raising this issue and that other hon. Members may also choose to do so is an illustration of how long, under the previous Government and this Government, we have been making representations about the very special problems faced by this rural network of roads.

My research has shown that this type of road exists only in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Lancashire. In correspondence to me recently, the Minister tried to suggest that the roads were similar to those being affected by subsidence in mining areas. I acknowledge that there may be a special case in those instances, but there are special factors over and above the normal wear and tear that affect the rural network of moss roads.

One of the problems is that they are built on a foundation of peat and sometimes a combination of peat and sand. That oxidises because of the weather and time and, eventually, the roads are left sitting feet out of the ground while the land around them subsides. The substructure of the road is then incapable of supporting the carriageway. The next stage is the creation of what I would describe as a funicular railway effect. The roads go up and down and break up and the routeway is in danger of being destroyed. Long periods of dry weather can have a bad effect on the routeways, which are obviously beyond the control of man given the current technology.

In May last year the county council estimated that the cost of putting the roads right was about £32.6 million. The annual safety and maintenance figures alone amount to £400,000. That figure was further revised when the county's environment director noted that a sum total of £5.3 million had been spent on those routeways in the past seven years, but that they simply were not able to keep up with the problems. The new estimate for reconstructing that vital rural network of roads is now £43.5 million. Councillor Toon made what I thought was a telling comment when he said that simply patching them up is like throwing money away because they deteriorate at an enormous rate. That lies at the heart of this problem.

In total, we are looking at 47.5 km of this vital rural routeway in Lancashire, of which 22 km are in a severely distressed condition. In correspondence with me, the Minister attempted to argue that Lancashire should, like everywhere else, like it or lump it and use the money allocated to it under the standard spending assessment to look after the routeways. I am sure that the Minister understands that it is well beyond the county council's ability to look after the roads within the headroom given by the SSA. The construction of the general formula does not allow flexibility in recognition of such specialised local conditions. The Minister mentioned mining subsidence. That is also a special condition. Sometimes our nationally agreed formulae are too inflexible to recognise local problems. I am confident that the Government will be sympathetic to my arguments, particularly in the light of their stated intention to produce a new rural White Paper, one of the key themes of which will no doubt be the maintenance of good transport links in rural areas.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre—I call him my hon. Friend in this context because we work closely together on rural matters—will want to say something about the problems in his constituency if he is called, because I recognise that they are even greater than those in my constituency. The county's environment directorate has made it clear that the moss roads in Wyre, West Lancashire and Fylde are of the highest priority.

I should like to put on record my appreciation for the diligent way in which Mr. Graham Harding has represented the interests of moss roads to hon Members. In a letter to me on 22 May last year, he said: Those sections of the moss roads that have had major schemes in the last 10 years are deteriorating to such an extent that compared with 'normal' roads they would be considered to have no residual life and unsafe. The need for work on the moss roads is beyond what could be regarded as normal maintenance and should be regarded as 'small improvements' owing to the need to completely remove the moss road foundations of the existing carriageway and reconstruct these roads on the existing alignment. He goes on to point out that research is being undertaken on other similar road problems. He says: It is my understanding that the Highways Agency is looking for sites for recycling trials using secondary aggregates and it is a pity that, whilst an ideal site in the moss roads is also available the different sources of funding mean that it is not able to be pursued.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his positive comments. Does he agree that, while reconstruction of the moss roads is fundamental to the rural economy and the life of the rural community, the most important issue is road safety? He will be aware of an incident that happened two weeks ago yesterday in which some of his constituents may have been involved. A double-decker bus carrying 30 schoolchildren tipped over on one of the moss roads. Fortunately, it was saved by a telegraph pole, preventing serious injury to any of the children. Does he regard that as a warning to us all about the grievous consequences of not investing properly in the work?

Mr. Jack

I am grateful for that telling point. The mention of a busload of children shows the vital contribution that the network of rural roads plays in linking sometimes far-flung villages and those involved in farming and horticulture. If the Minister visits the north-west, it would be to her advantage if her officials could carve out a few moments for her to travel along such roads. Once she has seen them, understood their importance as transport links for rural Lancashire and witnessed how dangerous they are when they start to deteriorate, the point will be made.

The moss roads are a special case. This is special pleading. However, as the Minister has seen, there is agreement across the House that something must be done, even if in the first instance it is research by the Department into techniques to stabilise the roads and stop their deterioration. That would at least be a positive start to a programme to address that small but vital problem for many important parts of rural Lancashire.

12.5 pm

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

I realise that time is tight, so I shall cut what would have been a 10-minute speech to five minutes. I shall do my best to get as much in as possible.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) for securing the debate and congratulate him on his excellent speech. Transport links in the north-west are fundamental to our economy and our social fabric. The north-west has the second largest economy in the country. I welcome the Government's integrated transport strategy. The proposals are welcome in my constituency and throughout the north-west.

It would be a surprise if I did not speak about Halton. Many people accuse me of seeing it as the centre of the universe. There are plenty of important transport links in my constituency, including the Manchester ship canal, the M56, the M62, the major Mersey crossing, and the Bridgewater canal, with Liverpool airport on our doorstep. I shall focus on the Runcorn-Widnes bridge, which is the major transport issue in my constituency and in the Cheshire and Merseyside sub-region. My hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of the problems.

The crossing was built in 1961 and is taking far more traffic than it was designed for. It is one of the landmarks of the north-west. When it is lit up at night it is one of the finest sights around. However, in addition to the 17 per cent. traffic increase since 1991, it has major structural and maintenance problems. I am glad that the Government have recognised some of those and increased the amount that Halton borough council can spend on maintenance and improvements to the bridge.

The bridge is important for transport in the north-west and for the economy in Cheshire and Merseyside. Building a second crossing would create between 5,000 and 5,500 jobs and improve the local economy. The current bridge cannot cope. I am sure that our integrated transport policy will be successful, but it will not solve the capacity problems. There are three options—an eastern crossing, a western crossing and a central crossing. All have their merits and costs. We are trying to find out from the regional development association and the Government which would be the best option.

I favour the eastern crossing. It is not the most expensive, it would have the least environmental impact and it would link with the Runcorn busway. It is not possible to shut off one lane on either side of the current four-lane bridge to use as a busway. That would cause chaos in the region and on the M6. Such a suggestion would be nonsense. However, an eastern crossing would fit in nicely with a busway, which could be extended to Widnes and would sit well with the Government's integrated transport strategy.

The Runcorn busway is unique. It is regarded throughout Europe and the world as an example of how a busway could be. It covers 22 km around Runcorn, with housing, shops and businesses all close to it. It was intended to have a 50:50 split between public and private transport, but in reality only about 20 per cent. of work trips are made by bus. Improvements are needed in its structure and its environment. It needs safer bus stops and bus stations and must be made more attractive.

Halton Transport is one of the few municipally owned bus companies that makes a profit, providing modern, safe transport. It is an example of how the public sector can be a commercial success while providing an important public service.

The west coast main line passes through my constituency, with trains stopping at Runcorn station. The station is crucial to the economy in my area and the north-west generally. Virgin Trains has made a start and, in all fairness, has made some improvements, but it is still a long way from delivering the service that is needed. Putting up the prices and throwing in a few cheese croissants and a couple of drinks is not what I call an improved public service; but we shall see.

I have a letter from a company in my area about ticket pricing and the 9 o'clock deadline. The letter asks how the company's staff can be encouraged to use public transport rather than a car to go to London, when they face exorbitant prices for train travel, especially with the deadline at 9 o'clock, which is not the busiest time on the way back from London.

Runcorn station, which is well used, needs refurbishment, and I believe that there are plans for that. Widnes station is famous because Paul Simon wrote "Homeward Bound" on it; I do not know whether that was because in the 1960s Widnes reminded him of his home town or because he wanted to get away from it, but we have a little bit of faith.

Manchester airport has been discussed, and we should not forget Liverpool airport. It is important to develop links between the two. Liverpool is the fastest-growing regional airport in the country and provides an awful lot of jobs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) said, the expansion can produce a guaranteed 1,000 extra jobs. The airport has an environmental as well as an economic impact on my constituency, but it is a very important employer.

Transport is crucial for the improvement of the economy in the north-west, including my area and Merseyside and Cheshire. I am positive that the Government's approach will ensure success.

12.11 pm
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on securing this important debate, which has been very constructive. My appearance at the Dispatch Box should not be taken as lending any credence whatever to rumours that have been circulating recently in the press; it is my first appearance and could easily be my last. This issue is vital for the north-west and I am delighted to be here to represent Her Majesty's Opposition on a matter of such importance to our region.

Both Government and Opposition Members have spoken eloquently in support of projects and improvements that are vital to our regional economy and to our constituents' quality of life. Our region's prosperity has been built on trade; without effective transport links that trade and that prosperity will die.

There has been good news over the years, and we should not forget that; it is easy in a debate such as this to list only the problems. The good news includes the success of the port of Liverpool in recent years. Many people forget that the port of Manchester still handles 9 million tonnes of freight per annum. The Metrolink has already been referred to, first by the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the west coast main line; decades of underinvestment under public ownership have given way to some hopeful signs of major investment and a prospect of serious improvement. Billions of pounds of private money are going into upgrading the track and Virgin Trains is spending £1.3 billion on new trains. There is already more freight on the railways than in the dark days when British Rail was even found on occasion to be persuading companies not to move freight by rail, because it found it inconvenient to handle it.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) referred especially knowledgably to Manchester airport. It is a great success story for the region and is vital to the development of the regional economy. It has been said that the airport is set to double its number of passengers and of employees, and it is essential that it should be allowed to thrive and prosper.

There are, however, real problems for the region. Transport links must be improved for the benefit of tourism and the area's service industries, as well as the manufacturing sector, which has perhaps the more obvious need. The Engineering and Marine Training Authority has estimated that north-west engineering companies are the least likely to export: 36 per cent. against a national average of 45 per cent. That must be improved if we are to increase our region's prosperity, and we need improved transport links to do that, not only within the north-west but on the essential routes linking us with other parts of the United Kingdom.

The north-west is important not only in itself but as part of a transport link to Scotland, as the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) said, and to Northern Ireland. Transport links across the north-west to the Irish sea ports are vital if we are to have lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Much of the north-west's strategic transport system is choked and congested. The new Government have increased fuel duty, which was already high, and will take £9 billion more from motorists in this Parliament, but the roads programme has been slashed and investment in public transport is frozen. The Deputy Prime Minister recently repeated projections that traffic will grow by a third in the next 20 years, and meanwhile people are paying dearly for the privilege of sitting in queues on the M6.

Road signs on the M60 and connecting roads are scruffy and illegible and vital road improvements have been cancelled or kicked into the long grass for further studies. The old, transparent cost-benefit analysis has been cast aside in favour of choices that often appear inconsistent and irrational. Some very important road schemes have been cut, including the improvement of junctions 12 to 18 on the M60 and junction 6 of the M62.

The A6(M) Stockport bypass was referred to earlier, and the A555 Poynton bypass is crucial to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day). Perhaps the most important of all is the improvement and completion of the Manchester airport eastern and western link roads. The hon. Member for Carlisle mentioned the A590 in Cumbria, which is also of key concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins).

Studies have been ordered into necessary road schemes and into M6 capacity problems. The Minister does not need studies to know about those problems.

Mr. Dawson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brady

I would very much like to, but I am afraid that I have very little time, as I am keen to leave time for the Minister to respond.

To study the capacity constraints on the M6 one needs merely to drive up it and experience the bottlenecks at numerous points. There is also a study into congestion in the south-east quadrant of Manchester. Improvements are urgently needed and should be started without delay. The M6 was designed to carry between 70,000 and 80,000 vehicles a day but it is already carrying more than 140,000. As 90 per cent. of exports from the north-west travel through the west midlands, that transport link must be improved for the health of our economy.

I could not conclude my remarks without referring to the Birmingham northern relief road, which is essential not only to the north-west but to the west midlands. It has been termed the single most important strategic highway in the United Kingdom, and I endorse that. These congestion problems must be tackled as a matter of urgency.

Several hon. Members mentioned the airport link roads. They are of great importance to the local communities in Bramhall, Poynton, Woodford, Heald Green and Hazel Grove, as well as to the economy of Manchester and the north-west generally. Without a proper infrastructure providing links to the airport at a time of rapid growth, the region's economic development will be hindered. It is essential that the road schemes should be completed.

The Minister has been asked many questions, and I will remind her of one or two. The Birmingham northern relief road is perhaps the most important strategic link for our region. Further improvements are needed along the M6, and not only on the section leading up to Carlisle and on to Scotland; for many, indeed all, of us, it is perhaps even more important that the bottlenecks all along the M6 are tackled. The road links to the airport—without which the airport's growth and development will be a problem and a hindrance to local communities, rather than a benefit—have been mentioned. Clarity in the proposed arrangements for the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services would be helpful, and we need proper safety guarantees at a time when the airport may be disrupted by safety concerns.

As a Member who represents the north-west, I would be delighted to continue raising concerns about the region. However, I am conscious of the desire of all Members to hear the Minister's response, to which I look forward as well.

12.20 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box—although I regret that his appearance did not confirm some of the stories circulating in the press. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on obtaining this important debate. I feel I should declare an interest, as I was born and raised in the north-west.

All hon. Members have underlined the importance of transport—and particularly integrated transport systems—to employment, regeneration and the protection of our environment. Many issues have been raised, not least the west coast main line, Eurostar services and regional airports. The west coast main line was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton and for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day).

Railtrack has announced a £1.35 billion improvement of the west coast main line as part of the modernisation process. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, who has been reading stories about modernisation being done on the cheap, that I will certainly raise his concerns with the Health and Safety Executive. There can be no reduction in or infringement of the safety requirements on our railways.

Eurostar was referred to by several hon. Members, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). My hon. Friend serves on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, and the Government welcome the Committee's recent report. We intend to consider carefully its recommendations and, of course, we will publish a full response in due course.

We expect the report to contain the criteria for the review that we are commissioning on Eurostar regional services. The Government believe—as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has made clear on many occasions—that people living beyond London should have convenient and effective access to the channel tunnel rail services. That is why we are undertaking an independent review of those services, and we will make further announcements soon on that issue of national importance.

What has come out of this morning's debate is the remarkable difference between the approach of the Government to the issues of transport and integration and the lamentable failures of the previous Administration. Much has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the particular difficulties within their constituencies—a point made by the hon. Members for Cheadle and for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell). They referred to the unbearable congestion and inevitable pollution that impacts upon their constituents because of the complete failure of the previous Administration, over 18 years, to begin to tackle the difficulties caused by the belief that the solution to all our transport difficulties was the old predict-and-provide system. They refused to acknowledge the fact that improving roads exclusively simply increased traffic.

The Government have moved markedly away from that benighted approach, and that is the reason for our integrated transport strategy. However, it is not just a matter of policy. We are giving practical funding to local authorities to ensure that their local transport plans can bring into play the necessary integration to ensure that we make the best possible use of existing infrastructure, and begin to move away from the idea that only one form of transport infrastructure can possibly meet this nation's economic and environmental needs.

We have envisaged an important planning and co-ordinating role at a regional level—for all regions. We have proposed that regional planning guidance should include a regional transport strategy. That will be a key task for a north-west regional assembly. The strategy will set out regional priorities for transport investment, including the role of trunk and local roads.

At this point, I confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle that detrunking is by no means equivalent to demoting. Local authorities have been arguing for a considerable time that they would like to take on the responsibility for those roads, and that is the subject of discussions. My hon. Friend also referred to finance, and we envisage a time when the whole life-costs of a road will be considered during the detrunking process.

Another recurring theme of the debate this morning was the importance of regional air services—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley. He will be aware that the Government have announced a series of regional air studies—the fourth of these, which will examine regional air services in the north-east, the north-west and York and Humberside, will be announced shortly. He was right—as were other hon. Members—about the importance of our airports, but even more importantly, the importance of surface access to them; a point made by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove.

We are asking regions to work together, and we must get away from the idea that local authorities must argue exclusively for their own concerns, because those can impact upon contingent local authorities. Much good work, however, has been done in the north-west.

Mr. Day

During the review of transport needs in the south-east quadrant of Greater Manchester, would the Minister be willing to visit the problem areas that have been identified in the debate? Will the requests from Macclesfield borough council and Stockport borough council for protection of the line of route of the roads referred to in the debate be looked upon favourably?

Ms Jackson

In terms of my possible visit to the sites, that is highly unlikely in the immediate to short term, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman on both of those issues.

It will be important for a regional strategy to take account of all the transport studies that have been referred in the debate when considering an integrated transport strategy for the region. That is very much the thrust of our White Paper. We must get away from the blind wisdom that said that we could build roads to meet ever-growing demand. We must have longer-term, sustainable solutions, and that is the message we are receiving from the travelling public. That was the clear message from the extensive consultation that we undertook prior to publishing our White Paper.

We must reduce dependency on the car, and switch to more sustainable transport modes—train, bus, cycling, walking. Our aim is to increase choice for all by improving alternative modes of transport to secure sustainable mobility. Emphasis is very much on a package of measures. There is no big idea to solve all the problems of transport and the environment—the problems are complex. That was a recurring theme of all the speeches that we have heard. A range of different solutions tailored to local circumstances will be needed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We must move on to the next debate.