Mark lobbies for relief road in special debate

June 8, 2006 3:08 PM
By Mark in House of Commons

• I'm grateful for the opportunity today to raise one of the most important issues facing my constituency but one that also affects the wider South Manchester and Cheshire sub-region as a whole.

• Following the government's roads review in 1998, long-held plans for three new road schemes in the South East Manchester area were re-considered as part of the government's multi-modal study for the North West region. The three roads were (and are): the completion of the Manchester Airport Link Road West, a new Poynton bypass and an A6 Hazel Grove bypass. The three roads are all interlinked and - together - make up what is commonly referred to as the SEMMMS/A555 relief road. It's not a catchy name I admit, but its importance to our area is immense.

• The plans for these roads - in various different forms - have been on the cards for decades. Indeed the route of the relief road within my constituency has enjoyed protected planning status for around 60 years and large numbers of houses and businesses in the locality have been shaped around those plans.

• So members - I hope - will appreciate the patience displayed by local people in my own and neighbouring constituencies as a succession of MPs - including my predecessor Patsy Calton and the honourable member for Hazel Grove who is here this afternoon and who I'm sure will be giving his views on the importance of the scheme to his constituency - all of whom have fought doggedly to keep the relief road high on the agenda and to deliver - finally - a transport network that is fit to meet the needs of our communities.

• Since the completion of the SEMMMS strategy five years ago, Stockport Council and its neighbouring authorities in Manchester and Cheshire have invested considerable resources, time, effort and expertise into developing the road scheme. This represents one of those rare tri-partite alliances at a political level but has also involved considerable co-operation on a professional basis too. And I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by staff in the various local authorities who have been involved in developing the scheme. They have shown the kind of ambition, joined-up thinking and professionalism which has brought out the best in local government. And I hope the Minister will be able to confirm the fact that they have co-operated with requests from the Department for Transport for information and analysis at EVERY stage of this long process and that their commitment to the overall project is unquestioned.

• In addition, the government itself has put substantial funding into various aspects of the SEMMMS strategy and local transport schemes to support the wider aims of the project. The public transport and regeneration improvements have been welcome and are testament to the multi-modal nature of the project.

• There are - however - two gaping holes in the SEMMMS strategy which I believe will ultimately determine the success of the policy and with it, traffic conditions in the community for a generation and more. The first is the extension of the Metrolink tram network about which many of us have strong feelings, but which I shall leave for a different debate. The second is the relief road.

• As we debate this issue this afternoon, Stockport council have been in the process of re-submitting further technical and financial details to the Department for Transport - as requested - in advance of a final decision this autumn. We have therefore reached an absolutely critical stage of the process. And as decision day looms, I am grateful for the opportunity to put the case in favour of the road to the Minister and I hope she will be able to take on board the views expressed this afternoon.

• The case in favour of the relief road is substantial to say the least. For example, consultation with residents and other stakeholders on the SEMMMS strategy overall and, more recently, on the relief road itself has been thorough and its results extremely positive. Environmental studies have been carried out in a meticulous fashion. The key local authorities involved have co-operated with the Department for Transport's funding criteria and an expression of interest for a PFI bid was submitted to that end. And on the finer details of the road itself - traffic analysis, the organisation of junctions, use of land and consideration for other road users such as cyclists, public transport and pedestrians - no stone has been left unturned in developing the best possible solution.

• With all this work, it is my firm belief that a compelling and outstanding case has been made for the construction of the relief road. It will provide value for money and it will enhance the quality of life for many thousands of residents and millions of commuters.

• In the meantime, the scheme has received the backing of local, sub-regional and regional partners all of whom recognise the importance of the relief road. The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce are supportive of the plans; Manchester Airport - a key economic driver for our region - is in favour; the regional assembly have emphasised the strategic importance of this road not just to South Manchester but to the North West region as a whole; and - most importantly - local people who know the roads best are overwhelmingly in favour of the scheme. At the last major consultation, approval rates were around the 90% mark.

• Throughout this long process, I have repeated on many occasions that a policy to try and build your way out of trouble in relation to traffic congestion is not - by itself - the solution. That is precisely why this scheme has been designed NOT to attract extra traffic on to it, but to deal with existing levels in a more sensible and efficient way and also why it is an integral part of a wider package of public transport improvements, including Metrolink. The simple fact is that the South East Manchester area has a road network that never has, and never will be able to cope with its volumes and patterns of traffic. Previous governments have both ignored and compounded the situation but Ministers have now been presented with an ideal opportunity to correct and improve matters.

• If further evidence of the unsuitability of the current network is required, one only has to look at the existing A555 airport link road as an example. In short, the A555 at present represents a colossal waste of public money insofar as it represents the central section whose beginning AND end were never built. Christened by local people as the 'Road to Nowhere', it is a monument to bungled, short-term transport planning and its legacy has been to funnel congestion through Heald Green, Bramhall, Woodford and Poynton to name just a few. And with that congestion has come damage to the quality of life for people living in those areas.

• Residents in Cheadle constituency put up considerable opposition to the Road to Nowhere at the public inquiry 15 years ago and they were right to do so. I also believe they are right now in their support for the relief road and the need for its urgent completion.

• But the benefits of the scheme as proposed go much further. There are so many roads in Cheadle constituency that simply were not designed to carry the weight of traffic that currently passes over them and has such a negative impact on the quality of life locally. They they include:

• Finney Lane and Wilmslow Road in Heald Green;

• Jackson's Lane, Bramhall Lane South and Woodford Road in Bramhall

• the A34 at Gatley;

• And that's not even to mention the knock-on effects felt in other communities such as Cheadle and Cheadle Hulme or at locations such as the A6 between Stockport and Hazel Grove - one of the busiest bus corridors in Europe and a transport route that all too often resembles one enormous, polluting car park.

• Of course, the South East Manchester region is not alone in facing severe traffic congestion and we're not alone in lobbying for major improvements as I'm sure the Minister can verify.

• I DO - however - believe that our plan is unique in being a long-term, sustainable scheme and it is my firm belief - shared by so many others - that it deserves approval from the Department for Transport. To the best of my knowledge, no other scheme has been in the planning for so long as well as having so much support from so many sections of the community.

• There is a vast array of information that has been made available to the Department for Transport on this scheme - much more than we could possibly do justice to in the short time we have this afternoon. On traffic flows, junction design, environmental factors, public transport integration, consultation, cost-benefit analysis and much more. And on every count, the SEMMMS/A555 relief road comes out positively. In addition, Ministers have made themselves available to speak to me and other members over the years about the importance of the scheme and I thank them for that. Without wishing to tempt fate, I have always found their attitude to the scheme to be positive and their responses, constructive if slightly more non-committal than I would have liked.

• But - as I've already said - I simply don't believe there is a transport project out there which has jumped through so many governmental hoops, overcome so many obstacles and has the backing of such a wide group of interested parties as this relief road. It isn't a cheap project - and as we continue to await the government's response, costs will inevitably creep upwards. But its benefits to our region mean it is worth fighting for.

• The Minister and the government have been presented with the chance to deliver a visionary, ambitious and truly integrated transport strategy for our region. I implore the government to seize this unique opportunity and approve the road. My constituents and many, many others are depending on it.

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