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Transport: Glossop and High Peak

– in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 25th February 2016.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Simon Kirby.)

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak 5:02 pm, 25th February 2016

This is the second time that I have called a debate on the roads in and around Glossop, and I make no apology for debating the subject again in the Chamber. I have called a second debate tonight because of the events of recent weeks, when the inadequacy of these roads has created more misery for my constituents. Such is the strength of feeling about the matter among people who live in the High Peak, particularly in Glossop, that there is now a petition on the parliamentary website created by my constituent, David Saggerson. As we know, such petitions will trigger a debate if they receive 100,000 signatures. I did not want to wait for that so I am using the Adjournment debate mechanism to hold the debate that almost 3,000 people have already signed up for.

It was recently reported that the viewing figures for the BBC Parliament channel had hit an all-time high. If those figures were measured again tonight around Glossop, and perhaps also in Stalybridge and Hyde, I am sure they would be even greater. That is not because of my constituents’ desire to follow every word and deed of their Member of Parliament—I wish that were so—but it is testament to the desperate need felt in and around Glossop for a solution to the deplorable situation facing residents as they attempt to go about their everyday business. I feel sure that following tonight’s debate, the Minister’s and my own Twitter feeds will see a significant increase in traffic, as will my Facebook page.

In the time allowed, I cannot begin to convey the frustration felt by my residents about this issue, but I intend to try. From our previous conversations I know that the Minister is aware of the situation, but I shall add some background and context. The Mottram-Tintwistle bypass has become almost as fabled as the Loch Ness monster. Governments of all colours have threatened and promised to deliver it and have conspicuously failed. When I was first elected in 2010, I was conscious of the need to promise my best efforts to deliver this badly needed and much delayed road. I and Jonathan Reynolds put aside our political differences and joined forces in an attempt to sort the issue out once and for all.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Labour/Co-operative, Stalybridge and Hyde

I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate, which will be genuinely appreciated in our part of the world. I appreciate the opportunity we have had to work together constructively to make progress on the issue. In 2010, in a difficult financial climate, we were told that this was not a viable option, yet we have been able to make progress, for which I am extremely grateful, as are my constituents. I also want briefly to thank the Minister. We have dealt with many roads Ministers over the years, but I have always found the current one attentive and genuinely serious about trying to help us. I know that he is planning to visit us very soon, which I appreciate.

The recent problems around Glossop are absolutely untenable, even for a part of the world that is used to congestion. The situation in Broadbottom, Mottram and Hollingworth was unbearable while the roadworks were taking place. The only answer is a bypass. There are two points that I hope the hon. Gentleman will address in his speech. First, the bypass must go around Hollingworth as well as Mottram; that is the comprehensive solution we need. Secondly, we need the consultation to begin as soon as possible.

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

I completely agree. Politically, the hon. Gentleman and I are miles apart, but on this matter we are in total agreement, as we will continue to be.

In 2010 the hon. Gentleman and I gathered together the key organisations and commissioned our own study, which we managed to get funded, to produce evidence that would confirm what we both knew to be obvious, as did the people of Glossop, Stalybridge and Hyde, which is that the situation then, as now, was unacceptable. The roads are simply not up to the needs of our residents. In the ensuing time we have pursued the matter relentlessly, both together and independently. That culminated in a meeting I had with the Chancellor at No. 11 Downing Street, during which I impressed on him the seriousness of the problem and how we could not ignore it any longer as it was only going to get worse.

In late 2014 I was delighted that, following our work, the Government announced the building of the Mottram Moor link road and the A57 link road, which is known locally as the Glossop spur. It was not the full solution that I have campaigned for—I will refer to that later—but we were promised that a study would be done to examine extending it to deal with the problems faced at Tintwistle in my constituency and Hollingworth in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. On that point, I strongly argue that the scheme should indeed be extended, along the lines of the original Mottram and Tintwistle bypass plan put forward years ago, because we need that for those two small villages.

I realise that the Minister will not have the intimate knowledge of the area that I do. I could embark on a long description of the road networks, the junctions and the geography, but by happy coincidence he will be visiting High Peak tomorrow, and I am looking forward to showing him the situation at first hand. Seeing it for himself will demonstrate the problem far better than any description I could give tonight. I would like to thank him in advance for visiting High Peak. Tonight I want to try to impress upon him a sense of the difficulties being faced, the impact they are having on my constituents and the urgency of the issue. In order to do that, I need to relate some of the happenings of the past few weeks.

The town of Glossop and the surrounding area are home to over 30,000 people. Despite being in the east midlands, Glossop very much faces Manchester and the north-west, for employment, leisure and many other facets of life. Consequently, there is a huge volume of traffic that heads in and through Glossop as people travel to, from and between Greater Manchester and Sheffield. There are only two effective roads heading north from Glossop to Manchester, one of which relies on a single-track bridge that was never designed to carry significant amounts of traffic. The fact that it is even considered by motorists, let alone used, proves the point I am making about the existing roads.

However, due to the congestion on the main route out of town, that route north has become a well-used alternative—until earlier this month, when a burst water main washed away the road surface in the village of Charlesworth, forcing its closure. The consequences were catastrophic. I received many emails from constituents, some of whom were leaving home well before dawn just to get out of Glossop and get to work for 9 am, and they were facing similar travel times when trying to get home. Indeed, when I was trying to get to Stalybridge one Friday evening I was forced to take a detour of several miles to complete the journey.

The closure of what is, in effect, only a back road pretty much gridlocked Glossop, and indeed the whole area, for over a week. I was informed that the chaos was such that a child who had suffered a seizure in Glossop and who needed an urgent ambulance faced an unacceptable delay, purely because of the blocked roads, so this catastrophic situation could easily have turned into a tragedy.

A further complication that week was the cancellation of trains, which meant that more cars went on to roads that were already overburdened. However, I must stress that the Minister should not think that last week’s traffic problems were the cause of the problem; they were only the result of the contributory factors I have outlined, and they only exaggerated an already truly unacceptable situation.

Earlier this week, the M62 was blocked. Yet again, trans-Pennine traffic looking for an alternative route was forced on to the Woodhead Pass, which converges with the A57 just outside Glossop. The ensuing traffic chaos caused traffic jams going back huge distances, snaking through Tintwistle and several miles beyond.

I want to focus briefly on Tintwistle, which the Minister will visit tomorrow. A constituent, Vicky Mullis, who is a resident of Tintwistle, invited me to meet the village’s residents to talk about the problems it faces. As the Minister will see tomorrow, they feel their houses physically shake as heavy goods vehicles thunder past, literally a few feet from their front doors. Furthermore, when the traffic backs up, as it did earlier this week, cars resort to taking short cuts through the village to try to get in front of the other traffic—they are using the roads as a rat run. I am trying to convince Derbyshire County Council, as the highways authority for those roads, to take action. Thus far, it seems somewhat impervious to my protestations, but I will continue.

That is why I still fully support looking at extending the proposed scheme. The scheme does much for Glossop and for parts of the constituency of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. However, it does nothing for Tintwistle, so the extension is as crucial as going ahead with the two link roads already in the programme.

There are more factors we can take into account when we consider the need for this solution. Significant planning consents have recently been granted in Glossop. That will increase the population and thereby increase traffic levels.

The imminent withdrawal of the 394 bus service from Glossop to Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport—I and my hon. Friend William Wragg are trying to find ways to preserve the route—could move more constituents who have cars on to the roads. I could use more of the debate to talk about the 394 bus alone, because a lot of constituents are contacting me about it, and they alarmed at the loss of that vital service. However, I want to return to the issue of traffic and to look at the economic consequences.

At the moment, a wide range of businesses operate in Glossop, covering various forms of industry, manufacturing and services, and we are always looking to attract more. However, the ongoing traffic difficulties are making it increasingly difficult to get businesses to open in Glossop. It is a thriving, fantastic town, and it is in a great position, but people are looking at it and thinking, “Hang on. How am I going to get my customers and clients in and out of the town?” They are now thinking twice about coming to Glossop and bringing in more jobs.

On top of that, I have spoken to companies based in Glossop that are really beginning to think that the traffic is suffocating the town. I fear that they we will not only not get new businesses in, but lose the businesses we already have, because they will move elsewhere as a result of the inaccessibility.

On a wider point about the economy, the A628 Woodhead Pass is a significant route connecting the east and the west of the country. I applaud the Chancellor for his work on the northern powerhouse, and it is a great initiative, but for it to work properly the two ends of the powerhouse—the east and the west, Sheffield and Manchester—need to link up. The route-based strategy on the M62, which was produced some time ago, already flags up the fact that the M62 is nearing capacity. That increases the significance of the A628 as a trans-Pennine route. If we look at other trans-Pennine routes, we see that there is the A69 in the north and then the M62; the next one down is the A628. All this congestion is therefore blocking a vital artery connecting the east and the west, and I have a welter of statistics and evidence to prove that. I know the Minister will have seen it, because some of it comes from studies carried out by his own Department. I have tried to encapsulate the situation as best I can in the time allowed. Much will become clearer tomorrow when the Minister visits, but I do want to impress on him the seriousness of the situation.

I am delighted that the Government agreed to build this road. It was announced in December 2014. The Prime Minister himself, in an answer to me at Prime Minister’s Question Time, confirmed that a future Conservative Government would build the road. I was delighted with that. I have that copy of Hansard pinned on my office wall to remind me what we have promised, and I intend to deliver on that promise if we can. However, the delight and expectations that were raised in late 2014 are turning into frustration because the wait goes on. In Glossop, it is now not just the Government’s reputation that is at stake; I have made a commitment to my constituents, and I am determined to stick to it. I keep repeating this, but I cannot stress it enough: I cannot begin to describe the groundswell of public opinion on this matter.

Many people across Glossop will be watching this debate tonight. They will watch it later on YouTube or whatever medium they want to use. Two constituents, Robert McColl and his son Kallen, have travelled down here specially to be in the Public Gallery to listen to this, such is the desire of the people of Glossop to sort the problem out and sort it quickly. We know that one part of the road is going to be built—the two relief roads. That is great, because we need that extended scheme for the people of Tintwistle and of Hollingworth in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. I urge the Minister—I have known him for years, and he is a man of honour and integrity—to give my constituents, and indeed me, some hope that this process can be conducted quickly and with urgency so that we can see spades in the ground as soon as possible.

It is now quarter past 5 on a Thursday evening. If this was live on the radio, there would be people sat on the A57 and the A628, and sat around Glossop, listening to it, saying, “Minister, let’s hear what we want to hear. We need this road, we’re sat in this traffic, we’re starving the town, we’re starving High Peak.” I do not exaggerate: this is the biggest single issue facing the Glossopdale area. If it is not resolved, it will have catastrophic effects on everybody. The people of Glossop and I are desperate—we cannot carry on like this any longer.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:17 pm, 25th February 2016

I congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Bingham on securing this debate. He is a great champion for his constituency and has made his case with his customary eloquence and passion. I am thoroughly looking forward to visiting his area tomorrow morning.

Let me start by putting the transport agenda as a whole into some overall context. Transport really does boost our economy. It connects us, gives us more choice about where we work and live, and creates jobs. Well-maintained roads and motorways are an essential part of a modern vibrant economy. That is why in December 2014 the Government launched the road investment strategy, which outlines how £15.2 billion will be invested in our strategic roads between now and 2021. This is the biggest upgrade to our strategic roads in a generation.

The Department for Transport clearly recognises how important improved connectivity and better journeys are for Glossop and High Peak. That is why the road investment strategy contained several proposals in the area. Collectively, this package will address congestion and improve journey times between Manchester and Sheffield, as well issues to do with the safety and resilience of the route. The routes between Manchester and Sheffield provide a key connection between two of our most important northern cities, and Glossop is a key town on that route.

Currently the journey times and the performance of the connecting roads compare most unfavourably against similar routes. It is not just Glossop we must consider, but Mottram, Hollingworth and Tintwistle, which are also heavily dependent on the A57 and A628. I understand that elements of the route, particularly the A628, experience delays and have a poor safety record, impacting on the communities on the route and on the environment of the Peak District national park as a whole. The communities in High Peak endure high levels of traffic throughout the day and consequently suffer unduly from air pollution and noise. Economic activity in the area, as my hon. Friend has so eloquently said, is also inhibited by the lack of capacity on the roads.

The proposals in the road investment strategy will improve conditions for Glossop and Mottram. Highways England is exploring how the benefits might also be extended to Hollingworth and Tintwistle. I will personally take up the issue with Highways England and make sure that it sees a transcript of this debate and hears the concerns expressed so eloquently by my hon. Friend.

The direct route by road from Glossop to Manchester is principally the A57 and, for a 5-mile-long section, the M67. The section of the A57 used to reach the M67 is an entirely single-lane highway that passes through the very busy town of Mottram. In the other direction to Sheffield, the A57 winds its way through the Peak District national park along the appropriately named Snake Road or Snake Pass. The A57 in both directions is busy throughout the day and, given that it features extensive lengths of single-lane road, is extremely vulnerable to delays caused by congestion or accidents that can block it. Given the location, the A57 is also very vulnerable to adverse weather conditions.

Anybody who lives in the midlands or the north of England will know that there have been long-standing calls for improvements to connectivity. We have heard those calls and have provided a package of proposals that will significantly improve the road journey between Manchester and South Yorkshire.

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

The Minister has talked at length about the A57, but will he also mention the A628, particularly the Woodhead Pass, which people will have heard of because the traffic is always being mentioned on the radio? The A628 converges with the A57 just outside Glossop and is another significant trans-Pennine route that goes to Barnsley. For those travelling on the M1 from the south, the signpost to Manchester will guide them to the A628, which then converges with the A57.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I plan to use the A628 to reach him tomorrow morning. I have already planned my route, so I understand his point.

We recognise that the routes need substantial improvement to meet the needs of the local economy and the environment and to better fulfil their role in our national transport network. That relates to trans-Pennine connectivity and we should not forget that, as well as serving local communities and businesses, the routes also play a broader national role.

The trans-Pennine upgrade programme seeks to improve journeys through a number of schemes, including a new dual carriageway creating a Mottram Moor link road; a new single carriageway link from Mottram Moor to Brookfield; further dualling on the A61; and climbing lanes on the A628. A number of other smaller measures will also be put in place to address the accident blackspots. We are very aware of the specific environmental protections that are in place in and around those locations, including special areas of conservation and sites of special scientific interest. We will, therefore, work closely with the national park authority.

For any proposals to go ahead, they will need to be sensitively designed and their potential impacts will have to be properly assessed and understood so that the improvements are in keeping with the significance of the park’s protected landscape. As part of the process of developing and delivering the investment, consultation will take place with local communities and stakeholders. That will include the scope and viability of further improvements and extensions to the Mottram Moor link road that would alleviate the issues faced in Tintwistle and Hollingworth. Highways England has been developing options for each of those schemes, to determine how best to meet the transport needs of the local communities while addressing environmental and other concerns. That balance needs to be achieved. Early consultation with key stakeholders such as the local authorities, utilities companies and the Peak District national park authority is already informing the development and assessment of the options.

I anticipate that a full public consultation will commence in April 2017, and the next step would be to submit an application for a development consent order in summer or early autumn 2018.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Labour/Co-operative, Stalybridge and Hyde

In addition to the Minister’s visit tomorrow, he will probably find in his red box a letter from me, saying that we would be extremely grateful if he would consider binging forward the public consultation to the end of 2016. I know he is not be able to give a commitment on that now, but it would generate so much good will and make the project proceed faster, which would be tremendous.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I give an undertaking to both Members who are present that I will do all I can to achieve that. They have made their case eloquently. I recognise the issues that are faced by the local communities that they represent, and we will do all we can to help.

In terms of timing, I expect that after the development consent order, we will commence construction in the financial year 2019-20, and the schemes will potentially be open for traffic three years later. I recognise the case for urgency that has been a clear theme this evening, so if it is possible to bring the dates forward, I will certainly try to do so.

The new schemes will follow recent investment that we have already made in the network. As a result of resurfacing schemes undertaken in recent years, the condition of the road surface on the A628 and the A57 has improved since 2010, resulting in a 68% reduction in the number of potholes. Works are taking place, but I recognise that we are looking at more significant, longer-term answers.

In addition to the commitments in the road investment strategy, the Department is undertaking a study on improving connections between Manchester and Sheffield by way of a trans-Pennine tunnel. Through that study, we seek to understand the viability, costs and deliverability of such a connection, and to determine its role and priority in the emerging transport strategy for the north. The construction of such a connection carries with it the potential to reduce traffic on existing routes in the area and to bring important environmental benefits to the Peak District national park.

The initial report of the trans-Pennine tunnel study was published on 30 November last year. It found that there is a clear strategic case for the scheme that is aligned with central and subnational government policy, and that the construction of a new strategic route between Manchester and Sheffield is technically feasible, although very challenging. The scale of the wider economic benefit has yet to be established, but initial analysis shows that the benefit could be significant and complementary to other schemes in the developing northern powerhouse strategy. The study’s final report will be published by the end of the year, and will be used to inform the content of our second road investment strategy.

Transport includes more than just roads, so I hope my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak will not mind if I talk a little about rail in the area. As part of the proposed northern hub capacity enhancement, Network Rail has proposed works at the eastern end of the Hope Valley line. A passing loop is to be provided east of Bamford, and the line is to be redoubled at Dore and Totley station.

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

That work is very welcome to certain parts of the area, but, given the geography of High Peak, the work will not help anything on the Glossop side of the hill, because it is on the wrong side. The Minister will see that tomorrow.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I recognise that, and I look forward to seeing the detail of the geography and the challenges it presents. The challenge that we face with rail is that we have an enormous backlog of investment. The rail industry is a huge success, but that huge success brings with it the need for more capacity. There are as many people using our rail network now as there were in the late 1920s, but the network is only a fraction of the size. Governments of all colours have underinvested over many years, and we need to catch up. That is what the control period peak budget of £38 billion is about. I will take forward my hon. Friend’s point about where that work can be carried out on the Hope Valley line, and I will liaise with Network Rail on that. Rail is a key ingredient in improving connectivity in many areas. Although we are investing very heavily, we also require investment where the Hope Valley line enters the big conurbations in Manchester and Sheffield. We must also bear in mind the impact that High Speed 2 will have on such key connections.

Network Rail’s intention is to enable an increase in passenger services between Manchester and Sheffield and to improve accessibility by sustainable transport to the Peak District national park. A public inquiry into Network Rail’s application for statutory powers to undertake the scheme opens in Dore on 10 May. The independent inquiry inspector will then submit a report and recommendation to the Department for Transport. It is not therefore appropriate for me to comment any further on the scheme.

In summary, I hope I have demonstrated that this Government are committed to improving roads and transport infrastructure around Glossop and High Peak. We have made a commitment in the road investment strategy to make significant improvements to the trans-Pennine route through this area in the next few years. These enhancements to transport infrastructure will bring benefits to residents and improve the economy across the region. Such enhancements will help not only the economy, but the local community and the local environment. All those elements, which were highlighted very clearly and passionately in my hon. Friend’s speech, will be benefited by that work.

I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to make sure we get the schemes right. The point is that, as we are working in this area, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are making a step change to travel in the area, and we need to make sure we get this right. The more local input we have, the better such decisions will be. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to improve the situation for his constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.