Greater Manchester Metrolink

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 27th October 2004.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Margaret Moran.]

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry 9:30 am, 27th October 2004

I am pleased to have secured this Adjournment debate at the first time of asking, as the subject is a top priority for all hon. Members in the Greater Manchester area. A number of them want to speak today, so I shall try to confine my remarks accordingly. However, I intend to take some time to give an overview of the problem, in the hope that that will leave hon. Members time to make their remarks in a more pointed way.

The Metrolink tram system is an on-road technology that can also run on heavy railtracks. The Greater Manchester passenger transport executive, which has responsibility for buses, trains and light rail systems—trams—across Greater Manchester, introduced a phase 1 line from Bury to Altrincham in 1991. That was followed by a phase 2 line from Manchester city centre to my constituency of Eccles in 1998. This successful and viable system has been acknowledged as a positive model for the rest of the country.

Since the Government announced in July 2004 that phase 3 of the Metrolink was, in effect, being put on ice, there has been a flurry of meetings, campaigns, petitions, posters, videos and letters to the official broadly based "Get our Metrolink back on track" campaign, which is supported vociferously by the Manchester Evening News, the Salford Advertiser and other local media. On 23 September, a high-level delegation from Greater Manchester brought more than 41,500 messages of support for the campaign to be handed in at No. 10 Downing street.

Ministers have been very willing to hear our representations. I thank the Minister who is here today, Tony McNulty, the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, and the Prime Minister for meeting delegations of Greater Manchester MPs to explore ways in which we can move forward to secure the Metrolink investment that we all want. Following those meetings, the Department for Transport set up a working party with the Greater Manchester PTE. The Minister and Keith Bradley MP are involved in seeking a viable solution.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. I must call hon. Members' attention to the practice that we employ in these august surroundings. They should refer to colleagues by constituency rather than by name. I hope that hon. Members will follow the correct practice from now on.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was, of course, referring to my right hon. Friend Mr. Bradley.

As I said, following the meetings, a working party was set up. I stress that the purpose of this debate, from my point of view, is to place the problem in context, not to try to take the place of the working party. However, I am clear that progress can and must be made in concluding a viable settlement, not only because of the overwhelming public support for the Metrolink in Greater Manchester, but because concluding such a settlement would be good value for money, environmentally sound and the sensible thing to do for the good of the conurbation and, indeed, the whole north-west.

In my constituency, I recently held a "big conversation" meeting on the Metrolink, at which large and small businesses and voluntary organisations came together to express support for the Metrolink extensions. In Greater Manchester as a whole, the Manchester chamber of commerce, the Transport and General Workers Union, of which I am a proud member, and Unison are all firm supporters of Metrolink phase 3. At regional level, the North West regional assembly and CBI North West have come out firmly behind phase 3. Indeed, CBI North West did not pull its punches when it said in a letter to the Prime Minister that its members

"do not overemphasise the point when they say that withdrawal of the Government's support for Metrolink is a hammer blow to the confidence and prospects of Northern England."

Why is the rhetoric so strong and the passion so high? It could be argued that I do not have a direct interest in the matter, but I am delighted to say that Eccles and Salford were included in Metrolink phase 2. The Metrolink came to Eccles in 1998 and was opened by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I would like to outline in the words of my constituents and other commentators why the Metrolink is so popular. Alan Coates, from Life Opportunities Ltd., says:

"We are a small organisation supporting people who have a disability in their own communities. The facility of having easily accessed transport from Eccles has greatly improved their opportunities for getting to other parts of their greater community. The promise of a much wider transport system held significant prospects for not only improved life experiences but also for a greater employment pool. In supporting people who have a disability we are also employers of some forty staff many of whom were previously unemployed. Salford still has numbers of people who are unemployed and a factor in them remaining so is access to efficient transport systems. Returning to work after being unemployed presents the individual with many challenges and availability of transport is often a deciding factor, this particularly so when the work is distant from their home e.g. to the airport."

D. J. Wilson wrote:

"The impact of this decision may be limited now, but with the growth of the economy in the Greater Manchester area this impact will have far greater consequences in the future".

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett Labour, Denton and Reddish

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the great successes of Greater Manchester has been the airport, through the jobs created there and in the surrounding area? However, we now have a situation where between 8 and 9 o'clock the vehicles using the motorways going south are slowed to a crawl because of the large number of people travelling to the airport. Is it not important that we have this link so that people can travel to the airport from the north of Manchester on the tram system, freeing up the motorways?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend is an experienced Member, and he is absolutely right. I will come on to some comments from the airport managing director later that confirm the points made by my hon. Friend.

A letter from two of my constituents, Leslie and Angela Wiseman, reads:

"Having been a resident of Eccles for the past 25 years and a regular user of public transport the Metrolink was the best thing that happened to Eccles. The system is fast, efficient and pollution free and it is a disappointment that it is not to be extended to other parts of Greater Manchester. Journeys such as to and from Manchester Airport by Metrolink would be quicker, cheaper and easier."

Some of the small businesses in my constituency such as Smiths restaurant, an excellent restaurant in the centre of Eccles, have contacted me. Elaine McCann, Justin Critchley and David Hebden, who are partners in this business, wrote:

"As partners in a small, but busy, restaurant in Eccles, we are in no doubt as to the amount of extra trade that the Metrolink brings to us and to other small businesses in the area. People coming into Eccles via the Metrolink are from not only our immediate neighbourhoods but also from more distant areas which can mean they're using more than one line and changing trams in order to get here. They seem more than happy to do this and an extension of the tram service can only mean that this, and other areas, will benefit from the injection of trade, business and works that such an extension would produce."

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend in his listing of every letter from his constituents, but I am tempted to ask him whether he has found anyone against the Metrolink in Greater Manchester. I wanted to make a point consistent with what he has just said. Would he say a few words about the regeneration impact of the metro and the importance of those lines going out from east Manchester to Ashton, in relation to the advanced plans for the regeneration of our conurbation and its economy?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend is right, and he will hear me make some comment about the issues that he raises, but I shall leave the detail to my right hon. and hon. Friends from the constituencies concerned.

I will continue with a few more of the testimonies because it is right, as my hon. Friend has indicated, that every Member from Greater Manchester and beyond has a postbag that that could fill up the week's business of this place—rather than an hour and a half in Westminster Hall—in support of phase 3 of the Metrolink. Gerry Goodwin of Goodwin Machinery Ltd. writes:

"Business property and homes have been purchased on the new links designated and you cannot let them down. As a staunch car user myself—when the South Manchester Line was started—I have used it at least twice a week to travel to Manchester and Bury."

John Spooner, the managing director of Manchester airport, writes:

"Greater Manchester has been at the forefront of the delivery of integrated transport in a sustainable way . . . The existing Metrolink system has been a resounding success by any measure. It has therefore been an integral part of our transport strategy for many years. We have moved from being just supporters of the scheme to reserving valuable land for its construction and, in the last few years, directly investing over £60 million of our funds to build a new transport interchange. This involved over a million pounds in advance works and building a tunnel for the Metrolink extension . . .

We have been investing in education, skills and training in local communities in readiness for the access to work that would flow from the construction of the Metrolink extension."

Geoff Muirhead CBE, who is the regional chairman of CBI in the north-west, is on record as stating:

"Even taking into account these (additional) costs, I understand the scheme would still make a return on the investment required, even on the narrow basis used to assess its forecast performance. If the criteria were expanded to include benefits other than these related solely to transport, such as access to employment, social inclusion and enhanced land values, then the return on investment is vastly improved."

There is one final testimony that exemplifies some of the hidden demerits of the cancellation of the scheme. My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Mr. Woolas, wrote to the Network Rail chief executive. I quote from the letter sent by the chief executive, John Armitt, in reply on 25 August 2004. He wrote:

"Thank you for your letter dated 3 2004 August detailing your concerns over the decision to cancel the Metrolink project for Manchester, Oldham and Rochdale.

The decision by the Rt. Hon. Alistair Darling MP, Secretary of State for Transport, to reverse the planned changes for the Network Rail-managed infrastructure"— that means the heavy rail infrastructure—

"has naturally affected the budgetary constraints placed upon us by the Office for Rail Regulation.

Until the decision by the Secretary of State, Network Rail had proceeded on the understanding that the Oldham loop would cease to be part of the heavy rail network from May 2005 and had not allocated funding to maintain it beyond this date. However, because we are required to maintain the rail network in its existing size and condition, this requirement is likely to extend to the Oldham loop if it is not to become part of the Metrolink network.

The figure of £60 million is the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive's own based on their own projected information. We do not concur that this figure is accurate and are currently undertaking our own detailed analysis of the various separate factors that would contribute to the cost of maintaining the Oldham loop as a heavy rail loop. These include: track condition" and so on. He continues:

"Under the interim review of track access charges for the period 2004–9, our agreement with the Office for Rail Regulation for funding would not have included the operation, maintenance and renewal of the Oldham loop."

What I take from that correspondence is that the situation is not at a standstill. Even the figure of £60 million projected by the PTA is, in my understanding, an underestimate. Therefore, if the Metrolink phase 3 does not go ahead, Network Rail will have to find more than £60 million just to maintain the existing heavy rail route.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

This is an important point. I say to my hon. Friend and, through him, to the Minister that it is important that we get clarification on the matter. The existing heavy rail, or the light rail that would replace it, is an essential part of the transport infrastructure going out of the north of the city. The alternative to no Metrolink and no reinvestment in heavy rail is closure of that line. Will my hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that we need an answer about whether closure of the line is one possible outcome?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Absolutely. My hon. Friend has, as always, pointed to the important issues, and I would call for an answer to those questions. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister will not be expected to answer today, but it is surely a matter for examination at a later stage.

We have anecdotal evidence of what Metrolink has achieved, but there is more rigorous evidence and analysis. In 2000, the Transport Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee produced a report on light rapid transport systems and detailed their benefits. It said that Greater Manchester Metrolink offered an attractive alternative to the car and could thus help to limit congestion and to reduce pollution, particularly when used with other traffic restraint methods.

More recently, the National Audit Office report on light rail systems pointed to the significant benefits to passengers. Although it was not as positive about other systems, it stated that the Greater Manchester system was successful and viable. Back in the 1980s, the PTA made a detailed analysis of transport requirements and concluded that the light rail option was best. My constituency, which is on the north side of the conurbation, has certainly benefited from phase 2.

Metrolink has, in the words of Greater Manchester PTA, been the cornerstone of Greater Manchester's public transport strategy for many years. Almost one fifth of the passengers using the first phase of Metrolink previously made their journey by car, and traffic volumes on the main radial routes into Manchester running parallel with the light rail system have fallen by between 2 and 8 per cent.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Labour, Manchester, Withington

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the highest volumes of car traffic is in south Manchester running through my constituency? If the Chorlton to Didsbury spur were built, would the shifting of people out of their cars not have a dramatic impact on congestion and benefit the environment and people's health?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is correct. I said that the figures fell between 2 and 8 per cent., and although such changes may appear small in absolute terms, they have had a significant impact on congestion on the roads affected. Each year, the three existing Metrolink lines carry 19 million passengers and take 3.8 million car trips off our roads. It is expected that the new extensions in phase 3, to which my right hon. Friend has referred, together with the expanded capacity of phase 1, will attract 50 million passengers a year and replace a further 5 million car trips.

My constituents have benefited from phase 2. Phase 3 is planned to serve a number of deprived areas with relatively high levels of unemployment in order to provide better access to potential places of work. It will boost regional competitiveness, assist the creation of sustainable communities and act as a catalyst for tens of thousands of new jobs. I am sure that my colleagues will elaborate on that in relation to their own constituencies.

Some solutions considered by other areas include the further use of guided or unguided buses. Buses have an important part to play in an integrated transport system. I have argued for bus re-regulation outside London and made many attempts to debate that important issue in Westminster Hall, so I was pleased when the Government announced the introduction of new powers that would enable Greater Manchester PTA to set up a bus-franchising operation, which would decide routes, timetables and fares. I am confident that the PTA will take up that challenge, but it is not a solution that should preclude the phase 3 Metrolink option. It should be done in conjunction with that, not as an alternative.

The Government recognised that when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced in March 2000 that £250 million would be made available for the extension of Metrolink to Oldham, Rochdale, Manchester airport and Ashton-under-Lyne. As the Manchester Evening News campaigner of the day said, we then had our Metrolink for the millennium. All successive transport Ministers have been supportive of a phase 3 extension. At his speech to the CBI conference last year, the current Minister reported that the Government had more than doubled the funding available for local transport when he told the conference that

"we've agreed funding of up to £520 million for the extension of the Manchester Metrolink."

On the basis of those commitments, Greater Manchester PTA has invested £200 million in buying and preparing land along the proposed routes of the three new lines. I acknowledge that the costs of the project have increased significantly because, it is argued, of high inflation in the construction sector and concerns about risks associated with light rail. When the Government made their announcement in July I acknowledged that costs could not continue to spiral, and although I was unhappy with his July statement I felt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had left the door open for good, well-run metros such as Manchester to enter new negotiations and identify affordable extensions to their metro systems. I hope that the working party will do that, and find agreed solutions.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State is on record as saying that the Government are still supportive of the concept of rapid light transport systems and that this is an issue of cost and value for money. The statement is important because it allows me, as the MP for Eccles, to follow the vision that I and others have had for many years. I can call for future extensions of the Metrolink to the Barton strategic economic zone, where we hope that the Salford Reds rugby league club will be successful in building its new proposed stadium, and then for it to cross the Manchester ship canal to the Trafford centre. That would open a new transport facility for my constituents, and would also bring welcome regeneration investment to build on the existing investment that the Government have made in the Irlam and Cadishead bypass. I thank the Minister and the Department for approving that project.

I am sure that the Minister realises that the thrust of my contribution is that to make strategic sense, we need to come to an agreed solution on phase 3 so that we can then move on and grow a viable, value-for-money system in an integrated, appropriate and planned way.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. Mr. Speaker is always anxious that everyone who wishes to contribute to these debates be accommodated, and I share that view. However, our business is time limited, as hon. Members know, and this debate terminates at 11 o'clock. I am required to call the first of the three Front-Bench spokesmen at 10.30, so we are left with 37 minutes for open debate. I see that four right hon. and hon. Members are seeking my eye, only three of whom have given prior notice. I appeal most earnestly to all of them to bear the time constraints in mind when making their speech, and when accepting or responding to interventions.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley 9:54 am, 27th October 2004

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ian Stewart on securing this debate. I can think of no more important issue to have affected the people of Greater Manchester in my 30 years of political activity there. No single issue has got through to so many people, and angered them, in the way that did the Secretary of State's decision not to approve Metrolink on 20 July.

I believe that that decision was fundamentally wrong, but I am extremely pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is present. He has the difficult task of sorting the matter out. I certainly welcome his involvement in the working party. I support the attitude that he has taken to this as a problem to be solved.

It is not my intention to try to negotiate or to interfere with the negotiations in this debate. The debate is an important opportunity to go through the issues and to wish the working party success, but also to say in a non-minatory way that if the working party is not successful, the issue will not go away. The people of Greater Manchester, the local authorities there, the passenger transport authority, and beyond that, people in the north-west of England, will not let it go away.

My hon. Friend the Minister has a particularly difficult job because the Department, over the past year or two years, has not been as proactive as it could be. I am still concerned that when the costs of phase 3 of Metrolink escalated, from February 2004 until the statements on 20 July and indeed until meetings in September this year, there was no real activity from the Department to say, "Well, we know the figures are going up. They are going up for a number of reasons. How do we get this show back on the road?". The Department has viewed the future of Metrolink as a spectator sport, but it is not. It is vital that it happens and that the working party makes it happen.

I could spend as long as you would let me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, going through the history of this matter, but I do not want to do that. However, I want to put things in perspective. I am concerned that it makes the Minister's job more difficult when officials are saying that Ministers have "serious reservations" about light rail, at a time when the Minister and the Secretary of State are saying quite different things in public. That sort of thing undermines the process.

That is wholly consistent with the attitude that officials have taken to light rail in front of the Transport Committee. If the Minister would care to read question 54 in the record of the Transport Committee of 10 September last year, he will find that the Committee expressed extreme concern that officials from the Department were pressurising officials from the highways authority in Manchester and the PTA to invest in deregulated buses in direct competition to Metrolink along Cheetham Hill road and other parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation. That is not something that we would have expected from a Department that was seriously supportive of light rail. The Committee was also shocked to hear officials misrepresent statistics on the failure—they were pretending that it was a success—of deregulated buses in Greater Manchester and other conurbations.

When one is looking for alternatives to Metrolink—we are not, but if the Department is—a simple exercise in arithmetic will show that there simply is not the capacity in any feasible strategy to allow the numbers of passengers to be brought into the centre of Manchester and to other parts of the conurbation by bus. I do not like to quote the last Prime Minister but one, but there is no alternative to Metrolink if we want to move passengers round the Greater Manchester conurbation.

As the costs have escalated, black propaganda has been spread that the PTA was gold-plating phase 3 of Metrolink. I know of no gold-plating. The reasons for the costs of Metrolink rising are no great mystery. The world price of steel has risen and a lot of steel would be used in phase 3—that is not changeable. The cost of engineering work has risen because there is so much demand due to the success of the Government's economic policies. The businesses of light and heavy rail have become extremely risk averse, partly because of the fiasco surrounding the failure of Railtrack and the inception of Network Rail. Banks that fund light and heavy rail will no longer accept the risk. That is probably the largest factor in the increase of the costs of Metrolink.

There is no great mystery or evidence of gold-plating. If we want to get Metrolink back on track, the Government must accept the costs, as I hope they will because we cannot will them away. Changing the procurement method, as has been suggested on the Floor of the House, would not deliver what we want because re-tendering under a new process would effectively put Metrolink back three years. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the procurement method of design, build and operate is supported and demanded by Government. It has never been favoured by the passenger transport authority or the passenger transport executive.

As far back as 1986–87, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, the then Under-Secretary of State for Transport, insisted, and it has been consistent Government policy since, on the method of design, build and operate, even though surveys, studies and independent consultants all showed that it was the most expensive option. That has always been the case, so it is not good enough for Government to say that they will consider different procurement methods. There is no mystery about why costs have risen; it is easily understood. The important thing is to find a way of working the finances so that the tram system gets back on track.

I shall finish with two final points. First, it is believed in Greater Manchester that the decision is symptomatic of a Government who do not understand the north-south divide. I agree with that, but I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State does not. Let me put it in context. On the same day that Metrolink phase 3 was not approved, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced £2.9 billion extra funding for transport in London. That enabled Ken Livingstone to say to the Transport Committee that his real problem as Mayor of London was not a slight gap in the budget because of fewer cars paying the congestion charge, but that he could not spend the money that the Treasury gave him as fast as it gave it to him. No mayor or leader of a council anywhere else in the country could say that.

On that same day, as well as the £2.9 billion extra funding, it was agreed that £340 million would go towards the London Olympic bid. I wrote to the Minister of State and he wrote back on 6 September. I asked whether London would get that money if it does not win the Olympic bid and what sort of assessment has been made of the projects. The answer was that no assessment has been made because it is not known what transport projects will be paid for from that £340 million. There was no answer to whether London would keep the money if it does not win the bid to host the 2012 Olympic games. That is why I believe that the decision is an aspect of the north-south divide. The people of Greater Manchester are right to see it as such and the Government would be sensible to pay attention to them.

Finally, it is not just a case of saying that the Government got one decision wrong among the many that they get right. The decision is fundamental to the regional competitiveness of Manchester, Greater Manchester and the north-west. Most of the documents coming out of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister rightly make that point. If we want to do something about the north-south divide, there must be investment to make the north, the north-west and Manchester more competitive. This decision will make the area less competitive and will lead to the Government's failure to fulfil their commitment to reduce the difference between rates of growth in the north and the south of England.

One could say the same about housing market renewal projects in Oldham, in my constituency and elsewhere that are close to tramlines. The areas in which efforts will be made to put right the market failure have been determined partly by the availability of Metrolink, as have several investment decisions such as the north Manchester business park in my constituency.

The Government believe in joined-up government, but this is not a joined-up decision. It is vital to the environment and to the transport and economic strategies of Greater Manchester that my hon. Friend the Minister solves the problem and ensures that Metrolink is put back on track and that investment starts as soon as possible.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. There are 23 minutes remaining and three Members wish to speak before Front-Bench Members respond. I call Mr. Michael Meacher.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton 10:07 am, 27th October 2004

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ian Stewart on securing a debate on this subject, which is of huge importance to the Manchester region and to north-west Members. Like my colleagues, I would also say that, in my experience, no other issue in recent times has caused such widespread and spontaneous bewilderment and anger as the announcement of the Government's decision not to go ahead with stage 3 of Metrolink. There are good reasons for that response.

Metrolink is the lynchpin in my constituency and in that of the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons of the housing market renewal pathfinder, which is an enormous £2.5 billion public-private investment in housing and community development throughout the Oldham-Rochdale area during the next 10 to 15 years. Metrolink is the trigger for several nodes of development across my constituency and the areas of Hollinwood, Derker and Werneth in Oldham. It is part of the recent urban vision for Oldham following the riots three years ago. Metrolink is regarded as a key factor in the renewal of our town.

It is also true that £200 million has already been spent on development and preparation for Metrolink, including the corridor between Manchester and Oldham. Many businesses have already made investment decisions based on the availability of the tram network. It is fair to say that the Manchester city region is the principal economic driver in the north of England and a major contributor to the national economy. Much of that is dependent on Metrolink.

We have already heard and are very well aware of the Government's reason for taking the decision; namely, affordability. Of course we are pleased that a working party is now examining alternative procurement options. We cannot presume the outcome, but the Government and my right hon. Friend Mr. Bradley are keen to see a solution to the matter.

As my hon. Friend Mr. Stringer indicated, the decision is not in any way limited to the issue of Metrolink. The escalation of costs has also been felt by other light rail systems. Crossrail in London and various road schemes have exhibited similar cost increases. That is due to a wide range of factors, but a key one is the increasing level of risk aversion on the part of the private sector. Developers are seeking to offload the risk factor of passenger numbers not reaching predicted levels on to the public purse.

One understands the Government's concern about that, but the problem is caused by the PFI structure. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington wants to get the costs down not only to the £530 million to which they rose, but even lower, how far is that compatible with a PFI structure? The Government sought a way to resolve the problem in the case of London Underground by making a grant on a sufficient scale to reduce the escalation of costs for private developers. I think that I am right in saying that it has been decided to expend £12 billion on Crossrail, largely out of the public purse, which avoids the problem that we are saddled with in relation to Metrolink.

Metrolink is, and has been for many years, the cornerstone of Manchester's public transport strategy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley rightly said, there is no alternative. It was never an end in itself or purely about transport schemes. It was designed to complement and to add value to a host of urban regeneration strategies. Certainly costs have risen significantly, but Metrolink is the most cost-effective way of achieving greater modal shift, increasing public transport use, reducing future congestion and delivering far-reaching economic and social benefits by its integration both with other public transport services and wider regeneration strategies.

Metrolink has been held up by the Government themselves as an exemplar system. It is certainly the most cost-effective and best of the light rail systems. It was recently given a clean bill of health by the National Audit Office report. Moreover, from the environmental point of view that I am anxious to stress, the three existing Metrolink lines already carry 19 million passengers and take nearly 4 million car trips off our roads. That contributes significantly to air quality in Greater Manchester. We believe that the future system, including the expanded capacity on phase 1, will attract about 50 million passengers a year and replace a further 5 million car trips.

Metrolink is a system for which there is no clear better-cost alternative. I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to find a solution to this problem through the revised procurement costs that are now being proposed by the working party. The Government's political credibility in the north-west is at risk here because, quite rightly, both my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have indicated in the past their strong commitment to the area and to Metrolink as a central hinge for the future of the north-west.

Photo of Ms Lorna Fitzsimons Ms Lorna Fitzsimons Labour, Rochdale 10:14 am, 27th October 2004

First, I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend Ian Stewart on securing the debate. I do so on behalf of those of my hon. Friends who are here to support him but who will not get an opportunity to contribute to the debate. They include my hon. Friend Jim Dobbin, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend Mr. Lewis and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons.

Most Members present in Westminster Hall will know more about the history than I do, having lived longer, but to my knowledge Metrolink has been running for 13 years in Rochdale. My husband was a landlord on Drake street when the plans first appeared 13 years ago. Those plans have been in the consciousness of the people of Rochdale over the past 13 years, and they have planned their businesses and huge development programmes around them. I therefore cannot impress on the Minister enough the shock of the decision to the body politic of the people of Rochdale—not just to the professionals but ordinary people. That could be seen in the swift response that I received within hours of the announcement being made in July. I received e-mails from all over the world, from Rochdalians holidaying and working abroad, expressing their shock, disgust and dismay at the decision.

Not one of us pretends that the costs, which had risen from about £200 million to £900 million, were sustainable. To pretend that some of us think that if we exert enough pressure we will get the £900 million, is to be disingenuous and to misrepresent us. We all realise that the costs must be examined. However, we were saddened by the way in which the announcement was made.

The announcement was not expected. I have observed the situation during the seven years of my parliamentary life, and every time that there was a slight wobble we negotiated with Ministers to ensure that anything that needed to be done was done to ensure that we were still on track for phase 3 of Metrolink.

Hon. Members who spoke earlier indicated how successful Metrolink has been to date. The National Audit Office has also put on record how successful it has been. I cannot stress enough the importance of Metrolink in terms of the regeneration of places such as Rochdale. Over the past three or four years, I have chaired regeneration meetings at which we have discussed the design specifications received from the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority. Those specifications would allow local businesses to reinvest in their shopfronts to ensure that they are compatible with the design specifications for the preferred bidder for the development of Metrolink in Drake street. Millions of pounds of Government money have already been spent in the Drake street corridor and in other areas in other constituencies but, more importantly, thousands of pounds of individual business people's money has been spent. Those business people have made decisions about their entire livelihood and their future investment based on the collective promises made by Labour MPs and the Labour Government about Metrolink. I believe that we are honour-bound to find a solution.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is an honest broker in such matters, and I cannot praise him enough for the role that he and others have played in the working party in trying to find a solution. We must find a solution because, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher stated, there are hundreds of millions of pounds of Government money for housing market renewal and for the regeneration of our town centres, such as the area around Kingsway, that depend on Metrolink. Our constituencies contain some of the poorest places in Britain—not just in Greater Manchester and the north-west, but in Britain—and the importance of the big bang to that regeneration cannot be overestimated.

At any stage we could have separated off into the various wings of Oldham and Rochdale, Ashton and the south, but it is crucial to ensure that the economic regeneration that is linked to the airport and the growth engine of the south of Manchester reaches the north through the centre. There are organisations in Manchester such as Knowledge Capital and Incubator Research in the World—at the biggest university in Europe. The effect of such organisations must be felt in constituencies such as mine, otherwise the regeneration money that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is deploying in Rochdale will not find its true value.

I therefore plead with the Minister to examine the matter in terms of the full cost of every pound of Government money. If we are analysing cost-effectiveness, how is the Minister's decision cost-effective in relation to the hundreds of millions of pounds of regeneration money being spent in Oldham, Rochdale and north Manchester? It is not cost-effective. It flies in the face of common sense. I hope that things are going in the right direction, but the clock is ticking. I beg that we do not try to approach this matter in a piecemeal manner, and that we realise that Metrolink makes good economic, environmental and social sense as well as being good government.

Photo of David Heyes David Heyes Labour, Ashton-under-Lyne 10:20 am, 27th October 2004

I shall do my best, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to fit my speech into your time constraints.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ian Stewart on securing the debate. As other hon. Members have said, there is no issue of greater importance to our constituents than this, as has been demonstrated by the words—"shock", "disappointment" and "anger"—that they have used when expressing their concerns to us.

The debate is timely, although I can understand it if my hon. Friend the Minister does not agree, as he is in the middle of complex and difficult discussions with officials and the passenger transport authority. However, it is vital that our constituents know that everything possible is being done to resolve the impasse. Privately, I know that a lot of work is going on to achieve that, but I am not sure that the public fully understand it. We have a chance today to demonstrate that the process is moving forward.

I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend Mrs. Fitzsimons that the proposals are a package, which should hang together as a big bang. Inevitably, we will talk about the parts of the line that we know best, but, uniquely, my constituency contains two Metrolink lines—the line through Failsworth and Hollinwood to Oldham and the line from east Manchester to Droylsden and Ashton, and I will speak about both of them.

Failsworth town centre is desperately in need of regeneration. Recently a major shopping centre deal was secured in expectation of Metrolink arriving soon. Hollinwood sits in the centre of a site at junction 22 on the M60 Manchester outer ring road. It is an important brownfield redevelopment site—the largest single development site in Oldham—and it has been marketed with the aim of its becoming a major job-creation location. The Metrolink station was rebuilt at great cost several years ago in anticipation of these developments.

Hollinwood and Failsworth are within the housing market renewal area, a multi-million pound Government investment, to which my hon. Friends have referred. It looked like a nice bit of joined-up Government thinking that the housing market renewal area was to be designed around a Metrolink transport artery, and it is impossible to understand why that should now be put at risk.

On the Ashton line, Droylsden town centre is similar to Failsworth in that there are major plans for canal-side redevelopment there, with shops, hotels, offices and houses, and a deal was recently secured with a developer in the expectation that Metrolink would be a key driver for that town centre development. For much of the day, Droylsden is choked with traffic because of the inadequate road network and the poor public transport system. Ashton Moss is one of the north-west's major economic development sites; thousands of jobs are anticipated at that brownfield site and Metrolink would run through it. It is next to St. Peter's in Ashton, which is in the top 1 per cent. of the most deprived wards in the UK. The Ashton renewal team is doing tremendous work in dealing with the issues there, and they are centred around expectations in respect of Metrolink.

The town centre of Ashton is the terminus of the line and the town is fighting to cash in on the benefits of the opening of the M60 four years ago; large office and retail expansions are planned there and the town is battling to recover from the blow of the recent disastrous loss of its historic market.

Tarnside's economic development anticipates and depends on Metrolink as the core transport facility at the heart of a proper integrated transport system. The Metrolink to Ashton would carry more than 6 million passengers a year, and would save 2 million car journeys. An enormous amount of advance work has already been carried out, and that is what has most shocked my constituents. Ian Spencer, the head teacher of St. Mary's school in Droylsden, admitted to being completely baffled by the announcement. He spent three years in chaos, working out of temporary classrooms while the old school was demolished and rebuilt nearby to clear the way for the Metrolink station in Droylsden. He cannot understand the logic of what is happening, and I find it extremely difficult to explain it to him.

It was a moving event when the "Save Metrolink" campaign visited the school and the pupils—eight, nine and 10-year-old children—came out to the front of the school and made a tremendous noise, cheering and singing, in favour of Metrolink. They really made the point, and if young children can understand why it is vital to their future, it should be easy for that message to go to the people who must take some of the key decisions that will determine the future quality of those children's lives.

Many good residential properties have been demolished along the line of the Ashton link through Droylsden and Audenshaw. We have built a new bridge for Metrolink over the railway near Ashton and an expensive bridge over the motorway to accommodate Metrolink lines at Ashton Moss, which is wider than would otherwise have been necessary. We have demolished industrial premises in the town centre of Ashton. Saddest of all was the demolition of the Wellington road flats in Ashton town centre, which were cleared to make way for the Ashton town centre Metrolink terminus.

There was a long campaign by the residents of those flats to avoid demolition. Their spokesperson, Maureen Consiglio, organised an effective campaign which resulted in them being moved, en bloc, into a redeveloped block of flats, which was funded from the proposed Metrolink investment. Those elderly people now stand and look at the site where their previous homes were and which are now just a heap of bricks and rubble. They are baffled as to why their lives have suffered such upheaval and disruption to make way for something that just is not going to happen.

There has been support for the campaign throughout Greater Manchester and in my constituency from business, the press and the community and voluntary sectors, but mostly from local individuals. All that they have in common is the feeling that the proposals just do not make sense. On the Ashton line, all the advance work has been done and only the rails and lines need to be installed. All Tameside needs is the track.

At Hollinwood and Failsworth the situation is even more bizarre. The line to Oldham and Rochdale has rails and all it needs is the wires. The people of Ashton, Droylsden, Hollinwood and Failsworth have seen that Metrolink works. They want some of the action that has transformed the economies of towns such as Bury and Altrincham. That is what they were promised and that is what the working party is charged with doing: finding a way to make it happen. With hard work, good will and the wisdom and determination of the Minister and his team, I am confident that a solution can be found and that we will get Metrolink back on track.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central 10:27 am, 27th October 2004

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ian Stewart on securing this debate. I want to make a few brief points in support of those made by my colleagues.

Anyone who tours Greater Manchester will see the piles of rubble, to which my hon. Friend Mr. Heyes referred, where preparations for Metrolink have begun and, in some cases, been completed. A lot of public money has been invested in the scheme and it would be bizarre to people in Greater Manchester if the scheme did not come to fruition.

My hon. Friend the Minister has a deserved reputation for political toughness and earned respect when he said of Metrolink, "Not at that price." Most Labour Members understand that. Very few of us would argue that the public of Greater Manchester or the taxpayer generally should pay over the odds to those who will make money at public expense. A cheaper, more efficient scheme is in everyone's interest, but the Minister must take on board the points made by my hon. Friend Mr. Stringer and my right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher about the concept of risk. Quite frankly, the financing scheme that central Government imposed on Greater Manchester was not the right one. It transferred risk from the private sector, which conventionally bears risk, to the public sector. We, the public, will end up paying for the risk that the private sector cannot manage. In this day and age that is a ridiculous way to finance a project such as Metrolink.

The challenge is this. The Minister's reputation for toughness is real and deserved. He is a good politician. He must be tough with those in his Department who have come up with this misguided scheme, and he must introduce a better structure for the financing of Metrolink which allows us to deliver the scheme, which is long overdue in environmental, social and regeneration terms, in a financially efficient manner.

I conclude by reminding hon. Members that we hoped that Metrolink would run to the new stadium for the Commonwealth games. That did not happen, and two years on we are still waiting for even just the preparation. It is long overdue.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:30 am, 27th October 2004

I am pleased to take part in the debate both on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and as a constituency Member. Hazel Grove is the south-east corner of Greater Manchester, and although we are not direct beneficiaries of any of the three lines, my constituents are as dismayed by the cancellation of phase 3 as those of the hon. Members who have spoken so far. There is anger and bafflement, and many of my constituents are looking for answers. They want reassurance that there will be a Government transport policy for Greater Manchester and that we will not just be left with the ruins that we seem to have at the moment.

I am happy to make common cause with the eight hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and other hon. Members who have been referred to, including my hon. Friend Mrs. Calton. All of us believe that the scheme is right for the benefit not just of the immediate corridors that have been referred to, but of Greater Manchester as a whole and beyond. It is good that we can work together despite the fact that the hon. Gentlemen and I have often had cause to be upset with each other because we share a political community and have points of disagreement.

Photo of Ms Lorna Fitzsimons Ms Lorna Fitzsimons Labour, Rochdale

May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd that the people of Rochdale and Oldham welcome the Liberal Democrats' support, given the fact that they campaigned for years to include Hazel Grove rather than Rochdale and Oldham? The cross-party consensus is welcome.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the hon. Lady for that, and very much apologise for my inadvertently sexist remark.

Phase 3 covers three different routes, which are each important in different ways. Voices have been raised in support of the loop through Oldham and Rochdale, which has been referred to, while Mr. Heyes has made a good case for the Ashton line. The third route is out to the airport, which is of particular importance to my constituents. The airport has a strategy of getting 25 per cent. of its visitors to arrive by public transport. Each day, thousands of workers go to the airport site, and over the year millions of passengers take flights from there. My constituency is on the "flight path" of many of those going to the airport along the ground, so the pollution, congestion and environmental disbenefits of surface transport to the airport are very much in their minds. My constituency straddles key radial routes out of Manchester to the south, including the A6 in particular.

The surface transport plan to the airport is of great importance to us, but I suggest that it should also be of great importance to the Government. The airport strategy documents that they published this year point out the significance of Manchester airport as an economic hub for the north-west and detail their plans for it to become yet more significant in the next 25 years. Crucial to that is sorting out the surface transport arrangements, and crucial to sorting out those arrangements will be a tram link to the rest of the conurbation.

A second part of the Government's so-called integrated transport policy is important in this context: the south-east Manchester multi-modal study, commonly referred to as SEMMMS. That is a plan to reduce traffic, improve public transport, enhance cycle and pedestrian routes and complete the local road network. A crucial part of that is the capacity to extend the tram beyond the existing proposals for phase 3 to Stockport town centre, and ultimately to Bredbury, Romiley and Rose Hill. If the SEMMMS integrated transport plan is still part of the Government's strategy, I urge them to take that into account when they consider what to do about the tram routes.

Many of my constituents saw the Secretary of State's July statement as much more than a setback—they saw it as an outrage. I had a flood of unsolicited letters from my constituents despite the fact that they know that the tram will not reach them in phase 3. Many residents have signed petitions in local libraries and taken part in campaigns run by local newspapers such as the Stockport Express and the Manchester Evening News. Stockport council has unanimously called for the tram to be restored, citing environmental and economic grounds for doing so.

I have written to the Secretary of State three times in the past 10 weeks and I raised the issue in the House on 13 September. I have not had an answer to any of the letters I have written to the Secretary of State so far, and I might have considered myself unlucky, except that I have a letter from a constituent of mine who did get a reply. He wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister—I think that he thought he was writing to the boss—saying:

"I sent a letter to Alistair Darling concerning the cancellation of Metrolink and also concerning the apparent South East England bias of the current administration. I received two identical replies from a Department of Transport civil servant . . . obviously standard replies being sent to all who questioned Mr. Darling's appalling decision."

That sums up neatly the concerns of my constituents. They feel that they have been treated with disdain and it appears that the Government have no clear strategy or focus for supporting us in the north-west.

Will the Minister confirm that the decision on the funding of Metrolink phase 3 has not changed the Government's commitment to implement the full recommendations of the SEMMMS report, which was previously accepted by the Secretary of State? That is vital in my constituency and throughout south-east Greater Manchester. Will the Minister give details to the House of his timetable for introducing the review of costings that has been referred to? It is quite a skilful sleight of hand to substitute a review of costings for the original announcement, which most of us understood would be of cancellation. It is a welcome sleight of hand—we do not have a problem with it—but what is the timetable for introducing clear plans for reactivating all three routes in phase 3?

Does the Minister acknowledge the displaced costs? Reference has been made to the Oldham loop and the £60 million or more that will have to come from other budgets. That is not the whole matter; the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne raised the question of money spent on that corridor, and the airport has also built its tunnel and invested in works there. Does the Minister understand the displaced costs that will have to come from the public purse because of the abandonment of the schemes?

Will the Minister announce that he will answer the pleas of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members from Greater Manchester to restore those vital schemes to the spending programme? Metrolink has already proved to be that rare thing, a successful public transport innovation. Its expansion and development is crucial for regeneration, the economy and the environment, both locally and in setting an example for the rest of the country. Manchester, Rochdale, Oldham, Tameside and the borough of Stockport stand to gain from the reactivation of the schemes, but the benefits will be felt much more widely.

The phase 3 scheme has the support of business leaders, the public, MPs and councillors of all parties. It has been commended by the Government's transport consultants, it underpins the SEMMMS strategy and I urge the Minister to throw his weight and voice behind its restoration as soon as possible.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:39 am, 27th October 2004

I congratulate Ian Stewart on securing this important debate. He has been a consistent campaigner on behalf of his constituents on the issue, as has my hon. Friend Mr. Brady, who unfortunately cannot be with us today. I am well aware of the strong support for the future of Metrolink in Manchester and beyond. I attended a function organised by the Association of Conservative Clubs recently, when I was approached by Mr. Stephen Day, who used to be a colleague of ours representing Cheadle. He told me of his strong support for the extension.

In recent years, Manchester has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence, based partly on the hard work of its people, and partly—I like to think—on the economic framework put in place by the previous Conservative Government. It is fair to say that the Metrolink system has played a key part in that regeneration, helping to encourage firms to invest in the city. It is clearly a sign of how important the extension of Metrolink is that the Manchester chamber of commerce, supported by the CBI, the Institute of Directors and pro.manchester is co-ordinating a campaign to get Metrolink back on track.

It is no wonder that those organisations want to be involved when it is estimated that some 6,300 jobs will be created by the project. As part of its "back on track" campaign, the chamber of commerce is encouraging members of the public to express their opinions on its website, and the following comment posted there succinctly expresses the views of the majority of local residents:

"Getting the next phase of the Metrolink back on track is . . . essential, not only from a local business point of view but also in developing further the massive tourism potential in the region, which is simply being put on hold by this action".

As the hon. Member for Eccles said in his opening remarks, the campaign has gathered more than 40,000 signatures, which is a clear expression of how important the project is to Manchester.

The Secretary of State for Transport has said:

"Manchester's metro has been extremely successful", and recognised:

"Light rail can be very effective in persuading people to use public transport", which is one of the Government's stated transport aims. Indeed, the Government's "Future of Transport" White Paper states that they want

"to support and encourage local and regional transport strategies to tackle congestion in towns and cities."

Local transport policies are vital, because if we do not get local public transport solutions right, an increasing number of people will take to their cars in despair, adding to the congestion from which we all already suffer.

The Deputy Prime Minister more than six years ago famously said:

"I will have failed if in five years time there are not fewer journeys by car."

The 10-year plan promised a 5 per cent. reduction in inter-urban congestion, and an 8 per cent. reduction in large urban areas. Unfortunately, the result has been a predicted increase in journey times of 30 per cent. by 2010.

How will axing schemes such as the Manchester Metrolink extension improve those figures? The Deputy Prime Minister, who travelled to Manchester in 2000, said while there:

"I am delighted to come to say I am making this announcement that the Manchester Metrolink extensions can go ahead."

The benefits were very clear to him at that time; he told the Manchester Evening News:

"It is very much about an integrated transport system and Manchester has led the way. I've always been impressed by the development of Metrolink. It has encouraged people to use their cars less and public transport more. It's about the quality of life and about achieving our environmental objectives."

It is not often that I can say I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, but on this occasion I do. It is strange that under the same Government—but two Secretaries of State for Transport later—the current Secretary of State does not agree with the Deputy Prime Minister's remarks. The Government's original plans were in no doubt: the Deputy Prime Minister said that he wanted to make Metrolink "the envy of Europe", and promised that there would be no strings attached to the promised funding. Is it surprising if the people of Manchester and some of their elected representatives now feel angry about the Government's perceived U-turn?

In its report, the National Audit Office highlights the real benefits that light rail schemes can provide to communities. The Manchester Metrolink is highlighted as one scheme that has

"brought significant benefits to passengers."

In fairness, the report also highlights valid concerns, which the Secretary of State referred to in justifying his announcement that he intended to scrap several schemes. The NAO report goes on to highlight problems with integration, which is rather damning for a Government who have made so much about integrated transport systems. It also highlights problems with through-ticketing and the time it takes to put schemes in place once they have been approved. However, the main problem identified by the report was financial. For those schemes to be successful, they must be financially viable and value for money. The NAO highlighted reasons for the costs having escalated, citing lack of standardisation, the adoption of heavy rail specifications and safety arrangements and barriers to the adoption of new rail technologies. The report guides us on how to reduce costs and achieve greater value for money.

Reducing the costs of a project and improving value for money is part of the key to the way forward. I have been impressed with the way that GMPTE has put forward serious ideas, such as the proposal to increase the length of leases for equipment in order to reduce annual costs. It is an important plan to improve the quality of life for local people, as correctly stated in 2000 by the Deputy Prime Minister and repeated today by all who have taken part in the debate. It is a unique occasion when every speaker takes the view that the Government have got it wrong, and they ought to reconsider the decision that they have announced. Not one speaker has supported Government policy on this issue.

I am happy to make it clear that I am a supporter of the scheme. My party supports the scheme and a future Conservative Government would consider more imaginative ways of funding the extension of Metrolink, as we would with other infrastructure projects.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

The right hon. Gentleman has hit on an important point about suggested funding options. Will he explain exactly what his party would do?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am in discussions with my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be making a policy announcement on this issue before the next general election. However, I cannot reschedule my party's policy announcements to suit this debate, as much as I would like to do so. We will make an announcement shortly.

My party would end the constant stop-start nature of major transport infrastructure projects. Too often, a project makes slow progress through the planning system only to be delayed indefinitely because the finances of the Government of the day do not permit large blocks of extra expenditure.

We have had a useful and important debate, with contributions of substance from all parties, but this debate should not be necessary. There should be no doubt about the future of the Manchester Metrolink extension, so I hope that the Minister in his winding-up speech will be positive and say that he has a solution that recognises the importance of the project to Manchester and the whole region. If he does not, he and the Government will be letting down the people of Manchester.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State, Department for Transport 10:48 am, 27th October 2004

I say at the outset, as ever in these debates, that I will come back to the facile contributions from the Opposition Front Benches and concentrate as much of the time as I can on the serious issues raised by my colleagues. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ian Stewart on convening the debate. I do not necessarily agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Heyes about its timeliness or otherwise, but I appreciate from all colleagues that, unlike the previous contribution, there will be no detailed debate now on the deal or the way forward. It would simply be inappropriate, given where we are with the working party, to which I will return.

I also congratulate all Labour colleagues from Manchester on the campaign, which I fully understand. I have met a range of colleagues from Manchester since the decision, not least at the Labour party conference, where I met delegates and MPs and attended both of GMPTE's fringe meetings. I have no desire to read the Manchester Evening News, the Rochdale Express or the Bury Times, or to spoil my colleagues' Sunday meals by turning up on BBC North West with alarming regularity.

At the fringe meeting of the Labour party conference organised by GMPTE, I said that all of the key facts made—about regeneration, about the integrated nature of Metrolink and about the real wins that Metrolink extensions would mean for each and every community in Manchester, not simply those served by the three extensions—are without doubt. It is no surprise, and I fully endorse it, that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister launched a document called "The Northern Way" a few weeks ago. At its heart, that document says that Metrolink and its extensions are integral to the regeneration of Manchester. They are but I repeat what I said then—not that project, not at those prices.

That is the entirely disingenuous and fatuous bit of the argument of both Opposition Front Benches. We did not hear a word about cost from Mr. Stunell—absolutely nothing. It was not even a major concern—we should just get on with it, he said. Go back to the last "shadow Budget", as it is laughingly called, and check whether it contains any more for transport this year: no. Last year: no. Successive previous years: no. It is easy to sit on the sideline as a minor third party and say, "Spend, spend, spend, spend, spend."

To the extent that there was any substance to the hon. Gentleman's comments, he dwelt on the airport link. For the purposes of the £900 million package—for want of a shorthand term for it—GMPTE deferred that link in December 2003. The link that the hon. Gentleman dwelt on is not even on the table in the package before us. It is not on the immediate agenda at all. The hon. Gentleman's contribution was very disappointing.

Mr. Knight can talk eloquently about what a future Conservative Government will do. No future Conservative Government would, in any circumstances, consider a project that started at £282 million and topped off at £1 billion barely two years later and say, "No worries, we'll do it anyway." They simply would not do that and he knows it. So we will take his rhetoric, and that of his solo colleague in the Greater Manchester area, Mr. Brady, with a huge pinch of salt.

The comments made by my hon. Friends are well made. I need to challenge some of them but I want to address several of them in substance. I start with the odd red herring. That is not a football comment—red herring is a common phrase. What John Armitt—the chief executive of Network Rail—said was that if the Oldham to Rochdale link does not go forward as part of the regeneration, Network Rail has obligations under its contract with the Office of Rail Regulation to sustain, maintain and develop the Oldham link in the line.

The notion that it is eking a concession out of me to say that, if the Oldham to Rochdale link does not happen, Network Rail will have to sustain the line is a complete red herring. If that link does not happen—we are not at that point, but I will return to our general approach shortly—Network Rail's obligations will remain its obligations while the link is part of the heavy rail network.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State, Department for Transport

I will not until I have made some progress, because plenty of colleagues made other important points. They are all important, and I want to address some of the others, but I may give way shortly.

At this stage at least, I cannot endorse the enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend Mr. Bradley not simply to get over these extensions but to bung in a few more—to Trafford Park, to the Manchester ship canal and so on. I understand the aspiration but let us do what we need to do now first.

I must challenge my hon. Friend Mr. Stringer on the notion that, in the past year or so, the matter has become a spectator sport. One of the first things that I did after joining the Department a year or so ago was meet the Manchester authorities and say, "Ok, your £282 million can go up to £520 million, but that's your absolute lot. It's capped and let's see what we can do with it." So, we almost doubled the costs. It was not a spectator sport.

Subsequent to that, there was a series of revisions, all starting from the premise of £520 million being the cash cap and any number of additions, all the way up to the latest ones of £500 million-plus annual payments. Those are, again, virtually double what we originally planned. In the year and a half that I have been in the Department, it has not been a spectator sport. I do not accept that for a moment. It is not enough for hon. Members, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, to say, "It ain't gold-plated." We know that it is not gold-plated, but we need to drill down and consider the costs. People cannot say, "Well, it's simple. Just accept the costs. That will be fine", because the costs are integral to what we are discussing. It may be said that any examination will not get to the bottom of what is going on in respect of costs, but my hon. Friend will know that any number of ideas are being thrown around now. If we believe the BBC, £300 million is suddenly going to be knocked off. If it is that easy to knock £300 million off, it must be worth further study.

Incidentally—I do not want to dwell on this—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport did not give London £3 billion; he gave London £3 billion-worth of credit, so that Londoners could pay for London's infrastructure improvements. Ken Livingstone has gone for retail price index plus 10 per cent. on bus fares in the first instance. There is much more to come. It is slightly disingenuous to say that the Government are shutting the Manchester Metrolink but saying, "Here's £3 billion for London." That is not the case, and my hon. Friend knows it.

I shall not dwell on the north-south divide. As my hon. Friend said clearly, I do not agree about that. Nor do I believe that the Government's credibility in the north-west is at stake, or that, despite the importance that I, among others, attach to Metrolink, everything that the Government have done thus far in the north-west is suddenly withering on the vine because Metrolink is not proceeding.

I have several quick points on the background and the way forward. It is simply not right to say that Manchester's cost increases are exactly the same as those for schemes throughout the country; they are not. On the latest figures, the cost of this scheme is three times plus what it was originally. There is no comparable scheme of that size. Leeds is double; Portsmouth is close to double; and Liverpool, I think, is not even up to an overrun of 20 per cent. The magnitude of the cost increases in Manchester bears scrutiny. It is not enough simply to put that to one side and say that it belongs with everything else.

Yes, the National Audit Office has waxed lyrical, but it has done so about Metrolink as it is now. It is wrong to give the impression that it has waxed lyrical or given a rubber stamp or green light to Metrolink 3; it simply has not done so. The NAO has said good things about Metrolink thus far, and rightly so, but not about Metrolink 3. That point is important because, as my right hon. and hon. Friends will know, at least part of the deal on the table is the sustenance of the existing network. That makes it all the more important to move forward and get a deal.

The working party has met twice now, and we are due to meet again, I think, the week after next. We must try to find a way forward in an unfettered way, and I need to say this as clearly as I can: that might not mean preserving the big bang. If the big bang and £900 million is the starting point for a deal and it is that or nothing, I return to what I said earlier: not this project, at these prices. If we are to move forward and give Manchester the Metrolink that it deserves—I do not demur from that; I am fully signed up to it—everything should be on the table for the working party.

Phasing, the big bang, shifting the risk back and forth and procurement are all on the table. Drilling down beneath—design, build, maintenance and operation—must be on the table. Re-tendering the whole lot must be on the table. We must not fetter the working party, or the work that it needs to do to get Manchester to where we all want it to be, by locking ourselves in a box that says, "Big bang or nothing." With the will that has been shown thus far, and the work being done by the Department for Transport and Greater Manchester, we can get to the stage that all my colleagues and I want to reach, whereby all the regeneration benefits for Manchester, about which hon. Members have waxed lyrical, can proceed.

I say just gently in passing that the notion that the Liberal Democrats or the Tories would do things far better than the Labour Government is, to use a current phrase, an entirely flawed prospectus that is not worth looking at. We can get to where we want to be. We can get a timetable and a road map that put all these things back on track.

Sitting suspended until Two o'clock.