I am pleased to open this debate on the consultation process for the Greater Manchester bid for funding from the transport innovation fund under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble.
The bid and the linked proposals for a congestion charge are key concerns for my constituency of Worsley. From the outset, I have said that I want my constituents to have their say on the proposals, and I shall describe why I think that that is important. The aim of the TIF bid and the congestion charge proposals is to cut the levels of congestion in and out of Manchester at peak times. In 2005, the Department for Transport said that it was seeking proposals that combined some form of demand management such as road pricing with better public transport, including the better use of buses, trams and light rail schemes, provided they offered good value for money.
From the outset, my concern about Greater Manchester's bid was that my constituents would not benefit from better public transport yet would end up paying congestion charges on journeys into Manchester and on local journeys to Salford and surrounding areas such as Trafford and Bolton. Many of my constituents commute to work in central Salford or Manchester, and the poor state of the public transport run by privatised service providers means that many have no option but to travel by car. The congestion charging proposals will mean that they will have to pay from £500 to £1,200 annually just to get to work.
Many other Worsley constituents face charges when they cross charging zones on more local journeys. Examples include parents taking their children to school or teachers travelling to work at schools such as Bridgewater school, which is inside the zone. Salford council has a plan to merge St. George's high school in Walkden, which is outside the charging zone, with another school at a location inside the charging zone. Congestion charges would make the merger proposal very unpopular with staff and parents alike.
Patients attending appointments at Salford Royal or Christie hospitals, and family carers attending with, or visiting, them would also be charged. I have already received expressions of concern from constituents about that. Staff at the hospitals will be affected, as will businesses delivering to the hospitals. Students and staff at Salford, Pendleton and Eccles colleges and Salford university will also be affected.
Shopping facilities in Walkden, Little Hulton and Worsley do not cater sufficiently for local people. Most local people travel to other nearby locations such as Eccles, Swinton and the Trafford centre. All three locations are across the congestion charge boundary, so charges would be incurred by constituents who want to shop in those areas at certain times. People working at, or visiting, the town hall in Salford such as councillors, those attending meetings or even people just paying bills will be affected, as will local business people who cross the zones during peak times with deliveries. Worsley ward and neighbouring areas such as Swinton, Barton, Eccles and Winton all fall within the proposed outer charging zone. Paying to travel to those local areas will have a significant impact on my constituents.
The improvements to Greater Manchester public transport that will be funded by the TIF bid seem to be geared towards city centre improvements, with much of the investment intended for the expansion of Metrolink. Only a small number of my constituents use that facility. The main method of travel into Manchester for Worsley constituents is by car or, to a much lesser extent, by heavy rail. There is only limited use of rail networks through Atherton and Walkden for commuting into Manchester, because the services are overcrowded and subject to other problems, too. Express trains from Atherton do not stop at Walkden, because of the limited length of the platform. The two-carriage trains that do stop there tend to be full, and 30, 40 or more people are regularly left there in the morning peak hour, because they cannot get on the overcrowded trains.
Access to Walkden station is poor. There are two flights of stairs and no lift. The facilities are outdated and the station infrastructure is in urgent need of renewal. There are no car-parking facilities at the station apart from parking in nearby residential streets. An issue that we might draw out in this debate is the impact of informal park and ride arrangements on many parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation if the proposals go ahead. The proposed improvements in the TIF bid which would benefit Worsley are limited, and include things such as investment in improved real-time passenger information, CCTV and signage at Walkden station; extra carriages on rail lines via Atherton and Eccles, from which, incidentally, we will not benefit unless the problems at Walkden are fixed; and a share of Salford's 10 new school buses, which would mean possibly two or three of the yellow school buses.
Further improvements have been discussed, and much of the press coverage tends to focus on things such as the guided busway running from Leigh through Worsley and Salford to Manchester. However, the service is not funded in the TIF bid, and when I speak to constituents about transport matters, the Leigh guided busway is not a popular solution. At the Leigh end of Worsley constituency, the construction of the bus route would bring noise and constant disturbance to people living near the former railway line, which has become a peaceful backwater. In Walkden and Worsley, the guided busway would take up one lane of the two-lane East Lancashire road, and there are fears that it would serve to intensify congestion at peak times.
The bus services serving Worsley constituency are poor. Over the past two years, the privatised bus services provided by First in Manchester have been cut across Worsley constituency and Salford more generally. I have campaigned for improved services for my constituents but First has not listened to its customers or to me. Services that were vital to commuters and important to other bus users were cut. There are too many examples to detail, but I shall provide a few. The No. 35 service used by commuters to Manchester from Leigh via Atherton, Tyldesley, Mosley Common, Boothstown and Worsley—all key commuting destinations into Manchester—was withdrawn in 2006. The No. 553 service from Bolton to Boothstown and the No. 552 service from Bolton to Leigh were withdrawn, leaving no direct links from Tyldesley or Boothstown to Bolton.
Routes have also been changed. The bus service that linked Boothstown and Manchester, which was important to commuters, was cut back to one bus an hour. A vital bus service to the Trafford centre from Bolton via Little Hulton, Walkden and Worsley no longer stops at Little Hulton. I have received complaints from constituents, as I am sure many Members in the Chamber have, about the level of service on the buses. They range from complaints about frequency and lack of capacity during peak periods to examples of poor standards of service such as drivers refusing parents with a buggy access to the bus. Services need to improve dramatically before my constituents would use them instead of a car, but I cannot see any dramatic improvements on the horizon. In fact, when her local bus service was withdrawn, one of my constituents said:
"I find it difficult to understand how we are being urged to forego cars in preference of a public transport system which at times is poor or is non-existent."
Over the past two years, such issues have caused many of my constituents to switch to the car.
Given the situation with public transport, it is my firm view that the consultation proposed by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and the passenger transport executive is not up to the task. What has been proposed is a consultation brochure with a response form for each household; an exhibition bus with three roving exhibitions per local authority; some public meetings, and a website. Those of us who have tried to organise campaigns would not organise one around a single thing being delivered to each household, or depend on public meetings and websites. None of us would think that that was much of a campaign. The planned costs of the consultation are about £3 million, of which just under half is to be spent on advertising and opinion polling. After the first advertisements were aired this weekend, other MPs and I received angry e-mails about perceived bias in the advertising campaign and requests for the adverts to put both sides of the argument.
Some compelling points need to be aired during the debate. First, the charging zone in Greater Manchester is considerably larger than for any other existing scheme. It will cover 76 square miles, or 15 per cent., of Greater Manchester, compared with 8 square miles covered by the original London charging cordon and 11 square miles in Stockholm. The charging cordon for Greater Rome covers an area of just 2 square miles, or 3 per cent. of the city. The economic base of the Greater Manchester zone is fundamentally different from other charging locations. Charging schemes have been introduced in high-density employment areas such as city centres, which have an established public transport infrastructure. I have made it clear that no such infrastructure exists, certainly not in my constituency, whereas in London, 80 per cent. of workers in the zone already travelled to work by public transport before the charge was introduced. As I have mentioned, Worsley and other parts of the proposed Greater Manchester charging zone do not have effective public transport alternatives.
The other key difference is that, in London, public transport is controlled by Transport for London and the Mayor of London, who was able to invest the congestion charge funds in a fleet of new buses, for example, which improved public transport. In Greater Manchester, much of the TIF funding will be spent on the expansion of Metrolink, which will benefit only certain areas, and I have to say that my constituency is not one of them.
Another key issue that needs to be aired is the question of whether Manchester is so congested that the changes are justified and whether the proposed changes and charges will make enough of a difference. One of the main traffic bottlenecks in my constituency is at junctions 12 and 13 on the M60 motorway, and it is almost entirely due to poor junction design. For a number of years, the Highways Agency proposed a scheme to improve those junctions, because there was such a traffic bottleneck. Traffic filters on and off the M62 and M602 motorways across a very tight area. However, this problem—our worst problem—would not be tackled or improved by the TIF proposals. Other parts of Greater Manchester also have traffic bottlenecks that need to be tackled by the Highways Agency.
I travel around my constituency, both during peak hours and outside those hours. Compared with the situation in London before the congestion charge was introduced, we have a traffic peak at the start of the day and in the afternoon/early evening. I used to work in London a couple of days a month before congestion charging was introduced, and there is no comparison between the scale of the gridlock in London and the situation in Greater Manchester. It would be difficult for many of my constituents to pay congestion charges just to get to work in Manchester or central Salford. It would lead to staff making demands on employers to take on some or all of the cost of congestion charging, which might be a big factor in respect of Manchester and Salford becoming employment destinations. Businesses are fearful about that and the consequent impact it would have on them.
Towns such as Eccles and Swinton struggle to survive against competition from retail and business centres elsewhere. It would be tempting for businesses to relocate from those places and for staff to change jobs to locations outside the charging zone. Similarly, schools, colleges and Salford university might find it harder to attract staff and students if those people could switch to similar establishments outside the charging zones. Many of my constituents work and shop at the Trafford centre, but there would be an incentive for them to travel instead to other out-of-town shopping centres. Many unintended consequences would have an adverse impact on life for all the businesses and organisations within the charging zone.
I am pleased to have opened this debate today. When the Transport Act 2000, which provided for the introduction of road charging outside London, was introduced the then Deputy Prime Minister said that if congestion charging schemes were to be introduced and approved, certain changes must be met, including the condition that public transport should be improved before charging schemes began to offer motorists a proper choice. A further condition was that local people must be consulted. As I have made clear, I do not believe that public transport can be improved enough in my constituency to offer motorists a proper choice. My constituents should be properly consulted, and I will work to make sure that they get as much information as possible and have a chance to have their say.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble. I congratulate Barbara Keeley on securing it. She spoke eloquently and knowledgably, and I agree with pretty much everything she said.
I should like briefly to make clear my own view about congestion charging schemes before discussing the consultation on which the debate is focused. I accept that there is a good case to be made for a national congestion charging scheme. Such a scheme will be in place probably within 15 or 20 years, at least on our motorways and trunk roads. However, it is difficult to overestimate—I choose my words carefully—the seething resentment in some parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation about being used as a laboratory experiment in respect of this scheme.
My contention is that this particular scheme, not road charging generally, is fundamentally flawed. I say that because its success depends pretty much on the number of cars travelling in and out of the city centre continuing at the same level. If the scheme is successful in deterring motorists from travelling in and out of the city at peak times, which is what it is supposed to do, it will mean that less revenue is raised to go towards the promised public transport investments. It cannot work, because if the scheme is successful in discouraging motorists from using their cars to get in and out of town, less revenue will be raised and there will be less money for the promised public transport improvements. The scheme depends on motorists continuing to drive in and out of the city centre at the same rate.
A cornerstone of the case for the congestion charging scheme appears to be the suggestion that is being developed for a referendum. I want to focus particularly on why that is not necessarily the right way forward and why I am certainly not persuaded that it is the best way of going about things. Incidentally, I have no doubt that if a referendum is to happen, the scheme will go down and I will oppose the idea of holding a referendum because it is not the right way forward. I say that clearly, because the premise on which the question is based in a referendum will be different depending on where people live.
If people live in the inner ring around Manchester, wherever that line is finally drawn, why would they not vote for the proposed scheme—Graham Stringer might want to add something on this later—because they will get pretty much all the benefits at none of the cost? Those in the inner ring will not pay at all to travel into and out of the city centre. Because of the way the rings will work, most of the constituents of my hon. Friend Mr. Leech, who will live between the first and second rings, will be asked to pay once to travel into the city centre, and they may think that that is a price worth paying for the promised improvements. However, my constituents in Cheadle, whom I have the privilege of representing, and the vast majority of people in Stockport borough will be paying twice. So the premise is not the same. I can understand why people in the city centre might vote for the scheme, but people outside the second ring will be asked to pay twice. What makes it even more invidious is that the people in Stockport borough will not get the promised public transport improvements—not in the foreseeable future, anyway.
My other key point is that all of this is premised on the Government's saying, "If you accept this scheme, more money will be made available for public transport." We would all welcome more investment in public transport; we all know that it needs it. However, hon. Members' first duty is to represent the interests of the people who elect us to Parliament. Ask anybody in Stockport and they will say that the talk about promised extensions of the Metrolink system to Stockport town centre has been going on for years. I was previously leader of Stockport council and I am a former member of the passenger transport authority in Greater Manchester. The Metrolink scheme has always been developed on the basis that, eventually, we would all benefit from it. I have to say to the Minister that some of us are still waiting. We are no closer to the extension of the Metrolink system to Stockport and this consultation will not bring it any closer.
There is also an issue in my constituency, which affects the whole south side of Greater Manchester, about completing the A555 relief road. I know that the Minister is well aware of the compelling case that we have made, on a number of occasions, for that project to be given the go-ahead. However, without confirmation that we are going to get a Metrolink extension to Stockport and that the A555 road scheme will go ahead, the people in Stockport are being asked by the Government to take too much on trust. The Government have fully used their reservoir of good will for these ideas in my area.
Three of the 10 Greater Manchester authorities are already on the record as opposing the scheme. I am not sure of the current status of the proposed referendum in Bolton, but it is likely that a fourth will come out against the scheme. My key question to the Minister is how on earth will such a scheme be imposed on Greater Manchester residents on the basis that certainly three and perhaps four of its 10 authorities will not want to co-operate?
I hope that the Minister will address those genuine concerns in her response. I understand why, in some cases, the scheme may make sense for some hon. Members and that they will want to support it, but I am afraid that many of us can see no tangible benefit for our constituents. The constituents whom I have the privilege of representing will be asked to pay twice to get in and out of the city centre with no corresponding increase or improvement in public transport. If we end up with a conurbation-wide referendum, it will be without my support.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs. Humble. I congratulate my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley on securing the debate. I am pleased to make a brief contribution towards it.
This is an extremely timely debate, given the surprise announcement last week that the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities will press for a county-wide referendum on this important issue, and the politicking that took place last Friday when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a joined administration on the passenger transport authority, a matter to which I shall return.
Like my hon. Friend's Worsley constituency, my Denton and Reddish constituency is sliced in two by the M60, the proposed outer charging zone. Consequently, many of my constituents have real concerns about the congestion charging proposals.
First, let me put on record my firm belief that Greater Manchester's public transport needs improving. My constituents in both Stockport and Tameside are not well served by public transport. We currently have no Metrolink service, and although bus services along the main roads are fairly frequent, that has been at the expense of a number of services away from those main routes being cut dramatically or even axed, thus penalising pensioners and disabled residents in particular. They have certainly not been well served by the private bus companies operating in my part of Greater Manchester.
I lay claim to the most pathetic train service in the entire United Kingdom, which has just one train, once a week, in one direction between Stockport and Stalybridge via Reddish South and Denton stations on Saturday morning. Therefore, I appreciate that the nearly £3 billion package of funding that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put on the table must be seriously considered. I doubt whether we shall ever again be offered such a sum to put right the many wrongs that collectively form the Greater Manchester transport network. That £3 billion is needed, and it is needed desperately.
The real controversy lies with the Greater Manchester congestion charge element of the proposal, and particularly in communities such as those that I represent which straddle the M60 charging zone. Whether people agree in principle with the notion of congestion charging, if the aim really is to tackle unnecessary traffic heading into and choking up the city centre, they can just about accept the logic of a system that identifies the traffic that causes the problem and consequently imposes a charge, but what Greater Manchester proposes is a two-ring system with a £2 charge for passing the M60 outer ring and £1 charge for passing the inner ring with a further £2 charge to return over the M60. Charges would apply only at peak times and in the direction of the congestion. That takes no account of local travel and of allowing communities to operate in a joined-up way, as they have always done.
I have absolutely no answer to the young mum who came to my advice bureau recently. She lives in Audenshaw, one of the towns sliced in two by the M60, works in Ashton-under-Lyne, and travels away from the peak traffic flow in the morning and evening, so ordinarily would not be charged, but she has to drop her daughter off at a local private day nursery, which is in her community of Audenshaw and less than quarter of a mile from where she lives. Because it is on the opposite side of the M60, she would be charged £2 a day under the proposals. When she told me that that will not tackle congestion because she is not causing it, and that it will merely add £10 a week to her child care bill, I had no answer, and the Greater Manchester scheme has no acceptable answer either.
The Dane Bank part of Denton is divided from the rest of the town by the M60, an industrial estate and the fringes of the Tame Valley country park. Every year, there is an issue for local parents because the two primary schools, Dane Bank and Denton West End, fill up, and a small number of children from that estate are not allocated places at them. Between one and five children are affected, so the numbers are not large, and they are then allocated whichever other primary school in Denton has surplus places. However, those schools are on the other side of the M60, through the industrial estate and past the open space. There is no public transport linking the two sides effectively, so the only option is for those children to be driven to school. Greater Manchester passenger transport executive's yellow bus scheme will not help such a small number of children who are dispersed to different schools, so the parents will be charged to return home after dropping their children off at their local school. This is just plain wrong.
Finally, the M60 cuts through the most southern part of Denton and Reddish, and through the centre of Stockport town centre, so the charge zone will dissect the north and south of the borough through the economic heart of the town. It will not allow Stockport to function properly as a community. If the GMPTE and AGMA cannot devise a scheme to honour and respect local communities, they will never get a yes vote in the referendum.
Those are the issues that I am taking up on behalf of my constituents, and I have meetings planned with officials from the PTE to discuss those concerns. Let us face it, last week it seemed that the inner charging zone was not set in concrete, with public consultation proposed on the final boundaries, but no similar announcement was made about the outer zone. It seems that for us the scheme is set in stone, at least for the time being, but AGMA and the PTE will have to budge and respect local communities if they want the scheme to proceed.
Finally, I welcome the decision to have a referendum. It was always going to be difficult for AGMA when Bolton announced that it was having a local poll, with the three opposing councils, Stockport, Trafford and Bury, and perhaps Oldham, also suggesting one. We cannot have half of Greater Manchester—five of the 10 boroughs—having a say in a poll, but not the other half. Everyone in Greater Manchester should have their say on such an important issue, and AGMA is correct—although I believe that it has deferred a formal decision—to suggest a county-wide referendum. Let us have a good and proper debate about the county's transport needs and of our individual parts of it alongside the pros and cons of the congestion charge proposal.
That leads me to the GMPTA. It is absolutely crazy that its new Conservative chair, deputy leader of Trafford council and well-known anti-transport innovation fund campaigner, has agreed to share power with the Lib Dem group on the PTA, as long as he remains neutral on TIF. That requirement was set down by the Lib Dems, who are all over the place on this issue. Stockport is firmly against, Rochdale is evangelically for, and Oldham—I am not sure whether this is true to form—is not sure.
I like and respect Councillor Colledge, the new chair. I have met him on a number of occasions, including last week when he was in Westminster with a GMPTA delegation to lobby MPs about light rail. I wish him well in his new post, but how can the chair of the PTA remain neutral on a scheme to which its own PTE is co-signatory, which PTE officers are helping to draw up and which will be subject to a referendum on which the PTA, with him as chair, will presumably ask for a yes vote, and Trafford council, with him as deputy leader, will call for a no vote?
Whatever happens in the referendum, I shall encourage my constituents to have their say and to make their voices heard. Until then, I will keep raising the issues of fairness and social cohesion with AGMA and the passenger transport executive, because the communities I represent—particularly those affected by the charge zone, such as Audenshaw, Denton and north and central Stockport—deserve answers and a resolution to their very real concerns.
The congestion charge is a misnomer. It is a new tax specifically for Manchester that is related neither to the ability to pay nor to congestion. The charge will be paid by people who have no public transport alternative and it could last for 30 years—it has, in fact, been boasted that it will last for that long. Put like that, the charge is a pretty unattractive proposition. Why then are some of the authorities in Greater Manchester in favour of it, as was, until recently, the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority? The justification is that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put more than £3 billion of public money into improving the trams, trains and buses in Greater Manchester, while at the same time beating congestion.
It is assumed that there is no alternative to that analysis of what is going on. I have done my best to try to put together what is really happening by looking at the transport innovation fund bid, which is still a private document—the chief executive of Manchester city council has given it to me on a confidential basis—and by reading the reports that have gone to the passenger transport authority, the AGMA and the councils. It seems that something quite different is on offer than £3 billion of wonderful integrated transport.
For a start, the Government's grant is £1.21 billion—it is not clear how many years that is over, but it is possibly five or 10 years—which is a relatively trivial amount of the transport allocation to the regions. The rest of the cost is to be met locally. When we compare that figure with what has been spent on London—for example, on Crossrail, on Thameslink and on writing off the disgrace of the Metronet contract, which was more than that in just one slug of £2 billion—it seems that such a scheme should be wholly funded by central Government. When one looks at the detail, one realises that there will not be trams everywhere—there will be trams to Ashton, to Manchester airport and to Didsbury—and that the scheme involves Altrincham bus station and yellow buses.
Trams to Oldham and Rochdale have been mentioned, but they are listed as a category D funding priority. Such funding is not guaranteed but, from the documents that are being put out, it is difficult to tell that the funding arrangements for Oldham and Rochdale have not been agreed. I might be wrong on this because I have had to work it out myself, but it seems that £1 in every £6 of the Government grant of £1.21 billion will be spent on kit for the congestion charge. That means that between one sixth and one fifth of the money will be spent just on kit and will not be spent to the benefit of public transport. That money could pay for trams to Oldham, Rochdale and possibly elsewhere.
After reading all the documents, it is unclear exactly what the result of the congestion charge will be and how much money will be brought forward by it. If one reads the documents carefully, the implication is that having a congestion charge on the two rings will not bring in enough income and that a charge will have to be put around Stockport, Bolton and the other district centres to make it work, or there will have to be higher charges. The scheme is unbelievably complicated. The administrative costs are unspecified, but the details show that single accounts for different motorists will have to be run, so it could be as complicated as the poll tax.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of a third ring around the city, which would obviously be of particular concern to my constituents. Is it not strange that in the initial consultation on the scheme a third ring was shown in the documentation, but mention of it now seems to have disappeared? Does he share my concern that that might be an attempt to try to slip the charge through with less opposition than there might otherwise have been?
I share the concerns of my constituents and hon. Members that the process is not transparent. That is really the point I want to get to, but before I do so, I want to say that although we have been told that the bus network will be much improved, when one looks at the documents, one finds that we will not have quality partnerships or quality contracts; we will have a voluntary agreement with the bus companies. Despite the investment on bus priority measures, those bus companies that have done a great disservice to Greater Manchester during the past 20 years will be able to run whatever schedules and charge whatever fares they want. My experience of bus companies in Greater Manchester has shown that as they get bus priority measures, they increase their profits on those routes and cut the feeder routes into radial routes. We need to know whether people will be closer or further away from bus routes if the scheme goes through because that is not in the consultation document. Having read the documents, my instinct is that people will be further away from buses unless they happen to live on a radial route.
Mark Hunter said that he could understand people in the inner city voting for the proposal, but some people will have to drive across the boundary both ways to drop children off at school. My experience of bus companies is that they fill the buses up as far out as possible, charge relatively high fares and then stop picking up. Therefore, in all probability and according to the fare model that is used, people will get limited fares, much higher fares per mile will be charged to inner-city residents and there will be limited stop buses. The documents do not deny that that will happen and therefore the implication is that it will happen.
The documents also claim that congestion will be reduced. The implication of having bus priority measures is that there will be fewer people travelling down a corridor than before and that there will be more congestion—although that has not happened in every case in Greater Manchester as sometimes it has been done well and sometimes badly. That is not a great prospect.
An information campaign is supposed to start on
I have considered the council's claim that it is following the Cabinet Office's rules on consultation. Those rules imply that there should be a regulatory impact assessment, but there is not one; they imply that there should be openness, but one cannot get to the figures; and they imply that there should be a level of objectivity, but a scrutiny panel has been set up that consists of the promoters of the scheme—the chief executives of the local authorities are on the panel. How can anyone have any faith in the independent scrutiny panel, which will consider the questions and leaflets that will be distributed? The Cabinet Office document also states that questions should be specific. The consultation documents are open-ended, which means that anyone can interpret them in any way they wish. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister is as concerned as I am about that type of consultation, because it means that it is possible to interpret the responses in any way.
I have never been a great supporter of referendums unless they are referred to in our manifestos, but if there is to be a referendum on this matter, I want to know who will determine the question. That must be done independently, by the Electoral Reform Society or another independent body. Will both sides of the campaign be funded equally as they were for the referendum in the north-east and for the referendum on Europe in 1975, or will it just be the current literature, which is campaigning, promotional literature, not information literature, that is used in a referendum? A referendum will have no credibility unless the question is set independently and both sides of the argument are put, with public money on both sides. It must not be a case of just one side hogging the information and putting forward all the information, so that the rest of us have to search around in detail for what we can find.
With either a referendum or the consultation, there is what we should refer to in Greater Manchester or the north-west as the Chorley question, just as there is the West Lothian question. My hon. Friend Mr. Hoyle said, "What about Chorley?" People from Chorley and other towns round Greater Manchester will drive into Manchester and will have to pay the tax. Will they be consulted? Will they have a say in any referendum? I do not know the answer to that question, but it should not be the case that people who have to pay the tax are not consulted whereas people who do not have to pay the tax are consulted. There are many flaws in this process. I hope that the Minister is listening to all the contributions that are made today and will vigorously ensure that any consultation and any referendum that take place are conducted fairly.
Today's debate is welcome and timely. Equally welcome is the prospect of what would be an unprecedented level of investment in Greater Manchester's public transport. Particularly in the case of my part of the conurbation, completion of the Metrolink to Ashton-under-Lyne is essential to the future economic well-being of Ashton. There is the prospect of a better heavy rail service through Ashton-under-Lyne, where there have been years of commuter misery because of overcrowding and the complete inability of potential passengers to get on to trains when they arrive. There is also the prospect of local bus improvements, which are much needed, but only if they can be linked with re-regulation.
I am a supporter of the TIF proposal, but we need to get the details right. Today's debate is about consultation on the plans, so in the few minutes available to me, I shall, like my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne, concentrate on some of the complexities and contradictions of the congestion charge as it will affect my constituents. Many of my points will be similar to the points that he rehearsed. It is essential that the consultation process deals with those issues if it is to be credible.
Ashton-under-Lyne is dissected by the M60. Four of the wards in my constituency are on the inner side of the motorway, ringing Failsworth and Droylsden, and five wards are outside the ring, in Ashton-under-Lyne and Hollinwood. Many of my constituents have told me of their worries about the impact of the congestion charge as they move about their immediate localities. Those worries have been made worse because during the recent local election, there was some pretty unscrupulous scaremongering by Tory and Lib Dem candidates, who peddled a campaign of misinformation and showed why, although they might want power, they are just not fit to exercise it in Greater Manchester. Some of the shenanigans relating to the running of the passenger transport authority in the past week have shown that very clearly.
Despite that, many of my constituents' concerns are well founded, and I shall give a few examples. Ashton-under-Lyne is due east of the regional centre and is entirely outside the M60 ring road—Ashton-under-Lyne town centre, that is. If people want to travel east from Ashton-under-Lyne towards Yorkshire, or south towards the midlands, the main route out of the town centre directs them westward in the first place, over the M60 and therefore into the congestion charging zone, and, after about a quarter of a mile, east again, on to the M60 and into the area where the congestion charge would not apply. The question, therefore, is this: will a peak-hour congestion charge be payable by people whose journey is essentially out of the congestion charging zone but peripherally into it?
In Hollinwood, which by any measure is one of the most economically disadvantaged wards in the country, Kaskenmoor secondary school was severed from the community that it serves when the M60 was built. It sits virtually on the motorway embankment, just inside the M60 ring. The school catchment area draws pupils and many of the staff from outside the zone, and they will cross the zone boundary for just a few yards in order to go to the school. They are asking whether they will face a congestion charge.
Also in Hollinwood, we are to have a new Metrolink station, coupled with a park-and-ride facility, whereby travellers from outside the M60 ring can park and transfer to the tram to complete their journey into Manchester city centre. However, because the station sits just inside the M60 ring, will such travellers face a congestion charge? If they did, that would be bizarre, because those people would be trying to avoid causing congestion in the city centre by using public transport.
Just this week, a constituent from Failsworth, Mr. Boswell, wrote to me. He says:
"On one of the few occasions that we use the car for local journeys (taking my daughter from our home in Failsworth to the Oldham Lyceum for music tutorship on Tuesdays at 17:00), we would be charged...under the current proposals. Also as an example, my wife works...at the Royal Oldham Hospital. When working a night shift, she would be returning home to Failsworth at about 08:00 and would therefore be subject to a £2 charge...It is clearly unacceptable to charge somebody simply because they already live within the outer ring and are trying to get AWAY from Manchester or are trying to return home!"
Failsworth is part of Oldham. It is just about the only part of Oldham that is inside the M60 ring and it faces being terribly disadvantaged if those Oldham citizens want to travel to their own sub-regional centre at peak times. For them, it would be a charge too far.
I shall conclude by saying that, if the consultation is to be meaningful, it will need to have answers to those questions. The leaflets, consultation documents, website and exhibitions will need to address such concerns, which will apply not only in my constituency but, as we have heard, right around the M60. My continued strong support for the TIF proposition—it is strong support—will depend on the answers to questions such as those.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley on obtaining the debate. I do not share her central premise on the TIF bid in any shape or form—I am a genuine supporter—but nevertheless the debate is important because there has to be the utmost clarity in the TIF bid process if people are to be convinced that it is in the collective interests of people across Greater Manchester, and the consultation process, in any case, has at least to allow for the type of points that we have heard. My hon. Friends the Members for Ashton-under-Lyne (David Heyes) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) raised points of great detail. Nevertheless, the fact that they are points of detail does not invalidate them. Those are exactly the type of detailed points that people will want to have answered community by community. That will affect my own constituents in the centre of the conurbation.
The one thing that I find disappointing about the nay, nay and nay again position of Mark Hunter is that Cheadle is very much the part of Greater Manchester that benefits from the city centre. The relatively affluent people who live in Cheadle have always benefited from their ability to travel into the centre. They have benefited, in particular, from the economic base and they have benefited from the social base. In historical terms, they have never been the ones who have borne the problems caused by the conurbation. Some of the problems are intense, and I shall come to those. His constituents will have an interest in the resolution of some of those problems, because congestion has costs. That is an important issue. I could go on at great length about the importance of dealing with the production of greenhouse gases and about the need to do something practical about the use of the motor car in our society and the need for congestion charging simply on that basis. That matters to the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Cheadle as it does to mine in inner-city Manchester.
I accept that it may not be a central point in his contribution, but as the hon. Gentleman mentioned my constituency I feel that I ought to respond. I put it to him that the residents of Stockport borough, and my constituents in particular, have already contributed handsomely to the cost of developing the Metrolink system. We are reluctant to pay any more until we can see the benefits. I entirely take his point about Manchester being the regional capital, and I am a proud Mancunian, but he should give us a bit more credit.
I give the hon. Gentleman's constituents much more credit. I have a far more noble view of them; they, too, recognise the need to do something practical about congestion. They also recognise, as I do, like my constituents and all who live in the conurbation, that there are big costs to bear. Those costs even include health, because we know that the impact of vehicle-borne pollution, particularly on the lungs of young people, is serious and increasing.
Frankly, it is not responsible to say that we will see an indefinite number of vehicles coming into the centre of Manchester and that the children in a constituency such as mine will bear the cost of that air pollution—although I realise that it travels across the conurbation—and then say that it is not an issue for the people. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's constituents would want that either. The important factor is that Cheadle has always depended economically on Greater Manchester, and particularly on the economy of Manchester.
The real damage of congestion is straightforward. Independent surveys have come up with numbers—for instance, that the conurbation will lose 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. We can dispute the exact numbers, but it would be a very foolish person who said that congestion would not have a serious impact on the labour market. That is borne out by the experience of others cities, such as Dublin and Bristol, where economic growth has slowed because they failed to deal with congestion in a timely fashion. There are profound and important reasons why Manchester will have to deal with congestion, and those who are opposed to the scheme have failed to address them.
The hon. Gentleman will have 10 minutes to speak. I have far less time, so I hope that he will forgive me if I simply say that he will have to come up with far better answers on the question of jobs than his party has done so far—either in Greater Manchester, where Conservative councils are against it, or nationally.
The consultation is tremendously important. The inner ring goes across my constituency, and there will of course be a local impact. The details will matter to my constituents. For instance, it would be absurd if people found themselves unable to take their children to school on the way to work. Those are normal daily patterns, and it is not satisfactory to say that people should walk. That is not a reasonable proposition. Local people, community by community, will need reassurance on such matters, and the consultation must deal with them.
I know that my hon. Friend Graham Stringer follows the matter with real interest, and he has raised some important technical points. We need to ensure that the information base is fair. For example, we must be sure that big organisations such as Peel Holdings that are opposed to the congestion charge also play a responsible and acceptable role and do not simply engage in propaganda. We need a proper debate.
The reality is that there are real opportunities for public transport improvements across the conurbation. Stockport rail station will benefit if it becomes part of a local interchange. That will have a considerable effect on people throughout the borough of Stockport, including those in Cheadle; and my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley knows that the dedicated bus corridor that goes through Salford and on to Manchester will benefit her constituents. Those things have to be measured in the balance, because people will have different views of the opportunities that the scheme affords them.
I realise that others wish to speak, so I shall conclude by saying that we need a debate that genuinely considers the opportunities. The conurbation could have first-class—indeed, world-class—public transport. We should not deny that. We should not say that it can be achieved in other ways. Indeed, no hon. Member has explained how else we could achieve a public transport uplift if the bid did not go ahead. That is important.
[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]
We must not deceive the public into thinking that there is a plan B. There is not. It is important that the information put forward in the consultation recognises that there are important questions, such as the economic cost of congestion, but it is also important that those who take the consultation process forward listen carefully to the important points of detail that, in the end, will be the basis on which local people vote.
I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will persuade Tory councillors in Greater Manchester to accept that the legitimate way to take this forward is to have a county-wide referendum. That would give every individual the opportunity to have a say and to make their vote count. That would result in a proper transport system, with a proper structure across the conurbation. It would not simply be selfish voices being raised from particular parts at the expense of the wider community.
May I say to my colleagues that for a quarter of a century I have represented the most westerly and south-westerly part of the Greater Manchester conurbation? Over the past quarter of a century, through the general taxation and local authority taxation systems and the annual precepts to the Greater Manchester Transport Authority, my constituents have subsidised and paid for large measures of investment infrastructure in the city of Manchester. They have had not a single penny in return.
One of the big things for us—this is why I support the bid—is that for the first time we see a plan for multi-million-pound investment in new infrastructure and schemes to update the dilapidated infrastructure in the most westerly parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation. The only way that my constituents can get to work in Manchester is by car. There is no network of bus services. There is no train network worth the name. My constituents invest their skills, knowledge and commitment in Manchester to produce the wealth and the goods and services, and they use Manchester's wonderful facilities for the arts, crafts and sports—all that makes it such a wonderful city we all support, admire and commit ourselves to—but although they have had to pay, they receive nothing in return.
The importance of the transport innovation fund and the critical arguments about the environment all pale into insignificance if people say, "If I'm going to pay for this, what do I get back in return?" It is important that the consultation process makes a great effort to listen to what ordinary people have to say about what the bid means in practical terms to their daily lives and about the resources needed to improve them. For my constituents, I hope that it will mean new and refurbished stations and a new bus network. As my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley said, we could all present a list of things that we would like for our constituencies. Even with an hour-and-a-half debate on that one subject, I could not cover everything. However, one thing is certain. If the bid does not get through, if it is undermined and nothing happens—we could add all those things that we have not discussed plus everything in the bid—we would still be left with congestion. We will still be left with constituents who, like mine, pay through the precept to subsidise the city's transport infrastructure and receive nothing back.
With the additional cost of transport, one thing is certain. As my hon. Friend Graham Stringer said, the cost of transport will continue to rise, and fuel will become scarcer and more expensive. Unless the bid succeeds, the only alternative for my constituents will be to use the car. The bid must succeed and allow major infrastructure investments. My hon. Friend was right to say that it will not solve all the problems. He listed all the things in his constituency that it would not cover. I, too, could make a list. For instance, it would not give me a northern bypass around Ashton-in-Makerfield; and it would not remove the disturbances on the M6, which goes through my constituency. Every day, thousands of heavy vehicles go through my constituency on the old Victorian road system, but TIF will not resolve that problem. However, I still have the bottle to argue the case for TIF.
Some of my constituents may say that there is not much in it for them, but one thing is absolutely certain. We cannot go on as we are, paying every day in pollution and through our rates and getting nothing back. TIF could start to reverse that process. I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that factor. As for the consultation, organisations such as Network Rail have a responsibility. The Secretary of State made a statement on
We are at the point at which spokesmen would normally begin their speeches. Mr. Brady gave a reasonable reason for being late and said that he would make a short contribution. I cannot stop you, Mr. Brady, once you start, but I am minded to ask you to restrict yourself to a minute or so.
I appreciate that very much, Mr. Wilshire. I congratulate Barbara Keeley on securing the debate, and I am pleased to make a brief contribution to the debate.
I think that the scheme is deeply flawed, for three key reasons. First, a congestion charging scheme should be easy to afford, but this scheme is not. It will cost many people £5 a day but, as has already been admitted, it could cost others as much as £10. There will be no discount for residents, unlike the London scheme, which people need to understand in the consultation process. Residents are going to be hit very hard.
Secondly, such schemes can work only when public transport in the area is good enough. At the moment in Greater Manchester, public transport is such a long way from being good enough to replace the use of the car that many people, including the constituents of my friend, Mr. McCartney, will continue to pay, without getting the return that he hopes they will get.
Thirdly, such a scheme must be simple to understand. However flawed and one-sided the consultation, it will highlight the fact that the scheme is not easily understandable and is incredibly, absurdly complex. Two circles are already proposed, and a third, outer ring might be introduced in due course. People do not understand the scheme, it will be complicated to operate, and it will cause endless confusion and complication in people's daily lives if it is introduced.
I add my congratulations to Barbara Keeley on securing this debate, which is on an incredibly important issue for the whole of Greater Manchester. Getting the consultation right and ensuring that people have a say on the proposals is absolutely vital.
Opinions are divided on the merits or otherwise of a road charging scheme for Manchester, and not along the political divide, contrary to the comments made by Andrew Gwynne. The leader of Manchester city council is strongly in favour of introducing congestion charging, yet the former leader of the council, Graham Stringer is totally opposed. LibDem-run Stockport, which will once again miss out on Metrolink and which stands to gain little from the proposals, is opposed to the scheme, yet LibDem-run Rochdale, which would benefit significantly if the Metrolink expansion to the town centre goes ahead, is in favour of the plans.
Mark Hunter made impassioned pleas about the fact that their constituents will not benefit from the great improvements in public transport promised by the proposals. My hon. Friend also highlighted a problem that might arise if the scheme is successful. If people change their behaviour, the charging scheme might not raise enough money, which would make bridging the funding gap a problem. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish gave an excellent example of a constituent who would be hit by the proposals because of where the boundaries will be set, and the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley questioned whether the scheme would improve bus services and result in less congestion. He also made a valid point about the need for independence in any referendum on the matter.
The issue of congestion charging and road-user pricing is contentious, especially when people are feeling the pinch of higher fuel costs, mortgages, food prices and energy bills. There is a danger that the debate will become about just another tax on the motorist. Nationally, the Liberal Democrats have avoided the problem by proposing a cost-neutral national road user pricing scheme for motorways and trunk roads, as well as committing to a multi-billion pound investment in our rail network.
Any local scheme must generate revenue to pay back the cost of improving public transport, which has been hopelessly underfunded by successive Governments in the past 30-odd years. That is why the Liberal Democrats in Manchester proposed a Greater Manchester-wide referendum on the plans, so that everyone in the conurbation could have their say. I was therefore delighted to hear Mrs. Villiers, the Conservative transport spokesperson, apparently supporting the principle of a referendum when she questioned the Secretary of State for Transport during the announcement that Manchester's TIF bid had been granted programme entry and that the Government were making £1.5 billion available to the city. Perhaps Stephen Hammond will confirm whether the Conservatives support a Greater Manchester-wide referendum.
I did not say that I found it surprising. I simply hoped that he would confirm that that was the official position of the Conservative party.
Perhaps more significant than the Conservatives' support for a referendum is the Damascus road-style conversion of the leader of Manchester city council, Sir Richard Leese, to supporting a referendum. A referendum would not necessarily be defeated. Giving the example of Edinburgh, many argue that a referendum will automatically guarantee that a bid will be unsuccessful. However, a referendum on congestion charging was won in Stockholm, although I accept that there are some questions about its validity. When I carried out an unscientific poll in my constituency, slightly more respondents were in favour than were opposed to a proposal for a congestion charge featuring transport improvements. However, I am willing to accept that there will be differences from one constituency to the next, which is why I support a referendum.
The consultation process is not only about a referendum. Before a referendum can be carried out, there must be a period of consultation on the proposals. The consultation must be meaningful, clear and unbiased, and residents must be given the full facts. Unfortunately, the evidence that I have seen does not give me any confidence that that will happen. A document entitled "What would you say to a transformed transport network?" has been sent out in Greater Manchester. I saw it only because it was delivered with the local free newspaper to my parents' house in Leigh. I imagine that I did not receive one through my door because we do not receive a free local newspaper any more. Does that mean that thousands of other residents of Greater Manchester and I will not receive a copy of that document? Free papers are often not delivered to the most isolated or socially disadvantaged areas, and it is simply not good enough for people to be engaged in the consultation process only through those papers. That said, many who have received the document will be none the wiser as to how the scheme will affect them because the details are so sketchy.
I have personally come in for criticism from my Labour opponents for not taking a definitive view on the proposals but, like many people in my constituency, I would like to know the full details of the scheme rather than blindly supporting or opposing it. My constituents in Chorlton, for instance, want to know where the boundaries will be and what impact the scheme will have before making a decision. One option is for the inner ring to bisect Wilbraham road. Some residents may see being inside the inner ring as an advantage, because they would not face a charge for driving into the city centre, but they might take the opposite view, because residents on the other side of Wilbraham road might choose to park their cars inside the inner ring and cause parking chaos on what are already heavily congested streets.
Similarly, an alternative proposed boundary would run down Withington road, almost directly outside my house. If that were the boundary, I would be able to park my car at the front of my house and not pay a charge for driving into the city centre. However, if my neighbours and I parked our cars in the garages at the back of our houses, and therefore drove out on to Withington road, we would have to pay. The consultation must fully address such details, rather than vaguely mentioning an inner ring. Simply describing the inner ring as
"Broadly following Alan Turing Way in the east to Trafford Road in the West" is hardly helpful to the residents of south Manchester.
It has been suggested that the M60 would always be the outer ring, but discussions are now taking place about the possibility of the city council boundary being the outer ring. Once again, people must be made aware of that vital piece of information. There has been a lot of disquiet in Wythenshawe about the prospect of having to pay the full charge because the area is south of the M60, and a decision on where the southern boundary would go would be a significant factor in people's decision about whether to support the scheme.
Other issues that must be addressed in the consultation include the cost to the motorist and the provision of proper details about what transport improvements people can expect to see implemented and when. Originally, people were promised that all the public transport improvements would be in place before charging could begin. The consultation document suggests that
"almost all of the improvements will be in place by the summer of 2013", but figures that have been bandied about suggest that only 80 per cent. of the improvements would be in place before the charging scheme is introduced.
As for costs, the consultation document suggests that the daily charge, which is £5 at 2007 prices, will be no more than £6 in 2013, even though the figure of £8 has been bandied about. Whichever is the correct figure, people must know the details so that they can make an educated decision. In total, a staggering £3 million is to be spent on the consultation process. That should be easily enough to ensure that people are properly consulted and feel part of the process. However, a significant proportion of the £3 million is to be spent on spin, rather than on genuine consultation. The £810,000 that is to be spent on TV adverts that tell people very little is not money well spent. A consultation document that costs £627,000 and which is thin on detail is hardly worth the paper that it is written on, never mind the cost of distribution. I hope that there will be a meaningful consultation and that it will give people a real say, but I rather suspect that it will not.
Good afternoon, Mr. Wilshire. This has been an interesting and lively debate.
When we debated local transport on the Floor of the House last year, several hon. Members, including many of those who have contributed today, said that the key to the successful delivery of local transport was the interrelationship between national and local government. In my comments, I highlighted an important principle, which lies behind what we are discussing. I said:
"The Government have talked a lot about devolving power to local authorities, but the...fact remains that when it comes to transport, local authorities' freedom of manoeuvre is woefully inadequate, as authorities are entitled to bid for central Government money for local schemes that meet local priorities only if those local priorities are in accordance with the Department for Transport's diktat."
The Government tried to wriggle out of that by saying that they had introduced new guidelines on local and national transport. They said:
"The over-prescription and overriding of local priorities is highlighted by the fact that the revised guidance contains 16 pages on shared priorities—namely, the Government's priorities—and only two on other local priorities."—[Hansard, 12 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 112-14.]
That is the essence of where we are today, and it explains why Greater Manchester has said that its local transport requires improvement and investment, as we have heard from several hon. Members from the Greater Manchester county area, who know these things far better than I ever could. At the same time, however, Greater Manchester is allowed to bid for funds under TIF only if it submits to the Government's bullying on the congestion charge. That is the background to the debate. The Government are effectively telling Greater Manchester, "Of course you can have money from TIF, but only if you put in a congestion charging scheme."
Clearly, there must be roads in Greater Manchester that are gridlocked and car-parked like the M25, a number of the roads in Greater London and—even five years on—a number of the roads in the congestion charging scheme. However, the hon. Members for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) and for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) said that congestion in Manchester is not as bad as it is in Greater London; indeed, the hon. Gentleman said that it is receding. There is therefore an issue about whether we are talking about a congestion charge. If we are, is it actually needed?
Furthermore, as several hon. Members have said, those on low or middle incomes, who face rising living costs of between 4 and 10 per cent. this year, will have to find an extra £1,200 a year from the family budget to pay for the congestion charge. That will clearly be difficult, but for those who will not even benefit from the scheme, the whole thing starts to unravel.
Several of the schemes announced under the TIF bid are not new. For instance, on
The Government endlessly tell us that there is £3 billion of investment, but the reality is that although between a half and a third—it is probably closer to a half—of the £2.8 billion of total investment will come from the Government, the rest will come from charges, loans or increases in local taxes. Those of us who have seen the congestion charging scheme in London will know that some people live in areas that do not benefit. As Mr. McCartney said, those who live in areas that are not in the centre of a scheme do not benefit from any of the proceeds, even though they have to pay for it. My constituents in south-west London would certainly recognise that sentiment.
I said that the TIF bid will, for the first time in 20 years, give my constituents something for something, not something for nothing. Up until this bid, we were subsidising infrastructure in Manchester city, but we were getting nothing back in return. TIF addresses that for the first time.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that his constituents had been paying through the precepts for a long time and that they had been getting nothing. That is exactly what my constituents got under the previous Mayor in London. Under this scheme, the extra money that is needed to make up the total amount will have to come from an increase in local taxes or the transport precept. We will have to rely on more cars coming in to pay an ever-increasing charge or we will have to increase the boundaries.
The Minister therefore has a number of questions to answer. For instance, exactly how much of the £2.8 billion will come from the Government and how much will come from local lanes and local charges? What guarantee does she intend to put in place to ensure that there will not be an excessive rise in charges each year to meet that contribution? My hon. Friend Mr. Brady made a good point about an extension to a third outer ring. Can the Minister tell us definitively one way or the other whether that has been ruled out? Does she accept that the scheme will hit those on low incomes very hard? Will she propose measures such as the residents' scheme in London to alleviate that impact? Will she have consultations with the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority?
My biggest concern, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, relates to the democracy of the scheme. Three of the 10 councils whose residents will be asked to pay the charge have already said that they oppose it, while another has called for a referendum, but the Government seem determined to bully Manchester into congestion charging. The Secretary of State, who represents a Greater Manchester constituency, is effectively telling the city, "If you want the extra money to improve local transport you can have it, but you have to have this scheme." Last year the Select Committee on Transport equated that approach with blackmail. It is very poor that the Government should seek to ride roughshod over what may prove to be the wishes of the people of Greater Manchester, and not seek local consent or validation.
Referendums may be seen as an imperfect method of obtaining local consent or validation. A local referendum took place in May when the chairman of the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority lost his seat on the council to an anti-charging candidate. It is clear, therefore, that the Government must consider the whole question of how they want to go about validation. It seems that congestion charging should have the consent of the local population.
There was recently a statement on TIF funding. The Secretary of State kept silent about any views on referendums for her constituents or the people of Greater Manchester, and that spoke volumes. Now we have heard that there will be 14 weeks for a consultation process. There has been a brochure, which some hon. Members have suggested they will not get. We have talked about a single exhibition bus and some public demonstrations. Does the Minister think that that is an adequate method of consultation for a scheme of this size? Does she not accept that, despite all the imperfections of referendums, many of which have been described—I shall certainly not go over them again in the short time remaining—they are a way of validating support, and the Government should tell Greater Manchester that a referendum would be an acceptable method of showing, for all to see, whether there is support for the congestion charging scheme? If there were to be a referendum and a no vote, would the Government accept that they should stop their bullying and consider that there must be a plan B?
The debate underlines the inescapable truth for the Government that local plans should follow local needs and local transport requirements and not just be a misnomer for a Government directive. They should stop bullying residents in Manchester and let them decide whether they want congestion charging. All congestion charging schemes require local validation or consent. I hope that the Minister will learn from this experience and will consider amending the Local Transport Bill accordingly, when she has the chance, perhaps on Report.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley on securing the debate. It is obviously an issue of great importance to her constituents. The debate has reflected strong views on the main issue and on a referendum.
It is worth revisiting initially some of the background to the Manchester TIF bid. As my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd and, in a very passionate speech, my right hon. Friend Mr. McCartney said, Greater Manchester is one of the fastest growing economies in the country. Its economic success is vital to the success of the north-west as a whole, and to the UK economy. Right hon. and hon. Members sometimes considered the immediate effects of the proposal on their constituencies. However, it is important to point out, as some did, the effect of the Manchester economy on that of the north-west as a whole.
Some 45,000 new jobs have been created in the past five years in Greater Manchester and there is the potential for a further 210,000 to be created by 2021. However—this is the key point—in Greater Manchester, as in many of our key cities, future growth and prosperity are threatened by congestion on the roads. Indeed, Greater Manchester has identified, as many hon. Members have pointed out, that as many as one in seven future jobs in the city region could be at risk as a result of growing congestion. It is also important to take into account the knock-on effects on the environment, air pollution and health, which make it vital to tackle congestion.
A TIF proposal was submitted in response to the big challenges in Greater Manchester. I challenge Stephen Hammond on his remarks about a bullying, bribing approach. The Government invest something like £2 billion a year in local and regional transport, which is a huge increase on what the previous Administration spent. TIF money is additional to that. It is a question of thinking about innovation, and responding to the fact that people say that, if there is to be congestion charging, investment in public transport as well would be a good idea. That is what the process is all about—saying that around £3 billion of investment could go into the Greater Manchester area through the transport innovation fund bid. I therefore reject the idea of bullying and bribery.
I stress that widespread consultation on the bid is of course important. My hon. Friends the Members for Ashton-under-Lyne (David Heyes) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and Mark Hunter all argued for the importance of thorough consultation. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said that he was meeting the passenger transport authority and officials from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, and he is right to do that.
As for a referendum, we have not said that it is obligatory to hold one, but we certainly see robust consultation as critical to the success of TIF packages. Greater Manchester has made it clear that it is embarking on a period of extensive consultation. I welcome that step, as many hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have done. It is vital that local people can engage in the process, examine the proposal closely, and see the potential benefits of charging as part of a wider package of transport improvements, or consider some of the issues that have been raised in the debate today. It is important that the local authorities themselves can find the solution on how to carry out the consultation. It is not for Whitehall, Westminster and Ministers to dictate.
The consultation should be wide and involve local people, businesses, motorists, public transport users, transport operators and groups with special interests, such as people with disabilities. That is the kind of wide-ranging consultation we want. As I have said, we do not require authorities to hold a referendum, but we do not rule it out either. A referendum would not be a substitute for effective wider consultation as well. We have been very clear about that in our discussions.
It is quite difficult to deal with all the detailed points that have been raised, but the debate has shown that there will be lively discussion in the coming weeks. I have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Members will continue to contribute to that debate, and will encourage their constituents to do the same.