Liverpool Port Access: Rimrose Valley

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 7 September 2022.

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Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle 4:30, 7 September 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Rimrose Valley and Liverpool Port Access.

It is a real pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Twigg. I am pleased that I have managed to secure this debate; I have been applying for it for some months now. I did not have to bribe Mr Speaker or any of the officers—it was definitely legitimate.

This issue is a matter of considerable local interest. In fact, a number of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend Bill Esterson are in the Public Gallery to listen to the debate. They are here representing not just themselves as individuals and friends of Rimrose Valley, but many thousands of people across my constituency and that of my hon. Friend. In short, if National Highways gets its way, it will plough a major road through Rimrose Valley, which is the only significant area of green space left in my constituency. It is a healthy lung that serves my constituents well, and National Highways should keep its hands off it. To be blunt, I think National Highways should do its job properly and produce a scheme that will achieve the goals that so many of us, including the Government, want.

It is easy for me to speak on this matter. I have in one way or another dealt with this issue about access to the port for more years than I care to mention. As a child, a significant part of the area was still in agricultural use at the eastern end, bordered on one side by the Leeds to Liverpool canal. I even remember the remains of a piggery on the site with the troughs still in place. For a child moving from back-to-back housing—very poor housing in Bootle—to an area that had green fields on the doorstep was fantastic. I reminisce, but I am making the point that we have to protect those areas of green as best as we possibly can.

I thought it best if I sought out a view from the people who have been involved in this issue perhaps not as long as I have been. In other words, I wanted a fresh perspective from others who perhaps do not have a history on this matter, as I do. Perhaps my judgment is clouded and a fresh perspective would help, so I asked a representative of the friends of Rimrose Valley for a few comments and observations, and I completely accept that other views are available. I do not decry those other perspectives, but this is a particular perspective and it is these views and observations that will inform much of what I say in the next 10 minutes or so.

Rimrose Valley is the last remaining space of its kind in a heavily urbanised and industrialised part of South Sefton—which is, in effect, north Liverpool—made up of wild and semi-wild “countryside in our community”. Given his relatively local antecedents, the Minister will be broadly aware of the geography, and I suspect he will have often been able to view the area, if only from across the Mersey at a little distance. The space is essential for community cohesion, linking families and friends for generations. I touched on that earlier when sharing my own experience. It is part of our local heritage. It provides a safe, clean and green commuter route for schoolchildren. The park is surrounded by dozens of primary and secondary schools and nurseries. It is an active travel corridor for people travelling to and from places of work. It helps to remove unnecessary car journeys, especially at peak times, and it offers a vital habitat to a huge diversity of wildlife, including protected species such as barn owls, bats, water voles and a vast array of birds and pollinators.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on behalf of his constituents. As he says, looking after wildlife is important because we know that nature needs to be supported. Under measures in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, the Government want to remove the requirement for environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental impact assessments, which have been vital for protecting sites of local, national and international environmental importance for decades, and replace them with environmental outcome reports. However, shockingly the Government have not given any indication of how those environmental outcome reports will work on the ground. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely vital that the Government do not undermine vital existing protections for nature-rich sites, precious green spaces close to urban environments and the green belt, and that they must be held to account on that matter?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

I agree. It is really important that we ensure that as much of our local habitat—our local green spaces—is maintained as possible. I am sure the Government recognise that, and as we go through the Committee stage for that Bill, those issues will be teased out and we will seek assurances from them about their intentions. It is crucial that we do that, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. All these matters, including transport issues and the environment, are inextricably linked.

Those areas cannot simply be relocated. A field cannot be picked up and moved somewhere else. It does not work like that, because it has taken centuries and maybe longer to get to that particular situation. Rimrose Valley is called that because Rimrose brook goes through it, and it has obviously been there for thousands of years.

Rimrose Valley also offers respite from the pollution generated by port traffic on the surrounding roads. Residents who have lived next to the port have a life expectancy of 12 years less than those who live just a mile away. South Sefton already experiences some of the worst air quality in the United Kingdom, and the road proposal would compound that and negatively impact on people’s health and wellbeing. It would shorten lives and affect children and older people disproportionately.

Rimrose Valley offers space to improve physical health, with ramblers, running clubs and football clubs all using the park and surrounding spaces regularly. It maintains a good level of fitness for people, which of course alleviates pressure on the NHS. That is another part of the inextricable link between all these issues. It offers a place to go to improve mental health. Many local doctors and support organisations now practise social prescribing as a free and natural alternative or supplement to medication, which also takes pressure off our NHS.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on such an important topic. Rimrose Valley is shared between our constituencies, and our constituents enjoy its value. He is talking about air quality and public health, and I remind him that 40,000 deaths per year are linked to poor air quality and subsequent breathing-relating illnesses. Does he agree that the Government’s own public health goals say that such issues should be tackled urgently, and that the Department for Transport, by pursuing this option of a polluting road, is at odds with the Government’s own stated policy objectives of saving lives through improving air quality?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. We want to ensure that air quality is as good as it can possibly and practically be, given the set of circumstances. It is the role of us all, including the Government, to maintain that. I will touch on that later, but it is a very important point. I repeat that all these themes are inextricably linked.

Rimrose Valley was a lifeline for the thousands of people surrounding it during the covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions. It was a huge asset to the community during that time. Many homes around there do not have the luxury of a garden or a yard, so large public green spaces were essential. We all know that that is what the Victorians recognised—they certainly did in Liverpool, Birkenhead and such places. They built massive parks to ensure that people could get out, have a walk, enjoy themselves and get some respite from the places where they may have lived or the work that they may have done. There is a tradition in Britain of having large, open spaces, especially in some of the bigger cities, such as Liverpool.

Nearby communities were severed in two—I am reminiscing again—when another National Highways road, the A5036 trunk road, was built in the 1970s. Known as Princess Way, it is closer to the docks, and communities have never recovered from it. The proposed route would compound their misery, as the two roads would feed into that section of the road, splitting the community yet again. It is a case of history repeating itself, with absolutely no lessons learned or care for the potential damage caused. It is a “computer says no” approach to road planning.

The proven theory of induced demand shows that building more roads stimulates more traffic and does not necessarily tackle the underlying problems. To some extent, we have seen that locally with the bypass at Broom’s Cross, which alleviated congestion temporarily but is now another congested road at peak times. This is not about being anti-road or nimbyism; it is about ensuring that due diligence is undertaken when any project of this nature is proposed. I know that the Minister will be well aware of that, given the schemes in his own constituency.

Let us move on to the issue of the port of Liverpool, which is the elephant in the room—and it is a particularly large elephant. The port of Liverpool has been permitted an expansion, with little thought given to the infrastructure needed to support it. If there is to be an expansion, rightly or wrongly—I do not judge that at the moment; it is not for me to make that judgment—let us at least have the foresight to ensure that the environmental impact on communities is a significant factor in the design of any scheme that seeks to accommodate it. We do not want retrofitting, but if we are going to have a retrofit, it has to be proper and appropriate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central has touched on, decades of activity have had a negative impact on surrounding communities, with increased air pollution from heavy goods vehicles and ships at the port. Additionally, the port generates noise and light pollution, which is a blight on citizens who live alongside the port. We have to mitigate that as much as possible.

Despite the port owner’s claims that it is neutral about the type of port access scheme or project, a freedom of information request submitted by campaigners reveals that the Peel Ports Group has “worked tirelessly” with National Highways in the lead-up to the project being announced. It has a vested interest. I am not criticising that, but it would perhaps be one of proposal’s bigger beneficiaries and, whether we like it or not, many people are asking how it can be right that a private company potentially gets to determine or have a massive say in how public money is spent. If there is to be a port expansion, let us make sure that an access project to the port is as environmentally friendly as practically possible. This is not about being anti-business; it is about balancing the needs of the various interested parties. That balance has not been met, and the environmental impact is being felt by the local community of thousands of people.

The road proposal conflicts with the Government’s own policies. Let us take the climate emergency as an example. The transport sector is the single biggest contributor to climate-wrecking CO2 emissions in the UK. It is the only sector that has seen emissions go up, not down. CO2 emissions stem from both the construction and subsequent use of roads. In my view and that of many other people, the project would be used to support port-related HGV traffic—the worst polluters on our roads—without a real assessment of alternatives that are as sustainable as they are practical.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Labour, Bradford South

On that point about wider issues to do with transport funding, does my hon. Friend agree that there seems to be a lack of equity in transport funding across the country? I am thinking of my own patch in particular. Bradford is not included in the Northern Powerhouse Rail; we are without full station access. Does he think that this a problem throughout the nation?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

I am pleased that my hon. Friend raises this issue. She has spoken many times on transport issues and, to be frank, she really does now what she is talking about. I may come to that issue later, and I am pleased that she has highlighted it.

The issue of pollution flies in the face of the climate emergency declaration. It is apposite that my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central has noted the public health crisis in air quality. He referred to 40,000 deaths a year and related illnesses. Public Health England has said that that needs to be tackled. Protection of green spaces is seen as vital, and the Government’s own 25-year environment plan sets out targets, yet in certain situations National Highways is, in my view, ignoring those objectives.

On levelling up, the north receives on average about seven times less expenditure per capita than the south. If the Government are serious about levelling up, they need to reflect that in projects such as this and give the community the budget it needs to do the job. That is the point that my hon. Friend Judith Cummins is making.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend Judith Cummins have both pointed out the importance of levelling up and investing in transport across the nation. Given that this is a strategically important link, should not it be done with the longer term in mind, including climate objectives and ensuring that freight can travel as effectively as possible? That means providing alternatives to roads. The problem is that if we put more lorries on the roads, we will slow down delivery times and also deliver a less effective solution to the challenge of how we move goods around the country.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

That is a perfectly fair analysis and assessment of the current situation. The mid-range cost of the proposal would be about £250 million. That is for just less than a 5 mile route, so it works out at about £50 million a mile. In relation to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South, the lower Thames reach crossing is now estimated to cost £8.2 billion, which works out at about £364 million per mile, including a tunnel. That is over seven times the per-mile cost that National Highways plans to spend on the Rimrose Valley road. However, the Rimrose Valley tunnel option was brushed aside as too expensive.

Turning to the conduct of National Highways, to date the organisation has told people that their homes would be safe, then issued the threat of compulsory purchase orders on homes and businesses. It withheld information on the environmental impact of the scheme from the public during the first consultation, thereby making an informed decision impossible. It has created divisions between communities in selecting the options it presented to the public. It ignored the outcome of its own public consultation, often in favour of the route that had the least support. In my view, and that of many other people, National Highways misled the public, claiming that a court ruled in favour of its preferred route, when actually it did not. It ignored the needs of those living alongside Princess Way—the road I referred to earlier, which is an extension of the A5036 and part of that corridor—with absolutely no mitigation. It ignored the Government and Sefton Council’s declaration of climate emergency by promoting yet another polluting road. It gave less than two weeks’ notice for public information events and sent newsletters to our schools, so that pupils could deliver National Highways’ messages. It also refused multiple freedom of information requests on dealing with private companies.

What about support for the proposal? The local authority, myself, and my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central, strongly opposed the scheme. Recently, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram called for better alternatives to be explored—we have all called for that. The council had a judicial review in 2008 and has not ruled out further legal action.

Public opposition—the “Save Rimrose Valley” campaign—is backed by thousands of local citizens demanding a better outcome. The amount of people involved is remarkable. There are effectively festivals—thousands of people coming to Rimrose Valley—organised by Rimrose Valley Friends. I pay tribute to the hard work of those people. The campaign is backed other leading organisations, including Friends of the Earth, Wildlife Trusts, CPRE, the countryside charity, and Transport Action Network. The campaign is calling for the road proposal to be cancelled with immediate effect and for non-road sustainable solutions to the movement of goods in and out of the port of Liverpool, removing as many HGVs as possible from the existing road. That includes investment in rail freight, which goes to and from the port but is pretty negligible in the grand order of things. Of course, Network Rail has not even been missing in action; it has just been missing in this situation.

Pursuing the innovative solutions in the Sefton Council and Arup report is an option. It says not, “This, that or the other should happen,” but, “Here are the options; let’s properly explore those options.” Public health and wellbeing should be paramount in all local, regional and national transport and infrastructure decisions affecting our communities. I know the Minister acknowledges that.

The campaign calls for action to address the climate emergency, with all transport investment in Sefton contributing to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions to help reach the Government’s own legal targets. The implementation of bold transport policies across Sefton and the wider city region, including proper investment in active travel and clean and affordable public transport, is called for.

The port of Liverpool is part of the make-up of the community. It exists. That cannot be ignored; it will not go away. It is a player alongside other players that are part of that Mersey Maritime group, as is the community. It is a symbiotic relationship and a partnership. It is not one telling the other what to do. I hope those players take part in that community and partnership effort on this project.

After all, the needs of people in the community are just as important as the needs of any company. Rimrose Valley, and other green spaces in our region, need to be protected from future developments that damage the integrity of our environment. The people of the communities along that corridor need to be assured that the price of port expansion will be paid. The people along the Church Road route, who have suffered for many years, need some succour—they need help and assistance. Building an alternative road in the valley is not the answer.

If that needs more mileage investment, so to speak—on the equivalent scale of the lower Thames reach, which I referred to before; Crossrail, which cost the best part of £260 million a mile; Crossrail 2, with a proposed £530 million a mile, although it might be more; the Stonehenge tunnel at £1.7 billion for just 2.5 miles, or £680 million a mile—so be it. I do not object to any of those projects. Other people might, but I do not. Those projects were important for those areas and they deserve that level of funding. My community is entitled, as is every other community, to a fair share of the transport budget.

In conclusion, we do not want a second-rate solution to a problem not of our community’s making. We want a first-class response to our real concerns, and I hope that the Minister, who I know takes these issues seriously, will give us that response.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:54, 7 September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Dowd on securing this debate after many months—in an honest fashion I am sure—on an issue that is so important to both him and his constituents, many of whom are here in the Public Gallery. I extend the common courtesies to welcome the Minister to his place. I hope that he has his phone on today; hopefully good news will come, and I look forward to seeing him across the Dispatch Box on many more occasions.

I cycled the trans-Pennine trail recently, and went to both Hornsea and Southport. I did not quite go through the Rimrose Valley, but I was in that neck of the woods. What a beautiful neck of the woods it is past the Liverpool loop line going north. It is a very nice bit of our country. The locals have campaigned for five years around this well-loved urban parkland, which they do not want to see tarmacked over to provide a new dual carriageway. It is a big landmark in their campaign today that their MP has secured this debate.

Liverpool is vital, not just for the city region of Merseyside or the north-west of England, but for the United Kingdom generally. Some 40% of all Irish sea trade comes through there—31 million tonnes. It is the fourth biggest port in the UK. We are facing west and, having left the European Union, its expansion looks secure in the years to come. We are talking about almost 12 km of port along that coastline.

Peel and the port of Liverpool are making some major investments that we welcome, particularly at my end—I will not say the better end—of the Manchester ship canal. I had the pleasure of visiting Port Salford recently to see the trimodal development there that will regenerate the west of Manchester, with the ship canal, new rail links and the M60 motorway.

We cannot look at this issue in isolation. There are other large developments in the Merseyside region. I had the pleasure of being at a Merseyside maritime conference recently. I took the famous ferry across the Mersey and saw the new Everton stadium going up, in addition to what the Liverpool city region Mayor, Steve Rotheram, and the councils, are doing there. They are really upping the pace of regeneration of the city region.

As shadow maritime Minister, my colleagues and I will always welcome efforts to improve infrastructure to support the economic growth of the maritime sector. However, in my view, these plans are not ambitious enough, particularly when measured against the Government’s own green agenda and that of National Highways.

Residents living near the port already have a low life expectancy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle said, it is 12 years lower than the national average. South Sefton already experiences some of the worst air quality in the country. My constituency of Wythenshawe and Sale East is divided down the middle by the M56, so I know the problems that poor air quality brings.

As my hon. Friend Bill Esterson said, the transport sector is the UK’s single biggest contributor of CO2 emissions. It is also the only sector in which we have seen emissions go up, not down. In Greater Manchester, where the Government are forcing Mayor Burnham to reduce emissions, guess what? National Highways does not have to reduce its emissions as part of that plan. A new road being constructed would only increase port-related traffic, with HGVs being the worst polluters on our roads. There has to be a better way of doing this.

I have spoken with local elected representatives, who I believe are best placed to understand the unique issues associated with a port operating alongside their residential communities. It is a basic issue of subsidiarity. Government cannot just set up city regional Mayors in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Doncaster and Liverpool and then ignore the powers they have given them. Local politicians and the people they represent are best placed to help fashion local policies and transport infrastructure.

I have heard from local Members about the community cohesion that comes from having this kind of space in a heavily industrialised and urban area of north Liverpool. I hear it provides opportunities for safe, clean and active travel, which is so important and is one of the things I commend the Government on—particularly the last Administration and the last Prime Minister, who was so keen on this and put investment in. I hear that it is a well-used commuter corridor and, in addition, it offers a vital habitat to many species. We must look at alternatives to the scheme, and listen to councillors, MPs, the Metro Mayor and local residents, but there is a more fundamental issue: building a road through a valued green space is a very 1980s answer to the issue of road congestion. It is a “one more lane will solve it” attitude, but we know that one more lane does not solve things because of the impact of induced demand; we know that if we build more roads, we will attract more traffic.

I have not checked with the House of Commons Library, but a news article recently stated that there are now 40 million licensed vehicles on our roads. We want the freedom to drive—that is important—but that figure has almost doubled in the last 30 years and it is not sustainable, because we see the solution as just building and building more roads. We need a Government who are committed to an integrated and innovative transport strategy, including investments in the railways and particularly east-west connectivity, as my hon. Friend Judith Cummins said. We still do not have that connectivity.

There was a guy called Daniel Adamson from Manchester. He came up with the idea and built the ship canal. He coined the phrase “northern powerhouse” in the 1860s, describing an economic region from the Mersey basin to the Humber estuary that would be connected. If that were connected properly, it would be the 10th-biggest economic unit on the planet, but we do not have that connectivity, as we all know. I know that the Minister knows it, because he represents a constituency not far off that corridor.

The money allocated to this project could and should be spent on sustainable solutions to port access, such as rail freight capacity, not least because of the climate emergency that we are facing, the public health crisis associated with air pollution, and the substantial loss and degradation of green space. A new road is not the solution, when we can be creative, as we have been at the port of Liverpool, with a purpose-built rail terminal on the banks of the ship canal, allowing co-ordinated onward transport.

The campaigners are not seeking merely to shift the issue from Rimrose Valley, away from the A5036 and on to another borough or area. They are keen to find the right solutions, the best technology, the right route and the right location. It is my view that we should support them and my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle in doing so.

Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:02, 7 September 2022

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Twigg, particularly in the role I currently have the pleasure of fulfilling in responding to the points raised by my colleagues during the debate. I thank Mike Kane for his kind words and comments. My phone is not on, but no news is good news, so he will be pleased to hear that I am still here as a Minister in the Government—we will wait and see what happens over the next 24 hours. I congratulate Peter Dowd on securing the debate on the subject of Rimrose Valley and the port of Liverpool access, an issue he has toyed with since his leading role on the local council. I am sure he is fondly remembered by officers and councillors alike for his forthright endeavours, and by his constituents and those local residents, who I have noted are here today.

Good transport connections are the key to unlocking essential growth for cities, which is why I thank the hon. Member for Bootle for calling and opening this debate. I am sure that he and his colleagues will understand that I can neither condone nor support some of the claims and points that they have made. Transport links play a crucial role in supporting productivity, innovation and economic growth in cities, towns and communities, which is why we have provided a series of devolution deals to mayoral combined authorities to ensure that their transport connectivity maximises economic growth and supports thriving communities. The Government are fully committed to delivering our vision of levelling up the British economy and strengthening the bonds of our cities, aimed at unlocking the economic potential of the northern powerhouse, while ensuring that places such as the Liverpool city region and the north of England play a key role in a resurgent UK economy.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

All the campaigns, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle and I agree about the importance of transport and investment in it to unlock opportunity and to contribute to levelling up; the point we are making is about the nature of the transport, the infrastructure and other impacts. My hon. Friend and I have tried to engage with National Highways, to make the case for alternatives to this road solution, because of the HGV issue he and I raised earlier. In a letter to me, National Highways called my inquiries “vexatious”. Does the Minister agree that National Highways’ response—calling the elected representatives of the people of Sefton “vexatious” and refusing to engage on alternatives to a road—is wholly inappropriate and flies in the face of the policy that he has just set out?

Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I have heard and noted the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I will talk about the relationship—perhaps the non-relationship—with National Highways shortly. His intervention was longer than I expected, but I have taken on board all the points he made. I expect that in the future there will be ongoing dialogue with the Department and the hon. Gentleman and other local MPs.

Since 2010, more than £33 billion has been invested in transport infrastructure in the north, but our ambition is to go further and faster, regardless of recent pressures, especially as we focus relentlessly on the economic wellbeing of our cities, regions and nation, as that brings jobs, wealth and social mobility to all who wish to enjoy the fruits of their own labours. The integrated rail plan is the biggest ever single investment in Britain’s rail network—a £96 billion strategy of rail construction and upgrades for the midlands and the north to be delivered over the next 30 years. The IRP focuses on bringing communities in the north and midlands ever closer together, boosting inter-city connections and improving east-west links in particular. These are journeys people are most likely to make, and, as I learned on my recent visit to Immingham, these links are of the utmost importance to freight and access to the western port of Liverpool.

We have announced the first allocations from the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, regenerating towns and high streets and investing in the infrastructure that people need, including transport. As the hon. Member for Bootle undoubtedly knows, also included is £37.5 million for the Liverpool city region’s levelling up for recovery proposals, which will deliver a range of transport interventions to support connectivity and economic growth in and across Liverpool city centre, the maritime gateway in Sefton and over the water in Birkenhead, which as he rightly said is my place of birth—he and some of his constituents would probably call me a plastic scouser. This funding will enhance connectivity between employment centres such as Atlantic Park along the A5036 Dunnings Bridge Road.

This Government are also spending over £24 billion between 2020 and 2025 on our strategic road network. The core principle of our road investment strategy is to create a road network that is safe, reliable and efficient for everyone, and that sets a long-term strategic vision. Our first priority is to fix existing strategic roads, ensuring that they are well designed, well maintained and well connected, and will serve all road users well into the future. Where existing roads are simply not up to the job the country asks them to perform, we will ask National Highways to look at the potential to develop wider realigned or, in a few cases, wholly new roads to keep people and goods moving.

Transport connectivity is not just a local and regional issue; it is important for the whole United Kingdom. Transport for the North itself recently noted the importance of the port of Liverpool, whose Liverpool2 deepwater container terminal reflects the aspiration of the region to increase its freight potential—an aspiration we have supported through its recent designation as a freeport. TfN also noted that areas of investment with significant freight benefits will include access to constrained ports—for example, the A5036 to the port of Liverpool.

The hon. Member for Bootle will be aware of our commitment to the improvement of the A5036 Princess Way, which is the critical link between the port of Liverpool and the motorway network. Solutions to address some of the challenges on the route are key to unlocking the potential of the port and the wider city region, including its ambitious freeport proposals. These improvements will provide better links and improve the resilience of the network while boosting business productivity and economic growth by providing a more reliable road network and improved local access. The objectives of the scheme go beyond port access; the scheme aims to improve journey times, reliability, quality and safety, to reduce the nuisance caused by noise and dust to those living alongside the existing route, and to reduce the severance of communities living alongside the existing route.

As the hon. Member for Bootle will know, the A5036 performs a number of important functions. It serves primarily, I am led to believe, as a local community and commuter route; it acts as a link for trips to and from Bootle, Maghull and Liverpool city centre; and it forms part of the strategic road network providing national routes to and from the port of Liverpool.

However, this scheme was included in the first road investment strategy and subsequent second road investment strategy because the route is among the worst nationally for congestion and unreliability, with high numbers of road traffic accidents that disproportionately affect vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. If nothing is done, these conditions will only worsen as traffic levels increase, with anticipated growth locally and through the port itself, which is critical to the economy of the north and the wider UK. For all those reasons, the A5036 Princess Way scheme in the port of Liverpool was developed. The scheme aims to build a new road between the M57 and M58 and the port of Liverpool to replace the current substandard route.

I acknowledge the strong views of the hon. Member for Bootle on the proposal for the new road through Rimrose Valley, but I reassure him that National Highways is aware that there is a range of opinions and concerns about its proposals for the A5036. I am reliably informed that it is committed to working with all stakeholders to achieve the right result for the city region and the country. The hon. Gentleman’s former colleagues should be mindful of that olive branch and the hand of friendship, or partnership working, which some in the north-west and the city of Liverpool are famous for.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

On the point the Minister makes about National Highways, the concern we have is that no alternatives to this scheme are being significantly or substantially considered. It is not a question of saying that we are just against the road and the port access; we are asking whether we can have a dialogue and potentially expand the modality of the transport link, rather than it just being about a road, take it or leave it, two or three metres either side of a line.

Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Later in my remarks, I will come on to some information that may be helpful to him and hopefully will spur him on.

The current proposal for the new road comes with a full commitment to measures to mitigate its impacts through Rimrose Valley and to enhancing the environmental and amenity value of the current park and the open area of land north of the park. We in the Department for Transport and our agencies are fully cognisant of the issues and we recognise the need to fix negative impacts on the environment, which matter greatly to local people.

I am aware of the commitment to find a multi-modal solution to port access and acknowledge the work by the port access steering group, chaired by the Liverpool city region mayoral combined authority. In addition to planned investment on the strategic road network, there has been investment in the Bootle branch line to support increased rail access to the port.

The hon. Member for Bootle will no doubt be aware that the Liverpool city region mayoral combined authority is developing its fourth local transport plan, which will include a strategy for freight and logistics. National Highways is helping the city region to develop this plan, and the Department is awaiting the outcome with interest and will take the proposals into consideration as the scheme develops.

At this point, I urge the hon. Member for Bootle to never give up, but to be prepared to compromise and negotiate. Throwing one’s toys out of the pram or taking the ball away like a spoilt child assists no one and is not a serious negotiating strategy in a professional setting in the 21st century. It may play well in the local watering holes and Labour social clubs, but it risks parts of the great city of Liverpool being left behind.

My example for the hon. Gentleman is one of personal endeavour and the willingness to achieve remarkable solutions in the face of negativity and naysayers. Between 2004 and 2012, I was told that Lincoln eastern bypass was a non-starter. It had been talked about since 1916 and I was told it would never happen, and that the transformation of the city of Lincoln, with reduced congestion, improved travel times and environmental benefits, was pie in the sky.

In December 2020, I was proud to be asked to open the—albeit single carriageway—eastern bypass. It is not in my constituency, but around it, and it is of great benefit to the vast majority of my constituents and provides environmental improvements to the very centre of our city of Lincoln. That has led to an affectionate nickname for the bypass, which is known locally as McCartney Way by some. I am not sure if the new road or even tunnel that the hon. Member for Bootle seeks would be more aptly named Princess Way mark 2 or the Dowd Underpass, or perhaps he has other middle names we are not aware of that might lend themselves to such a project. I digress.

A feasibility study into the provision of electric vehicle charging points in the vicinity of the scheme has been carried out by National Highways. The project team is interested in developing that and other opportunities to promote a more sustainable transport solution, potentially in partnership with the Liverpool freeport team and the Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, formerly of this parish, with whom I had a very cordial meeting over the summer.

I firmly believe that good transport infrastructure is a catalyst for enterprise and growth and that better connectivity means greater economic opportunity, with all the benefits that brings to communities and individuals of all ages. That belief has driven my actions over the years in my constituency of Lincoln, and I have promoted it across the country since being appointed a Minister in early July this year.

I reaffirm my thanks to the colleagues who have spoken and whose points have been taken on board: the hon. Members for Bootle, for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East. I have listened carefully to all they have said, and have taken note of the points they have made, particularly on the green lung issue. I thank them for this very insightful debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Bootle is satisfied with the response I have provided, which promotes good transport links for cities and regions, and makes clear that the Department recognises the vital importance of such improvements for local residents and business concerns, as well as for the economic wellbeing of the whole United Kingdom—this Minister recognises it doubly so, through a plethora of local examples, as I have tried to elucidate in my myriad remarks today.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle 5:15, 7 September 2022

I appreciate the response from the Minister. I thank my colleague on the Labour Front Bench, my hon. Friend Mike Kane; my neighbour, my hon. Friend Bill Esterson; and my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) for their interventions.

I will finish on this point, which I want to reaffirm: we have a road, and that is the only solution so far. We need alternatives to be discussed and teased out, not to be told, “This is the only option.” It is almost a Henry Ford, “You can have any car you want, as long as it is black.”

I am told by Mersey Maritime that this industry is worth £5 billion to the Liverpool city region economy and supports 48,000 jobs; it has a direct impact of £706 million, supporting 8,527 jobs, or 4% of jobs in the maritime sector nationally; and so on, and so on. It is a big economy. What we need are transport links that reflect that growing economy and the growing need in the area. Simply bunging a road through Rimrose Valley is not going to achieve the growth that the Government want, nor the environmental impact that we and the Government want, nor anything else for that matter. This is a “take it or leave it” project and we are not prepared just to take it—we want to have a discussion about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered Rimrose Valley and Liverpool Port Access.

Sitting adjourned.