Readers may remember that I’m a bit of a transport geek. A proud one, at that. It is my firm belief that decent road and rail links are absolutely critical to an area’s economic potential. Whilst 2020 and 2021 have been all about “stay at home”, I strongly hope that when it is time to get moving again, we will be able to do so freely without delays or logjams. So I thought I would update you all on some of the key projects I have been pushing for.
Firstly, railways. This month I met with Network rail regarding the TransPennine Route Upgrade, a major improvement scheme which will finally get moving this summer. This relates to the line serving Mossley and Stalybridge, and includes installation of electrification from Victoria to Stalybridge, and Stalybridge to Guide Bridge. The work will also include track remodelling of the West End approach into Stalybridge station (Huddersfield side) to improve journey times. It also involves several significant bridge reconstructions on the route. Having been raising the issue for some years, I have once again asked Network Rail if the railway bridge which serves as the gateway view of Stalybridge can be visually improved as part of the measures. As you pass the fire station into town, this bridge has such a prominent position in Stalybridge that some investment in its appearance would be very welcome. These works are great if long overdue news, but unfortunately will necessitate station closures this summer.
Alongside neighbouring MPs, I have also been pushing for an upgrade to the Manchester to Sheffield rail service. The Hope Valley line takes an hour to travel just 35 miles, and is subject to frequent delays. An upgrade could see three fast trains an hour instead of one slow train every two hours. The Government has just announced a package of investment, which is welcome.
Secondly, roads. I am really pleased with how the Mottram bypass is proceeding. Getting it reinstated in 2014 is one of my proudest achievements as our MP. I know local people have lived through so many false dawns that they won’t believe it until they see it, but honestly, we are getting there. The next key stage of the bypass around Mottram-in-Longdendale is the “development consent order” (basically planning permission) which ministers assure me is on track to be submitted shortly, with building now due to commence in early 2023. There is still a job to do however to convince the Government of the continued need for an extension around Hollingworth and Tintwistle. I will of course continue to push for it’s inclusion in the next Road Investment Strategy Period (RIS3).
Along with High Peak MP Robert Largan, I also recently met with the Roads Minister Baroness Vere. I wanted to know what the Government’s position was on a proposed Trans-Pennine Tunnel, following media reports it was no longer on the agenda. Given the Prime Minister has now said he wants to build tunnels between Scotland, Liverpool, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland (!), it seems reasonable to try doing this one first, which could significantly reduce drive times between Manchester and Sheffield. I’ve always been of the view that this would be an extremely ambitious project, but keeping the Department of Transport focused on our part of the world is always worthwhile.
By this I mean that keeping Ministers focused on our key routes makes it more likely that a second phase to the Bypass will go ahead once the Mottram section is completed. It’s also worth saying big road tunnels of this kind do exist in other European countries, where they mitigate the environmental impact of traffic as well as provide more safety than roads like the existing Woodhead and Snake passes. The Minister said a tunnel has not been ruled out, that work is still ongoing but that any firm proposal would still be a long way off. It would also clearly involve a significant cost and environmental considerations would be paramount. In technical engineering terms, this is an even more challenging proposition than the Lower Thames crossing or the tunnel being built by Stonehenge. However, some of the best economic advances in history have been achieved on the back of engineering projects some declared impossible at the time. Britain’s engineering capacity should not be underestimated or mocked.
Thirdly, buses. Last week I met with the new Managing Director of Stagecoach with regards to local bus services and bus reform. Stagecoach have a different view to me on bus reform but I’m always happy to discuss how to get better transport. In my view, Greater Manchester buses are not good enough – expensive, not joined up, and with routes subject to disappearance at the whim of bus companies. I want to see a world class system like London enjoys. I want the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to take back control of bus routes, tickets, timetables and standards, so those who already use buses have a significantly improved experience, and those who currently drive every journey are tempted to use the bus sometimes instead. Finally, after years of campaigning alongside local councillors and speeches in Parliament, the GMCA is meeting on 23rd March, and I hope we will receive a decision on this. Fingers crossed it is the right one.