Monday, August 02, 2010

Reynolds rants about Bypass 2.0 in Parliament - and threatens civil disobedience!

Last Tuesday, the new Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan 'Jonny' Reynolds saw his opportunity to once again raise the profile of the doomed Mottram Bypass, this time in the House of Commons. The occasion was the Summer Adjournment of Parliament. The full text of his speech can be read at the link above, or by clicking through to the 'read more' link below.

We've taken some time to study what he's said, and here's our potted response:

This speech is the kind of 'debate' that a politician loves - because it's not a proper debate. Indeed, as far as we know, Reynolds has never taken part in any real, open debate about either the Longdendale Bypass, Glossop Spur or the new Bypass 2.0. Like many other politicians, Reynolds can rely on parliamentary privilege to effectively say what he likes in the House of Commons, without granting those whose opinions differ the opportunity to hold him to account.

As we remarked upon nearly 2 and a half years ago, Reynolds failed to put in an appearance at the Public Inquiry at the time (along with every other local politician who supported the Bypass). It would therefore be difficult for him to credibly point to his 'support' for this scheme at that time, for he didn't take an opportunity to speak up for it, and face questions from objectors. This is extraordinary - all the more so for the fact that no other politician took the opportunity to do so either, which would have put in ahead in the credibility stakes were he to have taken to opportunity to speak.

And for that matter, neither did the members of the Longdendale Siege Committee that he namechecks in his speech: neither Mike Flynn, Bob Haycock, nor David Moore could be arsed to speak in favour of the road that will remain forever 'virtual', and left it to other members of Longdendale Siege to stand up and be counted, individuals who are not among those that he points out. We're reliably informed that Siege are so disappointed with Reynolds performance, they're threatening to link up with the local Tories.

Longdendale Siege did not submit a petition with 9,000 signatures to Downing Street. By the counts conducted by our contacts who have viewed the petition, the number was just under 7,600, and a large proportion of those were from people outside of the area. This means that Reynolds has consciously inflated the figures by more than 15%. Furthermore, as he points out, the petition was submitted to Number 10 Downing Street in what was a public relations exercise, which also means that it is not available for public scrutiny, unlike petitions presented to Parliament. We blogged before on the yo-yo nature of the numbers for this petition.

We're wondering exactly what kind of statistical survey Reynolds has undertaken to support his bold statement "many objections were also raised by people who had never visited the area"? As far as we know, no-one has ever said that before, and it is utter crap. It may well be the case that a fair number of people do not live in the immediate area, but that is not the same thing as having never visited the area.

We stand to be corrected if we are wrong, but our recollection is that the PI did not fall on the fact that the Highways Agency (HA) had miscalculated the length of the Stocksbridge Bypass. The fact is that the HA's traffic figures and basic mathematics were an utter mess, a point rumbled by Save Swallows Wood in a devastating submission very early on. In any case, the PI remained adjourned for months on end, enough time for them to get it right one would have thought. The fact of the matter is that the promoters of this road simply failed to make a case for the bypass - they presented their case to the Inquiry and then admitted the plans were at fault, not even allowing objectors to state their case.

Mr Reynolds would do well to remember that the Longdendale Integrated Transport System - that he seems to think is only about a road, thanks for reminding everyone - is still a consultation exercise. Tameside MBC is asking for people's views, and Reynolds is effectively attempting to prejudice the consultation with his invitations to a Minister to come and view the congestion. And if he did that at the moment, it would be the wrong time from his point of view, for the fact is that now is a good illustration of the effect the 'school run' has on traffic, and the roads are very quiet indeed.

The most hilarious bit though is where Reynolds threatens civil disobedience if a new road is not forthcoming. Let’s be clear about this – he has threatened it, not merely intimated that some of his constituents (i.e. the three he mentions plus assorted hangers-on) may take part in it. If any of us were to have threatened civil disobedience in objecting to the road, no doubt the authorities will have come down on us like a ton of bricks. Yet Reynolds’ tough talk is possibly shielded by his parliamentary privilege.

Ultimately, as we have recently pointed out, this is all just politricks. Reynolds is well aware that he was returned with the smallest majority in his constituency for many years. He is eager to show that he has done all that he can to keep the Bypass alive, knowing full well that a Labour government would have had to have killed it off, as the Tories are about to do. By seemingly taking up Roy Oldham’s mantle as the political flag bearer for the Bypass, he thinks this may boost his popularity, at least among the few people left that both take politicians seriously and do not view them with contempt.

Reynolds’ speech, House of Commons, 27th July 2010

Before the House adjourns, I wish to place on the record the problems and concerns of my constituents as a result of road congestion through the villages of Mottram and Hollingworth, and mention the ongoing saga of the proposed Mottram-to-Tintwistle bypass. [Interruption.] I can see that there is a lot of immediate interest in the subject.

If any hon. Members have ever driven between Sheffield and Manchester, they will probably have been delayed in my constituency. The journey from the end of the M67 in Hattersley to the junction with the M1 in south Yorkshire is a nightmare. The Woodhead pass is a convenient route across the country that avoids the M62, but its popularity has meant total misery for my constituents in Longdendale. I remind the House of my standing declared interest as an elected member of Tameside metropolitan borough council.

The latest figures given to me by the House of Commons Library tell me that, on average, 34,000 vehicles a day pass through the Mottram Moor A road in Hollingworth. That is an astonishing amount of traffic for small villages to cope with. It means that people cannot leave their houses, that the noise is unbearable and that the pollution levels are completely unacceptable, particularly in the playground of Hollingworth primary school, of which I am still a governor.

Many Secretaries of State for Transport have visited us and promised improvements; in fact, I believe that one made the journey, promised us that something would be done, but unfortunately was sacked on his journey back to London. That may explain the reluctance of more recent Secretaries of State for Transport to visit the area.

I am sure that hon. Members are wondering about the legislative history of the problem. The plans for a bypass in the area date back to the 1990s. They were extolled in the Conservative Government's "Roads for Prosperity" White Paper in 1989, following a public consultation process. A preferred route was selected in October 1993, but work was suspended in 1996 following further Government reviews of the national road building programme.

In July 1998 the Labour Government published "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England", which also included the bypass. In November 2002 the Highways Agency submitted a report to the regional planning bodies, and the local communities affected by the congestion presented a petition with more than 9,000 signatures to Downing street a few months later. I was part of that local deputation. The preferred route for a bypass in the area was not without its opponents. The very tip of the new road would have entered the territory of the Peak District national park, whose representatives naturally raised concerns. However, many objections were also raised by people who had never visited the area and wrongly assumed that most of the new bypass would be in the park.

The public inquiry into the bypass opened on 26 June 2007. However, following several adjournments to consider the evidence submitted, the public inquiry was adjourned indefinitely in December 2008, following the submission of inaccurate data by the Highways Agency. I shall stand corrected if this is not the case, but I believe that it got the length of the Stocksbridge bypass wrong. That should be a concern, given that it is the Highways Agency. After further delays throughout 2008, the public inquiry was abandoned, as the cost of the scheme had gone up steadily in the intervening years and funding had been allocated elsewhere. I have to report that as a result, there is considerable bitterness in my constituency at the performance of the Highways Agency.

To move things forward, Tameside metropolitan borough council, my local authority, began working on a wider solution, which incorporated a smaller new road with other traffic restraining measures. The scheme currently has resources allocated to it from the regional funding allocation, but we await the comprehensive spending review to see whether they will still be there in October. Local campaigners have been very demoralised by the lack of progress. I pay tribute to Mike Flynn, Bob Haycock and David Moore for keeping the campaign going. They know that they will always have my support.

The problem is national, not local: the traffic congestion is not caused in my constituency or borough. The Government must recognise that the problem comes from outside our area, and allocate resources to find a solution. I am not prescriptive about what that should be, but I feel that some new road capacity in the area is essential if a solution is to be meaningful.

Some will say that any new road capacity increases pollution, as it makes a journey more favourable for other road users. For me, that misses the point; the important thing about pollution in any given area is the number of receptors of that pollution-who is breathing the pollution in. If there were an increase in traffic in the Longdendale valley as a whole, the receptors would be the vegetation along the side of the new bypass or similar road, and that would be far preferable to the current situation, in which the receptors are my constituents along Hyde road, Mottram Moor and Market street in Hollingworth, and the schoolchildren in Hollingworth primary school.

Other options have been suggested as a potential solution, including, most notably, a weight restriction on heavy goods vehicles using the Woodhead pass. I am open to any ideas that would provide a solution, but my concern with the weight restriction is that it would damage the local economy in Tameside, which seems unfair given that the problem comes from outside our area.

Whenever transport problems are raised, this question should always be asked: is a public transport solution available? In all honesty, when I look at the situation in Longdendale I cannot see how that can be the case. In addition, it cannot be denied that the coalition has given us a new ministerial team at the Department for Transport who, rightly or wrongly, are perceived as having little interest in the subject generally. If the rumours are true, in October my constituents could face not only the loss of the money allocated to deal with the specific congestion problem but the loss of the new rolling stock for the railway in Greater Manchester, the loss of bus services in the area through the slashing of the bus operators grant, and rail fare increases of RPI plus 10%. That would be a very dark day for transport in this country, and it would cause significant economic damage to constituencies such as mine.

My constituents face an unbearable situation that the Government need to recognise and help to address. To refuse to do so-I say this quite genuinely-will lead to civil disobedience in the area. The status quo is not an option. I therefore ask the Deputy Leader of the House to make efforts to arrange for me and other local representatives to meet people from the Department for Transport prior to a spending review announcement, to encourage the Department to announce which A-roads it believes to be suffering from unacceptable levels of congestion and announce a strategy for dealing with them, and to ask a Minister from the Department for Transport to visit my constituency to see for themselves the intolerable situation that my constituents contend with on a daily basis.

No comments: