I’ve spent the last 25 years negotiating my way around Greater Manchester. My experiences tell me that our region is now at gridlock stage, with the inefficiency of our transport systems having a major impact on our ability to trade and attract investment. The time has come to differentiate between investment and cost, as our only choice is to take bold, long term decisions for our region.
Any elected mayor must surely insist that there’s a strong economic argument for HS3 to take priority over HS2. We must work in tandem with the other northern cities to make this point with London that a Northern Powerhouse cannot exist without fast connections between the main cities.
There are some major questions to ask around the main line from Manchester to London, where construction has already started. In our area, large numbers of people using the current line get on at Stockport or Wilmslow, but the new HS2 line goes nowhere near either town. We could end up with a white elephant on our hands – at a gigantic cost to the taxpayer – where everyone still uses the 'old line' as the 'new one' doesn’t save any time.
The only economic argument for HS2 is a water pipe under the line that takes water from the north to the south, because London water supplies are at crisis point. It seems absurd that when all the groundwork is being done in a straight line a provision for asisting our southern brethren with access to our water is not top priority. It would certainly help the negotiations regarding HS3.
Extending the M67 is also a huge necessity for connecting our region to the east and alleviating the gridlock on the M62. There’s no reason why the M67 shouldn’t be a toll road, as any freight organisation worth its corn would rather pay £10 than go anywhere near Woodhead Pass, purely for risk and efficiency reasons.
On a local basis, I’ll use my own area of Didsbury as an example of how we’re going nowhere fast in Manchester. Wilmslow Road between Didsbury and Central Manchester is one of the busiest roads in Europe, but provides a great example of how privatisation doesn't always work. It takes over an hour to travel five miles at 8am on a weekday – longer than the same journey would have taken 100 years ago. Compounding the problem are numerous bus companies competing against each other and providing a service that doesn’t work in the population’s best interests. It maybe that we need to serve notice on all our private bus companies that provide public services and take the transport system 'in house'.
The brave solution to Manchester's public transport debacle is to make the bus and tram systems free at point of entry, with the costs covered by an increase in Council Tax. Only this will entice people out of their cars and alleviate the economic problem of road gridlock. Unpopular but necessary!
With regards cycling I am sure all the other candidates have some wonderful ideas but as a cyclist myself the first base of any cycling policy has to be to fix the roads. The biggest risk for any cyclist is potholes and if you have to swerve at short notice to avoid one you are putting everyone on the road at risk as they too have to make quick adjustments. Interestingly, if you stand for twenty minutes on Wilmslow Road in Didsbury and count the number of cyclists actually using the new lanes going into Manchester it will tell you everything that you need to know about our cycling revolution. My policy would be to make provision for cyclists on the buses and trams and then you may get an increase in uptake if people know they have a choice whether to ride or not and that they can avoid the dangerous routes altogether.