Gary Waller – 1986 Speech on Transport in West Yorkshire

Below is the text of the speech made by Gary Waller, the then Conservative MP for Keighley, in the House of Commons on 13 March 1986.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State may not be as glad as I am to be here at 4 o’clock in the norning. Nevertheless, we much appreciate the contribution he makes in the office that he fills. I am also pleased that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is here. He demonstrates every day, in Committee and when he contributes to transport debates, that it is possible to adopt an aggressive yet light-hearted tone across the Dispatch Boxes. We welcome the fact that he has stayed up until this late hour to join in this important debate about transport in west Yorkshire.

I think that it is fair to say that, among the factors which encourage the development of industry and commerce in particular areas, there is good evidence that transport links figure very near the top. I want to deal, in particular, with the western part of the county of west Yorkshire, which not only suffers from higher than average unemployment but has relatively poor road and rail communications. In the eastern part of west Yorkshire, Leeds and Wakefield have first-class rail links to London by the east coast main line and also first-class road links by the M1 motorway to the south of the country. However, places such as Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield come some way behind.

Leeds has attracted many new jobs in commerce and the services sector, but Bradford and its environs are still trying to recover from the shake-out in textile jobs which has taken place under successive Governments over many years and has reached a plateau only during the past 12 months or so. My constituency is defying the doom and gloom merchants and many firms are now more optimistic, although it remains to be seen whether that will turn into real jobs. Keighley is particularly poorly served by transport. Whether those jobs will come depends a great deal on the realisation of our transport needs.

Among the most important developments is the electrification of the east coast main line. Its completion to Doncaster and Leeds is eagerly awaited by the many people who use the train regularly, including me, and by those who suffer from the delays caused by the many failures of the current diesel units. The fact that British Rail received substantial compensation from the manufacturer is little comfort to those who are inconvenienced. The Government made the right decision in giving the go-ahead for this important and significant scheme. The increased reliability which the new Electra locomotives will bring is eagerly awaited also.

We are pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister will visit Bradford soon. Many people in Bradford are naturally unhappy about the link between the city and the rest of the inter-city network, especially the route between Bradford and Leeds. I understand that the existing dated rolling stock which is operated by the passenger transport executive is being replaced by the new Pacer train. That development is badly needed.

Many people in Bradford regard electrification of the route between Leeds and Bradford as essential to Bradford’s regeneration. I must admit that, unlike some hon. Members, I do not believe that this argument necessarily stands up to rigorous examination. Decisions made by the great railway builders of the last century ​ inevitably cause the journey time from Wakefield to Bradford to be long, especially if the train has to stop at Leeds on the way. British Rail claims that a stop at Leeds between Wakefield and Bradford has been forced on it by commercial considerations. It has already ceased to run trains via the Wortley curve directly to Bradford.

The time factor has in the past deterred passengers from travelling through to Bradford by train even when no change of train was required during off-peak periods. This factor will continue to apply whether or not electrification comes.

At the end of the day, whether a service is viable depends not on electrification but on whether sufficient passengers use it. I know that there is criticism of British Rail for making the service so unattractive that passengers are driven away, but I do not think that it is all the fault of British Rail that the number of passengers using the inter-city service during off-peak periods declined to such a low level that services were discontinued.

There has never been any suggestion that, if electrification were continued through from Leeds to Bradford, British Rail would again start running through trains during off-peak periods. It is hard to see what advantage electrification can bring to make the service more attractive. On that basis, it is reasonable to assume that the electrified inter-city services would continue through to Bradford only during peak periods. British Rail has already said that it intends to continue inter-city services to Bradford during peak periods following electrification of the east coast main line, with a change of traction at Leeds during the time currently allowed for the stop there.

Therefore, the only advantage that I can see that electrification would provide is a kind of guarantee that British Rail would be more likely—it is certainly not a cast-iron guarantee—to fulfil its pledge to continue inter-city services to Bradford than it would if a change of traction were necessary.

I believe that better ways can be found of spending the several millions of pounds—various figures, ranging from £5 million to £10 million, have been cited—that such a guarantee would cost. The question of the Wortley curve is separate and not directly related to electrification. It is connected with the question whether it is commercially viable to run trains through to Bradford which do not call at Leeds. It looks as if the courts will have to decide whether British Rail was justified in closing that stretch of line to passengers without submitting the issue to a Transport Users Consultative Committee inquiry and final decision by the Secretary of State.

We live in an age of convenience, but I do not understand how electrification can make things more convenient unless one were willing not only to spend the £4 million, £5 million or £10 million needed to electrify the link, but also to maintain a continuing subsidy each year for uneconomic trains.

Some Bradfordians have admitted that electrification would not make economic sense but would have a psychological effect. British Rail is required to achieve a 5 per cent. return on its inter-city services by 1988. I am not sure where a subsidy would come from. Even if Bradford council was initially willing for the ratepayers to meet the cost, it could hardly give a guarantee to continue doing that indefinitely. No doubt one would come to a different conclusion if it seemed that electrification could bring any genuine benefits to Bradford. I find it difficult to argue that there should be any exception from the ​ requirement that the inter-city service should be ineligible for public service obligation grant from April 1988, bearing in mind that this additional investment would incur additional costs if BR were to try to justify it by running through trains outside peak periods.

I should like to make some relatively brief comments about local rail lines as these are not the responsibility of BR or of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport but of the local PTE. The reason for that is not because they are unimportant; indeed, the contrary is the case.

Many commuters, shoppers, school pupils and tourists depend on the local rail lines between the major conurbations of Leeds and Bradford and the towns of Shipley, Bingley, Keighley and Skipton in Airedale and the smaller communities on the way to Ilkley in Wharfedale. In recent months there have been many complaints about the quality of the service. I would like to pay a tribute to the Wharfedale rail users group whose professionalism has impressed the professionals and whose suggestions have resulted in the improved scheduling of trains. The Ilkley line is popular with travellers but its viability is not enhanced by the way that section 20 agreements between the PTE and BR require the whole of the track costs to be borne by the former because the line is not part of the BR network.

The details of section 20 agreements are being re-examined and I hope that some benefits will result. In the meantime, I believe that the PTE should operate its fare structure on a more commercial basis. The local railway provides a fast alternative to the congested roads for which many people would willingly pay a realistic fare if that helped to retain the service. People need the service to be reliable and seats to be available. Lately, both timing and the number of coaches available have fallen well below acceptable levels. I hope that things will improve in future.

I have some good news for my hon. Friend the Minister of State about the likely effects of the Transport Bill for which he was responsible. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has seen a letter from County Councillor John Tweddle, who is the Conservative spokesman on transport on the county council. In the letter Mr. Tweddle refers to

“The latest information on the charges which the Transport Act 1985 is bringing about to bus services in West Yorkshire.”

He states:

“The west Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive have just informed Councillors that commercial network mileage has been increased from 55 per cent. previously assessed to 75 per cent. of the current mileage. This improvement is to be achieved as a result of better service planning, faster journey times and improved staff productivity following the new cooperation from the Trade Unions. National Bus Company Subsidiaries operating in west Yorkshire, have not yet told of the extent of the commercial network that they intend to register”.

Nevertheless, the sort of improvement in the commercial network mileage, together with the cost savings on the rest of the network due to tendering, is obviously going to save passengers and ratepayers a substantial amount in the future.

Mr. Tweddle concludes his letter by writing:

“The claim of the white paper and in debate now looks set to be achieved scorning the mis-information and scare-mongering of opponents to the Transport Bill.”

That is encouraging news indeed.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Did the hon. Gentleman say that the spokesman of the Conservative group was County Councillor Tweddle, or was that the content of the letter from which he quoted?

Mr. Waller

County Councillor Tweddle is a man for whom I have the highest regard. I always found what he has to say about transport, in which he is a specialist, of extremely high quality. The hon. Gentleman will probably see more of Mr. Tweddle in future. He has already been a parliamentary candidate, and is undoubtedly destined for even higher things than the outgoing metropolitan county council.

One of the more obvious benefits of the abolition of the metropolitan county councils was the opportunity it gave the districts to take responsibility for highways. There is a good case for some services still to be provided on a countywide basis, for example research, and work on major strategic traffic management schemes. Nevertheless, I am surprised that some district councils in west Yorkshire are effectively throwing away the opportunities that they were handed by reorganisation by continuing to join together on a countywide basis to operate highway functions voluntarily.

I am glad that Bradford has opted out of that retrograde scheme, and I believe that it will benefit in future by so doing. If the old county borough was capable of running its highways, the much larger metropolitan district with a population as large as some counties should certainly be able to do so effectively.

One of the most important trunk road schemes in the offing is the Kirkhamgate-Dishforth scheme. The need for a strategic link between the M1 and M62 south of Leeds, and north Yorkshire and the north-east remains.

Much national and local traffic must use a variety of roads which are unsuited to the flows that they must carry. There was a good case for a route to the west of Leeds which would have benefited Bradford and provided an alternative to the dangerous route north from those cities to Harrogate and Ripon. But we did not get the cake with the icing, and because the inspector did not recommend the construction of the entirely new section south and east of Leeds either, we have got only half of the alternative rather plain cake.

Now new alternatives are to be examined, and that process should be carried out quickly. The problem exists today and we cannot wait many more years for it to be properly resolved, even if the necessary improvements on the A1 are to go ahead.

I welcome the fact that active consideration is being given to the construction of an eight or nine mile link between the M1 near Wakefield, possibly between junctions 39 and 40, and the M62 at junction 25 near Brighouse. I have been pressing for that scheme for many years. Two or three years ago I was told by officials in the Department that it was a non-starter, but I am pleased that it is now considered that it may pay its way.

The scheme would bring considerable benefits to the western districts of west Yorkshire. It would provide a faster, more convenient route between the M1 and Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford, would cut several miles off the journey between the M1 and the M62 to the west, and would relieve the A638 through Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton—towns which I had the honour to represent before the last general election but which I no ​ longer represent. The traffic in those towns was considered sufficiently bad to merit the construction of relief roads which have now been deleted.

This new route would also relieve the A644 through Mirfield and traffic would be able to use an alternative to the unsuitable, and in parts narrow, A637. It would enable the largest proportion of traffic linking between the M62 and M606 at the Chain Bar roundabout to do so without having to negotiate that roundabout—it is about half a mile around that large circuit. The Calder Valley link would have environmental, safety and economic benefits which would justify its early approval and construction. I hope the results of the analysis will prove favourable.

For my constituents the Airedale route is of great significance. It is a vital route for the future prosperity of the Aire valley towns, especially Keighley. When the route is complete it will mean that there will be a fast link between Keighley and the motorway network. At present in peak times it can easily take an hour to cover 15 miles. It is possible to get from south Bradford to Manchester more quickly than it is possible to reach the north-western parts of the district. That route, which has been on the stocks not just for years but decades, is essential.

The final obstacles to the construction of the Kildwick to Beechcliffe section—the most westerly part of the route—have now been cleared and I hope that construction will start this summer. There has been a recent announcement about the Victoria Park-Keighley-Crossflats section. That will mean the loss of about 13 per cent. of the Victoria Park at Keighley, but I do not think, as some fear, that the annual gala and show at Keighley, which are important events for the town, will be threatened too much.

The Crossflatts-to-Cottingley Bar section extending to the east of Bingley will go ahead eventually. There is a question about what will happen between Cottingley Bar and the Shipley eastern bypass. This will link with the Bradford central spine road and the motorway system. I have serious doubts about the consultative process which was carried out some time ago. I do not think that adequate opportunity was given for the people living outside the immediate area to express their views as there would have been under a statutory inquiry. I carried out a survey of Keighley firms which clearly showed that the overwhelming majority regarded the route as important and thought that it was essential that there should be a new route skirting Saltaire and Shipley. Those questioned did not think that any alternative would prevent traffic jams.

An alternative to the new route would probably rely on traffic management and perhaps on one or two short new sections, but all this would only create an almighty snarl-up which would strangle Saltaire—an outcome which those who wish to protect Saltaire fear. The anticipated traffic figures which I have been given by the Department of Transport do not add up. Even an incomplete Airedale route would draw traffic away from routes such as the A629-A644 through Denholme and Queensbury and the B6144 across the moors. I feel that there could be a botch-up and I am waiting anxiously for the announcement, due this summer, of the outcome of inquiries into alternatives. I note that I am supported in my view by Bradford council and the West Yorkshire metropolitan council. It is a sensitive matter.

Among the villages which have waited long—I will not say patiently—for a bypass, Addingham, on the borders of my constituency, features prominently. At long ​ last, the detailed route has been announced. I believe it has the support of the overwhelming majority of the village residents who wish to see the bypass constructed as soon as possible.

Obviously, the objectors have every right to have their say, but I hope that their number will be few and that the statutory procedures will be carried through as speedily as possible. The road winds through the village in an attractive way that is suited more to the horse and cart than to today’s juggernaut. The completion of the bypass, which will be partly hidden in a cutting will bring blessed relief to the villagers, who often have to jump for their lives, and have been kept awake at night by the rumble of heavy traffic.

The Leeds-Bradford airport has a catchment area twice the size of that for Newcastle or the east midlands, but has only about half the throughput of those two airports. It has great potential. For instance, it could carry a great deal of postal business, some of which used to be diverted through Speke airport at Liverpool. Last year, the operational income of Leeds-Bradford airport increased by 24 per cent., mainly as a result of increased business.

There was a 10 per cent. increase in air freight, and a 14 per cent. increase in passenger trade. However, it has had to turn away much business in the past two years because of the ban on take-offs and landings after 10 pm. The question whether there should be take-offs and landings after that time is a sensitive issue, and I do not want to come down on one side or the other, but it is fair to investigate the matter, bearing in mind that most of the present generation of quiet aircraft were not in existence when the public inquiry took place in 1979.

I hope that I shall be forgiven for reverting briefly to the subject of rail. This is not a part of the British Rail or PTE network, but the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. I take a particular pride in that scheme, as did my predecessor as Member for Keighley, Mr. Bob Cryer. The railway is run in a very professional way, although it depends on volunteers and fare-paying passengers, and the subscriptions of members of the preservation society among whom I am proud to be counted. The figures that have just reached me show that in 1985, 148,500 miles were covered by locomotives on the railway, a large proportion of them under steam. Not only do people come from far and wide to work on the railway, or travel on it as tourists, but some use it as a commuter service from Oxenhope and the famous village of Howarth down into Keighley and on into Bradford and Leeds. The railway is more expensive to run than an ordinary railway because it is a steam railway. Over £40,000 per annum has to be spent on coal alone.

I am glad that in the past couple of days, a pie-in-the-sky scheme to build a tramway and transport museum on the other side of Bradford seems to have run into the buffers. It was an over-ambitious scheme on which the West Yorkshire metropolitan council has already spent some money. It was never a realistic scheme, and my view is that it would have confronted head-on the voluntary efforts of people on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. I had appealed for somebody to say no to the scheme, which would have eaten up a great deal of ratepayers’ money, when they are already suffering from increased rates.

I have taken my hon. Friend the Minister and the many other hon. Members in the House at this time on a tour of the transport facilities in at least part of the county of west ​ Yorkshire. I hope that I have shown that transport is vital to the future of the county. During the next few years, it will be even more vital for the system to improve.