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International Station (Stratford)

4.29 am

Mr. David Amess (Basildon): We have reached a point in our proceedings when it is judged that the body is at its lowest ebb. The case for Stratford having an international railway station is certainly not at its lowest ebb. I would go further: the support for the railway station is gathering momentum up and down the country and particularly in the House of Commons.

The House may be puzzled about what could possibly bring together Basildon and Newham. It certainly is not politics. I am a Conservative Member of Parliament and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is a socialist Member of Parliament. It is clear that the point which unites us all is Newham itself. It is the place where I was born and where I have spent most of my life. So regardless of my good fortune in representing Basildon, I take a keen interest in everything that happens in Newham.

In my early years I despaired of much that was happening in Newham. I saw it as decay. It is a delight now to see Newham, through the good offices of a range of people, being regenerated. When I drive back later today, I shall see Stratford station in all its glory. There are many other signs which I welcome, and I pay tribute to the people who have made that possible.

I fought four elections in Newham, all in the 1970s. I fought two council elections, one GLC election and one parliamentary election. I am sorry to say that I was the runner-up on each occasion. I do not intend to be the runner-up on this issue. We intend to win. We are determined that Stratford railway station should gain international recognition. To achieve that end, we formed only last week a parliamentary support group. I was impressed with the presentation that we enjoyed at the meeting. The only thing that separates me and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is that he is the chair of that group and I am the chairman. Other than that, colleagues from all parties in the House will support our group. It seeks to persuade Members that Stratford deserves recognition as an international railway station.

I congratulate and pay tribute to the officers of Newham council and particularly the business consortium which is backing the project, on their impressive and professional presentation. On every count, the Government should support the case for Stratford international railway station. They should certainly support it on economic grounds as the Stratford promoter group has shown that the international passenger station can be produced at no cost whatever to the Government.

We should support the international station for the sake of docklands. Baroness Thatcher rightly inspired the docklands development. I am delighted to see Canary wharf now more than 60 per cent. occupied. I am also delighted to see the new railway station that is being built just outside the precincts of the House. The disruption annoys some people but that work is another step forward. If we want docklands to succeed, Stratford is the ideal location for the railway station. I was delighted also to be taken to the top of Holden point, to see the 200-acre brownfield site, which is ideal for the station. That project is also important to Newham in terms of job creation.

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I and other Members of Parliament representing Essex constituencies are behind the railway station being located there.

Incidentally, the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann) and other hon. Friends representing Essex constituencies hoped to attend this debate. If they cannot be here in person, they are certainly here in spirit. A Stratford station would satisfy all the Government's key objectives. It was said that

"our decision means that the line will be built through east London, where the prospect is welcomed for the economic regeneration that it will bring."

Those are not my words, but those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), the former Secretary of State for Transport. He also said:

"It is envisaged that the high-speed train from the channel tunnel to King's Cross will stop at Stratford".--[ Official Report , 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 26 34.]

If there is no station at Stratford, however, there can be no regeneration based on the channel tunnel rail link in east London. All the regeneration benefits would flow to Kent, leading to a further decline in east London. The east Thames corridor concept, now called Thames gateway, makes the connection between regeneration and the CTRL.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration described Stratford and the royal docks as the western focus of the Thames gateway. If the objectives are to be realised, a station must be located at the CTRL at Stratford. The Dartford Ebbsfleet station is the complementary eastern focus.

Union Railways, in its report of March 1993, specified three important objectives. First is the international objective of providing a link between Britain and Europe. Some weeks ago, hon. Members were invited to travel on Eurostar, and I accepted. Some propaganda suggested that the British had done nothing to enhance Waterloo station but that everything was wonderful in Europe. As we travelled at 178 mph through the channel tunnel, I felt very proud. When we alighted at Brussels Midi, far from a haven of investment, I would describe that station as a dump. Waterloo International is magnificent and, sadly, Brussels Midi is a dump. That puts the issue in context.

Britain's planning laws are quite different from those of other countries. In terms of the link that I hope will be debated next year, real issues must be grasped--particularly by hon. Members representing Kent constituencies. That is another reason why I believe that everything is in place for Stratford railway station. I am totally behind the link through the channel tunnel and I believe that Stratford offers a marvellous opportunity to enhance the scheme.

The second objective is that of the commuter. The station could help to provide a major increase in the capacity and quality of journeys between Kent, Essex and London--and, my goodness, we need some enhancement there.

The third objective--this is critical to the Government's strategic and regional objectives--is the development objective of providing the transport spine for the east Thames corridor development, shifting pressure from the west to the east of London. Both the London and south- east regional planning conference and the London planning advisory committee support that objective. If

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development leapfrogs east London to Ebbsfleet because there is no station at Stratford, development pressure will certainly be unrelieved in west London. The House should reflect carefully on the repercussions for us all if that happens.

A firm decision--I make this point to my hon. Friend the Minister, for whom I have the highest regard--to locate an intermediate station at Stratford is required to underpin other Government strategic decisions. Stratford, located at the foot of the Lea valley corridor initiative, is eligible for European regional development fund objective 2 funding. I am delighted to say that Stratford, through the initiative of the local authority, has recently been successful in its bid for single regeneration budget funding. I know that that is warmly welcomed.

The transport arguments for Stratford international may be summarised as follows. Stratford will permit much faster journeys to the continent from east London, East Anglia and Essex. It will take 20 minutes less than going from St. Pancras. The same applies to docklands, an area that will capitalise on close links with Europe. Stratford will also provide marginally quicker journeys to the continent from the City of London.

I went to see the docks, together with one your colleagues, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before the City airport was built there. It is magnificent to see the important effect that the airport has had on the area. Again, that is a good link with Stratford railway station. Stratford also provides the public transport solution for travellers from East Anglia, Essex and east London. If Stratford station is not built, passengers from those locations will--I know that this is an extraordinary expression--use kiss and ride at Ebbsfleet. Every rail journey will thus be replaced by two car journeys over the Dartford crossing, which would be nonsense. That could deter potential growth in CTRL users from East Anglia and Essex.

By dispersing flows of commuters and south-east international passengers, Stratford will enable the heavy cost of expanding underground capacity at St. Pancras to be avoided. Crossrail will call at Stratford's existing station, poaching passengers from the heart of the Heathrow catchment area, west London and, dare I say it to my hon. Friend the Minister, Slough and Reading. The Stratford promoter group's proposals include a passenger interchange between CTRL and crossrail. The station at Stratford will complement the existing and planned interchanges at Stratford.

I now turn briefly to the transport business case. The transport case implies extra business and extra revenue for Union Railways and the successful bidder. A modest estimate suggests that an international station at Stratford will produce £20 million extra revenue for Union Railways and £5 million for the station operator. The Union Railways model is incapable of forecasting the extra business or extra revenue, because it uses a fixed-trip matrix based primarily on observed travel through Heathrow and Gatwick and therefore hugely underestimates the demand from east London, Essex and East Anglia.

The latest London area transport survey issued by my hon. Friend's Department shows the scale of the error that has resulted. The same errors apply to the whole of east London and East Anglia. Seventy per cent. of the population of East Anglia and all the population of Essex live in the Liverpool Street-Stratford catchment area, and services to King's Cross-St Pancras are simply not an

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option for the great majority of those people. It is quite wrong to encourage people from Essex to drive via Dartford to Ebbsfleet when a perfectly good public transport alternative can be provided via Stratford.

Railtrack East Anglia handles 300,000 passengers a day, is the same size of "business" as the Kent zone and has the largest infrastructure investment programme of all the Railtrack zones: some £200 million has been invested in signalling alone. The three counties of East Anglia are Cambridgeshire--including the Prime Minister's constituency--with a population of 690,000; Norfolk, with a population of 767,000; and Suffolk, with a population of 657,000. If Essex and East Anglia are added, along with an estimate for eastern Hertfordshire, we arrive at a figure of 3.5 million.

There are also regeneration issues. The LPAC-Hausner report concluded that experience in France gained through the TGV projects suggests that major developments of regional significance will occur only in inner-city fringe areas, not in city centres or out-of-city locations. The establishment of Stratford international station will herald a mixed-use development including business park, industry, office, retail, hotel, leisure and residential uses. It is a magnificent proposal, providing the desperately needed potential for 15,000 new jobs, nearly 1,800 new homes and environmental improvements. If implemented, it will protect nearly 67,000 existing jobs. Training schemes will be offered, and the bid aims to provide opportunities for jobs during the CTRL construction period. I know that one Minister, my hon. Friend the Paymaster General, knows Newham only too well. He has been to the borough a number of times to see at first hand all the different initiatives that the local authority wishes to implement.

Finally, let me deal with the economic issues. The LPAC-Hausner report concluded that new rail infrastructure could be used as a spur to significant economic development. The SPG's proposals suggest that inward investment will create new jobs at Stratford--4,000 by the millennium, 15,000 by 2015, and 40,000 jobs in the royal docks. As I have said, the international station will safeguard 67,000 jobs in east London. An area with well over 114,000 people unemployed within a five-mile radius will gain much from the project. It will create an inflow of construction capital of £235 million from the SPG proposal, and create a general uplift in land values. The international station will have a major regenerative impact.

There is widespread support for Stratford from the LPAC, SERPLAN, London First, the Confederation of British Industry and the East Anglian local authorities. There is business and local public support. Yesterday evening, I was delighted to receive a letter from the City of London corporation which is watching the project closely. It has held talks with the local authority and is very keen on the project.

Let there be no doubt that many hon. Members will not let the matter rest. There is support among all parties for Stratford to be an international railway station. The message is being spread not only throughout the House, the other place, Newham, Basildon and Essex, but throughout the country. The local authority, local Members of Parliament and the SPG deserve to have their

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case judged fairly. If it is judged fairly on every count, Stratford should become an international railway station. We are determined that that will happen.

4.50 am

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): I congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) on choosing this subject for debate. We endorse every single word that he has uttered. It is a privilege to follow him and say that we in Newham are very grateful for his support. We know of his connections with the borough and welcome the fact that he has always worked constructively with the borough council and local Members of Parliament. We acknowledge that he has roots in the area and it is a privilege on this occasion to be able to extend the hand of friendship across the Chamber to a member of the Conservative party. We are grateful for all that he has done for the borough to which he is still greatly attached and with which he has worked closely.

I cannot say that I hope that the hon. Gentleman will win Basildon at the next election and, although I have not consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), perhaps I might suggest that, should he lose, he will always have a place in Newham working with us, perhaps even in a paid appointment, to promote the case for Stratford as an international station. The hon. Gentleman has done a great deal of good work for us and I hope that he remains on our side.

The hon. Gentleman has made most of the points that I wanted to make and I shall not repeat them all, but some need to be stressed. We need the international station at Stratford, not just because it would be good for the area but because it is the key to the regeneration of that part of east London, through the Thames corridor and into the south-east of England. It is an international decision and I hope that the Government will acknowledge that.

We have had occasion to invite any number of Transport and Environment Ministers to Stratford to have a look at what we have to offer and they have all made useful comments. I hope that the new Minister of State, the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts), will also take the opportunity to inspect the land. We recently took the President of the Board of Trade to Holden point to show him, as we have shown others, the extent of the land available for development. As the hon. Member for Basildon said, there are 200 acres of brown development land available for the international station and ancillary developments. If one looks at it, the case is obvious. That is the important point.

We have always felt that we do not have to overdo our argument. Our case is good, and it is not simply a matter of local Members of Parliament getting enthusiastic about a local case. Obviously we will do that, but because of the cross-party support, and the fact that if people go and have a look at what we have to offer they become as enthusiastic as we are, we have always been able to rely on the quality of our case. We do not have to push it heavily; we feel that it is almost self-evident. But we want a little more support from Government and a little more acknowledgement that there is a good case, which they are prepared to accept for the benefit of the people not only of Newham but of Basildon and the rest of Essex, and indeed of Britain as a whole.

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I want to raise one or two points with the Minister. For instance, I have a personal interest, which I shall now declare. The channel tunnel railway route that has been selected, which we shall discuss early next year, not only comes right through Newham but passes directly underneath my house. That is why I am making a personal point.

I do not mind that; I really do not care at all. But for obvious reasons I would rather my house did not fall into the tunnel. That does not worry me too much, but it seems to bother my wife a bit. There are several environmental considerations that I hope the Minister will address--or at least, if he does not deal with them tonight I hope that he will cause Union Railways to address them. Although we are enthusiastic for the station at Stratford, we are not unmindful of the fact that environmental considerations are involved.

As the hon. Member for Basildon said, there is enormous local public support. He did not give all the figures, but I have the figures from the opinion polls, and 77 per cent. of Newham residents support the Stratford proposal; 85 per cent. of those in the Stratford area support it, and 80 per cent. expect that a station would revitalise both that area and Newham; 84 per cent of businesses in the area support the proposal. So there is enormous support. However, one should not take that support for granted and say, "Well, that's fine; we don't have to worry about environmental considerations then." We are worried that we are not getting the sort of information that we should be getting from Union Railways. I have looked at the route and, as I said, it goes immediately under my property in Forest Gate, neither to the left nor the right. It looks to me as though the epicentre of the tunnel will be immediately below my living room.

That is fine. Perhaps we could think about having an extra stop so that I can come straight up into my living room, or descend from my living room on to a train going to Paris or Brussels. I would not mind. But there are matters that must be sorted out. We do not know how much vibration and reradiated noise and so on will come from the chosen route, and Union Railways is not being as open as it should be with the people who live in the area. The company does not seem able to offer the kind of information that we require. We are enthusiastic, but we know that there are environmental considerations, and personal considerations for those who live in the area, not least my own family. Will the Minister ask Union Railways to address those matters a little more readily than it is doing at the moment? We are arguing for the station not only because it will be good for the area but because it makes a lot of transport sense. The Government are putting a great deal of money into transport infrastructure development in the Stratford area, although the Central line upgrading is not working too well as yet.

Here I shall digress slightly if I may, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Yesterday morning I was travelling in to do a live broadcast on Radio 4, so there was some immediacy involved in my journey on the Central line. I took one of the new trains on the Central line which went from Stratford to Mile End and then stopped. Nothing happened. The driver then announced that he was very sorry and said, "Would all passengers sitting at the end of

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a row please stand up because I think that that is the only way we can get the doors to close? If they don't close, I will have to take this train out of commission."

That was a brand-new train on the Central line on which £750 million is being spent. That line is now being described as the new misery line. Something is going badly wrong here. If all that money is going into the Central line, but it has taken over from the Northern line as the misery line, there are clearly problems. While we acknowledge the Government's investment, something is clearly amiss if we end up having to stand up at the end of a row on a new Central line train in order to try to get the doors to close. In the event, the doors on that train did not close and it was taken out of service. I immediately bolted across the platform at Mile End and jumped on a Metropolitan line train going towards Liverpool Street. That train went about 150 yd into the tunnel and then stopped because there was a signal failure somewhere in the South Kensington area.

There are many problems which Ministers must address. Even though there has been an uptake recently, there has been an historic under-investment in our public transport system in London. That does not serve us well in terms of our competition with other capital cities. People who relocate into London will obviously look at our transport system and if it does not work and it is not reliable, that will be a deterrent. Transport is crucial to the economic viability of a city such as London.

Returning to the Stratford case, a great deal of investment is being made in the area. We have the docklands light railway and we may have crossrail. I hope that that will be revived. We have the North London line and the Liverpool Street line goes from Gidea Park. We have docklands with all the development that is being carried out there. We also have the City airport and links to the M11. All the transport infrastructure is there or is being prepared there. Stratford makes a great deal of sense. It seems crazy to have all that development, but then not make the other links that would enable that development to achieve a point of success that would unite the parties in the House and do a great deal for the east end and for the south -east.

The hon. Member for Basildon has made all the points about the number of jobs involved and protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs. There is something to be said for that. Stratford was a traditional railway area. British Rail Engineering Ltd. used to be in Stratford. Plenty of people in the area have that tradition and experience of working on the railways. They could use that experience and expertise to help the promotion that we discussing tonight. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will acknowledge that we have a good case. I have not said a single nasty word about Ebbsfleet. I am not trying to trade Stratford off against Ebbsfleet. If I were drafting the Bill, things would have been different. However, we have what has been proposed. Within the Bill, the long box preserves Stratford as a station. We are looking with the promoter group to make a case to the constructors that will enable us to say, "Here is a good case for an international station at Stratford."

As the hon. Member for Basildon said--I underline this fact--there is close partnership between the local authority and the public agencies which the Government

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are supporting, such as city challenge, and the private sector in the Newham area. Together, we have a broad partnership, without ideology and without rancour. It is based on the justification and the quality of our case. I hope that the Minister will look objectively at what we put forward, will listen to us, and will say that we have a good case that the Government are prepared to support.

5.4 am

Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East): I welcome the debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) on his success in securing it. I welcome his generous words about the changes in Newham being led by the local authority, working in partnership with a great variety of other organisations. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for the consistency and diligence with which they have supported the provision of an international station at Stratford. That one project is the key to major beneficial change in east London. It is our once-in-a-hundred-years opportunity to change the nature of east London for the better, for good. I join my hon. Friend in urging that the green light be given to the project as soon as possible.

The starting point for my contribution is the Government's own existing commitment to a station at Stratford. In his statement to the 1991 Conservative party conference and subsequently in discussion on that occasion with Newham council's then leader of the opposition, who was attending that conference, the former Secretary of State for Transport made it clear that it was intended to route the channel tunnel rail link through east London in order to secure regeneration there and that that would be achieved through a station at Stratford. As the hon. Member for Basildon said, the Secretary of State returned to this Chamber and repeated those commitments. He said:

"our decision means that the line will be built through east London, where the prospect is welcomed for the economic regeneration that it will bring."

He went on to answer a question, and he said:

"It is envisaged that the high-speed train from the channel tunnel to King's Cross will stop at Stratford".--[ Official Report , 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 26-34.]

Given those commitments, it is surprising and disappointing that, more than three years later, there is still uncertainty about whether those pledges will be fulfilled and whether the Stratford station will be built. I hope that that uncertainty will not last much longer. However, I am aware that there are people, not in the Government but elsewhere, who argue that the Secretary of State's commitments should be set aside.

There are those--I have it on good authority that it is the understanding in some parts of Union Railways--who claim that the Secretary of State never meant what he said in the first place, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, now the Secretary of State for Defence, made the announcement in order to relieve political difficulties in marginal constituencies in Kent and south London, and that, the 1992 general election safely out of the way, promises about regeneration in east London could be safely forgotten.

I do not believe those allegations. I dare say that the position in those marginal constituencies might have been a factor in some people's thinking, but I believe that the commitments about regeneration in east London were

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genuine. The council in Newham and the residents in my borough believe that they were genuine. We have gone forward in good faith on that basis, and the Government must not now let us down.

There is another view that, although the commitments to regeneration made by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) were sincerely meant, they will be fulfilled by the development around the station which is proposed at Ebbsfleet. I have no quarrel with the green light which has been given for that project, because London local authorities have always recognised the case for an M25 station in addition to the station at Stratford, but the developments around Ebbsfleet could never be regeneration, as they are developments on a greenfield site around disused gravel pits. However desirable and welcome that might be, it is not what is meant by urban regeneration, and it is not what the Secretary of State had in mind in 1991.

Beyond that, the Secretary of State was specific in his statement that he was referring to economic regeneration in east London. Ebbsfleet is nowhere near east London. Development at Ebbsfleet would not constitute in any way the regeneration in east London to which the Secretary of State committed the Government. Development at Ebbsfleet alone would also fatally undermine the regeneration of east London to which the Government so firmly committed themselves with the London Docklands development corporation, the Jubilee line and the other initiatives to which hon. Members referred previously. I emphasise that important point. The London planning advisory committee-- the statutory body which represents all the London boroughs and the City of London corporation-- expressed the point with great force and clarity. In its 1994 "Advice on Strategic Planning Guidance for London", and in other reports on the issue in the past year or so, it has said:

"the provision of an international station at Stratford, with the necessary public sector support, is seen by LPAC as a pre-requisite to securing regeneration in East London and for LPAC to continue to support the easterly alignment of the channel tunnel rail link. If Ebbsfleet were the only international station to be provided, serious detriment to the cause of regeneration in East London would result. The task, important to Government, of securing new economic development for inner East London would be impaired because business and investors would be attracted out of London to where access to the European railway exists. This would reinforce the spiral of decline in the inner part of the metropolis".

If the Government's commitment to a station at Stratford were to be abandoned, not only would there be none of the regeneration which the Secretary of State promised, but there would be a sucking away of investment which might have been attracted to east London and which would instead relocate to the M25 and Ebbsfleet. The development would leapfrog east London for the M25, wrecking the prospects for the economic regeneration which the line was intended to achieve in east London. The reality is that the only way in which the Secretary of State's commitment can be honoured is by giving the green light to the international and domestic passenger station at Stratford. There is a third ground on which it might be supposed that the 1991 commitment could be set aside. That is that the Government's policy has changed and that the commitment to regeneration in east London which existed three years ago no longer applies. I do not believe that

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that is the case, and I do not believe that Ministers would argue that it is. From what I have seen of the development of Government policy in the past three years, the policy support for the station at Stratford has hardened substantially.

The Government have obtained European regional development funding for the Lee valley, which contains Stratford. Stratford has been given city challenge funding and, as the hon. Member for Basildon mentioned, Ministers announced two weeks ago the go-ahead for the major single regeneration budget project at Stratford. Stratford has been described by the local government Minister as the "apex of the Thames gateway"--another important Government initiative which was unveiled recently.

In March this year the Government issued planning policy guidance note No. 13 which deals with transport. Paragraph 1.8 advises that planning and land use policies should

"promote development within urban areas, at locations highly accessible by means other than the private car, and locate major generators of travel demand in existing centres which are highly accessible by means other than the private car".

The Government's policy is clear: urban regeneration, or brownfield development, should be promoted at the expense of greenfield development. Development should be encouraged in locations with good public transport access and not just good car access. Government policy is for Stratford.

I return to my original point: the Government made a clear commitment in 1991 to using the channel tunnel rail link to secure regeneration in east London through an international station at Stratford. I believe that the Government meant it; they were not just having us on. It is clear that having a station only at Ebbsfleet would severely damage the prospects for regeneration in east London, and the Government's overall planning policies still point unequivocally to the Stratford station. The Government must not let us down.

The Stratford case wins on whatever criteria it is tested: regeneration, transport, business or financial. The 1991 census showed that Newham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets have the greatest concentration of urban deprivation in the United Kingdom. Stratford is where those three boroughs meet. There are today 115,000 unemployed people living within five miles of the proposed Stratford international station site. It is estimated that the station and the surrounding development should support 15,000 jobs by the year 2015, and will make a decisive contribution to the achievement of the 40, 000 jobs which the London Docklands development corporation envisages in the royal docks.

For the past 15 years, the Government have been expressing their commitment to the regeneration of the area, but they have not just been talking about it. They have been investing through the LDDC, city challenge and the capital's biggest transport infrastructure projects. The question which the Government need to answer now is--did they mean it? Will they see it through, or abandon it half way? I think I know the answer to the question and, if I am right, the Government will say yes to Stratford.

Even without the regeneration considerations, there is an overwhelming case for the Stratford station. At peak times, there will be 15 trains per hour running up the high-speed rail link--five international trains and 10 domestic commuter trains. If all those passengers can get

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out only at St. Pancras, there will be a 50 per cent. increase in the number of passengers using the underground at King's Cross. That could be managed only with enormous investment in the underground network serving King's Cross, and that is not a realistic proposition. There is a London Underground study on the proposal which is to be completed shortly, and I look forward very much to seeing the conclusions.

Even if the capacity could be provided, I do not see why one should compel people to go all the way into St. Pancras when they would be far better off changing at Stratford. People going to the City would be better off changing at Stratford and using the Central line, assuming that the problems referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West can be resolved. Those passengers could use the Central line to go the City, rather than continuing on to St. Pancras and having to trundle back to Liverpool Street along the even worse Circle line.

People going to south London, Waterloo and Westminster would be better off changing at Stratford and using the Jubilee line. People going to docklands would be much better off changing at Stratford and using the docklands light railway. I have not mentioned the impact of crossrail, which my hon. Friend also referred to, and which I am sure will one day be built.

People going to Essex and East Anglia will be better off changing at Stratford and using the rail services to Norwich, Ipswich, Southend and elsewhere. Those people would save 20 minutes, and probably longer, on their journeys as a result of the international station at Stratford. We are not talking about a handful of people. As the hon. Member for Basildon explained, we are talking about Essex, East Anglia, Hertfordshire and east London--about one eighth of the entire UK population. We must not overlook the fact that, with the construction of the M11 link road through east London and its spur to Stratford, there will be excellent motorway access directly to the Stratford station. I was speaking earlier this week to the chairman of the east London CBI, whose view was that missing out on Stratford station would be a gigantean missed opportunity. I know that the CBI's eastern region takes the same view.

Nobody declines to travel on inter-city trains from Euston because the trains stop at Watford junction, but many people travel by train from Watford junction who would not go all the way to Euston to catch the same train. Watford junction generates business for InterCity, and Stratford will do the same, but on a much larger scale, for the channel tunnel rail link. It has been estimated that a station at Stratford would generate additional annual revenue for the train operator of some £20 million.

It is unfortunate that the model developed for Union Railways by Coopers and Lybrand missed out on most of that potential, by assuming that international travellers would come from the same places as do people who travel to Heathrow and Gatwick--as if people from east London, Essex or East Anglia do not want to travel. That is nonsense, and it has severely undermined the work on which Union Railways' case is based. I am afraid that there have been two or three occasions when the case for Stratford has been misrepresented as a result of poor research and careless analysis.

The Stratford promoter group is an excellent example of just the kind of regeneration partnership that the Government have rightly said should be encouraged. It includes the key public and private sector players--

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Newham council, the London Docklands development corporation, the University of East London, Land Securities, Britain's biggest property company, the Carpenters Company, whose historic landholdings in Stratford were established in the 18th century, P and O Developments and others.

The Stratford station project is not asking for massive Government investment, because it stands up commercially in its own right. As has already been said, local support for the project is huge--85 per cent. of Stratford residents want it. The project commands enormous support from local businesses, East Anglian local authorities and others.

Stratford international is the one big chance that we have to change the nature of east London for the better, for good. That has been clear since Newham council first backed the idea in 1988. We must not let the opportunity pass us by. I urge the Government not to delay for much longer and to give the go-ahead for that vital project as soon as possible. Then we would not waste the enormous investment that the Government have already made in east London, but build on it and complete it to secure success for the decades ahead and achieve the transformation in east London that we all want to see. 5.20 am

The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) for bringing this important subject to the attention of the House yet again. I also thank the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) for the constructive contributions that they have made to the debate.

The route proposals have been the subject of a good deal of press attention in recent weeks, much of it misleading. That, in turn, has given rise to much confusion and misunderstanding about what has and has not been decided, particularly in respect of a possible intermediate station at Stratford. I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight.

It may be helpful if I start by explaining the process by which the Government have reached their decisions. I shall then describe the current position and how we see things moving forward to a final decision in the spring of next year.

The House will be aware of the role that Union Railways, an operating company owned by the British Railways Board, is playing in the development of the route proposals for the channel tunnel rail link. As part of that work, Union Railways and its consultants have been responsible for assessing options for intermediate stations. It is as a result of their advice that decisions about the choice of stations have been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and the hon. Member for Newham, North-East questioned the basis of the underlying assumptions of Union Railways' recommendations on the choice of intermediate stations. It is possible to make different studies and to reach different conclusions. The decision reached is to leave open the option of a station at Stratford. That provides the opportunity for the promoter group--I recognise the strength of that group, which has brought together precisely the right type of combination of the public and private sectors--and its parliamentary supporters and the local authority to put across their evidence and views to

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the consortiums, which have to bid for the concession. It will be possible for that group to make the economic case that those hon. Gentlemen have already made tonight.

Union Railways and its consultants initially looked at four intermediate station options--Ebbsfleet in Kent, Nashenden in Kent, Rainham in Essex and Stratford in east London. They worked closely with each of the station promoter groups and with the principal local authorities concerned. They looked at all the relevant issues, evaluating and comparing outline designs, passenger demand, road traffic and highway impacts, associated developments, the socio-economic impacts, environmental appraisals, cost- benefit analyses, contributions by third parties and safety considerations. The results of that substantial body of work were summarised in the October 1993 report from Union Railways to the Government. That report was published and placed in the Library on 24 January this year, when the former Secretary of State for Transport--my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor)--announced the Government's decisions on much of the route for the channel tunnel rail link. Those decisions were that there was scope for one or, at the most, two intermediate stations between Ashford and St. Pancras. The Nashenden option had no private sector or local authority promoter or support and was therefore ruled out. The other three options were retained for further consideration. Of the two M25 parkway options, Ebbsfleet appeared clearly preferable to Rainham. The conclusion was that the economic case for a station at Stratford had yet to be made. My right hon. Friend also stressed that the provision of any intermediate stations on the rail link would be dependent on securing robust offers of financial support from the private sector.

Following my right hon. Friend's announcement, the Government asked Union Railways to carry out further work. In particular, it was asked to hold further discussions with each of the promoter groups supporting the three remaining station options, with a view to achieving the fullest possible understanding of their proposals. Each promoter group was invited to refine its bids and, especially, to firm up its financing proposals. Each of the station promoter groups gave presentations to Ministers, and Ministers met hon. Members representing the areas affected by the proposals. I assure the House that no improper influence was brought to bear on the Government and no unfair advantage was given to any of the proposals. It was as a result of that exhaustive process of assessment alone that Ministers reached the decisions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 31 August.

My right hon. Friend announced that there would be a combined international and domestic station on the new rail link at Ebbsfleet in north Kent. That would be the parkway station. He said that no provision would be made for a station at Rainham, and that the option of a further station at Stratford would be left open for decision in March 1995, when bids from the four consortiums to build the rail link were received. I emphasise that the option of a further station at Stratford would be left open for decision next March. Readers of some press reports may be labouring under the assumption that we have announced already that there will be no station at

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Stratford. It is important for those who are still supporting Stratford, and for the four bidding consortiums, to be clear that the option is still wide open.

An international station would undoubtedly assist the regeneration of the Stratford area. The hon. Members for Newham, North-West and for Newham, North-East, who know the area much better than I do, have explained with great clarity how they see such a station assisting the area. I say in response to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that I would be happy to accept an invitation to see the Stratford site and to have the proposals explained in greater detail, as I understand my predecessors in office have done.

An international station would certainly aid the regeneration of the Stratford area. The Union Railways study, however, gave rise to concerns about its impact on the operation of the rail link and the viability of the entire project. It is on that point that the promoter group needs to make its case to the consortiums. As part of the tendering process, we have asked the four bidding consortiums to enter bids on the basis of, first, combined international and domestic stations at both Ebbsfleet and Stratford; secondly, a combined station at Ebbsfleet and an international- only station at Stratford; and thirdly, a combined station only at Ebbsfleet. That means that all the permutations of Ebbsfleet and Stratford can be thoroughly examined.

Meanwhile, we have included within the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, which received its First Reading on 23 November, powers to grant outline planning permission for the station at Ebbsfleet and powers to construct an enlarged open concrete "box" at Stratford. The box would allow for both cross-over and emergency exit, but, importantly, would allow station platforms and fittings to be installed if it is decided that a station should be provided there. The decisions that have been taken on intermediate stations are entirely consistent with the original thinking behind the easterly route, which was to secure as much of the regeneration benefit of the rail link as possible in the Thames gateway area.

I acknowledge that a station at Ebbsfleet, if there is a station only at Ebbsfleet, shifts the focal point, but I would not accept that, if there were not to be a station at Stratford, east London would receive no economic regeneration benefits. Earlier, hon. Members commented on the substantial investment in infrastructure, transport, and so on, that is being made in east London; obviously, that would provide opportunities for the benefits of the channel tunnel rail link also to influence the development potential of the area. However, I do not minimise the substantial additional benefits that would come to Stratford if it were to have a station. Although I do not doubt that the enhancement of development potential that would flow from the Stratford station is important, it remains true that, on the advice that we have received from Union Railways as the promoter and through its consultants, the economic case for an additional station at Stratford has not yet been made, but we have an open mind on that. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newham, North-East met me shortly before the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made on 31 August, and I indicated to him as well as I could then that that was still the case, although I could not at that stage anticipate the announcement.

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I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and the hon. Members for Newham, North-East, for Newham, North- West and for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who are now in the Chamber, that our minds are open. If they can convince the consortiums bidding for the concession of the powerful case, which has been put forward on behalf of the promoter group, that a station at Stratford would generate additional traffic on the rail link, not merely divert it from other stations, and that an additional stopping point would not reduce capacity on the line, and therefore reduce revenue for that purpose, or if they can convince one or two of the consortiums that there is merit in taking those economic benefits and the revenues that would flow from that additional traffic into their bid, the position of a station at Stratford may yet be secured.

I hope that hon. Members appreciate, from what I have said this morning, that there is still everything to play for in relation to an intermediate station at Stratford. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has recently accepted an invitation from the promoter group to hear its proposals for himself at first hand, and I have said that I would be happy to do so as well. I am sure that seeing the site and hearing the case in detail and at first hand will inform the decisions which, ultimately, the Secretary of State will take, but to which I hope to make a contribution, in spring 1995.

We welcome the fact that the Stratford promoter group is proceeding with discussions with the four bidding consortiums. The Government have given the Stratford group the opportunity to make its case for a station directly to the bidders, and I believe that that is the best way to proceed.

I conclude by referring to two other ancillary matters mentioned by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. I am aware of complaints that the flow of information from Union Railways to the local authorities on the route has not always been what those local authorities would wish. We discussed that matter recently at the high-level forum. I have done, and will continue to do, what I can to ensure that that flow of information improves.

Obviously, as we approach the start of parliamentary proceedings on the Bill, it is important and sensible that as many potential problems as possible are resolved before the need to petition, or to consider changes to the Bill, arises. It appears to me to be common sense that that process is assisted if the flow of information is as rapid and open as possible.

I shall draw the difficulties of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West on the Central line and on the Metropolitan line to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, who has responsibility for those matters in London, which, happily, are not my responsibilities.

Finally, I thank my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Newham, North-East for a useful and constructive debate. I am sure that their constituents in Newham will value the vigour with which they have presented the case. Clearly, I can say nothing about any decision that might be made, not least because we do not yet have the evidence before us, but I can assure them that we will be even-handed, objective and open-minded in the way in which we view whatever the bidding consortiums suggest to us about a station at Stratford. I wish the promoter group well, although I cannot say that at the end of the day I will deliver it a victory.

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