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Column 466knows, this matter is of considerable concern to Kent Members and to hon. Members representing regions covered by other parts of the track. We should be grateful if he would make it clear that he does not intend to give advice to the Select Committee.
Dr. Mawhinney: May I clarify that, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), I said that I would not prejudge on the basis of a petition that might or might not be brought before the Select Committee? I made the Government's position clear. I am in a position to offer advice and guidance to a Select Committee, but I am not instructing it.
On the structure of the Bill, much of its content is well precedented in previous private and hybrid legislation, not least in the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, and in my Department's model clauses for railways and tramways. Part I deals with the rail link. It includes provisions authorising its construction, maintenance and operation and associated works by the "nominated undertaker". The House will note, however, that the compulsory acquisition powers are conferred on the Secretary of State, and that all the usual protections and provisions as to compensation for people whose land, property or rights are compulsorily acquired or injuriously affected will apply. Part I also gives planning approval for the rail link and establishes a special planning regime, under which various detailed matters are left for subsequent approval by the relevant local authority. There is to be a planning memorandum to accompany the Bill, and local authorities that are willing to abide by the terms of the memorandum will enjoy extended planning powers.
Part I also provides a special regime for heritage matters. Here, too, it is our intention that the relevant statutory bodies, especially English Heritage, and local authorities will have a role through an agreement outside the Bill. On planning and heritage matters, there has been widespread consultation and discussion with the affected local planning authorities and interested statutory bodies over the course of the last year. Those discussions continue. Part I also includes the public clauses for the rail link, which establish the regulatory regime for the rail link and make provision in respect of the competition and finance, as well as covering a number of general subjects, including the "nominated undertaker" powers, which I have mentioned already.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover): I wanted to catch the attention of my right hon. Friend before he left part I to ask about clauses 30 and 31. How will the impact of section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act, which forbids the Secretary of State or the public sector from financing the channel tunnel, be protected so that the Dover ferry industry will continue to receive protection? Will he give an assurance that clauses 30 and 31 will in no way result in additional and extra subsidy going into the channel tunnel?
Dr. Mawhinney: I believe that my hon. Friend will find that the financial contributions relate to the domestic rather than the international aspect. If I have misremembered, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to refine my answer later, should he catch your eye, Madam Speaker. I think, however, that I have accurately remembered the arrangement.
Column 467The regulatory regime for the rail link will be designed for the particular circumstances of the project. It will reflect the substantial financial commitment of the private sector and the risks that it will be bearing. It will also reflect the fact that the rail link will be in competition not only with other forms of transport but with other railways. The regulatory regime will therefore complement the regime set out in the Railways Act 1993, but with some significant modifications to reflect the rail link's unique circumstances.
Part II of the Bill provides for the Secretary of State the powers for a 10.5 m widening of the A2 at Cobham and the M2 between junctions 1 and 4 on the outskirts of the Medway towns. Widening will be contained entirely within the existing highway corridor. A second motorway bridge across the River Medway will be built upstream of the existing bridge to provide four lanes for London-bound traffic. Part III of the Bill contains miscellaneous and general provisions, including the financial provisions in clause 49.
The Bill is hybrid. Subject to the House granting the Bill a Second Reading and approving the committal motion, the Bill will be referred to a Select Committee for consideration of petitions against it. Separate Select Committees of the House and of another place will consider the effects of the rail and road schemes on the interests of those directly affected.
It is for the Select Committees to decide on the scope of their consideration; the Government can only offer guidance in such matters. In response to requests and to be helpful, the Government have given an early indication of their intended advice to the Committees. I earnestly hope that the Select Committees will concentrate their attention on the route of the rail link and the road alignment defined in the Bill.
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch): I am one of those who support the Bill in principle. I am not happy about the Stratford international station, but I am sure that it will not happen. Can the Secretary of State help me on the timetable for petitions? The Bill comprises 197 pages, but I understand that petitions have to be in by 6 February. Is there any possibility of extending the deadline?
Dr. Mawhinney: We had to judge what we thought was sufficient time for petitions to be submitted against the need to make progress with the Bill, which will already span a second parliamentary Session. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the decision was well based even if he would have liked to vary it by a few days one way or the other.
The project has been studied exhaustively. The route has been developed and refined with care and after extensive consultation. Its impact has been assessed in a thorough, professional and independent manner, and the results have been made known. The benefits of the rail link for the whole country are manifest. The moment has come to decide to build the longest new railway in this country for a century. I believe that Parliament will want to seize this opportunity, and accordingly I commend the Bill to the House.
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Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West): The Secretary of State has presented the Second Reading of the Bill, here and elsewhere, as though it were a political triumph: the reality has been rather different.
We welcome, of course, the fact that this rail link will more than double the capacity available for international rail services between Britain and Europe. We welcome, of course, the 30-minute cut in the journey time between London and Paris and between London and Brussels--indeed, I think that the cut in journey time to destinations on the east coast main line will be an hour--and we welcome, of course, the fact that journey times for the 25,000 long-suffering commuters who travel from the Medway towns and north-east Kent into London every working day will be reduced significantly. Up to 12 high-speed services an hour in each direction on the new line, a clipping of 40 minutes off the journey time from Dover, a near halving of the journey time from Ashford and a more than halving of the travel time from Gravesend are clearly valuable achievements and we unreservedly welcome them.
Mr. Arnold: What does the hon. Gentleman think of some of his hon. Friends who have been busily attacking Ebbsfleet and saying that the station should not be built there, in view of the improvements to commuting for Gravesend people that he has rightly mentioned?
Mr. Meacher: We all know the circumstances in which the Ebbsfleet decision was made. It will be the parkway for the M25 and the proposal makes good sense in that respect, but the manner in which political lobbyists were involved in the decision did not help the underlying rationale for Ebbsfleet.
The most that can be said for this Second Reading debate is that it ends seven years of muddle. The delays and policy reverses have blighted huge swathes of south-east England. The incoherence of the Government's approach to long-term infrastructure projects has been ruthlessly exposed. Selling back property purchased during the property boom will entail a waste of about £140 million of taxpayers' money, which, if it had been better spent, could have completely refurbished any of the main lines that are now crumbling as a result of years of non-investment. Above all, the slippage in the timetable has been deeply embarrassing to our national reputation.
Column 469go on about delay? Was not he a member of the Labour Government who, in 1975, cancelled the channel tunnel project absolutely?
Mr. Meacher: The right hon. Gentleman goes back to 1975 and very different economic conditions. The channel tunnel has been under consideration in this country for more than 100 years. To associate that delay with the previous Labour Government is a pretty cheap political point.
The British high-speed link will not be ready until 2002 at the earliest, eight years after the Eurostar trains have been forced to begin their slow trundle from the channel. President Mitterrand's quip at the opening of the TGV line between Paris and Lille--that, although high-speed trains would race across the plains of northern France, their ambling through Kent would enable passengers to savour the British countryside--was not a graceful gesture about the beauties of the English landscape; it was a humiliating put-down of the Government's incompetence.
The French built their high-speed link before the completion of the tunnel and the Belgians will complete theirs over the next three years. Only in Britain shall we have to endure the indignity, let alone the inconvenience, of knowing that, although Eurostar trains race across France at speeds of up to 185 mph and travel through the tunnel at 85 mph, they then trundle their way to London at 50 mph. The delay over the British link, which is a national disgrace, reflects a bumbling and short-sightedness that are extreme even by this Government's standards.
When the go-ahead for the tunnel was given, the Government's initial response was to say that there was no need for the link because there would be plenty of room on existing Kent lines. It took-- [Hon. Members:-- "Quite right."] Hon. Members' reaction confirms my point. It is astonishing that the Government alone did not realise that a dedicated link was necessary. It took them years, because of their short-termist, market outlook, to realise that the link was not merely a minor addendum but was vital to ensure that the capacity of the tunnel would be fully used.
Then, of course, there were the policy zig-zags. Since 1987, when the channel tunnel treaty was signed, there have been at least four major policy reversals: on funding, on alignment, on consortium make-up and on environmental damage.
Overshadowing all that has been the Government's vacillation on finance. If one wants a monument to the Government's arrogance and ideological stupidity, one need look no further than the funding of the high-speed rail link. So rigid, so dogmatic was the Thatcherite edict that private enterprise must build the link that tens of millions of pounds of European money was rejected. Why? Because it required a Government contribution.
The result has been endless shilly-shallying over how many tunnels should be bored, the cost of the new station at Ashford international, the merits of an underground terminal at King's Cross as part of a comprehensive redevelopment, indecisiveness over Stratford and uncertainty over freight routes to the north. To cap it all, we now have the absurd irony of
Column 470the Government being forced to pay very much more for something that they could have had earlier at a far cheaper price.
The bad public relations, the confusion of purpose between the Government and British Rail and the constantly changing ideas on what the rail link was designed to achieve have all squandered much taxpayers' money. It is likely that the cost of engineering studies alone will total about £350 million. It is now likely that the Government--perhaps I should say the long-suffering taxpayer--will have to pay half the estimated cost of almost £3 billion.
Dr. Mawhinney rose --
The real lesson of this wretched saga is that, if the Government had not been so stubborn and prejudiced, the link could almost have been built by now, and at much less cost. The tragedy for Britain is that a project with a lifespan of well over a century, generating economic and environmental benefits far beyond its balance sheet, has been saddled with a Government who cannot see beyond their short-term City horizons.
Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend is describing the malaise during the build-up to this Bill, but will he develop his reference to the link with the northern regions? Without capital investment in the line to the north, especially to Yorkshire, the benefits expounded by the Secretary of State of the speed of freight and passenger transport will not be realised. We must impress on the Government the need to invest in the east coast line if we are to achieve all the possible benefits of the tunnel for northern regions.
Dr. Mawhinney: I introduced the Bill on the basis that it had some all-party support, but the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is now confusing me. A few moments ago he lambasted the Government for insisting on private-sector finance for the project and for being ideologically driven, but he then said that the poor, long-suffering taxpayer would have to pay half. If I understand his first point, he wants the long-suffering taxpayer to pay for all of it. Does the hon. Gentleman have the permission of the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that the Labour party would prefer the line to be funded entirely by the public sector?
Mr. Meacher: The right hon. Gentleman has a nerve to make that point. Under the so-called "Prescott option", the Labour party has repeatedly made a proposal that, for ideological reasons and for no other, the Government have repeatedly not been prepared to accept.
Column 471We have always taken the view that private sector money should be involved but that the public sector must play a leading role in such a major infrastructure project. The Government and the Secretary of State have failed to accept that, which has caused the delays and vacillation.
Mr. Meacher: No, I want to make progress. I am conscious of the recommendation made in the Jopling report that Front-Bench spokesmen should not take up so much time and that many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate.
That tunnel vision--if I may use the phrase with some conscious irony--is still handicapping the project. That brings me to the very important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). Concern still exists that the tunnel will increase the north-south divide unless much greater commitment than has so far been announced is made to major new rail investment to link the north-west and the north-east to the south- east.
Britain still needs a strategy, which Labour has long advocated, to develop high-speed rail links through the heart of Britain to the north of England and to Scotland, to improve existing cross-country links to connect the east and west of England and Wales to the higher-speed network and to fill in more of the gaps in the electrified lines, in particular on the east midlands main line and the trans-Pennine route.
In particular, as Conservative Members pointed out earlier, we still a need a much more ambitious approach to the tunnel's potential role in shifting long-distance freight from road to rail. For too long, the Government have refused to accept European proposals for road and rail transfers, such as intermodal wagons or piggy-back systems, because of their prejudice against public investment in the railways.
We still need to develop more freight interchanges and multimodal road-to- rail freight depots to relieve congestion and, above all, to upgrade key freight routes to the European freight gauge standards to ensure full compatibility of rolling stock between the regions and the continent.
There must be upgrading to the right loading gauge to take containers, swap bodies and semi-trailers. Although the Secretary of State did not refer to this point, the United Kingdom loading gauge height must be increased by about 170 mm to create the piggy-back gauge.
The Government's present attitude to freight and the rail link is far too laid back. Instead of capitalising on the link's full market potential, they concentrate almost exclusively on passenger targets and fast-delivery parcel services. They believe that, if freight demand justifies it, additional tracks known as passing loops could be provided at two places in Kent to allow passenger trains to overtake slower freight trains. However, that, like so much else, is left to the decision of the nominated undertaker.
That is the same narrowness of vision and short-termist outlook that postponed the rail link for years in the 1980s and forced the Government to pay more later for what they could have had earlier much more cheaply. It is a tragedy for transport policy in this country that the
Column 472Government have no positive policy on international freight aimed at relieving our over-congested roads of a significant proportion of heavy goods vehicles.
In Kent, for example, the gauge of the Victorian Saltwood tunnel restricts larger international freight, but so great is the Government's obsession with privatisation that they prefer a fractured system under which advances will be made at the whim of individual contractors. It has been estimated that upgrading the route corridor from Ireland to Scotland to the continent via the channel tunnel has potential for 400,000 lorry semi-trailers a year, but that will not be realised, or it will certainly not be fully realised, because the west coast main line, which, under Euro-funding, will be piggy-back, and another European scheme, the Cork to Belfast to Stranraer route, which under Euro-funding will also be piggy-back, are not linked.
We have the nonsense of trucks having to revert to roads through Scotland. What is so badly lacking in the Bill is the vision to maximise the tunnel's potential to achieve a major shift in international freight from road to rail at little relative extra cost.
Mr. Meacher: Indeed, it has been estimated that providing the necessary headroom between Glasgow and the channel tunnel would cost less than £70 million--out of a project costing nearly £3 billion. That would create an 800-km intermodal rail route and at half the cost of widening 12 km of the M25 between junctions 12 and 15. Strategic vision is lacking in the Bill, which is a major weakness.
Mr. Meacher: I have just given the extra cost. The hon. Gentleman was desperately keen to intervene, and he was probably not listening to what I was saying. The proposal has been costed at an extra £70 million. [Interruption.] I think that it has been costed by UK Transmodal, a private sector consortium that supports the piggy-back gauge, which should have all-party support. It is a relatively minor proportion of the total cost of the project. Gains to the country in the medium term are much greater. The balance-sheet mentality that looks cross-sectionally at costs today without regard to the value to the country in the medium or longer term is precisely what is wrong with the Government's approach to the Bill.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend. Does he agree that, far from raising red herrings about cost, Conservative Members should apologise for the 10-year delay in processing the project and for the fact that, at a cost of millions of pounds of public funds, the Government acquired properties along other routes that have since been scrapped? If any party is guilty of wasting money on the project, it is the Conservative party.
Column 473cost of properties bought during the property boom until 1988-89 that must now be sold back because of the change from the southern to the eastern route. That cost is about £140 million. Conservative Members' comments about a major change that would enormously benefit international freight yet would cost half that amount show their narrow-mindedness.
That is not the only missed opportunity in the Bill. Another vital decision that the Government are evading--I know that the Secretary of State says that he is holding it open, but he is evading it; he could have gone much further and, again, is leaving the matter to the nominated undertaker--is the future of Stratford. On 14 October 1991, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor 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. 34.]
The then Secretary of State for the Environment--the present President of the Board of Trade--said that the development at Stratford
"has implications far beyond its crucial transport significance . . . It provides east of London with a development opportunity of unique potential . . . We cannot approach an opportunity of this magnitude field by field, site by site."
I very much echo his sentiments, but unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues have not adhered to them.
Moreover, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration has described Stratford and the royals as the western focus of the Thames gateway, complementing the Dartford-Ebbsfleet station as the eastern focus. Union Railways, in its March 1993 report, specified that one of its three key objectives was "to provide the transport spine for the East Thames corridor development, shifting the pressure from the west to the east of London."
I emphasise the second part of that statement.
There is no commitment to Stratford in the Bill. Without a station at Stratford, there will not be sufficient regeneration based on the rail link in east London. We believe that the case for an international passenger station at Stratford is powerful. It would permit much faster journeys to the continent from east London, East Anglia and Essex. It would take about half an hour less than going to St. Pancras. It would offer a faster dispersal point from St. Pancras for many key destinations in central London--such as the City--thus avoiding the heavy cost of expanding underground capacity at St. Pancras.
An intermediate station at Stratford would be ideally located to complement the existing and planned interchange at Stratford, which includes Network SouthEast, the Northern line, the Central line, the docklands light railway, the Jubilee line and crossrail--if it goes ahead--as well as the tunnel link.
In addition, the regeneration potential is equally telling. There are more than 200 acres--I visited the area last week--of under-used brown field land at Stratford. An international station would open the way for large- scale,
Column 474mixed-use development including business parks, industry, offices, hotels, leisure and retail uses. For all those, the international station is not merely an additional regenerative factor but the cusp of the whole enterprise. It would provide the potential for 15,000 more jobs in an area where there are 120,000 people unemployed within a five-mile radius.
Stratford already has immediate access to the national motorway system via the M11. As I have stated, there are significant potential land resources close to central London, but only the international station will confirm Stratford's role as an international gateway, regional transport hub and regional service centre and thus generate the demand for the critical mass of development that is so vital for the east Thames corridor. The Government have ducked those matters today despite their earlier commitments, and we shall want to see them fully examined by the Select Committee.
I turn briefly to the instruction to the Committee, which we have tabled. In a number of instances, the benefit of tunnelling at a relatively low cost as against the proposed surface works has not been fully taken into account. In the Caledonian road area--one of two remaining disputed parts of the line in London--the combination of cut and cover, sewer tunnelling, the major construction site and huge heavy goods vehicle movements has never been tested by consultation. The Bill's proposals result in an aerial spaghetti junction across King's Cross railway lands, and substantially reduce the development value.
The Secretary of State will know that Islington's consultants, Baxters, have recommended alternative tunnelling options that avoid the interference of a cut-and-cover trench, remove the need to retunnel the Fleet sewer and do not involve a major works site across Caledonian road.
I am always asked about cost, so let me make it clear again that the cost will be an extra £40 million. However, by freeing up the north-west corner of the King's Cross railway lands for development, the option is expected to produce an extra development value of some £80 million.
Union Railways has admitted that one option would be better than the proposal in the Bill, but I am told that the Department has refused to put it in the Bill. I understand that Union Railways has so far refused to disclose the results of its work on the other option. For those reasons, we want the matter to be thoroughly examined in Committee.
We also want the tunnelling option at Barking and Dagenham to be further investigated. Under the present plans, high-speed trains will travel at 140 mph within some 20 ft, at the narrowest point, of the back of a line of houses in a heavily built-up residential area. That is intolerable. No hon. Member would be prepared to put up with that. Alternative tunnelling options have been suggested for either a route under Barking reach or an extension of tunnelling to the east boundary of the borough underneath the existing rail corridor. The extended tunnel will, of course, be more expensive, but the cost will be substantially offset by large reductions in enabling works, the virtual removal of railway safety and possession costs, the reduced cost of allowing work during normal daytime hours and easement in railway restrictions. That is why we want those options or any others to be fully re-examined.
Column 475In mid-Kent, where the line switches--
Mr. Arnold: For the hon. Gentleman's information, I represent a constituency in north-west Kent. He has given a shopping list of tunnelling cases. Why does his amendment specifically omit Ashenbank wood at Cobham, where vast environmental destruction will result if a tunnel is not constructed? Why has he omitted the case for a tunnel opposite Pepper Hill and the urban part of Northfleet, which would be damaged if a tunnel was not constructed?
Mr. Meacher: I do not exclude the desirability of the Select Committee examining the case for other tunnels. The hon. Gentleman makes the mistake of assuming that we are concerned about only the tunnels that we have specifically mentioned. It is no attempt at an exhaustive list. I am ready to support the view that tunnelling options in other places should be examined by the Committee. In mid-Kent, where the line switches--this is a significant point--between the transport corridors of the M20 and the A2- M2 and carves through the north downs, Union Railways has opted for the shortest possible length of tunnel. We want the case for a longer tunnel to be re-examined, because the area is officially designated as one of outstanding natural beauty and because to join the Medway towns and Maidstone with surface development through the present green corridor would produce a sprawling conurbation as large as a major city.
The Bill still contains some serious deficiencies on the environment and on compensation generally. As I will undoubtedly be interrupted again, I make it clear that the deficiencies to which I shall refer are not the only ones but those to which I briefly want to draw attention.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I was tempted not to interrupt my hon. Friend, but he has not mentioned the Thurrock section. His instruction expresses the desire for at least some examination of tunnelling at Thurrock. May I invite him to consider that the plans for the section are as bad as those for Barking and Dagenham, which he referred to as unacceptable? In addition, the plans include viaducts as high as the highest point of the Galleries around the Chamber. The decision to build those viaducts was affected by the decision to locate the international station at Ebbsfleet. That altered the Rifkind line of route to the MacGregor one. Blue Circle should make a contribution to the cost of tunnelling that section because its benefit is Thurrock's loss.
Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend makes his case for his constituency forcefully. The Secretary of State dismissed the point that my hon. Friend made by saying that it was difficult to conceal a viaduct as anything other than a viaduct. I suppose that it was an attempt at a joke, but it was an inadequate response. Viaducts are an eyesore. My hon. Friend asks about compensation. The proper answer to his question is that tunnelling should be re-examined. That is why we have included Thurrock in the specific list of the areas where we believe the tunnelling option needs to be reviewed.
Column 476I am conscious of the time so I shall make just three more quick points. As the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, the Bill allows construction teams to build the track up to 3 m above the line decided by Parliament. That is not acceptable. In some areas such a vertical deviation would alter the whole nature of the line. Noise protection levels are premised on speeds of some 140 mph, when higher speeds of 180 mph if not 250 mph are already planned. The current proposal is that only people whose property is physically affected by the rail link will be bought out. Others who are intolerably affected by noise or construction will have to wait years for compensation. That is not acceptable.
It is a tragedy that such a huge national flagship project, so necessary for the industrial and economic regeneration of Britain, has been marred by short-sightedness, ideological stupidity and lack of strategic perspective. There could scarcely be a more dramatic example of why Britain needs a Government who believe in a positive role for the public sector, who are motivated by strategic vision and who have an overriding commitment to the regeneration of Britain. That will be our approach when we take over the project.
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). It is several years since we have spoken in the same debate one after the other. I am not sure that his script has improved much in that time. I hear what he says about the urgency of the project and the need to make progress. I agree; we need to make progress. However, I wonder at the credentials of the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party in making the charge of delay. After all, the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who normally sits here beside me, started the channel tunnel. The Labour Government in January 1975 cancelled the tunnel. At that stage, the hon. Member for Oldham, West was a Minister at the Department of Industry.
With that cancellation, the tunnel went, the link went, the whole shooting match went. The Labour Government cut public spending. They cut spending on capital projects. So I suggest that whoever can lecture the Conservative Government on delay in building the tunnel or the link, it certainly is not the hon. Member for Oldham, West or the Labour party. Indeed, I should go much further than that. Railways are now back in the news. The Labour party has just committed itself to a publicly owned, publicly managed railway system. [Interruption.] I am grateful for confirmation of that. It is important to make the following point about this system. The channel tunnel, which is crucial to the future of the railways, was built not by public money but by private investment. The reason why it is open today is that private investors were prepared to take the risk. It was not a case of the taxpayers being forced to accept that risk. That principle of private investment now underlines the rail link as well. We should not overlook the successful and substantial revolution that the channel tunnel represents.
Back in 1979, when I was Minister of Transport, it was a different age. In those days, there were only two Ministers in the Department of Transport-- myself and my