Previous Section Home Page

Column 504

We want assurances. Yes, we welcome the wonderful new commuter service--it could be superb--but we are also entitled to expect that our existing trains will continue to receive the support they need. Again, we must explore that matter in the Standing Committee and in the Select Committee if we are to secure the benefits for Kent that the high-speed link might provide.

6.43 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): The House should acknowledge that Lady Thatcher and President Mitterrand have their fingerprints on the project. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that the project will be a memorial to them. They share two characteristics: greatness and despotism. Such people often wish to leave behind bricks and mortar--big projects--as memorials to themselves, and this is one of them.

The channel tunnel project is marvellous. It is time that we acknowledged that; the engineering feat is considerable.

Mr. Tyler: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay: No, I shall not give way, because many hon. Members wish to speak and I want to develop my arguments.

I pay tribute to everyone involved in the successful construction of the channel tunnel. It is a pity that that great engineering project will be spoilt by the fact that the link is inappropriate, inadequate, late and on the wrong route. The route makes neither transportation sense nor engineering sense. That is a great pity. Were it not for the fact that my hon. Friends, together with some Conservative Members, have tabled a sensible and prudent instruction for debate, I should wish to divide the House against the Bill. It is offensive and grossly unfair to many of my constituents, but I join hon. Members in trying to temper its effect and, perhaps, even improve it by the House giving an instruction to the Committee to consider tunnelling in several sensitive areas and to have regard to minimising the environmental loss to people in Kent, Essex and London. For that reason, I will certainly support the motion on the instruction and will refrain from dividing the House against the Bill.

I should explain why I feel angry about the line of route. Time and again, the public and Parliament have been told that a final decision has been made on the line. What causes us most irritation in Thurrock is that the flagship newspaper announcement during the week of the October 1991 Conservative party conference was by Secretary of State Rifkind, who said that he had decided the final line of route. Everyone in my borough was relieved; the line of route did not go through our borough and ruin industries and properties.

There was then a change of Secretary of State. As has been the fashion in the project, there was a change of view. Soon after, Secretary of State MacGregor announced a variation in that line of route, bringing it under the River Thames like a bootlace, out at Thurrock, through the pillars of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge on its way westward to London, on its way creating havoc and devastation for many properties and residents in my constituency. We think that it is grossly unfair that, after the Government's announcement at the Tory party conference, the line of route was varied again.

Column 505

One must ask why the route was varied. It was varied because of the selfish commercial considerations of those who own or have interests in the site at Ebbsfleet. The variation of route was consequent upon the decision to site the international station at Ebbsfleet. For that reason--I do not say this facetiously--the people who own that site might feel that they should make a contribution to the cost of tunnelling or of ameliorating the effects of the line of route in my constituency and probably in others as well.

It will not be forgotten in my constituency that a vice-chairman of the Conservative party was able to lobby on behalf of the interests of the Ebbsfleet project and yet, under the rules of the House--I make no complaint about it--did not have to declare it in the Register of Members' Interests. We find that very regrettable. As a side issue, it questions whether hon. Members should be aligned with prestigious commercial and profitable projects that they might be able to affect in their capacity to influence Ministers and to bend their ears.

Mr. Jacques Arnold: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay: I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because many hon. Members wish to contribute. As a consequence of all that, a very bad taste has been left in my constituency and in the borough. We feel that we have been dealt with unfairly. The line of route has been influenced not by transportation or engineering considerations but by the capacity of some individuals in high places to influence on behalf of commercial interests rather than on behalf of the wider community.

If energy is not used in this place to persuade the Committee to demand that tunnelling be undertaken or moneys spent--public or private--to minimise environmental effects, it will be a great tragedy. This project is clearly the flagship project of our generation in the House, as it will endure for at least 100 years. It is a pity that we shall spoil it in this rather mean way because we are unable to find the funding to minimise the environmental effects on the community.

My constituency--other hon. Members have explained the difficulties in their constituencies--will be disadvantaged by an extremely ugly viaduct that will sweep across it. Earlier today, I invited hon. Members to raise their eyes to the Gallery around the Chamber. The viaduct is to be at least as high as the highest seating in the Gallery, and it will be situated at the end of people's gardens. I invite hon. Members--particularly the Minister--to pause and consider how they would feel if they were to discover that such a wretched viaduct was to be built at the end of their garden. It would be wholly repugnant, and the Minister would be as sick as a dog. The Minister would not be able to sell his house, and that is the rub. Thousands of people along the route, who are not affected by the line of route going through their front rooms, will certainly have their properties blighted by the loss of visual or aural amenities. The Government must recognise that it is a matter of fairness. I do not understood why the Minister has been so grudging. Why has he not said that the Government have been persuaded that there is at least a case for the Committee to examine the tunnelling and other aspects of

Column 506

the instruction tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), which is supported by the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) and other Conservative Members? The instruction makes sense. It would save a lot of time if the Minister said that the Government will not resist what is demonstrably a reasonable request. It is nothing more than that.

The instruction does not say that there shall be tunnelling. It says that the House would like the Committee to pay special attention to the need to examine tunnelling. What on earth is wrong with that? I guess that the Minister has been instructed by other Ministers above him. He is a new Minister, and he must not buckle. That is what happens in politics, and it is a pity.

I should like the Minister to make a name for himself by bucking the trend and saying that he has been persuaded that there is a case for the Government to join other hon. Members in asking the Committee to examine whether tunnelling can be carried out.

Mr. Watts: I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman, although not quite in the way he hopes. The Government clearly are not persuaded by the arguments; otherwise we would have included them in the Bill. It is for the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who support the options to persuade the Select Committee that, notwithstanding the view of the Government, it should look at the options for which they have argued cogently.

I will urge the House to resist the instruction to the Committee. I believe that the Committee is better able to use its discretion if it is not fettered. Committee members should take account of the cogent arguments that the hon. Gentleman and other Members have made during the debate. Those arguments will no doubt be made in support of the petitions that will be presented to the Committee for consideration.

Mr. Mackinlay: I am disappointed that the Minister is not able to be anything other than churlish. He has not read the mood of the House, where there is widespread support for the instruction. The Bill faces a long road. Like many other Members, I shall join my constituents in petitioning against the worst aspects of it.

Sir Roger Moate: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Hon. Members: Keep going.

Mr. Mackinlay: I wish to conclude, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not aware of anything that would prevent the hon. Gentleman from concluding.

Mr. Mackinlay: The Minister will not be able to pretend that he is the Archangel Gabriel in this matter to constituents in Kent, Essex and London whose properties have been blighted. I acknowledge that many of the Conservative Members who have already spoken will use their good offices, in the House and outside, to argue that the need to minimise the environmental effects should be considered sensitively.

The Minister will be blamed in constituencies that are suffering, and I will not hesitate to draw attention to the fact that he turned down an opportunity to recognise that this project is affecting thousands of people --often

Column 507

Conservative voters--whose properties are blighted and who, in consequence, are suffering great financial and emotional distress. 6.55 pm

Sir Keith Speed (Ashford): May I join other hon. Members who have spoken in welcoming the Bill? I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) in not exactly being overwhelmed with gratitude for all that has happened in the past seven years.

Many people in Kent--my constituents and those of my hon. Friends--have had a great deal to put up with. First, they were told that there would be no need for a high-speed link at all. Then they were told that there was a strong argument for only one London terminal. Then they were told that there were to be all sorts of different routes with maximum lighting. Then they were told that the Bill would be ready for debate in 1990. Here we are in 1995, and it will still be perhaps seven or eight years before trains run on the line.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling thanked a number of previous Secretaries of State for Transport. I should like particularly to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor). My right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) has not been mentioned, but he played a significant part in fielding a lot of difficult balls. He tried to meet hon. Members from both sides of the House and to get sensible answers for them. I should also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells).

Those three were able to make a significant change in the route by passing it through the centre of Ashford and making the maximum use of Ashford station. That will benefit not only my constituency, but Kent, Sussex, Surrey and many parts to the west. That was a significant success.

My job--and, I hope, that of the Bill--is to make sure that Ashford station is fully used. We have a big advantage, as the station will open at the end of the year for the existing fast trains to Paris and Brussels. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say how many trains he expects to serve Ashford. People were originally talking in terms of a third of them, and I hope that that proves to be so.

Problems arise in building a new station route through the centre of the town. As far as I am aware, no major building site for the route has been established within the curtilage or centre of a town outside London. I hope that the Select Committee, which will play a vital part in the matter, will be able to suggest arrangements so that all building works and access to building works can take place. That will include the construction of what is called the Barracks link, and my hon. Friend the Minister should know about that. In Ashford alone, up to 600 heavy goods vehicles a day will serve the building sites, which will cause enormous disruption. It is vital that the route and building sites in Ashford are comprehensively considered in co-operation with the local council to mitigate the problems of construction.

The issue of compensation is also important, and not just during the building of the route. Blight must also be considered, and I echo everything that hon. Members have

Column 508

said about that. We are being very mean and niggardly, which is one of the major reasons why this country takes twice as long to build major capital projects as virtually any other country in the EU. It is about time that we told the Treasury, which is the ultimate force in all this, that it could save money and make people's lives a great deal better if it was a mite more generous in compensation, the blight provisions and all the other factors that affect individuals. We have just heard about the viaducts at the ends of streets in Thurrock.

In the early 1990s, a scheme provided compensation on a discretionary basis if properties were 400 m from the line. The present scheme will provide compensation if properties within 120 m of the line are required. For the new, finalised and published route, Union Railways is prepared to pay compensation only where the property itself is required.

In October 1993, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering asked Union Railways to provide and implement a new hardship scheme for properties. I should have thought that this was just the job for the complaints commissioner. We have heard nothing about him so far. He is mentioned briefly on page v of the Bill in the paragraph on manpower requirements.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will explain what the complaints commissioner will do, what his remit will be and whether he will be able to play a major role between the various participants--the construction companies, Union Railways, individual people and councils--in mitigating problems by means of the hardship fund. We need such understanding now, before the Bill is enacted. If my hon. Friend the Minister cannot provide it tonight, I hope that the Select Committee will take a long look at the matter. I hope that it will also take a long hard look at the question of blight notices and when they are served.

Freight has been mentioned several times. We are in a total muddle. I am prepared to be corrected if I am wrong, but I do not know of any TGV lines in France that carry major freight other than high-quality parcels on passenger trains. The idea of running freight trains all the way along the channel tunnel rail link is preposterous. Apart from the problems of interlocking passenger trains travelling at 186 mph and freight trains travelling at 70 to 80 mph at various times of the day and night, it just is not on.

There is no question but that the channel tunnel rail link could free a great deal of capacity not only on the Maidstone line but on the line through Tonbridge, which is now electrified through to Redhill. The line could then join up with other lines to the midlands, the north and the west. If the Ashford to Hastings line was electrified, another line right through to Southampton, Exeter and Devon and Cornwall could also be used for freight.

The type 92 locomotives that will enter service in a few months are much quieter than the diesels or earlier electric locomotives. That will bring a great deal of relief. Do we need the freight routes? Will they be built or will the land merely be reserved and planted? In my constituency and those of my hon. Friends, a considerable amount of land will be blighted because the freight routes remain in the scheme of things. It would be much better if we could decide, if not tonight certainly during the passage of the Bill, whether we want the freight routes. In my view, we could get rid of them and remove a major blight within the parish of Charing.

Column 509

The issue of commuter lines should also be carefully examined. The speed of travel for passengers from Dover, Folkestone, Ashford, Ebbsfleet and Stratford through to London and further on would be increased. Will there be a premium fare? Will it be so large that it will be like a first-class, Concorde-type fare compared with a world traveller fare for everyone else? If the gap was too large, it would be counter-productive, but there might be a reasonable premium that first and standard class passengers were prepared to pay. The advantages for tourism, business and work travel in north and south-east Kent would be considerable. It would perhaps make up for the appalling service that our commuters have suffered in the past 30 or 40 years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) mentioned commuters. Unless we are prepared to replace the existing Kent coast stock in the near future, the number of breakdowns caused by those coaches of great antiquity --many are 35 or 40 years old--will cause increasing delays to Eurostar services. Delays have already occurred because the trains have broken down. I was unable to catch a train on Thursday evening because a train had failed. I am told by railway engineers in my constituency who know about such matters that the increase in failures in the next four or five years will be considerable. I understand that the problem has been taken up by British Rail. It will have to look hard at the problem with my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friends who represent Kent constituencies, who will bring pressure to bear on British Rail. We have had a great many problems in the past seven years, a great deal of uncertainty and a great deal of blight. We have had problems of inadequate compensation and lack of information. Only 10 days ago, a couple who own a public house in my constituency learned for the first time that a major part of it would be required for the scheme, yet they are supposed to petition within the next two to three weeks. That sort of thing really must not happen. We have had seven far from satisfactory years. In giving the Bill a fair wind, I hope that we can do much better in the next seven years.

7.6 pm

Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East): I welcome the support that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House so far in the debate for good environmental safeguards and for the international station at Stratford. On the latter subject, I welcome the heartening tone of the Minister's intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I begin by making some remarks about the case for an international station at Stratford.

Hon. Members may well be aware of the series run by the Evening Standard last week which drew attention to the scale of the problems of urban deprivation in east London. The article focused on Tower Hamlets and painted a powerful picture. My borough, Newham, adjoins Tower Hamlets. According to the Government's analysis of the 1991 census, the level of urban deprivation in Newham is greater even than that in Tower Hamlets. The scale of the problem across east London is beyond doubt.

Column 510

In the Bill we have the opportunity to implement the single measure which could make the biggest contribution in a hundred years to tackling that deprivation. We could make provision for the international station at Stratford. The local authorities in Tower Hamlets and Newham are making impressive strides in tackling the deprivation that they face. They are doing so in partnership with the Government and other agencies. They stand together in saying to the Government that they need a firm Government commitment in the Bill to the international station at Stratford. Everyone responsible for advising on the future of London, including the Confederation of British Industry, London First, the London Planning Advisory Committee and the local authority associations agrees. We are deliberating today on a route through east London to secure regeneration in east London. That is the reason that the Government gave for choosing the route.

On 14 October 1991 in a statement to the House to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has referred, the then Secretary of State for Transport said:

"our decision means that the line will be built through east London, where the prospect is welcomed for the economic regeneration it will bring."-- [ Official Report , 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 26.]

He said later:

"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.]

That was in 1991. That was the entire reason for choosing the easterly route. It is strange, therefore, that we continue to find it necessary to argue, as we did in the Consolidation Fund Bill debate just before Christmas on the initiative of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), for the green light for Stratford. Without it, the whole purpose of the Government in choosing the easterly route will have been thrown away.

We need Stratford international to be treated in the Bill in the same way as the intermediate station at Ebbsfleet. The Bill provides all the powers needed for a station to be built at Ebbsfleet. It does not rule out Stratford, as the Minister said, but, by contrast with Ebbsfleet, a station at Stratford probably would require additional legislation; it would certainly require additional work.

The Bill needs to be amended to ensure that there is a level playing field for the two station options, with the powers for Stratford in the Bill as well, and I hope that the Select Committee will make that change. I welcome the Minister's suggestion that there could be an amendment to the Bill, and I hope very much that the Select Committee will make it.

There has been a good deal of discussion, some of which has been aired in the debate, about the manner in which the decision in favour of Ebbsfleet was reached, and I know that the Nolan committee is inquiring into that. I do not want to comment on it at this stage. Obviously, there is a case for a station at Ebbsfleet on the M25, and I have no problem with that as long as it is treated even-handedly in relation to the east London station.

However, let us be sure about this. Not only would a station at Ebbsfleet alone in no way constitute the regeneration in east London to which the Secretary of State committed the Government, but development at Ebbsfleet alone would grievously undermine the regeneration of east London to which the Government have committed themselves.

Column 511

I emphasise that important argument. It was expressed with great force and clarity by the London Planning Advisory Committee, which is the statutory organisation representing all the London boroughs and the City, which, in its 1994 "Advice on Strategic Planning Guidance for London" and in other reports on that issue in the past year or so, has made the following points:

"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.

If Ebbsfleet were the only international station to be provided, serious detriment to the cause of regeneration in East London would result. . . . 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." So, if the Government's commitment to a station at Stratford were to be abandoned, not only would there be none of the regeneration that the Government promised, but there would be a sucking away of investment that might have been attracted to east London, but which would instead relocate to the M25 and the green-field sites there. The development would leapfrog east London, wrecking the prospects for the economic regeneration that the line was supposed to achieve in east London and giving another boost to the downward spiral that the Evening Standard graphically described last week. I think that we can avoid it. We must avoid it, and that is what the Committee must ensure that we avoid.

In March last year, the Government issued planning policy guidance note 13, which discusses 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".

They should also

"locate major generators of travel demand in existing centres which are highly accessible by means other than the private car." That is the Government's policy and it is clear. Urban regeneration or brown-field development should be promoted at the expense of out-of-town development. Developments should be encouraged in locations with good public transport access, not merely good car access. Government policy, in other words, points unequivocally to Stratford. All that we ask is that the Bill should reflect the Government's policies on regeneration. It needs to be amended to do that.

Even without the regeneration considerations, there is an overwhelming case for the Stratford station. At peak times, 15 trains per hour will run on the high-speed rail link. That is five international trains and 10 domestic commuter trains. If all those passengers can get out only at St. Pancras, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, 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 an enormous investment in the underground network, which, I suggest, is not at the moment on the cards.

Mr. Corbyn: Does my hon. Friend recall that, in previous debates on the old and unlamented proposal to make King's Cross the final destination of the channel tunnel trains, it was obvious that, without any commuter trains on that line, it would be impossible for the public transport network, never mind the road network round King's Cross, to cope with the extra traffic? Therefore the

Column 512

case was made then for an alternative London station. Does not that emphasise the importance of the Committee seriously considering the Stratford alternative?

Mr. Timms: I very much agree with my hon. Friend's argument and I think that it is essential for that reason, as for the other reasons that I have outlined.

In any case, why compel people to go all the way into St. Pancras when, in very many cases, they would be better off changing at Stratford? People going to the City would be better off, if they were travelling by public transport, changing at Stratford and using the upgraded Central line than continuing to St. Pancras and having to return along the Circle line to Liverpool Street.

The same applies to many other people. People going to Essex and East Anglia would be better off changing at Stratford. I welcome the support for the station that was expressed by hon. Members representing constituencies in Essex. With the construction of the M11 link through east London and its spur to Stratford, there will be excellent motorway access directly to the Stratford station. This morning, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I visited the site of the proposed royal docks exhibition centre. Under the Government's private finance initiative, the competition to implement that project has been won by the London International Exhibition Centre Ltd. We visited the site with officers from that company, and they explained the scheme that they envisage, to go on site, they hope, this year. They propose an exhibition centre that, in phase 1, will be bigger than Olympia and ultimately will be as large as Earls Court and Olympia put together. It is a very important project for London, which I welcome. The officers of the company emphasised to us the importance for the success of their project of siting the international station at Stratford. What is true for that project is true, on the larger plane, for docklands and for east London as a whole. We are not asking for subsidy, because the Stratford Promoter Group, which is an excellent example of the type of partnership that the Government advocate, has shown that the station will pay for itself. We are asking, however, for the Government's commitment and for an unambiguous green light. That is the way to secure the benefit for the area of the investment that the Government have already made.

The location of the station at Stratford is the key issue in the Bill for the long-term future of east London, but there are many other issues of importance to us in the Bill too. The line will run in a tunnel under my constituency and under the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). Two vent shafts will be constructed in Newham and Union Railways tells us that in Newham, between Stratford and Woodgrange Park, approximately 350 properties will be affected by perceptible vibration once the tunnel is operating, and 390 by ground-borne noise and perceptible vibration as well.

The Bill needs to ensure that the best engineering methods are used in constructing the tunnel, to minimise and cushion those problems, instead of the cheapest methods. The environmental statement prepared for Union Railways says that ground-borne noise could be mitigated by an amended tunnel design and amended track form design. I hope that those aspects will be carefully considered by the Select Committee. We need safeguards to control the noise levels from the construction sites--

Column 513

the major site at Stratford and the construction sites for the vent shafts. We need to be satisfied that the tunnelling method adopted will minimise the risk of subsidence affecting the homes above the tunnel.

Another issue that I hope will be discussed is access for people with disabilities who want to use the channel tunnel trains. The rail link should be an accessible railway and the legislation should contain provisions to ensure that it is. That should be taken for granted for a new railway being built in the late 1990s, and I hope that it will be the case with this one.

Undoubtedly, the channel tunnel rail link will create serious nuisances for residents in Newham. One of those affected will be my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, who lives directly above the line of the tunnel, but he takes the view that we all take--a constituent said it to me again on the telephone last night--that we shall take the grief if, as part of the package, we secure the regeneration benefits that the Government have promised through an international station at Stratford. It is a matter of good faith and commercial good sense. We look to the Government to put their policies in that area into practice.

7.19 pm

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway): In introducing the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the project was of major significance to the people of Britain. All hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon have concurred with that view.

The people of Kent well understand the need for a link, inconvenient though it may be in some cases. We have willed the completion, with the help of private enterprise, of the channel tunnel and we must will a link to it. But in building the first main line railway for more than 100 years, we must make absolutely certain that we maintain, as far as possible, the living environment of the people of Kent.

I speak today for the concerns of my constituents who are affected. All my constituents want an improvement in commuter services. Those who live in the Medway towns and on the Kent coast have suffered badly for years. British Rail has, almost unashamedly, admitted that the two worst lines in the whole of Network SouthEast are the line out to the Medway towns and the line to Southend. So a large proportion of my constituents want an improvement in the domestic service.

The Department of Transport investigated a widening of the M2 between junctions 1 and 4. I am bound to say that it was not done totally in secret because it was known to anybody who wanted to purchase a house through searches carried out by solicitors, but it was still veiled in such a mist that Kent's highways authority and Rochester city council had to ask me whether I could find out what the Department of Transport was doing in respect of the M2 widening. Coincidentally with the rail link issue, we discovered that it had ascertained that the current Medway M2 motorway bridge was not strong enough to take extra lanes.

Thus my constituents are confronted with the need to build another road bridge over the Medway at that point plus a rail link bridge. They defy anyone else to show

Column 514

them where there are three bridges in conjunction, all three as high as the viaduct in the constituency of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay).

My constituents are not satisfied that real consideration has been given to building a tunnel under the Medway. A tunnel is already being built under the Medway between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) to take traffic out of the Medway towns. My constituents suggested the solution of a tunnel, but do not believe that the Department had a good reason for not building another tunnel under the Medway.

Nor do they believe that the Department seriously considered their suggestion, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) proposed, of a combined road and rail bridge across the Medway. After all, as my hon. Friend pointed out, such a bridge operates in Newcastle, so we did not see why it could not be considered to avoid the three-bridge solution.

That is the first matter about which my constituents are concerned. The second, concerning noise pollution, is by far the most important. Noise on the existing Medway motorway bridge has increased considerably over the years. Just over a year ago, it was resurfaced and my constituents specifically asked whether the resurfacing could be done in a material that would minimise the noise. They were assured that that would be done, but less than a year later they tell me that the noise has definitely increased. I suppose that that may be due to an increase in traffic, which was a good reason why the Department wanted to provide extra lanes. But my constituents do not feel adequately reassured on the question of noise protection and noise pollution. They do not believe that enough scientific evidence is available to ascertain the waves of noise pollution that would emanate from such an elevated bridge to the people who live almost underneath.

In the petitions which the Select Committee will carefully consider, my constituents have insisted on the state of the art in building to minimise noise and on the most up-to-date and proven protection against noise pollution. Given that the bridge will last for more than 100 years, the least we can do is use the most up-to-date systems of protection against pollution.

My constituents also seek assurances that the problem will be constantly monitored. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent referred to that matter. Although noise protection has already been put in hand in respect of a train travelling at 140 to 150 mph, if trains are expected to run at a higher speed, what is the use of installing noise protection for the lesser speed?

My constituents' third concern is about the construction of the link, which is why we asked for a simultaneous presentation of this issue in a single Bill. We did not want the people who live in the vicinity of those three bridges to have to sustain a programme of work for one Bill which was then followed by a programme for another. We want the maximum noise protection and we want it to be sequential so that it is completed in one period, not two.

Although Boxley long tunnel is not in my constituency, I share the wish of the county of Kent and the other districts that the Select Committee should consider the matter. Given the Government's assurances, I expect no less from the Select Committee than that it will carefully consider all the petitions placed before it. I do not see why I should ask the Minister to instruct the Committee to do so because a Select Committee of the House is set

Column 515

up to ensure not only that justice is done but that it is absolutely seen to be done. It will be done only if the Committee has a free mind to consider the petitions placed before it.

I support my constituents' concern about that and trust the Select Committee to consider any petitions on the long tunnel. From the point of view of my constituents and the city council, the matter is exceedingly important, because we should not prejudice the openness of the Medway gap. A conurbation that included Maidstone and the Medway towns would be a city to challenge the metropolis not far away.

I refer to compensation, on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) has concentrated and built up considerable expertise. Rumour has it that the French pay more compensation, more humanely and more realistically than we do. I know that they have more land, which gives them greater scope to permit things, but a few years ago the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors produced a considerable document on the need to revise the compensation system in this country. In the first new major railway line this century, compensation of a fair amount and a fair acceptance of blight is essential to ensure justice to those on the route.

In my constituency is an area called the Nashenden valley. Residents there have the widened M2 on one side and the rail link on the other. There they are in a pocket in the middle. I demand that they get some realistic assessment of what the two projects mean to the 13 or so households in that valley.

There are many details--I will not go through all the details that worry my constituents--but I have highlighted the greatest of them. I rely on the Select Committee to listen carefully to all the petitions. I hope very much that it will follow the wise precedence of earlier Select Committees, which chose to hold some of their meetings in the areas in which the problems are occurring. 7.30 pm

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): Even the most sceptical of the Euro- sceptics must, I believe, support the construction of a rail link through Britain to enable us to take proper advantage of the opportunities that the opening of the channel tunnel and the development of the Community offer.

The Government have shown the same incompetence on this issue as they have on so many others. As other hon. Members have said, this debate should have taken place six or seven years ago; the rail link should have been up and running in time for the opening of the tunnel before Christmas. Now, when the Government have finally come to the House with a Bill, their proposals in relation to my constituents are damaging and unacceptable.

My constituents support the construction of a rail link in Britain. They are not adopting a NIMBY-like attitude to progress. But equally, it is neither fair nor just that they should be expected to tolerate the unnecessary destruction to their lives and homes that the current proposals entail. All hon. Members who have been most closely connected with the development of the current proposals, including the Minister for Transport in London, now recognise that the citizens of Barking will get an unacceptably raw deal if the Bill and the route are enacted as they stand.

Column 516

In Barking, there are not 13 families affected, as in Medway. Some 5,000 people live within a quarter of a mile of the rail link, so more people in Barking will suffer more than anywhere else along the whole route.

The proposed route goes through the centre of Barking, tears the heart out of my constituency and destroys a close and stable community. Thousands of families are affected. There is an absurd inconsistency between the Government's proposals for the channel tunnel rail link and their expressed wish to see regeneration in that part of London. How can one regenerate an area when, at the same time, one blights thousands of homes and ruins the lives of thousands of families? There is not one hon. Member in the Chamber who would not be utterly horrified if such proposals threatened to affect their own homes. None of us would tolerate it, and the Minister responsible knows that I am right.

Union Railways, in looking at the impact of atmospheric pollution during construction, estimated that 1,990 properties in Barking would be affected by such pollution. I believe that even more homes are blighted.

Let me explain to hon. Members the impact that the proposals will have on Barking, on its people--not on trees, not on toads, but on its people. Some 321 homes open directly on to the railway, but many more will be hit by the proposals. They are not large homes with extensive gardens. Rather, they are modest homes for young couples on the first rung of the ladder of owner -occupation. They are homes for elderly couples who want to see out their retirement in peace and quiet. They are homes for council tenants who cannot choose to move.

The Minister for Railways and Roads has been with me to the homes--homes in which the distance from the kitchen window to the rail track is a mere 2.5 m. That is less than the distance between myself and the Minister who sits opposite me today. At present, three trains go past every hour; very few use the line in the late evenings and at weekends. The trains travel at less than 50 mph.

When the CTRL is completed, there could be one train every three minutes, at 185 mph, with more at weekends. That is without having regard to the likely increase in the use of the line for freight, to which other hon. Members have referred. That could increase threefold in the first 10 years of operation.

Just imagine eating one's tea while trains go by 10 ft from one's window every three minutes at 185 mph. Just imagine putting one's baby to sleep while those trains are going by at the bottom of one's short garden. Just imagine letting one's children play in the garden in those circumstances. Just imagine if one is old and poorly and trying to get some rest. How can a competent Government seriously propose such a scheme? Current noise impact studies compare existing midweek noise with future midweek noise, ignoring the expected increase in weekend traffic on a line that is scarcely used at weekends.

No owner-occupiers living near the CTRL route can sell their homes. For them, the Conservative dream of owner-occupation has become a personal nightmare. About half those affected by the proposals are owner-occupiers. At the height of the housing market, their homes sold for £85,000. Today, no building society will lend on any property in the area. The only sales are to unscrupulous landlords offering a mere £20,000 to £25,000 to home owners, for whom their house is their only form of savings.

Next Section

  Home Page