|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 517I have a cabinet full of cases from constituents needing to move, who are trapped and forgotten. They include an elderly couple whose 43-year-old son has learning difficulties and needs constant care--they want to move closer to their other son in New Zealand before they die, so that he can care for his brother with learning difficulties, in the community. A widow has become mentally ill because she cannot move closer to her daughter. A man has impaired hearing and could not live with more and noisier trains. A woman needs to sell the empty house that she inherited from her mother, to pay for her daughter's higher education. I could go on.
The scandal is that, under the current rules set by the Department of Transport, Union Railways is offering to purchase only eight properties along that part of the route--eight out of 2,000-plus. The truth is that the Government got their fingers burned with early acquisitions along the Kent stretch of the route, so they amended the regulations, and my constituents are being forced to pay the price. I have held meetings with the Minister for Railways and Roads, and he has said that he considers the current proposals on compensation inadequate. In my view, they are grossly inadequate and completely unacceptable, but he has not come back to me since the end of November with any sensible alternative proposals, and none is suggested in the Bill. I again ask that both the Minister and the Select Committee look for a new and more realistic compensation package, along the terms suggested by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley).
Building the CTRL is not like building a new road. The homes are blighted until construction starts; then there will be at least five years of construction. We all know, from the experience of the tunnel itself, that we could be talking about seven or eight years of construction.
Obtaining information from Union Railways is as difficult as getting the Home Secretary to admit responsibility for anything that happens in the Prison Service, but I understand that its plans for my constituency involve one major construction site, 12 secondary sites, two railheads and a potential spoil disposal site. That will cause immense noise, disturbance, pollution, congestion and danger. Union Railways itself predicts that 300 lorries will come in and out every day. Those lorries will rumble past hundreds of front doors, past a primary school and past the homes of shift workers who are used to a quiet residential street--and not just during the day. Imagine living with that for five, six or seven years--it simply is not on. The local council has been told that it will be consulted on the construction code of practice only if it has signed a planning agreement with the Government, which could fetter the council's discretion as a local planning authority; that too is absurd, and I ask the Select Committee to examine the matter.
When I spoke about the impact of the proposals on my constituents in an Adjournment debate on 21 July, I asked the Minister to consider widening the limits of deviation for the route so that a practical solution for the problem in Barking could be found. He chose not to accede to my request; again, I urge the Select Committee to consider the matter. I still believe that it would be feasible to re-route the CTRL either across or under Barking reach,
Column 518and that that would be the best solution for all concerned. It was what Ove Arup originally proposed, and it would work for both the people of Barking and the promoters of the link.
We are building a line that we want to last not for a mere 10 years, but for a long hundred years. Getting it right for the communities of tomorrow is our responsibility; bulldozing a route through people's homes and destroying their lives represents a scandalous dereliction of duty.
In the light of the current proposals, I urge the House to give unanimous support to the instruction that has been drafted for the Select Committee. The people of Barking must be treated in the same way as everyone else along the route, including the people of Kent. Not one of my constituents has chosen to argue against the development of a CTRL; not one has tried to argue that the route should not go through part of Barking. They know how important the development is for Britain as a whole. What they and I will not accept, however, is a short-term quick fix that ignores their legitimate demands that--both during the construction period and when the route is completed--they should enjoy the same protection as others, and appropriate compensation for disturbance and loss. The people of Barking feel that, during the past few years since the proposals were first developed, they have become the forgotten people. Since I became their representative, I have tried to promote their cause. It is now up to the House to instruct the Select Committee to do all it can to protect the people of Barking. 7.43 pm
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Although the Channel tunnel rail link does not pass through my constituency, it should benefit my many thousands of commuter constituents, and the major improvement works to the A2 and M2 from junctions 1 to 4 should help to ease the congested stretch of two-lane motorway from Three Crutches to the turn-off to Gillingham.
This morning, I re-read the Official Report 's record of the announcement, in a statement to the House on 20 January 1986, of the Government's decision to accept the Channel Tunnel Group's bid to build the tunnel, the debate on 10 February of that year on the White Paper, and the Second Reading debate on what became the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. There was much praise, from hon. Members on both sides of the House, for the Government's initiative in promoting this great civil engineering project--not least because of the impetus that it would give to the railway network, and particularly the opportunity that would be afforded to the transfer of long -distance freight from road to rail.
There was, however, little mention of a high-speed dedicated rail link from the channel to London or beyond. In answer to a question from the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) about his statement, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Nicholas Ridley, said: "It is not planned to increase the standard of the track that runs from Folkestone to London to enable it to take very high-speed trains. Such work would cause major disruption and would inflict immense damage on the environment. We have made it clear that that will not happen."--[ Official Report , 20 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 32.]
Column 519During one of the debates, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed)--I am sorry that he is not present now--reminded the House that the 1974 Channel tunnel project, cancelled by Labour in 1975, had involved a high-speed rail link, but said that he hoped that such notions had been buried with the 1974 tunnel.
I regret that the Government and Parliament did not decide to build the rail link with the tunnel, as an integrated project. I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of the Channel tunnel, viewing it as a major artery for the United Kingdom to exploit the potential market in Europe in a way that has always been constrained by the 22 miles of the English channel; however, the scheme approved by the House in 1986 was clearly flawed in not including a rail link, and also, in my opinion, by section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, which stipulated that no Government grant or subsidy could be paid for international rail passenger services. That section was a sop to my Europhobe colleagues who wanted to ensure, if possible, that the tunnel project would founder and we could return to our little Englander isolation.
It was obvious from the outset that the success of the project would be greatly enhanced by a high-speed rail link at least from the coast to London, and early in 1988, British Rail began--in an unbelievably ham- fisted way--to plan for such a grande vitesse rail link. The past seven years have seen a tortuous progress from the kitchen-table plans, mentioned earlier, that blighted wide swathes of Kent, to today's substantially planned route and project, presented publicly by Union Railways last autumn.
During even the worst days of British Rail's mishandling of the project-- the first major new rail route in Britain for a century, as hon. Members have reminded us--no one proposed a route that went through, over or under Gillingham. My constituents were therefore not subjected to the agonies of planning blight that afflicted many of my hon. Friends whose constituencies lay on the various proposed routes. Thus, at the many meetings of Kent Members with successive Secretaries of State for Transport--and there have been a good many--I have been able to support the fast link without fear of upsetting my constituents, and to use the occasion to urge my various right hon. Friends to maximise the new line's potential to improve conditions for commuters who live in Gillingham and currently endure appalling conditions on the north Kent line of British Rail's Network SouthEast.
The Bill includes
"the outline of an intermediate station at Ebbsfleet"
and, more importantly, connections with other existing lines. There is a prospect that the new line proposed in the Bill will indeed offer commuters from north Kent an opportunity, at a premium, to speed up their journeys: daylight, perhaps, at the end of a very long tunnel.
We should be able to greet that news with unequivocal pleasure, but in the past few days a cloud has appeared, in the form of a letter from British Rail to my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, saying that BR sees no commercial case for ordering the next tranche of Networker trains for the Kent coastlines before 1999.
I understand that the present ramshackle rolling stock on the Kent coast line through my constituency at Rainham will not be able to function on the new high-speed line, so the mirage of a speeded-up journey
Column 520for my commuters--and beyond--again disappears into the distant future. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would care to comment on that undesirable news when he winds up the debate.
The Bill is not simply to enable a much-needed railway line to be built. For reasons which my right hon. Friend feels are good and substantial, this already complex Bill includes in part II clauses 39 to 42 which allow the widening of the A2 at Cobham and the M2 between junctions 1 and 4. My constituents are most directly affected by that part of the Bill.
During the debate in February 1986 on the channel tunnel White Paper, I predicted that the tunnel would make the M2 too busy for it to remain a local bypass around the Medway towns. I pleaded with the then Secretary of State, Nicholas Ridley, to expedite the northern relief road for the Medway towns and a new Medway tunnel. As my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) has said, this important local bypass is now being constructed. However, congestion on the M2, even though the A20-M20 is now signposted as the main route to the tunnel, justifies widening the westernmost miles of that underbuilt road.
I regret that it is in connection with part II that my local authority, Gillingham borough council, proposes to petition against the Bill on the narrow issue of arrangements for junction 4 of the M2 in my constituency. It will do so because the council believes that the current scheme proposes to place traffic lights only on the elevated roundabout at junction 4, the Gillingham turn-off. The Highways Agency has already stated that that arrangement will not cater for high traffic growth for the design life of the scheme. The council considers that junction 4 should be properly modified as part of a scheme to cater for the predicted traffic flows.
There will be enormous disruption to the M2 between junctions 3 and 4 as a result of the widening works, and an alternative route must be provided. Such a route, the Medway towns southern peripheral route, could be completed, and would provide a suitable link between junctions 3 and 4. That should be funded through the Bill. The volume of traffic using the motorway could be reduced by transferring people from private cars to coaches. There is already substantial coach traffic from the Medway towns to London each day, and that could be enhanced if a proper coach park for commuters could be provided at junction 4.
My council is also worried that the Bill does not include provision for the local planning authorities to control matters relating to the detailed design and management of the motorway project. That involves matters such as minor construction works, lighting, accesses, spoil disposal, landscaping, screening, hours of working and noise suppression. The Bill includes provision for those things for the rail link, and the council considers that the Secretary of State should enter into agreements with local planning authorities for the motorway work as well.
Although the Select Committee may feel that my council's petition will be out of order, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give due consideration to the council's valid points. I have been convinced since 1986 of the need for a fast link. The benefits to my commuter constituents of an express route to London merely confirm my conviction, but the real clincher for me was my journey to Brussels
Column 521on 10 November as the guest, along with many other hon. Members, of European Passenger Services on the Eurostar. The splendid Eurostar train took longer to complete the journey between my local station in Bromley from Waterloo than had the slow commuter train that I had caught in the opposite direction two hours earlier.
We had plenty of time to admire the Kent scenery as we dawdled across the Weald, and it was only when we reached the tunnel that the train began to achieve a speed that suggested some urgency to our journey. The first section between the French portal and Lille served to emphasise the slowness of the English and Belgian sections of the journey.
I look forward to a two-and-half-hour journey to Paris. Not only the ferries will be unable to compete with that: the miserable air journey between Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle will also become a thing of the past. I am delighted to support the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assuage my local council's fears about junction 4.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I begin by declaring not one but two interests. First, I am the only Member to be sponsored by the rail drivers' union ASLEF. Secondly, I am one of two Members whose constituencies are within the borough boundaries of the London borough of Camden where the terminal of the channel tunnel rail link, St. Pancras, is to be found. I do not intend to speak for the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). He is more than capable of doing that himself. I am anxious to speak because for many years that terminal will be a massive building site which will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on my constituents. In common with hon. Members of all parties, my constituents and I welcome the idea of a high-speed railway. Any railway which helps to push this country and its transport system into the 21st century is welcome. Also in common with my constituents, however, I am concerned about the environmental impact of the proposals and the possibility that petitions from areas which the Government may not deem at this stage to be affected by the proposals for the building of the line will not necessarily be accepted by the Select Committee. I hope that the Minister will deal with that matter.
Some of the proposals affecting St. Pancras deal not only with the construction of major new lines and connections to a line which certainly affects my constituents--the north London line, where four separate lines need to be built--but with new roads which will have major works beneath them such as sewers and piping and works of that nature. My constituents and I agree with the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) that environmental protection should be the most modern available.
The Minister spoke of the environmental considerations which apply now, but we are learning from day to day and from month to month of more and more possible environmental dangers. One hopes that at the same time we shall learn of measures to ameliorate those environmental dangers and hazards. The project is extremely long-term, and I ask the Minister to consider
Column 522and advise the Committee that changes within the plan may be considered on grounds of increased environmental knowledge in the many years ahead.
In a telling contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) asked the House to imagine what it would be like for her constituents to have a railway line at the bottom of their gardens at a distance somewhat less than that between the Front Benches. There is no need to ask hon. Members to imagine what it will be like for my constituents who will have to live in close proximity to a major building site, because Members fortunate enough to have offices in the Norman Shaw North building know precisely what that is like. The building site there has been occasioned by the work that is under way, seemingly for the foreseeable future, on Westminster bridge and on the Jubilee line extension at Westminster underground station. Little or no protection was offered to hon. Members and their staff who work in the Norman Shaw buildings during the destruction which had to take place before construction could be undertaken, although the fascias of Government buildings in Whitehall were protected by sheets of blue plastic. I doubt whether the dust and debris, which I know from personal experience sift into my office every day and cover every piece of equipment, sift into Government offices. If there is to be a double standard as to what constitutes environmental protection, it should be weighted towards the people who have to live around, for example, the St. Pancras terminus and its concomitant areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking spoke of 300 lorries trundling through residential streets. That will inevitably happen in my constituency and my constituents will suffer from that sort of pollution. The members of the Committee should also consider whether there should be published, well in advance so that there can be genuine consultation, details of the possible implications of approach to the site of equipment. That would give information on equipment and the type of heavy duty machinery that would be required. Overridingly, there should be strict guidelines as to the hours at which such materials and machinery can work and on the kind of light that will be necessary to facilitate the work without causing danger to those engaged in the work or to people who live in the areas.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I will conclude my remarks. In a sense, I shall end where I began. My constituents and I would welcome anything that provides the nation as a whole with a transport system which fits us and our economic requirements for the 21st century. As the link will be a national resource, however, the nation as a whole should carry a fair proportion of the burden.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken about levels of compensation for those who will lose their homes. I would argue that during the period when the line is being constructed there should also be compensation for people who will have their environment distorted by noise, pollution and the other factors that I have mentioned.
A leader in today's Manchester Guardian -- [Interruption.] That gives Conservative Members an idea of how long I have been reading newspapers. I am, of course, referring to The Guardian , in which a leading article today said, in effect, that 80 per cent. of the costs of the link are being met by the taxpayer, yet the lease is being sold for 999 years. One Conservative Member
Column 523earlier suggested that British Rail should increase its contribution towards compensation; I believe that the private firms which eventually win the contracts to build the line should also be asked to make a sizeable contribution to compensation. The link is a national resource, so it should not be just one section of the nation that has to pay not only in cash but in kind.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): This debate is a milestone in the six-year-old drama of the rail link, which has afflicted Kent since 1988. Over those six years, engineers and enthusiasts have drawn lines across my Kentish constituency affecting almost every square mile, to the detriment and anguish of residents. The drama first hit the village of Istead Rise and the parishes of Meopham and Luddesdown in 1988, with the farce of a British Rail manager telling anxious residents in Istead Rise that he had used his children's crayons and his wife's greaseproof paper to draw up the map of routes. New routes have swung from north to south since then, ending up with the route before the House today. Some 11 miles of it passes through my constituency, which is 17 per cent. of the entire link.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made great play of the delays that have ensued. Of course the decision could have been made immediately if the people of Kent had been literally bulldozed aside and taxpayers' money wasted in vast quantities. I preferred the matter to be investigated thoroughly to ensure that we got it right. There has been no rush. Who needed the rail link anyway? Where would the cost benefit have been? Eurostar and tunnel freight are operating well now and passenger traffic would gain only 20 minutes in any event. The key is the rail capacity across Kent. It is adequate now for local and international needs, but on forecast growth it would reach saturation point early in the next century. A new rail line would then be inevitable, so it may as well be designed for high-speed operation--and that is what we are debating today. Some say that the Government have delayed too long and have paid too much attention to residents' concerns. A certain Opposition right hon. Member is alleged to have complained about "those pampered Kentish whingers" and unfavourably compared British progress with the French HGV route construction, but we should not compare the vast empty landscape of northern France with the rolling, beautiful, populated countryside of Kent. That is why environmental protection must be high on the House's agenda in considering the Bill. We must ensure that guarantees are built into the Bill to require its promoters to honour undertakings already given by Union Railways and to prohibit any backsliding. If the impact of the rail link on my constituents were confined to environmental damage, I would vote against the Bill today. However, my constituency also stands to gain a great deal from the decision to locate the intermediate international and domestic station within the constituency at Ebbsfleet. That totally tilts the balance in favour of the link and I shall therefore support the Bill today. Nevertheless, I look forward to the Select and Standing Committees going into the details very thoroughly indeed.
The Ebbsfleet international and domestic station is essential. The Government's decision to approve the station was wise, of great value to international travellers
Column 524and of great importance to local commuters and passengers. Located within a few miles of the M25, it is ideally located for international travellers from the south-east, East Anglia and, indeed, east London. Plenty of parking will be available. For my constituents it will mean only 20 minutes commuting to London instead of the current 50 minutes. It will act as a catalyst for new developments on the exhausted chalk workings, which will bring thousands of new jobs. It will bring new relief roads and improve house prices.
I must say that I resent the gutter campaign by Opposition Members-- understandably talking up Stratford, which is anyway provided for in the Bill--with their allegations of sleaze and the talk and cartoons of "Fartyswamp". That cartoon in The Guardian --so close to the heart of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson)--is the sort of abuse that my constituents have had to put up with and which was further exemplified today by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). The Ebbsfleet decision was the culmination of an excellent campaign by local Members of Parliament, business men and councils. Furthermore, it was the right decision.
However, conditions must be put on station development. We must be assured that, even before work starts on the link or the station, the Northfleet town bypass, known as the south Thamesside development phase 4, will be constructed. Designed for dual carriageway, at least one carriageway must be functional as soon as possible. The west end of the phase 4 road must link up with Stonebridge road, thus bypassing Northfleet town. It is essential not only to bring relief to Northfleet but to provide from the outset for construction traffic to be kept well out of residential areas. I very much regret the fact that Kent county council gave the project such a low priority that it will not be constructed during this coming year. Nevertheless, the council should make haste in designing the bypass and submitting it to public consultation.
Another of my concerns is the Ebbsfleet water course, its environment and wildlife habitats--part of which is a designated site of special scientific interest--and the footpaths throughout that area. We also have the unique Blue lake in the Ebbsfleet valley. In this modern age of environmental expertise, all those issues should be examined. In particular, I commend to the Committee a paper prepared by the Northfleet action group which highlights the issues. The Ebbsfleet valley was the site of an ancient Roman settlement, and the competent archaeological authorities must give their clearance before work starts. The valley also houses the valuable Blue Circle sports facilities. Blue Circle industries, as the landowner and developer, has much to gain from the development and must give a commitment to replace those facilities in the immediate area for the benefit of local residents.
The Ebbsfleet valley will also be the location for the connection to British Rail's north Kent line. That is very valuable and will allow appropriate passenger trains from the Medway towns, Higham and Gravesend to access the high-speed link to London. However, the environmental impact of the embankment of the connecting line must be reassessed.
There are also plans for a light railway, to be known as Union Metro, which will use the north Kent line onwards through south-east London and then cross the Thames to
Column 525connect with docklands. That project needs favourable consideration in the context of the development of the Thames gateway--the new title for the east Thames corridor.
The House will recall the battle of Pepper hill, which attracted its own debate in the House. My right hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) and for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), when Ministers at the Department of Transport, took the momentous and, I believe, courageous decision to re-route the link out from under some 300 houses at Pepper hill and to force Union Railways to design an alternative route in cuttings past that location and in a tunnel under the A2 motor road. I should like to be assured that that crossing will be by bored tunnel at a low level, which would further minimise the impact on the residential area of southern Northfleet. It would also have the advantage of eliminating the disruption of heavy traffic on the A2 which progressive cut-and-cover construction methods would cause.
I pay tribute to the hard work of the A2 rail action group, led by Mrs. Celia Jones. I should also draw the Committee's attention to the continuing concern of local residents. The deep cuttings near New Barn road should be covered over, which would protect the residents perched above at Pepper hill. The land sandwiched between the A2 motor road and the rail link opposite urban Northfleet and Gravesend should be either returned to agriculture or set to woodlands. In no circumstances should there be any construction development which would breach the long-standing defence of the metropolitan green belt. To protect local residents, commitments should be extracted from the promoters about the landscaping to be put in place. That should no doubt include consideration of lowering the running level at that point.
I turn to one of the remaining contentious points which should be rethought --the crossing of the A227 Wrotham road at the Tollgate. Current plans for a viaduct over the valley known as Northumberland Bottom have led to fears of noise reverberation towards Istead Rise and northwards to a residential district overlooking the Tollgate. I have read no convincing presentation which calms the fears of local residents. I hope very much that Gravesham borough council will petition on that point and will commend to the Select Committee the professional presentation made by the Istead Rise rail action group, whose voluntary work over the years has been invaluable. In particular, the group highlights the possibilities for passing under the A227 carriageway. We also require assurances about any construction sites at that point.
Concern about the rail link remains high in the village. An opinion survey carried out last month in Istead Rise brought a 74 per cent. response from residents to a detailed questionnaire. Seventy-two per cent. of those respondents remain opposed to the rail link and 82 per cent. are very concerned about the proposed multi-span bridge, with a further 14 per cent. moderately concerned about it.
The impact of the landscaping and elevation requirements of the passing loops at Singlewell remain a concern. The passing loops are allegedly required for freight operation, allowing high-speed trains to pass. I do not understand the need for freight on that line, and a number of hon. Members have said the same in the course of the debate. The existing routes can more than adequately
Column 526handle freight, especially for destinations in the midlands and northwards, which can skirt London to the south. I do not understand why the peace and quiet of south Kent should be bought at the expense of my constituents.
I should like the Committee to consider whether freight working is necessary. I reject the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who supports the building of the passing loops at Singlewell. Incidentally, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, also wants those passing loops to be inflicted on my constituents. Alternative consideration should be given to whether the track facilities at Ebbsfleet make the earlier plans for Singlewell passing loops obsolete. The Committee should therefore consider scrapping freight loops, with consequent opportunities for environmental improvements and improved landscaping.
Perhaps the impact of most national significance is that proposed for Ashenbank wood and Cobham park. Ashenbank is real, ancient woodland. It is of significance for wildlife habitat and a site of special scientific interest. Cobham park and its ponds alongside the route are a fine example of a Repton landscape that would be damaged by the link. The current proposal provides for a wedge to be driven through the woodlands and for a railway to be driven along the edge of Cobham park. The devastation would be considerable.
A whole range of respected environmental organisations have expressed their dismay. I mention but a few: the Woodland Trust, the National Trust, the Kent Trust for Nature Conservation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Many of those organisations will be petitioning. It is my regret that Kent county council is not petitioning on that point. I therefore strongly commend the petitions of those environmental and heritage organisations and also the petition of Cobham parish council, which is being made jointly with the Kent Association of Parish Councils.
Engineering consultants Travers Morgan have carried out a study of the engineering viability of a tunnel beneath the wood and the sensitive parts of Cobham park, with tunnelling through the sound chalk strata. That is worth careful consideration. The cost could be financed by a specific grant from the environmental fund controlled by the environmental directorate of the European Commission. I am very disappointed and frustrated by the lack of progress in obtaining commitments from those funds by the new Member of the European Parliament for West Kent.
Incidentally, those funds could also finance other environmental improvements along the link. I am likewise surprised that the Opposition amendment makes no mention of Ashenbank wood or the urban fringe of Northfleet and Gravesend, where there are thousands of houses, in their call for tunnelling to protect the environment. The feeble excuses for the omission offered by the hon. Member for Oldham, West will not wash with my constituents in Northfleet.
Another major point of concern for local residents is the location, scale and operation of construction sites. Those should all be immediately adjacent to the A2 motor road and access to them should not be through residential areas. Strict management should be applied.
Column 527The site for the Thames tunnel work, if it must be on the south side, should be on Botany marshes, and it should be served by a rail spur from the north Kent line and by road access from the new Northfleet bypass. Both works should be constructed in advance of the link and river tunnel.
One specific site included in the safeguarded areas is the remote Hoo junction in the parish of Higham. That is apparently required for transshipment of aggregates and construction material. I have been assured by Union Railways that no materials or aggregate will be shifted in and out by road. As such roads are tiny country lanes, that must be rigidly enforced.
Lastly, with regard to compensation arrangements I believe that the boundaries of the safeguarded zones have been drawn in a very mean spirit, narrowing significantly to exclude badly affected homes and thus avoid compensation obligations. That is particularly noticeable at Longview, Henhurst road and The Lodge, Scalers hill, where five properties, all badly affected and sandwiched between the A2 motor road and the rail link, are left in limbo. Two have been offered voluntary purchase, but without the mark-up or assistance with costs. In a project of this size, that action is mean-minded and petty and it should be corrected.
This is a major civil engineering project and clearly the House favours it, but I ask the House not to forget that it affects people--real people--and Kentish people, my constituents. I hope that during the passage of the Bill careful attention will be given to the many concerns that I have raised today.
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): First, I must comment on the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who managed to prove to everyone that he could read quite well and possibly write quite well, if he wrote the speech, but if he is going to--
Mr. Heppell: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not for a moment suggest that you missed that, so I shall say that when the hon. Member for Gravesham is debating and not reading from written notes, he should at least ensure that events that have happened during the day are reflected in his speech. When he includes inaccuracies that have been cleared up in the debate he makes himself look foolish. He asked earlier whether it made any difference how quickly the proposal was passed as it meant a difference of only 20 minutes in journey times, but later in his speech he talked about savings of more than 20 minutes. That proves how foolish he is. I shall support the Bill because I have a record of supporting such Bills. I supported the King's Cross (No. 2) Bill, much to the annoyance of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I did so because I am in favour of railways and all forms of public transport that take traffic off the roads. I shall support the Bill but it will be in spite of, rather than
Column 528because of, the Government. One hon. Member said that the Bill was five years too late. That is quite late, even by British Rail's standards, so it is with considerable annoyance that I support the Bill.
I am angry with the Government for the delays and because the alignment of the route has been changed so many times, sometimes for what appear to be arbitrary reasons. More than anything, I am angry at the Government's insistence on bringing in the private sector. In fact, it is not an insistence on bringing in the private sector but an insistence that the public sector should not be involved. I have been involved in plenty of local projects, such as the Greater Nottingham light rapid transit system; we wanted to bring in the private sector for the Robin Hood line. Many Labour Members want to bring about a partnership with the private sector in this case but the problem is that the Government want to involve the private sector and exclude the public sector altogether. Everyone in this country, in Europe or in the world who knows anything about railways knows that public sector involvement is required--everyone except the Government.
We could have had a real partnership in this project as was the case with the Greater Nottingham light rapid transit system. In Nottingham, there was a partnership between the city council, the county council and the private sector. We advertised for private sector partners for the Robin Hood line. All parties would welcome that in this project but we have passed up every opportunity of a real partnership with the private sector. Even when people were literally offering money, the Government said no because that money was conditional on some public sector money.
In the event, the partnership is very strange. It is like a marriage but, in some respects, it is an arranged marriage. We have to pay a dowry to enter into it and we are paying it with public assets; we are paying it with the European passenger service, a public asset built with public money. It is not being sold but given away as part of the deal. Waterloo station, which is a public asset, is also being given away. The freehold of Ashford international station is also being given away as part of what I would describe as a bizarre arrangement. We are talking about maintenance depots in London and Manchester being given away as part of the same deal. The same is true of property in Olympia, not to mention the locomotives and rolling stock that will be given away, not sold.
When the deal has been done, the Government will purchase the right to use some of the capacity on the line for domestic trains. I am not sure that this is the type of partnership that we might have expected at the beginning of the process. I put that down to the Government. However, I shall still support the Bill.
Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I realised that many people have a romantic view of the golden age of steam engines and diesel trains. I too am a member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, so I must declare an interest. However, I have worked on such trains and I do not have such a romantic view of them. When one is crawling under a bogie changing brake blocks and traction engine motor bushes, frozen stiff at 1 am, covered in grease and oil, one does not get quite so romantic about the railway as the railway enthusiasts.
Column 529I accept, however, that the golden age of rail will come again, because there is no alternative for the future. Increasingly, the Government are making noises to the effect that the railways and public transport systems are the future, and I want that idea developed. People must realise that we are talking not about an antiquated, romanticised idea but about a vision of how transport should be in the future.
Many hon. Members have mentioned compensation and environmental protection. I hope that the Minister will go to the greatest possible lengths to ensure that compensation is adequate and that there is as much environmental protection as possible built into the scheme. I do not say that because I have any special remit to speak for the constituents of the hon. Member for Gravesham or for those of my hon. Friends. I see no reason why they should benefit from any greater environmental protection or compensation than people affected by the road schemes in the north of England or Scotland or by rail schemes elsewhere in the country. However, I want people to see proper environmental protection built into this scheme. I want more railways built in the future and, if we can dispense with some opposition in this case, we may be able to dispense with it in the future. I am not sure how much remains of my 10 minutes but I finish by mentioning freight. Everyone who understands railways knows that the channel tunnel has the potential to open markets for this country and could provide the opportunity to shift freight from the roads to rail for lengthy journeys, which would not have been possible in the past. If we do not take advantage of that, we shall be betraying future generations, our children and their children. We must take this opportunity to shift as much freight as possible from the 44-tonners on to the railway.
Everyone seems frightened of freight trains but they are not the rattly old trains of years ago. Proper braking systems mean that they do not rattle like they used to. Some hon. Members have said that they do not want freight loops to blight their constituents' property but, if we remove any protection from the planned freight routes, we shall be blighting this country.
When I was first elected to the House nearly 20 years ago, we would approve, in an hour and a half's debate late at night, sums equivalent to the whole cost of this Bill and the environmental protection costs. We approved the equivalent of £2,000 million or £3, 000 million, often the recurrent costs of some nationalised industry which brought virtually no return.
However, the expenditure involved in the measure that we are debating, whether for environmental protection or for the railway line itself, will generate employment not only along the line of route--although that will clearly be the case, and in London--but in factories and industries around the country. I am thinking of the service industries and the engineering, drafting and supply industries, all of which will help to keep this country's economy on the move as well as improve the railway.
Column 530I must declare various interests as I have had connections with Eurotunnel, ferries, hovercraft and Seacats and the aeroplanes that provide competitive services. However, I am making a speech partly in the interests of my constituents and partly in the national interest.
The first option of the old British Rail scheme could have run through my constituency. When that possibility existed, none of the environmentalists stood up for those elected to represent Kent and London constituencies who were willing to examine the choices rationally--they went to ground. One of my partisan remarks is that the local Labour party, after making the initial error of saying that it wanted the rail line to come through Eltham, started to exploit the possibility that it might come through in a
constituency-political way that was a disgrace to it. I hope that the new modernisers will not do that.
The rail line is being built in the interests of travellers. There may have been a time when most people using the railways had no alternative. Nowadays, almost everyone who uses the railways has an alternative. There will be benefits for travellers in Kent; Ashford and Ebbsfleet being good examples. When we start to halve journey times and when people can get into the city centre more easily, they will make the choice to use the railway because of personal advantage.
In international links, it is the city centre to city centre time that matters. I am not talking just about London to Paris or London to Brussels; I am talking about the other cities to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) referred. Taking an hour off east coast main line journeys to France, Belgium and other European mainland countries will make a dramatic difference to the competitive advantage of the railways.
What is more, there will be an advantage for those on lines that are not served directly by the high-speed link. As people come into Waterloo, as more traffic moves to go into St. Pancras and as some traffic gets a chance to move straight through London, lines such as the Eltham and New Eltham lines should have improvements. From the point of view of self-interest and national interest, this infrastructure project has a great deal to recommend it.
The trouble is that the House has not been very good at giving the operators the consistent backing that they need. We have had feast and famine in capital investment. That is better than the position in the railways a few years ago when there was just famine. The fact is that London Underground and British Rail, for example, have been told before general elections to expect significant extra capital funding which then ebbs away after the election. That makes the money they spend far less effective. Engineers around the country must be tearing their hair out at the ups and downs. I hope that we can find some consistency. As we edge more into private finance initiatives, we may be able to achieve that.
We have had problems with other major infrastructure projects. There were delays in getting permission for the Heathrow express, yet who wants to go out to Heathrow on the M4? It is an irrational choice which is forced on people. The underground service is useful and more reliable than using the road, but we should have had a Heathrow express and we should already have a crossrail system under London which would also relieve the pressures. There has been enormous delay, but crossrail is coming. I do not want to waste the time of the House in going through the problems that crossrail has faced.
Column 531There have been problems with the decisions made by Committees of the House. There was the engineering misjudgment by the Committee that considered the Dartford-Thurrock bridge. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) will forgive me; I recognise the service he has given and I leave him on one side.
That misjudgment illustrated that the House had not learnt much since the days when the Manchester-Liverpool railway line was delayed because a clever parliamentary lawyer persuaded Members of Parliament that it was not possible to have a moving engine on a moving wagon pulling freight. He persuaded Parliament that one could have permission to build a railway line only if the engine was put on the side of the track and the train was pulled with ropes and pulleys--
We have had problems with infrastructure projects. We have had problems with critical projects, such as the Borough Market junction just near London Bridge station where doubling up the railway track would allow Thameslink services to go to London Bridge, where most people want to go-- it is certainly where my constituents want to go--rather than to go in the rush hour through Elephant and Castle. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not just go for the Thameslink provision at St. Pancras. He should start to go for parliamentary or statutory approvals for doubling up the rail service at Borough Market junction. That is the key not only for traffic going under the Thames to north London and to the north of London, but for services to Cannon Street, Blackfriars, Waterloo East and Charing Cross. These things matter locally, nationally and internationally.
The issue of private finance came up originally with the Dartford-Thurrock bridge. Such finance was easier because there was a revenue stream to come. When I was Minister for Roads, I went to Japan in the last 1980s and I went on a Shin Kan Sen train--one of the bullet trains. It had new investment, a virtually dead straight line, no commuter trains in the way, no freight trains in the way and it was over-staffed. The Japanese were managing to run their trains 10 mph faster than British Rail was managing on the east coast line on a railway built 100 or more years ago.
Those who criticise British Rail management do not realise quite how effective the railway management and staff have been over the years in keeping an old system going, in modernising it and in keeping the service going. There has not been nearly enough tribute to the people who have managed to achieve that with the ups and downs of Government.
My next point is political. If the way that the Labour party sat on its hands, to put it most gently, over the signalling staff dispute had had the effect of the signalmen's claim, which was totally unjustified, being met, the railways would have been put back 20 years. We were slow in getting matters moving.
There are two key points about railways. One is reliability. The service cannot be interrupted by strikes or disputes--certainly not by unjustifiable strikes and disputes.