Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Road Noise

16. Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): If he will make a statement on his policy for reducing noise from motorways and other trunk roads. [85794]

The Minister for Transport (Mrs. Helen Liddell): We have established a policy of using quieter surfaces where appropriate in resurfacing trunk roads. We have set up an annual budget of £5 million to deal with some of the most serious cases of noise from existing roads. Sift criteria to identify cases meriting further study were announced on 22 March.

Mr. Hunter: Will the Minister confirm that when the M3 in the vicinity of Basingstoke requires resurfacing the most effective noise-reducing surface will be used, and that that stretch of road also qualifies for spending under the Government's £5 million a year ring-fenced budget for noise reduction?

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue on many occasions over a number of years, and I commend him for that. As he will know, a study is being undertaken into noise along the M3. I expect the results of that study probably before the end of July, which will allow me to make a decision on what further action may be necessary. The sift criteria have been eased so that it is more likely that more noise-limiting measures can be introduced, but it is really a matter for technical evaluation.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the interest that she has taken in this matter,

15 Jun 1999 : Column 153

especially in relation to the area of Upton St. Leonards on the M5 in my constituency, where there is a particular problem. Will she consider publishing the sift analysis so that we know exactly what the problems are and can consider the pecking order in which they should be dealt with?

Mrs. Liddell: The announcement on Monday 22 March 1999 set out many of the criteria on noise levels immediately adjacent to the road. The 1998 level is an average 80 decibels. We need an idea of the scale of the problems throughout the country so that we can prioritise how to spend the ring-fenced money to ensure that people's lives are made easier by reducing the worst road noise and its effects on local communities.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): Is the Minister aware that major road improvements lead to an increase in traffic which often spills over into other local roads? Last week I was at a well-attended meeting in the village of Compton in my constituency. People told me about the problems that had been caused by the vast increase in the volume of traffic resulting from the building of the connection with the M3 up the road. Is she aware that noise reduction measures in such villages can make a major improvement in people's lives? Given the extra £10 billion in taxation being extracted by the Government from the British motorist, cannot she increase the size of the fund for noise reduction measures?

Mrs. Liddell: Considering that the amount available for noise reduction measures is much more than was made available by the previous Government, and that the criteria have been changed to ensure that more roads are eligible for such assistance, that comment is rather rich coming from the hon. Gentleman. I do not underestimate the inconvenience caused by noise on roads. Local authority roads are not a matter for me directly, but the Government are aware of the difficulties that people can

15 Jun 1999 : Column 154

experience, and indeed of the measures that can be taken to mitigate noise. That is why we have ring-fenced the money and taken an especial interest in the matter.

National Land Use Database

17. Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): If he will report on progress on the creation of a national land use database, with particular reference to Yorkshire and Humberside. [85795]

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn): Provisional results from the first phase of the national land use database were published on 20 May. They show an estimated 33,000 hectares of previously developed vacant and derelict land in England in 1998, of which about 6,500 hectares was in Yorkshire and Humberside. More detailed results are available in a Government Statistical Service information bulletin, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. My Department will work with local authorities and others to develop a system to keep the information up to date and to expand the scope of the database to encompass all land uses.

Mr. Best: Does my right hon. Friend agree that local authorities should be advised about the need to ensure that the land bank is made available as rapidly as possible, rather than using green-field sites?

Mr. Caborn: That is a decision for the local authorities, although there is nothing constraining them. At least when this Government came to power we got the basic statistics right and found out how much brown-field land was available for building--that is what the database is all about. Unfortunately, it was a somewhat fatuous debate when the Conservatives were in power, because they did not have that basic information to hand for the local authorities.

15 Jun 1999 : Column 153

15 Jun 1999 : Column 155

London Underground

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott):

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement about London Underground.

London Underground is part of the lifeblood of London, and indeed the whole country, carrying 850 million passengers each year. For too many years, however, under different Governments and even under the Greater London council, investment in the underground has been inadequate to secure a modern, reliable underground system. As I explained to the House last year, we inherited an investment backlog of £1.2 billion. We intend to modernise the underground through a £7 billion public- private partnership which will bring long-term stability to the investment programme.

Train and station services will continue to be operated by a publicly owned, publicly accountable London Underground. However, in order to raise long-term finance, we will invite private companies to take responsibility for upgrading the infrastructure, including the track, tunnels, signals, escalators and trains. That would, however, be for a limited period only, after which the upgraded assets would return to the public sector.

That means that for the first time in living memory London Transport will know what it can spend on investment for years to come. Until now, London Transport investment plans have been approved in theory for a three-year period; in practice, they were chopped and changed every year, as in the savage cuts imposed on London Underground investment in the last year of the previous Administration. I cannot over-estimate to the House the value of being able to plan ahead in that way and to secure greater productivity in the use of capital.It will mean the travelling public--and London Underground employees--will get more reliable, better quality investment, delivered far more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Over the past year, London Transport has been laying the foundations for the public-private partnership. We have restructured the LT board, with Sir Malcolm Bates as chairman, Denis Tunnicliffe as the chief executive, and Derek Smith as the managing director of the underground. New board members with substantial financial and other experience will be announced shortly.

London Underground is creating within itself three infrastructure companies as well as the operating company which will remain in the public sector throughout, and will be made properly accountable to Londoners through their new elected assembly and mayor.

I am pleased to announce that London Transport is, today, inviting companies to pre-qualify as bidders to invest in the underground. Bidders will need to demonstrate the right mix of professional and project management skills and to harness the finance needed to take the tube into the 21st century.

Some concern has been expressed about the time needed to get to this point. I can assure the House that we do not intend to repeat the mistakes made by the previous Administration in planning the Jubilee line extension--now more than £1 billion over budget--the money wasted in British Rail privatisation, which amounted to billions

15 Jun 1999 : Column 156

of pounds, or the channel tunnel rail link deal, which we had to rescue from financial collapse. We decided to take the time to get it right and to protect the interests of the taxpayer.

In the autumn, selected bidders will be invited to submit tenders, based on a rigorous performance and payment system. For passengers, that will mean fewer delays, greater capacity and a higher quality of service. The Health and Safety Commission has been fully involved because safety is, of course, a top priority. We are aware of considerable interest in the market so we have good reason to expect keenly priced bids. However, as I have made clear before, we will not contemplate deals being done if they do not offer best value to the taxpayer.

For many years I have advocated linking the national railway with the underground to make it easier for the public to travel to, from, within and across London. I have therefore decided to allow London Transport to explore with Railtrack a way of linking the national rail network to the sub-surface lines in a public-private partnership under which Railtrack would undertake and finance the maintenance and upgrading of the sub-surface lines for London Underground, under contract to London Underground, and Railtrack would build links between the underground and the national rail lines.

This London link plan opens up exciting new possibilities for integration between surface and underground rail, providing fast new connections between all the major transport hubs, including London's five airports and the channel tunnel rail link terminals--a true example of a modern, integrated transport system. In particular, new services could run directly from Heathrow in the west into the City, connected to the channel tunnel link, and from Brighton via London Gatwick and east London to north London and beyond. Once these are in place, all five London airports--including Stansted, Luton and City airport--will have direct rail links into and through London, all connecting with the channel tunnel rail link. The plan will deliver a joined-up London--real integration for a world-class city.

There has been considerable speculation about a possible Railtrack takeover of the tube. That has never been part of our thinking. Unlike the Conservative party, we reject the approach based on selling off everything in sight quickly and then hoping for the best.

Railtrack has confirmed, and will announce, that it will not seek to pre-qualify for the two deep-tube public-private partnership competitions. Let me make it clear that throughout the negotiations we will impose rigorous conditions. Railtrack will have to improve on its previous record, especially on project management.

The vast majority of London Transport staff serve the public well, often suffering the same frustrations with an ageing infrastructure that passengers experience. I should like to place on record our appreciation for staff members' efforts, and to reassure them of two things. First, they will benefit more than most by having an upgraded system with a secure investment programme for years to come. Nothing could be worse for London Transport staff than to leave the underground to deteriorate further.

Secondly, I reiterate the assurances that I gave last year on employment rights, concessionary fares and pensions. People have welcomed the guarantees given to staffwho transfer to a London Underground infrastructure company, but they ask what will happen to those who

15 Jun 1999 : Column 157

transfer to a sub-contractor. I can confirm today that the concessionary travel and pension arrangements also apply to any current LU staff members who subsequently transfer to a sub-contractor, provided that they remain in tube work. We will take the necessary steps to ensure that.

London is withstanding severe competitive pressure. We are determined that it should remain the premier city in Europe as we enter the new millennium. Investing in a world-class transport system is a vital element of the plans. We are already expanding the public transport network. By the end of 1999, London will have four major additions to its transport network--a new riverbus service, the full Jubilee line extension, the Croydon tramlink and the docklands light railway extension. From next year, the mayor of London will be able to build a properly integrated transport strategy for London.

At the end of the previous century, the London underground was the world's first metropolitan railway. During this century, it expanded, enabling London to grow as a great capital city. Our aim, as we enter the21st century, is to ensure that London remains a global city with a world-class transport system.

The public-private partnership will bring £7 billion to modernise the tube. It will get away from stop-go investment and improve the quality of service for passengers. By exploring the imaginative London-link plan of through-running surface railways and sub-surface tube lines, London can look forward to a genuinely joined-up transport system. That is no less than Londoners deserve.

Next Section

IndexHome Page