Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)




  380. Is that something that could be dressed up without identifiable names.
  (Mr Hill) We will see what we can provide.

  Chairman: Mr Forsythe?

Mr Forsythe

  381. Why is the Government planning to reduce the contribution made by the utility companies towards the cost of diverting their services away from the route of a new light rail system?
  (Mr Hill) When you have to move the services, the water supply, the gas supply, the electricity, diversionary works, there is a sense of grievance on the part of the operators at the fact that we are reducing the contribution of the utilities towards the works from 18 per cent to 7.5 per cent?

  382. That is right.
  (Mr Hill) Why are we doing it? Inspiration has reached me and I can inform you that the argument is that the utilities derive an operational benefit from the existence of roads and bridges because these provide a convenient route for their apparatus. The 18 per cent contribution may be regarded as least in part as rent for this facility. The same consideration does not arise in the case of public transport.


  383. Say that again.
  (Mr Hill) Shall I do that again? I will tell you what—

  384. Perhaps you would like to put that in writing, Minister, it sounds every so slightly specious.
  (Mr Hill) That was a written answer so perhaps I can put it in plain English. I think the point is this: in the case of light rail projects the utilities do not have the same access essentially to the cabling and facilities under a road as they do when the road is built, so to that extent I think the argument is that there is a use, in other words, a rent value for the utility.

  385. You are more convinced about this than I am so you had better put it in writing.
  (Mr Hill) Let me invite the brains of the outfit to explain it to you.

  386. Mr Bird, we will leave that that to the miasma of information that you are going to give us in writing.
  (Mr Hill) I will be delighted to give it in writing.

  Chairman: We might be delighted to quote it with various comments. Mr Forsythe?

Mr Forsythe

  387. Would that not mean the promoters of those schemes would be put off having these systems if they have to pay extra themselves?
  (Mr Hill) I think one way or the other the extra costs are not met by the promoters but by other means, including the public purse. That is how it works out in the end.

  Chairman: We are interested in the theory; we may disagree with it. Mr Bennett?

Mr Bennett

  388. How much do you think the utilities' profits will go up as a result of it?
  (Mr Hill) Is that a rhetorical question?

  389. No, I will be happy to get the answer. But I think you perhaps were not aware how unpopular you will be in Greater Manchester as a result of one of your earlier answers. When the Prime Minister came to open the Metro that went into Salford he said the big bang scheme for Manchester has got through the next stage and I think you will have disappointed a lot of people in Manchester who expected it long before next autumn because I think all the Manchester scheme went into last year's plans, so could you give us a little bit more encouragement?
  (Mr Hill) Now I have learnt what the Prime Minister said I think I ought to give you a bit more encouragement. We are looking at this scheme very earnestly and what is more, in the light of what you have told me about the Prime Minister, very urgently as well!

  390. While we are on Manchester what about track sharing. The proposal for the extra ten lines in Manchester does not involve track sharing. I think there was some concern in Manchester that track sharing was difficult. You have approved the Newcastle Sunderland one with track sharing. What scope is there for more track sharing between light and heavy rail?
  (Mr Hill) That is a matter for a seriously expert opinion and I will ask Mr Bird to answer on that.


  391. Come along serious expert!
  (Mr Bird) Mr Bennett referred to the Sunderland scheme and that scheme is a scheme that does indeed involve sharing of track between heavy and light rail so the principle is now agreed and the Health and Safety Executive were happy with that in principle. Obviously they will need to be consulted as the scheme is actually implemented. I think as far as Manchester is concerned there is no problem in principle but obviously the details will have to be carefully considered.

  392. Are you satisfied that the Strategic Rail Authority and the Local Passenger Transport people are going to be able to co-operate effectively? There is a lot of concern from them that you are weighting it in the Bill in favour of the Strategic Rail Authority.
  (Mr Hill) I am glad you asked that question because it gives me the opportunity—

  393. It was not a plant!
  (Mr Hill) I am aware there is concern in PTAs about these moves. We have talked extensively to the PTAs and I think they have accepted that the Strategic Rail Authority as is proposed and envisaged in the Bill does have a clear stake with regard to both light rail schemes and indeed to rail services in PTA areas which contribute 20 per cent of passenger volume on the network as a whole. It would be extraordinary if the Strategic Rail Authority did not have a stake with, effectively, one-fifth of all rail activity in the country. As far as light rail schemes are concerned, again light rail schemes often, certainly in the case of Manchester, operate precisely on heavy rail lines and again it seems sensible that the Strategic Rail Authority should have a stake in any decision-making with regard to such schemes but, having said that, the role of the Strategic Rail Authority, remember, is to promote rail activity in the country and we see the role of the Strategic Rail Authority as a positive and proactive influence in the development of light rail schemes, both as a supporter of the promoters of those schemes but also as a potential source of funding for the schemes as well.

  394. But a lot of people in the North West will see a huge amount of discussion going on about London at the present time and problems of north-south, those sorts of issues. Is something going to be done about getting rid of some of those pinch points in the North West and South Humberside where with very short pieces of shared track it could dramatically improve commuter services?
  (Mr Hill) The Strategic Rail Authority will bring a strategic vision to the rail network which it has lacked in the aftermath of the Railways Act 1993. There is a general acceptance that there needs to be a more integrated approach, though not a heavy-handed approach, to these matters. Let me say of course that pinch points in the North West and elsewhere are certainly being looked at in the context of the current multi-modal studies which will precisely be examining the value of public transport, ie, rail alternatives to road on an equal basis. We expect to see the results of those in the course of the next year and in general terms we hope that out of the refranchising process, which we have obviously kicked off at this stage—and my recollection is that none of the companies so far identified are in the North West—will roll out proposals in due course. We certainly want to see innovative projects from the TOCs taking more of a stake in the infrastructure as well.


  395. Train Operating Companies.
  (Mr Hill) Sorry.

  396. Minister, I want to allow you to escape before very long but I do have some other questions to ask you. Does the Government see itself having a role in suggesting some degree of standardisation of equipment in light rail, especially vehicles, which would have some effect of economies of scale?
  (Mr Hill) Very briefly—we have looked at that and we find it very difficult to see in the midst of various manufacturers that it would be very easy to bring in that sort of standardisation.

  397. But it is not something you reject for all time?
  (Mr Hill) No, we keep it under review.

  398. Would the Government agree that it is difficult to compare the merits of light rail and guided bus, when we do not really have an example of a network based on guided bus?
  (Mr Hill) It is difficult to make those comparisons because the national and international experience of guided bus, as you know very well, is extremely limited and therefore to that extent developing a systematic comparison is not easy.

  399. Had you thought of going for some kind of demonstration project?
  (Mr Hill) Demonstration? In the sense of a model?

  Chairman: Ie, encouraging somebody to do a suitable scheme somewhere or yourselves doing some sort of research to show to people—

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