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

Memorandum by Merseytravel (RT 25)


  1.1  Merseytravel is the operating name of the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority and Executive. Merseytravel is responsible for securing the provision of a range of transport services which are not being provided by the commercial market. These include:

    —  socially necessary bus services to treat transport requirements which are judged to be necessary by the Authority and which are not provided for commercially under the Transport Act 1985;

    —  a network of local rail services provided by franchises under the Railways Act 1993;

    —  passenger information services;

    —  infrastructure for bus services (stops, shelters, bus stations);

    —  public transport services for the mobility impaired;

    —  concessionary travel facilities for the elderly, mobility impaired and young persons;

    —  investment in the provision, development and expansion of the public transport infrastructure;

    —  provision of a comprehensive family of pre-paid tickets;

    —  the Mersey Ferry service; and

    —  operation of the two Mersey Tunnels.

  1.2  Merseytravel is a member of the Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG). PTEG is making its own submission to the Select Committee, based on the combined experience of the six PTE areas in England, the PTE in Scotland and London.

  1.3  In a number of respects Merseyside is not typical of the PTE areas, and conclusions drawn from elsewhere are not always fully applicable to the area.

  1.4  Last year, Merseytravel submitted an application under the Transport and Works Act (TWA) for powers to construct and operate Line 1 of the proposed Merseyside Rapid Transit System (MRT). Following a public inquiry the Inspector recommended that the scheme should not proceed. The Inspector's report, and the Secretary of State's decision letter endorsing the inspector's recommendation, gave a number of reasons for that decision. Some of the reasons related to local circumstances in Merseyside and along the MRT route. Others were of a wider nature, and could have significant repercussions for rapid transit systems elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

  1.5  This document draws on Merseytravel's experience of developing and promoting the MRT rapid transit system. It outlines the particular economic and transport circumstances of Merseyside, discusses the assessment of the public transport needs of the Merseyside conurbation, the development of the Merseyside Rapid Transit proposals to best meet those needs, and comments on the statutory and other processes, including funding issues, that need to be followed in order to implement rapid transit schemes. Conclusions and recommendations are given, with particular reference to aspects which would assist in the growth of rapid transit systems throughout the United Kingdom.


  2.1  Between the period 1961 to 1991, the population of Merseyside experienced a decline from 1.72 to 1.45 million; a fall of 15.8 per cent in 30 years. The most pronounced decline has been within the Liverpool district where the population has fallen by over 250,000 (35 per cent) over the same period.

  2.2  Liverpool was once the UK's largest port, however the region has experienced endemic economic problems since the end of the second world war, when the decline of the port and associated industries deprived the area of one of the UK main generators of economic wealth and activity. In other parts of Merseyside there has also been a steady decline in traditional local sources of employment.

  2.3  The scale of the problems faced are reflected in unemployment and other economic statistics. For the last 20 years, Merseyside, and in particular Liverpool, has consistently had one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country. Furthermore, there has been a trend away from full-time employment towards part-time employment, with many of the newly created jobs being in telephone based call-services centres.

  2.4  Between 1989 and 1993 Merseyside received 165 million ECU from the European Union (EU) through objective two funding; however during this period, the economy of Merseyside continued to decline. The seriousness of the situation was highlighted in 1993 when Merseyside was designated an Objective One region by the EU—to qualify for this status, a region must have a GDP per head of population that is 75 per cent or less of the EU average of a three year period.

  2.5  The initial Objective One period ran from 1994 to 1999, Merseyside has recently had its status reaffirmed for a further five years as it remains to revive its economic performance.

  2.6  Within Merseyside, there exists sharp disparities; in the worst affected areas jobless rates are in excess of 40 per cent and there are very high instances of long-term youth and adult male unemployment. Such areas have been designated "pathways" areas, and are subject to particular attention by the Objective One programme. This initiative is held in particularly high regard by the EU.

  2.7  The economy problems experienced in the region have resulted in a low level of car ownership. There is, therefore, a greater reliance on the public transport system than in other regions. Together with the decline in population, this means that traffic congestion is not widespread but instead occurs on a localised and time-specific basis. However, it is the opinion of Merseytravel and it's partners, that unless a high quality public transport alternative is provided, and road space reallocated in its favour, then an increase in private car use would not be discouraged.

  2.8  Private sector demand for redevelopment of older sites had been low, with resultant large areas of derelict industrial land; estimates put this at 1,700 hectares, which is 10 times the national average. However, as a result of recent initiatives such as Lord Roger's Urban Renaissance and the resulting Liverpool Vision Pilot Company, public and private partnerships are aiming to encourage economic growth. Such growth creates an increasing demand for jobs through sustainable developments and positive investment; the aim is to encourage those additional journeys to be undertaken on the public transport network.

  2.9  Liverpool is a prominent tourist location with over 5 million visitors per annum to the Waterfront alone. Together with the various new tourist initiatives, again, additional transport demands should be provided by the public transport system.

  2.10  Merseyside is fortunate to have an extensive local rail network, a vital part of which is the underground "loop" linking four major stations with all the key city centre destinations. Whilst a large scale programme of improvements and investments are taking place on the network, sections of the conurbation are not served by this fixed, fast network.


  3.1  In 1992, the key partners developed, in conjunction with specialist consultants, a Merseyside Integrated Transport Study (MERITS). The key findings and objectives of which were reaffirmed by an independent consultant in 1999. These then formed the basis of subsequent package bids, and the recent Provisional Local Transport Plan:

    —  to reverse the decline of bus use on Merseyside;

    —  to provide attractive efficient transport for all sections of the community;

    —  to provide access to jobs, employment and training;

    —  to promote economic regeneration.

  3.2  These objectives readily complement those of the recent White Paper on Integrated Transport:

    —  environment;

    —  safety;

    —  economy;

    —  accessibility;

    —  integration;

    and which have been adapted to Merseyside to include:

    —  regeneration;

    —  social inclusion.

4.  MRT

  4.1  Following the development of the MERITS strategy, a number of studies were carried out to identify the best options for improving public transport in non-rail served corridors. It was concluded that bus priority measures, although low in cost, would give relatively low benefits. Light rail based options gave much higher benefits, at correspondingly higher cost, but would not meet the financial and economic objectives. Intermediate modes were found to give the best overall return. The optimum corridor was an east-west route running from the waterfront (Albert Dock—tourist/office/residential) via the city centre, Universities, Wavertree Technology Park to Old Swan then along the A57 to Page Moss, with a possible extension to Prescot.

  4.2  The Merseyside Rapid Transit (MRT) proposal was for an intermediate modern system designed to LRT standards (the "tram down" category described in the Annex to this evidence). The system was to be segregated from general traffic for some 70 per cent of the route length, although parts of this were to be shared with limited classes of other traffic. The route was to be guided throughout, although the use of an electronic guidance system meant that there was no resulting interference with other road users or pedestrians. The system was to be electrically powered throughout from overhead lines. High quality stops were proposed with level boarding. The MRT vehicle, although based on a standard articulated bus chassis, was to have a distinctive shape and livery, and be provided with multiple entry and exit doors. Tickets would be obtained from ticket machines located on platforms, with roving revenue protection teams for enforcement. The driver would not be involved in issuing or checking tickets. These features all helped to minimise dwell time at stops. The stop spacing would be greater than for conventional bus stops which, together with the segregation and priority measures at junctions, would give faster inter-stop journey times.

  4.3  In Liverpool City Centre MRT was routed along the principal pedestrianised shopping street, in order to best serve the retail quarter, as well as providing good access to parts of the business district and interchange with the two city centre bus stations and the city centre underground rail lines. City centre accessibility was to be further improved with the planned second and third lines of MRT.

  4.4  Collectively these measures would replicate many of the features of successful light rail systems, but with a significantly lower cost.

  4.5  The preferred scheme appeared to meet the requirements for ERDF funding under the Objective 1 programme and the UK Section 56 funding. Fifteen million pounds of Objective 1 funding was provisionally allocated to the project.

  4.6  Following a review of procurement strategies adopted elsewhere, and discussions with the Department of Transport, it was decided to involve the private sector at an early stage in the process, to gain their input into the detailed development of the proposals. In spring 1996 the project was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Communities and tenders invited. Tenderers were provided with outline drawings of schemes using kerb guided bus, guided light transit (GLT) (a proprietary intermediate mode utilising a single centre rail laid flush with the road surface to provide guidance), and conventional light rail, and invited to submit proposals for at least two of these technologies.

  4.7  It was clear from the submissions received that the tenderers also believed that intermediate modes were the best option. Following an evaluation, the Transform Group was selected as Merseytravel's private sector partner. Transform (consisting of Cegelec, providers of wire-guidance technology and Arriva North West, one of Merseyside's bus operators) proposed the use of articulated buses, dual diesel and electrically powered (from overhead lines) and guided by means of an electronic guidance system , in which a small computer in each vehicle controls the vehicle steering system to follow a pair of wires laid in the road surface. This system was already in operation in the service tunnel of the Channel Tunnel, and had been successfully demonstrated on a bus in trials carried out in Newcastle. In other respects the Transform proposals broadly followed the GLT option provided in the tender invitation.

  4.8  The MRT proposals were developed through 1997 to optimise the alignment, to improve operational performance, reduce property acquisition and to develop detailed scheme costs, patronage and revenue forecasts and the financial and economic case for the scheme, from both the public and private sector perspectives.

  4.9  A public consultation exercise was carried out in October and November 1997, and this showed strong support for the proposals.

  4.10  Changes made to the proposals during 1997 included the following:

    —  The addition of a park and ride site on vacant land close to the end of the M62 motorway. This was to be connected to the main MRT route by a branch utilising a disused railway alignment. Although this corridor has been converted to a footpath/cycleway it was possible to develop proposals which retained this facility to the satisfaction of Sustrans;

    —  The depot, originally remote from the route, adjacent to an existing bus depot and accessed using the diesel power capability of the duobuses, was relocated to a disused site alongside the main route. Although designated for retail use the site had been unoccupied for a number of years. The existing building on the site was in poor condition, but was found to be suitable for conversion to the main workshop/office/control room building for the MRT system;

    —  The extension to Prescot was developed in some detail as a non-electrified section of the route. This section was subsequently dropped and a decision made to electrify the whole route including the park and ride branch, and to utilise electric-only powered vehicles.

  4.11  Throughout this period close contact was maintained between Merseytravel, DETR and the Government Office for Merseyside/the NorthWest. Government support for the project was strong, as shown subsequently by the unprecedented overt support of the award of £1.5 million of Supplementary Credit Approval (through the Merseyside Package Bid 1999-2000) for the project in December 1998, conditional upon the outcome of the TWA process.

  4.12  Following the rejection of the MRT proposals by the public inquiry inspector and the Secretary of State, Merseytravel is carrying out a review of the MRT project. This review will look both at the routes to be served and the choice of technology/mode. Whilst it is too early to predict the outcome of this review, it is likely that intermediate mode solutions will rank highly in the options considered, albeit with some changes to address specific concerns raised in response to the previous proposals.


  5.1  The TWA Order application and associated documentation were submitted to DETR on 7 April 1998. One hundred and forty-eight objections were received to the scheme and a public inquiry announced.

  5.2  The public inquiry was held at John Moores University, Liverpool, from 18 November to 11 December 1998, before the inspector Mr Ronald Holley. Evidence was given by Merseytravel and several objectors. A number of objections were resolved outside the inquiry itself, while other issues were formally set out before the inspector. It was Merseytravel's view that by the end of the inquiry the majority of issues raised by objectors had been satisfactorily resolved. In the case of a few issues the alternative views were quite finely balanced, but in no case did any issue appear to have been concluded wholly or mainly in favour of an objector. It was therefore with some considerable surprise and disappointment that Merseytravel viewed the Inspector's report and recommendations, which were endorsed by the Secretary of State.

  5.3  The principal issues raised in the inspector's report and the decision letter, and which could have implications not only for MRT but for other rapid transit projects are discussed below.

    —  No recognition appears to have been given as to the practicality of integrating the MRT project with the UDPs, given their respective timescales. Merseytravel require clarification on the relationship between a proposal such as MRT, UDPs, Package Bids and their replacement, Local Transport Plans.

    —  No account appeared to have been taken of the statutory statements of views provided by both local authorities in Merseyside as part of the TWA process.

    —  Merseytravel were criticised for the "late" introduction of the P&R site within the scheme. Clarification is required on the matter of the timing of private sector involvement, as Merseytravel had been led to believe that all contributions—financial and non-financial—were valuable and welcomed. Furthermore, the Inspector commented that "the proposal originated with Transform and not a local authority". There is a need for clarification of the relative benefits of involving private sector partners and their contribution to such schemes.

    —  The relative roles and remit of the Inspector and other government agencies requires confirmation. The Inspector took decisions on matters such as safety and environment, which Merseytravel had understood to be the responsibility of HMRI and English Heritage—neither of whom objected or expressed concern.

    —  The Inspector commented, which was subsequently endorsed by the Secretary of State, that the use of the former railway line required the provision of exchange land. Merseytravel is concerned that this statement differs from its understanding as to the covenants agreed upon the grant to Sustrans by the British Railways Board of rights over disused railway land, obliging Sustrans to make provision for railway reinstatement projects.

    —  The Inspector criticised the full and restricted cost benefit analysis on the basis that "what does not appear in the financial calculations is any debit for the loss of business to existing bus services, and possibly jobs as well". Merseytravel understands that the transfer of cash revenue from one operator to another is a transfer payment and therefore is not an issue for an economic assessment.

    —  The Inspector commented that he was concerned about the adoption of an untried guidance system in relation to passenger transport. It was explained that these issues were the subject of discussions with HMRI and the DETR Vehicle Inspectorate. Merseytravel requires clarification on the merits of pursuing, an innovative, cost effective means of meeting objectives, as encouraged by the Government.


  6.1  The MRT proposal was at an estimated capital cost of £52 million; with contributions from the private sector, EU and Section 56 grants. As a result of the TWA decision, £10 million of private investment and £15 million EU monies have been lost to Liverpool.

  6.2  The full cost benefit appraisal showed MRT would have had a surplus of benefits over costs of £162.07 million PV and a benefit to cost ratio of 2.9:1 which represents a robust economic case for a scheme of that type.


  7.1  On the basis of Merseytravel's experience with the MRT project, and in view of the other rapid transit proposals being pursued in the UK, the following conclusions and recommendations are drawn.

  That the Sub-Committee should consider:

  (a)  The respective roles of promoters, local authorities DETR/Government offices and the private sector at the various stages of a rapid transit project's evolution.

    —  project development, design, and consultation;

    —  application for powers;

    —  procurement and funding.

  (b)  The development of MRT took seven years and cost over £5 million. During this period changes to government, policy advice (package Bids/LTPs/White Paper) and funding (private sector involvement, PFI, etc) was the cause of much additional work for the promoter. There is a clear need for this process to be examined.

  (c)  The Transport and Works Order procedure is considered to be time consuming and expensive. The experience with MRT suggests the need for a closer dialogue between the promoter and DETR (policy issues, Government Office role, TWA Unit etc.) and a more closely defined scope for the inquiry Process. In the case of MRT it is Merseytravel's view that the Statement of Matters specified by the Secretary of State were exceeded by the Inspector.

  (d)  The views expressed by Inspectors at the various TWA inquiries does not appear to be consistent. Given the cost of promoting TWA applications this may be an area for attention.

  (e)  In the case of MRT, the promoter followed best guidance at the time regarding the need for private sector involvement. Again, this process was expensive and time consuming, but it resulted in a commitment to a contribution of £10 million towards the project costs (approximately 20 per cent). Each rapid transit project that has promoted has featured a different technology/funding mix. The scope for standardising these elements needs to be considered.

  (f)  The MRT project sought funding from three sources—the private sector, UK Government and the EU. Each source is based on different criteria—commercial objectives, restricted non-user benefits and wider full social cost: benefit/regeneration objectives respectively.These often conflicting requirements should be examined in the context of the government's current agenda which advocates integration between transport; environment, regeneration, social inclusion and health. In particular, the narrow Section 56 grant criteria should be updated to fit with the emerging NATA methodology/approach.

  (g)  In the case of Merseyside there is a clear focus on regeneration (Objective 1) with a strong emphasis on Liverpool City Centre (Liverpool Vision). This envisages a way forward that includes city centre living, improved (regional) retail facilities and a greater focus on cultural, tourist and leisure uses. The role that rapid transit can play in providing high quality and sustainable accessibility to a "civilised city" needs to be examined and incorporated within the wider (NATA-based) approach to scheme evaluation in the future.

  7.2  A number of issues arise from MRT which have implications for the wider implementation of rapid transit systems. For some issues, a clarification of existing Government policy is required. Other aspects may need addressing on a wider basis.

  Issues requiring clarification are:

    —  The relationships between Unitary Development Plans, revised on a ten yearly basis, and Local Transport Plans which will have a five year horizon.

    —  Policy in relation to the re-use of former rail corridors as transport corridors, particularly where formal or informal public access and/or recreational uses have arisen since the railway was closed.

  Issues which require wider consideration include:

    —  When to involve the private sector. The private sector is unlikely to take the risks of the TWA process. If they are involved at this stage it is necessary for the public sector to underwrite some of their costs. This may conflict with `value for money' requirements. If the private sector involvement arises at a later stage, the opportunity for them to shape the project to optimise the funding case is lost.

    —  Changes to schemes introduced by the private sector. Significant changes introduced by the private sector will arise relatively late in a project's development, and may therefore not be consistent with local planning policies, or the scheme as put to public consultation. The way in which such changes are handled should be addressed.

    —  The TWA process is lengthy and costly for promoters of rapid transit projects. Whilst it is entirely appropriate that such schemes should be subject to public scrutiny, the timing, and extent of the process could usefully be reviewed. The terms of reference of the public inquiry process could be reviewed, so that it is clear to promoters, objectors and inspectors which matters are properly within the scope of the inquiry and which are not.

    —  A scheme which is promoted by a public authority will have been subject to public scrutiny and democratic control on a number of occasions before a TWA application is submitted. This position is quite different from a scheme promoted by a private body, for which a TWA application could be submitted with very little prior public or local authority involvement. Consideration should be given to modifying the TWA process so that an approval in principle can be granted to schemes which already have public and local authority backing, before the higher costs of the public inquiry process are incurred.

October 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 8 June 2000