Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (500-519)

18 JUNE 2003  


  Q500  Mr Stevenson: So the answer is yes.

  Mr Burr: It depends how long it stays on the shelf.

  Q501  Mr Stevenson: I shall come to how long it is going to stay on the shelf, but the answer to my question, has it been shelved, is that it is on the shelf.

  Mr Burr: It is not under active consideration at the moment.

  Q502  Mr Stevenson: It is on the shelf. It has been shelved.

  Mr Burr: But not necessarily permanently.

  Q503  Mr Stevenson: Thank you for that. That is fine. So this important, nay some would say pretty vital, piece of infrastructure development to take what the customers of Felixstowe need and that is nine-foot six-inch boxes, unless you are going to reduce the train capacity by one third, and all the rest of it which would be necessary, which increases congestion on the line of course, has been shelved by the SRA.

  Mr Burr: That is not actually true.

  Q504  Mr Stevenson: You have just said it.

  Mr Burr: It depends whether you regard that as the only way of getting those high boxes out of Felixstowe. The plan, which is being implemented more quickly than that upgrade could have been implemented, will allow these high boxes out of Felixstowe onto the West Coast Main Line in the way that the boxes go now. There is an alternative way through Nuneaton which is not at the moment open for those boxes.

  Q505  Mr Stevenson: It has been shelved, but there may be an alternative.

  Mr Burr: There is an alternative.

  Q506  Mr Stevenson: It has been shelved.

  Mr Reeves: It depends on the way in which the traffic develops. If the demand for carriage of nine-foot six-inch containers grows, as it may well do, then the SRA will need to look at that option again in the context of their overall priorities.

  Chairman: We have got the message.

  Q507  Mr Stevenson: As we understand it, as best we can read the situation, the SRA, with the exception of the West Coast Main Line upgrade, has effectively said that there is no money to go forward with planned infrastructure investment for the foreseeable future. If that is correct, if that is basically what the SRA said, my question is: has the £4 billion which was earmarked in the ten-year transport plan for freight improvement been utilised to meet the shortfall in network rail maintenance costs?

  Mr Jamieson: It is no secret to anybody that it is the case that the pressure on the costings of the rail system has been enormous and the cost of the West Coast Main Line has been huge, but the investment is probably the biggest we have made in 100 years. Once it is complete, we will see a lot of very, very welcome improvements that we all want. What it would be our ambition to achieve and what it would be the SRA's ambition to achieve has to be curtailed within the funding they have.

  Q508  Mr Stevenson: Has the £4 billion which was identified in the ten-year transport plan for freight been moved elsewhere to cater for the increased costs you referred to, which we all know about?

  Mr Jamieson: There has been a reallocation of funds because of the huge overrun on the West Coast Main Line.

  Q509  Mr Stevenson: Has the £4 billion been moved across?

  Mr Jamieson: There will still be money to take forward freight proposals. The SRA have assured me that they will continue having dialogue with all ports, Felixstowe included, about their future needs, including in fact even today when we were discussing Dibden's future needs, the port site Felixstowe would have, and they will then have to look at that time at their own priorities in terms of funding to see whether they could fund some of the wishes of the ports.

  Q510  Mr Stevenson: So if the £4 billion has been moved across, and the suspicion is that it has, to meet the shortfall elsewhere, to which you referred and we all understand, then the SRA will be looking to increase its funds if it is going to replace, either in whole or in part, £4 billion which was identified in the transport plan.

  Mr Jamieson: They will have to look at the whole of their funding to see how they are going to spend it in future years. They will come back to government and put their plans before government and we will have to make a decision. Some of those decisions will be made at a higher pay scale than mine, but decisions will have to be made about future funding, depending on the demands.

  Q511  Mr Stevenson: Can I ask a question again relating back to access? As we understand it, the SRA has not made any commitment to W10 standard provision from Southampton.

  Mr Burr: Yes, the SRA have explained that as far as projects like Dibden Bay are concerned, especially given the financial position and pressure that the minister has referred to, it would be premature for them to start improving railway lines before the department has decided which port projects are going to be approved. If the port project is approved, it will not be operating at full capacity on the following day or in the following year; it will take time to build and trade will take time to build. The promoters of the Dibden Bay project propose to build it in phases and there is a project in progress to enable those boxes to get out of the port of Southampton.

  Q512  Mr Stevenson: Are you concerned about the suspension by the SRA of the freight facilities grant?

  Mr Jamieson: Yes, I have to say I am. If there had not been the pressures in other parts of the budget, we would have liked to have seen that continue. I have to say that £40 million will still be spent in this financial year on previous commitments and £40 million next year on those commitments, so it has not actually stopped. What has happened is that they are not able to look at any new projects in the current year because of the pressures on the budget.

  Q513  Mr Stevenson: In the current year.

  Mr Jamieson: Yes, in the current year.

  Q514  Mr Stevenson: They anticipate then that there is likely to be some movement towards restoring the freight facilities grant next year.

  Mr Jamieson: I certainly hope so. As you know, one of the key elements of our policy is moving particularly freight from road onto rail. If we can give assistance through the track access grants or the freight facilities grants, then obviously we would be very anxious to do that. Once we are out of some of the huge costs that we have had on the West Coast Main Line—and this project will be finished in the next year or so—it will then give us an opportunity to look at some of the other grant aid which we can give.

  Q515  Mr Stevenson: Are you still committed as a government to your 80% increase in freight in the ten-year plan?

  Mr Jamieson: That would certainly be an ambition.

  Q516  Mr Stevenson: Are you still committed to it?

  Mr Jamieson: It is an ambition, we have, yes.

  Q517  Mr Stevenson: It is an ambition, not a commitment.

  Mr Jamieson: It is an ambition we have to increase freight by that amount, yes.

  Q518  Mr Donohoe: You are the UK Ports Minister.

  Mr Jamieson: I feel a Scottish question coming on here.

  Mr Burr: May I explain that ports is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although marine safety is a reserved matter.

  Q519  Mr Donohoe: What liaison discussion have you had with your counterpart north of the border?

  Mr Jamieson: I have had no direct recent discussions with my counterpart north of the border.

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