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Mr. Francois: I thank the Minister for his courtesy in giving way. May I say for the record that even though I
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am an Essex MP I have considerable sympathy with Kent commuters because they face many of the problems as my constituents do commuting in from Essex? But on infrastructure, the Minister may be aware that the East of England regional assembly voted for increased housing targets in November 2004 and then effectively abrogated that plan in December 2004, specifically because of a lack of transport infrastructure to accommodate house building on that scale. To be fair to the Minister, he has shown some awareness of the problem, but we cannot stress enough how important addressing this is going to be.

Mr. McNulty: To be honest, the assembly did not abrogate it; it simply looked again and did not go quite as far as it had earlier in terms of numbers. That is slightly different from a complete abrogation of what it passed in the first instance. But without getting too far off the point and the matters before us, there is a £200 million pot for the community infrastructure fund to take up smaller projects and schemes throughout the gateway and the other growth areas that we are progressing, and at the last count the currently committed spending just in the gateway in terms of transport infrastructure has been the best part of some £900 million—close to £1 billion; we have said time and again that of course the two must go together.

The point that I was going to end on in speaking about stations was that while I have sympathy with new clauses 5 and 6, for reasons that I shall explain I believe that both are unnecessary. But this point was raised at Second Reading and I do have some sympathy with it and am trying to pursue this more readily with Network Rail. It is not about its asset base; principally the land that it holds is operational rail land and not much more, and I shall return to that in detail. But there is an issue about what Network Rail can do in a proactive fashion around assorted termini to improve, and maybe enhance, passenger flow and so on by working far more readily than it has done thus far with the private sector, with the development industry, not only across the obvious London termini where there is clearly a commercial attraction but in other towns and cities too, and on a smaller level, to capture some sort of development gain. Network Rail has not been very good at that; I have told a constituent of the hon. Member for Rayleigh that to his face, so I am not talking out of turn. There is much more that can be done to turn our key termini far more readily into the transport interchanges and flourishing commercial ventures that they could be, perhaps far more so than they are now. I am exploring that and trying to move on with Network rail in that regard.

If I may, I shall "return to the clauses" but I am not sure that I had got to them yet. New clause 5 calls upon the Secretary of State to publish an annual assessment of the performance and efficiency of Network Rail in the form of a "rail efficiency report", with what the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire suggested about EU comparative data. The independent Office of Rail Regulation already carries out such an annual assessment, in the form of—I fully accept that it does not trip off the tongue as lightly as "rail efficiency report"—its annual statement on Network Rail's stewardship of the national rail network. It is a different label but it does capture, I would suggest, what the right
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hon. Gentleman is after. Its first such report covered primarily the year April 2003 to March 2004 and was published in November 2004. A rail efficiency report, I would contend, would therefore create unnecessary duplication.

3.15 pm

The key function of the ORR is to monitor the performance and cost-effectiveness of Network Rail. The "Statement on Network Rail's Stewardship of the National Rail Network 2003–04" is an evaluation of the extent to which Network Rail met the stewardship requirements of its network licence, regulatory targets, and those targets identified in the business plan for April 2003 to March 2004. It covers all aspects of Network Rail's stewardship—expenditure, maintenance, renewal, enhancement, asset knowledge, operations, performance and monitoring. It consolidates the analysis carried out during the year by the regulator and allows Network Rail's customers, funders, members, users and other stakeholders to see how efficiently Network Rail is managing this important national asset. The Secretary of State will publish the ORR's second annual statement in autumn 2005.

I fully understand that in some ways that does not quite capture the reasons for the overruns and the reasons for the lack of efficiency, but they will be and are captured in other ways. As Minister with responsibility for rail, I have a meeting once a month with all the parties concerned, including Network Rail, just on performance of the various aspects of the rail industry, when those matters are explored further, but I do think this document does largely capture what the right hon. Gentleman rightly suggests should be in such an efficiency report. It sets out the regulatory calendar for the scrutiny of Network Rail's business plan and delivery against it. It includes an annual return, regulatory accounts and a quarterly statement, and the statement is presented as a balanced scorecard of high-level indicators that measure the extent to which Network Rail is achieving improvements and targets in a number of key areas of performance: safety, train performance, asset performance, activity volumes, finance, customer satisfaction and supplier satisfaction.

The views of consultees are sought on whether these indicators are the right ones, whether they need to be expanded to reflect Network Rail's broader responsibilities following the rail review, and the frequency with which they should be published. We are consulting on that now as we speak. Data comparing Network Rail's performance with that of rail companies operating partly or wholly within the European Union are currently not available. Whilst the European Commission would like to enhance benchmarking data, there is no prospect of any meaningful data becoming available for the foreseeable future, but I do take the right hon. Gentleman's point and we shall continue to look to the ORR, in carrying out its periodic reviews, to conduct research looking at benchmarking performance with other selected comparators that are appropriate comparators with other EU countries, to inform its assessment of Network Rail's performance and efficient gains. I understand that this was the approach taken in the last periodic review.
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I think that overall, given especially the shift of emphasis in terms of ORR and what it can do should the Bill receive Royal Assent, that would be a more effective approach than simply having an efficiency report by the Secretary of State. I would say too that many of the things we are doing outside the Bill would lend themselves more readily to trying to capture that performance assessment at the local level. We are requiring Network Rail to work much more closely with train operating companies on a franchise-by-franchise, region-by-region basis. Invariably, that is through a key integrated control centre, where Network Rail, the train operating company, and the rolling stock company if necessary, all sit side by side to manage that part of the network more efficiently.

When the centres are up and running more readily—I think that the next to go on stream will be the East Anglian one based at Liverpool Street—proper communication and information flow will give us more realistic reasons why overruns occur. The hon. Member for Rayleigh and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire suggested that all such information is available and I would not demur from that.

Although I understand the impetus behind new clause 6, which would provide for a triennial register of Network Rail's land and property assets that were redundant or had not been used for eighteen months, I am not sure that I would go along with it. Perhaps it would be helpful if I explained the background to the management and disposal of railway land. At the time of privatisation, the ownership of operational railway land was transferred to Railtrack, and subsequently Network Rail. The British Railways Board retained the non-operational land and buildings. That estate was transferred to BRB (Residuary) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Strategic Rail Authority, upon the SRA's establishment in 2001.

As part of the periodic review process, Network Rail is encouraged to maximise its income from all sources, including the redevelopment of its land and property, by      exploiting appropriate disposal opportunities. However, a balance is needed to ensure that future rail development opportunities are not sacrificed for short-term financial gain through disposals. As everyone knows, Network Rail is regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation, and it must seek the ORR's consent before making arrangements for land disposal.

I do not know about the specific piece of two-track line in Leicestershire that used to be the four-track line to which the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire referred. If there is any possible reason why that might be four-tracked again in the future, I would rather that is was left as it is and protected than for anything else to happen to it. That does not mean that something is imminent for that specific stretch. I am simply saying that it is sometimes appropriate for land to be held for more than 18 months—the time cited in new clause 6—pending future development.

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