Previous Section Index Home Page

The third and perhaps most important major component is the extent to which inward investment in projects such as HS1 benefit existing communities as much as new ones. In my constituency and in that of the hon. Member for Gravesham, there is huge inward investment, and plans to build up to 30,000 new homes and provide up to 20,000 or 30,000 new jobs, as well as massive improvement of derelict infrastructure, which sorely needs regeneration. However, can we benefit existing communities to the same extent as we benefit new communities? The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian
20 Nov 2007 : Column 1152
Green) made the important point that, in many instances, people who live along the route of new lines do not benefit at all. They take the mess, noise, inconvenience and disruption to their lives and get little in return. It is vital to avoid that when we build such new projects. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that we had five, six or seven years of uncertainty about the route—whether it would be A, B, C or D, which homes would be blighted, bought or knocked down and which people would be moved. It was a nightmare for many years until the route was fixed. We must find a better way to tackle those planning issues to ensure that, once such a project is agreed, the minimum disruption is caused for the minimum time and affects as few people as possible.

The problem with many projects is that those who face the most disruption experience the least benefit. Unfortunately, that is largely true in my constituency. Despite the enormous investment, improvements and opportunities for people, many of the existing, settled communities do not feel the benefit of the regeneration projects. They still live in overcrowded areas, face the extra noise, traffic and pollution that the new projects generate and do not yet experience the good. If we are to produce more new projects in future, it is essential that existing communities in the areas that we regenerate perceive from day one what is in it for them. What new jobs will they get? What improvements will be made to their housing infrastructure? How will their schools and hospitals be rebuilt and regenerated? How will their shopping centres be upgraded? That must be clear from the beginning.

The rail link is a major part of the Thames Gateway project, which has had a mixed press over the years. Indeed, recent reports have stated that perhaps we have not maximised the benefit or achieved the genuine vision that we should have realised. If we are to get people on side and to understand exactly what can be achieved, we must ensure that they benefit before rather than after the new communities.

The way to do that is, first, to iron out some of the planning issues, to ensure that regeneration projects are swift and effective, that local people are involved in planning and that there is the minimum disruption for the minimum time. However, we also have to ensure some early wins, so that people already living in the communities affected get some quick benefits, before we start to introduce the big changes. Obvious examples of that include the fast-track bus system, whereby communities are linked to town centres and new developments. We must ensure that investment in our town centres is made before the extra building and development, so that people can see improvements in their towns first. It is a question of direction of travel and of ensuring that we build the infrastructure that benefits people’s lives before we build the other parts. If we can get those things right and in the right order—Ebbsfleet and north Kent are good examples of where we can do just that—and thereby ensure that local people benefit from new investment from the off, we will bring huge benefits to the country.

I finish by paying tribute to the work that the Government have done to ensure the delivery of the project. It has worked, and there is a fantastic future for High Speed 1. I think that there will be High Speeds 2, 3, 4, 5 and who knows how many more. Local
20 Nov 2007 : Column 1153
communities can be shown how they can benefit, but we must ensure that we get those important issues right before we, to make a pun, railroad ahead with future expansion.

6.41 pm

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): Like the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), may I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not being present during the opening speeches?

I should like to seize this opportunity to make a brief point to the Minister about the exponential growth of traffic on the railways. I welcome that and agree with all the remarks that have been made about this coming to be the age of the train. That has been forecast for many years and in future years it may well be true. However, in referring to that growth of traffic, I should like to bring home to the Minister the need to strike a balance between the exciting new high-speed projects of the kind that we are rightly celebrating and the more mundane expansion of existing facilities.

In my constituency, which is an area of heavy commuting into central London, there is an issue concerning the Thameslink scheme. I understand that it will now be completed in two stages, with Borough market junction being completed before the Blackfriars bridge part and the rest of the scheme. I urge the Minister to recognise that the two schemes go together. It is not enough to complete the Borough market bit, which will only add a certain amount of capacity. The whole Thameslink scheme must be completed as one item. I want the Minister to consider that, because commuters in London occasionally feel neglected, next to the exciting high-speed schemes that we all welcome. I would not like the Minister to forget them in the next few years.

6.42 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): As we complete this debate some three hours early, it is worth reflecting on how transport business is again finishing early, with the Government still telling us that they have not found the time anywhere to fit in the harbours Bill, which they allegedly support. Should the harbour revision orders, on which we are supporting the Government, run into trouble, they will have themselves to blame for not introducing that necessary modernisation.

I am aware of a certain sense of irony today. One of the most vivid experiences of my parliamentary career was leading a little gang of just 16 MPs with my colleague David Shaw, the then Member for Dover, in a rebellion against the final stages of the then Channel Tunnel Bill. As the right hon. Lady was then the leader of the Conservative party, it was quite an experience. Nevertheless, Eurotunnel was big enough to invite me to the opening. It would be impossible not to be impressed by the sheer scale of the engineering, even if the delays and cost overruns were well in excess of what David Shaw and I predicted in our letter to the Financial Times, which caused a certain flutter and started the argument.

Unlike then, today I join the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) in congratulating LCR on getting the high-speed link in on time and pretty much to budget, which is a remarkable
20 Nov 2007 : Column 1154
achievement. The link will provide a faster service to the continent and for those who have taken part in this debate who want the railways to prosper—that is, everyone who has taken part—it is a heartening sight. I also welcome the opportunities for my county, and the prospect of trains taking one hour from Canterbury West is extremely attractive. However, I shall return to the concerns that I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) about the situation there.

My concern 20 years ago was that the channel tunnel would not prove to be commercially viable and would have to rely on a large amount of public subsidy. Ironically, that point is borne out by clause 1, which confirms the Secretary of State’s right to fund the channel tunnel rail link and its trains, which is something against which we are not arguing against now. The aim of clause 1, as the Minister made clear, is to maximise the value of the asset. In that respect it is a sensible tidying-up measure.

The fact that the port of Dover has, against a number of predictions made at the time, done so well and continues to prosper is a tribute to the management there. The fact that we still have a successful Dover and many low-cost airlines has put the rail link to France and Belgium under pressure. Although numbers have recovered from the low point of just over 6 million to a little under 8 million last year, it should be remembered that the Government’s 1998 projections were for 9 million passengers under the downside case and for 8 million under the low case, just above the current level.

That said, when Richard Brown took the trouble to come and put the case for Eurotunnel in my constituency it was rather sad that, in giving the rather gloomy tale that forms the background to my hon. Friend’s concerns, he emphasised the poor passenger numbers as a reason why—surprise, surprise, now that Ebbsfleet had been built—services from Ashford to Brussels had been entirely wound up and redirected to Paris. That was especially sad, because other parts of the industry sufficiently affected by low-cost airlines—the premium airlines, for instance—are reputedly looking into rail. Guillaume Pépy, the head of France’s SNCF has hinted that Air France is considering launching arrivals through the channel tunnel once Eurostar is opened up to competition in 2010. Indeed, Air France has already started a parallel process, with a shift from air to rail in its link from Paris to Brussels. My hon. Friend made the point strongly that his constituents and mine, as well as people throughout east Kent, are deeply concerned about the loss of services from Ashford. I have considerable sympathy for the points that he made. However, Eurostar must ask itself how others, including airlines, are seeing a commercial opportunity there while it is cutting back.

The Secretary of State’s power to grant subsidies is significantly reinforced by clause 1. With all the tales of woe that we have heard, I should like to echo the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon put about whether train operating companies are included in the measure and whether the Minister envisages it involving any extra public funding. I ask that because—I see that the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) has just resumed his place—no money resolution has been tabled with the Bill and a number of the items raised in the debate, if not the contents of the Bill themselves, involve spending extra money.

20 Nov 2007 : Column 1155

Issues surrounding the interchange at Stratford closely parallel those around the use of Ebbsfleet and, more particularly, Ashford. A powerful case has been made that if we are to see the regenerative benefits, one way or another, those issues need settling, but I see no reason why that should mean public money.

Another matter to consider is how things will develop in respect of subsequent high-speed links. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon announced our clear commitment to a feasibility study, which means exactly what it says—that we will look into it, but that we are not committing ourselves beyond that. I remind one or two of the more enthusiastic speakers of the wise warning of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford: if there is one thing to avoid next time, it is putting lots of alternative routes on a map and then spending years discussing them. Even in my end of Kent, we felt the backwash of the sheer fury generated in west Kent.

A smaller matter that needs clarifying is the exact relationship between the channel tunnel rail link and the Office of Rail Regulation. On the one hand, clauses 2 and 3 seem to entrench the channel tunnel outside the remit of the ORR, but on the other, clause 4 provides for the regulator to levy charges on the channel tunnel. I would be grateful if the Minister would pick that point up in his concluding speech.

The issue of freight came up about five times in our debate, but the Minister hardly touched on it at all in his opening speech. You would rightly restrain me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to broaden my speech too much into a wider discussion of the issues surrounding freight, but I saw parallels between the remarks of several Members on this measure and the position of our ports. The complaint is, frankly, that no legal framework is in place to allow port operators—even those forced to spend large sums on infrastructure—to negotiate long-term rail paths. I am aware of a discussion document that deals with the issue, but it offers a short-term and very complicated solution. I believe that there is a parallel, so I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify whether the Bill helps in any way to deal with the problem of encouraging more rail freight.

This is a short and uncontroversial Bill, so the Opposition are happy to support it.

6.53 pm

Mr. Tom Harris: We have had an excellent and probably too short debate. I will try to respond to as many contributions as possible in the next two or three hours and eight minutes!

The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) made an excellent and helpful contribution and I would like to echo his tribute to Rob Holden and his team at London and Continental Railways for the outstanding work that they have completed on High Speed 1. The hon. Gentleman asked about the future of the Government guaranteed debt, which currently amounts to about £6.1 billion. It is likely that the Government will continue to guarantee the existing debt. He and others, including the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), asked about the implications of clause 1
20 Nov 2007 : Column 1156
for the Secretary of State’s role. Let me clarify that the clause does not change in any respect the existing arrangements for subsidies; it clarifies that the Secretary of State has that power. It is the Government’s intention that that clarification should be seen as applying to domestic services operating on HS1. It does not mean that the Government have any long-term intention to offer public subsidy to Eurostar.

Mr. Charles Clarke rose—

Mr. Harris: If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I would like to make some progress and I was generous in giving way during my opening remarks.

Let me clarify the role of the Office of Rail Regulation, about which several hon. Members have asked. As the hon. Member for Canterbury rightly says, clause 2 entrenches the existing position that CTRL or HS1 will not be regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation. It will, however, continue to be the safety regulator and the appeal body for any train operating companies—whether it be Eurostar or any other—that feel that the charging regime is unfair. Clause 3 will allow the ORR to make charges specifically for its own services and not for track access charges.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South, who made an excellent contribution, obviously feels very strongly about Stratford International. This may not be news to anyone in the House, but I am not aware of any plans by Eurostar to provide any international services from Stratford International. I understand that Eurostar has committed to looking again into whether there is a demand for such services from that station. In that respect, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a correlation, as the hon. Member for Ashford has already said, between that and the position in Ashford. I come back to my earlier comments. Clause 1 clarifies the Secretary of State’s role and responsibility for funding services on CTRL, but it does not in any way oblige that person to fund capital improvements—in Stratford International or anywhere else.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s clarification. As I understand it, the Secretary of State has two types of power. The first is to subsidise the operating costs of services, which I believe is what my hon. Friend was referring to—though I may be wrong—and the second is to provide capital support for particular developments to make the services run better. If I have understood that correctly, I should make it clear that I was referring only to the capital commitment that would be relevant to achieving the interchange at Stratford. I was not referring to subsidising operating costs or anything of that kind. Will my hon. Friend clarify whether I am right that the Secretary of State has the power to provide capital for those developments at Stratford station?

Mr. Harris: I will clarify the position. My understanding is that my right hon. Friend is correct in that those powers are available for the Secretary of State to use. However, the wording of clause 1 was adopted specifically in respect of arrangements for subsidies to domestic services. That is the purpose of clause 1. My right hon. Friend feels strongly about this issue, but I think that he
20 Nov 2007 : Column 1157
should be wary of demonstrating too strong an interest as there are a number of Whips in the Chamber and they may interpret his remarks as his volunteering for Public Bill Committee duty. Of course, I would welcome my right hon. Friend’s presence on such a Committee.

Dr. Ladyman: Returning to the matter of the interchange between Stratford International station and Stratford regional station, I do not care whether the Minister provides the subsidy to link the two on account of the domestic service or on account of the international service. All I want is the two stations linked.

Mr. Harris: That seems quite a reasonable position to adopt. I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier answer, as I understand that the procurement process is under way for a supplier and there is a possible contractor to provide the link that he so craves, but I cannot guarantee whether there is going to be a travolator, a moving pavement or whatever.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) talked about passenger growth predictions, which goes to the hub of the issue that arose in 1998 when the previous financial arrangements for building the channel tunnel rail link collapsed. Inevitably, predictions of passenger growth were too optimistic. In 1994, when passenger services first began, it was estimated that 21 million people would be using Eurostar by 2010. That prediction has had to be reviewed and it is now expected that 10 million people will use Eurostar services by that date. That shortfall led to a lack of confidence in the economic underpinning of the deal that was put together in 1996.

I challenged what the hon. Lady said about the risk to growth resulting from the move to St. Pancras. I do not think she can have it both ways. In the absence of an immediate start to work on high-speed links to the north, the location of St. Pancras as a terminal for Eurostar services will be of great benefit not only to Londoners but, crucially, to people living north of London. Even people in my constituency—and certainly those living in the north of England—find it easier to travel to Euston and King’s Cross and then on to St. Pancras than to arrive at either of those stations and then take the underground or a cab down to Waterloo International.

I entirely agree with what the hon. Lady said about the importance of freight. Of course it is in everyone’s interest for us to manage a major shift from road to rail. As the hon. Lady will know, in the high-level output specification announced in July we have committed £200 million to developing a strategic freight network, and various grants have already been made in the past few weeks to encourage gauge changes on existing freight lines.

The hon. Lady asked whether the proceeds of any future sale could be put towards the development of a high-speed network. She predicted a substantial bonus for the Treasury from the sale of LCR or its component parts. She should bear in mind that the Government gave LCR a £3 billion grant during construction, and has already assumed £6.1 million of debt. However significant the windfall from the sale of LCR may be, I am not sure how much will be left over for any such project.

Next Section Index Home Page