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20 May 1996 : Column WA71

Written Answers

Monday, 20th May 1996.

Search and Rescue Helicopters

The Marquess of Huntley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the interdepartmental group set up to review search and rescue helicopters has reported.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): The review group has submitted its report. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

The group was set up in July 1995 to examine the national requirement for search and rescue helicopters, and how this might most efficiently and effectively be met, as part of an integrated approach to search and rescue. It has made six recommendations, listed in Chapter 6 of the report.

The Government have accepted Recommendation 4, to set up a new joint advisory board for search and rescue helicopter provision. This board will consider further work on establishing a national database of emergency incidents and helicopter call-outs (Recommendation 1), on monitoring helicopter availability (Recommendation 3) and on examining the options for interdepartmental charging (Recommendation 6).

Formal consultation on the report is being launched today with the UK SAR Committee and other interested parties. Views are particularly invited on the group's proposed additional coverage criteria (Recommendation 2) and on ways to strengthen the coordination and consultation machinery for search and rescue generally (Recommendation 5).

The Government are considering the best location for the two aircraft currently based on the South Coast at Lee-on-Solent and at Portland. Our consideration will have regard to the search and rescue requirements along the South Coast and Mid Channel. Views on these additional issues have also been sought.

Replies have been requested by Friday 28th June.

Railtrack Group plc: Share Offer

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the sale of their shareholding in Railtrack Group plc.

Viscount Goschen: I am pleased to report that the Government's UK Public Offer and International Offers of Railtrack shares were successfully completed this morning, when dealings in interim rights started on the London Stock Exchange.

As a result of bids received in the International Offers, the price of the second instalment for all

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investors in the UK Public Offer and the International Offers were set at 190p per interim right.

Accordingly, the price for Railtrack interim rights purchased in the United Kingdom Public Offer was 380p per share, comprising 190p paid on successful application and 190p to be paid by 3rd June 1997.

The price for interim rights purchased in the International Offer of Railtrack shares was 390p per share, comprising 200p paid on successful application and 190p to be paid by 3rd June 1997.

The Government offered for sale up to 434.8 million Railtrack shares in the UK Public Offer and the International Offers.

Some 665,000 applications were received in the United Kingdom public offer for a total of some 391 million Railtrack shares. This represented some three times the shares initially expected to be sold in the UK public offer. In response to this demand the Government increased the total number of shares allocated to the UK Public Offer to 210 million shares. At this level, the number of shares applied for in the UK Public Offer represented some 1.9 times the shares available.

Over 44 per cent. of applicants in the UK Public Offer received an allocation of shares. Over 97 per cent. of applicants had their applications met in full.

One hundred and eighty million, four hundred thousand shares were allocated to bidders in the International Offers. This number does not include any shares that SBC Warburg may have over-allotted in connection with the International Offers. The extent of any such over-allotment will not be disclosed until later.

Individual investors bidding in the United Kingdom retail tender bid for some 136 million shares in Railtrack. Of these numbers, some 32.5 million shares were in respect of PEP applications.

In addition to the shares sold in the UK Public Offer and the International Offers, SBC Warburg, as Global Co-ordinators for the sale, hold an option to acquire from the Secretary of State for Transport up to a further 65.2 million Railtrack shares for the purposes of meeting any over-allotment made by them in connection with the International Offer. This option must be exercised by 14th June.

Total gross proceeds from the UK Public Offer and International Offers are expected to amount to some £1.67 billion, of which some £849 million is expected to be received in this financial year.

Total gross proceeds may be further increased by a maximum of £254 million to the extent that, if at all, the Global Co-ordinator, SBC Warburg, exercises its option to acquire further shares.

The costs of the sale will be disclosed to Parliament in due course.

Following the Offers, and assuming the exercise in full of the option over Railtrack shares granted by the Secretary of State for Transport to SBC Warburg Limited, the Secretary of State for Transport expects to hold not more than 1 per cent. of Railtrack Group plc's issued share capital. These amounts comprise

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principally shares that may be needed to meet share bonus entitlement under the UK Public Offer.

The demand for shares in Railtrack gives me great confidence in the future of the railways.

Electric Vehicles: Excise Duty

The Earl of Selborne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What revenue they expect to raise in a full year by the reintroduction of vehicle excise duty on electric vehicles from 1st July 1995 at £35, and what is the anticipated cost of collection.

Viscount Goschen: The annual revenue from vehicle excise duty on electric vehicles will be approximately £840,000. The cost of collection will be £53,000--which represents no change from the cost of issuing exempt discs to these vehicles previously.

Stansted Airport: Aircraft Movements

The Viscount of Oxfuird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What decision they have reached on options to increase the limit on aircraft movements at Stansted Airport.

Viscount Goschen: Following consultation with interested parties, a draft order is being laid today to provide for an increase in the Aircraft Movement Limit from 78,000 per annum to 120,000 per annum. Based on the latest information about the average number of passengers per aircraft, a revised limit of 120,000 movements per year will allow a throughput of 8 million passengers per annum. This throughput is expected to be reached in around 2000/2001.

This proposal is consistent with the planning inquiry's conclusion that the timing of the further development of Stansted to a capacity of 15 million passengers per annum should depend on the rate of growth of demand.

The Government welcome the development of the less busy airports in the South East. The increase to 120,000 movements per year would permit the continued growth of Stansted, providing more jobs for the local communities, in line with the further development of the associated infrastructure. This new limit would also ensure that growth of the airport is phased, allowing BAA, the airport operator, to invest in new facilities at the terminal as business grows.

Foreign Registered Lorries in UK

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list, for each of the past 10 years, the number of non-United Kingdom registered lorries which entered the United Kingdom.

Viscount Goschen: Figures are not available for the numbers of non-United Kingdom registered lorries

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entering the United Kingdom, as no counts exist of traffic crossing the Irish land boundary. However, the information requested is available for lorries leaving Great Britain. The figures are as follows:

YearForeign registered lorries leaving Great Britain (thousands)
1992 394.1

M.25/M.23 Junction Roadworks

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with progress with the roadworks in the region of the M.25/M.23 motorway junction and also with the arrangements for minimising the inconvenience to motorists while the work continues.

Viscount Goschen: I have asked Mr. Lawrie Haynes, the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, to write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Lord Trefgarne from the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, dated 17th May 1996.

I have been asked by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport to reply to your parliamentary Question about the roadworks in the region of the M.23/M.25 motorway junction and about the arrangements for minimising the inconvenience to motorists while the work continues.

Although the possibility of delay is always present when carrying out major civil engineering works, we are disappointed with progress on these improvements, which are taking much longer to complete than we originally estimated.

This section of the M.25 is one of the busiest and, to cope with the volume of traffic it carries, it needed to be widened from three lanes each way to four. It is also one of the oldest sections of the M.25, having been in use for some 20 years. To minimise disruption we decided to carry out major maintenance work at the same time as the widening and this included renewing the road surface, upgrading bridges and the installation of lighting. We also set a tight programme.

After work started, we discovered that the original "capping layer", the lowest level of road construction about 1 metre deep, had deteriorated so severely that it would not support the new surface layers. We can only replace this capping layer in a piecemeal way to fit in with traffic phasings. With a scheme of this complexity, I am afraid that it is difficult to determine the precise extent of

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defective carriageway in advance of the works and in the event it has been necessary to renew more of the old carriageway foundations than was previously envisaged.

To add to our difficulties, we have had to contend with the premature forming of ruts in newly laid asphalt. The material in question has been widely used elsewhere on the motorway network. Reasons for the problem in this case are unclear. We suspect the cause to be an exceptional combination of site specific factors, which include the high number of lorries which use this section of the M.25, the temporary traffic management arrangements which concentrated the lorries into one lane and the exceptional heat of last summer, which could have affected newly laid asphalt materials.

The result is that, unfortunately, the works are taking longer to complete than was anticipated. Our best estimate of the likely finish is now late in 1996.

We have made every endeavour to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible through these roadworks. The contractor has been instructed to keep three lanes open in each direction during the day to try to minimise disruption and inconvenience to local people and the travelling public as much as possible.

Safety is of paramount importance and the traffic management measures on this busy stretch of the M.25 have been designed to protect the safety of both the travelling public and site staff. These measures have been very successful, resulting in an excellent safety record which is a tribute to the close co-operation operating between the contractor, the supervising consulting engineers and the local police. Unfortunately these measures do inevitably affect the flow of traffic through the works.

To help the travelling public plan their journeys and avoid delays, we have set up a round the clock phone line which drivers can call to get up-to-date news about various lane restrictions on the M.25 between Sevenoaks (Junction 5) and Chertsey (Junction 11). I have enclosed a leaflet about the service.

I apologise for the inconvenience caused and, although this contract seems to be having more than its fair share of difficulties, I can assure you that we remain fully aware of the adverse effects the prolongation of the works is having on the travelling public and we are continuing to press for the earliest possible finish. But, once the scheme is finished, drivers will find that the widened carriageways, the improved signing and communication arrangements and the new street lighting provide much improved driving conditions.

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