Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)
MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON, BIRCHAM
The Petition of David Loudon, John McGoldrick and
MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined
40. Work is now under way in devising improved escape
ways for the Queenway Tunnel, making use of the space in the large
invert beneath the carriageways. When you drive through the tunnel
one tends to forget that being circular in dimensions there is
a large area underneath where you are driving through and that
is the place where you can put down staircases and use the invert
as an escape mechanism, in case you have a fire, for instance,
or a serious accident in the middle of the tunnel. It is very
expensive to do but is the sort of thing which is nowadays expected
- and, the Committee may feel, rightly expected - of authorities.
41. It was thought that it was going to be necessary
to have an extra one-off tunnel toll revision last year to pay
for some of these works. However, at the last moment the Department
for Transport gave government approval for further borrowing of
£2.4 million and, therefore, it was not necessary to proceed
with that application, which was for a one-off toll rise particularly
to deal with that matter. The debt was simply added to, to the
extent of £2.4 million, which will be part of the money spent
on these improvements.
42. The second recent development is that on the
16 January 2003 the European Commission proposed a new Directive
on tunnel safety, and Lordships will find that at document A.34.
Its technical name is given at the top. It is 2002/03/09. The
aim of that being to achieve a uniform, constant and high level
of protection for all European citizens driving through tunnels
on the trans-European road network. I do not want to mislead
your Lordships. That Directive is, in the first place, has not
yet come into force and, secondly, it only applies to the trans-European
road network, and the Mersey Tunnels are not part of that network.
However, when that Directive was referred to the Committee on
Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism, they suggested an amendment
to it, which I will read to your Lordships. "So that it
contain a provision 19A that Member States are encouraged to implement
comparable safety standards for road tunnels located in their
territory that do not form part of the European road transport
network and, consequently, do not fall within the scope of this
43. The Commission has apparently now agreed a modified
proposal for the Directive on 26 February 2004, but they have
not yet published its text, so we do not know whether they have
included 19A. Whether or not 19A is included, it is surely right
that bodies who manage tunnels should review standards in the
light of proposed European legislation, and regard it as a benchmark.
Your Lordships will find, at A.34, that the Directive proposes
a whole series of safety measures. I do not take your Lordships
through them - they have got to have various officials with individual
tasks. In particular, if one goes to Article 3, which is on page
239 of your Lordships' bundle, at Article 3(i) "Member States
shall ensure that tunnels in their territory meet the minimum
safety requirements laid down in Annex 1", and then in Annex
1 there are a whole variety of measures.
44. We are not saying that every matter referred
to in Annex 1 is necessarily either relevant to these tunnels
or will be put into effect, but already this Directive has had
the effect of putting a new focus on tunnel safety, and we would
ask that that be commended by your Lordships. I mention that
matter because there is a suggestion in some circles that we are
taking safety unduly seriously. What we simply say is that it
is right endlessly to keep the matter under review, and that the
whole question of escape-ways and the like - ventilation and so
forth - inevitably cost money, and will be a call upon the toll
revenues in the future to an extent which it has not been in the
45. PROFESSOR THE LORD BRADSHAW: In the
Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, a sum of £8.5 million
is needed to be secured to enable safety works arising out of
the report to be completed by 2006 at the latest. I assume that
that money is in addition to that to which you have just referred.
46. MR GEORGE: The £8.5 million particularly
had in mind the draft of the Directive and is the money which
it is planned to spend pursuant to the Directive.
47. PROFESSOR THE LORD BRADSHAW: So that
£8.5 million is all of it?
48. MR GEORGE: It is all that is presently
envisaged, but a number of the works are still at an early planning
stage. They have been costed and the £8.5 million refers
to the costings at this stage. One cannot cross one's heart and
say that they will not cost more; one can say that it is very
seldom that works cost less. Those are the sort of figures.
In other words, one is thinking in terms of millions of pounds.
49. CHAIRMAN:Just to be absolutely clear
on that point, the £8.5 million mentioned in the explanatory
memorandum, does that include the £2.4 million that you referred
to or exclude it?
50. MR GEORGE: The £2.4 million which
is borrowed is going to go towards the £8.5 million, the
rest is going to come from the total.
51. CHAIRMAN:Thank you, it is subsumed within.
Thank you very much.
52. MR GEORGE: Your Lordships will have
seen in the Explanatory Memorandum four purposes set out for the
Bill and I adopt those headings and just want to say a few words
about them. It is the first page of the explanatory memorandum
and it is page 99 of the bundle. The first is, "(1) to amend
the statutory provisions relating to the levying and revision
of tolls for use of the tunnels particularly so that, in future,
tolls are revised with reference to inflation".
53. Mr Wilkinson will explain the structure of the
outstanding debt and if your Lordships want to bear in mind a
figure, a figure of 94.6 million is the latest figure I can give
your Lordships, that is what we believe the debt will stand at
at the end of March this year, at the end of the present financial
year. That is, of course, the major cost which has to be paid
in addition to the cost on operation and refurbishment.
54. Merseytravel's case is that the existing mechanism
for toll rises is wholly inadequate, it involves expense and delay
and that a much more sensible system is to tie the tolls to the
RPI. It seems to us that in an age of devolved government and
when subsidiarity and proportionality are meant to be key things
the present situation is frankly ridiculous. Our thinking is
something in line with that of the Government in relation to the
Dartford crossings. In the case of both those crossings there
are tolls and they are linked to the RPI by a mechanism very similar
to that which is proposed in the Bill, and that is what we are
55. Your Lordships will find the two relevant measures
in the bundle, if I can ask your Lordships to turn to A.29, it
is the Severn Bridges Act 1992 and at page 165 in section 9 (4),
at the top of the page, your Lordships will see that the RPI is
involved and in that way you do not have to have applications
for toll rises, it simply keeps up with the RPI.
56. The position at Dartford is similar and is contained
at A.31 in the A282 Trunk Road (Dartford Thurrock Charging
Scheme) Order 2002.
57. CHAIRMAN: Could you repeat the page
58. MR GEORGE: Page 182, in document A.31
and that order is made under the Transport Act of 2000 as your
Lordships will see in the preamble to the Order. The relevant
passage there is at page 185 in Schedule 3. At paragraph 3 you
will see that there is a mechanism incorporating the retail price
59. My second witness Mr Bates will explain why
we have chosen the simple RPI link rather than any of the other
more complex indices, frankly most of the other indices would
lead to a higher rise in the toll, higher than we think is necessary.
It seems to us what is good enough for Severn and Dartford is
good enough for us also.