Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence

Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)


The Petition of David Loudon, John McGoldrick and MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined

80. The matter was subject to detailed debate - and your Lordships may find this particularly helpful - in the case of the Forth Bridge because that went through under a Scottish Act which then gave order-making powers and it was controversial and I make no bones about it. There were some people who said it was wrong to be spending tolls in this way but, in the debates on the Scottish Act 2001, the matter was given detailed consideration and your Lordships will find reference to that at A32. The particular statutory provision is article 7(2) of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority Order 2002, article 7(2) in the middle of page 198, "The Authority may develop, support and fund such schemes and measures including roadworks, traffic management and public transport services, which it considers appropriate …" and they can do that from the tolls on the Forth Bridge and the debates are set out at page 209 and following and I simply take your Lordships to page 218 which was the Minister for Transport in Scotland and she is speaking to the Transport and Environment Committee on 22 November 2000 and, one third of the way down page 281,

81. "Sarah Boyack responded, 'It is vital that we encourage a much more integrated approach to the strategic transportation planning of the road bridge, the traffic using the bridge, public transport alternatives and related road traffic routes across the Forth …'" and then she goes on to say, "The new joint board will have wider strategic and funding powers to tackle worsening congestion. … It will let us deliver better traffic management and improve the road infrastructure, to address traffic congestion …" and that is precisely what is planned here. None of the five district councils proposed that the money should be ring-fenced to the Wirral or to Liverpool City; they are all content that it be spent across Merseyside generally and indeed it would not really be sensible otherwise since the local transport plan to which I have already referred covers projects which are Mersey-wide and the idea is that the money should be spent on the projects which are in the local transport plan.

82. I am sure your Lordships are aware that the principle of what is called hypothecation, that is taking revenue and then using it for a single purpose rather than a general purpose, here a transport rather than a general purpose, is now I think fairly widely accepted by both parties and is of course a key element of the Transport Act, 2000. Your Lordships will know all about parking levies and so forth which are contained in that measure whereby money is taken and is then used almost always in accordance with the local transport plan. The statutory provision provides for it. That is all that is going to happen here; the surplus tolls will be used for purposes in accordance with the local transport plan hypothecation which, as I say, is really sanctioned by the 2000 Act although of course our Act is entirely freestanding and is made under the 2000 Act.

83. CHAIRMAN: Mr George, before you continue, may I ask two questions. With regard to 198 - I do not think any member of the Committee has had the ability to look at these before and thank you for supplying them - in the paragraph that you quoted to do with the Forth Bridge, paragraph 7(2), as I read that subparagraph, the further revenue, let me call it that, are restricted to the use of public transport across the Firth of Forth. They seem to be restricted simply for river crossing not for other forms of transport; is that correct?

84. MR GEORGE: You are quite right, they have to be related but it is quite widely because, insofar as any improvements to any road scheme in the area has the effect of meaning that there is less traffic coming on to the bridge or on to its approach roads, then it is covered, but your Lordship is entirely right, it has to be related in that way.

85. CHAIRMAN: My second question - I am going backwards because I want you to finish where you had got to - is, when you talked about the possibility of £25 million annually being available, excuse my lay language, for other transport purposes, are you going to give us an explanation or are your witnesses going to discuss the rate of amortisation of the present debt?

86. MR GEORGE: I think you will find that all of that is dealt with by Mr Wilkinson and he is going to show that that sum only builds up … That is the figure for 2028. I would not want anyone to think that there is £25 million available much earlier. He also deals with the rates of interests on the debts and as to what happens if you repay any elements of the debt earlier. All of those are matters with which he is going to deal and, if he does not deal with them, I am sure your Lordship will ask him.

87. CHAIRMAN: The one is absolutely crucial on the other because, if you vary the rate of amortisation or indeed the rate of interest, so the surplus figure itself will alter, will it not?

88. MR GEORGE: Most of the debt is at fixed interest rates and therefore it does not vary. That makes it a little simpler than it might otherwise be.

89. CHAIRMAN: But Mr Wilkinson is going to address this point.

90. MR GEORGE: Mr Wilkinson will deal with that matter.

91. CHAIRMAN: Are there any further questions from the Committee on this point three because it is a really important point?

92. PROFESSOR THE LORD BRADSHAW: On that point you made, my Lord Chairman, I believe that the money from the Firth of the Forth can be used to improve railway services from Fife to Edinburgh and it may be used and is being used for a Park & Ride scheme which has been built on the banks of the Firth to encourage people to go over into Edinburgh by public transport. I believe that to be the case.

93. MR GEORGE: I believe that everything Lord Bradshaw says is right but I think that those only squeeze in, you have to show some nexus between them and aspiration that it will have an effect on the local conditions. Provided you can show that logically there should be some connection, then you can in fact spend on matters which are at quite a distance from the bridge itself but there has to be some connection.

94. The fourth section I can take much quicker. That is to allow the authority to undertake and finance noise insulation work to properties adjacent to the Kingsway tunnel's approach roads. This is an uncontroversial matter as I understand it. At the Wallasey end of the Kingsway tunnel, that is on the Wirral end, there are numerous residential properties and they are sufficiently close to the approach roads to the tunnel for the tunnel and the tunnel traffic to have a considerable noise impact on them. Had those approach roads been built in the ordinary way, ie not pursuant to a private bill, because that tunnel was built pursuant to its own bill, had they been built by a highway authority in the ordinary way, the whole matter would be dealt with by the Noise Insulation Regulations and if any property were going to be adversely affected by the new road, subject to the criteria of the Noise Insulation Regulations, they would be entitled to have noise insulation measures installed and that consists of sealing your windows, putting in a grill for ventilation and providing some form of double-glazing.

The fact is that you do not hear as much noise, but you do have adequate ventilation. It cannot be forced on anyone, but you are entitled to call for it if you are adjacent to a new road which is going to cause you a noise level increase of more than one decibel, provided at the end your overall noise will be more than 68 decibels measured over an 18-hour period.

95. The fact is that is all dealt with in the regulations, but those regulations did not apply to these particular approach roads, and your Lordships may have no difficulty in appreciating that there is a certain amount of grievance in the area that these people have the noise, but if they want to do the noise insulation they have to do it themselves, and no matter how sympathetic Merseytravel is to them, it simply does not have the power to finance the works at present. All that this schedule does - and it is schedule 2 to the Bill - is that it treats these properties as if the noise insulation regulations were in force. What will happen is this: that as of the date of Royal Assent - if this particular Bill does achieve Royal Assent - there will be noise measurements at properties in the vicinity of the tunnel entrance, and there will also have to be a calculation as to what the noise would have been if the tunnel was not there. This is quite a complicated matter, but it is a matter which a noise expert can readily do, to work out. One simply subtracts the existing noise from the tunnels. Then the question will be that all those properties which have a noise level above 68 decibels to which one decibel is attributable to the traffic on the approach road to the tunnel will qualify to have free installation of the acoustic measures, and there is a schedule set out in the noise insulation regulations that tells you what you are entitled to, and various British Standards apply.

96. There are always people that say it is not the right form of noise insulation, and so on, but they will qualify for the standard pack which everyone in the country gets in the case of a new road. Some people say "Why isn't there a schedule listing the exact properties which are going to qualify?" The answer is we cannot do that at present, because it is going to depend on who falls within the regulations as at the date of the Royal Assent. We can give a broad indication, but we do not want to leave anyone out, and the fact of the matter is that anyone who falls within the statutory criteria will qualify. To that extent, the noise insulation regulations will themselves be self-defining; they will define the area rather than it being defined on a map, and if there is anyone who says "I have been left out", they will be able to get in touch with Merseytravel, there will be a discussion on what the relevant figures are, and if they can show that they are over 68 decibels but there is one decibel coming from the road, then I am afraid Mersey travel will find themselves having to install the insulation. That is why all we can say is it is adjacent to the tunnel but it is not shown precisely on a plan.

97. PROFESSOR THE LORD BRADSHAW: There is a point of principle here. The tunnels were, I believe, opened, or the Kingsway Tunnel was opened in 1971 or 1972 and of course, the people who live there in the properties on the Wirral side are probably not the people who were there at the time. There are many people throughout the country who live in properties where the noise level has increased subsequently from what it was to what it is now, around airports and tunnels and so on. Are you absolutely confident - and I am not against those people - that you are clear in your purpose of compensating these people for the noise?

98. MR GEORGE: Lord Bradshaw, if I may say so, has a good point, in that the provision is a generous provision because, in addition to matters which Lord Bradshaw mentions we are not seeking to go back to the date of the opening of the tunnel and say you only qualify if as at the date of the tunnel you would have qualified. We are prepared to look to present flows. To that extent, it is a generous provision. I am told that the sum budgeted is some £300,000, so it is not a vast sum. Again, it may be a little bit more, or it may be less, depending on the take­up. Some people may not want to take it up. That is the sum, though, which has been budgeted, and it is intended to be a generous provision. Those who have stayed there from when the tunnel opened have put up with it for 30 years and in some cases there may be people who moved there and this may be a windfall for them, if they bought their house at a lower rate and paid less because of the noise; there will be a bit of swings and roundabouts in it. But it is very popular in the area. It is very popular with the Wirral authorities themselves, and in their report - and it is A17 - they refer to a longstanding problem in this area, and it is that which we are attempting to meet. The document is at page 48, paragraph 3.1(vi), where there is a reference to the longstanding problem in relation to noise insulation. There have been various debates on this Bill, it has been quite contentious at various stages, but no­one has so far suggested that this schedule should not be included and that these people should not benefit. They will become an additional demand on the toll, so to speak. At present there is not any power to spend the tolls on this. It will become lawful to spend money from the tolls on this, but it will be a one-off matter. It is not intended that for ever after you can show; it will have to be geared back to the date of the Royal Assent, so it is a one-off offer which is being made.

99. CHAIRMAN: Can I just be absolutely clear on this. We are talking only, in this context, of the Wallasey Tunnel, not the Birkenhead?

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