Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence


Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)

MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON, BIRCHAM DYSON BELL.

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

260. CHAIRMAN: That is extremely helpful, Mr George. Thank you most sincerely. Do we have that in any of our bundles?

261. MR GEORGE: No, my Lord. You will have them tomorrow.

262. May I apologise for repeating. I cannot give evidence, and I did not want someone to say later that the witness had not mentioned it. But I take that point, my Lord.

263. I am told we can circulate the noise insulation regulations now. It is the schedule which is the key matter. (Document circulated)

264. CHAIRMAN: I doubt whether we will want to comment any further on those at this stage, because we have not had a chance to look at them, so I suggest we press on.

265. MR GEORGE: We will press on straight away. I wanted to turn to the local transport plan and what the surplus moneys could be spent on. First of all, Mr Wilkinson, to what extent is Merseyside dependent on public transport as opposed to the private car?

(Mr Wilkinson) My Lords, Merseyside is hugely dependent on public transport. The level of car ownership on Merseyside is quite low compared to the national figure. Something in the region of 62 per cent of households have a car, 38 per cent of households have no car at all, and that is the main reason why we have, we think, in the region of 400,000 Merseysiders regularly making a trip on local public transport every day.

266. Let us turn to exhibit B30, page 87. We can see there the 38 per cent with no car, and the one car, 42 per cent. The Committee may not be very familiar with other areas. How does this stand compared with other areas?

(Mr Wilkinson) It is low, my Lords, compared with, for example, the West Midlands or Greater Manchester, which in both cases have car ownership 10 per cent higher than the Merseyside figure. So those without in those two areas are probably about 28 per cent of the population, whereas in Merseyside it is 38 per cent of the population.

267. If we look at page 87 and the position so far as Liverpool city itself is concerned, we see those very high figures under the no cars.

(Mr Wilkinson) That is right, my Lords. There is the average for the county of 38 per cent, which disguises the fact that in Liverpool it is as high as 48 per cent. Nearly one in two households has no car as a basic means of transportation.

268. What is the key policy of the Merseyside local transport plan, that is, the local transport plan for the entirety of Merseyside?

(Mr Wilkinson) The plan has a variety of strands to it. The plan sees public transport as supporting sustainable economic development. We are required under the Transport Act to produce a plan that promotes safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport. That we believe we are doing, with our district council partners. There are other aspects to the strategy: to moderate the upward trend in car use. Harking back to the schedule, for example, exhibit B30, the census in 1991 would show that car ownership at that stage was 55 per cent across Merseyside; it has gone up to something in the region of 62 per cent in ten years. It is something which the plan seeks to address.

269. So far as the preparation of the local transport plan - I held that up to the Committee earlier - is there consultation before the local transport plan is adopted?

(Mr Wilkinson) Extensive consultation, my Lords. The plan is not only jointly produced with the borough district councils of Merseyside, but it is widely circulated to all neighbouring local authorities, to business and commerce, to universities, to trade unions, to public transport operators, to motoring organisations. We give it the widest possible spread for consultation purposes.

270. The local transport plan lists all sorts of projects. Can you very briefly - the Committee do not want the detail of this - indicate the sort of matters upon which this surplus toll would be spent? You cannot guarantee it would be spent on any particular item because that will have to be judged at the particular time, and we know that initially it is rather small surpluses, but can you just give the Committee the flavour of the matter?

(Mr Wilkinson) As far as the bus network is concerned, we would probably spend the money on more smart bus services. That is one of our flagships. It means spending money on improving buses in a particular corridor, the street furniture in the corridor, the information provided to passengers and so on. We would like to continue and accelerate the upgrading of the Merseyrail system, part of which is under way. That includes very specifically the electrification of the Bidston to Wrexham service - initially to the Woodchurch estate on the Wirral. We believe that would provide an alternative to many people who currently use the Mersey Tunnels.

271. Can you pause there. We need to go back to bundle A, exhibit A4, page 4. If we go to the Wirral, we can pick up Birkenhead, and just below where Birkenhead is written in red there is Bidston. Do you see that, Mr Wilkinson?

(Mr Wilkinson) Yes, I do.

272. You talked about electrification of the line from Woodchurch. Is that right?

(Mr Wilkinson) I did, my Lords.

273. We can see Woodchurch: south of Upton and between Upton and Thingwall we can see Woodchurch.

(Mr Wilkinson) It is there on the map, my Lords, the Woodchurch Estate. We would propose to establish a new railway station to serve that estate of 4,000 people and to electrify that line and dovetail into the Merseyrail Electric's network, providing 15-minute frequencies of services into Liverpool city centre.

274. You have given an example of buses, and you have given an example of electrification. Is there any other aspect which you would like particularly to draw to the Committee's attention?

(Mr Wilkinson) There are numerous ones, my Lords. I could go on at length. Ultimately, we need new rolling stock for the Merseyrail network. We would like to introduce a smartcard system on Merseyside. We want to improve the information supply as part of our public transport improvements. We would like to do something about freight rail lines. We also, of course, have a scheme afoot for the provision of a three-line Mersey tram, a light rail system to be built over the next decade.

275. £25 million sounds an awful lot of money for a year, but of course, set against the whole of the local transport budget for a particular year, it is not that large a sum, is it?

(Mr Wilkinson) No, it is not, and if available, my Lords, in 25 years' time, of course, in theory would at least sustain either debt charges on capital projects or it would be available to meet the running costs of a variety of the sort of projects you see photographs of in the bundle before you.

276. We have this wish-list of public transport projects which are in the local transport plan, Mr Wilkinson. In one scenario you are going to have an income stream available from the tolls which could make a contribution towards it. If you do not have that income stream, how are these works financed and over what sort of timescale?

(Mr Wilkinson) The normal funding cocktail for local transport plan schemes is as follows: effectively, there are grants from the Department of Transport, rarely given, I have to say; borrowing approvals, more frequently given, but grudgingly given; we have been successful in obtaining grant from the European Regional Development Fund from the Merseyside Objective 1 status; we have been equally quite successful in obtaining contributions from partners, from developers, for example, who contribute to the schemes that we are involved in. The last port of call at this point in time is our levy on the five district councils in Merseyside. The difficulty with that, of course, is that increasing our levy is a very unpopular act as far as the district councils are concerned. They often maintain that any increase in our levy means a reduction in spending on their own range of services to make room for our costs.

277. Moving to an entirely different topic, local consultation on the Bill, I showed the Committee the list of those who were consulted with your consultation paper when the Bill was being considered. Do you have any comments on the matter? How full was that consultation exercise?

(Mr Wilkinson) We followed the advice on the public consultation process to the letter. We covered a period of three months, we sent follow-up letters, giving people the opportunity to give a reply if they had not already done so. We tried to give it publicity on the website, we tried to get news stories featured in the press, and we accepted responses from anyone, whether they had been consulted directly originally or whoever wrote in. We tried to make it the widest possible response.

278. Could we turn in bundle A to A16, page 33. There are there set out the four questions which were asked and the various responses. Mr Wilkinson, to the best of your knowledge, is that an accurate summary in the document at page 33?

(Mr Wilkinson) Yes, it is.

279. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of people responded that they did not want the surplus toll income used to cross-subsidise local public transport services. Do you have any comment on that matter?

(Mr Wilkinson) My first comment would be that I was surprised at the low level of response. We contacted 12,000 Fast Tag users and got just over 300 replies. I was entirely surprised to find that those who felt the toll should be index-linked with inflation were almost equivalent to those who disagreed with that. I was less surprised to find that there was a large majority who wanted to keep the requirement to reduce tolls when the tunnels' debt was paid off. In the summary of responses I included some responses from Merseytravel to a number of the points made by respondents, because people did not just say "This is my view"; they gave reasons for their view, and some of those reasons were misguided or based on inaccurate facts, and I just felt it was right and proper to try to explain matters and give background to some people who had misunderstood the situation.

There was a majority against using toll income to subsidise public transport services. I well understand that, and I was not in the least bit surprised by that factor.


 
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