Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)
MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON.
BIRCHAM DYSON BELL and MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined
380. MR McGOLDRICK: I am not sure I understand
that, my Lord. (9)(b) seems to clearly indicate if it is exactly
5p then it would be increased by 5p.
381. MR GEORGE: My Lord, can I intervene,
because I believe as a matter of law that as one reads it that
in this case Mr McGoldrick is right. If it comes to exactly 5p
(9)(b) means you can charge the 5p. If it is more than 5p you
can charge 10p and it is rounded up. If it comes to exactly 5p
that is administratively inconvenient to collect and we then use
the power under clause 92(c)(i) to waive the 5p and we do not
collect the 5p, and we wait until it reaches a point where it
is above the 5p and we can charge the full 10p. That is how it
works. The Act gives us the power to charge the precise 5p, but
for administrative reasons we choose not to actually charge it
at exactly 5p. We cannot go straight from 5p to 10p because,
as Mr McGoldrick points out, we are only entitled under (9)(b)
to the 5p and, therefore, we have to forego it until we reach
a position when we can charge the whole 10p. The mechanism is
under 92(c) which enables us to do that
382. MR McGOLDRICK: Can we then turn to
page 80 Exhibit B.25 which illustrates the effect of the RPI trigger.
If we look at November 2004 it seems to have a determined level
of exactly 5p; and yet that appears to then result in a toll increase
of 20p or 10p but it appears to be rounded up?
My Lord, in printing the table I chose to show only to one decimal
place. The exact calculation is 135.04p. Taking legal advice
I was assured that anything over 5p looked as though it would
produce a £1.40 toll but not guaranteeing, my Lord, that
that will be the case, there is an estimate here of inflationary
movements until November this year; but if that happens then my
interpretation is that would justify a toll of £1.40p.
383. My Lord, could we turn to page 81, Exhibit
B.26 which is headed "Initial Toll Increase/Traffic Reclassification".
When I first saw this I must admit I did not quite appreciate
what was happening, but Mr Wilkinson explained yesterday that
the authorities are intending to reduce the existing four classes
down to two classes. Perhaps I can explain the classes: 2, 3
and 4 relate to heavy goods vehicles, and class 1 is cars and
light vans. I think Mr Wilkinson said that that would result
in a 10 per cent increase in traffic - that is heavy goods vehicles
traffic. The average heavy goods vehicles would in fact be paying
approximately £1 less even though tolls otherwise would have
gone up. Is that correct?
Generally speaking, that is correct, my Lord. I would perhaps
have chosen a different definition of the classes of traffic which
would benefit from this change in classification. I do not think
it right to refer to as them as "heavy goods traffic";
there are some light goods and medium goods vehicles in that category.
384. Is it correct that we could have different
definitions of what was "heavy" or not? Is it correct
that classes 2, 3 and 4 are all over 3.5 tonnes gross weight?
That is correct. That is the weight definition I referred to
in my earlier evidence.
385. MR McGOLDRICK: I cannot quite figure
out what 3.5 tonnes looks like but I would regard that as being
a heavy goods vehicle.
386. LORD BRADSHAW: There is a strict definition
of what is a heavy goods vehicle and what is a light goods vehicle
which is plainly available to anybody coming before the Committee.
387. CHAIRMAN: I agree, from my experience.
The 3.5 tonnes is gross weight, a laden vehicle and not an empty
388. MR McGOLDRICK: Can I not use the expression
"heavy goods vehicles" and just refer to vehicles with
a gross weight of over 3.5 tonnes. Why are the authorities apparently
encouraging such vehicles to use the tunnels more intensively
than they do at the moment?
Lord, it is not in a sense the prime purpose of this initiative,
to encourage the traffic. The prime purpose, as I thought I explained
in my earlier evidence, is to assist throughput of that traffic
and to lead to operational savings.For example, at the Queensway
Tunnel at the present moment, only two classes of traffic are
permitted through, class 1 and class 2. Classes 3 and 4 are banned
from the tunnel on safety grounds as heavy vehicles. At the present
moment, however, a class 2 vehicle has to use a staffed lane because
it is only in the staffed lane that the distinction can be made
between the two classes of vehicles.If we can merge, as it were,
class 2 vehicles with class 1 vehicles, then all of the commercial
traffic using that tunnel can go through the automatic lanes.
They deal with toll collection so much faster. We will remove
the height restrictors, we will speed up throughput, and I should
not be saying this, but I do envisage the need for fewer staffed
lanes in due course with potential operating cost savings. I
have now revealed my hand to the trade unions, my Lord!
389. Can you tell us, Mr Wilkinson, when the Authority
discussed and agreed this reclassification of vehicles?
Authority has not discussed or agreed this reclassification of
vehicles, my Lord.It is a projection based on a range of assumptions,
the first of which is that this Bill will be approved by the Select
Committee, ultimately by the House of Lords, and will ultimately
gain Royal Assent. It also assumes certain movement in retail
price indices in the period between now and November 2004. What
it does, however, have is the backing of the Chair of the Authority
and the Vice Chair of the Authority, both of whom are in this
room and can verify, if necessary, that the matter has been discussed
and agreed with them.
390. CHAIRMAN: Is it right to say then that
this exhibit B26 is a proposal which has not yet been put into
It is a proposal, my Lord, quite right, which has not yet been
put into effect because the circumstances are not yet in place.
391. MR McGOLDRICK: Can I just confirm that
when you say it is a proposal, it is a proposal which has not
been discussed by the Authority?
I hope I made it clear, my Lord, that it is a proposal which has
not been formally approved by the Authority, but it has political
392. Can we turn to exhibit A28 on page 84, which
is similar to the figures we looked at on page 74, which were
the financial projections assuming there was no toll increase.
Page 84 is the final projections assuming that there are regular
toll increases, and the main difference between this table and
the other table is that obviously toll income is higher and there
is an increase in profit. Am I correct in assuming that all the
figures with a star by them in the column headed "Losses
and profits" are profits that Merseytravel could take out
of the tunnels and use for other purposes?
My Lord, I would have to agree that that is exactly the correct
interpretation of this exhibit, but with the caveat which I indicated
yesterday, that this assumes a certain range of economic assumptions,
but it also assumes that each toll rise which is justified, if
I can put it that way, under the terms of this Bill is in fact
implemented and is not tempered or deferred by the Passenger Transport
393. Assuming that Merseytravel chooses that it
will not defer toll rises and implements them on the basis of
the assumptions that you have made in this projection, am I correct
in thinking that the column of profits which Merseytravel can
take out of the tunnels adds up to just over £290 million?
I would not dispute that figure.
394. Can we turn to B29, which is page 86, which
is entitled, "Noise Insulation Map". There is no scale
on this, but at this particular point where the tunnel runs under
the river, the river from the sea wall on one side to the sea
wall on the other is approximately 850 metres. On that basis,
the road edged in red, heading towards the north-east on the map
seems to project approximately 800 metres from the tunnel approach
road. As Mr George pointed out this morning, the limit is in
fact 300 metres with a very small margin which would be the equivalent
to about half a house. Why has the illustration been given which
seems to be well outside what the Authority could do if it was
to use the equivalent of the 1970 Noise Insulation Regulations?
Well, the map is not intended to be definitive. It was drawn up
by consultants who advised both ourselves and Wirral Borough Council
of the potentially eligible roads. It is not intended, as I said,
to be a definitive map that includes or excludes particular properties.
The decision will need to be made in due course in strict conformity
with the Noise Insulation Regulations.
395. Why would consultants make what appears to
be such a gross error?
I cannot answer that question. The map is indicative of roads
that are potentially eligible in accordance with the Noise Insulation
Regulations, the decibel levels that prevailed when that consultancy
work was undertaken.
396. LORD BRADSHAW:Could it possibly be that
the roads concerned are in fact more heavily trafficked as a result
of the Mersey tunnels having been built and, therefore, have traffic
diverted over them which did not previously use those roads?
I think, my Lord, that is entirely true and I did indicate in
my evidence to the Committee yesterday that there have been alleviating
works which Merseytravel have introduced in recent years, including,
if you recall, a reference to whisper asphalt on the carriageway
and the planting of trees on tunnel land.
397. CHAIRMAN: Mr McGoldrick, you referred,
I thought I heard you say, to the road to the north-east. Do
you not mean the north-west? Is it the right-hand side of the
398. MR McGOLDRICK: It is, yes, I apologise.
That is correct. Still on the matter of the noise insulation,
you mentioned yesterday that the Wallasey Tunnel or at least the
first tube of it opened in 1971.It is now 2004. Why is it that
no action has been taken up to now?
The issue of noise insulation is one that has quite a lengthy
history. I think it perhaps would be helpful to the Committee
to understand that the cutting in which the approach road runs
to the Kingsway Tunnel was originally a railway line and that
many of the properties were built while that railway line was
in existence. Leaving all that on one side, the pressure from
residents began to grow quite considerably during the 1980s as
traffic through the Kingsway Tunnel built up. Now, we have co-operated
with Wirral Borough Council in trying to find a solution to that
problem. The law, as it stands, does not allow either Merseyside
Passenger Transport Authority or Wirral Borough Council to take
steps to deal with the issue under the Noise Insulation Regulations.
It is, I understand in legal terms, referred to as a lacuna in
that it falls between two stools. We have tried seeking a dispensation
from the Department for Transport for permission for the exercise
of the functions of the incurring of expenditure to deal with
this problem as a one-off and that permission was refused because
the Minister felt that it might set unwelcome precedent in other
areas. We, therefore, felt that the only way to deal with the
problem was to seek legislation.
399. MR McGOLDRICK: Still on the matter of
the noise insulation, you said yesterday that the Authority wanted
to be as generous as possible, and I think you may have mentioned
a couple of items which Mr George possibly indicated would not
be covered by the Noise Insulation Regulations, such as landscaping
and fencing. Can I ask you to turn to page 112 of the Bill, which
is A25. On page 9 of the Bill, clause 109A, at the bottom of
paragraph (4), the Authority seems to be being given power, "Except
when to do so would be inconsistent with the provisions of this
section or otherwise inappropriate in the circumstances, the Authority
" That seems to give the Authority
fairly wide powers, wider than the Noise Insulation Regulations
as to what money it spends on noise insulation.