Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560-579)



560. MR McGOLDRICK: So the Regulator for gas and electric have set prices lower than the RPI?

561. LORD BRADSHAW: To be correct they set maximum prices and there is competition below the maximum.

(Mr Bates) That is correct.

562. MR McGOLDRICK: If we can skip C13, and C14, and turn to exhibit C15, the Importance of Transport Costs to Businesses. I think you said that this had been done using some standard methodology to determine the answers, but having done that you then presented the figures in three columns divided between "very important", "quite important" and "not important". Could you not have shown it as just two columns, "important" and "not important", in which case would it not be case that apart from Liverpool other areas seem to regard transport costs as being fairly important?

(Mr Bates) It is always difficult when you are doing a survey and you are asking someone about the degree of importance or the degree of non-importance. So what we do when we design the surveys is we always tend to break down that response because something might be important to me but it is not really important to me, so what we are really trying to do is identify within it. This is exactly how the question was articulated to business. By definition a business might say everything is important to them and that might well be true and there might be lots and lots of things that are important to business. So what we are really trying to do here with the "very important" is to identify where that is of sufficient importance that it raises it above the general level of important issues for business. It is as simple as that. It is a fairly standard design.

563. MR McGOLDRICK: Sorry to interrupt but you are suggesting that quite important is not important then?

(Mr Bates) What I was trying to explain was that if you asked a business about almost anything they might well say it was quite important. What we are trying to do is identify an issue that, as I said, is more important relative to all the other important issues. This is what we found with surveys. If you ask someone whether it is important they tend to say yes. One could categorise this by three or five or two whatever.

564. LORD BROOKMAN: Transport costs could be so important to certain businesses that they would pick up and move to another area because the cost of the transport is exorbitant and difficult for them to manage their company.

(Mr Bates) It could be.

565. That is what you come to as important.

(Mr Bates) That is what I am saying. Interest rates are important to business, availability of trained staff is important. Like I say, everything is important to business. What we are trying to do here, as we do with any kind of survey, is identify where something is more important relative to the general level of importance. It is just a design device to extract that. Yes?

566. MR McGOLDRICK: If we can turn to exhibit C16 the Strengths of Business Locations. One of the items on there is public transport. If I am reading this correctly, tell me if I am wrong, it seems to be saying that only somewhere round about one to two per cent of businesses on Merseyside think that public transport is a strong factor in where they locate. Is that correct?

(Mr Bates) I think it shows, as with a lot of things, that it was not seen to be a strength of the location relative to anything else. What we were really trying to find out, the way we were articulating the question, what is it about this location, what is the strength of this location relative to locations in general and it is true public transport did not come across. That might reflect the fact that public transport is considered to be okay anywhere and therefore it is not strength of one particular location.It could have simply been that.

567. Is it correct that the figure for the Wirral is zero per cent of businesses thinking that public transport is either zero or sufficiently small?

(Mr Bates) Or very close to it. It is by definition a very small amount.

568. The other items that you mention that did not directly refer to any table, you gave your view on how toll increases were perceived on Merseyside. On what basis have you got that view?

(Mr Bates) I think what I said was that if earnings grow faster than RPI and if tolls go up at RPI by definition over time the amount that the toll costs relative to the income for a person will go down. That is just a fact in respect of where it is, that was not how they were perceived that is just a simple arithmetic fact. That is all I was trying to articulate.

569. I take it that you do not live on Merseyside and you have not undertaken any survey as to how toll rises are perceived?

(Mr Bates) No. I am obviously aware of the consultation responses on toll rises.

570. Right. You mentioned parking which obviously has an overlapping effect with tunnel tolls. The difference between parking and tunnel tolls is that parking costs apply to everybody and tunnel tolls mainly of course apply to Wirral residents. You indicated that parking was an important part of the local transport plan; is that correct?

(Mr Bates) Yes, parking is one strand of the local transport plan.

571. To what extent does Merseytravel control car parking?

(Mr Bates) Merseytravel does not directly control car parking.

572. To what extent does Merseyside City Council have a significant control over off-street car parking in Liverpool city centre?

(Mr Bates) There is a mix of off-street car parking, some of which are controlled by the City Council and some of which are privately operated.

573. Could you tell us how many are controlled by the council and how much is in the hands of private operators?

(Mr Bates) It would be wrong for me to hazard an opinion without knowing.

574. CHAIRMAN: I am not sure Mr Bates is the right person to be addressing these questions.

(Mr Bates) I am not the right person.

575. CHAIRMAN: We are not terribly sure how relevant this is.

576. MR McGOLDRICK: You also mentioned the congestion charge. Do you think a congestion charge in Liverpool centre would be a more equitable way of discouraging traffic into Liverpool centre than a toll that mainly applies to residents?

(Mr Bates) By definition in terms of equitability obviously any charge that is applied to everybody as opposed to a small group must be more equitable.

577. LORD BRADSHAW: Surely if there were an economic disadvantage of living on the Wirral this would be reflected in the house prices charged on the Wirral as compared to Liverpool city centre, and in fact house prices in the Wirral are much higher which must mean people have in fact by deciding to live there elected to take the tunnel tolls into account in their decision. Everybody who lives there knows the tunnel tolls are there so they must bring it into their decisions about whether to buy their house on the Wirral.

(Mr Bates) Yes, and I would stress that a lot of the work we have done, I think as I have said, apart from the slight peculiarity of what I would call the "two-way road effect", the fact that the toll seems to keep activity on the Wirral, in terms of economic performance and the way businesses behave, there is very little difference between the Wirral and anywhere else in Merseyside. It does not seem to be having that dramatic effect. If it was having a dramatic effect, I am sure we would have picked it up in the surveys and we did not pick it up in the surveys.

578. MR McGOLDRICK: You have mentioned the Dartford Crossing carries considerably more traffic than the Mersey tunnels.

(Mr Bates) About twice as much.

579. How many lanes are there on the Dartford Crossing compared with the Mersey tunnels?

(Mr Bates) I have got a vague feeling it must be, off the top of my head, ten, which is four in the tunnels and six on the bridge.

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