Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 700-719)



700. CHAIRMAN: I do not think it is important in the overall scheme of things, but maybe on another occasion we might ask Merseytravel that although not formally.

701. MR McGOLDRICK: It is very sharp of you to notice that, my Lord Chairman. Pages 45 and 46 is a list of all of what we believe to be crossings of estuaries or similar crossings which has been done just by taking a road atlas. Anywhere it is thick and blue we have taken it to be tidal. What you can see there, my Lord Chairman, is that on page 46 all of those items are obviously free. On the previous page, page 45, all of the ones at the bottom are free. The crossings go anti-clockwise from the Mersey starting at Runcorn and then going to Queensferry, Connahs Quay and so on and back round. The only estuary-type crossings that seem to have a toll on are the ones in the top half of the page and they have been ranked in their current toll order with the Skye Bridge at £9.40. These are the return tolls for cars. It is done that way because on certain crossings which are marked here you will only pay one-way. So to give a clearer picture the ones where you pay both ways have been doubled to give you the return toll and it is all based on a motorcar. As you will see, the cheapest one is the Whitchurch Bridge at 20p and it then goes up in small amounts. If we start at the other end of the scale, the Skye Bridge is £9.40, the Humber Bridge is £5, the Severn Bridge is £4.50 and then all of a sudden there is the Mersey Tunnels. As you can see, with or without the toll increase, the Mersey Tunnels, as well as being relatively unique in many other ways, are already the fourth highest tolled estuarial crossing in Great Britain. If I can also mention in particular the Skye Bridge because the Skye Bridge is way above any of the other tolls and in fact that is the winter toll figure. In the summer the toll goes up to £11.40, which is a nice headline figure, but in fact the locals can buy prepaid tickets in books of 20 which means that the return toll for the locals is reduced to £2.68. It is still a substantial amount but obviously not as bad as paying £11.40.

702. If I can turn to page 47 which, again, is on the Skye Bridge. Our group was only formed a year ago, but there is a group that have been campaigning against tolls on the Skye Bridge who have been very active, they are called SKAT (Skye and Kyle Against Tolls). It is very widely supported in the community. Virtually all of the political parties have been backing them, including the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the party that their local leader belongs to, John Farquhar Monro, which is the Scottish Liberal Democrats. This page has been taken from their website and you can see the text from recent question and answer sessions in the Scottish Executive. I have spoken to the secretary of SKAT, Andy Anderson, who lives in Skye and he has told me - I do not know whether he is being optimistic or not - that he believes that it will be announced later this month in the Scottish Assembly that the tolls will be lifted very soon. The Scottish Assembly in effect will be buying out the existing concession there.

703. Page 48 is a comparison of certain crossings. To a certain extent it is a selective set of crossings, but basically what we tried to do is pick those crossings which are most similar in some way or other to the Mersey Tunnels. So we have the Blackwall Tunnels, the Dartford Crossing, the Forth Bridge, the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the Runcorn Bridge and the Tyne Tunnel. I want to draw out the figures. The Mersey Tunnels figures for this have come from their exhibits. The Blackwall Tunnels figures have come from Transport for London. The Dartford Crossing figure has come from the Le Crossing Company that is managing them. The Forth Bridge figure has come from the Forth Estuary Transport Authority which in fact is responsible for very little other than the bridge and was only recently set up. Rotherhithe Tunnel is again Transport for London. Runcorn Bridge is mainly from Halton Council. The Tyne Tunnel, which is in fact the only other crossing which is managed by a passenger transport authority, we approached Newcastle who were able to give us the information that we base this on.

704. I just want to draw your attention to three rows in particular. The first row is the daily flow per lane. These are the traffic figures that we have been given relating to the number of lanes. If you read across, you will see Mersey Tunnel 8.9, Blackwall Tunnel 19.7 and Dartford Crossing 18.3. I think it was mentioned this morning by the Merseytravel expert that he thought it was about twice the Mersey Tunnels. The Forth Bridge is 16,000, Rotherhithe Tunnel 14.6, Runcorn Bridge 19.6 and the Tyne Tunnel 15.6. The points I would wish to make is that it seems, if you take the day as a whole, the Mersey Tunnels are operating well below the levels at which other major tunnels or crossings operate. If you can move down to the line which says "Peak hourly flow per lane", that is not necessarily the same peak hour, it is just when that particular crossing seems to carry the heaviest volume of traffic which varies from one part of the country to another. I am reading across there. You will see that the Mersey Tunnel does relatively better than it does on the daily flow and in fact is equal to the Rotherhithe Tunnel, but it is still lower than the Blackwall Tunnel, Dartford Crossing, the Runcorn Bridge and the Tyne Tunnel. We were not able to get any breakdown over the day for the Forth Bridge.

705. The last item on that page I would like to draw your attention to is when car tolls were last increased and, as you can see, that was in November 1999. The Blackwall Tunnels have not been increased because they are free. Dartford Crossing was last increased in September 1996. The Forth Bridge was last increased in 1986. The Rotherhithe is free, the Runcorn Bridge is free and the Tyne Tunnel is in fact the only one that has been increased more recently than the Mersey Tunnels and that was in fact following an inquiry that lasted one day into an application by the authority to increase tolls and that was decided and the increase implemented in August 2001.

706. The following few pages, pages 49, 50 and 51, are just some of the detailed figures that we were able to get from some of the various authorities that were running it. There are reams of information there.

707. CHAIRMAN: I think it is summarised very well on page 48 so we perhaps do not need to go into the minutiae of the following pages. The message comes through loud and clear.

708. Right. Page 52 is back on the issue of tunnel safety. Merseytravel issue a lot of publicity and public announcements, one of which is Merseytravel News, which I think is circulated to all households on Merseyside. This is the winter 2001 edition and on the back page there is an item on tunnel safety which is just being shown on this page. If you just very briefly look at the last paragraph there it says: "It is important to stress, however, that the likelihood of a major incident occurring and these refuges being needed is highly unlikely as the two Mersey Tunnels are amongst the safest in Europe."

709.Pages 53 and 54 are just some very simple extracts from Hansard in relation to what provisions there are in relation to noise insulation. It mentions the Noise Insulation Regulations 1975 which Merseytravel have already provided you with a copy of. It also mentions one or two other things, including the possibility half way down the page in response to an answer on 25 April 2002 and it says: "Local housing authorities could consider whether it would be appropriate to award a discretionary Home Repair Assistance grant to private home owners and tenants for noise insulation. The Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) England and Wales Order 2002, if enacted, will provide authorities with a new general power which they could also use to this. End." That Order was in fact enacted.

710.If we could turn to page 55 this is an extract from Roadfile Report which is produced by the Road Users' Alliance. I just want to highlight the bit which is highlighted in grey on the left-hand side which indicates the extent to which all road users, including tunnel users, are already making a substantial contribution to the National Exchequer. You will see that road users are paying approximately£44 billion in taxes and the amount spent on roads is approximately£6 billion. It would be our wish that some small part of that was used to help to alleviate and eventually abolish toll increases.

711.The last page in the submission, page 56, is a recent story from the Wirral Globe. As you can see, it says "Welcome to the Wirral" and the Boundary Commission is proposing that part of Wirral is joined up with Liverpool for constituency purposes. At the point at which this story was done it was assumed that it would be part of Wallasey, where of course the Wallasey Tunnel is, that would be joined up with Liverpool but Frank Field has told me that the latest proposal from the Boundary Commission is that in fact it would be part of Birkenhead that would be joined up with Liverpool, but either way you have got a constituency joined up in the middle with a toll road which I would suggest is fairly unusual.

712.If I can just wrap up with one or two points, my Lord, which are not in the submission. As we have submitted a Petition there are petitions against the Petition and there are three of them. It is 22 to 24 in Merseytravel's binder. To a certain extent on Merseyside we feel that we are subject to what people outside Merseyside are saying. For instance a lot of people have taken note that the Peer that is sponsoring the Bill on behalf of Merseytravel does not come from Merseyside but comes from Greater Manchester. In relation to that I would just point out that all three petitions against our petition come from London addresses.

713. While I was mentioning the sponsor of the Bill, one of the other things that has caused some amazement on Merseyside was a remark that was made at the second reading which may possibly have influenced the vote which took place, which was a very close vote, which is that the sponsors said that only three per cent of the people of Merseyside use the tunnels. That point was, in fact, picked on by and repeated by three or four other Lords. Can I just say two things in relation to that. One is it is our belief that most people on Merseyside cross the Mersey at some point and the second point is that according to Merseytravel's submission approximately 80 per cent of those people who cross the Mersey do so by using the Tunnel and, therefore, it is difficult to see how a figure of three per cent is arrived at. That is all I wish to say.

714. CHAIRMAN: Have you any feel - you obviously do not agree with the three per cent figure - have you any feel for what percentage might be valid?

715. MR McGOLDRICK: It depends obviously, my Lord, on timescale. Are we talking about a person's lifetime or are we talking about a single day? If we are talking about a single day I would say that in a single day you may be talking about a figure somewhere between three and five per cent. If you are talking over a longer period of a week or a month then obviously the percentage increases and eventually it must reach almost 100 per cent. It is difficult to see that anybody on the north bank of the Mersey would have that great a phobia about crossing the Mersey that they would not in the course of the year cross it.

716. Although to a certain extent that is true because one of the points that I wish to make was that there is sometimes an impression that the people using the tunnels are well off and that the people who are not using the tunnels are the disadvantaged and that somehow or other these disadvantaged people are being subsidised by these "three per cent" of well-off people. The vast proportion of our members are just ordinary working people who have to use the tunnels to get to work or for other purposes. They are not well-off at all and increases in tunnel tolls can hit them substantially and it is not just a question of getting to work. One of the other main issues is the fact that the tolls inhibit use off peak. They inhibit in particular people visiting friends or relations who may be on one side of the river. One of our Committee members is a cleaner who happens to live in Wallasey and work at a library in the north end of Liverpool. She has to be in work for round about half six. The earliest bus is seven o'clock. There is no way that she can get to work apart from the car. Being a cleaner obviously the tunnel toll is a high proportion of her income. Not only that, and I appreciate this may sound a bit like a sob story, she is a widow and all of her family live in Liverpool. She used to live in Liverpool, she and her husband moved to Wallasey, her husband died shortly afterwards so she frequently has to go back to see her relations because there tends to be some inhibition in Liverpool at frequently using the tunnel. They do not like to pay the tolls basically. People who live on the Wirral to a large extent are forced to use the tunnel and pay the toll but people in Liverpool, if they can avoid it, do not.

717. CHAIRMAN: Your point is well made.

718. MR McGOLDRICK: That is all I wish to say. Thank you for your time.

719. CHAIRMAN: Before we move on the next stage can I just ask my colleagues if there are any questions they want to put to you? Not at this stage. Mr George, I think it would be fair to say that "new documents have been produced". I am sure you are much more experienced in this than I am but, as I understand it, you have the right of reply but solely to such new material. Do you agree with that? That is as I understand it.

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