HC Deb 26 November 1990 vol 181 cc610-2
10. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on prospects for the channel tunnel fast link to London.

Mr. Freeman

British Rail is eager to proceed with the rail link to the channel tunnel as soon as it is a viable proposition. It is reviewing the options and expects to reach a conclusion on its preferred option next spring.

Mr. Banks

On behalf of myself and the London borough of Newham, may I thank the Minister for his visit to Stratford on Friday? What are his impressions following that visit? Will he give a clear public assurance that British Rail is seriously considering Stratford as the site for the international station for the channel tunnel? Will he also say that British Rail will publish the criteria that it has adopted for considering the options for the route linking Kent to London?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I enjoyed my visit to Newham and Stratford terminal very much. Clearly it is an important intersection of lines for British Rail. The director of Network SouthEast gave the hon. Gentleman British Rail's commitment at that meeting—which I reinforce—that he will consider the prospects for redevelopment of the station straight away to improve facilities, which clearly need improvement, for the lines that currently run through Stratford.

As for Stratford being the location for the international station, that is for British Rail to evaluate. It was interesting for me to see the space available, but we must also note that, whichever route is chosen for passengers to come into London, it is important for them to arrive at a terminus in central London. British Rail made that plain. The Government understand that. In so far as the second terminal is to be King's Cross, the Government support British Rail. That is not inconsistent with a station at Stratford, but is nevertheless an important consideration.

Mr. Dunn

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is some misunderstanding about the timetable to be followed by the Department following the presentation to him of British Rail's proposals for the construction of a high-speed rail link through Kent? Can he place on record today the likely timetable to be followed, leading to the announcement of his Department's approval, or otherwise, for British Rail's proposals?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. British Rail has said that by next spring it will conclude its study of the alternative routes into London. The chairman of British Rail and its management have made plain their view that one needs a second terminal in central London, and that it should be King's Cross—that is the subject of a Bill before Parliament. When British Rail has reached a conclusion—as I said earlier, independent consultants will review the process and I am sure that my hon. Friends will put questions about it at the appropriate time—it will place before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport a proposal for the preferred route and the method of financing it. The Department will consider that as quickly as possible.

Mr. Leighton

Pending the decision to make Stratford the international interchange for the channel tunnel link, which would be a sensible decision, does the Minister recall sending me a letter earlier this year, stating that there would be immediate improvements to Stratford station —for example, making the lavatories work and painting the waiting room? His letter said that that work would be done by the end of the summer. Has he noticed the cold weather outside and the fact that the English summer has now ended? Can he give me a date when those promised improvements will take place?

Mr. Freeman

That is a matter for British Rail. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and that expressed by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). Improvements are needed to the station. Quite honestly, services and facilities there are not up to those that a major interchange station such as Stratford deserves. It will receive my personal attention.

Mr. Gerald Bowden

Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that the independent assessment of British Rail's and the private group's proposals for the channel tunnel rail link will be truly independent and objective? I am sure that he will be disturbed to learn that functionaries of British Rail are promoting the impression, in the Warwick gardens area of my constituency, that it is only a matter of time before British Rail's original proposals for Warwick gardens are carried out.

Mr. Freeman

There is no reason why my hon. Friend's constituents should jump to that conclusion. Distinguished independent consultants will thoroughly review the process to ensure that the logic, reasoning and rationale are sound and that the decision made is not only defensible by British Rail, the operator, but will command the widespread support of hon. Members.

Ms. Ruddock

Will the Minister admit that the choice of Upper Halling in west Kent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hawling."] However it is pronounced—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that pronunciation matters too much.

Ms. Ruddock

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall start again. Will the Minister admit that the choice of Upper Halling in west Kent on the safeguarded route prejudices the rest of the route? Will not the link pass through south-east London, unless he changes the criteria? Will he follow the advice of the European Commission and change the Treasury rules to allow for a mix of public and private money to finance the link in a way that will meet national, economic and environmental needs?

Mr. Freeman

I understood perfectly what the hon. Lady meant. The line that is safeguarded between Folkestone and the North Downs does not prejudice any of the three routes. It is a safeguarding procedure to prevent developments or construction along the line of the route that would be inconsistent with perhaps one or two of the proposals. Whatever happens, it is certain that the route will pass through Ashford, and the Government have given a commitment to support Ashford station.

The Government have not ruled out public financing of a high-speed rail link—not a grant, but public financing —or a contribution from Network SouthEast to reflect improvements to commuter services in south-east Kent. A high-speed rail link that serves commuters will bring benefits to those who live in the south-east and therefore higher fares and revenue to British Rail.

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