§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor)
I should like, with permission, Madam Speaker, to make a statement about the proposed new channel tunnel rail link.
The House will recall that in March 1993 I announced a preferred route and asked Union Railways to lead the consultation on it. Union Railways carried out a huge consultation exercise, and reported to me in October. Its report is available in the Vote Office. I am now able to announce the Government's final conclusions on the route.
The report of Union Railways confirms that St. Pancras is preferable to King's Cross as the terminus on environmental, operational and commercial grounds. I therefore confirm the choice of St. Pancras as the London terminus. British Rail will no longer need to continue to seek powers to build the King's Cross low-level station and will be withdrawing the King's Cross Bill. I intend to remove the safeguarding of the land and property affected by that project. Links from St. Pancras will be provided to the east coast and west coast main lines to facilitate through services to the midlands, the north of England and Scotland, and midland main line services will be retained at St. Pancras.
I propose to seek powers in the hybrid Bill for the advance works for a new Thameslink station under St. Pancras, at Midland road. This would be the optimum location for any eventual new Thameslink station serving the King's Cross and St. Pancras area. It is our intention that further improvements to Thameslink would be carried forward by the private sector and financed entirely by the private sector. The use of any powers obtained will be a matter for the private sector promoters of the channel tunnel rail link and of Thameslink, and not for the Government.
I turn now to the route itself. The approach to St. Pancras has been one of the most contentious issues in London. The surface route along the north London line corridor would be difficult to construct and environmentally damaging. I considered the approach to St. Pancras in combination with three other options recommended by Union Railways for operational reasons. I have accepted a package that incorporates a tunnel, a grade-separated approach to the terminus, a short open concrete box at Stratford to allow for an emergency crossover, and advance works for a connection to Temple Mills.
In Kent, there is no easy choice at Pepper Hill. The tunnel under the electricity switching station has to be ruled out because of high cost and grave threat to the construction programme. The choice between a tunnel under Pepper Hill and an alignment around it cannot be made without more information. Before taking a final decision, I shall hold further consultations with those concerned.
I confirm that there will be a short tunnel under the north downs. I have accepted the proposal for a tunnel 240 m long at Hollingbourne in order to preserve the setting of the conservation area and to reduce noise impacts; and a 170 m long tunnel at Sandway under the Headcorn road so as to reduce the impact on the conservation area.
I have had to rule out the tunnel option to the west of Ashford on grounds of cost. However, as a consequence, and at the request of Ashford borough council, I have asked 20 Union Railways to consider urgently the relative merits of the present northerly preferred route and a central route through Ashford but then proceeding on the surface in a north-westerly direction. The new international station at Ashford is now proceeding and will serve passengers both before and after the construction of a new rail link.
At the Dollands Moor freight inspection facility adjacent to Eurotunnel's terminal, the Bill will allow for possible realignment to improve operations, with the further possibility of allowing international freight trains to have direct access to the rail link, thus removing the need for an additional freight inspection facility at Westenhanger. I shall also provide in the Bill for two freight passing loops in Kent, to keep open the option of taking more freight trains if demand justifies it in the future.
I turn now to intermediate stations. The decision in October 1991 to route the rail link on an easterly approach into London was based in large part on the opportunities for regeneration. With that objective in mind, the Government's view remains that, subject to satisfactory finance, there should be at least one intermediate station between Ashford and London. Four possible locations—Stratford, Rainham, Ebbsfleet and Nashenden"—have been looked at. The proposed domestic station at Nashenden has no private sector or local authority promoter or support. I have decided that it can be ruled out.
That leaves Stratford, Rainham and Ebbsfleet. Ebbsfleet and Rainham are in direct competition, both being M25 parkway stations. On present information, a combined international and domestic station at the northern site at Ebbsfleet seems the better parkway station option, but a final decision will depend upon the provision of satisfactory financing by the promoting group.
The economic case for a station at Stratford has yet to be fully made. If the justification for one—in particular the financial case—improves before the hybrid Bill is introduced, powers could be sought to build a longer box there than the one to which I referred earlier.
I intend to issue planning directions in the next few weeks to safeguard the route announced today and St. Pancras. These directions will replace all the existing safeguarding directions. I want to make it clear that the decisions on safeguarding the route announced today are final. Any changes which may be proposed by the private sector partner who will eventually build and operate the new link must be within the area safeguarded. Furthermore, any changes must not materially worsen the environmental impacts of the safeguarded route. The private sector will, however, have flexibility to decide on some operational features of the railway. I expect that the private sector will also want to consider carefully the phasing of the works.
I recognise that there is considerable concern about blight. Homes wholly or substantially required for building the railway, together with those seriously affected by the works or operation of the railway, will be included in the safeguarded zone and will be offered voluntary purchase. Any other homes that may be affected by operational noise above the proposed threshold for noise insulation will qualify for purchase in cases of hardship.
As I announced last November, the project will go ahead on the fastest possible timetable, with the private sector assuming full responsibility for construction and operation. The Government are willing in principle to provide substantial public sector support, in recognition 21 not only of the significant domestic transport and regeneration benefits from the new line, but also of some of the very large benefits to international passengers. Government assistance will be provided partly through the transfer of European passenger services to the private sector partner as soon as the partner has been chosen. The total Government assistance to be provided will depend on the outcome of the competition to select the private sector partner which will be launched very soon.
A hybrid Bill is being drafted on the basis of the safeguarded route. We aim to have it ready by this autumn for consideration by the private sector and for the Government to take forward thereafter. The precise timing of the Bill's introduction will depend on the parliamentary timetable and the private sector's views.
This solution will provide a fast rail link between London and the channel tunnel. It achieves all the Government's objectives. People who live in Kent will get further improved rail services to London. Rail travellers will receive the extra capacity when it is needed around the turn of the century. It provides a new railway which is sensitive to the land and townscapes through which it passes. It establishes a joint venture in which both the public and private sector play their roles.
It is a further demonstration, coming on top of the Dartford bridge, the second Severn crossing, Heathrow express and the Jubilee line extension, all of which have been built or are under construction, that the private finance initiative is now moving ahead fast.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. All the people and organisations affected by the channel tunnel were entitled to expect from the Government today a firm, once-for-all decision that the channel tunnel link would be built, that the route had been fixed, that proper environmental protection had been guaranteed, that decent compensation would be paid, that the blight would be lifted, and that the funds for the link had been found. The statement fails to meet all those legitimate demands.
All the route has not yet been fixed; there are still doubts about the intermediate stations, in particular the one proposed at Stratford; proper environmental protection has not been guaranteed to the satisfaction of the people affected; compensation terms are still not fair to all concerned; all the blight has not been lifted; and the necessary funds have not been found. Some aspects of the statement are welcome—for example, the choice of St. Pancras station as the London terminus, the commitment to some tunnelling through north London and Kent, and the firming up of most of the route—but those decisions do not go far enough, nor are they firm enough. The dither and the blight continue.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that his timetable for the building of the link means that it might not be operated for another nine or 10 years; that, for the next decade, goods and passengers from all over Britain will face a 70-mile bottleneck from London to the tunnel; that that will be an inconvenience for London but a disaster for people in the rest of the country who want to trade with and travel to Europe; that individuals and companies from the north, the midlands, the south-west, Wales and Scotland, will, for a decade, be denied the full benefits of fast, regular, reliable and direct services to Europe that the Government originally promised; that when the first Eurostar train leaves Paris it will travel at 185 mph to the 22 tunnel, pass through the tunnel at 85 mph and then trundle at about 50 mph through Kent to Waterloo; and that, on arriving at Waterloo, international travellers will have to lug their baggage across London to King's Cross, St. Pancras, Euston or Paddington? Is not that a national disgrace when the French link is already in place?
Surely the Government had a strategic duty to ensure that the whole of Britain received the maximum benefits from the tunnel as soon as possible, rather than those benefits being concentrated in the south-east.
Will the Secretary of State make clear what he really intends about Government funding for the link? For the past seven years, the Government have ruled out any public contribution to the international aspects of the link. We welcome his return to common sense. He knows now that there was no chance of private investment without a Government contribution. If the Government had accepted that from the start, the link might have been built by now and we could all benefit immediately the tunnel comes into operation.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I hope, after all that, that the hon. Gentleman will support the proposal, but let me reply to a number of his points.
On the question about how much this matter is an advance today, it is a very significant further improvement. The route has been fixed, subject to two very small remaining parts—Ashford and Pepper Hill. I have been around them once again since I received the Union Railways report to take a good look at them on the ground. I have received representations on them, and I believe that we can actually settle the route in both areas after some further fairly swift consultation, and well before the hybrid Bill comes before the House or the completion of the competition for the private sector partner.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that today the vast majority of the route has been fixed and that therefore the blight has been lifted, that the safeguarding will apply to all areas that I have mentioned and that, within the next three to four weeks, we shall make the safeguard announcements for all those parts of the route.
On the environmental assessment, the hon. Gentleman will know that an enormous amount of work has been done in relation to the Union Railways report on the environmental aspects. Indeed, a large number of expert consultancies have been deeply involved, but the proper environmental assessment comes at a later stage, and we shall certainly fulfil all the requirements of the European Community environmental directive.
As for stations, at the moment there is not sufficient private finance, which we have made clear throughout is required, for an additional station or two. Therefore, it must be right—no doubt it will involve the partner who is eventually selected as a result of the competition—that we do not make a decision about the stations, apart from the one that I have ruled out, until the financing is clear.
As far as funds are concerned, I made clear in my statement last March that we would be making a public sector contribution. Then, of course, we were prohibited from doing so via British Rail because of section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act. Developments since then have enabled me to widen the area in which public contributions can be made. One significant development was the Railways Act 1993, which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) opposed all the way through. 23 We cannot at this stage say what the precise split will be between private and public sector finance, and that will be a part of the contributions which are to come.
The hon. Gentleman referred to tunnelling. My announcement today means that 23 per cent. of the total route will be tunnelled. That is a substantial contribution, and clearly demonstrates the extent to which we are taking into account environmental aspects.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman, from a sedentary position, says that it is a big deal. I ask him to reflect on what the route might be like if there was to be something like 75 per cent. tunnelling. The route would not be as attractive as it will be in the way in which I have announced today. To respond to another point made by the hon. Gentleman, we have firmed up not only most of the route, but the vast majority of it.
The hon. Gentleman referred to goods and passengers and commented on a 70-mile bottleneck. It is worth restating clearly that, as a result not least of the £1.4 billion of public expenditure that has been devoted to the track, infrastructure and rolling stock to take advantage of the tunnel when it opens, the time taken for passengers from London to Paris will be down to three hours. The time to Brussels will be three and a quarter hours until the high-speed link is completed in Belgium. Those times will make the route very competitive with air now and for the rest of the 1990s.
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would stop decrying the amount of expenditure which has already gone in to providing the infrastructure to achieve those benefits. I stated at Question Time that there will be significant improvements in the prospects for freight on rail as a result of the opening of the channel tunnel and the investment that has been made. In particular, that will be of benefit to the west midlands, the north of England and Scotland, where there will be significant improvements.
Through trains will go from Waterloo to Scotland and to the north of England, so the hon. Gentleman was wrong on that count. Therefore, he is quite wrong to say that the benefits of the scheme are confined mainly to the south east. That is not true.
As a result of the investment, there will be a substantial take-up of use of the channel tunnel in the 1990s. My announcement today means that we shall be able to have the high-speed link on stream at the time that the extra capacity which it provides is needed.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. A number of hon. Members are seeking to put questions on the statement. After the initial exchanges, I must demand speedy questions and even speedier answers.
§ Sir Keith Speed (Ashford)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be disappointment in my area that he has not been able to provide a tunnel for the central route through Ashford? In view of the strong support for the central route—not least to ensure the long-term viability of the station, and on environmental grounds—we welcome the fact that he is prepared to look at alternative solutions. However, that means that communities such as Little Chart and Hothfield face an uncertain future. Will my right hon. 24 Friend guarantee that there will be full and speedy consultation and that there will be the maximum environmental protection possible for whatever route is finally chosen?
§ Mr. MacGregor
As we have said elsewhere, we are going for the maximum environmental protection and mitigation. I know that my hon. Friend is disappointed with the decision to rule out the tunnel alternative. However, it would have added £65 million to the cost and that would not have been justified, given the benefits which would have flowed from it. I assure him that the consultation on the additional route which was suggested to me by Ashford borough council will be speedy. I am as anxious as my hon. Friend to end the blight as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Nick Harvey. (North Devon)
In welcoming the supposedly final announcement of St. Pancras as the central London route and the tunnelling of the approach to it, may I echo the disappointment that there will not be tunnelling at Ashford? May I ask the Secretary of State how much public money was wasted on the King's Cross project and the south London route? Would not that have helped towards the cost of the tunnels at Ashford?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am not sure of the answer to the hon. Gentleman's last question. I shall try to find out as much as possible, but he will know that part of the question cannot be answered yet because the properties are being resold. However, I want to make it clear that the St. Pancras decision is the final one: he seemed to cast doubt on that. I am sure that it is the right decision. The Union Railways report confirmed that, for a variety of reasons. It was right that we should have that additional look so that we could have the right answer for the long-term future.
§ Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)
While I welcome the Government's preferred option of an intermediate station at Ebbsfleet, will my right hon. Friend confirm that Ebbsfleet would benefit the local domestic commuter as well as the international passenger in a way that Rainham would not? Will he further confirm that, if the alignment goes round Pepper Hill, the rail link will go under the A2 rather than over it, thus avoiding impact on the communities of Southfleet and Betsham?
§ Mr. MacGregor
In answer to my hon. Friend's first point, I can confirm that Ebbsfield would benefit domestic passengers as well as international ones. As my hon. Friend knows, that is another great benefit that will arise from the project as a whole. Domestic passengers in Kent and parts of Essex will gain considerably in improved journey times.
On my hon. Friend's second point about whether the rail link goes under or over the A2, we are looking at two options. Again, as for Ashford, we want to take decisions speedily.
§ Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
In order not to sound curmudgeonly, may I say that we are pleased that the route through Hackney will be in a tunnel and that Stratford has not been chosen as an intermediate station? As far as we are concerned, the shorter the box the better. Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be proper compensation for homes affected by the operation of the tunnel?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Compensation will depend on how close the homes are to the surface route. Modern engineering and conditions mean that noise mitigation for those above a tunnel is well carried through.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments about the tunnel in Hackney. I know that there is some division on his side about Stratford station. As he will have heard from my statement, the decision will depend on the reactions that we receive in the months ahead.
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's modest improvement in the compensation arrangements, but is he aware that tying the voluntary acquisition arrangements to a proposed noise theshold which, in the opinion of every district council in Kent, is too severe will produce a result for individual blighted households that is neither reasonable not fair?
§ Mr. MacGregor
As my hon. Friend knows, we are still consulting on the threshold. We have extended the consultation period until 28 February at the request of some of the consultees to enable them to put in their responses. We shall then have to look at the position. We seek to apply broadly the same principles in compensation for this project as for projects elsewhere in the transport sector.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) is probably on his own in being glad that there will not be an international station at Stratford. We in the east end are very disappointed that the Secretary of State has not been able to announce this afternoon that the station will be in Stratford. Long box or short box, it is better than a cardboard box, but it is certainly not better than an international station. The station is the key to the regeneration of the east Thames corridor and docklands.
The Secretary of State said that a case could be made before the hybrid Bill was placed. Will the private sector and the public sector in the east end have to persuade him or British Rail that we need an international station at Stratford?
On compensation—given that the route goes immediately under my house in Forest Gate—will there be compensation for people in the north of Newham for the tunnelling under the borough?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I would not want to comment on any particular compensation case. I did not think that it would be long before the hon. Gentleman bobbed up to dispute the point that his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) made. We have not taken the final decision on the matter; I have made that clear. The justification is not fully there yet.
Of course I accept the importance of the channel tunnel high-speed link to the regeneration of east London. Et is one of many contributory factors. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are doing a great deal with a large number of projects to achieve that regeneration. The financial case for Stratford station, however, has not yet been made out. It will be for the advocates of that station to continue to make that case, and I shall also listen to what they have to say before any decision is taken.
§ Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)
My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we share his delight about the abandonment of the Nashenden proposal. He knows that there is a unique position over the River Medway: there is 26 the rail-link bridge, and a further road link is being proposed by the Department of Transport, which will mean that two enormous bridges will overlook my constituency at Borstal and Strood. I know that it is possible that joint approval can be given in a hybrid Bill to allow those two bridges to be constructed at the same time. Will he assure me that that can and will be done? My constituents do not want a decade of construction.
§ Mr. MacGregor
We certainly recognise the need to co-ordinate the design of the high-speed link and the widening of the M2 so that their combined effects are as sympathetic as possible to the environment. I am aware of the local people's and my hon. Friend's concern that the schemes should be constructed in a similar time scale to minimise construction disturbance in the region. I am also aware of her feeling that it would be helpful to include a scheme to widen the M2 in the hybrid Bill. It could be promoted either under Highways Act procedures or as part of the Bill. No decision has been taken yet on that, but I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be making further representations to me on the matter.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be dismay in most of east London that he is still dithering and that he has not announced that there will definitely be an international station at Stratford, despite all the support and co-operation that he has had from the London borough of Newham? Does he realise that it will be considered a stab in the back if that station is not built? The Government's pretence at partnership in the east Thames corridor and in docklands will lose all credibility unless that station is built. It is essential to kick-start the regeneration of that region.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to consider the full Union Railways report. As I have already stated, however, the financing case has not yet been made out. All through the discussions, we have made it clear that we would expect the promoters to finance the stations. The issue is still open and I have made it clear that I shall be prepared to consider the long box for the hybrid Bill. It is still open to the promoters to make a convincing case.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I very much welcome the promise of my right hon. Friend that the project will now be built as quickly as possible. My constituents have already lived in the shadow of blight for five years, and they are likely to live in it for another 10. He must know that the mere statement of where the route will go does not remove blight. Blight continues because people cannot sell their houses if a big construction project is going ahead. Despite the speed with which we want the project to progress, my right hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that we will petition about the long tunnel in the Boxley valley.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I assure my hon. Friend that I fully understand the arguments about blight. That is why I have tried to move the project forward as quickly as possible. It is worth underlining the extent of last year's consultation exercise. Union Railways held 650 meetings in six months, and my Department received nearly 2,500 representations or petitions. There has been a massive amount of work done to reach the stage of my announcement today, which takes a singificant step forward in dealing with blight. Safeguarding the route is the key essential.
27 I understand my hon. Friend's point about the non-statutory blight that occurs as a result of the construction programme. I hope that we shall complete that construction as quickly as possible. We have to take into account, however, that the hybrid Bill will take some time to progress through the House, not least because of the number of petitioners, of whom my hon. Friend will be one. I hope, therefore, that he will co-operate to ensure that the Bill proceeds through the House as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be much relief in my constituency that the route will go into deep tunnel under it? I hope that he will pay due tribute to the many campaigning organisations and the excellent document that they put together that obviously helped to persuade him to include the deep tunnel as part of the route.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain exactly what is meant by the "grade-separated" junction of the line at the St. Pancras end? Exactly how far will the route run above the ground within the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)? Exactly how many properties will be affected by it? What compensation arrangements will be made? What will be the effect of blight on the community around King's Cross, which has already suffered so much blight because of the original King's Cross Railways Bill?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I hope that my announcement about removing the safeguarding of the King's Cross railway lands will remove much of the blight, particularly in relation to commercial and other developments.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the tunnel. I do not believe that the decision was reached solely because of all the representations; it was reached also as a result of the thorough work of Union Railways. I pay tribute to the tremendous efforts made by that company and its consultants. I hope that those consultants will not be castigated in the future, as they have been by the Opposition in the past, because their private-sector expertise has enabled a thorough job to be done.
That has enabled us to reach the best possible solution for north London, given that some people will always be affected by such a major scheme. I have no doubt, however, that the tunnel under Islington will make a significant difference to everyone in north London. The hon. Gentleman will see from the report that the tunnel will come out just east of the Caledonian road.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the grade-separated junction. I invite him to look at the report. It is required to ensure that there are no future capacity constraints on the number of services coming in to St. Pancras station.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I thank my right hon. Friend for acknowledging the concerns of my constituents at Pepper Hill and Northfleet by reopening the alternative option to skirt the housing estate—that option was closed far too early by Union Railways. When will it report on that option, because that blight will continue and it is a matter of great concern? Will my right hon. Friend also take note of the fact that all concerned wish to see the lowest possible route passing under the carriageway of the A2?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. All aspects of the further alternative must be considered thoroughly in terms of their impact and financial costs in relation to the tunnel under Pepper Hill. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is necessary to reach conclusions on it quickly. Therefore, we will ask Union Railways to do so speedily so that we can take decisions and the extent of the blight is decided.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
Is the Secretary of State totally unaware of the discourtesy that he has displayed to my constituents and the people of Essex? After he had explained and dealt with all the other objections and representations that he received, his statement completely ignored the legitimate claim of my constituents for tunnelling in the area that affects my constituency and splits the town of Thurrock. Is he blind to the security implications of having a surface channel tunnel rail link route crossing the M25 at the Queen Elizabeth II bridge? That is absurd. Surely that example alone presents an overwhelming case for tunnelling.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that thousands of people who live along the route in Kent and Essex will hold deep bitterness against him for the fact that he continues to blight their homes? The safeguarded route will provide compensation only for those people whose houses will be knocked down, but nothing will be done to help those who must live alongside and abut the line of route for the next decade. The right hon. Gentleman's statement is outrageous and one for which he should be condemned.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am aware that it is not possible to please everyone when such a major scheme is decided. As the hon. Gentleman will see when he studies the report, we have not ignored the issue that he has raised. I had to choose only certain items for the statement to avoid it being too long.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I do not think that that is true about north London and the lines going through it. The decisions were reached on the basis not of Tory seats but of the major changes announced. If I had tried to cover every aspect of the changes, I would have made a statement that was three times as long as today's statement.
I accept that the viaduct carrying the rail link past the Mardyke Park housing estate will have a noise and visual impact. There is scope for reducing the number of houses affected by means of revised mitigation proposals. The longer tunnel favoured by consultees simply could not be justified.
§ Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that support for an international station at Rainham remains strong, and that every opportunity will be taken by the promoters to persuade him of the case for it during the extra time that he has allowed?
As for the route, has my right hon. Friend been able to accommodate the anxieties of the residents of Havering, expressed to us in the House of Commons and elsewhere? In particular, has he been able to respond to the points urged on him by our hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), advocating a more southerly route through Rainham?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said about Rainham. I have no doubt that the promoters will strengthen their case in the discussions that will take place in the months ahead.
It has not been possible to meet all the requests about Rainham, but there have been slight adjustment; to the route there.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
In respect of the possible Stratford international, boxed or unboxed. has the Secretary of State perused the memorandum that I sent him advocating such a station on strategic grounds? Can he deny the fact that more than 200 stations in Greater London and south-east England would be connected directly to Stratford, given current running and current plans? Would not such a facility for direct public transport to such a station complement the facilities in central London and reduce traffic in Newham, Hackney and even Norfolk as Liverpool street trains could stop at Stratford?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Stratford will be important in any case, irrespective of this decision, because there is a considerable number of links there. The problem is that the financial case has not yet been fully made out; the financial proposals that we must seek before we go ahead have not been forthcoming. I very much hope that the promoters will look further at that in the months ahead to see whether their case can be accepted.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
Does the Minister recall that on 5 June 1986, when some of us suggested that the rail link would inevitably involve considerable public funding, we were told that that was nonsense—rubbish —and that our fears were wholly unfounded? Given today's announcement and the fact that £2.6 billion has already been given to the project by the EC, has my right hon. Friend yet come to the conclusion that the channel tunnel is an outdated white elephant which will cost the taxpayers of Britain a fortune?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I do not recall the statement in 1986 because I was not present—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] I do not recall precisely the date and the terms. I have, however, been looking at the issues since becoming Secretary of State for Transport. I made the position clear in March last year, and I have developed it further today.
I do think that there is a case for a public sector contribution—a large one—to the high-speed link. I am astonished by the reaction of the Labour party, which has been urging on me a high-speed link all the way through but which now believes that I have arrived at a mistaken view—
§ Mr. MacGregor
At the same time, the Labour party must recognise the fact that substantial public expenditure has gone into the existing route, which has the capacity to deal with the traffic at least until the turn of the century. Now we are discussing what we need to do for further capacity.
I believe-—I would not have made the statement otherwise—that the high-speed link is important. It is right to make a public sector contribution to it; and I do not believe the channel tunnel to be a white elephant. I think that there will be substantial take-up.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
The Secretary of State referred in his statement to the St. Pancras link as facilitating through services to the midlands, the north of England and Scotland. Inadvertently or otherwise, he did not mention the possibility of through services to Holyhead, a matter regarded as important not only by north Wales but by the Irish Government. Can he give an assurance that the link has not been ruled out by the Government and that it can be facilitated as part of this package?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am sure that nothing would be ruled out for the long term. One of the issues here is that of the electrification of the link to Holyhead, about which there was an exchange earlier today. That is relevant to my statement this afternoon.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that it makes sense for people travelling from the eastern counties to be able to connect by rail to the channel tunnel railway? If, therefore, Stratford station is ruled out in the end, will he ensure careful investigation of the possibility of the Thameslink network being spread sufficiently far into East Anglia that there can be connection at the new station to which he referred—the Midland road station at St. Pancras?
§ Mr. MacGregor
That would be a matter for the Thameslink promoters to consider. Needless to say, as my hon. Friend knows, I am anxious to ensure that the links between East Anglia and the channel tunnel high-speed link and the channel tunnel generally are as good as they can be.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will not recall that I was one of the very few Members who totally opposed the channel tunnel project on Second Reading. Is he aware that there is still a small number of us who see nothing in this ill-starred project but financial, ecological and, finally, physical disaster? But, in the interim, what archaeological investigations will be made into the effect of these developments on the recently discovered prehistoric walkways under various parts of east London, a very serious matter?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Perhaps frequently he speaks only for himself. Archaeological aspects will obviously be considered in the environmental assessment. As I have said, that will be carried out in full, complying with the European directive, at the appropriate time when the hybrid Bill comes forward.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
My right hon. Friend spoke about the benefit to local services in north Kent. Will he spell out whether there will be a junction at Ebbsfleet that will allow trains from north Kent to join the new line? If so, it will be good news for my commuter constituents.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I think that I confirmed that earlier to my hon. Friend, but I am happy to do so again. I repeat that the benefits to commuters and other passengers in north Kent and in Kent generally are certainly one of the advantages of the project.
§ Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)
Given the amount of consultation that the Secretary of State says he has had on this project, does not he think that it is about time that we had the final, final statement on this route? What comment does he make to my constituents, especially those between Grove Park and Hither Green, and, indeed, others in south-east London, who will have to bear the burden of extra freight trains but will have no benefit from extra commuter trains or the link, and will have to suffer blight on their homes for the next 10 years while the fast trains go through to Waterloo?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Of course there will be benefits to the hon. Lady's constituents in other ways. I re-emphasise that my announcement safeguards by far the vast majority of the route. There are only two stretches—and they are not significant in relation to the total route mileage—on which we are undertaking further consultations. Those consultations will be completed within a matter of months, well before the competition for the private sector partner is completed and well before the Bill is presented. By then, of course, the entire route will be safeguarded.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
I welcome three matters in particular: the Secretary of State's emphasis on improvements to Thameslink, on keeping the freight options open, and on his commitment to substantial public sector support for the project. I have argued for that from a somewhat lonely position on these Benches ever since the project was mooted. I never thought that it would happen without such support, so I welcome it.
I should like an assurance on two matters. First, will my right hon. Friend's Department continue to keep a close eye on ensuring that the services for commuters using the existing lines in Kent are not downgraded when they are in competition with the international cross-channel services? Secondly, will he ensure that the Bill and the construction of the link are pushed forward with a great deal more urgency than there has been over the past eight years?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for the three matters that he mentioned. On the first of his questions, there will be no downgrading by my Department—of course, the issue does not concern only my Department—of existing commuter services in Kent. My hon. Friend will know about the efforts that are being made with British Rail to improve existing services and about the substantial investment in rolling stock and in other matters.
On my hon. Friend's second point, I hope that he will accept that there has been a pretty speedy resolution of all the difficult issues on the route in the past 18 months. We moved quickly to the preferred route. Six months was the minimum time that we could have given Union Railways to carry out massive tasks—engineering, environmental and others. They did that well. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that we took our decisions on the report as quickly as could possibly be expected, given the substantial implications. I hope that we can now proceed along the path that I have outlined, and with due speed. But, inevitably with a project of this nature, I suspect that there will be many petitions on the Bill.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
The Secretary of State knows well that not only the Thames corridor but much of the north of England is in need of regeneration. Will he assure me that links from the west 32 coast main line and the east coast main line, which will need to be constructed before St. Pancras becomes a viable option, will be in place before the rest of the line is completed so that the disadvantage already suffered by the north of England in channel tunnel links is not worsened by the changes that have been announced?
§ Mr. MacGregor
The two points that the hon. Gentleman has in mind—the connections with the west coast main line and the east coast main line to ensure that services coming out of St. Pancras go direct, as I have said, to the north of England, west midlands and Scotland—are an intrinsic part of the proposal.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)
Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that, at the present time, the north of England and the rest of the United Kingdom are not disadvantaged and that the links to which he has referred will be adequate and proper? If he is able to give that assurance, does he agree that the channel tunnel rail link will benefit not only southern England but the whole of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I agree with my hon. Friend; he makes an important point. I am quite sure that, as with the Jubilee line, there will be construction jobs for firms all over the country. My hon. Friend will know that that is the case with the Jubilee line.
As for freight, a substantial part of the investment that has already been made is designed to benefit the north of England, Scotland, west midlands and other parts of the country apart from the south-east to gain the full benefits that long-distance freight can gain from having the channel tunnel. I repeat that there will be dramatic reductions in journey time for freight on rail compared to the present time—and, indeed, compared with road—when freight services open. There will be direct passenger services from the north of England through the channel tunnel in 1995.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
Does not the Secretary of State understand that the upgrading that we all anticipated for the west coast main line is extremely important for the industrial heartlands of the west midlands, the north-west and the west coast of Scotland? Will not the lack of urgency in his statement confirm the suspicions of those of us who believe that he does not have a commitment to the fast rail links, without which there will be no regeneration in the industrial heartlands and regions along the west coast main line?
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman obviously framed his question before I answered my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks). I dealt with some of those issues in that answer. We are proceeding with the greatest speed that we can get on the high speed link, because, as I have said repeatedly, it is a complex issue, involves a large number of organisations and people, and must be thoroughly argued through. We are proceeding with it with due speed.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we attach priority to the upgrading of the west coast main line generally and the southern sector, which is the sector most in need of improvement. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport said at Question Time, we expect Railtrack to announce shortly the results of the competition for the specification stage. That is moving ahead, too.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Will the Secretary of State tell us what communications links there are between Ebbsfleet and the London Underground? What communications links are there with the potential crossrail link? Is it not ridiculous that, instead of taking advantage of linking the channel tunnel link to Stratford, the whole of the Central line and the rest of the underground system, he comes up with an announcement that will be seen as bitterly disappointing by my constituents in Ilford and other people near to the area who could have benefited so much from those proposals? Those of us in east London already have appalling conditions in travelling to this place and into central London generally, and the proposals do nothing to improve that situation.
§ Mr. MacGregor
No doubt the hon. Gentleman will talk again to the promoters of the Stratford station. I have made my position on that very clear.
The hon. Gentleman will know that a number of other improvements—unconnected with the high-speed link—are to go ahead. Improvements to the underground and other transport systems in the east end are being considered, and substantial improvements in all aspects of transport are taking place to assist the regeneration of east London.
I was not able to mention this in my statement, but the report makes it clear that Union Railways and the operators have decided that there are no operational benefits in a direct connection between crossrail and the high-speed link. We have therefore decided not to proceed with the direct link at Forest Gate, and at one other location. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should read the report in that context.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
In his statement, the Secretary of State referred to the importance and significance of the link with the north. Can he give us some idea of when it will be completed? This concerns many of my constituents whose properties are blighted by the proposal for a terminal in my constituency. When will the Department of Transport or the Department of the Environment give the go-ahead for the Wakefield terminal? Can the right hon. Gentleman give the project any assistance?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I was not sure what link the hon. Gentleman meant, but I now understand that he is referring to the rail freight terminal. We hope to make a statement shortly; as the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been financing problems.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
What should have been a great national project has been delayed to such an extent that it has taken eight years for it even to reach this stage. Does that not speak volumes about Tory government? The channel tunnel link has been seen as a holy grail into which not a penny of public money must go. Now that has been thrown away, and we are having to start all over again.
Is that the way in which great national infrastructure projects should be treated? Is it not astonishing that the Secretary of State should announce a route to us, while still being unable to tell us with any assurance where the money will come from? Why do not the Government get on with it, and end the national embarrassment that they have inflicted on Britain? Anyone can see the contrast between what has been done in France and what has been done in this country, under successive Tory Secretaries of State.
§ Mr. MacGregor
That reaction is typical of the hon. Gentleman. Let me make two points.
First, a substantial amount—about £1.4 billion—has been invested in transport infrastructure and rolling stock to enable the railway system and the passengers and freight involved to gain the full benefit when the channel tunnel opens. That will make a huge difference to the travelling time of both passengers and freight, and it will be possible to deal with all likely demand until the turn of the century.
Secondly, all aspects of the channel tunnel high-speed link must be examined very thoroughly. It must be engineered correctly; all the people and businesses likely to be affected must have an opportunity to be consulted, and we must ensure that their views are taken fully into account. There must be a sensible balance between securing value for money for the taxpayer and enabling the project to be financed partly by the private sector.
I believe that the way in which we are proceeding will produce considerable benefits. The capacity will be there when it is needed; the private sector will make its contribution, not only financially but by securing real value for money in the building of the link; and the taxpayer will be given value for money. The hon. Gentleman's answer to every question is simply to demand more and more of the taxpayers' money, irrespective of the merits of the case and irrespective of whether a private sector contribution can be made. That makes nonsense of the Labour party's claims about tax.