Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Question Numbers 120-139)



  120. South Manchester, yes.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) One of the questions that is close to being resolved, but only close to it, not yet resolved, is whether TransPennine services in great numbers should go into Piccadilly from the east and south or should come round into Piccadilly from the north and east via Manchester Victoria. That has quite an impact on the capacity of the flow to Piccadilly, to pick one example. Signalling and the number of tracks between Piccadilly and just beyond Stockport is a crucial further part.

  121. It is a bit like a juggler, is it not?
  (Sir Alastair Morton) Yes, it is.

  122. And we were hoping that you were going to have that strategic framework for the jugglers to work in place fairly quickly but it seems to be slipping more and more.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) I think the definition of the word "strategic" is clearly a debate between a lot of people in this country. I think the assumption is that we could sit at a table, and we can certainly do this, I have plenty of colleagues and I can take part in it myself and so can Mr Grant, capable of drawing up a list of things we would like to do, but you have then got to go out and make them happen and you have got to pay for them and you have got to do them in order while the trains are running at speed all around you. Upgrading a network, bringing investment into an expanded network, is a complex business. Fitting the pieces together so that you respect the future requirements of everybody is what strategy is about. The British are not noted for strategic planning. What we are saying is let us try and work out where we would like to be five, ten, fifteen years away and what we have to start doing now in order to have some reasonable hope of being there with the resources available to get us there, money and people.

  123. Most of what you are trying to do you have got to persuade other people to do it, but there is just this property section that you are responsible for. Some of my constituents see you as the property person who is messing up their local access. Are you happy about the Vine Street curve debacle?
  (Sir Alastair Morton) I freely own up to not knowing where Vine Street or its curve are. Do you know that?
  (Mr Grant) I do not know the history but clearly what happened previously was there was quite a lot of history, a problem with planning, the contractor went into insolvency and then there were weather conditions. What I can say is that the curve, the infill, will be completed by July of this year.

  124. Are you happy now that your property people are going to be much better at responding to correspondence than the people responsible for the old British Rail Property Board?
  (Mr Grant) I will look at it carefully.

  125. I am obviously very concerned about the Vine Street curve but I am really interested in this question of how far the property division is going to be much more responsive than it has been in the past?
  (Mr Grant) We are much more actively managing the property division. We have set up a property group to review sales of properties, so we have got some outside people on the property review committee.


  126. Mr Grant, what does that mean? Railway property quite often is going to be necessary for railways and bringing outside people in to operate property can mean that they are going to tell you "this is a very desirable bit of property and it should be put on the market", irrespective of its use to the railway.
  (Mr Grant) No. We have been very strict in terms of the sale of the property. If there is any use for transport it will be held by the SRA.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) Can I comment on that. The evolution towards what Mr Grant has just said, being strict on retaining property that may have a transport use, has been progressive in the time I have been involved from being unresponsive before I arrived. I do not claim the credit for having changed this, people were lobbying about it and we responded.

  127. It was also that there was a change in the emphasis in the legislation.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) There was. The key change that has taken place is very recent indeed. The Regulator has agreed a condition for Railtrack's licence that requires a case to be made and answered before Railtrack, or we for that matter—it goes without saying us—can sell land out of railway use, as it were.

  128. That is very good.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) I simply do remind people that there are Government policies about urban regeneration. I had Lord Rogers addressing me at some length over the weekend on the subject of needing railway lands for population improvement projects, housing projects, whatever you call them.

  Chairman: I think the Committee knows about Lord Rogers addressing people at length.

  Mr Stevenson: I would be grateful if Sir Alastair could clarify the point I was raising earlier on the SRA's document, A Strategic Agenda, page 49: "The essence of this `new' business for Railtrack and others will be special corporate financing structures for most of the significant projects, whose assets may be transferred (the T of DBFT—design, build, finance and transfer) to Railtrack's core business upon commissioning, ie after final completion of the project."

  Chairman: Is there a number on the paragraph?

Mr Stevenson

  129. No, there is not.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) It is the bottom of the left-hand column on page 49. I stand by exactly that. Your question was?

  130. My question was does that mean that upon completion of projects they will be transferred to Railtrack's core business and their asset base even though Railtrack has had nothing to do with them?
  (Sir Alastair Morton) No. They will be sold to Railtrack, I do assure you.

  131. Transferred.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) It never occurred to me to give assets away. If you read the next sentence: "It is very important to bear in mind that those assets can be refinanced at that transfer..." You cannot refinance something that has been financed without putting up new finance.

  132. I have the clarification I was seeking, Sir Alastair means sold and not transferred.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) Correct.


  133. Now, Sir Alastair, I have one or two questions of my own. We will be putting to you some questions in writing about ports because you submitted evidence to us on another inquiry and I do not want to spend a lot of time on that this afternoon. What is your relationship with Ministers, Sir Alastair?
  (Sir Alastair Morton) I have no complaints whatever. I took this job because I got on very well with John Prescott, I shared his vision for transport as set out in the 1998 White Paper and I do not take any part of that back.

  134. And your view has not changed in spite of the longueur that you have been telling us about this afternoon on the part of the Department?
  (Sir Alastair Morton) Departments consist of many people besides the Secretary of State.

  135. True, but most of us have the old-fashioned idea that Ministers are in charge of departments. I ask you again, Sir Alastair, what is your relationship with Ministers?
  (Sir Alastair Morton) I think I stand by my answer, that I have no complaints about it. I would say—I think I said this earlier—our allocation of funds in the next two years, in the following three to make five, and in the second five of the ten, has got to be rethought, reshaped and re-sized.

  136. So the Ten Year Plan is not secure at all really because you are saying that whatever was the original basis for assessment, it is all wrong?
  (Sir Alastair Morton) You and your colleagues are making it very clear to me that you wish to see the SRA taking a more authoritative role in bringing investment projects about.

  137. I think that is a very astute remark, Sir Alastair. Yes, I do think that is what we want.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) In order to do that, unless the 29 billion of Government funding in the 63 is increased rather closer to the 63, we cannot be sure of replacing any private sector money that does not come forward. In order to get anywhere near the 63 we have to be—to use your word—very astute in financing in partnership with the capital markets of the world, who are free to go anywhere they like in the world.

  138. We have had this argument. What you are saying to us, in effect, is whatever has gone before now has to be totally rethought in terms of finance.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) Yes, indeed. We are readier and readier as time passes with these studies of Birmingham, studies of Manchester, visions for London and details about particular London projects, short-term, medium-term and long-term, to proceed with new franchises or whatever, to invest.

  139. More and more ready, I think, Sir Alastair.
  (Sir Alastair Morton) If you wish. Thank you. We must have the money. The emperor has no clothes without money.

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