Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001
SPELLAR, MP, MR
520. In the plan for the ten year transport
investment in expenditure, there is big chunk of that particularly
for the railways and London as well but there is big investment
expected from the private sector. Out of a total £63 billion,
the government is hoping for £33 billion. How confident are
you that the private sector will still be on target to make up
(Mr Spellar) We already have the Channel Tunnel Rail
Link which is an extremely successful public/private partnership.
We are looking with regard to major new schemes on the railways
with special purpose vehicles which are fairly similar, using
the model of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link precisely in order to
benefit not only from bringing in private sector capital but also
from bringing in private sector expertise in the running of these
major projects. That is exactly what is happening with the Channel
Tunnel Rail Link which is both on time and to price and moving
very rapidly across the Kent countryside.
521. Yesterday, I received representations
from EWS that they are gravely concernedI wondered if you
had the figures in the Departmentabout the new security
arrangements that the French authorities have introduced. Basically,
they will only check between nine o'clock at night and three o'clock
in the morning. This has reduced enormously the amount of rail
freight that is able to travel through the Channel Tunnel. Have
you also received representations? Are you looking into them and
do you have evidence that there is now more freight going by road
as a result of this, which I gather is a very recent development?
(Mr Spellar) It is undoubtedly a major problem. I
have had representations not only from EWS but also from a number
of other freight handlers and those who are running freight depots
in this country. There is a very real concern at the impact that
this is having on their business. I was at the European Transport
Ministers' Council last Friday and raised this directly with the
French Minister again, as I have done at previous meetings. There
are further discussions this week at official level. There are
other mechanisms, quite apart from increasing the levels of security
at Sangatte and Fréhunfor example, running trains
straight through, assembling at Lille and running straight through
and therefore not sitting in the yards, vulnerable to these mass
attacks of groups of refugees trying to get onto the trains. We
are exploring that with the French authorities as well.
522. You have probably also received representations
from people in my constituency. How confident are you against
the background of this recent hiccup that you can reach the 80
per cent increase in rail freight over the ten year period and
the 50 per cent increase in passengers travelling by rail which
you have set out as the Department's ambition?
(Mr Spellar) Two separate issues there, obviously
with regard to passengers and to freight. I in no way disguise
that the difficulties in cross-Channel are giving us some concerns
with regard to freight levels. In other areas, there are some
quite encouraging developments of shift of even goods which have
traditionally gone by road. Quite a number of motor manufacturing
companies are using rail to take their goods to and from Felixstowe,
Southampton and so on and I think we are working well with them.
Also, there are proposals for increasing that capability.
(Mr Linnard) Given that we are only a few months into
the ten year plan, we are on track for hitting the targets of
50 per cent passenger growth and up to 80 per cent freight growth.
The detail of the schemes that are going to be put in place to
realise those targets will be set out in the Strategic Rail Authority's
strategic plan which is coming out on 14 January. That will contain
a lot more detail than is in the ten year plan about exactly what
needs to be done, what the priorities are and where the investment
is going to be going.
523. How do you justify the underspend by
your Department in last year's annual report. As a personal hobby-horse
of mine, I am delighted to see in your response to this Committee's
report on walking in towns and cities that you are minded to no
longer approve staggered crossings. Would you go further and request
that they be removed, where they do exist?
(Mr Spellar) With regard to walking and the report
on walking, there is further work to be done on that. As you know,
we already have a consultative group on cycling. I had a meeting
with the various pedestrian organisations quite recently. We are
looking at how we can take that on further. In cycling, we have
appointed Steve Norris as the chairman. After all, he was the
Minister who set the targets so we thought it was a good idea
to get him to lead the campaign to achieve them. We are looking
at how we can engage further, always trying to get away from the
inevitable tag of Monty Python sketches, to address a serious
issue and get some positive work on that. We are looking at the
broad guidelines for local authorities to see how those can best
be updated but leaving them reasonable discretion in order to
run their local schemes. With regard to spending levels, contrary
to press reports, there is not an underspend on the roads programme,
either locally or nationally.
524. It was Lord Falconer, not a press report.
(Mr Spellar) There are two quite different issues
here. One is on departmental spending across the board. In some
areas that are ring fenced, for example on regeneration money,
there is year end flexibility under three year spending plans.
Answering on the transport side, we are not facing an underspend
on roads, as I indicated. Contrary to reports, there is not an
underspend either locally or nationally.
525. 260 miles of road widening, 18 major
new routes, a number of new bypasses on trunk roads, the ten year
plan. Are we going to meet that target?
(Mr Spellar) Yes. We are only a few months into the
ten year plan and for the first time local authorities and the
construction companies and others are able to work on a fairly
steady ordering programme. We see no reason why we would not meet
526. Having regard to the fact that the
two bypasses in Hastings have been refused, is this not offering
an opportunity for opposition to road building to protest more
on the environment grounds?
(Mr Spellar) I think it is quite reasonable that people
raise issues surrounding any form of transport undertaking because
any development requires a balanced judgment and that is partly
about congestion, economic viability, being part of a national
transport system and the impact locally. There will also be effects
on households, whether noise, air quality levels or visual intrusion
and also the impact on the habitat, whether animals, birds or
plants and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is a case of
getting that balance. My judgment on Hastings was that the proposed
economic benefits of the question of the number of people who
were from the areas of high deprivation in Hastings, which undoubtedly
there are areas of high deprivation in Hastings, that whether
the bypass would have a sufficiently favourable impact on them
or on the economic activity in the area, balanced against the
527. I agree it is a question of balancing
the benefit of the roadway as to the inconvenience caused to residence.
That is a matter you have to judge but putting roads near schools?
Surely that is a different matter, when you have noise, environment,
what is the attitude of the Department to that kind of thing?
In my area, there is one 200 metres away from a new school, a
new roadway being planned near a school. Surely, that is the kind
of situation that would give these environmentalists the opportunity
(Mr Spellar) Again, it is a question of balance. It
is also a question of mitigation. It is a question of whether
you have double glazing in order to cut out noise and also best
estimates as to the impact on air quality. Traffic that is moving
at a steady pace has less of an impact on air quality in the immediate
area than traffic that is congested and stalled, stopping and
starting. Again, it is evaluating the individual circumstances,
taking the broad criteria, evaluating the data with regard to
a particular project and, at the same time, making a judgment
on where the balance of advantage lies for that scheme. That is
partly local but it must also be on a regional and national basis.
528. The environment of a children's area,
a playground and the pollution from the vehicles is surely a matter
that has to be given serious consideration?
(Mr Spellar) It certainly has to be a factor taken
into account, yes.
529. How does building new roads in response
to congestion levels differ from the old predict and provide policy?
We used to predict the number of cars and then say, "We will
build a road." How does the new policy on relieving congestion
apply to the old predict and provide policy?
(Mr Spellar) In many cases, we have the very real,
current problem of congestion, from the representations not just
from Members of Parliament and local authority members but also
from communities, very much seeking to be relieved of the pressures
in their area that have a very significant impact on their quality
of life. This is true in many northern towns where the road system
runs very much through residential areas that are very close to
the highway. There is very real concern about being able to achieve
a bypass in those areas.
Mr Stevenson: Concern has been expressed that
local authorities may not have the numbers or the expertise in
their staff to effectively draw up local transport plans. Do you
share that concern?
530. Mr Roberts, do you share that concern?
(Mr Roberts) Most authorities have the skills still
within the authority or have access to them. Many have developed
links with consultants who have those skills and they do rely
on consultants for a lot of the work.
531. If they have not got it in-house, they
can get it out of house?
(Mr Roberts) Yes.
532. That costs money. These concerns and
possible solutions to these concerns have to be reflected in the
resources available. How is your Department trying to reflect
that in the resources available to local authorities?
(Mr Roberts) It costs money whether it is done in-house
or out-house. Using consultants who are skilled in the work does
not necessarily cost any more than using in-house staff.
533. If there is now more responsibility
on local authorities, which there is, if local transport plans
are the kernel of what the government are about, and they are,
if therefore local authorities are going to have more responsibility,
wider responsibilities, in producing these local transport plans,
how can you effectively say to local authorities, "We know
you have this additional responsibility. We know how important
it is, but we do not think it is going to cost anything"?
(Mr Roberts) I thought you were still on the point
of whether it was in-house or out-house.
534. I am.
(Mr Roberts) Internal or external. I am saying that
the cost of external is not necessarily greater than the cost
of internal staff. That is the point I am making. The position
overall on resources is covered in the Standard Spending Assessment
which meets the general needs of administration, preparation of
plans, as well as delivering the main in-house services.
Mr Stevenson: Moving on to another area very
quickly. Given that planning and planning guidance is critically
important in developing transport plans and policies, why did
the Government relax the maximum parking spaces available, for
example, to food store developments in the final version of PPG13?
535. Minister, I think that is your responsibility
rather than Mr Roberts' responsibility.
(Mr Spellar) I would have to write to the Committee
Chairman: We will accept a note on that.
Mr Stevenson: Perhaps I can help the Minister
because, as we understand it, for example, the maximum parking
spaces available to food stores has been relaxed by no less than
30 per cent. The question is how is that consistent with integrating
our transport provision and discouraging the use of cars?
536. You will give us a note on that, Minister?
(Mr Spellar) Yes, we will give you a note on that.
537. Safety, particularly pedestrian safety
in terms of motor vehicles. Why, as it appears to be the case,
did the Government effectively downgrade the European Directive
that would require motor manufacturers to incorporate pedestrian
safety facilities in their motorcar designs? Why did the Government
downgrade that to an agreement under pressure from the motor manufacturers?
(Mr Spellar) I think basically because it was felt
that most of the objectives could be achieved by agreement but
also, more importantly, could be achieved in a much shorter timescale.
538. The timescale, I think, was the next
few years leading up to 2010, if memory serves me correctly. What
steps are Government, therefore, going to take to ensure that
motor manufacturers deliver on their part of the agreement?
(Mr Spellar) This will be very much at a European
level because this is a European-wide issue. In other words, all
the manufacturers are selling very heavily in each of the markets
and that is why nearly all of these developments, whether on fuel
efficiency or on pedestrian safety, are at a European level and,
therefore, we will be working with the Commission on that.
539. Besides that, if the agreement is effectively
implemented the protection for pedestrians that was envisaged
under the Directive will be achieved?
(Mr Spellar) We believe that we will get a satisfactory
level of protection and we will get that sooner by the negotiation
with the manufacturers.