Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 579)

WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001

THE RT HON JOHN SPELLAR, MP, MR DENNIS ROBERTS AND MR BOB LINNARD

Chairman

  560.  When we have joined up Government inevitably your Department will be expected to give a political lead in how transport connects with all of these fields of work, leisure, schools.
  (Mr Spellar) And we do.

  561.  That is exactly your function, is it not?
  (Mr Spellar) And we do. We also have to take account of the choices that the public exercise in a number of areas. While we can be having an input into policy we also have to deal with the results of individual choice as well.

Chris Grayling

  562.  One of my great concerns is that transport policy, from the point of view of somebody who represents a South East constituency, feels not to be tackling the issues of congestion in the South East outside London. I will give you a practical example. Five years ago the budget for major road schemes in Surrey was £17 million a year and last year it was zero. I do not know if that is replicated in other countries around London. I do have a genuine concern that in what is probably today the most significant economic area of the United Kingdom, certainly the most congested given the amount of economic activity that now crosses the Channel, Government policy simply is not addressing the need to ease some of the congestion. I would be grateful for your comments.
  (Mr Spellar) I think that there has been considerable investment in the South East in a variety of modes of travel. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link is not just for Eurostar, it will also have a significant impact on travel into London from the Kent, Thames Gateway area. A considerable number of the developments that are taking place in Central London are, in fact, designed to deal with those who commute in from outside of London, a point that the Mayor makes regularly when he is indicating that he would like to have greater influence or control over the rail system in London and the surrounding area. The work that we are doing on Cross Rail, while again it is focused on the City and Heathrow, part of the work on that is work going out in the Home Counties both east and west of London. There is a considerable amount of widening that has been undertaken on the M25 and on a number of other local roads work being undertaken on them as well.

  563.  With the exception of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link most of those are aspirational for the future. We are now in the fifth year of your Government and I am looking at projects that are likely to open in the near future and make a difference but I do not see any. I was really quite astonished when I looked at the figures and saw that five years ago there was a budget of £17 million and today it is zero.
  (Mr Spellar) It might move up with the Hindhead Tunnel Project, which has recently been approved and added to the TPI.

  564.  I just wished to flag that concern to you. Can I move on to the budget issue for rail and non-rail projects over the next few years. There has been quite a lot of public comment in the last few days and weeks that the cost of the required investments in the railway network are likely to take funding away in the Ten Year Plan from roads and other investments. I want to ask you a couple of questions on that front. Firstly, in the short-term I understand from a written question I had the answer to a couple of days ago that the Railtrack administrator has now had £1.2 billion worth of funding from the Government. Is that money coming from your existing budget lines or is that coming from other sources?
  (Mr Spellar) That was the question on access to loan money, was it not?

  565.  Yes.
  (Mr Spellar) So that is not grant.

  566.  The cash has got to come from somewhere. Is it coming from separate sources or is it to be taken away from other programmes within the Department to provide the finance facility?
  (Mr Spellar) As I have said, at the moment that is not a grant, that is a loan facility which will be on the balance sheet of the company.

  567.  But the cash has to come from somewhere.
  (Mr Linnard) It has been provided for in the Winter Supplementaries. It is a loan facility, as the Minister said, of up to £1.6 billion, which will then be repayable, so it will not be a net call on public spending. It is not taking money away from the provision that is allocated to the Ten Year Plan.

  568.  So it comes straight from the Treasury as loaned finance rather than being taken in any way out of the Department's budget line?
  (Mr Linnard) And then it is replaced by a commercial loan, repaid.

  569.    When we move beyond this initial period, what is the situation in your view about the balance between rail and non-rail investment in the Ten Year Plan? Is that going to be affected in any way by the current situation in the rail industry?
  (Mr Spellar) No, we believe we will be maintaining the balance of the Ten Year Plan which, again, I remind you, we are only a few months into. We will be maintaining that over the period of the ten years between the various modes of transport.

  570.  On the Ten Year Plan, there have been some indications certainly in recent weeks—I can give you specific examples of South Central and South West Trains' networks—of potential delays to the investment programmes they were planning through Special Purpose Vehicles. Do you believe that there are risks now to the timetabling of improvements that would have happened under the Ten Year Plan and, as a consequence of that, any risks to the ability to deliver the targets within the time frame of the Ten Year Plan, given the fact it takes a long time to build things?
  (Mr Spellar) Quite apart from that I think our feeling was, amongst other results of the deficiencies of Railtrack, delays in these programmes were one of our concerns. If you are asking if we are actually looking to an improvement in that then we are certainly looking to an improvement in performance in pushing these programmes through.

  571.  I am not trying to ask a question about the rights and wrongs of the Railtrack issue, I am trying to ask about the Ten Year Plan, in order to deliver its objectives, has to meet a very clear programme of investment happening within time frames that are quite long, but is there a danger, certainly where you have got delays taking place with South Central, that there will be a knock-on effect on the flow of the Ten Year Plan and the ultimate ability to deliver the 50 per cent growth target?
  (Mr Spellar) No, for two reasons. One, because we believe we can get those programmes back but, equally, we believe that there is considerable scope in running the network that we have with investment in that network and actually managing that better. That is one of the key objectives that the Chairman of the SRA, Richard Bowker, is addressing and will be focussing the industry on and will be looking towards that in the statement coming out on 14 January focussing the industry on actually managing the network in the way we were describing with the road network as well. We need to look at new build, we also need to look at how we manage the network that we already have and whether there is the ability to put through more capacity on that network. In both cases, road and rail, we believe that there is.

  572.  Looking at the freight targets for both rail and getting freight off roads, the Central Railway Proposal, which the SRA did a study of during the summer, which is on ministerial desks, can you tell us anything about the Government's attitude to that proposal?
  (Mr Spellar) Not yet because it has still to be evaluated by the SRA before they put a—

  573.  I thought the SRA delivered their final report in October.
  (Mr Spellar) The SRA have done an evaluation of it but they are doing a further evaluation of that in order to look at a number of issues, particularly with regard to the utilisation of existing track and questions that conflict with passenger use and how that impacts on our targets on passenger use as well.

  574.  Do you know when that process might be completed and you will be in a position to make a statement on that?
  (Mr Spellar) Some time next year. I would hope sooner rather than later.

Andrew Bennett

  575.  You assume that over the next ten years the cost of motoring will fall but what has happened to the fuel escalator?
  (Mr Spellar) I am almost tempted to say that is a matter to direct to the Chancellor.

  576.  What would you like the Chancellor to do?
  (Mr Spellar) I think matters of taxation are a matter for the Treasury.

  577.  What mechanisms do you look for then to encourage people perhaps to live more joined up lives, live closer to where they work, their leisure facilities, to make a reality of urban regeneration?
  (Mr Spellar) One of the main areas that we are looking at, and I hope I have described a number of means towards that, is actually to create the opportunity and facility for using public transport systems ensuring—to use the well hackneyed phrase—they are interoperable, as indeed we are investing considerable sums in ensuring that we have train and bus facilities, or light rail facilities.

  578.  That is encouraging people to live further away, is it not? Surely what you should be looking at if you want urban renewal is to encourage people not to need to make journeys but to live much closer to the other facilities that they need?
  (Mr Spellar) If they are living in an urban area, to access other facilities which may be shopping, may be health service facilities, maybe leisure, maybe work, we are looking at the pattern Brian Donohoe was describing, that we do need to be recognising that they will be making journeys, we need to have the facilities. I hope I have described a number of mechanisms—not all of them because light rail is an area we have not really touched on today—where we are creating those opportunities and we are seeing where we are providing facilities that people are taking. If you take the Croydon Tram Link there has been a huge increase in the number of people using that, some 15 million already, and, interestingly enough, a big increase on the take in the main stores in central Croydon but a reduction in the receipts from car parking to the local authority, which indicates a significant shift through the creation of that capability, and again from Croydon to Wimbledon. Those are real examples where we are creating a facility where people are taking that opportunity. I do not think we have to have a one-size-fits-all on this.

  579.  Have you found a reliable measure for measuring congestion now?
  (Mr Spellar) There is a measure of congestion, whether—


 
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