Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Question 200-219)

Mrs Charles George and Miss Joanna Clayton

Thursday 30 January 2003

200. The third argument I call the origins argument. The tunnel is not simply used by persons who originate in, ie live in, the Wirral or live in Liverpool City. Of the tunnel users, 35 per cent of users have an origin outside of the Wirral and 19 per cent have an origin outside either the Wirral or Liverpool City. Therefore, the tunnel is bringing benefit to persons other than those simply in Wirral or in Liverpool.

201. The fourth argument is the corollary of that, I call it the destinations argument. A number of the trips through the tunnel have destinations which are beyond Liverpool City. Of course, the main flow is the eastbound flow in the morning from the Wirral eastbound across the Mersey, but of those trips some 34 per cent go, for instance, to Sefton district and that, again, is a reminder that the tunnel is not just a means of going from an origin in the Wirral to a destination in Liverpool City. If these drivers are to be tempted to change their journey to public transport, it is important that the public transport improvement does not end at the Liverpool City district boundary. It is no good for them, if they want to go to Sefton, they want a seamless or as near seamless as possible public transport route to get them to their destination, and therefore that will involve improvements in Sefton as well as in the area.

202. The fifth argument I call the shared liability argument. When the tunnel was in crisis in the Eighties and Nineties, it was never suggested that the deficit should be met only by the Wirral and Liverpool City or primarily by Wirral district because most of the users came from within Wirral district. It was recognised that the liability should be shared by all of the five districts in the region, and if all five districts are to share the liabilities in bad times, it would seem at any rate equitable that in the good times, when there is a surplus, they should all share also. I urge on the committee those five arguments. Plainly there is an overlap which to my mind are convincing arguments why the proposal in the Bill so far as the allocation of the surpluses should prevail.

203. Can I add this: none of the five district councils, all of whom have supported the Bill, have suggested that the surpluses should be ring-fenced to the area at either side of the tunnel. It has been accepted that spending should be on public transport improvements throughout the area, and the Committee has the various reports. I draw particular attention to Sefton Council's report, ratified by its Cabinet on 9 April 2001, A18, page 27. So this question of allocation has been democratically discussed and the proposal in the Bill reflects what the region thinks is appropriate.

204. The fourth proposal of the Bill is to allow the authority to undertake and finance noise insulation works to properties adjacent to the Kingsway Tunnel approach roads on the Wirral. Can I take the Committee to Schedule 2 of the Filled-up Bill at page 146, where there is a new section 109A, authorising the authority to carry out insulation works.

205. If any Member of the Committee has driven into the Kingsway tunnel from the Wallasey end, they will know that there are numerous residential properties which are very close to the tunnel approach roads and which inevitably endure a noise climate generated by the tunnel traffic. At present, Merseytravel lacks power to instal noise insulation works in respect of road works carried out when the tunnel was built in the early 1970s. These unfortunate residents fall into a black hole, because neither are they the responsibility of Wirral, who are the local highway authority, to be compensated and to have noise insulation works provided.

206. So far as I am aware, no-one at any stage, whether in the public consultation or when the matter has been on the floor of the House, or any of the Petitioners has ever contested the desirability of the proposed clause 109A which is contained in Schedule 2 to the Bill.

207. CHAIRMAN: Could I nevertheless ask you a number of questions on this, Mr George? First of all, were the houses there before the tunnel was built and what provision was made when the tunnel was built for noise?

208. MR GEORGE: Most of them, I suspect all of them, were there before the tunnel was built, but when the tunnel was authorised by Parliament, that was at a stage prior to the Noise Insulation Provisions, which only came in in the 1970s. In other words, it is built before those regulations, and the legislation did not anticipate those provisions by making any provision for them to be compensated. If they were not having any land taken from them, of course, there was no provision in the general law for any compensation.

209. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that. Can you tell me, is there no way that noise could be controlled by works on the tunnel and its boundaries rather than on the properties themselves?

210. MR GEORGE: The answer to that I think is no. The Committee will see in the photos in some cases that substantial fencing has been erected. I suppose one could at huge cost enclose the approach roads in some way, but one immediately sees one would have an enormous operation. The trouble is that these are very large residential estates, in some cases, and houses in others, which are set very high up, with the approach roads way below, and therefore no amount of screening at the side of the road is going to prevent the noise going up. Frankly, the only answer for those people is to have a form of acoustic glazing, accompanied by the ventilation works. There is a standard package which is now provided for new roads, whether they are constructed by the Highways Agency or by local highway authorities, when properties are going to have a noise level of above 68 dBa with one dBa contributed by the road. What we are proposing is that, in so far as it is possible with the necessary adaptations, we apply the existing Noise Regulations to those particular properties.

211. CHAIRMAN: Even given that I do not know in detail the geography of the region, there are now new noise control technologies available to both reflect and absorb, and I just wondered to what extent they had been looked at, but of course, I think you will find that this Committee is just as sympathetic as the rest of the House to the residents in this area.

212. MR JENKINS: The fact that acoustic glazing is going to be fitted is of no benefit to somebody who likes to sit outside their house. It is the reduction and the growth of noise, because even 20 years ago, traffic noise, I would suggest, was actually less than it is now, and heavy lorries, with their exhausts above their cab, where they used to be on the floor, emit sound and noise into the atmosphere. When you enter a concrete tunnel with a smooth concrete face, it vibrates off the face and acts like an attenuator and goes back up the hill. I have not looked at this particular site, but I am sure that noise engineers could look at it and suggest ways in which noise attenuation could be down-graded on the site itself.

213. CHAIRMAN: This has been done in many areas much more extensive than this particular area, and of course, changing road surfaces is another way, and speed control and so on and so forth.

214. MR GEORGE: If I could ask the Committee to look up Exhibit A5, simply because there is a picture of this, you see there the roads in which the relevant houses will be sited. It does not mean to say one is going to apply it to all those houses, but in the bottom right-hand corner you see the sort of situation that I have in mind. The Honourable Member Mr Jenkins is entirely right on two matters: first of all that the provisions of the Noise Regulations are not ideal because they only assist you inside your room, and you will always have some people who inside their rooms want to have the window open, and you cannot have the window open to have the benefit. They are a compromise, and it is a package you cannot force on anyone, but you can say to someone, "We can make the position in your house better by this package. There is a downside, because you cannot open the windows, but we will provide you with a ventilation system. I readily accept it will not help you outside and in your garden." Secondly, of course, there are some other measures, and as one does repairs and so forth, the whole question of surfacing is looked at. We all know as we drive along bits of the M25 it is quiet and at other bits it is noisy, so there are different types and it is important that those matters also be addressed.

215. A particular problem of this tunnel - and we are dealing here with the Kingsway Tunnel, that is, the Wallasey tunnel - is that is where the heaviest goods vehicles are directed, because there were problems with them in the older tunnel, for a whole variety of other environmental reasons. So you solve one problem by moving them there. The flow problems are better, the air pollution problem is better with them there, but again, it is the local residents who have the burden of the nosie from these heavier vehicles.

216. MR CUNNINGHAM: On that point of local residents, can you give us an idea of the numbers of properties that would be involved in terms of noise insulation programmes? The second thing is, has anybody done any costings in relation to measures that can be taken to reduce noise?

217. MR GEORGE: It is thought, on provisional work, that there is a maximum of 300 properties that qualify, but it is a range thought to be between 200 and 300 properties. There is an estimated figure which I have seen for the cost of it. I am told the figure is £300,000, so it is not a huge sum of money, because those packages, as I say, are standard and they do achieve a certain amount. I emphasize, it is not a panacea, but it is believed that a number of people - and one does not know what the take-up will be, and therefore the financial estimate assumes that not everyone will want to take up the package, but it is thought that for a sum of about £0.3 million, it will be possible to deal with the matter. I am told that Mr Wilkinson thinks that probably about 200 properties will qualify and seek to take up the package.

218. MR CUNNINGHAM: Are you saying to the Committee that it will be a predetermined scheme; in other words, if you do not think the insulation package is good enough to protect the property, there is another option? You mentioned figures, and I cannot quarrel with the figures, but do I make an assumption that the insulation costs will be built into the charging policy? Is that what you are telling the Committee?

219. MR GEORGE: So far as the charging policy, it is to have tolls going up by RPI. So in so far as there is a policy, that is the policy. So far as doing the insulation works, there is at present no power to carry it out. The Act will give a power to carry it out. For people to qualify, their property will have to be examined: is their noise level over 68 dBa? Is it being contributed to substantially by at least one dBa coming from the noise of the Kingsway approach road? That is the standard test that will be applied, and then it is a matter of whether they want the noise insulation works. There is no question of giving them a cash sum if they do not want it. They will be in the same position as people everywhere, that you qualify for noise insulation works; if you say you do not want to have them, then you do not have them, but if you want them, you will be entitled to them, pursuant to the Bill.

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