Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, before I answer this Question, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in congratulating the noble Lord, who, this evening, is attending the French Embassy to receive the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.
It is for the promoters of such schemes to undertake the appraisals of costs and benefits in a fully costed business case. The appraisal is used to assess value for money. The Department for Transport issued guidance last year to help promoters understand the requirements. Schemes generally need to show benefits of at least one and a half times their costs to be approved, although value for money is not the sole criterion.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that technical answer. My interest is of course mainly in the turning down of the Leeds scheme, although I understand that three schemes have been turned down within the past few months and that value for money on the criteria given for all those schemessouth Hampshire, Liverpool and Leedswas high. The cost overruns of some motorway improvement schemes have been much higher than the proposed cost overruns on any of those schemes. It looks to those of us who have followed these debates as if the Government have decided that they are not in favour of any further light rail schemes in this country and that bus will do. If that is now the Government's position, will they explain that clearly and honestly to metropolitan electors?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is not the Government's position. If local promoters produce schemes that offer value for money and bring the additional benefits which light rail can often do, of course we will consider such schemes favourably. The noble Lord will know that recent cost increases for a number of light rail schemes have been enormous. Whereas with other transport systems, there is often no alternative, light rail often has the alternative of the bus. On occasion, the huge costs of light rail mean that we have to turn schemes down.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, the Minister said in his Answer that value for money would not be the only
19 Dec 2005 : Column 1502
reason why a scheme was turned down. Considering my county of Essex, where we have the Thames Gateway, Stansted Airport and other developments, surely environmental reasons may make light rail the only solution for transport in some of those areas. Those schemes may have to be subsidised. Is the Minister ruling that out totally?
Lord Davies of Oldham: Certainly not, my Lords, I was very careful in my Answer to keep such options open. Schemes may well come forward that we can approve, but the House will recognise that the costs of light rail schemes have increased massively: 40 per cent, in one case; several hundred per cent in another. That causes us to think again about certain light rail schemes, but we are not against the principle. The House will recognise that light rail can bring additional environmental benefits in some cases but that they may not be enough to outweigh the severe cost rises involved in several recent cases.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that much of the high increase in the cost of light rail is caused by the utilities, which demand that all their services under the tracks be moved before track goes down? Does he further agree that an ultra-light rail system where the track is embedded in the road without moving the services would be much cheaper and more cost-effective? Will the Government support trials of that system?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is an interesting proposal because it gets past the obvious problem with light rail that all other utility services must be protected and, in many cases, moved from the road on which the system is laid down. But we have only received specific schemes for light rail of the other kind.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in the United Kingdom the cost of moving utility services is huge because the utilities companies bring forward all their maintenance requirements and load them on to the schemes? In this country, 90 per cent of that cost must be met by the light-rail scheme, whereas in Europe as little as 30 per cent is loaded on to light rail schemes. That is the reason that they are so uneconomical.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord certainly has a point. There are substantial costs attached to the redirection of utilities, but someone must meet them. Part of our problem is that our utility systems often date back a considerable time in the city centres where light rail is overwhelmingly concentrated. That is why those costs can be significant.
Lord Snape: My Lords, will the Minister reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that cost overruns on motorways and trunk roads are evidently more acceptable than similar overruns on light rail systems? Would he like to set out in the Official Report
19 Dec 2005 : Column 1503
for everyone's benefit details of the last half dozen road schemes and tell us why such cost overruns on trunk roads and motorways are acceptable while similar ones on light rail are not?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am eager to give my noble friend and the whole House as much information as possible but he will not mind my including road schemes that have been rejected because they were too expensive. The department must take value for money into account. A very sophisticated cost-benefit analysis is introduced with all those schemes. My noble friend can have the additional information by all means, but it may not confirm everything that he appears to contend.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I heard the words on costs. There are eight light rail schemes in this country. Would it not be sensible for those promoting such schemes and the Government to look at other parts of the world? Let us look at Germany, where there are 77 light rail schemes, 10 of which are more than 100 kilometres long. Can something not be learnt from other places?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is for the promoters to organise, and they may learn a great deal. We have considerable experience of those schemes. We are concerned to give promoters a chance. There are funds that they can tap into to improve the quality of their research and the bid that they promote.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the 250th anniversary of the publication of Dr Johnson's dictionary has been marked with the issue of a new 50p coin. In addition, there have been celebrations up and down Britain in universities and libraries.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response, which is ironically appropriate given his former occupation as a publisher. After all, it was a group of publishers who offered Dr Johnson the princely sum of £1,575, payable in instalments, to undertake the task. I confess that the Question was tabled in part as a device to ensure an honourable mention of a great Englishman who has left a lasting legacy to his country. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to him in this House
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I am coming to that. Some 15 years before he worked on the dictionary,
19 Dec 2005 : Column 1504
Dr Johnson was employed by Edward Cave, the publisher of The Gentleman's Magazine, to prepare summaries of parliamentary debates. An example of this is on display in the Salisbury Room.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I am definitely coming to my question now. In 2009, we shall celebrate the tercentenary of Dr Johnson's birth. I hope that the Government will mark the occasion and support the Johnson Society in its request for a stamp to commemorate a truly remarkable man.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|