Examination of Witnesses(Question 20-39)|
Mrs Charles George and Miss Joanna Clayton
Thursday 30 January 2003
20. The Bill which is before this Committee is of
course concerned with the two Mersey Tunnels. The oldest of those
is the Queensway Tunnel and it is sometimes called the Birkenhead
Tunnel because it runs to Birkenhead. The second tunnel is the
Kingsway Tunnel and it is sometimes called the Wallasey Tunnel
because it runs to Wallasey on the Wirral. These two road tunnels
fit rather oddly into the PTA's statutory responsibilities, ownership
having been transferred to the Authority by the Mersey Tunnels
Order 1986 from the county council of Merseyside. The Committee
will find that Order in the bundle at A32 page 186 but again I
simply mention that for the record.
21. At the same time the PTA had transferred all
the tunnels debts and that was at the time when the metropolitan
county councils were being abolished in 1986. That order had the
result of involving the PTA in owning and operating infrastructure
primarily used by private transport: cars and commercial vehicles
although of course also buses go through the tunnels. To that
extent the tunnels are an anomaly in that they are primarily a
structure for private vehicles whereas the PTA and PTE's function
is in respect of public transport otherwise.
22. The tunnels are not, however, the PTA's sole
responsibility in relation to crossing the River Mersey since
the PTA also owns and operates the Mersey ferries and those operate
under a charter and they are bound to continue running them even
if it is an uneconomic operation.
23. The PTA is in law a local transport authority
as is each of the five Merseyside districts. All six local transport
authorities - that is the five districts and the PTA - co-ordinate
the development of policies for the promotion and encouragement
of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities
and services from and within their combined area and to it through
the production of a local transport plan. Such plans are a creation
of the Transport Act 2000 section 108 and that is all to be found
in the bundle at tab A at A38, page 249.
24. I hold up a local transport plan because it may
be that the Committee do not regularly handle these documents
but you have been party to legislation which has created them.
They are generally regarded as a good thing, if I may put it that
way. They are, I think, non party controversial. I think there
is general appreciation that it has been a good idea that transport
authorities should put their plans down into transport plans and
in that way have coherence. They get reviewed on an annual basis
and every five years one has a new plan, and if I may put it this
way, the procedure for updating them is a great deal more expeditious
than is the process for updating other forms of development plans
which very often become rather out of date, as I am sure Members
of the Committee are aware.
25. Now for Merseyside the key objective in the local
transport plan is - and I quote - a single fully integrated public
transport network which is accessible to everyone and puts the
passenger first. If the Committee wish to look it up it is in
the bundle at D18 and in due course the chief executive of the
PTE will be speaking about it.
26. Whilst it is recognised that there is and always
will be an important role for the private motor car there are
no proposals in the plan for enhancing road capacity. The emphasis
is entirely on improving buses, trains and the ferries and that
we contend is entirely in line with Government policy and indeed
also in line with the policies which were being promoted by the
last administration, and with which the Chairman will be very
familiar from his previous involvement with the Minister of State
at the Department of Transport.
27. I make this early mention of the local transport
plan because the Filled-up Bill, to which we will come in a moment,
contains a proposed amendment providing the tunnel surpluses may
be spent on purposes which facilitate the achievement of policies
relating to public transport contained in the statutory local
transport plan, as revised, subject to public consultation from
time to time. I will come to the proposed clause 91(3)E in a moment,
it is to be found at A30 page 133 but it is going to give a special
role to the local transport plan.
28. I turn then to the legislative context. The Bill
which is before the Committee consists primarily of three schedules,
as you will have seen, which amend the provisions of the County
of Merseyside Act 1980 which governs at the present time the operation
of the two tunnels. Those schedules do not make, I was going to
say much sense, I am not sure they make any sense, unless one
understands firstly the existing legislative system. Therefore
I am going to ask the Committee please to turn in the bundle to
A31 page 149.
29. If you go through the A documents for a while
you will then find that the pages are numbered at the bottom right
hand corner and I am asking the Committee to go through to page
149 where they will find the County of Merseyside Act 1980. I
am just going to draw attention to the key provisions under five
30. First, there is at the present time a power -
it is not a duty but a power - to maintain the tunnels and that
power is found under section 85(1) which the Committee will find
at page 151.
That is the basic power in section 85 (1).
31. Secondly, there is a power to take tolls. That
is to be found in section 91(1) at page 154 of the bundle.
32. Thirdly, there is a power to revise the tolls,
and that is section 92(1) at page 155, and normally revise the
tolls is going to mean to raise the tolls, but that provision
is subject to four matters, and I just mention the four matters
because they are important for what comes after.
33. Firstly, they must have regard to financial matters,
to transportation matters and to other matters of a social nature.
The Committee will find that spelt out on page 155 at section
92(3) where (a) refers to the financial position and the future
prospects of the tunnel, (b) to other matters of a transportation
nature and (c) to other matters of a social nature.
34. The second matter is that in revising tolls there
must be consultation with the district councils, and that is set
out in section 92(1) in the second line where the Committee will
see provision for that consultation.
35. Thirdly, if there is an objection then the matter
is subject to ministerial confirmation, and that is at section
92(2) where one sees that the Order is subject to confirmation
by the minister. In fact, that of course is whether or not there
is an objection but if there is not an objection it will be straight
away normally confirmed, whereas if there is an objection then
there is a prolonged process because the fourth matter I was going
to refer to is that if there is an objection then there is a right
to a public inquiry. The Committee will find that at page 157
in the bundle and it is section 92(8)(d) at the top of page 157.
That is the existing toll procedure.
36. I said I would mention five features of the present
legislation and I have so far mentioned three.
37. The fourth feature is that there are limited
purposes for which the tolls may be applied whilst there is debt
outstanding. The Committee will find those at section 99(1) at
page 158. Section 99(1)(a) provides for paying money in defraying
the costs of collection and recovery of tolls, (b) is the cost
of policing the tunnels, (c) is defraying other operating costs,
(d) and (e) both relate to various matters relating to the debt.
38. The fifth feature is a requirement to reduce
tolls to a level appropriate for the maintenance and operation
of the tunnel once the debt has been paid off. The Committee will
find that at page 158 in section 99(2), which begins with the
words "On the completion of the payment of all sums specified
in (d) and (e)..."
39. Of those five features, the first and the second
are unaffected by the Bill but substantial changes to the third
and fourth features are proposed and it is proposed that the fifth
feature be abolished altogether.