HC Deb 12 March 1958 vol 584 cc422-4
48. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he now has any statement to make on the Tyne Tunnel.

Mr. Watkinson

I am now prepared to consider for authorisation in the next financial year the scheme proposed by the County Councils of Northumberland and Durham, and I am writing to them to this effect.

The scheme provides for a vehicular tunnel with a two-lane carriageway and approach roads to connect with the Gateshead-Sunderland trunk road and the Newcastle-Tynemouth road. The scheme is estimated to cost about£13 million, of which I expect that 75 per cent, will be met from central funds. Tolls will be charged.

I hope that it will be possible to begin work soon after the scheme has been authorised.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my right hon. Friend accept through me the appreciation of the people of the North-East Coast that this decision has now been taken? Would I be right in assuming that this decision is an expression of the confidence of the Government in the future prosperity of the North-East Coast as a whole?

Mr. Watkinson

Certainly. This tunnel is necessary because of the view we take of the developments in industry and commerce which are likely to take place in that part of the world.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I think that the Minister said that tolls would be charged for the use of this tunnel. This is a departure from the present policy. [HON MEMBERS: "Question."] Will the Minister allow Parliament to debate this matter before a final decision upon tolls is taken?

Mr. Watkinson

That is not so. I think that it was at least six months ago—and probably more—that I stated my policy quite clearly, which was that all new large bridge and tunnel schemes would have to bear tolls in order that their costs might not be inflationary.

Mr. Willey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that everyone in the North-East will be happy to hear his answer? Can he say how long the work will take and, on the question of tolls, whether there was full consultation with the local authorities?

Mr. Watkinson

There will be full consultation with the authorities concerned upon the question of tolls. I hope that the work will start in the next financial year—1958–59. As all hon. Members know, it is a very big task, and it would be unwise for me to give a firm completion date. It will obviously take several years to complete the task.

Mr. Popplewell

Is the Minister aware that hon. Members on this side of the House who represent constituencies in the North-East associate themselves with what was said by the hon. Lady about this announcement being welcomed by the whole of the North-East? Is he aware that there is a wide divergence of opinion over the question of tolls, and will he enter into consultations in the House before pledging himself on this matter? In the meantime, we are delighted that the tunnel will be started next year?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not think there is any misunderstanding about this. I have told local authorities who came to see me, not only about this project but about the Severn Bridge and other projects of a similar nature, that these works, under present circumstances, can be carried out only if tolls are charged. I am satisfied that local authorities accept this as a general principle. Negotiations about amounts must of course be carried out.

Mr. Gower

As my right hon. Friend has now authorised the commencement of work on two or three schemes which formerly ranked behind the Severn Bridge crossing in priority, will he give an assurance that he will authorise that project without delay?

Mr. Watkinson

My hon. Friend is wrong. As was made plain by my predecessor, the Tyne Tunnel was the next large project that would be authorised.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Minister aware that in October, 1947, an answer was given in this House indicating that the Severn Bridge had top priority—I remember it very well, because I gave the answer? May I ask the Minister what has happened? With these schemes now coming on, why is the Severn project lagging so far behind?

Mr. Watkinson

I think that what happened is obvious to every hon. Member. These priorities are being examined carefully, and I am satisfied that the next big scheme to put in hand is the Tyne Tunnel, which is why I have just announced it.

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