§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
I remind the House that this is a Third Reading debate and, therefore, hon. Members must confine their remarks to what is in the Bill.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The main proposals in the Bill originated more than six years ago. It is worth recalling that the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading on 11 February this year and went before a Select Committee in June. As a result of the Select Committee's deliberations, certain undertakings were asked of British Rail and were willingly given.
Indeed, a feature of the long history of these proposals has been the extent to which British Rail has been prepared to consult and discuss with all the interested parties and, whenever possible, to meet the various objections that have been raised. London Transport, the Royal Fine Art Commission, British Rail's various customers and many hon. Members have been kept closely in touch with the progress of these proposals throughout this period. I believe that British Rail has been exemplary in the way in which it has carried out the consultation procedure.
The main features of the board's proposals are, first, the complete rebuilding of Liverpool Street station at the existing low level with improved interchanges between British Rail services and bus and underground services; secondly, the closure and demolition of Broad Street station and the diversion of the North London line service via a new link line at Graham Road, Hackney; and, thirdly, an extensive property development on this site, providing 1¼ million sq. ft. of office space and some shop provision. I am happy to say that the Great Eastern hotel is to be retained and will continue to provide its impeccable services for the city and beyond.
It is important to stress that the timing and financing of this major British Rail scheme depends directly upon the related property development which is an integral part of the scheme. The total cost of the scheme is estimated at £260 million, of which the railway element is £120 million. Without the finance that will be generated by the property development, the railway improvements would not be able to proceed. Therefore, the proposed total scheme represents an exciting partnership between the public and private sectors which will produce tangible benefit for the travelling public. For that reason, the scheme has been widely and warmly welcomed throughout London.
It is worth recalling that of the four petitions that were originally lodged against the Bill, only one was pursued into Committee. That concerned Hackney council's objections to the proposed closure of Broad Street station and the plan to run the City link services of the North London line into a rebuilt Liverpool Street station by way of a new curve at Graham Road.
I understand that Hackney council would prefer the North London line services to continue to run along their existing high level approach viaduct into new high level platforms rather than to be diverted, as the Bill proposes, into the low level platforms in the new station. However, 315 Hackney council did not object to the low level proposal at the public inquiry five years ago. It seems that its objections are of more recent origin.
The Select Committee did not feel able to accept Hackney's alternative proposals, but it asked British Rail to give an undertaking that, subject to the continuation of financial support from central Government for rail passenger services, the board would divert the North London line services via the proposed Graham Road link line. That undertaking has now been given. It is a firm assurance which should provide a substantial reassurance for Hackney council and for any hon. Members who remain worried by these proposals.
A Third Reading tonight is not the end of the story. The Bill then goes to the other place. Within this period British Rail will be happy to continue discussions with Hackney council and hon. Members who continue to have objections to or reservations about any features of the proposals.
I hope that it will not be necessary to go through the Bill clause by clause, but perhaps I should comment briefly on the most important provisions.
Clause 5 deals with the various major works to be carried out in connection with the scheme. In particular, I draw the attention of hon. Members to work No. 6—the short connecting railway between the North London line west of Hackney Central station to the Cambridge line into Liverpool Street. It will include two bridges—one over Graham Road and one over Wilton Way. The new curve is designed to provide a route into Liverpool Street via Bethnal Green for the Richmond trains on the North London line that at present use Broad Street. The board is firmly committed to that work following the Select Committee's deliberations.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Following the assurance given to the Select Committee, has the board considered the possibility of shortening the time scale over which the temporary station at Worship Street will be needed?
§ Mr. Hunt
The board is conscious of the need to shorten the time scale as far as possible. The predicted period has already been shortened from 10 years to six years. The board will look at the matter again to see whether further reductions can be made. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the board is conscious of the need to reduce to the very minimum the amount of inconvenience caused by this temporary arrangement.
Clause 5(2) deals with the reconstruction of Liverpool Street station and its enlargement on the Broad Street site. The plan is to create 22 new platforms in place of the present 18 and generally to provide improved services and facilities for passengers.
Clause 9 provides for the building of a bus station within reach of Liverpool Street station to facilitate interchange between road and rail transport. This will be a major amenity for the travelling public using the station.
Clause 10 deals with the provision of the temporary station at Worship Street to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) referred. This will remain in use until the completion of work No. 6, to which I have already referred.
Temporary arrangements will be necessary to facilitate the demolition of Broad Street station. The temporary 316 station at Worship Street will be about 600 yards from Broad Street. Some, but by no means all, of the passengers now using Broad Street station will have a little further to walk. That is a minor inconvenience compared with the major improvements that will flow from the scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) may take a slightly different view of these arrangements. I shall listen to him with interest and seek to respond sympathetically to his remarks on behalf of his constituents.
The redevelopment of Liverpool Street and Broad Street stations will be of immense benefit to the travelling public in this part of London. The present facilities are acknowledged to be antiquated and inadequate. The Bill will provide for a modern and efficient terminal at Liverpool Street. The proposals were submitted to Parliament only after prolonged consultation and discussion. I hope that the House will feel that they represent the most sensible and economic way of providing a major and much-needed improvement of London's travel facilities.
I hope that the Bill will be given a fair wind tonight and allowed to proceed on its parliamentary way.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) on his very fair and helpful presentation of the Bill on behalf of the sponsors. I, too, pay tribute to British Rail, which could not have been more courteous and helpful to anyone who wished to discuss the project. The divisional manager, Mr. Pettit, took great care to discuss with me and those whom I represented all the details of our various criticisms, on some of which he shared our concern. His project manager, Mr. Etherington, also spent a great deal of time not only talking to people in the immediate area but coming into Hackney to see the results of his work and accompanying those of us who were keen to point things out to him. I pay great tribute to them.
I agree with the hon. Member for Ravensbourne about the need to modernise the railway terminal and transport interchange at Liverpool Street. In all my conversations, I have come across no one who wishes to frustrate that objective. Users of the area, whether they drive down Bishopsgate by car or use the stations, know that the present situation is chaotic and there is clearly an overwhelming demand for something to be done. Nevertheless, that should not blind us to all the other issues that flow therefrom.
In the view of Hackney borough council, the proposal to terminate the existing high-level City link at Dalston and divert it round what is known as the Graham Road curve will have serious consequences. From a railway point of view, there is no problem. As a railway expert explained to me, it is neat, tidy, relevant and has all the virtues that a railwayman seeks. It is almost like setting up an OO guage system on the dining room table. It is all just right, the lines will come into Liverpool Street station at just the right level and everyone will be happy. If it was indeed an OO gauge system, I should favour the curve over Graham Road, because there would be no people, no blocks of flats and no industry or commerce to worry about. In reality, however, all those things must be taken into account. 317 If the area through which the present line runs from Dalston down to Broad Street were a green field or derelict site, I would understand the desire for a clean, tidy curve. That is not the case, however. It is a dynamic area, striving to become more so. Through the partnership scheme, the Government and the borough council are working extremely hard to regenerate the area, to improve its industrial and commercial prospects, and to make it environmentally desirable. The furniture, boot and shoe and leather industries of the past have gone, due to the activities of successive Governments, for good and bad reasons, but the area is being regenerated with new technology, new printing works, microcomputers and security and other groups attracted by the partnership scheme. The Government and the borough council are striving to regenerate not only industry and jobs but the travelling facilities that the people there will need.
The partnership plans to spend about £4¼ million in Hackney and £1 million has already been spent on regenerating the Shoreditch area. The validity of the decision to truncate the line and not to run it through the south Shoreditch industrial improvement area must therefore he questioned in view of the enormous amount of work that has been done by the Government and the council, under the chairmanship of the Minister, to create the best possible conditions in that part of my constituency.
The other index to be considered is the unemployment index. There is already 15 per cent. unemployment in that part of my constituency. If the area is deprived of the conditions required for viable, thriving industry, unemployment will increase still further. The council and the Government have produced proposals geared to provide 40,000 jobs in the coming years. That is a tremendous opportunity that we should pursue, but its achievement depends enormously on the accessibility of the area and the means of transport available for people to get to and from their place of business.
It should be borne in mind that there are no tube lines in my constituency; there are only the buses. I read with interest the evidence given to the Select Committee by Mr. Pettit. In this respect, we should all pay tribute to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg), who chaired the Committee, and to his colleagues. The minutes of evidence show that they did their best to examine all aspects of the proposals and we in Hackney were satisfied that they did all that we could hope of our parliamentary colleagues in examining a private Bill.
Mr. Pettit was asked about the alternative bus routes, and gave a description of them. However, his description came out of the timetable, and any relevance to the timetable is purely coincidental. If the bus services happen to be the same as the timetable, one is lucky, as other hon. Members will know. While I appreciate that Mr. Pettit was giving what he thought to be the answer, given to him by London Transport, it does not have much relevance. There is not a bus every few seconds if one waits, as I know from having tried it.
This area will have no real alternative transportation if the railway is taken away. We had two stations on the Dalston to Broad Street line—the Haggerston station and the Shoreditch Church station. Both were useful and had been open a long time. Shoreditch was opened in about 1856 and was in business to 1940. It was bombed during the war and thereafter it was not replaced, for good reason. Some people may think that financial problems began in 318 1979, but we have always had financial problems, and reasons have always been found why things could not be done. The two stations remain derelict.
We now have the chance of regeneration with the partnership, and the refurbishment of that station is necessary. There is the advantage of the line corning down, and there could be a service for people getting off right in the centre of the industrial development area. That is the right thing to provide. In addition, 50 metres from the station is a school that is only 18 to 20 years old and in first class condition but which is to become vacant because of the reorganisation of the ILEA schooling programme. The City of London polytechnic has decided to move into the school, and I was delighted when we persuaded it to do that. As a result, 50 metres from the station, about 2,600 persons—staff and adult students—will be using the station a great deal. That is the way that they will come and go. On those two grounds alone, it will be of immense importance to have the Shoreditch Church station reopened and to retain the rail link.
Another factor is the environmental argument. For years the viaduct has been the location for many small industries, some of which are good and some of which are not so good. Some argue that they are not so good because they do not have the proper facilities. British Rail does not provide the facilities, but simply provides a cheap stable to occupy, underneath the arches. On the last count that was taken, which is fairly notional, over 700 persons were employed under the arches.
In a joint effort, Hackney council and British Rail management came together. I commended them then, and I do so again, for their joint initiative to carry out a refurbishment of railway property. They have earmarked £300,000 over three years for painting bridges and £150,000 over three years for environmental improvements in that area. If it were decided to abandon the link, there would be one and a quarter miles of viaduct needing something to be done, and much money to be spent. British Rail wishes to get rid of the viaduct and dump it on the Hackney borough council. The council will say "No thank you very much". It will not be interested in that because more money will be needed for the upkeep. There will be much dereliction in just the area which the Minister, as chairman of the partnership scheme with Hackney council, is desperately trying to make into something worthwhile.
If we get rid of the line from Dalston to Broad Street there will be a viaduct of no value, seriously deteriorating over the years to the point of becoming dangerous. Hackney borough council will not want it and British Rail will be left with it for no purpose. Somebody will have to spend a vast amount of money. Therefore, I challenge and have challenged the decision of BR and its argument that that part of the line is less important than the rather nice concept of the curve going round the Graham Road.
There is little doubt that there is a need to keep the link through Shoreditch, but what of the BR proposals? The reasons for going low seems to hinge on reasons that I, as a railwayman might agree with. It makes the journey comfortable and easy. From time to time the arguments change. When we asked the board why the line could not go in at a high level, the answer was that one could not come in to Liverpool Street from Dalston at a high level to a low level. The Department of Transport railways inspector argues that he does not like trains coming down 319 a gradient into a station. However, there does not seem to be much evidence that that is so in this case because the gradient is not so different from other gradients. Therefore, we need more evidence as to why the inspector of railways considers it to be an unsafe practice.
The other argument about why the line cannot go down into Liverpool Street from a high level is that it is not very nice, and BR prefers the line to be all on one level. I understand that argument, but in practice it would not break up anything. If the train comes in at a low level, one has in any event to go to street level, and if one comes in at a high level, one has to go down to street level. That would not seem to create much of a problem. On the contrary, there could be some argument for breaking up the flow of passenger traffic at the hectic peak hours.
There is no doubt that if we were to leave the line as it is at the moment and took it through into Liverpool Street, it would satisfy everybody's feelings, apart from those who aesthetically believe that it would not. An architect could argue that if all the lines came in at the same level that would be a nice block. However, we are dealing with human beings and issues of importance.
When I was discussing the line, I was given all the arguments about why it could not come in at a high level, but it came to my knowledge that for some time there had been negotiations going on between British Rail and the GLC to divert the north London line from Dalston out to north Woolwich. If that were to happen, all the arguments about the advantages of the curve or the high level would come to naught because there would be no city link anyway, either by the Graham Road curve or by the high level.
I should like to know a little more about that. Are the negotiations continuing? Are we looking for this link? If so, what will it do to the Graham Road curve? I think that there would be no Graham Road curve and I challenged British Rail about that. British Rail tells me that it is not true and that there will be the Graham Road curve, and I accept its undertaking, given here. We are told that British Rail has cut the time for the scheme to six years. If I were a gambler, I would bet that it would be eight to 10 years before it is completed. There could be a change of Government, financial control, and a whole series of other matters including retirements.
I guess that Mr. Pettit is about as old as I am—40 or 50 years—and 10 years may see him retiring early. Mr. Pettit will not have to answer then if circumstances have changed. Mr. Etherington may not be able to discuss why they are not fulfilling the undertaking given in 1982. I do not suggest that they are being other than straightforward. The scene they paint is the one they understand and the one put forward by their political masters in British Rail as correct. They will not be the arbiters then.
§ Mr. Freeson
Would not the matter be resolved if British Rail undertook to provide the high level station within the development area at the start of the project instead of providing temporary accommodation at Worship Street station?
§ Mr. Brown
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; I am corning to that point. He has pinched my line. He and I are intelligent: we can see a solution.
I do not suggest bad faith, but changing circumstances may make the undertaking given in 1982 invalid in 1989. 320 British Rail is talking about putting the temporary station at Worship Street. I have been there with Mr. Pettit and Mr. Etherington. We have looked at the site. There is no doubt that they are doing their best, given their remit, to minimise disruption to the travelling public.
I visit Worship Street frequently. In the morning there is a great deal of traffic up and down that road and it would be impossible for passengers to walk across it. When I mentioned the problem to British Rail, they took steps to see what could be done to protect passengers crossing that extremely busy road.
There is no doubt that during the construction there will be large numbers of travellers who will get fed up with that hassle every morning. It has been said that it is only 600 metres from Broad Street, but if it is pouring with rain one can get extremely wet going to work and get fed up. I am worried that not only will people get fed up and stop travelling by rail, but many of those people who go into the City have cars and they will finish by bringing their cars to work and parking them in my constituency, which becomes then the biggest car lot in the business. There could then be further aggravation for Hackney borough council and myself, because I shall have to go down frequently to resolve the difficulties that arise when cars park on the pavement and outside shops and houses.
In Committee Mr. Pettit was asked whether he thought that the temporary station would affect the travelling public. With his customary frankness, he said that there would be a loss of passenger traffic. He felt, however, that if once the project were completed it was to be marketed properly and people told that they could get to Liverpool Street a few minutes earlier that lost traffic could and would be regained. History does not show that. When buses have been re-routed and there have been temporary public transport measures, people have found alternative means of travelling and have seldom returned to their original ways. Although Mr. Pettit was right to say that there would be a loss of traffic, I do not think he could gaze into the crystal ball any more than the rest of us to say what chance there would be of recovering that lost traffic.
When the curve is built, a financial director in British Rail may ask whether it is necessary because of the falling traffic. He will say that it cannot be afforded because there is no money. There is no reason to believe that things will be different in 1989. There will be a board meeting and other projects will be suggested—for example, a railway bridge across the Thames. Reasons will be found for not constructing the Graham Road curve. No one will want it any more and the link will be made with North Woolwich station. The railway through Shoreditch will be lost and so will the curve round Graham Road into Liverpool Street. The result will be that we shall stop that City link from the day the Bill is passed.
I challenge British Rail's proposal. I understand the arguments. British Rail would like to stop the world, get off and get back on when the work is finished. British Rail is happy to undertake double glazing at the nearby block of flats because it knows it will never have to do it. The curve halves the distance between the council flats and the railway line. Councils always build blocks of flats around railway stations, cemeteries and sewerage works. I went to the flats with Mr. Pettit and his colleagues. We knocked on the doors and talked to the people and saw the effect of the proposal. I am convinced that the project will never be completed. Therefore, British Rail's voluntary 321 undertaking to provide double glazing for the frontages of those flats overlooking the lines will not have to be fulfilled.
No one seems to be in favour of the Bill. It must have a friend somewhere, apart from Mr. Pettit and his colleagues, who are convinced that it is right; but a friend is difficult to find. Although I have not always been a strong supporter of the transport users consultative committee, it is a good barometer. It has considered the concept closely and rejected it. It is not at all happy with Worship Street. The matter is before the Minister. It is a warning when an independent body in whom the Minister has faith and which has examined the issue closely is against it.
The GLC is not in favour of the concept. It has been an issue for some time and is non-political. None of the councils wants it, even as far out as Harrow. No one is willing to get in bed with the British Railways Board to claim paternity for the scheme. A scheme that was of benefit would have supporters, but that is not the case.
The high level link should be allowed to go straight through into Broad Street, as at present. A convenient site has been identified by the TUCC and Hackney borough council. That situation could remain until the end of the project. It would have three advantages. No customers would be lost, at the end of the project the location could be knitted in directly to the new development, and it would be an additional incentive in an area where large public funds are invested to regenerate industry and commerce.
A powerful reason would be needed to discard those arguments. Two stations could be opened. It is the right time to open Shoreditch Church station to feed into the area of regeneration. In four or five years there will be the option in any case.
We should secure the comfort of the travelling public during the development work and afford the opportunity to develop Shoreditch and to open Shoreditch Church station and Haggerston station. We should help to breathe life into what was once a bustling and thriving community.
Only British Rail disagrees. Let me say that I am in favour of its whole scheme and disagree with only one part. My view is shared by a large body of opinion, including Hackney borough council. It is in its favour that during the 1976 inquiry Hackney borough council did not take that view. I was the only person who raised the query, and I had a vested interest, as the leader of the council told me. But the council was eventually persuaded that the other scheme was right. A great deal more evidence is now available. In 1976 there was a paucity of information.
I acquit the council of the charge of not doing its work. It argued the case inside the council and with myself. It did not make a great issue of the matter as it wanted to see the development of broader issues and felt that it was important to develop the whole Liverpool Street complex.
I hope that the House will endorse what I say to ensure that British Rail plays its part in a challenging area of London. We are trying to provide jobs in an area that has higher than average unemployment. The life of the area will fade and die unless we do something. I hope that British Rail will at this late stage change its decision. There are no financial, operating or engineering implications. I hope that our debate will have focused attention on the fact that there are no real reasons to say "No".
§ Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I, too, pay tribute to Mr. Pettit. He has dealt with an enormous number of complaints from my constituents about overcrowded and delayed trains, particularly to and from Liverpool Street station. The new station will help considerably to alleviate the problems. Four additional platforms and two additional approach tracks from Bethnal Green, where the peak services are used by 170,000 people daily, will help to solve the problems of delay and overcrowding.
Liverpool Street station handles slightly more trains than Waterloo station, but has three fewer platforms and two fewer approach tracks. Those facts are fundamental to the difference in reliability and punctuality between the two stations. The new platforms and tracks will be of great benefit to my constituents. At peak times, even with facilities being used to their maximum, with old electric trains and signalling difficulties, if one thing goes wrong, great disruption and inconvenience results.
Only seven of the 18 platforms can take 12-coach trains, and that is a major cause of overcrowding. The situation has been made worse by the large increase in new housing in Essex. Twenty-two platforms will help. hope that we shall hear how many will take the 12-coach trains.
The proposal will be the biggest single improvement for the travelling public since electrification of the railway 30 years ago.
§ Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)
The hon. Gentleman is properly concerned with the interests of the travelling public, the commuters, in his constituency. Does he accept that, when new rail developments take place, the interests of residents in areas surrounding the railway can be adversely affected? Some hon. Members find that the environmental effect of new railway development can be disadvantageous.
§ Sir Julian Ridsdale
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. I hope that he will balance his concern against my concern. Some of his constituents have come to live in my constituency in Essex from where they commute to work. Therefore, we have a common interest in seeing the building of Liverpool Street station I agree, of course, that environmental conditions are important.
The building is to be carried out without using scarce British Rail capital. It is a marrying of private and public enterprise. Representing a rail port, I welcome any project that marries private and public investment. I recognise its value in advancing facilities.
There will be problems while the building goes ahead. I know that Mr. Pettit and the excellent staff of British Rail will do their best to overcome the problems. I appeal to British Rail, during this period when delays will occur, to restore the buffet service on the line between London and Clacton-on-Sea. If these facilities cannot be provided by British Rail, perhaps private enterprise might be invited to fulfil the task. This would be a small contribution to overcoming some of the difficulties.
I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House so that the new station can be built as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)
I shall be brief. The development of Liverpool Street station is long overdue. I do not wish to traverse history and to recount 323 how long it has taken to reach this stage. Hon. Members who have followed the matter over the years will know the time that it has taken. The project should have been in hand many years ago.
I do not wish to say or do anything that will hold up the project. However, like others who have made representations, I have reservations about the manner in which certain aspects of the procedure are to be proceeded with. I understand that if, at the outset of the project, the proposition is that the north London line should be continued to some site, whether the TUCC site or another, so that it is guaranteed to run into the City, there are those within British Rail who take the view that it will be necessary to go back to the drawing board, thereby putting the whole project at risk. I do not wish to debate the details. If, however, this is why British Rail has not been prepared to programme the project from the start to provide for a station within the precincts of the development, instead of the Worship Street station site 600 yards away, for the termination of the north London line, I do not accept it. I do not believe that it is necessary to go back to the drawing board. I do not believe that the total financial negotiations, involving the public sector and private enterprise, would be put at risk.
Fears and anxieties of that sort are often raised. If the anxiety and the fear are not well founded, or if those within British Rail do not take the view that I have outlined, I do not understand why there is resistance to providing an alternative to the Worship Street station. There will continue to be opposition in general to certain aspects of the project. Some doubts have been expressed by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). The main objection has come from many people who have, rightly, campaigned for the retention and the development of the north London line for passenger services. There is fear among those people that the line will be damaged by falling short of Worship Street station.
I cannot understand why that main, single objection to the project is not conceded and an alternative approach adopted. The alternative is not impractical. It will not make a fundamental difference to the money that will be required over the years to complete the scheme, but it will no doubt make some difference to the times at which that money will be required. I do not believe, however, that it will be impossible to sort out the difficulties.
If there is a risk to passenger use of the north London line and the likelihood of serious inconvenience to a large number of people using the line because of the temporary introduction of the Worship Street station, and if there is a fear that the introduction of a temporary stop 600 yards away from the new development will mean that the project will never be completed into the City, why do not British Rail complete the north London line into the development area by temporarily siting a station within the development if that is practical? That would resolve all the criticisms, including the most serious and justifiable criticism, not of the ultimate objective, but of the manner in which British Rail has gone about it.
I hope that there will be support for my plea that, whatever the reservations about certain aspects of the scheme on the one hand, and whatever grand support may exist for the project on the other, from the start of the project British Rail should introduce a temporary facility within the development area for passengers now using the 324 Broad Street Station, in place of its proposal for the temporary station to stop further up the line. That is my plea. It is a serious one, and it is the one that has been put to me by those who have voiced criticisms and anxiety.
I have heard no criticism from my many constituents who use the north London line about British Rail's general proposition, but I have received many criticisms about the programming, which, in their judgment, puts at risk the future of the north London line running into the City, and which will create in the meantime serious difficulties and inconvenience for people travelling from my constituency into the City if they have to stop short at a temporary station for up to seven years while the project goes ahead.
I make no general criticism of the general proposition, and I hope that it goes ahead. I give my full support to British Rail. Development of the Liverpool Street and Broad Street sites is long overdue. However, I hope that British Rail will recognise the genuine anxiety about the programming of the project and the temporary station arrangement, and agree to run the service into the Broad Street-Liverpool Street development area while the project is going on, and not wait six or seven years before doing that.
§ 8.1 pm
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
I agree wth the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) and the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) that the broad principle of rebuilding Liverpool Street is excellent and it should not be opposed. In six or eight years, when the work is completed, it will be a monument to British Rail technology and a splendid asset for all. I join the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch in paying tribute to the courteous way in which British Rail has conducted consultations. I have had exactly the same experience as the hon. Gentleman.
I shall not pursue the argument about high level, low level or the Graham Road curve, because those bones have been well gnawed. Indeed, a powerful argument was put forward by both the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and the right hon. Member for Brent, East in that respect. I shall deal only with the concern of my constituents and explain why I object to the Bill.
My constituents, like those of the right hon. Member for Brent, East—although my constituents have a little further to go—use the Watford line into Broad Street to get to their work in the City. Incidentally, concern is also felt by people in Watford, and my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) has been active on their behalf and expressed their concern. This line into the City is of great value, because many of my constituents work in the City, mostly south of Broad Street, in banks, insurance companies, and commercial or professional offices.
Commuting to the City is not fun. Indeed, it is hellish. However, travelling on the British Rail line has been marginally less hellish and slightly cheaper than the alternative nightmare of travelling by London Transport. Therefore, I agree with those hon. Members who say that there may be a departure from the line if travelling conditions to Broad Street and Liverpool Street over the next six, eight or 10 years are made more hellish. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said, the departure from that line might be permanent.
My constituents' concern has been taken up not only by me, but by the transport users consultative committee. I 325 had a most helpful meeting with British Rail representatives, who were kind enough to come here to discuss the matter with me. The high level proposition is extremely expensive, and British Rail's finances are such that one would not want to increase its burdens. However, two other courses were discussed at the meeting. One was to make it easier for commuters to travel to Highbury and change there so that they could get on to the line to Moorgate. At present, that is a most unpleasant interchange. The second course was to improve the bus service from Worship Street to take them into the Broad Street area.
I agree entirely with those hon. Members who described what I call the "hardship"—as does the transport users consultative committee—and what British Rail calls the "inconvenience" of the journey from Worship Street to the south. It may be 600 yd, but whichever way one looks at it, it is nearly half or a third of a mile. It is not fun in bad weather or in the rush hour. It is not fun if one is old and perhaps unsteady on one's legs. It will not be fun in the dark when all the development work is going on. It is not like a pleasant walk through St. James's Park. It is therefore incumbent on British Rail, in embarking on this exercise, to do everything possible to minimise the hardship—or, as British Rail says, the "inconvenience"—to my constituents and others who have to use this means of getting to their places of work.
British Rail considered the two propositions and wrote to me. On the proposal to improve the direct stairway and subway link between different platform levels at Highbury so that people could more easily change to get on the Moorgate route, it said that the £1½ million cost would not be justified. I am not certain that that is correct, nor am I certain that every conceivable alternative has been fully explored. British Rail, in its letter, said:the Board are currently examining an alternative method of making the existing interchange arrangements"—that is, at Highbury—more convenient for passengers.
My constituents think "So far, so good", but that that alternative is a little feeble. I think that it is rather wishy-washy. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) replies, I hope that, with his customary courtesy and thoughtfulness, he will consider hardening up some of the loose undertakings that have been given.
A second course—to improve the bus service—was also mooted. British Rail seems to doubt whether any additional bus service is necessary. It has done some research. So have I, although not in such detail. I took the trouble to go to Worship Street as near to the rush hour as possible. I found that the buses were infrequent. When they did come, there was the usual bunching, and they were crowded, with many people waiting in considerable discomfort. No one would like to experience that for even a year, let alone six, seven or eight years.
That service should be improved. An improvement could be made at a cost of only £200,000 per annum—more modest than the alternative expenditure. However, there is some doubt whether existing services should be supplemented or whether there should be a specially designated service. The letter that I received was a little flabby on that subject. I hope that either my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne or British Rail will say point blank that something will be done about the interchange at Highbury to make it easier to travel to 326 Moorgate, and to enable my constituents, and those who have to come from that area, to get from Worship Street to the City with the minimum of discomfort.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not let me know that he was coming. I would have given him a coffee and accompanied him. The problem is that the streets are narrow. A single-decker bus would have difficulty trying to filter its way through Sun Street down into Bishopsgate. It is generally chaos there. If a supernumerary service is injected, it will pay people to walk because they will arrive at their destination much sooner.
§ Mr. Grant
How it is to be done I do not know, but it is not right that for the next six to eight years people should be expected to walk that distance. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, people may bring their cars and park them in his constituency. He is putting ideas into my head. However, many people cannot travel by motor car and have to go to London by train. I look for something rather more positive from British Rail if the matter proceeds.
We are now on Third Reading, but the Bill has yet to go through all its stages in another place, where no doubt what has been said here will be considered. I am not impressed by the argument that this matter has been discussed in great detail and diligently examined by the Private Bill Committee. My constituents and many others do not read the proceedings of the Private Bill Committee every day in the same way as they read the Daily Mirror. Therefore, they did not realise the consequences. They do now, and many responsible people have taken the trouble to write to me to express their anxiety about the future. They have not filled in a form from a special lobby. British Rail should take that into consideration.
The Minister will have to consider the proposals made by the transport users consultative committee. In addition, I have made representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to accept that there will be hardship to people if the proposal goes forward. I shall sit down in the hope that my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be sympathetic to the cause that I have advanced on behalf of my constituents.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I speak on behalf of the citizens of Hackney who will be affected by this development. I shall oppose the Bill unless there is an agreement to provide a high-level platform at Liverpool Street station. In spite of the excellent development that will take place in the Liverpool Street area as a result of the general scheme, there will be too much hardship if it goes ahead without that high-level platform.
Furthermore, for the people of Hackney the Bill will bring an end to the quickest and cheapest transport link with the City. Hackney is already a deprived area. It has high unemployment, 5,000 one-parent families and a high proportion of the old and infirm. These are the people who will suffer most as a result of the closure of the link line and Broad Street station.
It is estimated that about 1.3 million passengers use the link line each year and that about 180,000 a year travel to and from the Dalston Junction station. The termination of 327 the train service at Worship Street would mean that they would have to walk 600 yards. That is a considerable distance for the infirm, for the very young and for those who, for various reasons, are unable to walk easily. Workers are likely to get soaking wet during wet weather and will have to work in wet clothes. They will have to spend extra money on bus fares if they choose not to walk the 600 yards, and many of those who live in the Hackney area will not be able to afford that.
In any event, travelling by bus is a great problem, because of the traffic congestion in Kingsland Road and the road that leads down to Liverpool Street station. The extra passengeers will make the present conditions even worse. The problem will be permanent, as it is intended to close the City branch of this line in seven, eight or 10 years' time.
I received a letter from the Hackney public transport action committee, which reads:For at least seven years those who use Broad Street will have to make an additional journey to reach their City destination. This journey will either have to be walked, along muddy roads around what will be one of the largest building sites in Europe, or made via bus. In both cases some 10 minutes extra journey time and in the latter case, extra cost, will be involved. To walk the journey will be particularly unpleasant when dark as no main thoroughfare leads directly to the proposed temporary station which is, in effect, in a backyard (Plough Yard) off Worship Street.
The effect of the cutback to Worship Street will be to kill off passenger traffic on the City link and along the rest of the Northern line. About 17 per cent. of all journeys start or end at Broad Street. The GLC estimates that up to 50,000 passengers will be lost if the line ends at Worship Street. The consequent loss in revenue will lead to service reductions, station closures and further hardship for Hackney citizens.
The Hackney borough council has examined the problem in great detail on behalf of its residents. It says that it does not support the proposed closure of the link line because it forms an essential part of the transport infrastructure of the borough and provides an important link between the City and the borough's strategic centre at Dalston. In an area totally without London Transport underground services, the importance of such a facility cannot be over-emphasised. The City Link also contains two stations, at Haggerston and Shoreditch, which, although closed, could, if reopened, contribute to a significant enhancement of the rail network in the borough. This is particularly true of the latter station which lies at the centre of the borough's principal employment area, South Shoreditch. Closure of the City link line would, of course, pre-empt that.
Furthermore, a rail service via the Graham Road curve would be less attractive than the existing City link in both time—three to four minutes longer—and reliability terms. It is also likely that an increased fare would be charged between Dalston and Liverpool Street. Nor are bus alternatives in the City link corridor an attractive prospect. They are slower, more expensive—60p compared with 20p—and less reliable than the City link service.
Despite BR assurances over its intentions to build the Graham Road curve and its undertaking to the House of Commons Select Committee, this is conditional upon future public service obligation grants being sufficient for any necessary future service support. It is the concern of 328 the council that the unsatisfactory conditions associated with the proposed temporary station at Worship Street will so undermine patronage on the line that BR will use this as a reason not to build the Graham Road curve and that Dalston will thus be left without any direct rail link to the City. Hackney borough council agrees with my views.
The proposals in the Bill will jeopardise the urban aid partnership schemes for the areas of Islington, Hackney and the City. Furthermore, the future City link can be secured only by building a high-level platform, as suggested by the transport users consultative committee, by Hackney borough council and by the citizens who are represented on the various transport committees in that area.
British Rail accepted as feasible the building of a high level platform but said that it would cost about £500,000 more in capital costs than the Graham Road curve scheme. That is an infinitesimal amount compared with the £300 million estimated total cost of the whole scheme. If the high-level platform were built, Broad Street passengers would be treated in the same way as the Liverpool Street passengers and would receive no worse a service.
The Greater London Council has agreed to examine the possibility of providing capital and revenue for British Rail for a high level platform in the event of the latter agreeing to it. Therefore, British Rail need not even be faced with increasing costs.
Environmental problems will arise in Hackney as a result of the Bill. Hackney has a commitment to work with British Rail in undertaking substantial works to the board's property. As an example, a total of £300,000 has been earmarked over the next three years for the repainting of railway bridges, and this is additional to the current level of spending under both the environmental and transport programmes. In total, it is expected that about £150,000 per annum will be spent on environmental improvements alone to British Rail property over the next three years. Despite all the work that has been done, dirty, unmaintained railway viaducts and bridges remain a major environmentally detrimental failure of the borough landscape.
The City link viaduct arches accommodate a variety of small industrial firms, last surveyed in 1981, employing 722 persons. The annual rental value of the premises is estimated at £400,000. The arches are let by British Rail at low marginal cost rents and only minimal maintenance is undertaken.
British Rail's expressed desire to dispose of the viaduct to Hackney or the GLC shows that it has no intention of undertaking any improvement. This negative attitude will leave Hackney with a 1¼ mile long industrial and environmental problem, which requires comprehensive planned attention to internal repair, cleaning and improvement of the local environment of the viaduct. Hackney council would be unlikely to accept responsibility for the viaduct if the railway service were withdrawn.
I urge the House to reject the Bill unless there is an agreement to build a high-level platform at Liverpool Street station for those who use the Northern line.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I wish briefly to support my hon. Friends the Members for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) and Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale). I fully understand the concern expressed for their constituents by 329 my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) and other hon. Members, particularly those who represent seats in Hackney. There is a problem and they are right to say that it can be very inconvenient to have to walk an additional 600 or 700 yards in inclement weather for several years.
However, several glowing tributes have been paid to Mr. Pettit, the divisional manager, and to the Eastern Region Railways Board, for the way in which they have tried to meet the problems and criticisms. Therefore, we must listen to what they have said. They have pointed out that for sound operational and financial reasons and in the interests of customers, it is important that the project should go ahead. It has also been made clear, in their own words:To impose alternative ways of redevelopment, and in particular a high level option would in the Board's view frustrate the scheme and imperil the Bill.
My constituency owes much to Liverpool Street station. I have already mentioned in the House that the construction of stations at Ilford, Seven Kings, Goodmayes and Chadwell Heath, on the London to Harwich line, involved British Rail's predecessor company in requiring guarantees of income from the developers of houses in my constituency before agreeing to build them. Therefore, when the houses were built they were designed to accommodate those who worked in the City. For many years, and particularly since the last war, conditions at Liverpool Street deteriorated. Indeed, for some of those years I commuted from Seven Kings station to Liverpool Street myself. Therefore, I can say that it is essential that the scheme should go ahead without delay.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said that he had not heard of anyone who was in favour of the Bill. I think that he meant only from his constituents. I can think of many people who are in favour of the Bill. As recently as this afternoon, a lady constituent telephoned me to say that she hoped that the Bill would receive a Third Reading tonight.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
If I said that, it was not what I meant. I meant that no one was in favour of the low-level curve going round Graham Road. In the preamble to my speech I said that we were wholly in favour of the scheme as such.
§ Mr. Thorne
I assumed that that was what the hon. Gentleman meant. But I did not hear him say that. However, I am grateful to him for making it clear that he is in general in favour of the scheme.
I can vouch for the fact that my constituents are very much in favour of the scheme. The Bill still has a long way to go. It must next go to the other place. I should be sorry if it were held up on its way. There is plenty of opportunity for further consideration by the British Railways Board, but I believe what it says, which is that unfortunately inconvenience will be caused to some passengers, but we must accept that as the price of progress. Therefore, I hope that the House will now give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I enter the debate with trepidation because I freely concede that my knowledge of the area is not exactly intimate. Having listened to hon. Members who have a close constituency interest, I find my task more difficult to contemplate.
It is a great shame that agreement could not be reached before the Bill got to this stage. British Rail freely 330 concedes that it has the best of relationships with London boroughs on the different developments. It is a pity that there is now total disagreement on one aspect of the Bill.
I am convinced that there is a great need to develop Liverpool Street station. There is common agreement that the development of the station and its immediate surrounds is urgently required. London Transport has proposals for its station on the other side of the street, if I remember correctly where it is. All parties involved believe that it is necessary to move as quickly as possible on the development of the station.
It is a sad comment on the financial resources available to British Rail that it cannot finance the project from its own budget. That is relevant because it affects how quickly the development can proceed. The blunt truth is that, without the injection of private capital to finance the commercial developments, there would be no development of the station complex. It would be much better if British Rail could wholly fund the project so that any profits would be British Rail's. If the railways had sufficient finance it might be better if the choice of development and phasing were within their control, although that is not a matter that I can state definitely.
There is shifting ground even between the discussion of the evidence that took place in the Private Bill Committee and the discussion today. Broad Street station is at the core of the argument. We are discussing the level of the line and the consequent building of the Graham Road curve.
Hon. Members have referred to the problems facing travellers at the temporary station at Worship Street. If that were the only matter at stake, it would not be so important because other arrangements might be made. I understand that the real problem, although it has been challenged by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), is that British Rail management does not believe it is feasible to bring the existing line of route down to the lower level that is proposed for the redeveloped station. The management says that the gradient between the end of the viaduct and the end of the station would be too great to contemplate. In such matters we have to take the word of the railway engineers. It is not a matter with which we can deal.
One issue at stake is the strength of British Rail's commitment to maintain the service. Will the Graham Road curve ever be built? There are two other arguments. One is that the Graham Road curve, even when built, will not provide as good a service to passengers as at present. The other argument, which has been put both by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) is that the change of route will gravely affect the prospects for people who live and work in Hackney.
On my understanding of the evidence, the level of service to be provided seems to hinge on the length of the journey time. It is argued that the Graham Road curve would involve between three and four minutes extra journey time. That is not a matter of great importance. If one argues that one of the reasons for maintaining the existing line of route is to provide additional stops at either Haggerston or Shoreditch, extra travelling time would follow.
The core of the discussion is the grave suspicion that the termination of the line at Worship Street by way of a temporary station may lead to the abandonment of the 331 service to Liverpool Street and that despite the assurances that were given to the Private Bill Committee, the Graham Road curve will not be constructed.
What assurances were given and what is their standing? The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said that some of the people who gave the assurances would not be around. That is true.
I shall refer to that part of the evidence where the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) asked Mr. Mann, counsel for the promoters of the Bill:I have just one question if I may. Mr. Mann, I wonder if you would be very kind and help me with one matter, as to the undertaking given by British Rail regarding the Graham Road curve. Am I right in assuming that that has no strength in law, given, of course, that it is a bona fide? There is no reason, because of that undertaking or, indeed, any other reason, why they should go ahead with the Graham Road curve in due course, is there?In reply, Mr. Mann said:Sir, I think it would be binding, but it is what is known as a parliamentary undertaking, and parliamentary undertakings by statutory undertakers are commonly observed because, if they are not, the next time a particular promoter appears before a Committee of the House he may expect short shrift for his proposals … the British Railways Board appears annually. That is the legal position.I can only say that some of the parliamentary undertakings that we are given in the House are not worth the paper on which they are written. We can only hope that outside promoters have a much stronger view of them.
British Rail comes before the House annually with various projects but it will be seven or eight years before those undertakings are expected to be complied with. Much can happen in that time.
The issue is whether the time scale for the building of the Graham Road curve has been re-examined. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) said that the need for a temporary station at Worship Street has been reduced from 10 years to six years. One of the best ways to remove doubt about the future would be to accelerate the proposal to build the Graham Road curve by altering the timing of the Broad Street closure. British Rail has gone a long way to meet local doubts. Indeed, it has agreed to pay for the double glazing on the railway side of the Boscobel House block of flats.
I become worried when I see experts talking of the need for the provision of special lubricated flanges and sections of line in which there will be no joints. I do not wish to insult the promoters or those who gave evidence with the best of intentions, but it reads like gobbledegook to me. When they go to that length, I begin to think that the argument about the increased noise as a result of the railway will be significant.
The issue at stake is whether British Rail can fulfil the commitment to build the new line.
Why does British Rail appear to be so adamant that the high level entry proposal is not on in any circumstances? This matter was discussed at considerable length in the evidence to the Committee. There appears to be no engineering objection. There seem to be two objections, one of which is that the additional cost of providing a permanent high level entry at Liverpool Street would be £2½ million in what is described as "discount cash flow terms". I am not sure what that means, but I do know what an extra £2½ million means.
332 My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington has pointed out that on a project that might cost £400 million by the time it is built, £2½ million is not much. On the other hand, the board seems to argue that, if it provided a high level entry, there would be a 12-month delay.
It is difficult to assess those claims, because all the evidence suggests that the schemes as a whole will proceed simultaneously. In other words, it is not a question of the office blocks being built first and the cash generating therefrom being used to develop the station. The board argues that the two phases will go hand in hand. Why, then, cannot the board change its mind over the high level project? It argues that that would require a new Bill. I am not apprised of the technicalities, but I do not see why the board cannot introduce an amending Bill. Nevertheless, if the board wishes to see the projects proceed simultaneously, why not start the building of the Graham Road curve first without closing Broad Street station?
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
The hon. Gentleman said that the two phases would go hand in hand, but I understand that the board must first generate all the office development within the City area before it can get the money to build the line.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I looked at the evidence carefully. At one point the board said that it would not be waiting for the commercial development to be completed and that there would be simultaneous development. "Tandem development" may be a better way to describe it, because obviously different phases are involved. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne will get a nod from the appropriate quarter to confirm whether I am right.
That leads me to the difficulties facing the House. As the hon. Member for Ravensbourne properly pointed out, this scheme has been under consideration for about six years. The development proposals are well advanced, and I understand that negotiations are taking place to secure the private finance. That has not yet been secured. Therefore, will the additional cost of a high level entry for Broad Street break the scheme? British Rail seems to think that it would.
Two other issues may yet affect the decision. First, Broad Street station cannot be closed without the Minister's approval. Apparently, the TUCC is against the closure of the station. Not having seen the recommendations, I am not sure whether that means on a permament or temporary basis. In any event, the views of the TUCC are now before the Minister. Has the Minister decided to allow the station to be closed? He should give us a decision today.
Secondly, there seems to be some argument about two listed buildings. I think that agreement has been reached that one of them should be removed, but that no agreement has been reached on the other. This will require consent either from the Secretary of State for the Environment or from the GLC. I do not know which will be the final arbiter.
What is the future of the scheme? I am as keen as anyone to see the development proceed. We cannot know how long the scheme would be delayed if changes were made. The argument seems to be that there could be a delay of a year because a new bridge would have to be built over Worship Street if we kept the high level entry. There 333 seems to be some suggestion, too, that the period for completion of the project would be extended from nine years to 12 years. I have not studied the evidence closely enough to know why one year should suddenly become three. It may be a matter of procedures.
We can only accept or reject the Bill. It is a pity that we cannot vote on the technical motion to defer the decision on Third Reading for six months, which would allow a reasonable time for further discussions.
The borough of Hackney, since it began to discuss these matters, has not only changed its mind but hardened its attitude. I cannot properly recommend to my hon. Friends that they should vote against the Bill, but I believe that we should give as much weight as possible to the views of local authorities and local communities which have given very serious consideration to this matter.
I sometimes wonder how the railways were ever built. If we were trying to build a new railway system, the complications of planning consents, public inquiries, TUCCs and Bills would be such that nothing would ever be built. I accept that Private Bills were appropriate at the time they were introduced to curb the power of landlords who tried to stop the building of the railways. I am not sure, however, that this is the best way to deal with these matters now. It is certainly not fair to the House of Commons and to hon. Members who do not have a detailed interest in the matter. If we do not receive from the spokesman for the sponsors the strongest possible assurances about the future, some hon. Members may be forced to vote against the proposals.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Reginald Eyre)
I think that we all recognise that Liverpool Street station needs modernisation and reorganisation. No one would deny that the present facilities are far from satisfactory. I am sure that many people who use the station, including Members of the House, will welcome in general terms the proposed redevelopment. In this regard, I appreciated the support given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Hughes), too, was very fair in his comments on the importance of redevelopment.
British Rail's proposals and procedures, so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) in opening the debate, will improve the environment and facilities for passengers and enable the board to operate a more reliable and efficient service—all of this with no capital outlay for British Rail or for the taxpayer. In this regard, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) made a number of valuable points in his speech supporting the proposals. I also noted that he commanded tremendous support for his comments on the importance of the catering arrangements.
The property development is intended to pay for the new station and its associated railway works. I also welcome the proposed joint participation by the public and private sector in carrying out this development. Having said that I recognise that many people are concerned, particularly as the board's plans entail the closure and demolition of the adjacent Broad Street station and the provision of a temporary terminus for the Broad Street services at Worship Street, some 600 yards to the north. I have noted in particular the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), 334 who was speaking on behalf of his constituents, on behalf of residents in Harrow more generally, and also, as he made clear, on behalf of Watford residents, all of whom travel to Broad Street as regular passengers.
The suggestions and concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central will be reported by me in great detail, as will all other points, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in connection with his considerations of the closing procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) has also expressed his concerns to me in this connection.
It will, I hope, be reassuring to those hon. Members when I say that these proposals are now going through the statutory procedures governing rail passenger closures, and this provides the opportunity for all aspects of the closure to be considered in detail. The transport users consultative committee has a responsibility to report on any hardship that may be caused by the proposed closure. It held a public hearing in April of this year, and its report went to my right hon. Friend in June. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North raised this point. My right hon. Friend is now considering all aspects of the question, and I know that he hopes to announce his decision in the near future. Therefore, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will understand that there is little that I can say at the moment, as to do so might be seen as prejudicing my right hon. Friend's decision.
However, it may be useful to the House if I emphasise that the closure procedures are quite separate from the Bill now being discussed. Indeed, the Bill contains a clause, clause 12, that makes it quite clear that its provisions do not override the statutory closure procedures in respect of Broad Street station.
The TUCC report concentrated on hardship, but I must explain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had a much wider brief. In arriving at his decision, he is required to have regard to all relevant matters, including social and economic considerations. Since receiving the TUCC report, we have had to seek further information, mainly but by no means exclusively from the British railways board, partly on the TUCC's recommendations and partly on wider aspects. This process is now more or less completed although we are still awaiting comments from the GLC.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant
My hon. Friend has said that the Secretary of State's responsibilities are wider and embrace social matters. Will that include hardship or inconvenience to long-term users of the line?
§ Mr. Eyre
I am glad to confirm that that is so.
The House will realise that the proposal to close Broad Street has raised a number of complex issues and differing and conflicting arguments have been put forward. Those have to be considered with care and with regard to all the points that have been raised this evening. It would be no service to British Rail or to those who object to its proposals if we were to reach an early decision at the expense of careful consideration. I assure the House that we are considering the case urgently. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to announce his decision before long.
I recognise that deep fears remain about the future of the services which now run into Broad Street. I acknowledge the points raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who spoke 335 on behalf of Hackney borough council, and described its point of view as well as his own and that of local residents. I noted the reservations expressed by the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) as well as those which were expressed strongly by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts). I undertake to bring those views to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Because of the effects of clause 12, the fears that have been described are not sufficient reason to delay the passage of the Bill. I hope that my assurances will have helped the House to decide to allow the Bill to proceed.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
I should like to respond briefly to the speeches that have been made. We have had an interesting and helpful debate and I know that all the speeches will be read with interest by British Rail, which will seek to respond sympathetically to the pleas that have come from both sides of the House. Most hon. Members have given a general welcome to the Bill, although there have been a number of reservations expressed about specific parts of it.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) spoke of the regeneration of Shoreditch, and I am sure that we all share his hope that that will proceed. I did not entirely agree with him when he seemed to base his claim for the high-level service on the fact that it would be required to stimulate such regeneration. He must recognise that 80 per cent. of travellers in that part of London use the bus rather than the train, despite the fact that train fares are lower than bus fares on the Kingsland Road route.
The hon. Gentleman pleaded for the reopening of Haggerston and Shoreditch Church stations. Both have been closed since the days of the blitz more than 40 years ago, so I contend that the regeneration of Shoreditch does not depend on their reopening. British Rail says that it would not be viable or economic, and that view is supported by the independent study by Hackney's consultants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich warmly welcomed the Bill, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) in a whispered conversation with me before he left the Chamber. He assured me that he supported the Bill, although he could no longer remain in the Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) said that the new station at Liverpool Street would alleviate the delay and overcrowding on trains that his constituents suffer. He made the point that Liverpool Street has a significantly poorer punctuality record than Waterloo. I hope that the scheme will get under way and that Liverpool Street will move to the top of the London league for punctuality. I assure my hon. Friend that the new platforms will take 12-coach trains.
The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) and a number of other hon. Members concentrated on what they felt would be a serious inconvenience resulting from passengers having to terminate their journey at Worship Street. My hon. Friend conceded that the high-level alternative would be extremely expensive. 336 British Rail is prepared to improve the facilities for interchange at Highbury to allow easier travel to Moorgate. British Rail is also satisfied that the existing bus service should be able to take the extra load but is prepared to consider running, in conjunction with London Transport, a short working bus to cover the journey from Worship Street. It would probably not be specifically between Worship Street and the City but more likely, for example, from Shoreditch to London Bridge. The possibility is being actively considered. I hope that what I have said will reassure my hon. Friend and his constituents.
The right hon. Member for Aberdeen, North—
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman promotes me. I am not yet a right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hunt
It is only a question of time.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) raised a point that has exercised the minds of a number of hon. Members—whether the Graham Road curve would ever be built. He asked whether British Rail could deliver. The undertaking is firm and specific and is as far as British Rail can be expected to go. It is impossible to give completely firm commitments for eight or 10 years ahead. The undertaking is firm so far as it has been given in response to the Select Committee's deliberations.
Both phases of the development will go ahead concurrently. The objection to the high-level entry is partly on grounds of cost but also on grounds of delay. I am told that extra parliamentary powers would be needed together with additional engineering works which would be likely to set back the project for two years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) made a plea for the Bill not to be held up and rightly argued that further undue delay could prejudice the scheme. I echo those words. The discussions will not end tonight. They will continue during debates in the other place and will also cover the recommendations of the transport users consultative committee and the Minister's decision on them.
§ Mr. Freeson
There has been reference to the excessive cost of building a high-level station to replace the concept of a temporary station at Worship Street. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any consideration being given by British Rail to bringing forward the Graham Road curve so that the part of the project where it terminates within the development can be advanced to a time a great deal earlier than the end of seven years? Why should we be left with an uncertain undertaking of seven to 10 years from now before it is known whether the north London line link into the City is guaranteed?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am sure that British Rail is fully seized of the need to bring forward this development as quickly as possible. I shall see that the right hon. Gentleman's comments are drawn to the attention of the board. I cannot go further, but the right hon. Gentleman makes a vaild point.
I hope that the House will be prepared to allow the Bill to proceed. This has been a useful and helpful debate.
§ Question put and agreed.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.