HC Deb 20 July 1987 vol 120 cc6-7
7. Ms. Quin

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how advanced the plans are for a direct rail link from Newcastle and the north-east of England to the Channel tunnel.

Mr. David Mitchell

British Rail is well aware of the commercial opportunities that the Channel tunnel will bring to provide services from the continent to many parts of the country, including the north-east. It will be making detailed plans over the next two years.

Ms. Quin

I am disappointed at the Minister's reply. Will he give an assurance that on the day when the tunnel opens there will be a direct link to areas such as the northeast of England? Does he accept that if that is not the case, areas most in need of economic recovery will be further disadvantaged?

Mr. Mitchell

Clause 39 of the Channel Tunnel Bill requires British Rail, by the end of 1989, to produce a plan for the dispersal of passenger and freight traffic to various points in the country, subject to various commercial criteria. At present, planning is naturally at a very early stage and the pattern of services will depend on British Rail's assessment of demand.

Mr. Fallon

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are investing £300 million in electrifying the east coast main line, one of the biggest infrastructure projects ever undertaken, for the benefit of the north-east? Is he further aware that industry in the north-east welcomes the Channel tunnel because it will provide a cheaper, faster freight transport link to European markets of a kind never before enjoyed?

Mr. Mitchell

Electrification of the east coast main line is the biggest investment by British Rail in 25 years, and it will bring substantial benefits to the north-east, as will the link with the Channel tunnel.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister accept that the link is especially important for freight traffic and that it is vital that freight and inland Customs clearance depots be provided in the north-east in the short term so that rail-based traffic patterns can be established well before the tunnel opens in 1993?

Mr. Mitchell

I am expecting the director of British Rail Freight to give me some guidance this summer on the pattern of freight depots that he expects will be required. I shall take into account the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.