HC Deb 16 March 1993 vol 221 cc194-5

Mr. Deputy Speaker, in my autumn statement I announced significant changes to the rules for the private financing of major infrastructure projects. This initiative has met with an enthusiastic response, and today I have a number of specific developments to announce.

First, hon. Members will recall that legislation has already passed through both Houses permitting the construction of a new fast rail link that will cut the journey time between Heathrow and Paddington. I can now announce that BAA plc and British Rail have agreed to proceed with this project, the Heathrow Express. This is a major new joint venture, involving private sector investment of nearly £300 million. As well as providing a substantial boost to the construction industry, this project will significantly enhance the transport infrastructure of the nation's capital.

Secondly, there is crossrail, a public sector project first proposed in 1989 to reduce congestion in central London. The Government remain committed to securing for London the benefits that crossrail will bring, but we now believe it would be preferable to take this project forward as a joint venture with the private sector. The present proposals for crossrail will therefore be re-examined. Our aims will be to maximise the participation and financial involvement of the private sector and to secure the best value for money for the taxpayer.

One of the most ambitious civil engineering projects ever conceived has been made possible by private finance. I refer, of course, to the channel tunnel. This will provide a fast link between Britain and Paris, cutting journey times dramatically, but those times could be cut still further by reducing the time taken for journeys within Britain itself. For that to happen, a new rail link will be required—from London down to the channel tunnel itself. This will be a massive undertaking—one of the largest infrastructure projects in this country since the war—but, after careful consideration, the Government have decided to make a firm commitment to the project. So I can announce today that the channel tunnel rail link will go ahead.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be inviting the private sector to come forward with bids so that the project can be taken forward as a joint venture as soon as possible. We will discuss timing with the private sector. We hope to be able to introduce a Bill as soon as the legislative timetable permits, and to see the new line fully completed around the end of the decade. The Government will make their own financial contribution, recognising the benefits that will accrue to domestic travellers from the new link. Full responsibility for the project, its management and completion will be transferred to the private sector.

Subject to the results of detailed work by British Rail over the next few months, the London terminus of the new link will be located at St. Pancras. This will provide a new lease of life for this magnificent Victorian building, which will become the gateway to London for international passengers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will make a statement on the details of the route shortly.

Over the years ahead, my private finance initiatives will play an ever increasing role in the modernisation of Britain's infrastructure. The projects I have announced today represent a considerable step forward. They will not only improve the country's transport network; they will also create jobs. I am sure they will be warmly welcomed by the country and by the House.

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