HL Deb 11 November 1982 vol 436 cc359-61

3.28 p.m.

Viscount Sidmouth

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government which independent engineers have been commissioned to look into the cost of converting railway lines to roads and what are their terms of reference.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has commissioned Messrs. Brian Colquhoun and Partners, consulting engineers, to consider British Rail's short Woodside to Selsdon route in south London, which is to close next year. Their terms of reference are to investigate and cost the options for conversion of this line to roads of varying standards. In addition, my right honourable friend is contributing part of the cost of a study by Professor Peter Hall and Sir William Halcrow and Partners into the feasibility and costs of converting British Rail's closed Woodhead Tunnel route. My right honourable friend's objective in commissioning and supporting these studies is to obtain independent advice on possible ways of using redundant transport rights of way.

Viscount Sidmouth

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that the New Civil Engineer, the journal of the Institution of Civil Engineers, described the conversion proposals as "preposterous" on both engineering and economic grounds? In view of the evidently controversial nature of the subject, is the noble Earl satisfied that in particular Professor Hall, because of his stated views, is a truly independent person in this matter?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I was not aware that these studies had been given the word "preposterous", but I shall bear that in mind. So far as the independent survey which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has actually commissioned, this of course has not got anything to do with the other names the noble Viscount mentioned. We shall of course bear in mind what the noble Viscount has said.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, could the Minister indicate whether the British Railways Board has been consulted? If so, what were their views on the subject? Would the noble Earl confirm that this inquiry in no way means that there will be any preconceived ideas about the closing of any other rail routes?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the second point, in particular. I would indeed endorse exactly what he said; this is purely a study for using those routes which are already to be closed and there is no question of the other suggestion the noble Lord made. I believe the British Railways Board does know what is going on, but I do not have the actual facts in front of me.

Lord Somers

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to give the House some assurance that no changes will be made in branch lines, or at any rate the majority of branch lines, until we have had a full-scale debate to examine the possibility of the use of these lines by private enterprise?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am happy to confirm what I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill;2/5/2006 this in no way changes any policies about closing lines.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is there any possibility of using these disused lines for food production and particularly for the provision of allotment gardens?

The Earl of Avon

I was expecting to be asked if they could become bicycle paths, my Lords, but no doubt if they are not suitable for bicycle paths, we might grow raspberries instead.

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