HL Deb 20 December 1990 vol 524 cc941-51

1 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. My interest is already declared and it is a pleasure for me to be able to move this Motion. It is, however, a pleasure tinged with sc me sadness because I have taken over this Bill from my late friend Lord Marshall of Leeds. He was, as some of your Lordships will know, deeply involved in many rail and light rail transport Bills, and I for one shall miss him greatly, within the Chamber and outside it.

The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1993 and the completion of the single European market will present a challenge to British Rail as it seeks to meet the inevitable surge in demand. To meet that challenge, considerable investment is being committed to ensure that Britain has an efficient, economical and advanced rail system for the future.

The Bill before your Lordships represents an important stage in the development of the investment programme, with works designed to ensure that British Rail can carry the predicted volume of passenger and freight traffic during the period between the opening of the tunnel and the completion of an eventual high speed rail link.

In brief, the Bill seeks to provide for links to the proposed Ashford international station, for three new freight loops in Kent, for a railway chord link in North London and for improvements to Bickley railway junction, which is in south-east London. Works Nos. 1A and 1B in the Bill will provide railway access to the proposed international passenger station at Ashford. This station will link domestic services with international trains to Paris and Brussels and, when joined to the proposed high speed rail link, will become a focus both for international and Network SouthEast services.

Powers are also sought for the construction of freight loops some 750 to 800 yards long at Headcorn, Borough Green and Otford. These loops will allow slower freight trains to be stood aside while the faster Network SouthEast and international passenger services are given the opportunity to overtake on the existing main lines. The Bill also allows for the remodelling of the very important Bickley junction, and this will provide additional capacity for international trains without incurring delay or interference to Network SouthEast services.

Finally, there is authorisation in the Bill for a link known as the West Hampstead chord in north London. This short line, which is 700 yards long, will allow for the connection to be made between the Midland main line and the north London line. The Midland main line is the line out of St. Pancras and the north London line is a form of "north circular road" for railways. It will also allow trains from the proposed King's Cross low level station to access the west coast main lines, via Willesden. Thus through-services from the West Midlands and the North-West can be routed to or via King's Cross, with its unparalleled interchange facilities with other InterCity routes, with ThamesLink, the London Underground and of course with the international services.

I am aware that there is some concern over the possible environmental impact of increased freight services over existing lines and also over the impact, transient though it may be until the opening of the high speed link, of the increased number of passenger services. Your Lordships' committee heard a great deal of evidence on noise levels and considered the issue of compensation where service intensification has occurred. I find the committee's report to be a model of its kind. Its opinion is that the problem of noise is a national one requiring national solutions. The recently appointed Mitchell Committee, while not strictly an appropriate forum for consideration of this particular issue, may provide us with some clues as to the way ahead. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Elibank will comment in greater depth upon the committee's views, and my noble and gallant friend Lord De L'Isle will be putting the Kentish case.

Quieter welded track, new train and wagon design and electric rather than diesel locomotives will make a major contribution to noise reduction, especially for residents living alongside the railway. Indeed many of the people who are aware of the current freight traffic through Kent will know that it is mainly heavy stone traffic, hauled by ageing diesel locomotives. The new style of international freight train will be a different and a quieter breed, as will be the new passenger trains. British Rail proposes to run up to 27 freight trains a day each way, split over two designated freight routes from London to Ashford. These trains could take some 1,500 lorry loads off the crowded roads of Kent, which in itself could make a major contribution towards improving the local environment.

I feel that this Bill is an essential component of British Rail's attempt to maximise the potential benefits of the single European market and the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Those benefits will be felt not only in Kent but also throughout the rest of Britain. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Mountevans.)

1.5 p.m.

Viscount De L'Isle

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and to the Chief Whip for making it possible for me to speak this morning on this Bill by deferring the Business for a week. I am also obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. It is a particular pleasure to follow him, because I remember the introduction into this House 45 years ago of his famous and gallant grandfather. I do recognise one change: we both sit on the same side of the House. Generations change.

I begin by declaring an interest. My family owns agricultural land on the south side of the Tonbridge/Redhill line near the village of Leigh. However, I do not fear for the lack of sleep which sheep and cattle may suffer as they graze this land in the Medway Valley, but I do fear for the inhabitants of Leigh, my neighbours, whose sleep will be increasingly disturbed by the more intense night-time goods traffic along this section of the railway line, which will soon be electrified to take it. My sympathy for the people of Leigh extends to the people who will also suffer from a similar sudden intensification of night-time goods traffic in other parts of the country.

I have always been a believer in the utility of the Channel Tunnel for the increase of national prosperity which this enterprise will bring by improving communications to continental Europe. However, I feel I owe it to the County of Kent, where for the past 45 years I have lived, as have my predecessors, to emphasise the burden of noise and vibration which must result from the implementation of the newly-devised international rail link scheme, to the detriment of the inhabitants of some 3,600 houses in the county who urgently need protection.

Your Lordships' committee on this private Bill promoted by British Rail sat for 11 days and patiently listened to a great deal of technical evidence, particularly about noise. I, for one, cannot quarrel with their conclusions, reached within the ambit of their authority. Their report states that they: reject any suggestion that the works before them will cause this nuisance"— that is, increased noise and vibration. The actual works, including freight loops, are to be welcomed as allowing the system to be used much more efficiently. The committee go on to say: They cannot therefore accept the proposals of Kent, Bromley and others regarding noise". They state bluntly that: to propose compensation would therefore be to establish a principle of disturbance caused by intensification". Here again I accept that your Lordships' committee is not in a position to insist on such a major change of established principle of railway operation. However, all is not lost. The persistence of the petitioners has earned them the possibility of remedial action. In paragraph 26 of its report the committee says: — recommend that the Government give urgent consideration to the question of compensation for those directly affected by major and relatively sudden intensification of the use of existing railway lines. This is a national problem requiring national solutions". I must take it that "compensation" would include the cost of remedial works. Thus, having listened to the petitioners' case, clearly the committee has been impressed by the force of their argument, which is that the really major intensification of railway traffic now predicted could not possibly have been foreseen by local residents, which is the case maintained by British Rail. It must be inequitable that, whereas British Rail accepts the need for future noise protection for those adversely affected by noise from the projected new high speed rail link, in the meantime it is unable or unwilling to afford similar protection to those living beside the existing rail network. Without protection those people will be the victims of an unforeseeable revolutionary change in the working of Kent's railway system. That is the result of an extraordinary feat of Anglo-French engineering—the Channel Tunnel—by which Britain will cease to be an island—surely an eye-opening alteration.

The tremendous increase in the number of day-time passenger trains will, as a consequence, after 1993 push goods traffic into night-time operations and result in a wholly unacceptable increase in the amount of disturbance. Surely, the old limiting rule which has for long prevailed in the case of the intensification of railway traffic along existing lines must yield to those new circumstances and to common sense so as to meet the relatively modest demands for less than £4 million to be spent to protect those 3,600 houses and to minimise the night-time interruption of sleep.

For what it is worth, I add my voice to those who urge upon Her Majesty's Government that they should use the recently appointed Mitchell Committee as the proper forum to investigate that problem and, I hope, make suggestions to cure it. If so moved, the Government would relieve the anxieties of a great many people in Kent and elsewhere and also deserve their gratitude.

1.12 p.m.

Lord Elibank

My Lords, I start by associating myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mountevans on the untimely death of Lord Marshall of Leeds. He was a notable public servant whose early death has deprived the House of some excellent contributions. We shall all miss him. I should also like to thank my noble friend for the kind remarks he addressed to our committee and its deliberations, which I am sure we all appreciate and for which we are all grateful.

I wish to address a couple of points mentioned in our report and add a measure of emphasis to what we said. The first relates to the relatively minor impact that the Bill will have upon the total works upon which British Rail has embarked in connection with the Channel Tunnel link. Your Lordships will be aware that at about the time the committee was sitting there was a fair prospect that a permanent link would be established. That has been delayed for the foreseeable future and the works that British Rail is at present undertaking are acquiring a measure of permanence.

Having said that, only a small part of the works, which are extensive, are covered by the Bill. Should your Lordships be minded to reject the Bill, British Rail would be obliged to establish the link. The only effect of that would be that the link would be less efficient and therefore probably noisier. The Bill embodies a small part only of a large series of works to which British Rail is committed.

The second point has been touched upon by my noble and gallant friend Lord De L'Isle. It relates to the intensification of use. The law and practice on that subject is fairly clear and was most recently set out in the Land Compensation Act 1973. The law does not permit compensation to be paid where there is intensification of use of an existing line. That is no doubt on the basis that a reasonable purchaser of a house by a railway line must be presumed to have given his consent, or acquiesced, to the possibility that the volume of traffic on that stretch of line will not remain constant for ever: it may increase; it may decrease. The purchaser must abide by any changes that take place.

However the re-modelled Channel link is in an altogether different category from the changes in railway use with which your Lordships are familiar. The Channel Tunnel should open in about the middle of 1993. There will be an enormous increase in the volume of traffic. The committee heard various arguments about how great that increase might be. That is a subject for argument and disagreement, but that it will be substantial, no one will deny.

Could the reasonable purchaser with his house near to the railway line have anticipated at the time of his purchase that that substantial increase in traffic, and consequent increase in noise, would take place? I think not. If I am right in that, there is a strong prima facie case for some measure of compensation. As my noble and gallant friend Lord De L'Isle said, the Mitchell Committee has been established by the Government to study new railway lines and the compensation of residents living near them. I am not sure whether that is the appropriate forum for the consideration of existing lines but, whether it is or not, I earnestly commend to Her Majesty's Government the thought that a new and fairly dramatic nuisance is to be thrust upon innocent purchasers, who have acted sensibly, as they thought, in the purchase of their houses. In those circumstances, it is right that some measure of compensation should be offered to them by the Government.

1.17 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, at the outset perhaps I may join the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and other noble Lords and express my profound sorrow at the death of Lord Marshall of Leeds. Although we had different political philosophies we were able to develop a friendly relationship when discussing local government matters. He had a keen interest in matters affecting rail transport. I share the deep regret that has been expressed. He will be sadly missed.

We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for taking over the piloting of the Bill and for explaining its provisions and some of the outstanding points. It may be recalled that on Second Reading we were told that 17 petitions against the Bill had been tabled, including one from Kent County Council and five district and borough councils. We understand from the committee's report that five of the petitions were not pursued. At Second Reading on 26th March, I expressed deep satisfaction at the attitude adopted by Kent County Council. I believe that I said that it was one of the most helpful petitions I had seen for a long time. I said that the county council took a national view. It was looking at the needs of 1993 when the Channel Tunnel opens, being mindful of the fact that the fast rail link would not come into use until 1998—five years later.

The county council argued, as did some of the other petitioners, that the provision of noise barriers and the insulation of dwellings along the upgraded existing lines would cost only £3 million. I referred to that in my Second Reading speech. I have looked again at Second Reading in the Official Report and I cannot recall that the Minister who replied made any reference to the cost. Perhaps the noble Lord will state whether that is the proven cost required or whether the figure is inaccurate.

I urged that the Second Reading should be given to enable the Select Committee to consider the various points raised. I wish today to justify my support for the Bill being given a Third Reading. I want to see exactly how the committee arrived at its various decisions so that I may give that support.

In paragraph 7 in evidence the promoters on behalf of British Rail confirmed that they would do everything in their power to minimise the noise and disturbance caused by the new services. They gave an assurance that the trains would have electric traction and that they would run on continuous welded track. As has already been mentioned by other noble Lords, the report refers to the technical arguments that were put on noise levels. I shall not go into them, but if the technical evidence about noise levels is proved to be incorrect, presumably the individuals affected will come under the reference to compensation. That is dealt with in paragraphs 12 to 18 of the report. As has been rightly mentioned, there is the power under the 1973 Land Compensation Act to confer a duty on responsible authorities to insulate buildings against noise or to make grants to meet the cost.

It has also been emphasised, and the report makes this clear, that regulations so far issued by the Secretary of State apply only to new or altered roads. For that reason, the Government set up the Mitchell Committee, a departmental committee, to look at the matter. The important words in the report were: to consider arriving at parity of treatment between those who live near new railways and those who live near new roads". Noble Lords have mentioned that the committee welcomed the promoters' undertaking that, should the Mitchell Committee decide that the regulations for noise insulation apply to new railways and alterations to railways, BR would deem them to be applicable to works under the Bill. The committee said that such a decision would operate retrospectively. I wish the Minister to indicate in his reply that if the Mitchell Committee so reported, the Government will readily accept that BR should apply the decision retrospectively to matters contained in the Bill.

Noise is referred to in paragraph 24. The committee accepted that there would be a substantial increase in noise levels when the Channel Tunnel opened. However, it rejected the suggestion that the works under the Bill would cause a nuisance. Having read the report, I must accept that we are concerned with the terms of the Bill and the works under the Bill and we cannot go beyond that. The noble Lord, Lord Elibank, stressed that the committee took the view that without the works in the Bill BR would be compelled to find other means of operating services to the tunnel, maybe at the cost of operational efficiency.

At Second Reading I said that in my view the works would be beneficial to all concerned. What we must avoid now is any delay. We know that the fast rail link, if it comes into being, will not operate until five years after the Channel Tunnel opens. Therefore any delay will cause a severe problem. We already await a decision by BR on its final preferred route.

Another important point was raised in paragraph 14 which has already been referred to. Compensation for depreciation in value of land as a result of public works does not include reference to the intensification of any existing use. Studying the report, we find that petitioners argued that the works which are the subject of the Bill created a new railway. I must accept the contrary view put forward by the promoters that the Bill provides for intensification of the existing use and therefore the provisions of the 1973 Act do not apply.

We have heard references today to the Mitchell Committee and I hope that the Government will accept that that committee should examine the matter to decide whether the promoters' view that the works would be an intensification of the existing use could be covered by future legislation. I agree that it would be wrong, as the committee said, to introduce such a national change on the principle of compensation in this Bill.

We find in paragraph 26 that the committee asked that the Government should give urgent consideration to compensation for those affected by the intensification of the use of existing railway lines. I hope that the Government will give that serious consideration. We suggest that the Mitchell Committee is the appropriate body to deal with it, and if it so recommends I hope that the Government will be prepared to see that the necessary legislation is brought forward at the earliest possible date.

The Ashford international station is mentioned in the report. In paragraphs 19 and 20 the county council and Ashford Borough Council, rightly in my view, argue that, as the authorities would be required to build access roads, British Rail should give an undertaking that the station will be built. The promoters gave an assurance in words acceptable to Ashford Borough Council, which withdrew its petition, but the words were not acceptable to Kent County Council. In paragraph 31 the committee put the view that it is wholly satisfied with the undertaking given.

Since the committee published its report, there was a debate in the other place on 10th December on a carry-over Motion concerning the King's Cross Railways Bill. On that occasion, the Minister for Public Transport, Mr. Roger Freeman, gave an undertaking which is set out at col. 744 of the Official Report that the Government remain committed to an international passenger station at Ashford. I have the terms of the undertaking given. I shall avoid reading it but I am certain that the House will take it from me that the assurance given by the Minister on that occasion was very definite.

There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. In paragraph 28 the Select Committee recommends that the Secretary of State should give consideration to all the detrimental effects arising from the Channel Tunnel rail services over and above what a reasonable house buyer could have foreseen. It adds that it would be appropriate for any such compensation to be publicly funded. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm the reports of increased financial assistance to be given to Network SouthEast to assist in rail improvements. Will it be available also to assist any changes that may take place in the fast rail link and the works referred to in the Bill?

I believe that the Select Committee's recommendations go a long way to meet the points raised in the petitions. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an undertaking to urge on the Secretary of State that the recommendations in paragraphs 25, 26 and 27 to which I have referred will be accepted. I hope that he will also find it possible to give the assurance that the important recommendation in paragraph 28 regarding compensation for house buyers will be given early and serious consideration. If these assurances can be given today it will be helpful. If not, will the Minister give an assurance that these matters will be considered with a view to statements being made before the Bill passes through the other place?

1.30 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it may be helpful to your Lordships if I intervene briefly to restate the Government's view on the Bill. Before doing so, perhaps I may first add my voice to the tributes which other noble Lords have paid to Lord Marshall of Leeds for his sponsorship of this Bill at an earlier stage. It is sad that he was unable to see it safely through this House, but I am sure he would be pleased to know that it is in the good hands of my noble friend Lord Mountevans.

The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers being sought by the Railways Board. The Department of Transport has no points outstanding on it. The Bill has been subject to close and careful scrutiny by your Lordships' Select Committee which allowed the Bill to proceed.

My noble and gallant friend Lord De L'isle has drawn attention to the Select Committee's recommendation regarding noise. Although I must emphasise that this is not a government Bill, that element of the Select Committee's report was addressed to the Government and I recognise that it is for the Government, and not for my noble friend Lord Mountevans, who is sponsoring this Bill on behalf of its promoters, to respond to my noble and gallant friend on this point.

Since 1973 there has been a statutory requirement, under regulations made under the Land Compensation Act 1973, for builders of new roads to insulate houses against traffic noise from those roads. There has never been any equivalent statutory provision regarding railways, although the Act allowed for comparable regulations to be made in respect of railways, as new railways were not then being built. But things are now changing; and the Mitchell Committee, to which the Select Committee referred in its report, and which other noble Lords have mentioned, is a committee of experts, under the chairmanship of Dr. Mitchell of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, which the Government set up earlier this year. Its task was to recommend to the Government a national noise insulation standard or standards for the operation of new railway lines which equitably relates to the standard set by regulations for new highways. I emphasise that the committee was specifically concerned with new railways, and that it is carrying out an expert technical task of translating into what is appropriate for railways the noise insulation standard used in respect of new road construction.

In the Government's view, it was not appropriate to ask the Mitchell Committee, which had a specific technical task to do, to consider whether protection against noise should be provided for houses close to the route of an existing railway line on which there is a sudden and sharp increase in the number of trains. That is a matter of policy for the Government to consider. My right honourable friend the previous Secretary of State undertook in another place in the summer—though he was careful to stress that he could make no promises—that he would consider that matter very carefully in relation to the railway lines which will see a big increase in traffic when the Channel Tunnel opens.

The Government have indeed been considering this matter, but have not yet reached their conclusions. As has been said, the issue is a difficult one. On the one hand, everyone must have sympathy with people who, having chosen to live close to a railway line which carries a certain level of traffic, are faced with the prospect of that traffic suddenly doubling or more. It may seem worse if much of the increase occurs at night. On the other hand, a number of questions have to be t sought about with some care. Would it be right to provide for noise insulation when there is a sharp increase in the use of a railway line, when there is no equivalent provision in respect of roads? Should there also be such a provision in respect of roads? Are we to consider just those railway lines which will be affected by trains using the Channel Tunnel—and that is what Kent County Council have directed their proposals to —or should we consider any existing railway line anywhere in the country that has a sudden surge in traffic? What should be the criteria? How would we distinguish between a sudden increase in traffic, such as will be occasioned by the opening of the Channel Tunnel, and the gradual build up of traffic on a line as a result of normal commercial developments? Finally, who should pay?

The Select Committee observed that it might be more appropriate for any compensation thought desirable to be funded from the public purse rather than by British Rail. But that too has implications: to put it bluntly, it cuts across the normal guideline that "the polluter pays". As regards the cost of house insulation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred in connection with Kent County Council's figures, it is not for the Government to say whether Kent's cost estimate is correct. However, that estimate related only to the stretches of line in Kent and, of course, other areas would be affected.

It is precisely because the Government have taken seriously the recommendations of the Select Committee that they have not yet made up their mind on this complicated and conclusive issue. I am sorry that there is nothing more conclusive that I can say today to my noble and gallant friend and to the House. We are under no illusion about the strength of feeling in the County of Kent about this matter. But, as the Select Committee pointed out, this is something that has to be considered in a wider context than that of Kent alone.

The Government hope to reach a conclusion within the next month or two. I would remind noble Lords that this is the first House for this Bill. There will be further opportunity for this matter to be considered in another place. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State or my honourable friend the Minister for Public Transport will have that in mind and will waste no time in announcing their conclusion as soon as they are able to do so. In the meantime, I hope that the House will allow the Bill to proceed, and will give it a Third Reading.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I have something to say before the noble Lord sits down. It had not been my intention to intervene in this debate today but I must do so for two reasons. First, I should like to associate my name with those noble Lords who have paid tribute to Lord Marshall of Leeds. He was also a very good friend of mine. Secondly, I should like to comment on the specific point made by the Minister about the polluter pays principle, which means that the Government will not have to pay. In this case, the polluter is the nation as a whole in so far as the Channel Tunnel is a national asset, even if it is a private development. The fact that this piece of track belongs to British Rail seems to me to be a bit of a quibble. I hope that the Minister will be able to find a means of looking again at the matter.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, we have had a very good debate. I greatly appreciate the widespread support which all speakers have given to the works proposed in the Bill before us and their acknowledgment of the need for them. I believe that we all share the concerns posed by the problems of intensification of traffic on an existing route.

I should first like to thank my noble and gallant friend Lord De L'Isle for his complimentary remarks about my grandfather. I do not know whether he is in a position to read the report, but if he is I am sure that he will be much pleased with it, as indeed I am. My noble and gallant friend ably expressed the concerns of the people of Kent. I can add very little to what my noble friend the Minister has just said on the matter. However, I can say that I have a degree of sympathy with the people of Kent. For 10 years I have lived in a flat which I bought in the full knowledge that it was adjacent to the two running tunnels of the Bakerloo Line under Portland Place. The volume of traffic in that area has increased over the past nine to 10 years by 20 per cent. However, I have become accustomed to the situation. In fact, the first or second Boeing 747 going into Heathrow, because my flat is under the flight path to Heathrow, or the occasional emergency vehicle passing by because my flat is situated between two fire stations, is more of an intrusion. I appreciate the problems in Kent and have the utmost sympathy with those who will be affected by the noise. I can only hope that they, like me, will find that in time one becomes accustomed to such things.

My noble friend Lord Elibank succinctly amplified the committee's views. He emphasised the small part which these works play in relation to the whole development. He argued that the intensification of use would have a new and dramatic impact upon local residents. Again I sympathise with that view. However, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will pursue the policies and objectives just outlined by my noble friend. We must hope that some solution will be found to solve the problem with which we are concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned Kent's contention that ameliorative action by means of noise barriers could be carried out for a figure of £3 million. It is my impression that this figure—although it was available to the noble Lord and myself in time for Second Reading—was not actually substantiated in committee. It proved difficult to confirm. Like other speakers, the noble Lord mentioned the Mitchell Committee. Again, I am indebted to my noble friend on the Front Bench for putting it in context, and also for advising us of the routes that the Government were pursuing in addressing the problem which we all recognise.

The noble Lord also mentioned Ashford International. I can only add that I know—as I think he does since he was present at the same meeting—that discussions with the developers are going on in the context of Ashford International. He quoted Section 20, but Section 20 also reminds us that the eventual decision will be subject to the Secretary of State's consent.

I have already expressed my appreciation to the Minister, who dealt with the way ahead much better than I could have done. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who have spoken. I conclude by asking the House to give this Bill a Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass. - (Lord Mountevans.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.