HL Deb 21 March 1990 vol 517 cc383-90

7.37 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Exceptionally it is over a year since we had the Second Reading of the Heathrow Express Railway Bill in this House. I feel that the Bill has proceeded rather like an elderly steam train in a series of jerks and bumps. We have now managed to arrive at this important intermediate station on the Bill's journey to its final destination— the statute book.

The Select Committee sat for 25 days in all, making, so I am advised, that Committee stage one of the longest for opposed Private Bills in your Lordships' House in recent years. It is clear from the special report that the Select Committee took immense care in the deliberations with which they were charged. The result is in that report dated 14th February. My noble friend Lord Hood and his colleagues laboured hard and long and deserve the unstinted thanks of us all.

Before I refer to three specific matters, perhaps I may remind the House that what the Bill provides for is a high speed rail link between Paddington and Heathrow Airport. The link would provide a 15 minute service from early morning until late at night and the travel time would be about 16 minutes to Terminals 1, 2 and 3, and 20 minutes to Terminal 4, at Heathrow; and of course the other way. Brand new 100 mph electric trains specially designed for the service will be provided. It will be operated to a very high standard. The Bill has still to make its way in another place, However, if it can receive Royal Assent by July of this year, it is hoped that work can start on the new rail link in 1991 and that the rail service can begin in 1994.

The three issues to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention are, first, the additional provision. The committee could not accept the original route proposed for the reasons that are set out very clearly in paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Special Report. I do not need to refer to those in detail. From the airport junction the original proposal was a viaduct which would go over the M.4 motorway before it descended into the tunnel on its route to the airport. However, the promoters were in due course given leave to proceed by way of an additional provision— in effect a longer tunnel which would go under the M.4, and the route would therefore be in the tunnel from the point at which it leaves the airport junction all the way to the airport terminals.

However, that petition was also opposed, so that further hearings took place at the end of which the amendments in the additional provision were accepted by the committee. Perhaps I may say this. While one may argue the particular merits of the change— and it was decided only by a majority of three noble Lords to two— no one can possibly cavil at the need to provide for the highest environmental standard for an important work of this nature. Yes, a longer tunnel will cost more. It will require a marginally higher fare to be paid. The project, however, remains viable and certainly an environmental improvement will have been made.

The second point refers to the Paddington end of the railway. Since the Bill was deposited, Westminster City Council has received several major planning applications covering the Paddington special policy area. These are still under consideration. Indeed, they are out for public consultation, and the consultation period was not to end until the 30th of this month. If these planning applications are approved, it seems probable that an entirely new traffic scheme can be incorporated which will result in greatly improved access to the express rail terminal at Paddington Station. It appears that it may well be feasible to have access by vehicles on a deck above the railway line, with sophisticated escalator and lift links to the platforms. I understand that it is the promoters' intention, if this can be done, to incorporate a really modern user-friendly facility to give access to and from the new express train service. I would express the hope that it might incorporate check-in facilities so that people could check their luggage in and then go all the way to the airport.

However, as is clear, this requires much more detailed study jointly by the promoters, the developers and Westminster City Council. With that in mind, Westminster City Council withdrew its petition on the Bill, a Second House undertaking from the promoters having been given, leaving it open to the council to petition again in another place if that is necessary. Therefore that part of the proceedings is not yet certain. But I believe that it offers the hope of an eminently satisfactory solution which will meet the anxieties of the Westminster and Paddington residents who have been worried about the increased traffic.

Finally, there is the issue of linking the new service with a possible West-East cross-rail link between Paddington and Liverpool Street, as was put forward in January of last year in the Central London Rail Study. It would be perfectly feasible, so I am advised, for some of the trains from Heathrow to go onward from Paddington to Liverpool Street with intermediate stops at, say, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Farringdon. The advantage of that would be that it would allow direct rail interchange with the Stansted to Liverpool Street service— something which would be of immense value to those who might have to change airports. Those who have had to do that, for instance, in Paris know just what a long time it can take to travel from de Gaulle airport to Orly. There is no rail link.

It would probably be out of order to discuss that aspect in any detail and I do so only to express the hope that when the Government make their promised statement later this year on the cross-rail links they will recognise the immense attractions of the West-East line because of its potential to take trains direct from the Heathrow express railway. It will greatly enhance the attractions of the Heathrow line. It will reduce the pressure on Paddington and will provide a swift and attractive railway link between Heathrow and Stansted, involving of course a change at Liverpool Street.

However, for the present we are concerned with the Paddington to Heathrow express rail. It is a much needed scheme, not only to improve access to and from Heathrow, but also to ensure— a very important point— that Heathrow remains Europe's number one airport. It faces many challenges, not least from the Charles de Gaulle Airport serving Paris. But it is vital for the future of the British aviation industry, and for Heathrow Airport, that the high speed rail link is in service as soon as possible. I hope therefore that your Lordships will give the Bill a Third Reading.

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

7.48 p.m.

Viscount Hood

My Lords, perhaps I may add a word to the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Jenkin. He has described the railway and its purpose. I need say only one or two words amplifying the report. I had the honour to be chairman of the committee.

In our proceedings all accepted the importance of the railway and the urgency of achieving it. Also no alternative to Paddington was seriously suggested. We did indeed decide that the original route was not suitable. It passes through a green belt— not the greenest of green belts but nevertheless a green belt— and it was felt that that important industrial development could not but damage the green belt in some degree and indeed lead to further damage from other sources. We made our recommendations in the hope that the promoters would come forward with an alternative. They did. It follows very closely the line of the original route but passes underground as soon as practicable after leaving the Western Region line.

Two problems took up the greater part of the discussions. The first concerned methane. There is, it was agreed by both sides, a danger from methane. However, equally both sides in the petition agreed that provided it was properly handled, that proper advice was taken and studies were made, this could readily be dealt with. The Committee was satisfied with the promoters' proposals and it could not accept the petitioners' proposals; namely, to undertake exceedingly expensive containment of the area and removal of the contents of the tunnel over a long distance. The cost of that would have been considerable. It would have created delay and uncertainty as to whether the proposition would remain viable. Therefore, we accepted the alternative route.

We then turned to Paddington. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, that is still under discussion between the responsible authority— the Westminster Council— and the promoters. In our report the committee expressed the hope that that would be satisfactorily decided and, as a committee, we were much impressed by the proposals put forward in considerable detail by the promoters with their technical advisers.

While we appreciated the earnestness and anxieties of the Paddington residents, we felt that they were undue concerns and we decided that the Bill should proceed. I hope that it will proceed in this House and in due course that it will go through another place. I hope that this very necessary route will soon be built.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the promoters approached the environmental problems which came to be recognised after the first sitting of the committee. They seemed to me to approach them with imagination and great willingness. I think that the scheme which was eventually produced for the environmentally sensitive part of the route should be a model to any others who are considering this sort of development. I thank them for the work which they put into that, and I hope that they will be able to carry out the whole scheme which they put to the committee.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, after the explanatory speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the explanation of the work of the committee by the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, there is not a great deal I wish to say on the general scheme. On Second Reading, I gave my full support to the proposals and have no reason to change my opinion.

I should like to join my noble friend Lady Nicol in expressing appreciation to the committee for the attention which it gave to the environmental question, for having the courage to reject the first route and for being prepared to discuss an alternative route with the promoters. I am very pleased to know that agreement was reached with the promoters on environmental considerations. The committee is to be thanked for those two achievements.

I said on Second Reading that there was general agreement that Paddington was the suitable London terminus for this fast link from Heathrow. Nevertheless, at that time I expressed concern at the possible traffic problem around the roads in Paddington and the urgent need for traffic management.

In its report the committee said that it could understand the concerns of the Paddington residents' organisation— known as PRACT— and the committee gave that matter serious attention. I am delighted to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, of the additional proposals which may be considered before the Bill leaves the other place.

I was pleased to know that the Westminster City Council as the highway authority involved seems to have that matter very much in mind. It is particularly alive to the need for enforcement against the possibility of long-term parking in residential roads in the Paddington area. However, there is one problem. Paddington and King's Cross are not far apart and King's Cross will be very important, provided that Bill goes through, as the second international terminus for Channel Tunnel traffic.

I could not follow altogether the argument put forward by the residents organisation that the promoters had ignored possible increases in traffic from Heathrow due to the opening of a fifth terminal. It seems that if there is to be a problem as regards increased traffic, that will arise from an increase in the number of flights taking off or leaving Heathrow or in the use of larger aeroplanes and not the question of a fifth terminal. It is a question of how many extra passengers may or may not proceed from Heathrow.

The other matter with which I am concerned— and I read very carefully what the committee said about that— is that the final section of the report dealing with Clause 39 in the original Bill, which is now Clause 38 in this Bill, sets aside Section 56 of the Transport Act 1962 whereby the Secretary of State has to examine the closure of any rail station or line where such closure would cause hardship.

From the report of the committee we see that the promoters argued that the link: would be a privately operated service run on commercial not social criteria". The promoters claimed the right to close the line if it was proved commercially non-viable. I argue that this is not just a commercial line but is a line which really satisfies social criteria. It will be of great assistance to the travelling public. We should also bear in mind that the committee said that any closure of the line would, at the most, inconvenience users of other parts of the transport system.

The London Regional Passengers Committee, which petitioned against that part of the Bill, argues that it will not be long before this fast link becomes part of the London transport system. I argue that its closure would cause far more than inconvenience. It would literally cause hardship. It is because of the problems of travelling to Heathrow on the Underground at present that we urgently need this fast link to Heathrow. It is not merely that passengers can reach there quickly but it is in order to relieve congestion on the present Underground system to Heathrow. Therefore, I am concerned about that part of the committee's report. I argue that if there was any question of closing the link the Secretary of State would have to take account of the wider public interest.

The committee also argues that the link is a private enterprise project and therefore does not entail a public service obligation. I understand that the British Airports Authority is providing 80 per cent. of the funding and British Rail, Network SouthEast, is providing the other 20 per cent. Quite rightly, both claim that that is a unique partnership between the private and public sector and is not purely a private commercial undertaking. As British Rail is a public owned industry, it is not just a private enterprise, as stated by the committee.

In addition to providing drivers, the electric power and the platform staff at the designated platforms at Paddington Station, British Rail will have to make considerable arrangements at Paddington to cope with this project and to run a good part of the Heathrow traffic over the British Rail main line.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, explained the possibility of extending the use of the line from Heathrow to a cross-link line to Liverpool Street and farther on to Stansted. That surely would make any question of closure even more important. It would certainly be far more than inconvenient and it would be in the public interest that the Secretary of State should intervene should there be any question of closure of the line because of its commercial viability.

I hope that this Bill will go through in the other place. I hope the points I made receive attention.

There is no doubt that the link is one we all desire. The committee did a very good job of work. However, we must still be concerned about congestion around Paddington and about the possibility of closure of the line should the promoters consider, once it is in operation, that it is commercially non-viable.

8 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, we last debated the Heathrow Express Railway Bill in your Lordships' House over a year ago, when we gave the Bill a Second Reading. Since then the Bill has been subjected to close and careful scrutiny, particularly on the detail of the route, but also in regard to other matters. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Hood and the members of the Select Committee for all their hard work and for their excellent report.

As noble Lords know, the Government fully support the principle of the Bill. We are therefore particularly pleased that the promoters were given leave to submit an additional provision to amend the route in the light of the concerns about environmental impact expressed by the Select Committee. We believe that the promoters made a significant concession to those who objected to the original route. They have taken upon themselves considerable additional costs for the extra tunnelling that will be needed and have committed themselves to an extensive programme of environmental and safety measures.

I should remind your Lordships that this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, represents a joint venture between BR and BAA, with BAA taking the largest share of the risk and putting up about 80 per cent. of the capital costs. It is folly to assume that any company in the private sector has a bottomless purse. We understand that the additional costs of the amended route have already pushed the project to the limits of viability. The Government hope therefore that the compromise reached in this House with regard to the route will hold good in another place.

There was also a great deal of discussion concerning the effect of the rail link in the area around Paddington station. The Government recognise the legitimate concerns of local residents about increased traffic but are confident that the promoters and Westminster City Council will be able to reach an agreement which will satisfy all the interested parties.

A subject which will no doubt be discussed again in another place was whether the statutory closure procedures should apply to the Heathrow service. The Government's view, as outlined in the report presented to the committee, was that they should not, since the new service was a commercial undertaking for the benefit of air travellers which should stand or fall on commercial criteria. We note that the committee agreed that the question of hardship from closure of the link did not arise and that there was therefore no need to amend the Bill.

Finally, some have argued that additional rail links should be added to the proposed Paddington-Heathrow link; for example, a link to Southern Region or a westbound link on the main line. This Bill does not preclude any of these developments in the longer term, but the priority is for a high quality link to London, which is exactly what the Bill provides and what the Government support. I hope, therefore, that the House will allow the Bill to proceed to another place.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I do not think there is anything I can usefully add. The argument with regard to Section 39 of the 1962 Act was one serious point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. It was very carefully considered by the committee and, given the commercial nature of the project, it seems to me that the committee wisely came to the conclusion that that section of the Act should be excluded. I was grateful to hear the assurance of my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Government accept that view. One hopes that it will be accepted in another place.

The only other point I wish to make is to warmly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said about the environmental care of the promoters. The committee certainly took care and I pay tribute to its members for that. However, the noble Baroness was right in saying that the promoters had also taken great care. It was very gratifying to see the very warm praise by the committe of the environmental scheme that had been adopted for what were called the Stockleigh ponds. I am grateful that the noble Baroness spoke those few words. They will have been heard with thanks by those who represent the promoters. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.