HL Deb 27 October 1992 vol 539 cc1078-97
Baroness Gardner of Parkes

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

This Bill is a Private Bill jointly promoted by London Regional Transport and Croydon London Borough Council.

I am pleased to introduce this Bill to your Lordships for Second Reading. The purpose of the Bill is to seek powers to enable the construction and operation of a system of trams running on partly conventional railway track, to be known as Tramlink, connecting the centre of Croydon to Wimbledon, Beckenham, Elmers End and New Addington.

London Regional Transport has a general duty to provide or secure the provision of public passenger transport services in Greater London. It must pay due regard to the current transport needs of Greater London and to the efficiency, economy and safety of operation.

Croydon council—one of the London borough councils—has numerous statutory duties in particular as a highway and planning authority, and is also empowered to produce an economic strategy. The district plan for Croydon, adopted in 1982, identified the need to develop public transport while at the same time promoting environmental policies as an important consideration in any new developments. The council considers that this scheme is a key element in those strategies.

As I am sure your Lordships are aware, London is suffering from severe congestion to its transport system both on the roads and on the existing public transport network. The Confederation of British Industry has estimated that the cost of congestion of London's transport system amounted to some £ 10 billion per annum. Your Lordships will also be aware that the environmental cost in terms of noise and pollution is equally substantial and studies have been undertaken to propose long term solutions to the problems of both central and Greater London.

In central London, studies were undertaken culminating in the publication of the Central London Rail Study published in 1989. This work identified two schemes: the Crossrail scheme and the Chelsea-Hackney scheme to provide long term congestion relief to the central area. Both schemes involve the construction of conventional underground railways and a Bill for the construction of Crossrail was deposited in November 1991.

Following the successful promotion of the Docklands Light Railway scheme, London Transport and British Rail carried out a joint study into the contribution which light railways could make to the improvement of transport in London. A report published in 1986 identified a number of areas where light railways could be of value. Chief among those was a system based upon Croydon using a mixture of British Rail lines and new construction to link Croydon with the adjoining boroughs. Further work was carried out with the active co-operation of Croydon Borough Council and in 1987 a system of three routes was identified as being financially viable, physically possible and of great benefit to the economic life of the area.

In 1989 further reports were prepared for the Department of Transport on the transport problems of various parts of London. They were known as the assessment studies. One of those, the south London assessment study, related to the area of south London with Croydon as its southern focus. The report identified existing transport problems, with traffic congestion probably being the most important issue.

The report examined a range of transport improvements for south London including better traffic management, junction improvements, road widening and new routes. Bus priority measures, restructuring of bus and British Rail routes were included. Croydon council has implemented many road and junction improvements to make the most of the existing road network but it concluded that a more ambitious approach to the problems of congestion was required which offered substantial environmental and economic benefits. Croydon council concluded that the Tramlink scheme offered the prospect of revitalised public transport and a credible alternative to travel by car which was reliable, quiet, efficient and accessible to all. The scheme would improve the environment and general amenity of the locality. As a result of that conclusion Croydon council resolved to develop Tramlink in conjunction with London Regional Transport.

Development work has been actively pursued since that date resulting in the Bill now before the House. The resulting scheme combines existing British Rail infrastructure with new light rail links to residential areas previously without such links and heralds the return to Croydon's streets of trams. The scheme is a bold and imaginative combination of a traditional form of public transport brought up to date with the most modern technology and design incorporated in an integrated transport system.

It may be of benefit if I briefly outline the scheme which centres upon central Croydon with branch lines extending to Wimbledon, Beckenham, Elmers End and New Addington. The Wimbledon branch of Tramlink will extend from a terminus near the main line British Rail and London Underground station at Wimbledon to central Croydon. The alignment will use the existing under-utilised British Rail branch line and will replace the existing rail service between Wimbledon and West Croydon. It will provide for interchange with other British Rail services at Wimbledon and Mitcham Junction. The line will provide a more frequent and attractive service, connecting residential areas with rail services into London at Wimbledon, Mitcham Junction and Croydon.

The branch connecting central Croydon to Beckenham will share an existing alignment with British Rail services. Disused British Rail alignment will also be utilised together with the construction of new track where necessary. This line will connect the highly-developed commuter areas of Beckenham, Elmers End and Woodside with Croydon.

The branch to New Addington will utilise in part disused British Rail alignment with new track being constructed through open land. This new line will provide the first ever rail service to the New Addington estate. New Addington has a total population of around 25,000 and is the largest residential area in London without rail services.

The central section of Tramlink will comprise a loop connecting West Croydon and East Croydon British Rail stations to the Wimbledon, Beckenham and New Addington branches of Tramlink. This central section of Tramlink will be constructed in the street as a conventional tramway incorporating a variety of road traffic schemes to integrate the new tram system into the existing transport network.

The promoters have striven to design Tramlink to meet the needs of all members of the community and particular attention is being given to the needs of the elderly and disabled. Accordingly, the promoters are committed to make the whole system accessible to people with disabilities. All aspects of the scheme, including the design of the stops and the rolling stock, will be subject to the closest scrutiny to maximise accessibility. For example, the floor level of the tram vehicles is likely to be only one foot above ground level allowing easy access from raised footways and low platforms to be provided at tram stops.

I do not intend to describe the Bill clause by clause but your Lordships may wish to be made aware of certain important features. Although the Bill is promoted by London Regional Transport and Croydon council it is intended that the construction and operation of Tramlink will be undertaken by the private sector. The private sector will bear the commercial risks and responsibilities for the success of the system. The mechanism to permit close involvement of the private sector will be by means of a concession arrangement.

Clause 47 provides the necessary mechanism for the Secretary of State to transfer from London Regional Transport to the concessionaire the functions to enable it to construct or operate or to construct and operate Tramlink. Such an arrangement has the advantages of easing the burden on the public purse by maximising the private sector contribution to the scheme at a time when there are many competing demands for new transport projects and of reaping the benefits of the involvement of private sector enterprise and expertise. This active co-operation will allow the promoters to draw upon considerable worldwide expertise in the introduction and operation of modern light rail systems.

Substantial progress has already been made in establishing the involvement of the private sector in the scheme. A project development group comprising London Regional Transport, Croydon council and their selected private sector partners has begun to take forward the development and detailed design of Tramlink.

The scheme enjoys the support of Croydon council, which has voted unanimously in favour of it, and is strongly supported by the Croydon Chamber of Commerce and Industry which is a consortium of 1,300 local businesses. The scheme is also supported by local trade associations, environmental groups, and the neighbouring boroughs of Bromley, Sutton and Merton. A very high degree of public support was expressed during the consultation period. It is an exciting opportunity to introduce a modern, clean, reliable and above all safe transport system which will enhance the quality of public transport in a large area of south London and improve the environment by encouraging the use of Tramlink for a wide number of business and leisure journeys. London needs and deserves the best in modern, environmentally friendly and convenient public transport.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that this most worthwhile scheme should be given every encourage-ment and I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

7.38 p.m.

The Earl of Lytton

My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and I thank her for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the Bill. My contribution will be a poor innings compared with her splendid opening stand.

The Bill has been some time in gestation. It is a matter of civic pride and has received a considerable degree of support from all sections. However, an element of individual unease has been expressed by a number of people. It is on that issue, but not that alone, that I wish to speak. Strongly-held opinions exist on both sides and therefore the Tramlink proposals have generated a good deal of heat. However, I fear that not so much light has been thrown on the subject. My concerns are the cost benefits of the scheme and the effects upon individuals.

I was privileged to have correspondence on the Bill earlier this year with Lady Ewart-Biggs. I know that the effect on private households in particular was close to her heart. In paying tribute to her memory in the context of the Bill I hope that she would have approved of my contribution.

My involvement arises from my activities as a practising surveyor concerned particularly with the statutory compensation code. I had some involvement with the Planning and Compensation Act 1991. I have no professional or financial involvement with any party in connection with this scheme. My attention was drawn to the Bill principally because of the implications for blighted private residential property.

It follows that I am not against the Tramlink proposals as such. However, although it is clearly a public transportation scheme, the Bill would facilitate what is first and foremost a commercial undertaking. Therefore, the overriding public interest which may be pleaded by, for example, a government department is not something that can be taken as read in this instance nor can the promoters lay unqualified claim to it. It follows from that that the rights of individuals cannot be treated as secondary in that context.

Wherever a public scheme of works is proposed, there is often a blighting effect on private property. Within Croydon and governed by the route of the scheme there is a corridor in which the Tramlink scheme will now show up on every local search of property so that there is no possibility of selling or purchasing a property without parties to the potential transaction being aware of the scheme. For many properties that will have no significant effect and there will be no effect on the ability of individuals to deal in their property. But in other cases the effects can be quite severe and would have a material effect on any disposal or acquisition of property, whether it be by sale, purchase or indeed altering mortgage facilities and that kind of matter. My anxiety is also in respect of businesses but I am particularly concerned about the effects on private citizens in their own homes as they are affected by the scheme.

That problem is not unique to the Tramlink proposal. There are measures in general legislation to deal with the problem. However, I believe that there are some specific differences in this case. First, the process is protracted by the need for private legislation. The person suffering from the blighting effects of the scheme can wait an inordinate time before the normal statutory blight provisions can be implemented.

Secondly, in the current, very depressed, market conditions, particularly in the housing market, it may be difficult to sell properties or to deal with them at all, let alone to prove that that difficulty has been caused by the Tramlink scheme. Therefore, it is difficult to exclude the general economic factors from the specific ones relating to the Tramlink although it must be said that if a tram station is to be constructed just beyond the bounds of one's front garden, then the evidence must be fairly overwhelming.

Thirdly, the Bill will enable the Tramlink to be constructed within certain specified lines of deviation. The precise position of the permanent way, its embankments and so on are not, as I understand it, finally fixed. On Thursday last I made a trip to Croydon to the borough council's offices. I spoke with some of the officers there. At that meeting I was shown a revised plan of one section of the route which was described to me as being hot off the press on that day. Clearly, the detailed engineering input and the costs associated with that are matters which the promoters would not wish to undertake before they had to. However, I should point out that that causes acute problems for private individuals, particularly residential occupiers who may have some genuine need to move house, sell a property or whatever.

Fourthly, as I mentioned earlier, this is a Private Bill to facilitate a commercial undertaking. It seems to me that the most serious effects of any uncertainty which may arise as part of the scheme must be shouldered by the promoters and their commercial backers and not exported to private individuals without recompense.

Therefore, my first objective is that I am looking to the promoters to have in place, and immediately thereafter to implement, a scheme for buying in genuinely blighted properties when required to do so. That should happen not later than the time at which the Bill receives Royal Assent. I am reinforced in that view by the knowledge that the principle of best practice in acquiring blighted properties is employed in many areas of the country. Certainly British Rail seems to have found it expedient on its Channel Tunnel link and I suggest that it is an appropriate course of action here.

I am advised that the general law in relation to compensation provisions will apply to this scheme. That is an extremely important safeguard in the light of recent legislation on the subject. However, the Bill seeks to amend the general law provisions relating to betterment. I am not clear that there are good grounds for expanding beyond the general law those provisions which—I term it loosely—would provide for a contra-indication in the terms of the compensation payable on grounds of betterment to a claimant's other property. I make that point, although I do not wish to dwell on it, because as I understand the Bill, it seeks to depart from the general law.

The Bill's provisions would allow the exercise of powers conferred within five years. I assume that that is five years prior to serving the notice to treat, which is the statutory notice following the grant of a compulsory purchase order which is served on the individual. Section 4 of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 suggests that the powers of an acquiring authority should not be exercised after three years from the date upon which a compulsory purchase order becomes operative. Again, and because of the need for specific legislation in this instance, I believe that the time limit could operate substantially to the detriment of prospective claimants of blighted property. For example, Clause 51 provides for the development to be commenced within 10 years of the enactment of the Bill. It cannot be right to permit ill effects of that type to be visited upon private individuals and,—for that matter, companies—for such an extended period.

As I understand it, the Tramlink will also necessitate a diversion of a large amount of the vehicular traffic which currently travels along Addiscombe Road. Noble Lords may be aware that that is quite an important vehicular access route from the east into the centre of Croydon. The consequences of that are the subject of an environmental study and therefore do not form part of the Tramlink environmental assessment itself. So far as I know, the separate study is not complete and is certainly not available, to the best of my knowledge, in a published form. Petitioners in respect of the Bill could be forgiven for being anxious about the absence of an assessment on such a material consequence of the constructional work arising from the proposal. My understanding is that the effects of increased traffic on some roads may he significant. It seems to me that provision should he contained in the main environmental assessment. Certainly, I am not happy that matters of that nature are put on one side for separate treatment as part of a subsequent study.

I have seen a copy of an amended economic evaluation. That has not been produced by the promoters of the Bill. It was prepared for an organisation which is opposed to the Tramlink. I make no claim for it or against it. However, regardless of the circumstances in which it came into being and the terms of reference under which it was produced, it is clear that there may be some fairly significant side effects which should be addressed, having regard to the priority which will be given to trams over all other traffic. There is one particular area at Gravel Hill which I know is causing anxiety to some people.

I must rely on the premise that the promoters satisfied themselves about the figures. At the same time, I must point out that others dispute them. It certainly seems to me that there should be expert scrutiny on that specific point lest the proposal turn out to be another example of civic pride before commercial head, whether or not bolstered by the notion of some kind of safety net at public expense should it go wrong. I do not wish to sound pejorative about the scheme, but noble Lords will understand when I say that experience is littered with circumstances where exactly that has happened. It follows from that that financial soundness is the bedrock of the Bill. I have no doubt that when it is referred to the Select Committee it will receive representations on that point.

My second objective therefore is to draw attention to the need for detailed consideration of the economic background of the Tramlink and the factual and financial provisions that underpin it.

I turn to the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper which I shall deal with at this juncture rather than separately. It is undeniable that a number of properties already are and will continue to be affected by the mere promotion of the Bill. Their values will be affected and they will be less saleable. For owners suffering in that way Parliament needs to be satisfied that the promoters have sufficient financial wherewithal to carry out the proposed project.

There is an example of that in recent times in the case of the Jubilee Line extension where, as I understand it, the value and marketability of properties was damaged severely. There is now some doubt as to whether or not that scheme will go ahead and it leaves individuals and companies affected by a blight having, in many cases, incurred considerable expense and been unable to do anything about it. I do not expect that all owners of property can or should be protected from the ill-effects of every measure of this nature. But it is something that should be taken into account in this instance.

For all those reasons I shall move the Motion which I believe to be an important safeguard. I should also like to associate myself with the Motion standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. The environmental impact on parkland is of great importance, particularly in that area of London.

It would be wrong for me not to thank the many people who have helped me. I should particularly like to single out the way in which the petitioners, their advisers and officers of the London Borough of Croydon and London Regional Transport helped me in my consideration of the matter. Clearly it is appropriate that the Bill should proceed to a Select Committee and I am grateful for the opportunity of addressing the House on the matter.

7.53 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Baroness for the way in which she introduced the Bill. At the outset I should like to say that I strongly support the idea of the Tramlink and should like to see many more such schemes in progress. I believe that it is the way that transport must go, particularly in London and the surrounding areas.

The purpose of my much more limited Instruction to the committee is quite different from that of the noble Earl. Its purpose is to remind the committee of the provisions of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. However desirable a development may be, it should still be carried out within the rules and legislation unless there are good reasons for doing otherwise. That is the purpose of my Instruction—to enable the Committee to decide for itself whether or not there are good reasons why the Acquisition of Land Act should be ignored. Section 19 of the Act requires that when a compulsory order is made on, any land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment, the order shall be subject to special parliamentary procedure unless the Secretary of State is satisfied—(a) that there has been or will be given in exchange for such land, other land, not being less in area and being equally advantageous to the persons, if any, entitled to rights of common or other rights, and to the public, and that the land given in exchange has been or will be vested in the persons in whom the land purchased was vested, and subject to the like rights, trusts and incidents as attach to the land purchased". There are exemptions to that but they are not appropriate in this case. As we all know, the amount of open space available for public enjoyment is rapidly diminishing. It is particularly vulnerable to pressures in an urban environment and it is just such an environment that makes open space particularly valuable. As it stands, it appears that the Bill would result in a permanent loss of approximately 40 acres—I know that that figure is in question but nobody doubts that a considerable amount of land would be permanently lost to public enjoyment—without any provision for replacement elsewhere.

It is being argued that since the development in question is a tramline, the use would be intermittent and the line itself no barrier to public enjoyment of the land. But I find that argument unacceptable. However careful the landscaping may be and however intermittent the use of it by trams, the line itself represents a degradation in environmental terms.

We then come to the financial value of the land. I should like to quote to your Lordships from a Department of Transport report dated March 1992 entitled Assessing the Environmental Impact of Road Schemes. I feel that it is equally applicable in this case. Paragraph 14.12 states, Much of the land acquired for road-building has a low existing use value, because it is in the countryside, or is open space. For these same reasons it may have a high environmental value. It is also unlikely, under our system of development control, to have much development potential. [I am sure that that is true in this case.] Very often it has none at all. The result is that this element of the capital cost of the scheme is likely to be quite low; and the imperatives of the search for value for money may encourage a cost-conscious Government Department to prefer to take such land, rather than developed land, where the cost of acquisition is likely to be greater". Paragraph 14.13 states, The acquisition of the land for road-building now frustrates the very purpose for which the land was being reserved. Therefore, for social cost-benefit analysis purposes, its value should equate to the price which society was previously willing to pay for the benefit, now removed, of the earlier restriction". I see no reason why that advice from the Government's Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment should not apply in this case. It appears that the local population is to lose out in financial as well as environmental terms. I urge the Select Committee to look closely at that aspect of the Bill.

It is surprising also that not only is there no provision for replacement of the land, but also Clause 48 of the Bill allows the local authority to dispose of the land at a price, less than the best that can reasonably be obtained". Putting those two items together it is hard to believe that the authority is acting in the best interests of all its constituents. The least they should expect is that the open space that they previously enjoyed should be replaced. I hope to move that Instruction at the end of the debate.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down perhaps she will allow me to intervene for a second. She will have noticed that no noble Lord from these Benches put down his name to speak in the debate. However, it may be helpful to the noble Baroness to know that there are those among us who may support the Bill—knowing the experience of the tram system in Manchester which now operates extremely successfully, I am one of those—but who nevertheless share the anxieties expressed by the noble Baroness and expressed by the Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society and the Ramblers Association.

As the noble Earl has said, it is true that there are provisions in the law which may minimise these difficulties. But the fact remains that open land is a resource which is in desperately short supply in England and under ever-increasing heavy demand. I thought that it might be helpful to the noble Baroness to know that some of us on these Benches support what she said.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his support.

8 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. The project seems enormously imaginative. I shall say something about both the speeches preceding mine to which we have just listened with much pleasure. It is right to point out that a very large part of the route for the proposed Tramlink makes use of railway lines which ceased to be used for rail traffic in some cases many years ago. That will mean bringing back into effective use assets which have been lying dormant.

I was given a copy of the Croydon Area Light Rail Study 1990 by a firm called MVA. Without wanting to weary the House with too much material there are three or four statements in the report which seem to me to lend weight to the very powerful case which my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes made in moving the Second Reading.

There was consultation with a large number of what are called "decision-takers" in Croydon—that is to say, people running businesses and retail shops and senior management personnel. The conclusion was that the, light railway was welcomed and recognised as playing a major role within a strategy aimed at resolving Croydon's transport problems". I shall not go into the detail. There are objections on the part of people whose properties are likely to be affected; there are objections to the alternative going across open land—a bit of both. In the light of those problems one must remember that Croydon and surrounding areas suffer very serious traffic congestion. That is a point which the council and business people in the area, and no doubt a very large number of residents, are well aware of. They see traffic congestion which is strangling, or is liable to strangle, the economic life of Croydon. Something has to be done.

The next conclusion of the report to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is that, the expenditure on light rail would represent significantly better value for money than the construction of roads". When the south London road assessment study was done the public outcry in the area was huge. There would have been very little prospect of securing the necessary public consent for the kinds of road schemes which the Department of Transport had asked its consultants to look at. As regards Tramlink—and I question whether this is still a valid statement—I am told that the very widespread public consultation which Croydon council undertook showed 80 per cent. support for the scheme.

If one takes those factors together the system is essential for the economic life of the area. It is infinitely better than the alternative. It is also a great deal better than trying to build up bus services which add to congestion. The scheme has wide public support. The case for it becomes overwhelming.

I turn now to points made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. I shall take them in order. Finance is obviously crucial, but I simply cannot accept that if a project is thoroughly desirable in the public interest, the fact that there is going to be a healthy input of private capital and enterprise to bring the scheme about somehow creates a different duty for safeguarding the interests of individuals.

The interests of individuals must be protected. That is why one has the provisions of the compulsory purchase laws and the procedures which will be open to individuals, groups of individuals and local associations to put in petitions, as many have, so that they can have their particular circumstances properly examined by the Select Committee.

The noble Earl seemed to indicate that because private capital is involved then somehow there needs to be an altogether higher duty to protect the public. I am not sure that I accept that. I adopt his words in that if there is to be proper protection, then individual members of the public should not bear the cost of the detriment which the scheme may introduce without compensation. There seems to he every prospect that the operation of the system, would provide a healthy surplus of revenue over operating costs, and would make a significant contribution to the overall funding of the scheme". If that is right, and given that we all recognise the reality of what the public expenditure situation is likely to be for some years, the choice is whether one goes ahead with such a scheme, with a significant private sector input and many other advantages, or one does not have the scheme and continues with the ever-worsening congestion in the area.

As regards that point, I am not sure that the noble Earl did not overstate his case a little. The promoters of the Bill have assured me that they are acting within the provisions of the national compensation code as set down most recently in the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 to which the noble Earl referred. Undertakings have already been offered to some local residents whose property is likely to be affected.

In defining the route alignment—this may he a disappointment to the noble Baroness—the primary objective of the council and London Transport, as I understand it, has been to minimise the amount of property required. As I said, two-thirds of the route lies on existing BR lines which will be transferred to light rail or on disused rail corridors. I am told that no more than 25 properties will be required of which two are commercial and the remainder residential. I regard that as a great triumph for planning because this is an 18-mile network in a heavily populated area of south London.

Of course, blight goes wider than the properties which will be taken. In his past life the noble Earl may have drawn up particulars of sale of properties. What do they say? "Convenient public transport close by." That is put into estate agents' jargon and I have no doubt that they put it a great deal more colourfully than that. The number of properties that will benefit from having a convenient public transport system close by has to be offset against the few that will have a new tram station nearby. It is only a stopping place. The average is about 600 metres between each stop. It is much more like tramways as we used to know them. Those factors have to be weighed in the scales.

I agree with the noble Earl when he says that it is important that there should be proper regard paid to the deleterious effect that that may have on some properties. I have no doubt that this is a matter that will be looked at carefully by the Select Committee. It is what the procedures are for. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Earl as regards his point concerning betterment. It seems to me that if an owner has property which will suffer and therefore seeks compensation, and has other property which will gain, I do not see why the public should be asked to ignore the gain and pay out for the "worsenment", if I may call it that.

I should like to ask a question although I do not know whether I should put it to my noble friend on the Front Bench or to my noble friend who moved the Second Reading. In the case of the Jubilee Line, it is said that there should be very substantial contributions from the landowners, principally businesses, who have premises close to the stations because there is not the slightest doubt that when that line is built their property will increase substantially in value. It may be too late now to do that for the Jubilee Line. But is there any proposal that those whose land will become much more valuable because of the access that will he given by light rail should be asked to make some contribution to the scheme? I should like to be sure that that matter has been fully examined before we ask the public purse to disburse money for this line. Because of the congestion advantages, there might well be a case for a grant from the public sector, but the issue of "betterment" should be considered at the start of a scheme such as this. One can only do so at the start of a scheme: such provisions cannot be added later, as has been discovered with the Jubilee Line.

Because the line involves so few houses, it passes through a great deal of open space. I have some sympathy with many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in her wish to see the matter better handled by the Bill. I am told that the figure that she mentioned—over 40 acres—means that all the land that might potentially be taken, if the maximum deviations were adopted, has been added in. That seems a highly unlikely state of affairs. A more reasonable figure is that something like 13.2 acres of public open space, green belt and parkland will be required, of which 9.2 acres comprise parks and open spaces. That is a rather less alarming figure. Nonetheless, if it is right, the noble Baroness has a point.

The Instruction which the noble Baroness has expressed the intention of moving asks that that land be, replaced by land of equal amenity value in an accessible area". I have some experience of this. Considerable parts of my former constituency formed part of Epping Forest. Epping Forest conservationists, who have faced pressure over the years not only from road building but also from other developments, have always insisted that whenever an acre of land is taken from the forest, an acre should be added back. However, if one takes an acre from Epping Forest in the middle of the London Borough of Walthamstow,

one cannot then find another acre of forest in the London Borough of Walthamstow, so the land that has been found has been out at Epping and beyond.

Therefore, I venture to suggest to the noble Baroness that her Instruction is impractical. Indeed, the Select Committee might he considerably hindered in its work if it had to take account of an Instruction which asks for what may very well be impossible. Having said that, however, I should like to add my voice to that of the noble Baroness and I hope that my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes can give the House some assurance on this point in her reply. I hope that the London Borough of Croydon will make every effort to try to replace with additional open space the open land that has had to be taken in the course of the construction of the Tramlink although I realise that it may well have to be open land elsewhere.

I warmly support this initiative. It is an imaginative scheme and I hope that it will come to fruition. As always, the Select Committee will read what has been said in this debate very carefully and will take the fullest account of the points that have been made, particularly by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, both of whom have raised perfectly valid issues. I hope, however, that they might be persuaded not to press their Instructions to a Division. It is my experience that that adds considerably to the length of the committee proceedings and therefore, inevitably, to the cost for both the promoters and the petitioners. Learned counsel are very well able to make the maximum use of Instructions which have found their way into the committee's deliberations. It is my experience that it is very much better if the members of the committee take the fullest account of what has been said. I hope that this evening we shall allow the Bill to proceed to the Select Committee unadorned so that the measure can receive the full consideration that it merits.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for the way in which she introduced the debate, and to all noble Lords who have participated. Prima facie, some strong points were made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and by my noble friend Lady Nicol. I hope that those points will be properly considered and digested when the Select Committee considers the Bill.

Perhaps I may draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, the fact that my noble friend Lady Nicol was not asking for land of equal amenity to he secured in a place comparable to Walthamstow. She has referred specifically to land "in an accessible area". I believe that that meets the criticism made by the noble Lord.

I very much welcome the Bill and the imaginative and, I hope, exemplary concept of Tramlink. A number of interesting experiments have been undertaken, sometimes under the aegis of local authorities, in other parts of the country. In this case, we are referring to Croydon and to a public authority. It is absolutely right that one should contemplate the best way of progressing these ideas. If the scheme involves the introduction of private capital and if that can be procured, that is all to the good; but it is the service that is to be provided that is all important as far as the passengers are concerned, not the way in which the service is owned.

I believe that this form of transport will prove to be environmentally friendly, clean and attractive and that it will reduce congestion and offer much greater convenience for passengers. I also believe that it will prove to be cost-effective. After all, one has only to consider the number of cars that it would take to convey the same number of people as can be carried by one of these vehicles. If full, I believe that about 220 people can be conveyed. Carrying that number of people in cars would probably involve using about 90 cars. I do not need to make the point in greater detail about environmental benefits.

At the very beginning of her remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, pointed out that people with physical disabilities will find these vehicles suitable for their use. I hope that the same will apply to people with other mobility handicaps. I refer, for example, to mothers with pushchairs who find almost any vehicle difficult to negotiate. That problem could properly he confronted by this very modern form of transport.

The questions that have been raised about other environmental concerns are powerful points which need to be properly considered. I am not sure that we are in the best position to do that tonight and it is for my noble friend Lady Nicol to determine whether she wishes to push this to a vote.

Some question was raised about the effectiveness of the environmental impact assessment which has been or is to be carried out. I am not sure whether that process has been completed. I doubt it, but I should like to hear from the noble Baroness on that point.

Whatever may be the position, I am sure that in the course of the development problems could well arise. My hope is that the promoters of the scheme will see the value of transparency and openness with a public who, by and large, have overwhelmingly welcomed the scheme, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, pointed out. If problems arise, as undoubtedly they will in a scheme of this complexity, I make that plea for transparency and openness. It is in the best interests of the scheme itself to abide by that precept.

I turn now to the forecast use. The February 1992 briefing stated: It is hoped that the system would be integrated into existing ticketing arrangements such as Travelcard and that fares would be comparable to those paid by bus passengers with concession rates available for certain groups". I wonder whether, nearly nine months later, the House could hear from the noble Baroness how far those hopes have been translated into much firmer assurances. What discussions have taken place in the interim?

Much of the investment, particularly for the infrastructure and also for the supply of equipment, is to be procured from the private sector. A figure of around £ 140 million is involved. That was stated in the briefing nine months ago, since when we have been enveloped in the cruelest recession in modern times. Are those projections still valid, or do they need to be revised in any way? In that event, or in any event, what kind of grant will be required from the Government? Are the Government responsive to that need?

The issue of compensation is raised in Clause 24, in Part III and in Clause 40. Can we have any idea in global terms what is contemplated in this regard?

My final point may be one of detail to be filled in at a later stage. I make a plea for an up-to-date method of fare collection. We seem in this country and in this metropolis to be eons behind the well-tried and successful methods of fare collection which apply in a number of cities in Belgium—contrary to most people's belief, from time to time I did actually travel by public transport rather than in the Commission car—in France and in other places. The idea of being able to punch a ticket when one boards a tram or a bus seems infinitely better than the arrangements we have in this country. Perhaps the noble Baroness can say a word about that and allay some of my concerns.

I conclude where I began. This is a bold and imaginative scheme. I wish it well. Although the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, had some doubts about the Instructions, they are matters which give rise to issues which certainly ought to be considered by the Select Committee, whether or not the Instructions are put to a vote.

8.24 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes on her introduction of the Bill. I welcome this opportunity to set out briefly for your Lordships the Government's position in respect of it.

The Government support the Bill in principle. Indeed, a light rail scheme for Croydon and the surrounding area was one of the recommendations of the four London assessment studies carried out on behalf of the Department of Transport back in 1989.

Tramlink would help ease widespread traffic congestion in Croydon and the surrounding area, providing an environmentally attractive alternative to increasing capacity through new road building or the widening of existing roads. It would also provide an orbital public transport link, linking Wimbledon, Mitcham Junction, West Croydon, East Croydon, Birkbeck, Elmers End and Beckenham British Rail stations, which would complement the predominantly radial links that exist at present. Finally, it would provide travellers with a real alternative to using their cars.

As my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes has said, Tramlink is to be a private sector project, albeit one that might require an element of public sector grant. The Government firmly believe that Tramlink provides a good opportunity for the private sector to contribute to the public transport needs of London. I am pleased, therefore, to be able to say that the promoters have established a private sector project development group, comprising Tarmac Construction, AEG (UK) Ltd. and Transdev, to take forward the development and design of Tramlink. Shortly before Royal Assent the promoters will hold a further competition to select the private sector concession company or consortium that would actually build and run Tramlink. No commitment has been or can be given on the provision of public sector grant: the case will be considered on its merits in the light of the availability of resources and other competing priorities at the appropriate time. Public spending is under particular pressure at present.

Your Lordships will note that there are some 40 or so petitions against the Bill. Petitioners will have the opportunity of presenting their objections to the Select Committee. The Select Committee will be in a very much better position than we are tonight to examine in detail the issues involved and it will have the added advantage of being able to hear expert evidence.

I therefore ask your Lordships to support the Second Reading of the Bill so that it can pass to a Select Committee for detailed examination.

8.27 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am most grateful to all those who have spoken in the debate. I should like to reply briefly to some of the points that have been raised. Perhaps it would be slightly easier if I were to deal with them in the order in which they were brought up.

I have great sympathy with many of the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I took an active part in the Planning and Compensation Bill. I remember supporting his views about blighted property. One of the difficulties on which he then commented and with which I completely agreed is that people often consider their houses to be blighted when they are slightly beyond the point where they would get compensation. I always feel that those people are perhaps the most unfortunate of all. Those who receive statutory compensation at least know where they stand. But those who are slightly affected and yet do not qualify for compensation find themselves in a difficult position. At the moment, however, it is almost impossible in London terms to know whether blight is caused by the economic climate, the lack of buyers, the number of repossessions or other factors. There are so many blights at this stage that it is not easy to quantify that effect.

The noble Earl referred to the 10 years allowed by the Bill. I am grateful to see that it is only 10 years. When I was a member of the GLC I remember that certain houses had the right of route through them protected for 25 years and even as much as 40 years. The people in those houses had been blighted for all that time. At the end of the period we were selling the houses off and removing the blight. Until the moment comes when something is going to be done one does not really know whether it will ever happen, but I do hope and believe that the Bill will proceed to become an Act and that the Tramlink will become a reality.

In his Instruction, the noble Earl made the point that funds should be available to buy those properties in advance. He asked, in particular, whether that would be related to Royal Assent. I must tell him that it will not be related to Royal Assent, but that it would be related to the moment when contracts were let. Royal Assent would be at a certain stage of the Bill and then specifications and detailed contracts would be drawn up and tenders sought. But until a tender has actually been accepted one cannot be sure that an acceptable tender will be offered. That is the point—as soon as a tender has been accepted—at which the promoters would be perfectly happy to proceed immediately to compensate or purchase. A number of properties have been specifically identified where, in some cases, there would be real hardship. They would certainly be prepared to buy those properties at once so that people would not even suffer the noise or disturbance of work beginning around them, much less continuing.

It must be appreciated that no major construction of any type can be carried out without an element of disturbance during the time involved. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis asked about that point. There will be a code for the construction and very specific restrictions on what hours are worked, and so on. I thought that the noble Lord's remark was ambiguous. I did not know whether he was asking about the inconvenience at the time or at another time.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, also spoke about British Rail and its willingness to purchase properties in the line of the Channel Tunnel. That both interested and surprised me. I have written to British Rail about quite a hard case concerning an elderly widow who needed to move but could not sell her house because it was on the line. British Rail replied that there was nothing that it could do in her case until the location of the line was firmly settled. Sure enough, the line has been settled at a different place. Therefore, although I understand the reasoning, my experience in that respect has been different.

The noble Earl made a point about betterment, as did my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. I am sure that will be carefully studied in debate. However, it is not a subject upon which I can comment at present. The noble Earl said that local searches will show up such matters. Well, planning permission has just been approved for an enormous development of four acres immediately opposite my home. It will be most difficult for people living in the area. But, again, no one knows whether it will ever be built. I believe that with all planning permissions and all such schemes we can only believe that they will happen. Clearly, once they are going to happen, the sooner they are developed and completed the better for all concerned. That applies especially in this case because there will be such a great advantage in terms of public transport.

Many petitioners and this comment applies to all speakers—have and will present their case to the Select Committee. Therefore, I do not think that any of the arguments, including those raised this evening, will be rejected without full consideration. We believe that there will be 25 properties directly affected. Of those,23 are residential and two are commercial. All will probably require demolition and all the affected occupants have been notified. One speaker suggested that the whole matter should be very transparent and that people should know where they stand. I think that we can say that that is being done.

I turn now to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. She spoke about replacement land being vested in the person from whom it was taken. It is interesting to note that the promoters of the Bill are prepared to introduce an amendment to Clause 48. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be pleased to hear that a category is to be brought into the clause stating that, if the land ever ceases to be a tramline, it will revert to the original owners. Or, presumably, if it is a case of a private property it might go to the successors in title for that private home if the land happens to be a garden. That represents quite a change to Clause 48.

The noble Baroness quoted the permanent loss of the 47.5 acres or 19 hectares. I was all in favour of acres until I realised that there were even more of them than there were hectares. I am now in favour of quoting hectares because it does not sound quite so frightening. That quantity of land will not be required. There is an update on the matter. The amount required will he only 9.5 acres of parkland or public open space; that is, 3.8 hectares.

I do not think there is anything sinister as regards the limits of deviation. It is simply that the final line is not precisely determined until the plans are completed. The reason that piece of open space is being used is because that is the route needed; it is not because of any intent to deprive people of amenity land. It is simply that, in order to provide the very good amenity of efficient public transport the system must be linked, and that was the only place, under this marvellous new scheme, where it could be linked without an enormous loss of homes. Of course, people would be very unhappy if many homes were to be lost.

Each section of the tram will carry 60 passengers. On the whole, there will be two unit sections, but there could be as many as four unit sections. They will certainly carry many people. I am happy that the trams will be powered by overhead wires. They are much safer than a third electrified line on which we know so many children have been killed. Even where old British Rail track is being used the electrified line will be taken out and replaced with overhead lines. That is a good improvement in my view.

Several speakers, especially the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked about wheelchair users. I emphasise the fact that there will be easy access for wheelchair users, prams and people who have difficulty in raising their feet more than a certain height. Low platforms will he provided as well as low access vehicles. Moreover, where existing old British Rail stations are used they will be rebuilt to make the platforms lower and ramps will be supplied to ensure easy access to the low level platforms. In my view, this is the first form of public transport which will be wholly available to wheelchair users.

The safety measures will have to be approved by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate. We expect those concerned to be very particular. Personal safety will be controlled to a very large extent by the fact that each stop of the tram will be monitored by closed circuit television. That should help people waiting on the platform. That is the system used at present on the Docklands Light Railway and has proved to be most successful.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, was concerned, quite rightly, about the loss of amenity land. My noble friend Lord Jenk in made the good point that it might not be possible to put such land exactly where it would be desired. It is rather difficult to assess equal amenity value or equal value and accessibility. The way that the noble Baroness has phrased the Instruction makes it seem a rather difficult equation. That is one of the reasons why I cannot accept it.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked about fares. At present, nothing is quite settled in that respect. It may be necessary to impose a premium fare in order to pay for what must be a very expensive construction. However, it is hoped that travel cards will be used. I personally raised with the promoters the possibility of an easy system of ticketing. I hope that the system will be similar to the one in Strasbourg where travellers pre-buy their tickets and on boarding the vehicle simply punch it into a machine. They seemed most optimistic and indicated that such a system was under consideration.

The noble Lord also asked about public sector funding. That will come under Section 56 of the Transport Act 1968. But that is only a possibility, because the availability of such funding is subject to the general economic constraints and will be determined in the light of prevailing circumstances at the time.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does that mean that if the Government are not forthcoming with a grant in this respect, the scheme will become fatally flawed?

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I hope that is not so. The belief is that the combination of London Transport, Croydon Council and the private developer would produce this result. But Section 56 of the Transport Act might make public funds available, and that would be an additional source of funding.

I should like to make clear that the Instructions are valuable and carefully thought out by Members of this House who I know take their responsibilities seriously, and I would not underestimate the importance of what they have put. However, it is not appropriate to send such specific Instructions to our opposed Bill committee. This debate will be studied carefully and every word that has been said here tonight will be considered. For that reason I do not think that the Instructions are necessary.

Further than that, I hope that the Committee will look not only at these two serious matters raised tonight but at every other appropriate and necessary point in this Bill, and many of these are being raised by petitioners. We are fortunate in having such excellent people willing to serve on these committees and giving their time to consider every aspect of these Bills. One past hazard in London transport Bills has been the matter of the time they have taken. Even the Jubilee Line Bill took an enormous amount of time. I understand that if specific Instructions on any particular point are given, that might add three or four days to the proceedings and therefore create additional cost for the committee hearing. I take seriously what has been said, and I thank those people for making their contribution, but I hope that they will not press their Instructions tonight.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.

[The Motions in the names of the Earl of Lytton and the Baroness Nicol were not moved.]