§ 4.15 p.m.
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the proposed new railway line between the Channel Tunnel and London and about the Ashford international passenger station.
"I have today given the go-ahead for the Ashford international passenger station. I have given British Rail both a full approval and the funding it needs to carry out immediately all the track, signalling and platform works, totalling £30 million. In parallel, my department and British Rail will explore urgently with the private sector ways of involving its expertise and capital in the construction of the station buildings. The Government are fully committed to having the station completed as soon as possible so that Kent and other parts of the South East can gain the full benefits from the Channel Tunnel.
29 "Turning to the Channel Tunnel rail link, the House will recall that my predecessor announced in October 1991 the route corridor preferred by the Government which approaches London from the east via Stratford and terminates at King's Cross; and he invited British Rail to refine the route. For that work British Rail formed a subsidiary, Union Railways, which draws on the skills of both the public and private sectors. Its work has been thorough and professional. Great effort has gone into achieving a route with proper environmental standards which largely follows existing transport corridors and at the same time reduces the costs substantially. As a result of this work, the line is now estimated to cost between £2 billion and £3 billion, considerably less than before, without any loss in the overall benefits, environmental or otherwise, of the route, and with some gain.
"The Union Railways report offers a series of options on the precise route and does not make recommendations between them. The Government have concluded that the route which should now be put to public consultation is as follows.
"Between the Channel Tunnel and Detling, north of Maidstone, the route would largely follow the previously safeguarded route. However, at Ashford the route would run to the north of the town, with a tunnel under the M.20 and then running parallel to the motorway. This route is environmentally superior to the former safeguarded route. It is also £85 million cheaper and it would have less impact on existing and potential development within the town.
"For the section of the route crossing the Medway valley, we prefer an option in the report which from the east would diverge from the M.20 corridor, passing through a 4 kilometre tunnel under Blue Bell Hill, before crossing the Medway alongside the existing M.2 bridge and following the corridor of the M.2 and A.2 on the surface. That is not the cheapest option but has substantial environmental advantages, at a modest additional cost.
"South of Gravesend there is provision for a connection to Waterloo. The main route would run along the Ebbsfleet Valley then tunnel under the Thames, to run alongside the existing London Tilbury and Southend railway from north of Purfleet to east of Barking. From there it would enter a tunnel to Stratford, where there remains an option for a station. That route overcomes a number of the engineering and environmental difficulties associated with the more southerly route published in 1991.
"West of Stratford there are two options. One option is for a tunnel all the way to the proposed King's Cross low level station. The alternative is for a tunnel from Stratford to a point on the North London Line railway west of Dalston Kingsland station, then continuing alongside the North London Line by reinstating the original four-track alignment within the existing railway boundaries, before finally swinging south over railway lands into St. Pancras station.
30 "The tunnel route to King's Cross has significantly more impact on property settlement and noise levels than the route via the North London Line, which is important from the environmental point of view. The St. Pancras option also appears to be less expensive than the King's Cross low level proposal and that is important in terms of practical feasibility, in relation both to public expenditure and private capital. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget speech, the Government's preference is for the St. Pancras option. We recognise that before we come to a final view further work will be needed on the environmental, planning, regeneration, safety and engineering aspects of the proposal and on exploring the options for developing the Thameslink services. I have asked Union Railways to carry this forward as a matter of urgency.
"The new railway will bring great benefits. It will reduce journey times for international passengers, compared with what will be available in the early years following the opening of the Channel Tunnel, by at least 33 minutes, and by more in the commuter peaks, to 2 hours 27 minutes from London to Paris and 2 hours 7 minutes to Brussels. The railway will transform commuting from many parts of Kent, with a large increase in capacity, enhanced reliability and dramatic reductions in journey times. Construction of the railway will create about 15,000 jobs. The railway will also contribute substantially to the regeneration of the East Thames corridor and more widely. The Union Railways report also sets out ideas for related rail projects which could stimulate further regeneration.
"The Government consider that the benefits of this project are such that it should now go forward as a joint venture between the public and private sectors. The Government are prepared in principle to provide substantial public sector support in recognition of the domestic transport benefits from the new line.
"The next stage is to consult on the proposals. I want the consultation to be thorough and well informed. It will be led by Union Railways, and I should like it to be completed by mid-October. Only then will we take the final decisions on the route, and I shall then safeguard it. In the meantime, I am releasing the safeguarding from the two sections of route which have been superseded by that which I have just announced. The Union Railways report and the independent review of Union Railways undertaken by my advisers, Samuel Montagu and W.S. Atkins, are available in the Vote Office.
"In parallel with the public consultation, my department, with Samuel Montagu and Union Railways, will be discussing with the private sector their participation in a joint venture. Our aim is to find a way of taking the project forward which offers the private sector a proper return on its investment and secures value for money to the taxpayer. Union Railways will be made into a 31 separate, initially government owned, company once the relevant powers have been granted under the Railways Bill now before the House; and we intend that in due course the project will be transferred to the private sector.
"Following safeguarding, the project will proceed by hybrid Bill. Provided that we press ahead quickly, it should be possible for the railway to be completed by around the turn of the decade.
"The time has come to end the uncertainty. Our decision to give the go ahead to the new railway will enable us to secure the benefits which it will bring for international travellers, for Kent and Essex commuters, and for regeneration in the East Thames corridor. This will be a massive undertaking. The preferred route I have proposed today is environmentally sensitive, realistic and financially feasible as a joint venture".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for having repeated in this House the Statement made by his right honourable friend. I am most grateful for the slight delay that was afforded in reiterating the Statement here to enable me to attend the funeral of the late Lord Underhill.
Is it not absolutely remarkable that, five years after the decision was made to build a dedicated high-speed Channel Tunnel route from London, the Government are still not in a position to ensure that it will be constructed? Is this not in marked contrast to the situation on the other side of the Channel, where the French high-speed train will be ready to go as soon as the tunnel is opened, hopefully towards the end of this year or the beginning of next?
In this country we have no specially constructed track—not one metre has been laid; no major terminus has been prepared; there are no links to the rest of the national network; no British rolling stock has been produced. That has been very largely because the Government have been hopelessly hampered by their ideological baggage, insisting that until now there should be no public financial support. That has compounded the delay and uncertainty. It has led directly to the blight which affects so many thousands of people and the loss which marks the Government's handling of the situation.
Would the Minister indicate what is the cost of the work that has actually been thrown away, carried out and no longer required? What compensation is to be given to those who are suffering from blight as a result of the Government's changed views about the scheme? How many times did the Government change their mind about the route?
Does the Minister now accept that there is no prospect of the high-speed rail link being financed by the private sector alone without government finance and/or guarantees? Is it not a fact that the 1991 east London scheme announced by Mr. Rifkind, the previous Secretary of State, changing the previous southern route was to be based on 38 kilometres of tunnels, including tunnelling under Boxley Valley, and 32 now this route will cut through at least one, and probably more, site of special scientific interest? Did not the eastern route offer major regenerative opportunities for east London and north Kent; and what is the effect of this route as far as that is concerned?
Turning to St. Pancras, on what basis and studies was St. Pancras chosen? What effect is there to be in terms of delays for passenger through-journeys to the North, which is one of the important aspects of the King's Cross route? And what effect is all this going to have on other schemes such as the west coast main line and its vital modernisation, and the cross-rail project which is now being abandoned?
As far as the environment is concerned, the Government repeatedly claim in the Statement that this route is superior environmentally to the previous safeguarded route. What caused them to change their minds when they were lauding the environmental benefits of the previous route? We all know that the Government are very much more concerned about cost saving than the environmental benefits. Is the environmental impact assessment to be published, and is it in accord with the requirements of the European Community to which the Government have acceded? Even now we have to await a Statement in October on the engineering survey concerning St. Pancras and on the availability of private sector finance.
There is a report in today's newspaper, which I would invite the Minister to confirm or deny, saying that the Government are seeking support from European Community funding, from the European Investment Bank or the European Investment Fund. Is it not a fact that this aspect of funding was shunned by this Government for years—I speak first hand about that—and has this not led directly to a loss of invaluable time?
What effects will all this have on Hackney? About 10,000 people will be affected by the scheme in properties which run alongside the North London Line and which are now threatened. Are they to be compensated, and on what basis? Did the Government have consultations with them before this announcement was made?
This is a saga of incompetence unmatched even by this hapless Government, and the lesson is that if, instead of listening only to their own dogma and to themselves, they had listened to others, including the Opposition, this vital project for Britain of a Channel link would have been well advanced by now.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. I have three points to put, some of which coincide with what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has just said.
First, I too am very disturbed that it should have taken so long for a preferred route to have been identified on which consultation and legislative debate still have to take place and for which the money still has to be gathered from the private sector and, as we now understand, to some extent from government and possibly also from the Community. In the meantime, on the other side of the Channel, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, pointed out, they have pretty 33 well completed their work and will certainly be ready with a high-speed connection by the time the Channel Tunnel begins to operate.
What I find particularly puzzling is that British Rail, presumably with the tacit agreement of government, should have embarked on so many studies which now have proved abortive. It appears that while British Rail was doing its studies—for example, in connection with King's Cross—the Government were working on a completely separate study based on another station. That strikes me as very surprising. If the Government were going to do this study anyway, why did they leave British Rail to waste its time and taxpayers' money doing its studies? Perhaps the noble Earl will explain how these various studies are undertaken and whether British Rail was aware of what the Government were doing and vice versa.
My second point concerns the validity that we can now expect of the timetable proposed. For how long will this consultation effectively take place, because those who will now be affected will complain very strenuously? Is enough time being allowed for that? Then we have the question of hybrid legislation, which will take a very long time. There is also the question of the private sector deciding whether and to what extent it will contribute. It may well want to see how the traffic develops for a year or so once the tunnel is completed before it makes its assessment. Therefore, it is at the very least optimistic to expect that all this, including the construction time, can be completed by the end of the century.
Thirdly, the Government have now come forward with a project which will cost markedly less than the previous one, yet they tell us that environmentally it is just as good. However, the cost of the original project—the £4.5 billion project—was largely incurred because of environmental measures. It follows that if £2 billion has been saved in some way, some of these costly environmental measures must have been eliminated. Will the noble Earl kindly indicate how it can be claimed that this much cheaper scheme is as environmentally attractive as the others?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for what they have had to say. In their comments they covered many of the same points. Both noble Lords started by saying that the project has taken a long time to date. Yes, it has taken a long time, but I do not think there are many places in the country that are as densely populated as parts of Kent, with all the environmental considerations and the geological difficulties which do not appertain on the other side of the Channel that need to be examined. I know that both noble Lords would be the first to criticise the Government if they had not spent time looking at the matter in detail. We hope that some of the blight that has been caused can be eased quite substantially and that rapid progress can now be made towards finalising discussion on this matter with a view to a hybrid Bill:
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that there were no major termini built in this country. I would only refer him to the enormous amount of work that has been undertaken at Waterloo, which will be 34 open very soon. The noble Lord went on to ask about the cost of the work that has had to be thrown away. Whenever one looks into a major project—this is a mammoth project: perhaps the largest engineering project this century—there are bound to be options that need to be looked at. I would not say that that work was wasted. I would say that it was part of the correct exercise in assessing what is the right project for this country, at the right price, with the right protection for the environment. I can confirm to both noble Lords that there will be public finance in this project. It will be a joint venture with a view to being an entirely private venture in due course.
I would say to the noble Lord that there are major regeneration opportunities as a result of the work that has been carried out. That is fully explained in the document which I am sure he will read with great care. So far as concerns passengers going on through journeys to the North and Midlands, it does not make any odds whether it is King's Cross or St. Pancras. We are both extremely conscious of the need to get passengers to the North and the Midlands. Whether they go to King's Cross or St. Pancras will not make any difference at all. We are particularly anxious that they should be able to speed on their way and get easy access to the Continent.
The noble Lord paid the Government a great tribute when he said that we are concerned with cost savings. Of course we are. When one is talking about taxpayers' money, that is absolutely right. I am happy to stand condemned of that. It is something that splits the two parties.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that when the work was initially carried out on the eastern approach the opportunity for St. Pancras was not available. It presents some environmental benefits as set out in the report, and the extra relaxation on the type of gradients that might be permitted allows those environmental benefits and allows St. Pancras to be taken into account. We anticipate that the consultation period will be about six months. We hope that the next report will be ready by mid-October.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that 10,000 people would have their properties affected by the line. I do not know where the noble Lord gets that figure from because we are not taking property from 10,000 people. Only about 11 properties along the whole route will need to be demolished. That is a remarkable tribute to the work of Union Railways. I would remind both noble Lords that three-quarters of the route will either be in tunnel or following existing transport links.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, can my noble friend say what is the total expenditure from public funds which would be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government if difficulties arose in obtaining private funding? Have the Government some figure beyond which, if things went badly, they would not go? Can he also say over which particular years that expenditure would be spread?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, it is too early to give my noble friend an answer on that. There is substantial interest from the private sector in this project but it is obviously something that needs to be worked out in conjunction with the private sector. Therefore, I cannot give him the answers which he requires. So far as concerns expenditure, the immediate expenditure for Ashford station—£30 million—has been approved; £12 million in the current year and £18 million in the following year. As to future amounts of public money, it is too early to say.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for making the Statement. Can he explain what he means when he says that,the time has come to end the uncertainty"?Does he really mean that? Is there going to be no more uncertainty, for instance, for the residents and businessmen of the King's Cross area, whose homes and businesses have been blighted for at least five years? From listening to the Statement it looks as if the engineering survey will not be completed until October. The implication of that is that these wretched people will have to wait another six months or so. I should like to know categorically that their blight is lifted. They should not have to wait one second longer. It has been an intolerable delay for them. I am asking the noble Earl to say, in view of what seemed to me to be a categoric statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week and from what the noble Earl said today, except for the one sentence about the engineering survey, that they will be told that their misery is over.
That also implies—the noble Earl did not say a word about the King's Cross Railway Bill—that the King's Cross Railway Bill is a dead duck. Clearly, he cannot make the statement which the long-suffering Select Committee said he would have to make if the project was to go forward. The Select Committee stated that,the Government statements presented to us indicated a clear commitment to the project".Thus far have the Government misled the Select Committee. The Select Committee further stated that the Government should no longer proceed with the Bill unless it was clear that the Minister was able to make a statement of intent during the Third Reading of the Bill. Clearly, the Minister is not in a position to make that statement of intent. Therefore, may we please have his authority to assume that the King's Cross Railway Bill is dead?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, referring to the first comment of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, I am unable to give him the satisfaction that he requires. As he will have heard from the Statement, further work is to be carried out on St. Pancras by Union Railways. It is very much the Government's preferred option that that should be the terminus. The blight suffered by certain people around King's Cross has unfortunately gone on for a lot longer than five years. That is why I say to the noble Lord that we must seek an urgent end to it so that the worry and concern that 36 is felt is reduced to the absolute minimum. Referring to the noble Lord's second point about the King's Cross Bill, that is a question for the promoters.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I revert to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. The question is one of great importance. The noble Lord asked whether the Minister would indicate the maximum anticipated tolerable public expenditure. The Minister's reply—which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and I both agree was unsatisfactory—was that it was too early to say. I ask the Minister to tell us when that conclusion is likely to be arrived at?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, it is too early to say. I cannot give the noble Lord a firm date as to when I can answer that question.
§ Lord Aldington
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the pleasure that will be given to the whole of East Kent and certainly all around Ashford by the decision of his right honourable friend on the international passenger station in Ashford? Is he further aware that, despite the further delay that is bound to take place between now and the end of the consultation period, there will be a feeling of relief that at last we are getting to the point of decision?
Perhaps the Minister will give a little further thought to the proposed new route to the north of Ashford. That is a departure from the route that has been safeguarded and on the basis of which everyone has been making plans. Will he assure me that consultation on the route will be real consultation, even though he rather astonishes me by saying that he has withdrawn the safeguarding from the only other alternative route? That makes it look as if consultation is no consultation. Will he bear in mind in the search for new routes round a populous area that, while the very difficult environmental situation in the whole of Kent but particularly round Ashford is understood, when he moves routes like this he upsets a whole series of other people? He will find, as I have found in making enquiries, that some people have moved from where the old route was to where the new route is going to be. That is not the way to satisfy environmental sensitivities. Does he realise that in tackling the consultation process and the sensitive feelings of the people who live in that part of the world?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to make my noble friend happy with the announcement about Ashford station. I believe that the last time we debated transport issues my noble friend was not as happy as he is today. I welcome his comments with regard to that. I can confirm to my noble friend that consultation will mean consultation. If one looks at a route and believes after a rigorous search that one has found a better and more environmentally friendly one so far as Ashford is concerned, it is understood that some people who might have thought they would not be affected will be concerned. But I am sure that my noble friend will 37 agree with me that one must not shrink from making decisions if one believes them to be right. The consultation period is precisely to hear those voices.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the decision to shift the terminus from King's Cross to St. Pancras will be received with a great deal of regret? Does he recall that the proposed terminus at King's Cross was a fully integrated interchange under which the international station at low level would have been combined with the Thameslink station, giving ready access to the mainline station above and to the London Transport tube station? It seems that this is not the case at St. Pancras, or will he tell us how St. Pancras can be changed to make it as convenient an interchange as King's Cross would have been?
I turn to the route as a whole. The Minister may recall that when Brunel was building the Great Western Railway in the 1830s he was specifically asked whether he would provide the cheapest route. He replied that he would provide not the cheapest but the best route. Is the Minister aware that in this case the Government seem to have chosen the cheapest route rather than the best one? Will he tell us how long this country has to put up with second-best cheap solutions instead of what is desirable?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that the decision to move from King's Cross to St. Pancras has been widely welcomed in some quarters. Indeed, locally, some people feel that it will be a much better option. However, I take note of what he says. Union Railways will be carrying out further work. Given the noble Lord's expertise in engineering, I am surprised that he did not pay a fuller compliment to Union Railways upon the work they have done. They have followed Brunet's edict. I cannot recall the days of Brunel, although the noble Lord suggests that I may be able to. The route we have put forward is exactly the type of route that Brunel would have put forward. I can say to the noble Lord with absolute confidence that it is not the cheapest route; it is the best route.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, the Minister referred to a hybrid Bill. Will this be a hybrid Bill that will be introduced by a promoter under the normal conventions or will it be a government Bill? Clearly, a hybrid Bill will take a very long time to pass through both Houses of Parliament. Have the Government given any thought to how long it will take for that Bill to pass through Parliament before any contracts can be made or implementation commenced? Has the Minister any idea how long it will take to get that legislation through the two Houses of Parliament?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, as I understand it the hybrid Bill will be a government Bill, although there may be other promoters along with the Government, as has been the case in the past. As to the time required to take a hybrid Bill through both 38 Houses of Parliament, that is something I shall leave to the business managers. It would be wrong of me to guess.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, the Minister misunderstands my point. It has nothing to do with the business managers. Under the hybrid Bill procedure, those who have petitions to make have the power and opportunity to make them. In that respect the process has nothing to do with the business managers. I ask the Minister a very simple question. If one proceeds by way of the hybrid Bill procedure, how long do the Government perceive it will take to get that legislation through, which must be done before they can proceed to build the railway?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I fully take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about the hybrid Bill procedure, but, considering that it will be a government Bill, there is every reason for the business managers to be involved. I believe it would be wrong for me to comment on how long it will take.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me. I had understood that following the Transport and Works Act this type of scheme would in future be taken forward by public inquiry and no longer by Private or hybrid Bill procedure. Why are the Government not using the public inquiry procedures under the Transport and Works Act?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, considerable thought has been given to that point. However, given that this is the largest engineering project this century, the Government felt it right to take it through the hybrid Bill procedure.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, perhaps I may direct the Minister's attention to the great conurbations of the West Midlands, the North-West and West Scotland. Where are these great manufacturing industries and populous areas going to fit into the Channel Tunnel line? Does the Minister's Statement mean that there will be no linking up with the direct route through the Channel Tunnel, which will cause great dismay, especially having regard to the fact that we are all now talking about the importance of manufacturing industry? Does he agree that it is therefore absolutely vital to give it a boost and to ensure that those areas link directly into Europe? As regards passengers, although I noted what the Minister said, will he take note of the fact that from the West Midlands and the North West there are no railway lines to either St. Pancras or King's Cross? Therefore it is very important for passengers as well as manufacturing industry that we link in to the Channel Tunnel line so that we can go directly to the Continent.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, the noble Lord is right but only to a point. I believe that he missed out the North East. There are some very important industrial areas in North-East Scotland and North-East England which the noble Lord would wish to include, and I support him on that. That is why I said in my first response to the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Ezra, that we had taken 39 particular cognisance of the needs of the Midlands, the North and Scotland. That is why provision will be there for through trains, but they will go to London first.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, does the Minister agree that an inquiry should be set up into expediting schemes of this kind? My mind goes back to the proposal for a fourth London airport in about 1960 and for which the preferred place was Stansted. There were then many inquiries into the matter, costing millions of pounds. Various other schemes were proposed and rejected. There was then to be no fourth London airport. Finally, the fourth London airport was sited at Stansted. We are notorious in this country for being unable to come to conclusions on matters of this kind. We do not bear good comparison with France. It is true of course that the authorities in France have no regard at all for public opinion in the areas affected. Nevertheless, though we consult, does the noble Earl not agree that we do so in a haphazard manner? Will the noble Earl please ask his colleagues whether this is not the time to set up a commission to look into this whole matter? The delays are really intolerable.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, the noble Lord raises a point which has been a matter of fierce debate for some years. I shall certainly pass on to my right honourable friend what the noble Lord has said.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, my noble friend has quite rightly made reference to the important environmental points which have been taken into account. In terms of SSSIs and NNRs, can my noble friend tell the House how the proposed route compares with the old one and how many such sites are likely to be affected?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, as there is to be a further consultation, at the moment I cannot give my noble friend an exact figure. It is very difficult to thread a route such as this through somewhere like Kent, given the important environmental criteria which cover that county, without impinging upon some aspect of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and SSSIs. The whole point is that considerable time and effort have been spent by those responsible, along with the 12 environmental consultants, in finding ways to keep that to an absolute minimum.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, when the noble Earl tells the House that he does not know what will be the Government's financial commitment to the project, is he saying that he is going to talk to the private sector about its investment and intends to say that he does not know how much the Government are prepared to put into this project? That is an astonishing position for the Minister to find himself in today. Can he say what rate of return he regards as being fair from the private sector? As regards the North East of Scotland, is the Minister aware that I am very touched by his concern for that area? Does that mean that sometime this week the Government 40 are going to release resources in order to finance the electrification of the line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, that is an ingenious second question, to which the noble Lord would not expect me to give an answer such as he would like to get from me. As regards the noble Lord's first point, there is a six-month consultation period. There are to be discussions with the private sector. Once the costs have been firmed up, then I am sure that one will be able to progress the matter, which is of concern.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, can the Minister give the House further reassurances about the position of Stratford? He said that the option would be kept for a station to be put there. But does he not agree that it is vital that it should be more than a station? Should it not be the hub of development and a catalyst for the regeneration of the area? Can the Minister comment on the position of Waterloo? After a multi-million pound investment in a new terminal there, is there to be only a slow route for part of the way? Is it not a fact that Waterloo will turn into something of a white elephant in not providing the facility for a fast route to the Continent which we all understood it was to do?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, as regards Waterloo, there will be a link from south of Gravesend to form a connection to Waterloo. So there will still be facilities for the fast train service. I am afraid that I have forgotten the noble Baroness's first point.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I can give confirmation as to the one station at Ashford. I take the noble Baroness's point about freight. That will have to be a matter for the promoters. Because the gauge of the line is designed to take the same traffic as Continental traffic, there are enormous opportunities.