HL Deb 22 July 1998 vol 592 cc879-81

3.12 p.m.

Lord Cadman asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that, following their decision to allow the sale of former railway lands to proceed, the land requirements of the rail freight industry will be adequately provided for.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, procedures are in place to ensure that where former railway land has potential for future rail use it can be identified and the freight industry given the opportunity to purchase it. However, we recognise that concerns about property disposals persist. We have therefore asked the British Railways Board to carry out a review of its remaining property portfolio.

Lord Cadman

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. In view of the positive messages on this subject in the Government's White Paper, can the Minister tell the House what encouragement and advice are being given to local planning authorities by the Government to enable them in the short-term to make suitable land available for rail freight terminals? To what extent can local authorities be encouraged to invest in rail freight infrastructure?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's welcome for our review. I should point out that the British Railways Board will suspend land sales while the review takes place in order to give just those interests the opportunity to express views about potential sites. Local authorities already have an opportunity to ask for sales to be put on hold if they think that there is the potential for rail freight use. We are considering revising planning guidance to local authorities, as well as planning guidance at regional level in the regional transport plans. However, we also intend to issue revised planning guidance to facilitate more freight to be moved by rail. When preparing their development plans, local authorities will be expected to consider and, where appropriate, to protect opportunities for rail connections to existing manufacturing, distribution and warehousing sites adjacent or close to the rail network.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that in both rural and urban areas land no longer required for rail transport could be of considerable service to the cause of conservation by extending the ecological resource and perhaps by providing "green lanes" for public access, peace and enjoyment? Could those purposes be given a higher priority?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, there has to be a balance, and we have recognised that. The land which the British Railways Board owns and which it took into ownership in 1994 was considered not to have any potential for future rail use. Our views about the potential for rail have expanded since then. We have therefore had to scrutinise whether land can be made available for transport use. My noble friend rightly points out that some areas of land may have no potential for transport use but could be used for other well deserving purposes. The Sustrans scheme, which uses disused railway lines for cycle paths, while maintaining the possibility of using them in future for rail, strikes that balance extremely well.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, in the light of Mr. Prescott's announcement about discouraging the use of cars, will the Government bear in mind the necessity of producing a great deal of extra space for car parking at rural railway stations?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, part of the purpose of the integrated transport White Paper is to ensure that we facilitate the use of public transport. We are doing that in a variety of ways, including investing very large sums of money in providing quality public transport. For some people, the ability to leave their car at a railway station will be important, as the noble Lord pointed out. We are considering how to ensure that they can do that—and do so securely. The security of vehicles, and sometimes of drivers, has been a problem in the past.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's statement that the British Railways Board has been asked to reconsider its holding of railway land. As chairman of the Rail Freight Group, I very much welcome all the rail freight measures in the White Paper. However, can the Minister explain a little more about the timetable for the British Railways Board's review and its consultations with the industry? When might the board be likely to report back to government, as is stated in paragraph 4.35 of the White Paper?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am tempted to say, as did my noble friend, "very soon". We are in the preliminary stages. I understand that today we have received an initial response from the British Railways Board about the scope of the review. We shall want to consult relevant interests, but we do not want a long drawn-out process. We need some clarity and to be certain about the portfolio. We should be able to achieve that clarity within a sensible period of time.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, can the Minister say how much land is owned by the British Railways Board? What is its estimated sale value, and what has been provided for in the budget to reflect that sale value? If the land is not sold, from where will that money be found?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, firm estimates relating to receipts from the sale of railway land were taken into account by the Government. I shall write to the noble Lord with the exact details. One must look at overall transport needs. We have set up two new funds specifically to address infrastructure needs within the rail network. That would be one possibility of making good any shortfall in potential receipts.