HL Deb 19 March 1998 vol 587 cc811-3

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to introduce a River Thames commuter transit system which would serve both banks of the river.

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

My Lords, on 16th March the Deputy Prime Minister announced the outcome of a tendering exercise to provide river services to the Millennium Experience Dome at Greenwich, and continuing legacy services thereafter linking a large number of central London piers on both banks of the river. He also announced the award by the Millennium Commission of a grant to help fund the building of new piers and the refurbishment of others. Together these developments constitute an investment of some £21 million in river transport for the capital.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her helpful reply. I congratulate the Government on their work. Essentially, this is development from Westminster seaward to Greenwich. There is also a very substantial growth in population in the west and south west areas of London. Do the Government have any plans for developing the service there? Are the Government prepared to use any of the £500 million announced in the Budget for the purposes of developing a service there?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. We are aware of the large new developments to which he has referred upstream along the Thames—for example, at Battersea. Noble Lords may be interested to know that one of the Thames 2000 river service operators has expressed an interest in serving piers further upstream than Millbank. The key to viable upstream services is the provision of good quality piers. Developers are encouraged to include them in new riverside developments. We are pleased therefore to see that plans for a number of new developments including the Vauxhall Effra site, Battersea power station, Lots Road and the renovation of Battersea Park all include proposals for new piers. New Labour, new piers! As to the £500 million for public transport announced in the Budget, the allocation of the extra money will be detailed by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister very shortly.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, leaving aside the question of good quality piers, of which there are quite a number, the real problem—I say this with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe—is not so much serving the banks of the river but people? Is not the difficulty that as a novel mode of transport for London—it is sad that it should be so described in this day and age—it must recognise the needs of the travelling public? Does the Minister agree that part of the problem is that people have never considered commuting by river boat because that is not what they have in mind when they look for houses? They go by rail, bus or tube. Does the Minister agree that there must be a very comprehensive package of subsidiary transport links to connect the major centres of residential population to the new piers that are to be built? Does the noble Baroness agree that both those matters are essential if this is to become an effective development? Can the Minister inform the House what is being done to encourage that?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, as I said earlier, the Government believe that it is important that the infrastructure is in place to support river services and that in the planning of new developments of the kind to which the noble Lord has referred, including new housing developments, the potential for river transport is fully explored. As part of the Thames 2000 initiative, London Transport has formed a new subsidiary, London River Services, to manage piers and co-ordinate and promote river services in the capital. I believe that that is important because it will help to integrate river transport into the rest of London's transport system. For example, one small but important matter is that for the first time piers will be marked on Underground and bus maps so that people can see how they can be integrated.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, while my noble friend is discussing this matter with her colleagues in government, will she ask them to bear in mind that there is an excellent pier at Putney?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, it is suggested to me that there are two excellent piers at Putney. This one could run and run. I shall certainly take on board my noble friend's comment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, on the radio I heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that he considered a very important feature to be an integrated ticketing system whereby people would be able to use any form of transport and move from bus to tube to river. Can the Minister inform the House when that is likely to happen and what action is being taken upon it? Coming as I do from Sydney, where harbour transport is used by commuters every day, may I ask the noble Baroness to comment on the fact that in this country weather is a problem? Is special provision being made to take account of the bad times of the year when river transport may be difficult?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, experience over the years has shown that it is not as simple as some would wish it to be to ensure that commuter services are effectively and reliably provided on the Thames. I return to the issue of infrastructure. That is why we believe it is important also to ensure that the available services are adaptable to the needs of commuters. As to the integration of ticketing and co-ordination with other modes, we believe that the creation of London River Services as a wholly-owned subsidiary of London Transport to promote river services will ensure that it becomes part of the strategy for London. Obviously, the creation of the Greater London Authority will provide a possibility for concentrating on the role that the river can play.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I welcome the Thames 2000 initiative, but is the Minister aware that one of the reasons for the Thames River Bus proving unreliable was the amount of damage caused to those boats from rubbish in the Thames? In addition to the money being spent on new quays and piers, has the Minister any plans to spend money on cleaning the River Thames?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am aware that there was concern that the craft used by River Bus had difficulties, including those to which the noble Lord referred, but the Thames is one of the cleanest metropolitan rivers in the world. Its quality is improving the whole time. In creating the new services, it is important that we profit from the lessons learnt by River Bus. The problems that it encountered related not just to water quality but also to access to piers, the need to have craft designed specifically for use on the Thames and the need for strong business plans underpinned by considerable investment. We believe that this initiative will cover those areas.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the Deputy Prime Minister made an announcement on Monday, I think, that £21 million was to be spent on this project. My reading of it was that £6 million of that will come from the lottery and £6 million from the operators of the new boats. Will she say from where the balance of £9 million will come?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I think that I should look at the component parts of this: £6.8 million of Millennium Commission grant has matched funding. That relates obviously to the infrastructure, the refurbishment of two piers and the building of two new ones. I cannot for the moment account for the missing £5 million. I assure the noble Lord that I shall find out.

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