§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
rose to call attention to the impact of traffic conditions and public transport services on the life and economy of London; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Dr Johnson famously said:When it man is tired of London, he is tired of life".If he were alive today, he would be feeling just a little weary, because this beautiful and great city is grinding to a halt. It has recently been claimed that nationally, over the past four years, car journeys have been lengthened by 16 per cent while the volume of traffic has remained the same. In the same four years, congestion in Britain as a whole has increased by 38 per cent. If one applies a fair proportion of those figures to London—if anyone is willing to do so—the outcome is even more devastating.
The traffic crisis that London faces today is undermining the quality of life, health and safety and the economy of London at an alarming rate. It is no exaggeration to say that lives are being threatened and even lost as a result of stress, leading to heart attacks, and pollution, leading to all sorts of bronchial diseases and complications, a great deal of which is avoidable. People arrive at their workplace stressed, exhausted and frustrated by their journey and less able to perform at their best as a result. When their work is over, their anxieties return as they attempt to calculate 278 how long their journey home is going to take. Of course, they will never be right whatever their calculations.
That applies equally to those travelling by car, bus or Tube. Passengers travelling in the rush hour sit or, usually, stand in buses which are held up in traffic jams nearly as bad as those encountered by drivers of private cars. Tube passengers are subject to uncertainty and overcrowding, which before long can only lead to tragedy or even disaster. The jams that motorists encounter are often greatly exacerbated by the fact that trunk roads leading in and out of London have not been improved at all, or only very belatedly, while main roads to and from the suburbs at rush hour are invariably grid-locked. The congestion charge will not help those drivers very much; quite the reverse, it will make matters worse.
In addition, roads have become increasingly unsafe in London because the police, for whatever reason at whoever's bidding, have largely abandoned personal traffic supervision in favour of money-spinning cameras. I do not know who has told them to do that but, as a result, abuse is widespread. A senior police officer from outside London, speaking on the television a few weeks ago, said that he was horrified to see a group of London policemen chatting on a pavement outside a public building, who did not raise an eyebrow when a cyclist rode past them on the pavement. Of course, cyclists are a menace on London roads, with the notable exception of my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip, and a number of your Lordships. They ride through red lights and weave in front of cars, while motorcyclists, who fill hospital wards at great expense to the National Health Service, dice with death on every corner. They regularly come up on the inside of cars and cross in front of cars, but I have never seen a motorcyclist stopped by a policeman.
To make matters worse, "savant" motorists, no doubt frustrated by the conditions and knowing which traffic lights have cameras and which do not, frequently drive right through red lights. In the past month alone, I have seen no fewer than three taxis drive through red lights with impunity. Several of your Lordships have told me that they have been passengers in such taxis and that they were terrified.
In many areas of London, police stations operate only in office hours, which creates an increasingly dangerous situation. One old gentleman said to me recently that if he stayed one minute over on a parking meter he was fined £40, but if he was mugged he had to wait three hours for a policeman to come.
I turn to some of the economic consequences of London traffic chaos. Retailers, theatres and tourism all find themselves losing out because their customers face daunting difficulty in time and cost in reaching them. Parking, when it can be found, is the most expensive in the world. Taxis are vastly more expensive for everyone including tourists, because of the delays. As we all know, public transport is proving to be completely inadequate. This is hardly a boom time for shops, theatres or tourism—far from it. Unsurprisingly, they are all finding 279 it increasingly difficult and costly to attract quality staff to work in Central London, which should be the showcase for the whole country.
I turn to some of the main causes of the problems that I have outlined, many of which could be avoided completely or very much alleviated. The first of those is our old friend, or rather our old enemy, the proliferation of roadworks. We learnt recently that in one year alone there were 160 roadworks in the Strand—in one street. My noble friend Lord Peyton has fought valiantly for reforms in this area, but I fear that not much has been gained. I am told that the most disbelieved statement, which was formerly "the cheque is in the post", is now "men at work", because they never are at work when roads are coned off.
The Government have made a well-meaning stab at regulating these abuses, but new ruses have sprung up, including the practice of dividing roadworks so that they appear to finish in time. In fact, they take longer because they have been divided in two. Signs warning of roadwork delays appear too late, are often out of date and often have the wrong information on them. Until co-ordination of roadworks is tackled by local authorities at the behest of the Government, the problem will not be avoided.
To add to those largely avoidable delays, which are not Mr Livingstone's fault, we have the rephasing of traffic lights. They are rephased deliberately to add to congestion—I repeat, "deliberately to add to congestion". That is Mr Livingstone's fault and it is wicked, whether it is a pre-congestion charge ruse or not.
That brings me to the congestion charge itself. It will not be a remedy or a palliative; what it will probably be is the last straw. Given the layout of central London, it will be impractical from the outset. London is not Trondheim or Singapore. London transport is already overcrowded and cannot cope, while the system is bound to fail to catch numbers of evaders because of the registration system in this country, which tends to be fallible. We do not know how impractical the scheme will be because little or no information has been disseminated about its operation. Like 40 per cent of women, I do not have access to the internet; I do not want it and am not going to have it. I understand that some information is available on the Internet. However, I have not received a single piece of paper notifying me of the requirements of the charge. I have heard rumours—only rumours—that payment is to be by credit card, either in advance or before 10 p.m. when telephone lines will be jammed by others making similar calls. No refunds will be given for unused advance payments. I have already learnt that registration application forms for the disabled are fiendishly complicated. My noble friend Lady Knight of Collingtree has told me that after completing her registration form for resident's qualification, she took it direct to the post office, where staff told her that they did not know anything whatever about it.
Even if the charge raised enough to cover installation, maintenance, operation costs and surplus revenue, it would be only a drop in the ocean in terms 280 of improving public transport. However, it will certainly make congestion and parking problems much worse on the edge of the zone, which is itself part of central London, at a time when public transport is unable to cope. Anyone who imagines that reducing the number of cars on London's roads will make a great deal of difference should look at Oxford Street even out of rush hour, where cars are banned. The buses are nose to tail and at a standstill the whole length of Oxford Street. The charge will be a tax on the less well off while corporate bosses, business fleets and ladies who lunch will not be feeling very much pain.
Anomalies will abound. For example, Smithfield workers, who go to work at 5 a.m. and come home during the morning, will have to pay the charge, which will add, they estimate, £2,000 a year to wage costs. Costs will be passed on by businesses big and small through higher prices or—worse—lost jobs. They cannot be covered by increased efficiency. BT and the Post Office have calculated that it will cost them £1 million each a year to comply. All of that is being inflicted on the people of London by a Mayor who is totally unaccountable between elections.
The Government, the Minister responsible for transport and the noble Lord the Minister cannot sit back with a smile and claim that all of this is not their fault and nothing to do with them. They permitted the legislation to go through that allowed the congestion charge. They have built hardly any new roads or improved old ones. They fatally cancelled—at great cost in reparations—the improvements at Gypsy Corner on the Westway, and now, much too late in the day, they are restarting them. I urge them to take action now to analyse the main causes of the intolerable situation in London today and to develop a comprehensive, informed and common-sense strategy that will overcome avoidable delays, study the effects of one-way systems on traffic flow and cover the placement of islands and crossings, inadequate carriageways and underused bus lanes out of rush hour. It should also determine which of the choked feeder roads in and out of London can be improved and where more flyovers and tunnels are necessary—they exist in other great cities where there is less congestion.
The Government's much-vaunted and very belated conversion to accepting the need for new roads, which was announced yesterday, apparently does not involve proposing a single road improvement of significance in the London area. I urge them to stop persecuting London motorists and to tackle all of the contributing factors to the crisis that I have described before this great city comes to a complete halt. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, although she will discover that I part company with her on a number of the points that she made with such vigour.
281 I suspect that as I develop what I have to say, I shall feel like a character in a Bateman cartoon. It would probably be entitled, "The Peer who spoke up in the House of Lords in favour of the congestion charge".
I am conscious that the Mayor of London has very few friends in your Lordships' House, and there are undoubtedly many who are hoping that the congestion charge will fail. That, I respectfully say, would be a great mistake and a lost opportunity. Unless those who oppose the charge put forward alternative initiatives to tackle congestion, there is little else that can be done to solve the problem in London.
The noble Baroness referred to the option of building more roads in London. That strategy was finally abandoned by the Conservative government and has not been resurrected by the present Government. Given the upheaval that would be caused to so many thousands of households if there were a meaningful road-building strategy in London, that policy is absolutely right. We have moved away from the "predict and provide" approach to road building, which was prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s so far as cities and conurbations are concerned.
Equally unacceptable is the option of doing nothing. There is no policy that is more anti-motorist than simply letting congestion pile up. When he summed up in the debate on the Greater London Authority Bill on 20th May 1999, my noble friend Lord Whitty, then a Minister at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, commented on the congestion charge. His comments bear repetition. He said:The worse thing to do for the motorist in London is to leave things as they are. We need to develop a new instrument for guiding motorists in their choice of road and their choice of time for coming into the centre of London. Only about 13 per cent of the total number of people who work in central London go there by car. They cause all the pollution, congestion and economic loss for the rest of us. It is important that we use the price mechanism via road user charges to discourage some of that access to London. Other elements can contribute. Taxis can contribute and cycling can contribute. But at the end of the day we have to discourage the use of the car".—[Official Report, 20/5/99; col. 533.]I agree with that, and I believe that most people in London also take that view.
We should not of course be tackling this problem from the point at which we currently find ourselves. The transport problems in London have built up over a long period, and have been made much worse by the failure of successive governments to invest adequately in public transport. London now lags behind many other European cities, where measures have been developed to reduce car use and encourage the alternatives, such as walking, cycling and reducing the need to travel, as well as improving public transport. For example, only 2 per cent of journeys are made by bike in London, compared with 12 per cent in Munich and 20 per cent in Copenhagen. I suspect that in both of those cities, cyclists are rather better at observing red lights and other traffic regulations; I wholly agree with the noble Baroness's criticism of them.
It is to the Government's credit that Parliament granted the Mayor two new powers to tackle transport problems in the Greater London Authority Act. The 282 proceeds of those powers would be ring-fenced for transport expenditure. One of those was the power to impose a levy on work-place parking. So far, the Mayor has declined to introduce that, but I understand that he has now commissioned a report to investigate its implications. We await the results of that study with great interest.
The introduction of the congestion charge has been supported by London First, London CBI, and initially by the London Chamber of Commerce, although its enthusiasm has now cooled with the change of director there. Raising revenue is not the main objective of the congestion charge. Its main aims. according to Transport for London, are to reduce traffic by up to 15 per cent in the charging zone, to reduce congestion by up to 30 per cent and to enable an improvement in public transport.
The idea that motorists are hard done by is one of the great myths of our time. Winding up for the Government in the Second Reading debate on the Transport Bill on 5th June 2000, my noble friend Lord Whitty discussed motoring costs. He said:The real cost of motoring from 1975 to 1999 did not increase, whereas the real marginal cost of public bus transport rose 80 per cent. We must do something to change the marginal costs and reduce the attractiveness of using cars, particularly in congested urban areas".—[Official Report, 5/6/00; col. 1032.]Professor Stephen Glaister of Imperial College, London, pointed out in an article in the Guardian on 16th October 2000 that,the index of the overall cost of motoring has hardly changed at all in a generation, after allowing for general retail price inflation.Although the real price of fuel has been rising for more than a decade, petrol has been nearly as expensive on occasions in the past as it is now.Furthermore, the real cost of purchasing vehicles has fallen steadily—and the government has been successfully pushing for further cuts. Relative to rising real incomes, the cost of motoring has fallen by 30% since 1964".Everyone agrees that public transport must be improved. The difficulty is that there are no quick fixes for the Tube or for the overground railway. Improvements would take years, even if all the funding were in place. It is vital that long-considered rail schemes, such as CrossRail, Thameslink 2000, the Chelsea-Hackney line, the new routes from the south and west to Heathrow Airport, are authorised soon, because they will create genuine new capacity for people who decide to give up driving into London.
There will also be a place for new tramway systems, such as extensions to the Croydon Tramlink and the imaginative plans for north-south and east-west tram routes across central London. Most cities would regard the River Thames as a transport resource, not as a bit of a nuisance.
More immediately, it is vital that there is no further delay in implementing the public/private partnership for the Tube. I agreed with a recent editorial in the Evening Standard last Friday, in which the paper called on the Mayor to drop his legal challenge to the PPP. I know that many share the scepticism of the Mayor and the Evening Standard about whether the PPP is the right way forward. But there comes a point when one 283 has to accept that there is no other way that the Tube will get the extra investment that it so desperately needs.
However, all those plans—essential though they are—will take years to come to fruition, while the congestion charge starts on 17th February. The only form of public transport that can be improved in the short term is the buses. Commendably, much work has been done in London on improving capacity on the buses. By the time the congestion charge starts, there will be an extra 11,000 spaces on buses in the peak hour. An additional 14,000 people are expected to travel into central London by bus—approximately 7,000 of them during the peak hour.
There has been much irresponsible press comment about the introduction of those measures. The Evening Standard, in particular, with its "Gridlock London" campaign, has described them as anti-car and has been almost obsessed by them. It has also alleged that Transport for London has introduced restrictions on traffic movement in order to remove them when the congestion charge starts, so that the charge appears to be a success. Those allegations—some of which we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, focus particularly on changes to traffic light times.
There are two reasons why the phasing has changed. The first is the need to bring the crossing times for pedestrians at traffic light junctions into line with national standards already met elsewhere. I hope that those will not be reversed: pedestrians have rights, too. Every year, 6,000 pedestrians are killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents in London. The changes are part of a programme under way since 1994.
The second reason for the traffic light phasing changes is to restrict the flow of traffic to areas, such as Trafalgar Square, where major road works have been under way. Those traffic light changes will be reversed when the scheme is complete and operating smoothly. Today, I received confirmation of that from Transport for London.
What do Londoners think about what Transport for London is trying to achieve? An opinion poll survey of 1,074 Londoners, conducted by YouGov for Transport 2000 and published last month, showed that there is broad support for the programme of measures now being introduced to complement the congestion charge. The survey found that 64 per cent want more bus lanes; 67 per cent want more cycle lanes; and 61 per cant want better pedestrian facilities, such as wider pavements and more crossing places.
If the predictions for traffic and congestion reduction prove accurate, there will be obvious benefits for public transport and for the quality of the environment in central London. Bus services will be quicker, more efficient and more reliable. The sort of problem to which the noble Baroness referred in Oxford Street will be a thing of the past. The walking and cycling environment will also improve, and so will the quality of many of London's most important streets and public spaces.
284 The relief of congestion will also bring an immediate benefit to business. The vast majority of customers at retail and other businesses in central London already arrive on foot and, even if they drive to central London, still make part of their journey on foot. An improved pedestrian environment will encourage more people to shop and to use the restaurants and other businesses in central London. The experience of many cities that have implemented traffic reduction strategies has been one of an increase in retail turnover and commercial rental values.
So I hope that the faith expressed in congestion charging by my ministerial friends when piloting the Transport Act 2000 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999 through your Lordships' House two-and-a-half years ago will be repaid when the London scheme starts in February. It must succeed, for, frankly, there is no other show in town.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes for securing the debate and for her admirable speech. Perhaps I may add a footnote to it. Fewer than 20 per cent of the holes in the road to which she referred are either planned or notified in advance to the highways authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is a veteran of our previous debate on the subject on 14th November last year, and it is a pleasure directly to follow him.
I declare an immediate interest as a former Member of Parliament for Cities of London and Westminster, as a constituency into which or within which about 700,000 people come to work each day. As the average constituency figure nationally for employment is fewer than 50,000, that makes my former constituency about 15 times as employment-intensive as the average. Unsurprisingly, it contains more Underground stations than any other in the system and a fair number of termini, which conclude the 10 radial railway routes created into London in the 19th century.
Transport and traffic are of critical importance to the productivity of the constituency. The last hay for horses was sold in the Haymarket in 1831, but the last horse-bus ran on the day that war broke out in 1914. The term "rush hour" first occurred in 1898. By then, rail and Tube had already been established.
This debate is necessarily more about the past five, 10 or 20 years, and involves both demand and investment. As both the public/private partnerships, and Mr Kiley's prediction of how long it will take to get the Underground into shape, stretch to a time-span of 30 years, the debate has a half-century's perspective.
As for demand, overall travel demand in Greater London has risen by 14 per cent since 1993. The Strategic Rail Authority stated in 2001 that every train operator in London was carrying loads in excess of planned capacity, and planned capacity is defined as including a 35 per cent ratio of standing spaces to seats. Overloads above planned capacity range from 1.6 per cent to 9.8 per cent during the three peak hours of 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
285 Overall, bus journeys have increased by 1.35 million in the past decade, but the total distance covered by buses has increased by about a third, with the result that actual bus occupancy has decreased—although of course I acknowledge the figures cited by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to be added under the congestion scheme.
Unfortunately, buses are not the true key to our solution. Tube passenger kilometres exceed bus passenger kilometres by a factor of more than 50 per cent in a travelled year. Tube passenger growth has risen by 8 per cent during the past decade, leading—as mutatis mutandis on a barometer—to conditions between "crowded" and "very crowded" during those same peak hours of 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. I take my terms from the Mayor's consultation document.
The sadness is that the only major infrastructure project recently completed has been the Jubilee Line extension, whose stations, admirably, won the Building of the Year award, but the principal beneficiary of that is the satellite development area of Docklands. In the same period—the past decade—Paris. Berlin, Madrid and Frankfurt have all completed their third or even fourth public transport infrastructure scheme. In the contemporary joke, when the Berlin Wall came down, the Stasi were out of a job and become the best taxi drivers in the world, because you had only to give them your name and they automatically knew your address.
Ninety-one per cent of those who work in the City of London reach it by public transport. Our competitive position in metropolitan transport is slipping. More than a decade ago, the City of London Corporation paid for the assembly and co-ordination of all the recent London traffic research and transport plans, and Lord Mayors of London cannot be blamed for going on about where we are now. They do so not in the context of competition with the Mayor of London but in the context of getting something done.
In the years up to "big bang", the economy of London grew more slowly than that of the rest of the country; after "big bang", it grew faster. As London generates £20 billion of revenue taxes that are then spent elsewhere in the country, there is a national interest in London being healthy and profitable. London's economy is still larger than that of Greece or Portugal.
I shall not get into a weary slanging-match about who is responsible for what in where we are now, although, if others were to start it, I should be happy to give as good as I got. I acknowledge that there is shared responsibility. The important thing is that we start putting drive and momentum into changing things round. CrossRail is an east-west joiner-up of the radial routes that I mentioned. Thameslink 2000, the East London Line extension and Cross River Transit—the tram link between Euston and Waterloo—promise to add 15 to 20 per cent of new capacity to central London, at a time when the railway network cannot reasonably carry any more trains. All peak period terminal station platform capacities are full, and modern crash prevention systems being 286 introduced through train protection and warning systems reduce the system throughout. It would help if the Minister could give us an update on any of those four projects.
In the other place, in the first debate on the Underground in the previous Parliament, as a senior Conservative Back-Bencher, I offered Mrs Hodge—now a Minister but then chairman of the London Labour Parliamentary Party—the olive branch of an alliance between Back-Benchers on both sides to help to make something happen. For whatever reason, she declined the offer. Since then, as my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes said, the Government have wished on us a strategic authority and a Mayor of London. I know from past occasions that the Minister does not regard himself as responsible for the Mayor—I understand why—but the Government are more responsible for the existence and role of the Mayor than are we on these Benches. Therefore, it is reasonable for us to look to the Government to make the most of London's new strategic powers. In the mean time, we still have ahead of us airport developments and the London Olympic Games hid. There is plenty to play for.
I end with two individual tributes. Charles Pearson was solicitor for the Corporation of London from 1839 to 1862 and, briefly, MP for Lambeth. He was a driving enthusiast for many metropolitan improvements, such as embanking the Thames, the establishment of a new meat market at Smithfield, and the building of a metropolitan underground railway. He moved for the construction of an underground railway designed to link the city's major railway termini. It became the Circle Line, to which, under Pearson's influence, the corporation contributed. The company behind the line offered him a reward for his efforts, but the city solicitor replied:I am the servant of the Corporation of London: they are my masters and are entitled to all my time and service. If you have any return to make, you must make it to them".That is the spirit that—metaphorically, at least—should underlie any modern public/private partnership.
In case anyone says that the spirit of the Victorians is dead, I pay my second tribute to the London Underground planners and engineers who kept services on Westminster's District and Circle Lines going for years, while, simultaneously, Portcullis House was built over their heads and the Jubilee Line was excavated beneath them. That was a Victorian achievement of massive capacity.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, has started off an interesting debate. As I fear that I do not agree with many of the things that the noble Baroness said, before I go any further, I must say that I agree thoroughly with her about the bad manners shown by people driving in London. The worst, in my view, are the car drivers.
287 As a county councillor, I spent a good deal of time trying to find ways of dealing with the growing menace of traffic congestion. Surrey's roads carry nearly three times the national average volume of traffic, and traffic congestion topped the list of local people's gripes. At that time, I attended a private conference on the health implications of the growing traffic burden. We were addressed by the deputy mayor of Copenhagen, who described the near-pedestrianisation of the city centre. I knew from experience the difficulty of getting any agreement on how to tackle congestion rather than just complain about it. I therefore asked how Copenhagen had achieved so much. "Well," came the reply, "We started 20 years ago". My point is not that Copenhagen is the same as London. What I do believe, however, is that we in this country must tackle the problem of congestion, or not only will our cities become unliveable in, but they will not be successful business centres either. That applies especially in London.
In turning to the problems of London, I should perhaps declare an interest as a born Londoner who has recently established residence in the capital after many years of absence. London is a wonderful city. It is a world business centre with a marvellous built heritage and a huge choice of leisure activities. It deserves better treatment than it has received over many years, nowhere more than in the field of transport, in which a continuing rapid pace of improvement is needed for both business and residents.
Recently I have noticed a growing gap between two sorts of ghetto: one is conspicuously rich, and the other noticeably less well provided with goods, including the public goods such as transport. Transport is not just needed to keep business going or to take workers to their employment; high quality public transport could, in itself, become a unifying factor for the citizens of London.
London First recently published a progress report on transport improvements in London. The report noted the somewhat unsatisfactory completion of the Jubilee Line—late, over budget and with poor signalling. However, it welcomed a wide range of other improvements, such as the Docklands Light Railway, the Croydon Tramlink, road improvements on the eastern side of London, new buses and upgraded bus routes, both achieved and to come. Looking ahead, it broadly welcomed the congestion charging scheme, albeit with some warnings as to the need for care in its implementation. However, the report also noted that £110 billion would be required over the next 15 years to make good past neglect of the city's transport infrastructure and to deal with the forecast growth in population.
Finally, the London First document looked ahead to what would be needed if the UK were to make a successful bid for the 2012 Olympics to be held in London. The bid is seen as a huge opportunity to focus attention on transport and to ensure that existing transport infrastructure schemes—CrossRail and others—are brought into operation on time, to the permanent benefit of our great city. Together with new 288 housing developments, this could contribute to solving the problems that would otherwise be caused by a rising population, via the redevelopment of east London and the Thames Gateway.
I must confess that I am an enthusiast for the Olympic bid for London. I hope that all public and private authorities will support the bid and show confidence and determination in planning for its success. We cannot be left saying, "Oh well, we'll never manage to do it, and, therefore, we won't bid for it". We must adopt a more confident approach, based on, for example, the successful completion of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which is going ahead brilliantly and demonstrates that this country can still produce what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, described as a Victorian attitude towards achievement.
I turn to the Mayor's congestion charging, the changes in traffic light phasing to assist pedestrians, and the provision of more bus and cycle lanes. It is worth noting that, according to a Transport 2000 poll—to which the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, referred—the measures are popular with residents, even if they do not all please London First. They even approve of the purposes of the works in Trafalgar Square and at Vauxhall Cross, which has caused such grief to some Members of your Lordships' House. They want more, not less, of the same.
Some people say that congestion charging will cause chaos on public transport which will not be able to take on the extra passengers, and that view has been expressed today. The figures do not seem really to sustain that argument. It is estimated that the total additional number of people travelling into London by public transport during the morning peak, as a result of congestion charging, will be up to 20,000 a day. It sounds a lot—does it not?—but it represents only an extra 1 or 2 per cent on top of those using public transport already. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has already told us, that is because the vast majority of commuters already use public transport
Meanwhile, that shift away from use of the car would result in a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in traffic in central London and an even larger decrease in congestion. The effect of these new transport users is estimated to be one person per carriage on the Underground during the morning peak. More people will travel by bus than on the Underground, but the planning for that increase is already in place for delivery starting early next year. We should be able to obtain a significant gain in terms of lessening congestion in return for a relatively minor increase in the number of people using public transport in London.
We should not be too dismissive of the capacity of bus services and the way that they have been planned—London First certainly is not. My understanding is that bus ridership has increased in London and the rate of the increase is now about 7.5 per cent per year—that is faster than at any time since the Second World War. It is helped by the new buses, routes and pricing policy, and despite traffic work.
289 We should not forget that all London's transport is controlled by TfL and/or the Mayor. Commuter trains, despite the efforts of my noble friend during the passage of the GLA Bill, are in the hands of the rail companies and the Strategic Rail Authority—both ultimately dependent on central government. Meanwhile, the Government have spent £400 million, not on improving the tube, but simply to conclude the PPP deal—a deal which we on these Benches have opposed from the start and of which we still do not approve.
I hope that the Minister is not going to play the usual ministerial game of earnest defender of the principle of devolution while washing his hands of any responsibility for Transport for London. Instead, I hope that he will tell us what improvements he sees in the pipeline for the appalling commuter rail services into London.
I notice that a rumour is being put about that the Mayor and/or Transport for London will not put the income from congestion charging into public transport. Memory tells me that the London Authority Bill said just that, but limited the time to 10 years for any one project. Following concerted efforts from these and other Benches, an assurance was given that the time could be extended. I am sure that the Minister can confirm that.
Returning to a more theoretical approach to traffic management, I believe that it is time that everyone accepted that road space is in short supply in London and is unlikely to be substantially increased. My view is that like any other commodity in short supply, road space needs to be rationed and/or priced in such a way as to let all those who have a right to use it get their fair share. That means pedestrians, buses and cyclists, as well as private cars and business vans.
No single interest has a right to dominate the public highway. If that means that businesses need to replenish their stocks as part of a planned exercise rather than "just in time"—which in London too often seems to be within the next 10 minutes—so be it. The habits of business, like those of the individual, will change slightly to meet the change in circumstances.
I hope that all public and private authorities will collaborate purposefully to improve transport in London for all of us and that 20 years from now Londoners will be able to look back and say, "It took a lot of effort and it was a fearful nuisance, but the change to our quality of life is really worth it".
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
My Lords, I, too, should like to express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, for sponsoring the debate and to apologise for missing the first two minutes of her opening speech. I assure her that I shall read it in Hansard tomorrow.
This debate gives us an opportunity to not solely be critical but to look forward constructively to deal with the mounting common problems. Unless those problems are faced urgently, we shall continue to see a declining quality of life for those who spend much time 290 in London. Like my noble friend Lord Faulkner, I believe that we have a legacy. I do not attach responsibility for that to any particular party. There has been under-investment over decades in the Tube, buses, rail and road infrastructure, and the problems will not be solved quickly.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, touched on the inadequately co-ordinated forward thinking and strategic planning for the future in London. To some extent, I am of the opinion—I know that this may not necessarily be supported by others—that the problem has arisen, in part, through the abolition of the GLC. While there were reasons for the GLC to come under the heavy criticism that it did, increasingly we now see, with the GLA in being, that there is a requirement for co-ordination. Boroughs cannot be permitted individually to plough ahead in isolation without regard for the consequences of their decisions for their neighbours.
I live in the borough of Wandsworth, which has a vigorous policy of maintaining a low council tax. To that end we have seen virtually every piece of land that has become available sold off, or planning permission for residential accommodation has been granted. That has had its consequences. I fear that Wandsworth has little idea of how to deal with the gridlock that is now developing in many places within the borough, not to say, how to address the consequential environmental pollution issues.
During the week I live in Battersea, where we have poor public transport facilities. We are now virtually encircled for much of the day by cars queuing. It is difficult to get out of the estate in which I live, and it is almost impossible to get into it, too. That has changed within the course of the last 10 to 15 years when we first moved there. However, on the other side of the estate there is the River Thames, which is a great under-utilised asset. I make no apology that this is the topic on which I intend to speak primarily today. It is one on which I have spoken in previous debates—alas, without, as yet, a great deal to see for my efforts.
I want to urge the authorities—and I am not sure whether any government responsibility still remains or whether it rests with the GLA—to embark on fresh thinking. Whoever it is, people must come together and utilise all the opportunities because the accumulation of all those different initiatives will lead to the better quality of life that we are seeking.
London's transport problems are now becoming so acute that unless all the options are examined within the next two to three years, and if the congestion charge does not work, we shall have a problem of real magnitude facing us. It is a pity that today we do not have a contribution from some of the eminent architect Members of your Lordships' House. They have a responsibility, too, for what has been developing in certain parts of London. The noble Lords, Lord Rogers and Lord Foster, have been involved in substantial property developments south of the Thames between Westminster and Wandsworth Bridge. Those who know the area will be aware that a terrific amount of ribbon development is taking place 291 there. New housing will be coming on stream there within the course of the next two years. I have spoken on this in the past and indicated that that was likely to happen.
The buildings which are going up there are, in the main, replacing former industrial premises. They are for residential accommodation, which means more people and more cars, and yet there are no solutions immediately before us to deal with the consequential problems.
Regrettably, Wandsworth council has not taken all the opportunities available to it. It controls a substantial part of the south-of-the-river boundary to which I refer, but it has not carried out much long-term planning and strategic thinking. As far as I am aware, no new piers have been built. The only pier we had was at Battersea Park, and that has been dismantled by Wandsworth council.
As Wandsworth council is responsible for granting planning permission, it has had substantial opportunities to ensure that greater advantage was taken of Clause 26 of the planning arrangements. The House will be aware that that requires that if it is anticipated that there will be consequential problems with transport, then, before planning permission is granted, the developers can be required to assist with new bus services or the partial funding of bus services; to assist with changes to road services; and to assist in the building of piers or jetties to improve transport on the river. Regrettably this opportunity has not been taken and we have missed out on it for the time being. However, I hope that there is some prospect of returning to this issue in the future.
London River Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London which was formed in 1997, is doing its best in difficult circumstances, but it has produced relatively little change for its efforts so far. There are two principal reasons for this. First, river services have to pass value for money criteria before projects for new river services can be supported and developed. It is much more difficult for river transport to meet such criteria than for other forms of public transport such as buses, primarily because of regulations governing safety and so on.
Secondly, projects receive relatively little backing by way of funding from the GLA. I believe that in the last GLA budget review river projects received next to nothing. If I am wrong about that, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who is a member of the GLA and who will speak later, will put me right. Such projects do not seem to have any means of raising cash other than looking for a vote from the GLA.
So, in effect, London relies entirely on the private sector for the development of its river services and for the maintenance and expansion of existing services. This is virtually all driven by the market, and the private sector's business on the river is not primarily concerned with solving the social and environmental problems that we currently face in London in regard to transport.
292 The LRS has invited tenders for the proposed central London multi-stop riverboat service—which will, it is to be hoped, come on stream—and tenders for service providers to use the Millbank pier. These tenders have to be submitted by the end of January 2003. So there is a possibility that the private sector will come forward with new proposals for ensuring growth in river transport. I hope that that will be the case.
But when one probes the organisation, it is difficult to find any real strategic plans, certainly not for developing public transport services. There is a great opportunity for services to run between Wandsworth Bridge, at least, through to Westminster and on to the City. I recognise that there will be considerable problems in going beyond Westminster Bridge because of the wash and limitations on speed. These proposals will come before Transport for London and I hope that some movement will take place.
We need new initiatives. Very little seems to be happening strategically within the mayoral office. Again, if I am wrong, I shall be pleased to be put right by subsequent speakers. I find it rather strange yet fascinating that, when it comes to the Tube, the Mayor is opposed to the involvement of the private sector and private capital—primarily, he argues, on the grounds of public safety—but that when it comes to the Thames there is next to no public involvement, very few public initiatives and next to nothing by way of public finance. Virtually all of these matters—including public safety—are left to the private sector. It is left to the private sector to maintain existing services, reduce them or expand them.
Even though the river offers opportunities to ease congestion—and if initiatives were taken quickly we could soon have a number of short-term fixes—apparently little lies ahead of us. I hope that the one thing that comes out of the debate is that we will know whether the Government continue to have an interest in London and its problems. If they do not, they should state that clearly so that we know where we stand. I hope that the Minister will give us comfort on that point.
As previous speakers have said, I should like to see a more co-operative approach between the mayoral body, the GLA and the Government. This is a common problem which affects all of us. I trust that the Government, who have been prepared to look for private capital to assist with the Tube, will similarly be prepared to be innovative and to explore the possibilities for expansion on the river. As the Mayor does not have any public service proposals for fundamental changes on the river, that would at least present him with a kind of partnership, perhaps with private capital, and he might this time be prepared to take a different line and we shall see some quick changes taking place on the river.
§ 7.17 p.m.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes for securing the debate. I declare past interests as a London borough 293 councillor for 30 years, as a leader of the London borough of Croydon for 18 years, and as chairman of the former London Boroughs Association for a number of years.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will not dismiss the debate as the House attempting to be an urban district council, as he did the other day. Issues involving the capital are of national importance and go far beyond the capital itself. The economic health of the capital is evidence of the economic health of the nation as a whole. It is important for us to persuade other parts of the United Kingdom of the importance of London and its need for resources—particularly resources to address the issues the subject of this debate—and that they should not view the capital only as a convenient source of redirected tax revenues.
Equally, I hope that the debate will not be dismissed as an attempt to by-pass the democratically elected mayor and Greater London Authority. I make no apology for remaining unconvinced about the wisdom of the authority and the Mayor and for believing that mechanisms bringing the boroughs together in a statutory framework would have been preferable—but that is a battle fought and lost. Nevertheless, I do believe—I have always believed—that, given the size of the nation's capital, there is a case for national government retaining a greater role—especially in the transport area—particularly as major schemes will only ever come to fruition if governments support them and provide the money. The sheer physical size of London makes it very different from many of the cities which are often cited as examples of good practice.
I say to the Minister that the statute does provide for the state to challenge the Mayor's transport strategy if it is shown to be contrary to national policy and adversely affects areas outside Greater London. If the current policies ultimately affect business, they will affect employment; and the employment effect of the capital goes far beyond its boundaries. Is the Minister keeping the position under review?
I do not propose to speak about the congestion charge, save to say that it seems remarkably bureaucratic in its operation. Also, I believe that spending on public transport has to come about before you can seriously introduce measures of restraint.
I turn to some specifics on road transport. First, much is made of the work of statutory undertakers, but there is also the work carried out by Transport for London and the London boroughs. Presumably, the cost of the job dictates how and when it is done. Is it not time to consider the cost to the community of the daytime delay and consider whether night-time and weekend working might be more appropriate—especially now, when even the smallest job to the smallest pavement seems to require a partial coning off of the road; and when, presumably to reduce the number of people employed on a job, the largest plant is employed in the smallest street for the smallest job?
Secondly—I know that this will not receive arty approbation from my noble friend on the Front Bench—what about parking enforcement? I have to admit that I was one of those who persuaded the then 294 Secretary of State to introduce an amendment to a Bill in this House to give control of parking to local authorities. We naively thought that it would produce local control on the streets to keep the traffic flowing. What happened was that the offences were decriminalised, so that the moneys went to the local authorities—and, oh dear me, instead of becoming a locally sensitive controlled service, it has been a means of raising revenue. Perhaps the penalties should return to the central Exchequer, even if local authorities are reimbursed for the costs of carrying them out. Certainly, no purpose is served in many cases. The local control, the ever-present presence, does not exist. The squads, as we used to see with traffic wardens, row swoop on the places where the most revenue will be raised in the shortest possible time.
Lastly, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, raised the question whether we should have traffic management powers to control businesses servicing their premises during working hours.
I turn to the allocation of resources for these major projects. Great emphasis is always placed on central London—understandably—East London and the Thames gateway. So far as the last two are concerned, we all want to see regeneration, but not at the expense of existing parts of Greater London. They, too, have their workforces, their businesses. To starve them of resources is to condemn them to decline. With activity moving to the new areas, the existing areas do not have the means of keeping up, modernising and competing.
One of the last acts of the old Greater London Council was to cancel a bypass around Coulsdon, part of the borough that I used to lead. During the years when it was in limbo, years of negotiation brought the bypass back to being a reality. One of the first acts of the Mayor of London was to delay it again. What do they say about wasted years?
Croydon Council was deeply involved in the promotion of Tramlink, one of the only significant public transport investments for decades in the south of the capital, certainly in terms of east-west transport. It took 14 years to bring it to fruition. Such timescales are not acceptable. In parenthesis, I would say that it was achieved without a strategic authority, but in co-operation with our neighbouring authorities and London Transport. How many years will it be before we see any noticeable improvements to public transport in Greater London, bearing in mind the established time-scale of introducing a relatively modest scheme of 26 kilometres of tramway? Where do the promises now stand, as we are told that the Strategic Rail Authority is apparently out of funds? Is there to be another 10-year plan?
When we speak of London, we all too often speak of the central areas. But there are other places in outer London—all those places which are told that the justification for being in Greater London, with all its costs, is that they are physically part of London. But for many of them CrossRail and even the Underground do not feature in their consideration. Even my noble friend referred to people travelling by car, bus and tube. But in many parts of Greater 295 London people rely on the commuter services referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood.
I do not know how many of your Lordships commute to this House using a commuter service. I do so relatively frequently using South Central. Hardly any day is free of some delay. The trains are old; many are still the old slam-door trains. Breakdowns and signal failures are commonplace. Stand on a station: the tracks are overgrown. I wonder whether your Lordships remember spaghetti westerns, where some creaky railway line faded away into the distance, the rails slightly bent and the track overgrown. It shimmered in the heat. I can show your Lordships similar tracks without the heat.
The stations are as they were built in the Victorian heyday of the expansion of the railways. East Croydon station is one of the busiest—if not the busiest—railway station outside central London; and it stands still virtually in its original Victorian footprint. There were various attempts to re-develop it to meet modern needs. The plans always foundered for lack of funds.
One of my first meetings as leader of Croydon Council was to discuss the future of East Croydon station. It was so long ago that I cannot remember when the meeting took place, but I remember that the chairman of British Rail at that time was Sir Peter Parker. Eventually, there was a glass and plastic facelift within the operational boundaries. But like all facelifts, it has not lasted for ever.
The station that I use to travel to this House was opened in the 19th century. We now go in through the back door, not the front door, for some reason of progress that I do not understand. Virtually no physical changes have been made to it. The roof leaks. To stand on the open platform is virtually the same as standing under the roof when it rains. The change machines, which I suppose are a symbol of the 20th century—but only the 20th century—have yet to be altered to accept new £10 and £20 notes. I say "new"—if we ever join the euro, goodness only knows what we shall do! If we cannot do better than this more quickly than this, how will London ever be a world-class city that can contemplate hosting the Olympic Games; and, more importantly, how will it ever be a place in which anyone who is concerned about quality of life wants to live and work?
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for introducing the debate. She painted a very gloomy picture. One of the oddities of the unpredictability of travelling around London is that, just occasionally, a journey goes very smoothly. One does not know whether to be irritated on those occasions!
I declare an interest as a member of the Greater London Assembly. I should explain that the assembly is the scrutiny arm of the Greater London Authority. We have no executive responsibility. That is not to say that I disclaim responsibility for everything that is going on, but simply to explain.
296 What is London? This first question picks up from where the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, left off, although it does not relate solely to Croydon. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, took us out of the centre. I agree that we must use all available resources, including the river, which is underused but difficult to use. I am often frustrated that many journalists, tourists and politicians paint London as being only the centre. Too often, that is also how the Mayor of London tends to identify it.
For the purposes of this debate, I ask your Lordships to remember outer London, where access to public transport is shockingly patchy. There are swathes of south-west and south-east London where public transport links are poor, which are inaccessible by Tube and dependent on heavy rail. Today we had news of fares increases. No solution is offered to passengers who commute in competition with interregional passengers and who cope with such conditions as we heard about.
The best solution, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, is to reduce the need to travel. One of the success stories is the buses over the past couple of years, with increased ridership. My noble friend Lady Thomas referred to the 7.5 per cent increase in the second quarter of this year. There is increased frequency, new routes, better night services, new buses and improvements in how to pay. There is a fast move towards cashless arrangements—not that one does not pay, but a stream of passengers are not held up by people paying on the bus. I am a great fan of what is happening to London buses and the service that we now have. I see further improvements on the way.
But it is a worry that there is an enormous hole in Transport for London's budget. Leaving aside the cost of the Tube, if it ever is to be transferred, there is a £2.4 billion funding gap in the next six years of Transport for London's business plan. That is an enormous sum of money. Much of that results from expenditure on buses, with what now costs £240 million rising to £615 million in 2005–06.
The mayor has decided to freeze fares until the end of the mayoral term—he would call it his first mayoral term. I applaud the keeping of manifesto commitments, of which this was one. But a few more caveats should have been attached to it, and more research is needed than Transport for London is giving it. So far as I have been able to ascertain, it has not undertaken the detailed modelling of what happens if fares remain the same in cash terms and in real terms. In other words, if inflation increases, what happens if you increase or reduce them substantially? Does that, for instance, increase ridership, and, therefore, is it a net gain?
On the other hand, the IPPR has carried out research. It suggests that a single 70p fare, with the bus priority routes and extra services in the programme, could increase use by almost 40 per cent at an annual subsidy cost of £80 million, and that the net economic benefits would be worth about £500 million a year.
I am critical of the lack of research behind the fares policy, but I support measures that assist those who suffer the pervasive effects of poverty. This policy must 297 be acknowledged as such. Many Londoners do not have access to a car. Holding down child and adult bus fares benefits those who cannot afford other means of travel.
CrossRail has an important part to play in ensuring that London remains an attractive location for international business. International businesses and residents look at quality of life. First impressions count. One of those is getting into the centre of London from Heathrow. It is not just because of that that CrossRail is important. I hope that the Minister can give us some clues as to whether CrossRail will become a reality. It would, or will, serve very important functions in its links to the east and west. But I worry that, because it is such a major project, all transport investment eggs will be put into that one basket. Nevertheless, I support it. It is one of the reasons why I support a London bid for the Olympics in 2012. We could not hold the games without CrossRail.
Inevitably, the congestion charging scheme has been a focus of attention. I am another character from a Bateman cartoon. It may invalidate the cartoon if there are two or more of us. Congestion has a huge cost: personal stress and the economic cost of £2 million to £4 million a week. So it is no wonder that, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, the business community welcomes the problem being tackled.
We have heard in the London Assembly from representatives of the business community. As recently as September, the CBI said,we are supportive of the principle and remain so".It says that it is not convinced about the detail. Fair enough. I shall come to that in a moment. London First said:On congestion charging, it is essential that we do get successful implementation".At that time, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:We're generally in favour because of the transport problems in London. We think that we've got to have an emergency solution for emergency times".I share the views of London business representatives. It is a pity that the mayor appears to have been driven by an electoral timetable. If a little more time had been spent on the scheme, its supporters might have had more confidence that it would work smoothly. The mayor has spent £200 million on setting it up, but we do not yet have much indication of the broader impact that he expects.
It must not have an adverse effect on London's economy; it must have a positive effect. But there are fears among individuals, especially small businesses, who will have to travel in and out of the zone. I can see that it is hard for them to envisage that the time they will save in travel is a real gain compared with the outgoings that they face. It must not have an adverse effect on the areas outside the zone or on the environment at its edge. Quite rightly, there are concerns, to which I add that only around a quarter of the associated schemes managed by the boroughs will be completed before 17th February, when the scheme 298 is to be introduced. There are fears about so-called rail-heading; that is to say, people driving to stations on the outskirts of Greater London and parking there.
I wish to try to reverse the inevitability that people will view the scheme as getting at drivers instead of a bold attempt to solve one of London's greatest problems. At a recent focus group, someone said:So the residents are just collateral damage in Ken's war against the car".The politician who was involved said:Well I wouldn't go quite that far".Nor would I. The scheme must reduce congestion.
As I said, we are concerned that so few targets are in the public domain. One of the contractors, Capita—whose name is well known in public circles—is dealing with the computer elements of the scheme. We do not have details on the contract between Transport for London and Capita because each of the parties has agreed to keep them confidential. I am currently involved in a minor campaign to persuade them to waive the confidentiality provision so that we can know the performance indicators which Capita must meet and the costs which London would have to meet were the Mayor to pull out of the scheme early. However, although there are many outstanding issues, to reduce traffic by 10 to 15 per cent, as forecast, is a very big prize indeed.
No debate on London would be complete without a reference to holes in the road. At Question Time last week, I questioned the Minister on the position of the so-called "holes czar". The Minister stoutly defended devolved government, for which I thank him. Although I do not think that there should be one executive body, because the boroughs have a role, if one body is to deal with the holes problem, I think that it should be London's devolved strategic government—in other words, the Mayor. I raise the issue only to ask the Minister what the role and responsibilities of that officer might be; or is the issue something that we can quietly forget about?
While on the subject of holes, I should again say that not everything is always bad. In September, I was alarmed when notices went up in my part of Mortlake saying that there would be disruption for 17 weeks while Transco did some work. However, Transco has dealt with that work admirably. There has been one-way working on the road, but only on short stretches; and the knock-on problems have been kept to the minimum.
I turn finally to the Tube. One of the factors in the success of the congestion charging scheme is the capacity of public transport to take the transfer from roads. Although the figures to which my noble friend Lady Thomas referred stack up, one has a horrid doubt about whether they will in fact work and whether the Tube can play its part, Most of the passengers included in the figures are already Tube passengers.
More widely, however, hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured into concluding the PPP. I do not think that it is still simply an issue of devolution. The public want, in the immortal phrase, 299 "something to be done", and they do not much care who does it. There is, however, a dilemma. The Mayor has said that improvements will not be delivered in the first seven years of the PPP. Now, we have a Secretary of State who has reassured the PPP companies by offering them indemnity, we hear, of £1.6 billion in case of further delays should the Mayor appeal to the European Court against the ruling on state aid. Coincidentally, that sum is the precise shortfall in funding which he identified and is what the row is really all about. As the Irish say, I would not start from here.
So there is good news on buses and good news on the money going to the boroughs for road maintenance. There is bad news on the Tube. There are also many urban myths to be dispelled, such as the traffic-light myth, the explanation for which I do not have time to repeat. Road safety, happily, also has improved, except for motor cyclists. I hope that the Minister will tell us what central government are doing to contribute to London's transport.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Baroness Hanham
My Lords, this debate is long overdue. I join in the thanks to my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes for being so successful in generating the debate and for moving it so well. I should also declare an interest—everyone else is. I am a council member of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, an inner-London borough which is quite involved in the congestion charging.
The difficulties of moving round London are becoming the topic of everyone's conversation in London. While reference has been made to the improvement of buses, the words that I hear are more often than not about the invisibility of buses. I also hear complaints about an over-crowded, dirty and unreliable Tube. The citizens of London are being denied an even half-passable public transport system.
As we also heard, in February, when congestion charging is a reality rather than just a potential nightmare, there will be more restrictions on people's movements and implications for the overall economic activity of the City. This is a policy gifted to the Mayor under the Transport Act 2000. Under the Greater London Authority Act 1999, the policy was designed to provide funding for Transport for London. In fact, the scheme is a tax on London motorists as well as an impost on the activity of London.
The Mayor initially estimated that the scheme would raise about £300 million annually, but that sum has already been revised downwards, to less than £150 million. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has already described the current £2.1 billion budgetary hole in relation to buses. Consequently, that estimated sum is not going to make much of a contribution. The starting charge of £5 will surely be increased when the Mayor thinks that he needs more money for Transport for London. It is already painfully obvious that he will need to do that in short order.
300 Much has been said about the impact of the charge. However, it is worth reflecting on the fact that the only exempted vehicles will be ambulances, taxis, buses, disabled cars, motorbikes, mopeds, cycles and alternative fuel vehicles. The latter has only recently appeared on the horizon as an exempt category. I presume that such vehicles will be powered by liquid gas, mulched vegetables or fuel extracted from refuse. However, every other vehicle will be caught. Let us think about that. The charge will be levied, for example, on families who live just outside the zone but have small children at school within it. It will catch vans and lorries delivering to shops and offices. It will hit those sufficiently sick to require hospital access but who cannot be described as requiring treatment for a chronic complaint, another exempted category.
The charge will catch Post Office vans and those carrying out work to premises within the zone. Plumbers, electricians and builders will all have to pay the £5 charge. If they have to pay the charge, it is much more likely that they will not bear it but pass it straight on to their customers. It is an additional tax to customers who may already have paid the charge themselves to enter the area.
What about those who live outside the area but have to enter to shop for more than they can carry, such as the elderly, who will inevitably be less inclined to risk public transport? What about those who suddenly, either on a whim or from necessity, have to enter the zone for some reason? The list is endless.
What purpose is all this meant to serve? The scheme is being implemented because of a suggestion, and that is all that it is, that it can reduce congestion by 10 to 15 per cent—but 10 to 15 per cent of what? Every day in London is different. Some days, there are traffic queues in one place; other days, there are queues in others. On many days—and there are currently many such days—the roads are remarkably clear. Where there are traffic queues and congestion, the traffic is usually stalled by roadworks, deliberately—I do not take issue about that—long and hopelessly phased traffic lights, "improvements" or works by statutory undertakers. But they are not usually in the same place unless the work is to carry on for a long time. The congestion is more often outside the proposed zone, in the surrounding inner boroughs, as well as those farther out to which my noble friend Lord Bowness has already referred and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, also drew attention. They will now bear the brunt of cars trying to avoid the control zone.
I understand that Bob Kiley has admitted that the zone cannot be extended because the technology is not available to make it work. Are there inadequate "spies in the sky" to focus on number plates? Without embracing the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, practically everyone believes that a control zone such as the M25 ring, which prevented commuters from coming into London, would be much more sensible and would mean that the residents of London could move freely round their own home city. It is this almost more than anything else that people 301 resent; that is, that their freedom of movement within their home area is being limited by what still appears to be some half-baked scheme.
It is reported that the current Secretary of State is against the principle of congestion charging—well, so he should be. As London commercially comes to a halt and people are charged out of their own city, he might acknowledge that it is his Government who have brought this debacle about. The Government have left themselves no room to stop the process or give it any guiding principles and it is doubtful—though it would be a good first step—whether the new tsar will step into the fray.
But, as we have heard, almost as irksome is the situation over the Tube. It is here also that the Government cannot shirk the major burden of responsibility for a fine old mess. Because the Deputy Prime Minister, when he was Secretary of State for Transport, refused to hand over the Tube to the Mayor, from the outset there has been a complete stand-off between the Department of Transport and the Mayor. I refer to the department in favour of the public private partnership agreement, which initially was due to deliver improvements to the system, as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville pointed out, within 30 years. But who is counting now? It has not even started. Many companies which in good faith became involved in the PPP process have been expensively stalled while the Mayor fights his way through the courts. And now we hear that he is likely to go to the European Court as well, which will take another few years.
The Mayor is fighting this because he believes that there are better ways of spending zillions of pounds. Where that leaves London is on a shambolic system in which track and infrastructure continue to deteriorate, rolling stock goes unreplaced and the system, which is quite unsuited to a major capital city, remains paralysed by inertia, disagreement and lack of cohesive thought, with no evidence of any likelihood of improvement in the medium to long term.
Many noble Lords have referred to CrossRail. So, where is it and where is the Chelsea-Hackney line? They have both gone into infinity apparently, although both would benefit cross London travel immeasurably, as, indeed, would the extensions to the East London Line and Thameslink, which again have been referred to by other speakers.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, with regard to the greater use of the river. Unfortunately, that has been tried a number of times and each time the company concerned has gone bust because such a scheme was not practical. Something about the tidal nature of the river makes it not amenable to having transport running up and down it.
But even if all those projects were announced today, they could not be expected to be completed within the next 10 years. On innumerable occasions over the past months Members of this House have endeavoured to raise even a blink of interest in the eye of the Government on the appalling situation which is the result, I am afraid, of their legislation. On each 302 occasion when such matters have been raised by noble Lords, Ministers have stonewalled. That includes, I fear, the Minister who is to respond to the debate from the Dispatch Box today. Ministers have said that the situation has nothing to do with them and that all these matters are devolved to the Mayor. But that is no defence when one of the effects of the Government's own legislation is the potential collapse of the commercial life of London because the transport system is still stuck in the 19th century—when actually it was probably rather good. Business becomes frustrated by the inability of those who work within it to access it and citizens and visitors alike are exasperated by the inefficiency of it all.
The economy is the business of the Government. Today's debate has shown that they really cannot shuffle off that responsibility. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, London wants answers. It does not seem to be getting them.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, for initiating the debate, having won the ballot, and for eliciting a number of exceptionally well informed and interesting contributions to it.
I say at once, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, who reminded me of my jibe about urban district councils, that I object to the House's time being taken up with matters which are strictly speaking not at all the responsibility of this Government. The Standing Orders confirm that. In other words, such debates should not take place, or at least the Government should not be asked to respond.
But, of course, we do not turn our back on London. The life and economy of London are in many respects the responsibility of government and we do not back away from our responsibilities. I intend to give a Full reply to the debate. I shall describe what the Government are doing and, where I think that there is a risk of misunderstanding, I shall describe some of the things that are being done by the Mayor and the Greater London Assembly and, indeed, by the London boroughs. London's success is essential for our international standing. It is one of the world's major financial centres. It is the European base for a third of the world's largest companies and it is a major economy in its own right. Someone mentioned Greece and Portugal in that regard. I shall mention Sweden, Belgium or Norway.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, was right to mention the need For comparisons with Europe. London has been identified by a number of private sector firms, such as Healey and Baker, the European cities monitor, as the top European city for doing business and top for internal—I find that more surprising—as well as external transport links. I refer to the subject matter of the debate—traffic and transport in London. It is enormously in the interests of the Government and of the people of this country as a whole that we should tackle the problems that have been described this evening.
303 That is not to say that I shall intervene in the decisions of the Mayor whom the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, described as unaccountable between elections. That happens with regard to a lot of democratic politics. To some extent governments are unaccountable between elections and so are local councils. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was more generous when he described the Mayor as being democratically elected.
It is clear that the Government have an interest not least because of the amount of money that we provide for transport in London. But we have given the Mayor and Transport for London responsibility to deal with many of the matters that have been mentioned.
As a country we should have invested more in road and rail public transport over decades. It is true that as prosperity and GDP rise some of these problems become more difficult because car ownership continues to increase. So there has been neglect over many years—that is not particularly a party political point as it happened under both parties—and the consequences of rising prosperity.
Our starting point is that people need to travel. They want to travel, and they can afford to do so. It will not be acceptable for us to turn our back on that demand. We need to move people and goods as quickly and efficiently as possible and we need to do so in a way that is consistent with our environmental objectives. That means that we must invest more in road and rail; we must improve the reliability of journeys; and we must get the balance right between public and private transport.
In the past week or so, there has been almost a cascade of announcements about the future funding of transport. We have seen the rather gloomy projections of the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority. He does not in any way say that the items planned under the 10-year plan are not necessary, but he gives a very timely warning against cost increases in some of those plans. He says that they will not be affordable if we allow the costs to run away with us. Is he not right? Surely we all agree on that. At the same time, only yesterday we saw the Secretary of State make a major announcement about investment in road patterns.
However, when we are told by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, that what is missing is expenditure on roads in London, in reply I have to say that I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Faulkner. Surely this battle was fought many years ago. Again, this is not a party political point but it is now being recognised that, as a policy, building more roads in London will simply not deal with congestion or improve conditions. The better use of roads and improvements in public transport will achieve that, but road building of the kind that was thought possible in the 1960s and 1970s is no longer an option other than in very special circumstances, some of which I shall describe.
I turn to the subject of investment, which must be sustained over many years. That is why we have a £180 billion transport plan over a 10-year period. 304 Again, within the past month the Chancellor has confirmed that, with a relatively strong economy in an increasingly dangerous world, the right thing for this country is to stick to its public spending plans rather than increase taxation or cut public investment. That is directly relevant to the subject matter of today's debate.
I turn from the national to the very specific and look at Transport for London's grant over the next three years, which was confirmed last week at an average of £1.15 billion a year. That is an increase of 50 per cent over grant in the past year and double the equivalent of the year before. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, told us that Transport for London claims that there is a gap in the funding. However, the GLA budget committee itself acknowledges that increased funding has been given and calls for realistic planning. Surely we all do. That is exactly the right thing for us to do. It does not mean that there is an unlimited amount of money available.
I turn to the subject of the railways. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is right to say that public transport is an indicator of the quality of life for all of us. Here, again, our plans are enormously more ambitious than those of preceding governments, but we must keep the costs under control. Substantial amounts are available to invest in public transport and in railways but we are not in the business of signing blank cheques. The SRA is providing the leadership. The irresponsibility of Railtrack is behind us. We are now acting in the public interest, and the rail franchising policy will mean more rational and efficient use of the railways.
I acknowledge what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, calls an "appalling commuter service" and I acknowledge the graphic and painful description which the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, gave of his own experience of commuter travel by rail. The changes to the franchises will mean that most stations will move to a single franchised operation instead of the divided responsibility which I believe, in many cases, is responsible for what the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, described. There is new rolling stock. More than 2,000 vehicles have been ordered for routes south of the Thames. There has been more investment, and the franchise replacement programme is starting to deliver improvements.
With regard to the specific point about South Central trains, the SRA is continuing to negotiate. For early passenger benefits in the South West, it reached agreement in a deal costing £29 million. In August, it announced the negotiation of a new franchise agreement of up to seven years for South Central. That will deliver new trains, station upgrades and information systems. And about time too!
Reference has been made to major rail projects for London. Support has been given by my noble friend Lord Faulkner and by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, for the CrossRail and Thameslink services. I have been asked for an update on CrossRail. That has had a very mixed and, in my view, very 305 unhappy history. After all, some years ago it was killed by a Private Bill committee in another place. That was most regrettable.
At present, the range of route and service options is being considered by the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London. I hope that there will be a positive outcome of that fairly soon. We need a workable, affordable and deliverable plan, and Ministers have asked for a business case to be produced by February next year. Again, for the East London Line, we are expecting a new business case very soon. We can then discuss with the private sector how to pay for these developments, which will certainly bring huge benefits to businesses as well as to individuals.
Rightly, much has been said about the Tube. However, I simply reject the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we are still in a stand-off with the Mayor of London. We announced only last week that we would provide the indemnities, which will not cost £1.9 billion as an increase in public expenditure. We shall identify the contractors against the threat of the Mayor to appeal against the state aid decision of the European Commission, and against that risk only. The result is that we shall start work on one of the contracts within a month and on the other within a month or two after that. That must be good news. That means that we shall spend £6 million every working day; £16 billion—not zillions as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said—over 15 years, and double what is being spent now. That will properly address for the first time the Tube's investment backlog.
It is simply not true to say that nothing will be visible in a relatively short time. In the first seven-and-a-half years of a 30-year contract there will be a 12 per cent increase in Tube capacity. There will be 25 per cent fewer delays on the Northern line; 30 per cent on the Bakerloo line; and over 30 per cent fewer delays on the Metropolitan line. There will be 200 stations modernised and hundreds of new trains. The very first thing that Metronet will do is to deep clean their stations. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred to dirty stations.
The Mayor has been wrong to hold up matters as long as he has. We have now called his bluff and things will start. I was grateful for the comments that were made about the Docklands Light Railway and the Croydon Tramlink. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that 14 years is far too long for getting the Croydon Tramlink started. Certainly, the approach we are now adopting to co-ordinate planning decisions with transport decisions should reduce that in future.
I was somewhat surprised to hear some of the comments about buses. Buses are doing rather well. Their operational mileage is at its highest since the mid-1960s. We have had 2,600 new buses in service in the past two years and 16 new night bus routes. Over 4.5 million trips are made by bus each year and patronage rose by 6 per cent. I should not continue with the figures because the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, kindly gave them to us. We are working actively on disabled access, security and 306 safety. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that there are concerns about the affordability of the continued expansion of the bus network, which is proposed by the Mayor. I think that the budget committee shares those concerns.
I turn to roads, as I must. We must improve the basic road infrastructure. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is right to say that road space is in short supply and to draw the conclusion that there must be some form of rationing. After all, that is what congestion charging is. There are lessons for control of street works as well as for congestion charging. We have debated street works at length in this House. I do not know that I have anything much new to say except that the Secretary of State, Alistair Darling, has made clear that he is not prepared to put up with the present situation. We have been trying out charging and lane rental. We may have to move to a system of permits for street works as they have in New York. That may need legislation and if it does we shall not shrink from that.
Traffic lights are entirely a matter for the Mayor. They deny, and I believe them, that this is not done deliberately to add to congestion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, claimed.
Finally, I turn to congestion charging. I was astonished to hear the unequivocal condemnation by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. This scheme has the support of Londoners, the CBI and London First. In principle, congestion charging has the support of this Government and always has had. As to the Mayor's particular scheme, the Secretary of State has made clear that any scheme needs to be workable. It needs to be supported by public transport alternatives and needs broad public acceptance. Although we provided the powers, or rather Parliament provided the powers, to the Mayor, the particular scheme is the responsibility of the Mayor. He must work through the consequences because it is in no one's interest for this scheme to fail. Obviously we hope it will be successful, but it will be for the electors in London to judge.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner asked some pertinent questions about that. He asked what alternative there was and said there was no other show in town. I have not heard of any other show in town. A 15 to 20 per cent reduction in congestion in central London is a very large prize. It is not a tax on London motorists as such; it is a way of speeding up the roads of central London for business and for public transport. That should make a significant difference to the quality of life.
I come back to my first point. The economy of London is a matter of national concern. This Government take those concerns very seriously.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those who have participated in the debate and to the Minister for his careful reply. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Brooke and the other noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for their contributions, which were historically interesting and constructive.
307 We know where the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is coming from. Like several other noble Lords, he talked about lights being re-phased to allow pedestrians more time. A few years ago I was the chairman of a public inquiry on the safety of pedestrian crossings at ungated railway crossings. Believe me, I carried out a number of experiments on how long it took pedestrians to cross roads, even if they were old and halt, as I am. I thought that I allowed the maximum time. I point out to noble Lords who think that lights have been re-phased to allow pedestrians more time that most pedestrian crossings are divided in the middle so that pedestrians arrive on an island in the middle of the main crossing where they can wait for the pedestrian light to change again, so I am a little sceptical about that argument.
I am also a little sceptical about the arguments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Hamwee, who thought the congestion charge was going to reduce a lot of congestion. It will just move the congestion from one place to another. They spoke of the 20,000 more people who will be using public transport. That does not mean that there will be 20,000 fewer cars on the road, because that assumes that there is only one person travelling in each car.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
In that case, my Lords, why is not the noble Baroness proposing that we look at car pooling and special lanes for it if she feels so strongly about that?
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is usually most courteous in this respect, obviously did not listen to me, because he seemed to think that I was asking for a lot of new roads to be built. I was not. I was asking the Government look at existing roads, traffic systems, one-way systems, turnings, flyovers and flyunders and to carry out a constructive, common-sense inquiry into the way in which the traffic system works. I want the Westway and the other main feeder roads into London to be improved, not rebuilt. If the argument is that if they are too good they will bring too many people into London, the opposite argument must be that if they are too bad, the extra people who have come into London will not be able to get out of London very easily. I do not accept that argument.
I do not think the Minister answered in full about what the new traffic tsar will do. It has been said that this is window dressing and a knee-jerk reaction. I would not say anything as churlish as that. I leave it to others to comment.
Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Hanham for her contribution. She said all the things that I wished that I had had time to say and said them considerably better. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.