HL Deb 12 July 2004 vol 663 cc1005-7

2.49 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress is presently being made with the Thameslink 2000 scheme.

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, Network Rail's application for a Transport and Works Act order was considered at a public inquiry between June 2000 and May 2001. A decision on the project was deferred pending the resolution of three deficiencies identified by the inspector in his report, relating to the design of the scheme in central London. Network Rail has now submitted further applications addressing these issues, which are likely to be considered by a public inquiry next year.

Lord Bradshaw:

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he please confirm that the inspector actually said in his report that the scheme would be highly beneficial to London and the regions around London, and that it would confer very large economic benefits? Will he also confirm that Network Rail has submitted, or is on the point of submitting, plans that clear up the three major deficiencies to which he referred?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, it would not be right for me to comment on the quality of Network Rail's response, although I can confirm that it set out to address those issues. The noble Lord is right: the link across London is recognised to have many benefits. Nevertheless, local people have the right to ensure that their interests are safeguarded. That is why we have planning inquiries. Network Rail is responding to those.

Lord Berkeley:

My Lords, is the funding assured for Thameslink 2000 and whatever it is? If not, is the Minister aware of the report last week stating that land values around two stations on the Jubilee Line extension—Canada Water and Bermondsey—had gone up by £2 billion? Could some of the gain at other stations on Thameslink 2000 be captured to help to fund the project?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, my noble friend never lacks ingenuity. He has in the past pursued the interesting question of whether increased land values as a result of rail development could be put to further use involving the public's benefit through improved transport services. On this project, suffice it to say that the final decisions are some way away and construction is unlikely to take place before 2009. He will recognise that the resources for that are in place.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market:

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House in some detail why a second public inquiry is felt to be necessary when the first one was completed so recently? Does he not agree that it would be a pity to see a further delay to this project which would mean that it would neither be ready for the completion of the Channel Tunnel rail link nor to help with the Olympic bid?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, of course delays on major projects such as the one that we are discussing are to be regretted, although the noble Baroness will recognise that any major construction project through the very heart of London is bound to raise a whole range of proper interests which must be taken into account. As the noble Baroness indicated, the inspector gave the scheme general approval but identified three clear areas where there were deficiencies. It was only right, therefore, to ask Network Rail to address those areas, and, of course, that must be the subject of public approval.

Lord Snape:

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that it would be an act of courage in a political sense for any Minister in the government to refuse to accede to an inspector's demand for a public inquiry? The project, which originated in the 1980s, was given the name Thameslink 2000. Does my noble friend further agree that it was thought that that name was a little pessimistic? If we are regrettably to continue with a series of public inquiries, would it not be better to renumber the project? Can my noble friend give us any idea when the inquiry will be set up and when the project, which as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, is much needed, is likely to go ahead?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, on my noble friend's first point, no Minister concerned with a project such as this lacks courage, nor does he lack wisdom. Wisdom, of course, involves taking proper account of due process with regard to a public inquiry on an issue of such great sensitivity. I can confirm that if the scheme is called in, as it almost certainly will be, a public inquiry is likely to take place around the year 2007 and construction would begin in 2008–09 and last for five years.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood:

My Lords, can the Minister explain why it will take until 1907—

Noble Lords:


Baroness Thomas of Walliswood:

It might as well be called Thameslink 3000 while we are about it. Why will it take until 2007 for an inquiry to take place? That sounds absolutely extraordinary to me.

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, significant objections were raised at the first public inquiry among which were objections relating to the Borough High Street conservation area, which has real and historical significance for local people. All noble Lords will recognise our necessary determination to improve transport in London above ground as well as under ground. We are proposing railway development above ground in the centre of London in one of the most prestigious parts of the world in terms of both wealth and historical significance. It is not therefore surprising that a wide range of interests need to be reconciled before any of these projects goes ahead.