§ Mr. Evennett
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what arrangements are being made to carry forward work on the Government's preferred route for the channel tunnel rail link.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I announced on 14 October the Government's preference for a route which terminates at King's Cross and which approaches from the east, via Stratford. I also invited British Rail to undertake such refinement of the route as is necessary to enable me to safeguard it.
Work on the route is now under way. British Rail should have created a new mapping base for the easterly 189W section of the route by the end of the year. Work on defining the line and engineering it in sufficient detail for publication, consultation and environmental assessment should then begin in the new year. Officials from my Department, the Department of the Environment and the Treasury are closely involved and are already discussing parameters for the work, such as the freight role of a new line. The consultants appointed by the Department of the Environment to undertake the study of the development potential of the east Thames corridor will be kept in close touch. Ove Arup, which originally conceived the easterly approach via Stratford, is being invited by British Rail to join its team of consultants.
It is the Government's intention that the rail link should be taken forward by the private sector. I shall therefore be appointing a merchant bank early in the new year to advise the Government both about private sector interests whilst the line is refined and on the best way in which to hand over the project to the private sector in due course. The merchant bank will act as my Department's point of contact for developers and other private sector interests with a potential interest in funding and developing the rail link.
It is still too early to say when public consultations can begin, but it is important that the local authorities are involved at an early stage. I am still considering how this might best be organised but again I would expect arrangements for a consultative forum to be in place early in the new year.