Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill

Part of Orders of the Day — Schedule 3 – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 1st November 1995.

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Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith Shadow Secretary of State 6:30 pm, 1st November 1995

In this debate, the starting point for all of us must be that we want the channel tunnel high-speed rail link to be built not only as quickly as possible but in the right way. For those of us who represent constituencies along the route of the line, building it in the right way is terribly important. I do not, therefore, want either of the motions before us tonight to be opposed or defeated, but I do want to flag up one concern.

The most intricate part of the proposed route is the approach to St. Pancras, which comes through the borough of Islington, across the east coast main line and into the St. Pancras railway lands. The Select Committee considering the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill spent considerable time on that matter, and I pay great tribute to its work. I am delighted to see its Chairman, Vice-Chairman and my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) here. The Committee deserves great credit for the assiduity of its work.

In its initial conclusions just before the summer recess, the Select Committee recommended that, in the approach to St. Pancras, what has become known as "Alan Baxter's fully tunnelled option" should be adopted. There was rejoicing in my constituency at that recommendation because it was precisely what local people wanted. It removed the problems of blight, disturbance and noise that they had feared.

Work is continuing on the working up of Baxter's fully tunnelled option but, alongside it, we have a second option developed by Union Railways, which the Committee will consider together with Baxter's scheme. The alternative approach will not be completely fully tunnelled. It will, however, contain more tunnel than in the original reference case. Both options under consideration are better, therefore, than the reference case. Local residents are in the process of examining in detail both options to find out which one they would prefer.

Those residents have gone through a rollercoaster of hope and despair on this exercise. Having been told that the Baxter's option was going to be adopted, suddenly they are faced with two potential options, one of which may not be as good as the Baxter's option. Blight has returned to the western part of Islington around Caledonian road as a direct result of the new uncertainty that has been created.

There is a problem. The plans for the two options will, as I understand it, be deposited on 5 December. Local residents will then have only five weeks to prepare new petitions on the new proposals. Even worse, the people who have already petitioned must pay another £20 fee to submit their new petition, which, through no fault of their own, deals with new material.

I hope that the Government, the Select Committee and the House will recognise that the procedure of having to petition fast over the Christmas period and of petitioners having to pay an additional fee above what was originally deposited is putting a great difficulty in the way of the petitioners. I flag up that concern. Petitioners are being put at a severe disadvantage, blight has returned, and there is continuing concern about what will happen in relation to the final approach to St. Pancras.

I make two simple requests. The first is to Union Railways. It is that there will be a full and fair working up of both the options—the Baxter's fully tunnelled option and the Union Railways option. Local residents will be able to make a clear decision and put their representations to the Select Committee only with a full and fair assessment of the impact of the two alternatives.

The second plea is to the Select Committee members, and I am sure that they will readily accept this: listen carefully to what local residents say when they have had a real chance to examine in detail the two options on the table as we are talking here, not just about the value of property, although that is important, but about people's lives for many years to come. People locally want the line to be built in the right way, but they want their lives to be damaged as little as possible in the process. I am sure that the Committee will want to listen to what they have to say in putting their case forward.