Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill

Part of Orders of the Day — Schedule 3 – in the House of Commons at 6:37 pm on 1st November 1995.

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Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham 6:37 pm, 1st November 1995

My constituency has been blighted since 1988. Every route that has been considered for a rail link has twisted and turned across my constituency and, therefore, we in Gravesham view with much concern the on-going considerations in relation to the rail link.

I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to item (u) in the second motion, which refers to the A2 and M2 improvement works". Those works take place in an especially sensitive area of the green belt, which is strong on the natural environment. It contains Ashenbank wood and, in relation to heritage, Cobham hall. That region must be treated with careful consideration by the Select Committee when it returns to it.

Encompassed within the M2-A2 works is a junction for the so-called Wainscott bypass. If my hon. Friend the Minister is looking for vast savings to be made on the road programme, the best thing he could do is to scrap that bypass, and to simplify the A2-M2 junction.

In those works, reference is made to stopping up various highways in the region. Select Committee members should pay careful attention to a number of accesses along there, especially to the Rochester and Cobham golf club. If that access is blocked, the golf club will be cut off and there will be major havoc to transport flows in the parish of Cobham.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) referred to work being started on the rail link in 1997. One of the first works to be done would be the initial work for the construction of the tunnel underneath the River Thames and the construction of the Ebbsfleet railway station. These works will be on either side of the ancient town of Northfleet. Heavy goods vehicles already thunder through that old town. If works start on both these massive projects under the rail link proposals, life for the residents of Northfleet will be made totally intolerable.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to nag the highways authority—Kent county council—to ensure that, in its programme for 1996–97, it gives the Northfleet bypass the highest priority. I know that my hon. Friend has referred to it as a high priority, but our highways authority must make that its top priority. If my hon. Friend is worried about the finance for the Northfleet bypass, which is known as the south Thamesside development route phase 4, I point out that he can certainly finance it out of the considerable savings to be made on the Wainscott bypass.

I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley). The House has authorised expenditure of £1.2 billion for improving the existing railroads across Kent to cope with the increased traffic coming from the channel tunnel; passengers and freight now go along the southern routes. The argument in favour of the rail link is saturation of rail capacity across Kent. The construction of the channel tunnel rail link is to bring additional capacity across Kent. As it is new, the logical thing to do is to build it to high-speed qualities so that we do not have one or two problems that were referred to earlier.

If one builds a brand new channel tunnel rail link for high-speed operation, the last thing one does is to put across it heavy carriages with heavy goods. The high-speed rail link should not have freight running along it, not least because residents along the high-speed rail link will not have had railways running past their properties before, and they should not have that added imposition.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing about compensation. We remain to be convinced that there are proposals adequately to compensate people whose houses are their principal investment and saving in this life. It is not fair to say, "We need the project, we cannot really afford it, so we will finance it partly out of the capital value of your house." That would be a shameful way in which to treat my constituents and those of hon. Members in Kent and in central London. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give a lot of encouragement tonight, and that the Select Committee will also bear these points in mind.