New clause

Orders of the Day — Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 10th December 1996.

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Lords amendment: No. 4, after clause 12, to insert the following new clause—Heritage: rights of entry(". Schedule (Heritage: rights of entry) to this Act (which makes provision about rights of entry for the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England and the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England) shall have effect.")

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 89 to 95.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

The amendments bring into the Bill the rights for the appropriate heritage bodies to enter scheduled monuments, listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas affected by the channel tunnel rail link. Most of those rights had previously been covered in the draft heritage deeds for listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas, and for ancient monuments. Those agreements, which were negotiated to accompany the Bill's heritage provisions, are now incorporated in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the position on heritage matters. Throughout the passage of the Bill, a great deal of concern has been expressed about such matters, especially in respect of grade I listed buildings at St. Pancras—particularly the train sheds.

I am pleased to note that, as Lord Goschen said in another place, a deal has been struck on the possible relocation of the listed gasholder and water point, which had appeared to be an intractable problem. However, concern has been centred on the apparent disapplication of conventional conservation legislation and the normal safeguards of listed buildings, and their replacement: with the planning and heritage minimum requirements, which, as the House knows, are enforceable only by civil action for breach of contract in the High Court. As the Minister pointed out, the heritage agreement, or deed, for Camden will be in place.

7.15 pm

Again, I pay tribute to the detailed work carried out in the other place by the Select Committee dealing with heritage matters. Throughout the passage of the Bill, both here and in the other place, detailed consideration has been given to the various problems. However, it was not until Third Reading in the other place that a possible mechanism was suggested that would allow the Secretary of State to determine any dispute between London and Continental Railways, English Heritage and the London borough of Camden. There was continual concern that there was no mechanism for full arbitration of the procedures, and that there was a rather complicated set of schedules, contracts, procedures, undertakings and agreements.

On Third Reading in the other place, Lord Goschen said: at a very recent meeting LCR and English Heritage agreed that they should join together in defining a letter of intent from LCR. This would set out how the stages of consultation provided for in the heritage deed would operate and serve and therefore to identify any potential problems in time for them to be satisfactorily dealt with … I offered an additional provision in the heritage deed that introduces a process to determine an important area of potential disputes. This will allow English Heritage or the local planning authority to seek determination by the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport where English Heritage or the authority believes its agreement should be sought on a work but LCR proposes consultation. The Secretaries of State would thus be responsible for interpreting what the deed requires."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 November 1996; Vol. 575, c. 1385–86.] Those provisions now form part of the Bill, and are important safeguards. Is the Minister satisfied that the new arrangements will ensure the protection of heritage matters—if I may use that shorthand for the various matters that will be under consideration? Is he certain that any dispute can be quickly resolved, and that the mechanisms agreed through what appear to be tortuous consultations will provide the safeguards that we all want? The essence of the legislation is to move on to speedy implementation, and we do not want any further delays in the development of what is an extremely important project.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Amendment No. 95 deals with rights of entry to heritage sites and scheduled monuments, especially in Greater London. There is concern about the effects on St. Pancras station of the channel tunnel rail link works. St. Pancras train shed is recognised worldwide as a masterpiece of Victorian engineering, and is an important grade 1 listed building. To accommodate the required new services, new tracks and station facilities will be needed on a massive scale. Some parts of the station will have to be demolished or extensively altered. The new trains will be a quarter of a mile long, which will require the length of the train shed to be doubled.

Of most concern is the fact that, because the Bill operates under the private finance initiative, which is not a problem in itself, the usual requirements and restrictions do not apply. No plans have to be produced by London and Continental Railways. No detailed designs are required until after the contract has been signed. That situation is unique. I do not think that Parliament has ever previously provided such extensive powers to a contractor for major works to a grade 1 listed building without first having examined plans.

The key question is what controls on London and Continental Railways will exist when it has produced its plans. As has been mentioned, the Bill allows the disapplication of statutory controls in respect of the demolition and alteration of any part of the station. Those controls are replaced by a Department of Transport package to simplify and streamline arrangements.

The package includes design guidelines under the planning and heritage minimum requirements agreement and draft agreements for English Heritage and Camden council, the planning authority. However—and this is the key point—by setting aside the normal listed building consent procedures and replacing them with heritage agreements, the Government inevitably drastically circumscribe the ability of the planning authority and English Heritage to influence plans as they emerge.

The direct consequence is that the Government are depriving themselves of the right of ultimate determination in the event of an unacceptable scheme being proposed. In most matters, it seems that the Secretary of State will have no right to intervene, as he does in normal listed building cases.

I welcome the additional conservation safeguard of the planning and heritage minimum requirements, a wording that attempts to resolve the problem. However, in some quarters they are regarded disparagingly. Some regard them as worse than useless, because they are separate from the heritage agreement and part of a contract between the Department of Transport and London and Continental Railways. I am concerned that it could be enforced by the Department of Transport only if it took High Court action. That is hardly the best way to protect St. Pancras.

I welcome the fact that, at the eleventh hour, the Government have made some concessions, and that London and Continental Railways has agreed to define stages of construction in a letter of intent, so that English Heritage will be able to identify outstanding problems at any stage. I welcome the limited arbitration procedures, by which disagreements about what aspects of development come under which clauses of the agreement can be resolved.

I do not intend to jeopardise this important project by not accepting the case for setting aside normal listed building procedures. Nevertheless, there is a danger that we are introducing a fundamental flaw in setting aside listed building procedures and replacing them with an agreement that allows for almost no democratic scrutiny of developers' proposals, whether by local planning authorities, English Heritage or, as a crucial last resort, the Secretary of State.

We should recognise that this case has pushed the limits of disapplication further than has any other railways Bill. That situation is far from ideal, and we should not allow it to recur. I ask the Minister to assure us that this case will be considered as unique to the channel tunnel rail link, and will not come to be regarded as a precedent for other projects.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

The amendment goes to the heart of a great many people's anxieties about the whole business. London and Continental Railways is keen to present itself as extraordinarily careful of the heritage involved and anxious to co-operate in every possible way. Considerable financial doubts hang over the financial viability of the railway. The readiness with which the Government, who originally said that they would not put any money into the scheme, have been pouring in money to make it viable, suggests that they share those anxieties. The problem with St. Pancras train shed, or anywhere else of heritage importance on the line, is that if the promoters run out of money during construction, it will be extraordinarily difficult to hold them to their undertakings. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address that point.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) rightly referred to tortuous negotiations, but they have proved worth while. He was right to pay tribute to the work in another place. If we had not arrived at the right balance at the end of those tortuous negotiations, I should have faced many amendments this evening. I can therefore be confident that we have appropriate arrangements in place.

To the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), I point out that amendments Nos. 4 and 95 give English Heritage greater powers of entry than it has under the National Heritage Act 1983. That is right and proper. He was concerned about whether a precedent was being established for setting aside the normal heritage arrangements. It is normal practice, with private and hybrid Bills that authorise major pieces of infrastructure, for the standard provisions retaining listed building consent to be totally disapplied. That used to be a blanket disapplication, but since a Government announcement in 1991, several Bills, such as those dealing with the Jubilee line extension and the docklands light railway Lewisham extension, have included special provisions for heritage. That more recent practice has been followed for this Bill, but we have gone further by creating a comprehensive replacement regime, negotiated with English Heritage and the interested local authorities. The general provisions of the heritage deed cover approval and consultation arrangements and, in addition, for St. Pancras, a set of planning and heritage minimum requirements. That is a contractual requirement on London and Continental Railways. In doing that, I believe that we have struck a proper balance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) suggested that financial difficulties might prevent the full arrangements being put into place. I hope that I can reassure him and the hon. Member for Eastleigh by reminding them that so far, we have not poured any money into London and Continental Railways. It is required to have incurred, I think, two thirds of the total cost of the project before a single penny of taxpayers' money can go to the company. That control of the purse strings reinforces the control that we have through contract law, to ensure that those important provisions are honoured in their implementation. I hope that I have reassured the House that the important heritage at the heart of the terminal is adequately protected by the arrangements that we have put in place.

Lords amendment agreed to.