The clause is the first of four dealing with the works, works permissions and works authorisations necessary to build Crossrail. The Bill vests those permissions and powers in the nominated undertaker. The amendment deals with clause 1(4), which states:
“In constructing or maintaining any of the scheduled works, the nominated undertaker may deviate vertically from the level shown for that work on the deposited sections to any extent downwards.”
Our amendment would add the words “not exceeding 3 metres”.
We are concerned that the subsection, as so worded, may not confront some of the realities of construction. Might there not be sections of the route in which to allow any deviation downwards would mean that the scheduled works would hit, touch or interfere with all sorts of other infrastructures? Why is there any need for unlimited downward deviation and to what purpose? The limits of deviation are set in other paragraphs in the Bill. Consistently during the sittings of the Committee, I will wish to test why the Government seek to take powers outside either the scheduled route or the limits of deviation.
I point out that subsection (3) gives the nominated undertaker the power to deviate laterally
“to any extent within the limits of deviation for that work”.
So why not deviate vertically downwards to the limits of deviation for that work? Might it not be sensible to so limit that downward vertical deviation as well? I look forward to the Minister’s reassurance as to why the Government wish to take those powers.
The limits of deviation are well precedented in earlier private Acts for railways. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 was the last hybrid Bill for a railway project; mention of that Bill will recur many times during our debates and in the Department’s model clauses for orders made under the Transport and Works Act 1992. They reflect the fact that the design of Crossrail is only at an outline stage; the detailed design will come later. Therefore, flexibility is essential. The nominated undertaker will, in any event, be bound by the environmental minimum requirements, which are a set of arrangements that will regulate Crossrail construction.
The general limit of deviation of 3 m upwards, or 6 m in specific instances, is there to protect people with surface interests who need the comfort that noise and movement will not affect their properties. Downward deviation, for obvious reasons, would tend to make such concerns diminish and, therefore, there is no need to put a downward limit on deviation in the way that the amendment would do. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I am interested in what the Minister says, but would he would clarify one more point? He ended by saying that downward deviation would not incur the same noise problems that upward deviation from the scheduled route might. For example, if the scheduled route were 3 m from the surface, a downward deviation beyond the limits—which the clause particularly addresses—might well incur noise issues. Will he reassure the Committee that, without putting a limit to vertical downward deviation, there will not be potential noise problems for the public?
I am happy to clarify the matter as best I can. Clearly, in a project of this size, our priority must be to protect the interests and the environment of people who live or work at the surface of the Crossrail route. Downward deviation from the existing plans will have far less a detrimental effect on the environment than would upward deviation. As I have already said, that is well precedented; the factor was specifically written into the 1996 Act simply because of that concern. I fail to see how a downward deviation of greater than 3 m could have any greater detrimental effect or could not have a more beneficial environmental effect on people living and working on the surface at the point of Crossrail construction.
The concern arises from the fact, which was drummed into us on many occasions during the Select Committee’s consideration of this hybrid Bill, that noise and vibration are not necessarily dependent upon depth, but on the structure, the geology and other matters of that kind. A deeper level of boring can occasionally cause more problems for people living above it than a higher level. The issue is not that simple and I understand why there could be confusion. It took me a long time to get my head around it, and we had two years at it. With that in mind and because Crossrail travels through London, many people were concerned about vibration, noise and the impact on their daily lives. This was an important issue. Consequently, I would hate to think that we were going to open up that issue again. Will the Minister consider that point?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. As I said in my opening remarks, he and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South have almost literally an in-depth knowledge of the Crossrail project. He is right to suggest that depth alone will not necessarily alleviate the effects on the surface of vibration or noise. However, neither will deviation downwards have a detrimental effect on the environment at the surface. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there are other things to consider such as the geology of the area. However, I fail to see how a downward deviation of greater than 3 m would have a detrimental effect on the environment.
We are at a very early stage and the work has not yet started. It is simply a standard procedure in a Bill of this kind to allow some flexibility. That is all we are asking for. There is no intention on the part of the engineers or the Crossrail team deliberately to need that extra deviation. However, in a project of this scale, possibly a year or two before work begins, that discretion is needed in the Bill. As I have said, it has always been a part of these hybrid Bills and I expect it will be a part of all hybrid Bills in future. On that note, I ask the hon. Member for Wimbledon to withdraw his amendment.
I accept that this an exceptional Bill and will require some exceptional conditions to be placed in it. I accept that there is a need for flexibility. What is a well established principle, as the Minister has said, is that there is a deposited route and a deposited schedule of works. There is also a deviation that allows flexibility and there is a limit to that deviation. The amendment would introduce some restriction on works outside that limit of deviation. Although I am happy to accept the Minister’s reassurance, we will test this point a number of times in Committee because there are bounds to flexibility. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I do not wish to detain the Committee long, but this clause is important. It authorises the nominated undertaker, who may or may not be the Secretary of State, or a nominated undertaker nominated by the Secretary of State, to construct and maintain the works necessary for Crossrail. Those works are specified in the Bill as the scheduled works and some of the clause’s subsections, as we have just discussed, show that there is no limit to the specification of deviation. I return to the remark that I have just made and to a trend that is reflected throughout the Bill. In a number of clauses, powers are granted to deviate from the line of build without limit, and that principle starts in this clause. We will want to test that principle several times throughout the Committee’s proceedings.
We entirely accept that this is an exceptional project, for which flexibility will certainly be required. However, those powers and such flexibility must be reasonable in both effect and extent. We are concerned that in several cases that is not so. I am happy that the Minister has been able to reassure the Committee on the clause, but I am doubtful that he will be able to do so for all the clauses as we proceed.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that Crossrail is an exceptional project. However, it is not an unprecedented project and I will refer many times during these debates to exactly the same provisions that were in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996. Clause 1 authorises the construction and maintenance by the nominated undertaker of the Crossrail works specified in schedule 1. It is a standard clause, similar to those found in all works Bills.
The clause also sets out the permitted limits of deviation from the siting of works as shown on the relevant plans. Those limits are well precedented in earlier private Acts for railways and reflect the fact that the design of Crossrail is of necessity at outline stage only. Detailed design will come later, and therefore some flexibility is essential. That said, the nominated undertaker will be bound by the environmental minimum requirements, a set of parameters that will control most of the construction of Crossrail.