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633. CHAIRMAN: Do you now wish to make a statement?
634. MTUA: Can we now give out the papers. (Same handed round)
635. CHAIRMAN: I think we are ready for another tonne.
636. COMMITTEE: You have got to take all this back with you mind.
637. CHAIRMAN: It is significantly less voluminous than the Promoter's.
638. MTUA: We cannot afford the paper, my Lord. My Lord, what I was proposing to do was firstly to very quickly go through the Petition to outline the main points and then hopefully fairly quickly to go through the submission and then just make one or two points at the end.
639. On the Petition at point 5 basically we are saying who the petitioners are, which is primarily the Mersey Tunnel Users' Association which has been a very small group. At the time that we made the Petition we were only just over 200 members. We are now just over 4,600 members. The group was originally formed about a year ago to oppose the Mersey Tunnels Revision of Tolls Order which, as your Lordships will have heard, has in fact subsequently been withdrawn.
640. At the top of page three we are making the point that as the tunnels are getting closer to the point where they may be able to repay all debt, as we see it, the authorities are moving the goalposts.
Point 7 is basically the adverse effects on the local economy, labour mobility, competition, investment and visitors, which would all be inhibited by toll increases whereas toll reductions would tend to improve them.
641. Point 8 is making the point that tunnel users are road users and road users in general are already paying very substantial taxes which are far in excess of the spending on roads.
Point 9, we point out that there have in fact been very substantial toll rises already over the period when they were making losses. Between 1971 and 1992 the tolls went up by 1,000 per cent. I made the point this morning that if you take May 1971 as the base, most of toll increases over that period were in fact closely related to the movement in inflation. As I understand it, the authorities at different times responsible for running the tunnels thought that the toll increases that had taken place were the maximum, that if they had increased them any more it would have had a bad effect on the local economy and/or the gross toll income would actually reduce because the number of users would fall substantially. Whether that was a correct assumption, I do not know, but that was what they thought at the time.
642.Point 10 is about the RPI index and basically we are saying that there are different elements of the cost. A very significant element of the cost is the debt. The debt is falling and therefore if there was an index we think there should be a negative factor to it.
643. CHAIRMAN: Are you going to expand on your point 10 later on in your comments?
644. MTUA: I was not intending to, my, Lord.
645. CHAIRMAN: I would just like to probe a little further by exactly how you define 'X' and 'Y' on your point 10. I think we are talking about your point 10, are we not?
646. MTUA: Yes.
647. CHAIRMAN: You are proposing, your Petition says that we should go for RPI minus X and then you actually go a little bit further and say, "What about RPI minus X minus Y?" What are your definitions of 'X' and 'Y'?
648. MTUA: We have not got a definition. What would tend to happen in fact is that X and Y, in our view, would mean that the index was negative and, therefore, it would not actually be an indexed increase at all.
649. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, would you say that again because what I thought you meant was quite different from what I think you said. I thought you were implying that if the increase was to go up by anything like RPI, it should go up by something which was less than RPI, but would nevertheless go up. I think what you have just said is that you would like it to be negative or in fact go down.
650. MTUA: What I am suggesting is that it might in fact be negative and we would not expect it to be negative and, therefore, presumably the index would be nil.What it is illustrating to a certain extent is one of the points this morning when I was asking Mr Wilkinson about his exhibit B21, the financial projections for the next 25 years on the assumption that there is no increase in the tolls either under the existing legislation which allows for an increase in tolls or does not. Basically, as I understood it, what Mr Wilkinson was saying is that over a 25-year period, basically the tunnels broke even, despite the fact that they were spending £380 million over that period on refurbishment. I would suggest that indicates that if you were to apply an index factor, it would be zero or negative depending on how realistic you thought the spend of £380 million on refurbishment was.
651. CHAIRMAN: So would it be correct for the Committee to understand your Petition point 10 to be, and these are my words, not yours, a flat fee, a flat toll with no increase?
652. MTUA: That is correct, my Lord.
653. CHAIRMAN: Please go on. Sorry to have interrupted you.
654. MTUA: Point 11 is in relation to the losses falling on the district councils. Any losses which have fallen on the district councils were in fact for a very limited period between October 1988 and March 1992 and, as we have already been through this to some extent, although they initially fell on the ratepayers and then the community charge payers, the authority obtained a legal opinion which we are not able to see which said that they needed to be repaid, so even for that limited period, the authority's view of it in effect reversed the financing by the ratepayers and the community charge payers with the tunnels having to repay those contributions with interest. As you will also know, the authority is seeking power in the Bill for one reason or another to say that whatever they did in relation to that, it should be deemed that it was legal to make the charges that they have been making against the tolls.
655. Point 12, I think to a certain extent we have already been through this. This is the authority saying there is a need for further substantial spending on safety and other works. They say it cannot be financed out of current revenues and yet at the same time they have been accelerating the repayment of external borrowing.
656. Point 13 relates to the capacity of the tunnels and, to a certain extent we have already been through this, the traffic, expressed by Merseytravel this morning, with Mr Wilkinson giving his opinion on it. What we are saying here is two things. In our view, most of the people who go through the tunnels in the peak period, have got very little choice because there are all sorts of things which would tend to mean that the users would not use the tunnels because of various factors and they would be more likely to use public transport and in fact, during the peak periods, a large number of people do. To stifle that demand would require a massive increase in the tolls and your Lordships have already heard that two of the toll increases over the last 30 years or so, one was 50 per cent and another one was 67 per cent, they did reduce demand overall, but there was a relatively small fall. The area where we think there is a stifling of use of the tunnels is in fact in the off-peak periods when people have more choice of where they go to or whether they make the trip at all because it is for some sort of leisure or shopping purposes. There seems to be little purpose in stifling that demand or at least little purpose in relation to controlling congestion because it is off-peak.Your Lordships will have already seen the tables that Merseytravel presented which clearly indicate that most of the time you would expect the tunnels to be well below capacity.
657. Point 14 is the question of fairness which Mr Field has already gone into. There seems to be an argument that the tolls are some form of congestion charge, but it is the equivalent of a road congestion charge which, if it was applied to London, would only apply if you entered the central area by crossing the Thames and if you entered from any other direction, there would be no congestion charge at all.
658. Point 15 relates to the capacity of the tunnels and there are varying figures as to how many vehicles are going through the tunnels at the moment, but it is approximately 25 million going through the eight lanes of the Mersey tunnels. When we had just the Birkenhead Tunnel, there were 20 million vehicles going through. Simple arithmetic would indicate that there should be 40 million vehicles and in fact if we look at the next river crossing upriver from the crossing controlled by Merseytravel, which is the Silver Jubilee Bridge between Runcorn and Widnes, which is controlled by Halton Council and was largely paid for by the Government, but with contributions from Lancashire and Cheshire County Councils and which is free, that has only four lanes, but it seems to carry approximately the same amount of traffic as the eight lanes of the tunnels which obviously raises various questions.
659. Point 16 is again related to the Runcorn Bridge, but because it is only four lanes and because it is carrying as much traffic as the eight-lane Mersey tunnels, it has been agreed locally anyway that there is a need for another bridge. A considerable amount of work has been done on that and a decision was expected last December, but the Government in effect decided to postpone the decision for one reason or another. We have been in touch with Halton Council and with the consultants on the bridge and all of the economic assessments that have been done so far to justify the bridge have been on the assumption that the bridge will not be tolled. That of course does not mean to say that the Government may at some point decide it should be tolled, but that would then raise a question in relation to the existing bridge which will only be about a mile away which is not tolled.The idea, as I understand it from the consultants, is that the new bridge then would carry the bulk of the traffic as compared with the old bridge. Whereas if in fact the new bridge is tolled, and a mile down the river there is an untolled bridge which is currently carrying as much traffic as the Mersey tunnels will be, it seems fairly unlikely that more than, say, 10 per cent of the traffic will choose to pay the toll on the bridge.
660. Point 17 relates to the monopoly situation in relation to the road tunnels. Obviously Merseytravel control all of the road tunnels under the river. I suppose that is what one might expect anyway, but it is fairly unique in that it is also owns the ferries and controls the under-river railway link, so it will have a fairly wide, extensive monopoly. Public utilities are generally subject to some form of regulation, as I think was agreed this morning by the expert speaking for Merseytravel, but the only control at the moment, particularly on the tunnels part of that monopoly, is the existing part of the Act which says that if the Authority wants the tolls increased, they need to justify it to the Minister and if there are sufficient objections, the Minister may decide that there needs to be an Inquiry.
661. Point 18 is the point about the fact that the tunnels are almost unique in Britain in being in the centre of an urban area. There are a few other tunnels that touch urban areas, but there are no other river crossings with a toll on which are so close to the centre of a conurbation.
662. Point 19, I think to a certain extent we have already covered, is this question of the Authority wanting the power to spend surpluses for other purposes which again appears to be in part to cover the charges that they are already making against the tolls. Going on to the bottom ----
663. CHAIRMAN: I am sorry to interrupt you there, but it was pointed out by Mr George very early on yesterday, but I think, with respect, your quote is from the Bill as it was presented to another place, not to the Bill as it appears in this House.
664. MTUA: That is correct.
665. CHAIRMAN: It is a very small point.
666. MTUA: The wording is changed slightly, but it is still there.
667.CHAIRMAN: It is germane, but it does not say anymore, "and in such manner as it thinks fit". It just says, "for other purposes".
668. MTUA: That is correct, my Lord.
669. CHAIRMAN: That is just for the record.
670. MTUA: Towards the end of point 19, there is the issue of the original Act for building the Mersey tunnels, the one that comes up in Mr Field's constituency says that the tolls should cease after 40 years at the latest. That was amended in the 1980 Act, but even under that Act the tolls would eventually reduce, not increase.
671. Point 20 is about the fact that there is a reserve power in the Bill to use the old system and what that in fact means is that an increase could be applied for which was in fact above the increase that would be allowed according to the RPI. Under the Bill, that in fact then means there is a new and higher base that the RPI would be applied to, so in effect the tolls would be permanently racked up for what might have only been some temporary situation.
672. Point 21 is the point we have already been through about the insulation works and the definition. Can I make it clear that there is almost nobody who is opposed to spending on noise insulation works. A lot of people think that it should have been done a long time ago because obviously the people who are going to benefit now are almost certainly not the persons who were there when the tunnel was built.
673. Can I then turn to the submissions.
674. CHAIRMAN: Are there any questions from my colleagues on this side, on the Petition? No. Please carry on.
675. MTUA: As I said earlier on, I am not intending to go through this word by word. I will go through it as quickly as possible. The first 11 pages are the statement made by Merseytravel on the Second Reading of the Bill in the Lords which, in italics, has been annotated with our comments on it, but I am not intending to go through that. Pages 12 to 14 is the historical background to the Mersey tunnel tolls, again I am not going to go through that in any detail other than that it is aimed to set out the basic position which is that the original way in which the tolls were going to be financed was that only part of the cost was supposed to come from the tolls, and a large part of the cost was supposed to come from the Corporations of Liverpool and Birkenhead.
676. If I can then turn to page 15, there has already been some mention of the fact that this is the second Bill. The first Bill was introduced in 1999 and withdrawn in 2000. It was pretty much the same as the present Bill, except, as has been pointed out by Mr Field, it contained what a lot of people would say was a privatisation measure, but, to use Merseytravel's own words, paragraph 18, there would have been a concession for a period of 25 years that somebody else would have been running them and, as you see at paragraph 18, in return for somebody else running them at that time, Merseytravel were expecting to receive a premium, a one-off initial payment of £50 million. In addition, as it says, point 19, to the £50 million they were expecting to get annual rental payments in the region of £15 million a year for a period of 25 years. If my arithmetic is correct, that is approximately £425 million that they were expecting to receive. To a certain extent, what is now happening is there is not a concession and an amount which may not be £425 million. I think the figure we went through this morning is close to about £300 million would accrue to Merseytravel and basically it is accruing to them from tunnel users.
677. Page 16 is trying to point out one of the difficulties that we have as the User Association because basically we have little or no income whereas Merseytravel are able to use the tunnel tolls although it is not actually clear, on my reading of the 1980 Act, that that is a purpose that it could be used for, but they are able to use the tunnel tolls to promote this bill and to try and convince tunnel users by letters such as this, which has gone out to all regular tunnel users using the fast tag system that it is somehow in their interests that tolls are increased.
678. If you turn to page 17, there is then a supplemented 17A and 17B which is loose. One of the points that Merseytravel have made is that the existing system for revising tolls is cumbersome and longwinded. That may or may not be true but it begs the question as to why that is the case. As I said earlier, we were initially objecting to the Toll Revision Order which Merseytravel made about a year ago. The period during which objections could be made was four weeks and those four weeks ended just over a year ago. We would have expected that it would not take all that long for there to be a decision on an inquiry but what we found is that we had to bombard the Department of Transport with questions as to whether there was going to be an inquiry and, if there was not going to be an inquiry, why not, and, if the inquiry was delayed, why it was delayed. At page 17 are the eventual answers that we received from them as to why the inquiry was delayed. They said that the delay in announcing an inquiry was caused by a number of factors including consideration of Merseytravel's application and the comments made by others etc. In our view, the inquiry was delayed because the Department of Transport were either acting inefficiently or were dragging their feet.
679. One of the points that Merseytravel also made yesterday was that if only one person objected to the toll increase, there would have to be a public inquiry. If you turn to pages 17A and 17B, as I said before, we were pressing the Department of Transport just to answer that one simple question of whether there would be a public inquiry and you can see in the second paragraph their answer which refers back to the existing Act. It says:
680. "...the Minister shall...if any person or body which appears to the Minister to be sufficiently representative of persons who have a substantial interest in the use of the tunnel to which the order applies has objected to the order and not withdrawn the objection ..." That certainly does not give the impression that they are talking about only one person and that is, to a certain extent, reinforced by the next paragraph which says that there were 177 objections and one of them was a multiple objection from our association which only counted as one and, despite that, they were not definite as to whether they were going to hold a public inquiry or not. I would suggest that if only one person had objected, there would have been no chance of a public inquiry. The Minister would just have confirmed his order.
681. Pages 18, 19, 19A and 20 are extracts from some of the local newspapers. The purpose here is to try and stop any impression which you may have that somehow the petitioners are just odd objectors and that the majority of people on Merseyside are in favour of toll rises. So, these are just samples of some of the headlines. The first one is December 2001 which is shortly after the Bill was deposited in the Commons and you will see the headline there, "Stop the Toll Rise" and you will see the logo that the Liverpool Echo ran, "Stop the Tunnel Tax." The Liverpool Echo is the biggest circulation newspaper on Merseyside by a long chalk. Turning to page 20, the Wirral Globe is one of the two free newspapers which are circulated to every house on the Wirral. This is a slightly more recent one a year ago, the Wirral Globe, special edition, "Scrap the tolls" and you can see their logo there, "Scrap the tolls. Free Tunnels."
682. We slipped in an extra page, page 19A, just in case you might recognise the face, a yet more recent one from last month, "Tunnels fight not over yet. Defeat in the Lords has not killed off opposition to unpopular Mersey tolls Bill" and there is a face that you may recognise holding up the Wirral Globe's logo, "Scrap the Tolls". Over the years that these Bills have been running, there have been various articles contained in various newspapers. Just as an example of one of them, on page 20, we have a Wirral businessman, Frank Brennan. I am not quite sure if this is a letter or an article. It appears as an article. He is saying, as per the headlines, "Kill the tolls and breathe life into business."
683.The next few pages, pages 21 through to about page 30, are basically some of the responses that we managed to get copies of from some of the organisations that were consulted by Merseytravel and, basically, the pattern is that most organisations have no objection whatsoever to insulation grants. They all object to, as the Freight Transport Association letter puts it, the cross-subsidisation of local public transport services. They all oppose the removal of the requirement to reduce tolls when the debt is paid up and some of the letters go into more detail saying that they generally do not like tolls and, in particular, the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce letter goes a bit further than just responding to the question put by Merseytravel and pages 29 and 30 are some additional comments which the Chamber wish to make.
684. On pages 31 and 32, we could not trace if the Wirral Chamber of Commerce had responded. That does not mean to say that they did not because some of the organisations that we contacted that we thought would have been consulted and would have responded, such as the RAC, said there is no record of it and similarly with the Wirral Chamber of Commerce. They are fairly central to the issue of whether the Wirral is being penalised. We asked them for what they thought of the Bill. Do I have time to go through the whole letter, my Lord?
685. CHAIRMAN: If you wish. Nothing is to stop you making your case.
686. MTUA: Basically, the letter has been provided just for this Committee although it has been addressed to us and what they are saying, if you see at the end of the third paragraph, is, "The Chamber's view is that tolls are detrimental to the wider Merseyside economy and that of the Wirral in particular" and go on to say, "The tolls are an added cost to business, a burden which businesses in no other area are forced to bear in the same measure" and comments on the Objective One status and then, turning to page 32, it goes on:
687. "Taking this into account it would surely be a nonsense to enshrine tunnel tolls for time immemorial as an extra burden on the local economy long after the period in which they need to be collected at such a high level."
688. The next paragraph relates to complaints specifically relating to goods vehicles and the following paragraph is about the fact that one of the major industries on the Wirral is tourism and, when Mr George's expert was going through the various sectors this morning, I presume that tourism was lost in "other services" or something like that, but there is relatively little industries within the Wirral District Council area. To a large extent, Wirral is a dormitory suburb and people have to travel out of the Wirral either in the direction of Liverpool and further afield or in the direction of Cheshire and North Wales to seek employment. One of the few industries that we do have that is successful is tourism and obviously that is not helped by having a toll road going into a tourist area.
689. In the next paragraph, the Chamber are saying that ideally they would like to see tolls removed and financed from national taxation and, in the last paragraph, they are saying that it would be a grievous blow to the businesses of Wirral if the Bill were passed in its present form.
690. While I am on consultation, there may be the impression that the councils are 100 per cent behind the Bill and, to some extent, that is true but it is not 100 per cent true. If I can refer you to page 50 in bundle A of Merseytravel's submission, A17, where we have the letters from the district councils which are in favour of the Merseytravel's proposals, this is just to point out that it is not 100 per cent. If you look at the last page of the Wirral Council's submission under item (b) where the question from Merseytravel was, "Should the requirement to reduce tolls when the tunnel debt is paid off be removed?" and the response from the Wirral Council is "No."
691. If I can turn back to the main set of documents that they submitted, you will probably be aware that accountants can always produce figures in lots of different ways which may give different impressions and all we have done here at pages 33, 34 and 35 is give three alternative views of the table that Merseytravel submitted as to the finances over the last 25 years or so. Page 33 is our view and pages 34 and 35 are two earlier views that Merseytravel themselves had.
692. One of the questions was about the financing of the tunnels in the past and to what extent they came out of the rates. We half anticipated that by putting page 36 in but we then supplemented that with page 36A. It relates to the year 1968/69. There is nothing special about 1968/69, we have not picked on that because it is in some way different to any other year. We have only shown 1968/69 because, of the more recent table that Merseytravel submitted, that was the first year. If you look at the two pages that you now have, pages 36A and 36, in fact page 36A is the one you should probably look at first. It is headed, "1-PRECEPT ACCOUNT". In case that is not clear, basically that means that, under the legislation, Liverpool, Birkenhead and Wallasey were obliged to pay a precept towards the tunnels. What then happened, due to the way in which the Acts were worded, which is demonstrated at page 36 where we can see what has happened at the tolls, as you can see, in 1968/69, the tolls in the far right-hand column were approximately £1.8 million and, on the left, you can see some of the items that that went on. A fairly substantial amount went on actually collecting the tolls and there is expenditure on the police and expenditure on debt charges. Another fairly substantial amount is spent on the ferries and then you will see that the next item is, "Statutory appropriation of tolls" whereby the districts were able to get the money back. The bottom item you will see is, "Distribution of surplus" where basically, even after all of that, the tunnels were making a surplus and they were paying money into reserve funds. Again, if you were to compare that with the Merseytravel figures, you will see that they are actually saying that there was a loss in 1968/69 and we are at a loss to see how those figures could be interpreted as being a loss.
693. Pages 37 and 38 are basically the Mersey tunnels published accounts which are published along with Merseytravel accounts, they are just the two pages. I think we were mainly originally including them just to give you some sort of picture of where the money goes now, it is the equivalent of the earlier statements which I have been through and page 38 is the balance sheet. What is not highlighted here, if I can go back on one of the points that Merseytravel have made, is that they have said that the Merseytravel accounts are audited by the district auditor and they are given a clean bill of health and I am sure that that is a correct statement, but one of the things that concerns us is that these published accounts for the Mersey tunnels as shown here are not in fact included in the district auditor's certificates. That does not mean to say that they are wrong but it begs the question as to why the district auditor has not certified them particularly as the tunnels accounts are statutory accounts under the County of Merseyside Act, 1980.
694. Pages 39 and 40 are the draft revenue budget for the Mersey tunnels for the next year, so you can see, at the time this was prepared, what the estimate was of toll etc income which is some £33 million and where that money would be going on.
695. Page 40 is some statistics that Merseytravel produce for tunnels and for other services to support the Budget statement. So you will see, amongst other things, how many employees there are at the tunnels and how many of those are on traffic control, which is basically the police as I understand it, how many maintain the tunnels, which appears to be 35, how many are collecting the tolls etcetera, which appears to be 58, and how many are involved in management and administration, which appears to be 28.
696. Pages 41, 42, 43 and 44 are the latest capital programmes of Merseytravel. It is the latest one or the one that they considered recently. It may have been slightly amended since. One of the figures that has been mentioned during the Committee hearing has been the spending of approximately £10 million on safety work in the Birkenhead tunnel for refuges or escape ways into the bottom half of the tunnel. The reason for submitting this was to put that £10 million or so spending in the context of the overall capital programme which, as you can see, is £91 million over the next few years or so. When you look through the detail it is difficult to put your finger on where the £91 million is going. The impression that we get as tunnel users, obviously not being in any way experts in the maintenance of tunnels and being complete laymen and not knowing anything at all about it, is that it is difficult to envisage with the wide variety of work which is already programmed here that there can be much left that could be replaced or refurbished.
697. Pages 45 and 46 ---
698. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, , just before we go on. There seems to be a discrepancy between pages 41 and 44 and the discrepancy appears to me to be in 2009/10. You have different totals there. Page 41, the total for 2009/10 is 9,800,000 whereas on page 44 it is 5,857,000.
699. MTUA: I cannot explain that. I had not noticed it. These are not our figures, these are taken from the Merseytravel budgets capital programme figures.
700. CHAIRMAN: I do not think it is important in the overall scheme of things, but maybe on another occasion we might ask Merseytravel that although not formally.
701. MTUA: It is very sharp of you to notice that, my Lord Chairman. Pages 45 and 46 is a list of all of what we believe to be crossings of estuaries or similar crossings which has been done just by taking a road atlas. Anywhere it is thick and blue we have taken it to be tidal. What you can see there, my Lord Chairman, is that on page 46 all of those items are obviously free. On the previous page, page 45, all of the ones at the bottom are free. The crossings go anti-clockwise from the Mersey starting at Runcorn and then going to Queensferry, Connahs Quay and so on and back round. The only estuary-type crossings that seem to have a toll on are the ones in the top half of the page and they have been ranked in their current toll order with the Skye Bridge at £9.40. These are the return tolls for cars. It is done that way because on certain crossings which are marked here you will only pay one-way. So to give a clearer picture the ones where you pay both ways have been doubled to give you the return toll and it is all based on a motorcar. As you will see, the cheapest one is the Whitchurch Bridge at 20p and it then goes up in small amounts. If we start at the other end of the scale, the Skye Bridge is £9.40, the Humber Bridge is £5, the Severn Bridge is £4.50 and then all of a sudden there is the Mersey Tunnels. As you can see, with or without the toll increase, the Mersey Tunnels, as well as being relatively unique in many other ways, are already the fourth highest tolled estuarial crossing in Great Britain. If I can also mention in particular the Skye Bridge because the Skye Bridge is way above any of the other tolls and in fact that is the winter toll figure. In the summer the toll goes up to £11.40, which is a nice headline figure, but in fact the locals can buy prepaid tickets in books of 20 which means that the return toll for the locals is reduced to £2.68. It is still a substantial amount but obviously not as bad as paying £11.40.
702. If I can turn to page 47 which, again, is on the Skye Bridge. Our group was only formed a year ago, but there is a group that have been campaigning against tolls on the Skye Bridge who have been very active, they are called SKAT (Skye and Kyle Against Tolls). It is very widely supported in the community. Virtually all of the political parties have been backing them, including the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the party that their local MSP belongs to, John Farquhar Monro, which is the Scottish Liberal Democrats. This page has been taken from their website and you can see the text from recent question and answer sessions in the Scottish Executive. I have spoken to the secretary of SKAT, Andy Anderson, who lives in Skye and he has told me - I do not know whether he is being optimistic or not - that he believes that it will be announced later this month in the Scottish Assembly that the tolls will be lifted very soon. The Scottish Assembly in effect will be buying out the existing concession there.
703. Page 48 is a comparison of certain crossings. To a certain extent it is a selective set of crossings, but basically what we tried to do is pick those crossings which are most similar in some way or other to the Mersey Tunnels. So we have the Blackwall Tunnels, the Dartford Crossing, the Forth Bridge, the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the Runcorn Bridge and the Tyne Tunnel. I want to draw out the figures. The Mersey Tunnels figures for this have come from their exhibits. The Blackwall Tunnels figures have come from Transport for London. The Dartford Crossing figure has come from the Le Crossing Company that is managing them. The Forth Bridge figure has come from the Forth Estuary Transport Authority which in fact is responsible for very little other than the bridge and was only recently set up. Rotherhithe Tunnel is again Transport for London. Runcorn Bridge is mainly from Halton Council. The Tyne Tunnel, which is in fact the only other crossing which is managed by a passenger transport authority, we approached Newcastle who were able to give us the information that we base this on.
704. I just want to draw your attention to three rows in particular. The first row is the daily flow per lane. These are the traffic figures that we have been given relating to the number of lanes. If you read across, you will see Mersey Tunnel 8.9, Blackwall Tunnel 19.7 and Dartford Crossing 18.3. I think it was mentioned this morning by the Merseytravel expert that he thought it was about twice the Mersey Tunnels. The Forth Bridge is 16,000, Rotherhithe Tunnel 14.6, Runcorn Bridge 19.6 and the Tyne Tunnel 15.6. The points I would wish to make is that it seems, if you take the day as a whole, the Mersey Tunnels are operating well below the levels at which other major tunnels or crossings operate. If you can move down to the line which says "Peak hourly flow per lane", that is not necessarily the same peak hour, it is just when that particular crossing seems to carry the heaviest volume of traffic which varies from one part of the country to another. I am reading across there. You will see that the Mersey Tunnel does relatively better than it does on the daily flow and in fact is equal to the Rotherhithe Tunnel, but it is still lower than the Blackwall Tunnel, Dartford Crossing, the Runcorn Bridge and the Tyne Tunnel. We were not able to get any breakdown over the day for the Forth Bridge.
705. The last item on that page I would like to draw your attention to is when car tolls were last increased and, as you can see, that was in November 1999. The Blackwall Tunnels have not been increased because they are free. Dartford Crossing was last increased in September 1996. The Forth Bridge was last increased in 1986. The Rotherhithe is free, the Runcorn Bridge is free and the Tyne Tunnel is in fact the only one that has been increased more recently than the Mersey Tunnels and that was in fact following an inquiry that lasted one day into an application by the authority to increase tolls and that was decided and the increase implemented in August 2001.
706. The following few pages, pages 49, 50 and 51, are just some of the detailed figures that we were able to get from some of the various authorities that were running it. There are reams of information there.
707. CHAIRMAN: I think it is summarised very well on page 48 so we perhaps do not need to go into the minutiae of the following pages. The message comes through loud and clear.
708. Right. Page 52 is back on the issue of tunnel safety. Merseytravel issue a lot of publicity and public announcements, one of which is Merseytravel News, which I think is circulated to all households on Merseyside. This is the winter 2001 edition and on the back page there is an item on tunnel safety which is just being shown on this page. If you just very briefly look at the last paragraph there it says: "It is important to stress, however, that the likelihood of a major incident occurring and these refuges being needed is highly unlikely as the two Mersey Tunnels are amongst the safest in Europe."
709.Pages 53 and 54 are just some very simple extracts from Hansard in relation to what provisions there are in relation to noise insulation. It mentions the Noise Insulation Regulations 1975 which Merseytravel have already provided you with a copy of. It also mentions one or two other things, including the possibility half way down the page in response to an answer on 25 April 2002 and it says: "Local housing authorities could consider whether it would be appropriate to award a discretionary Home Repair Assistance grant to private home owners and tenants for noise insulation. The Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) England and Wales Order 2002, if enacted, will provide authorities with a new general power which they could also use to this. End." That Order was in fact enacted.
710.If we could turn to page 55 this is an extract from Roadfile Report which is produced by the Road Users' Alliance. I just want to highlight the bit which is highlighted in grey on the left-hand side which indicates the extent to which all road users, including tunnel users, are already making a substantial contribution to the National Exchequer. You will see that road users are paying approximately£44 billion in taxes and the amount spent on roads is approximately£6 billion. It would be our wish that some small part of that was used to help to alleviate and eventually abolish toll increases.
711.The last page in the submission, page 56, is a recent story from the Wirral Globe. As you can see, it says "Welcome to the Wirral" and the Boundary Commission is proposing that part of Wirral is joined up with Liverpool for constituency purposes. At the point at which this story was done it was assumed that it would be part of Wallasey, where of course the Wallasey Tunnel is, that would be joined up with Liverpool but Frank Field has told me that the latest proposal from the Boundary Commission is that in fact it would be part of Birkenhead that would be joined up with Liverpool, but either way you have got a constituency joined up in the middle with a toll road which I would suggest is fairly unusual.
712.If I can just wrap up with one or two points, my Lord, which are not in the submission. As we have submitted a Petition there are petitions against the Petition and there are three of them. It is 22 to 24 in Merseytravel's binder. To a certain extent on Merseyside we feel that we are subject to what people outside Merseyside are saying. For instance a lot of people have taken note that the Peer that is sponsoring the Bill on behalf of Merseytravel does not come from Merseyside but comes from Greater Manchester. In relation to that I would just point out that all three petitions against our petition come from London addresses.
713. While I was mentioning the sponsor of the Bill, one of the other things that has caused some amazement on Merseyside was a remark that was made at the second reading which may possibly have influenced the vote which took place, which was a very close vote, which is that the sponsors said that only three per cent of the people of Merseyside use the tunnels. That point was, in fact, picked on by and repeated by three or four other Lords. Can I just say two things in relation to that. One is it is our belief that most people on Merseyside cross the Mersey at some point and the second point is that according to Merseytravel's submission approximately 80 per cent of those people who cross the Mersey do so by using the Tunnel and, therefore, it is difficult to see how a figure of three per cent is arrived at. That is all I wish to say.
714. CHAIRMAN: Have you any feel - you obviously do not agree with the three per cent figure - have you any feel for what percentage might be valid?
715. MTUA: It depends obviously, my Lord, on timescale. Are we talking about a person's lifetime or are we talking about a single day? If we are talking about a single day I would say that in a single day you may be talking about a figure somewhere between three and five per cent. If you are talking over a longer period of a week or a month then obviously the percentage increases and eventually it must reach almost 100 per cent. It is difficult to see that anybody on the north bank of the Mersey would have that great a phobia about crossing the Mersey that they would not in the course of the year cross it.
716. Although to a certain extent that is true because one of the points that I wish to make was that there is sometimes an impression that the people using the tunnels are well off and that the people who are not using the tunnels are the disadvantaged and that somehow or other these disadvantaged people are being subsidised by these "three per cent" of well-off people. The vast proportion of our members are just ordinary working people who have to use the tunnels to get to work or for other purposes. They are not well-off at all and increases in tunnel tolls can hit them substantially and it is not just a question of getting to work. One of the other main issues is the fact that the tolls inhibit use off peak. They inhibit in particular people visiting friends or relations who may be on one side of the river. One of our Committee members is a cleaner who happens to live in Wallasey and work at a library in the north end of Liverpool. She has to be in work for round about half six. The earliest bus is seven o'clock. There is no way that she can get to work apart from the car. Being a cleaner obviously the tunnel toll is a high proportion of her income. Not only that, and I appreciate this may sound a bit like a sob story, she is a widow and all of her family live in Liverpool. She used to live in Liverpool, she and her husband moved to Wallasey, her husband died shortly afterwards so she frequently has to go back to see her relations because there tends to be some inhibition in Liverpool at frequently using the tunnel. They do not like to pay the tolls basically. People who live on the Wirral to a large extent are forced to use the tunnel and pay the toll but people in Liverpool, if they can avoid it, do not.
717. CHAIRMAN: Your point is well made.
718. MTUA: That is all I wish to say. Thank you for your time.
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