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Channel Tunnel

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1980

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asked the Minister of Transport (1) whether he will resist any attempt to include a European Economic Community contribution to the cost of a Channel tunnel, in the light of the fact that the net benefit to the United Kingdom from such a tunnel is not likely to be greater than the United Kingdom's normal contribution;(2) whether he is satisfied that a Channel tunnel would be of more advantage to the United Kingdom than to other European Economic Community countries; and if he will resist any attempt to offset the European Economic Community contribution to such a tunnel against the United Kingdom contribution to the European Economic Community budget;(3) whether his statement that public funds would not be forthcoming for the construction of the Channel tunnel rules out a contribution from the European Economic Community; and, if not, what would be the likely United Kingdom contribution to the project on the estimated cost in terms of outright grant and interest relief.

As I said on March 19, if a commercially sound scheme for the construction of a fixed Channel link is produced, there is no reason why private risk capital should not be made available. The Government look forward to receiving any specific proposals, including those on which British Rail are working, which would attract genuine risk capital.—[Vol. 981, c. 388–392.]As to any possible contribution from the European Community, negotiations are still in progress about the purpose and application of the proposed instrument for providing assistance to transport infrastructure projects of Community interest.My announcement has no connection with the issue of our contributions to the Community budget.

asked the Minister of Transport which firms were employed in preparing the 1973 report on the Channel tunnel; which firms were engaged in preparing the recent report; and whether he is satisfied with the reliability of the forecasts.

The 1973 report on the Channel tunnel was prepared by Coopers and Lybrand in association with SETEC of France. The recent initial report on a single track tunnel scheme was prepared by British Rail and French Railways: their forecasts are provisional.

asked the Minister of Transport what assumptions were made in the 1973 report on the Channel tunnel concerning the time taken to get to Paris by various modes; what cost-benefit was included in the calculations on this account; and how these figures compare with the times set by the various modes using the latest facilities.

The 1973 report assumed the following London-Paris journey times: train/ferry 7 hours; train/hovercraft 6 hours 20 minutes; air 3½–4 hours. Estimates of user benefits included the value of time savings for United Kingdom travellers. The times are consistent with those of today while the British Rail/Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF) report assumes 4½ hours via a tunnel.

asked the Minister of Transport what assumptions were made in the 1973 report on the Channel tunnel on the number and capacity of the cross-Channel ferries, and their availability at peak periods; and to what extent these forecasts have proved correct.

The 1973 report assumed 58 multi-purpose ferries with an average capacity of 330 passenger car units. The report did not cover availability. Approximately 50 ferries with an average capacity of around 300 passenger car units operated in 1978.

asked the Minister of Transport what assumptions were made in the 1973 report on the Channel tunnel about the competitiveness of and share of the traffic which would be taken by hovercraft; and to what extent these forecasts have been fulfilled.

The 1973 report did not contain assumptions about the future share of traffic carried by hovercraft in the absence of a tunnel. Hovercraft carried 28 per cent. of passengers crossing by the short sea routes to France in 1971 and 24 per cent. in 1978.

asked the Minister of Transport what were the assumptions made in the 1973 report on the Channel tunnel about the level of fares and the amount of traffic; what these fares represent in terms of current prices; what prices are being charged in 1980; and if he is satisfied that the revenue forecasts made in 1973 would have been met (in real terms) taking the current fares and the trend of traffic into account.

The 1973 report assumed that fares would remain at the 1971 level in real terms or about £9·50 per passenger single fare and £43 single for a medium-sized car with two passengers in 1980. Typical current fares are £9·90 and £42 respectively off-peak.

asked the Minister of Transport what were the passenger and vehicle traffic forecasts in the 1973 report on the Channel tunnel; and to what extent these have been fulfilled, distinguishing (a) the short sea route from the other routes and (b) traffic in each direction.

The 1973 report assumed a central forecast of 17 million passengers involving 2·7 million cars and coaches. Traffic in 1978 on both short sea and other routes was broadly consistent with these forecasts, although the share of United Kingdom originating passenger traffic was over-estimated. Lorry traffic has grown faster than forecast on all routes.

asked the Minister of Transport what estimate he has made of the additional investment required by British Railways in terms of rolling stock, equipment, and so on to support the Channel tunnel; and whether his statement that no public funds would be made available implies that the whole cost to British Railways will have to be met from outside financing.

Such estimates are for the Railways Board to make in its detailed proposals. My statement made it clear that I expect proposals put to me to be such as to attract genuine private risk capital.

asked the Minister of Transport what assumptions were made in the 1973 report on the Channel tunnel about the proportion of total traffic which would go by the short sea route; and to what extent these have proved accurate.

The 1973 report assumed that 43 per cent. of traffic would use the short sea route in 1980. The estimate for 1978 is 45 per cent.