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Millennium Exhibition: Access By Public Transport

Volume 591: debated on Monday 22 June 1998

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Whether they are confident that adequate transport arrangements to and from Greenwich will be in place in good time for the opening of the dome and the start of the millennium exhibitions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the delivery of a package of key transport infrastructure projects to improve access to North Greenwich before the start of the millennium exhibition is currently on target. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has asked the Minister for Transport in London to chair a co-ordination group taking an overview of access to the millennium exhibition, and the noble Lord, Lord Levene of Portsoken, has kindly agreed to monitor and advise the Government on progress to ensure the integration of key links and that specific projects are on time.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but is it not the case that the expectation that a huge number of visitors will be able to visit the dome in trouble-free fashion depends crucially on the completion of the Jubilee line extension? Is it not the case that the opening of that line has already been delayed twice by signalling failures and that there is widespread concern that it will not be open on time? Can the Government give a firm assurance that it will be ready on time, and tell us the basis for that confidence?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the Jubilee line extension will be a key public transport infrastructure for visitors to the millennium dome exhibition. We expect that some 60 per cent. of visitors will use the Jubilee line for at least part of their journey. The project is on time to open in spring 1999. It is well advanced. We believe that the timetable will be met. The tunnels have all been constructed; all the station buildings are completed; all the track has been laid and the new trains are already in service on existing lines. With regard to signalling, because of the concerns about the moving block system, the decision was taken to install fixed block signalling. Although no one can be absolutely certain about anything in life, I confirm that the project is on time and on target—very much like the dome itself.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister how many passengers she expects to travel to the millennium dome by river on the new river-bus service that is being planned and whether the service will continue to operate after the end of the millennium exhibition in order to provide general public transport assistance for London?

My Lords, about 10 per cent. of visitors are expected to arrive by river. One of the most important and exciting aspects of this is that the river transport arrangements made for access to the exhibition will have a legacy value both in terms of the new piers that are being provided—

My Lords, the phrase "the new piers" gets a laugh every time. There will be a legacy value not only in terms of the new piers, but also in terms of the services that are expected to remain in place once the exhibition has finished.

My Lords, the appointment of the group headed by the noble Lord, Lord Levene, suggests that there could be some serious problems. I am sure that appointing such a group was a sensible move—presumably it will be able quickly to give the Government its assessment of the situation. Will the Minister share that assessment with the House as soon as she gets it?

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Levene, is not in his place this afternoon because he is visiting the Jubilee line extension project. He is active in that role. The group meets regularly and I know that both the noble Lord and my honourable friend the Minister for Transport in London last week gave evidence about progress to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in another place. There is no desire not to be open about progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, suggested that the formation of the group indicates great problems. I think that there are great challenges. We are talking not only about the Jubilee line extension because it is a challenge to produce such an event as a mainly car-free event. There must be co-ordination between the different forms of transport involved, which include river transport, the Jubilee line extension, the millennium transit, the bus transport that will be provided from a refurbished Charlton station, and the cable car. There are all sorts of different ways of gaining access to the exhibition. It is important that they are well co-ordinated and that there is good communication between the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) and the Government on those issues.

My Lords, does the Minister recollect the visit of Sir Anthony Eden to Moscow in 1935 when it was proposed that the terminal of one of the new underground railways should be named after him, and an old Communist—if I can use this parallel—much objected to honouring a capitalist statesman, but the commissar for transport said, "Don't worry; the trains will never get there"?

My Lords, I admit that I have no personal recollection of it. I believe that the best approach is to wait and see whether those who are determined to regard the glass as half-empty are proved right or whether the Government are right in believing that there will be good, modern, public transport accessible to the disabled and available for travelling to an extremely successful event.

My Lords, now that sponsorship money exceeds £100 million and that today the Prime Minister has said that building will go on well into the next century, does my noble friend agree that the transport group should be asked to consider whether the estimate of the numbers to be moved is sufficient? Clearly, the event will be a great success and there may be a greater number. I am sure that everyone will want to get to "Mandelson station".

My Lords, the maximum number of visitors to the exhibition at any one time to allow everyone to enjoy the experience properly is 35,000. I understand that on some occasions there will be two sessions so that there may be 60,000 people per day at the event. The exact number of visitors in any one year or, as the noble Lord has suggested, beyond that time is perhaps a matter that goes wider than transport considerations. Some of the transport challenges can be overestimated. For example, 35,000 people manage to get to Highbury and three other football grounds in London without too much effort on most Saturday afternoons when premier games are played.

My Lords, people reach Highbury via well known and well-documented links. The noble Baroness referred to the need to co-ordinate different forms of transport. Has the Minister considered the problem that many people who go to the millennium dome will not be Londoners and will not necessarily frequently travel to London? Has she given any thought to what steps may be taken to ensure that all of the different companies which are involved in transporting people in and around London produce co-ordinated publicity material so that visitors can find their way around?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point about information. I point out that away supporters also attend London football grounds and they do not necessarily know their way round the transport system. It is extremely important that the different arrangements and possibilities of travel to the millennium exhibition are well publicised at the time people buy tickets. People will not be able simply to turn up at the event. It is important that they understand the possibilities. For example, when coach tours are involved it is important that coach operators understand that because of the limited number of spaces available they must have a coach permit. These issues are taken very seriously by all of the transport operators, the companies themselves and my department. I believe that good progress is being made in co-ordinating efforts so that people are well advised as to how to make the smoothest journey.