June 1998

Steve Norris, Director-General, Road Haulage Association, Chairman of the London Bus Company, Vice-president of the National Society for Clean Air

Talking to The Millennium Debate

Concern about the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

I think my real concern is the lack of certainty about the Government’s proposals. I am delighted that the Government have accepted the challenge to build the rail link, because I think the pure job regeneration potential the line brings is one that nobody can really ignore. We are talking about a hundred thousand jobs here. Sometimes one sees the line characterised as being about giving people a ten-minute quicker journey to Paris. That really is missing the point entirely. It is about Ebbsfleet, it is about huge job creation, and that is why I just want to be sure that we get not only Stage One but Stage Two.

Is your main concern about jobs, timescale, or getting freight off the roads?

I think the main issue, frankly, has always been the unwillingness of governments in Britain to invest, and sadly that unwillingness is as prominent with this government as it was with its predecessor. It comes from the Treasury who are obsessed by cash and who refuse to recognise the proposition that occasionally a country really needs to invest in its infrastructure. I see that John Monks from the TUC went to see the Chancellor yesterday to urge him to invest more in education, training, and transport infrastructure. I can only say Amen to that. I think there is a real failure in this country to invest in long-range infrastructure which will have obvious economic and social benefits for Britain. I think the Channel Tunnel rail link project is a classic example of it.

How do you respond to the people who say there is not enough investment in rail, and it is all going into roads?

Well, that is palpably not the case. You only have to look at the figures in the Department’s own report, which was published by John Prescott last week, to see that that is really nonsense. It may have been true ten years ago, but it has not been true even for the last four or five years of the Conservative government, and indeed is not any more now. What you really should say however is that there is not enough investment going into either road or rail or indeed any other mode of transport. It is this lack of investment, as simple as that. There is not enough money in the system.

I very much approve of introducing private sector money into the project.

I think there really is no difference between the parties now on the issue of private capital. Labour have, reluctantly or otherwise, come to see that of course there is absolutely no alternative but to get the private sector involved, and they do it as enthusiastically as their predecessors, and I am very glad that they do, because it is the only realistic position to take. If there is the potential to get literally billions of private sector money into investment, let’s have it . But let us not make the mistake of assuming that somehow the private sector can take over the whole role, because patently they cannot.

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