Monday, 29 September 2008

Will the Tories really back more trains over planes?

An incoming Conservative government would scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow and construct a high speed railway to the North.

The new line would run from St. Pancras to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds and would cost taxpayers an estimated £15.6 billion over 12 years.

But with Boris Johnson backing a new £30 billion four-runway airport and with his u-turn on the expansion of City Airport complete, the number of flights coming out of London and the South East would still be likely to increase.

However, although the Thames Airport is still officially under consideration by the Mayor, Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers has now disassociated her party from the plan.

Speaking at conference, Villiers said that the Conservatives would not be 'actively' looking at the development, although she did not rule out similar developments elsewhere.

So while I welcome their backing for a new high speed rail link, it comes as ever, amidst a confusion of other policies which will greatly increase the use of cars and planes.

And with the economy so tight, there are also doubts about how feasible any new line will be. As top railway blog RailwayEye puts it this morning:

'with Treasury finances going west as yet another bank bites the dust... a new Government will be hard pressed to buy a cup of coffee let alone build a new railway.'

But if things do improve and the next government can afford that coffee, then will they spend the change on a brand new train line or on a brand new airport? 

-UPDATE- Christian Wolmar thinks it's a scam
-UPDATE- A round-up of other reactions


Anonymous said...

Wolmar has it about right. It is very easy to back new train lines and airports that will not happen for decades if at all, it is much harder to talk about what you will do with the situation that already exists.

Anonymous said...

Of course all that the Tories have done is shamelessly nicked a policy from Brian Paddick's manifesto of earlier this year.

"Brian Paddick and the Liberal Democrats are strongly opposed to plans to expand Heathrow Airport and to build a third runway. Further, we will back moves to tighten controls on night flights. Rail services using the Channel Tunnel Rail Link should be enhanced and extended to other Continental cities to reduce the need for short-haul air flights. We propose a new High Speed Rail link to the North and Scotland starting at Heathrow to reduce the demand for internal air flights.

We would also oppose any proposals to expand London’s other airports: Luton, Gatwick, Stansted or City Airport. We would resist proposals to close City Airport. An airport in the Thames estuary has properly been rejected as both unacceptably expensive and environmentally intolerable."

The Troll said...

With the difference being that Paddick's policy was a lot more coherent.

Olly said...

Slightly off topic but I was thinking to myself the other day.... How is Boris in a position to say that he is able to freeze council tax for Londoners while at the same time saying Ken had left City Hall finances in a mess and that's why he needed to put bus fares up?

Are the books a mess or not? Have bus fares been put up to help keep council tax rises down?

Keep up the good work Troll!

The Troll said...

This is a very important question. It all depends on whether fare revenues are ring-fenced solely for transport or not. Having said that, even if they are ring-fenced, the two sources of funding are still obviously related.

Has any of our resident transport experts done the sums?

Tom said...

Olly - TfL's finances don't come from the precept (well, a token £12m did this year IIRC, but the majority is split between the Treasury grant and fare revenue. Things like Venezuela, CC revenue cuts etc. have to be paid for by farepayers or efficiency savings or doing less, basically. Alistair Darling is not getting his chequebook out for Boris right now.

Boris freezing the precept can be paid for by cutting services at the GLA (strangely enough £20m for the very Blairite Academy scheme is no problem) or the Met police, which gets 22% of its funding from there. Then you can hack away at the fire budget....

Barry Rochford said...

I don't actually think that this is Tory opportunism, not on this occasion. It does actually make sense in terms of their intentions to cut emissions and would provide a core piece of transport infrastructure that would make air travel to the north redundant.
The real considerarion however is whether they will fund it, given that recent developments in world finances suggest that only central government projects can sustain such a project.

The Troll said...

The plan is for 15 billion to come from government and 5 billion from the operator. It wouldn't commence until 2015 and wouldn't be completed until 2027.

It's not quite nevernever stuff, but I think we will need to see more detailed plans until we can decide quite how feasible this is.

Barry Rochford said...

There's no operator with £5 billion at present (in reality who can raise that from banks). It will only work if its 100% government financed - don't rule out the Tories doing that, but their committment to the market solving the transport infrastructure means that they will be unable to fulfill a very good policy.