Enterprise & Learning Committee questions Minister – NOV 14TH TRANSCRIPT


Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru – The National Assembly for Wales

Y Pwyllgor Menter a Dysgu – The Enterprise and Learning Committee

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


Craffu ar Ymatebion Ysgrifenedig y Gweinidog a Network Rail i Adroddiad y Pwyllgor ar ei Drafodaethau ynghylch Deiseb i Ailagor Gorsaf Reilffordd Carno


Scrutiny of the Minister’s and Network Rail’s Written Responses to the Committee’s Report on its Consideration of the Petition to Reopen Carno Railway Station


[284] Gareth Jones: I remind you that we have received papers: paper 3, which was prepared by the minister, and paper 3a, which is Network Rail’s response to the report and to recommendation 6. We have little time, and I hope that we can be as concise as possible, but this is an important matter.

[285] I will give you the background in brief, or remind you of it. The committee considered a petition to reopen Carno railway station in a public meeting in Carno on 4 September. Having evaluated the evidence, the committee laid its report before the Assembly on 27 September. The Minister provided his written response before the date specified by Standing Orders for the committee to scrutinise its decisions. Network Rail has also provided its response to recommendation 6, which was directed at the company. This is the scrutiny session. We welcome back Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy and Transport. Would you be kind enough to give a short presentation in accordance with your comments on this matter? We will then have an opportunity to question you on some aspects of your comments.


[286] The Deputy First Minister: Tim James has joined me from the department to answer any technical questions arising from the report. I welcome the opportunity to respond to your report. I realise that this is part of a new process in the Assembly for submitting petitions to the Petitions Committee. This petition was transferred to you and you drafted a report and I have responded to it. I feel that this is an important part of our work as a Government in responding to the needs of communities, when we are able to do so – it does not always mean that we can give the response that the committee or the petitioners would wish, but I feel that it is an important part of our new processes. It is important that people have a method by which they can present the concerns of their communities to the Assembly and to the Government and that we can respond. I do not know whether it would be of any benefit for me to make any specific presentation on the report as your report has received quite a full response from my officials and me. I am quite happy to answer any questions arising from the recommendations and the response.


[287] Gareth Jones: I welcome the people from Carno who are in the public gallery today. This session gives us an opportunity to ask questions about the contents of your paper.


[288] Kirsty Williams: Thank you for your response, Minister, although I am sure that you would agree that it is not what people in Carno would have liked it to be. I have questions about two of the recommendations specifically. You have given assurances that the selection of Talerddig, rather than Carno, as the passing loop site does not prejudice the potential opening of a station of Carno. However, in terms of having an hourly service, there must be time for the trains to travel from one passing loop to the next within 30 minutes. Can you assure us that that will still be possible with the inclusion of a stop at Carno? If it is not, that demonstrates that you are not correct in saying that selecting Talerddig has not compromised the situation at Carno.

[289] Your recommendation 3 mentions passive provision for a single-platform station. What is the nature of the passive provision for the station in Carno? You state that the optimum site for the new station is not yet known. Would common sense not tell you that it is likely to be the site of the original station?

[290] On recommendation 7, there is grave concern that ‘New Stations: A Guide for Promoters’ lays down very high standards. No-one wants to compromise on safety, but it talks about two-platform stations costing between £5 million and £7 million in 2004. My understanding is that the current station at Llanharan is being built for only £4.3 million, even though it includes a very expensive footbridge that complies with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which is completely necessary. Do you not share my concerns, and those of people living in rural Wales, that there is a danger that setting unnecessarily high standards for new stations may price them out of existence? Do you not think that there is scope for the Welsh Assembly Government to look at the Welsh situation differently, given the nature of our country? Perhaps we could produce our own Welsh version of a new station guide, given the nature of Wales and also the Government’s stated commitment to climate change and sustainable development.


[291] 11.30 a.m.


[292] The Deputy First Minister: There are some quite technical issues there, which I will ask Tim to come to in a minute. However, my understanding is-and it has always been on this basis-that the work that has been carried out under the contract does not compromise the future of provision of a station in Carno. That is my understanding, and I want to give that reassurance again that the work that is currently being done, and the way that it is being done, does not compromise the provision of a station in Carno at some future point. That is the first thing that you asked for.

[293] Your second point related to the Cambrian line infrastructure enhancement project providing passive provision, which is in my response. A technical feasibility study would be needed to understand all of the issues that are set out there, which would be compliance to engineering standards, compliance to the DDA, ownership and availability of land, safety standards, and so on. It is important for us to accept that there is a minimum standard that has to be achieved in the provision of safety. If we compromised on those, people who would expect that certain safety standards were met would criticise us for not meeting those standards in particular areas where we have asked others to meet those standards. So, we must have a common standard form. The issue about whether they should be different in Wales as compared with England is a difficult one, because we would not want to compromise safety standards in Wales at all. We need to bear that in mind.

[294] Tim, I would like you to come in on the passive provision, but, I would like to make a more general point first. The reality is that, as a Government, we are very committed to the provision of public transport, which includes rail. We want to make it as easy as possible to use those services. A number of criteria have to be met. We are saying that the door is not closed on a station in Carno; we now need to look at a possible business case, which can be presented to the regional consortium and can then be considered in the normal way through that procedure.


[295] Mr James: I will respond to Kirsty’s question about what passive provision means. Essentially, the line is being resignalled, and there is a capability within that design to allow a station to be located somewhere in Carno. So, it does not preclude it. There is no need to go back to the drawing board and spend money on a complicated design process.

[296] Picking up on some of the other points, as the Minister has said, high standards need to be maintained for railway stations. If you look at the document that you have referred to, the Strategic Rail Authority guide to stations, it says that:

[297] ‘The promotion of a new station proposal will involve a number of industry participants. Before a proposal can proceed the support of the rail industry must be obtained.’

[298] The industry extends beyond Wales. However, we have seen this guidance note used effectively in Wales, where six new stations are opening on the Ebbw Vale line, and in Llanharan and Abercynon. So, as a guidance document, it can be useful. Clearly, parts of it are out of date. It may be of some comfort to the committee to know that the Department for Transport is currently rewriting this document to bring it up to date, and is taking advice from us in the process.


[299] Kirsty Williams: The concern is that the Minister’s response relies heavily on that document, which gives quite large figures for the development of stations, which perhaps bear no resemblance to reality-the Minister is saying that we have a limited budget and the document says that a new station would cost us a certain amount, but, in reality, stations are being built for less than would be indicated by the design guide, and not to a lesser standard; they simply come in cheaper. I would hate to think that we were prejudicing the case because we are relying on outdated or outmoded figures. Our experience tells us different.


[300] Mr James: At Carno, when I gave the original evidence, I quoted the Llanharan figure of between £4 million and £5 million as a likely maximum cost for Carno. I would like to assure you that we are not gold-plating any potential costs.


[301] Gareth Jones: Thank you for that information, which is important and central to the matter of reopening the station.


[302] Jeff Cuthbert: Thank you for this fairly positive response. Carno is not in my constituency, obviously, but I feel involved because I was one of the Assembly Members who attended the hearing, and I take a particular interest in the development of the railway network, which I regard as probably the key form of land-based transport, especially for passengers. That does demand, of course, that it stops to pick people up in population centres. Clearly, in that part of mid Wales, Carno is such a centre of population, so it seemed an obvious and welcome proposal.

[303] I note that you are encouraging greater involvement with the local transport consortium-I hope that that happens. Would you give positive encouragement to the transport consortia to engage with the residents of Carno-the petitioners-so that a decent business case can be put together? Like Kirsty-or rather, her now-empty chair-I accept that safety has to be paramount and that any new station, or the remains of the old station there, which would seem the ideal location, has to be DDA compliant, and has to have adequate lighting and so on, although I am quite sure that there are grounds for questioning the estimated £5 million for its construction. I am not saying that the cost would be as low as the £0.5 million that the petitioners believe it could be built for, but there has to be some movement somewhere.

[304] In its approach to the matter, Network Rail insisted, if memory serves me, that a footbridge had to be built over the existing line. Having said that, we did this the wrong way round in that we heard that before we actually went to have a look at the site. When we got to the site, we saw that the existing arrangement of a level crossing with half barriers on the road was working quite normally. I was able to walk back and forth over it many times without any threat to my life, and I dare say that the train slows down and there would be warnings. A footbridge would mean substantial expenditure; I do not see the justification for that, especially as the platform, if built, would be on the side of the centre of population. So, when we take these things into account, it could be that the actual construction costs would be far less than originally anticipated. Those are the sorts of issues that could be looked at by the transport consortium, in negotiation with Network Rail and others, in drawing up a business plan.


[305] The Deputy First Minister: Yes, that is the case. If the business case comes forward, then they need to reflect on your comments-I am sure that they will read the comments and the Record of Proceedings for this committee with interest when they form their case.

[306] When you say ‘encouragement’, there is encouragement there for the local community to positively contribute towards the process, as we say in our report in response, through engagement with Trafnidiaeth Canolbarth Cymru. Then, of course, the business case will come forward for consideration. The original recommendation was that I would ask my officials to provide support to the action group. We are saying that that is best delivered in discussion with TraCC, because we need to look at regional priorities as well, bearing in mind your points about construction. If the business case comes up with a proposal, then we would look at it, although I cannot give any commitments, financial or otherwise, at this stage. Tim, do you want to add to that?


[307] Mr James: Just to say that TraCC is one of the consortia putting together regional transport plans, and we would look to see Carno as a priority within such a plan, so that it can be considered along with the other consortia in the round. TraCC can help Carno with making a business case that fits the Assembly government’s appraisal criteria.

11.40 a.m.


[308] David Melding: I am still a bit confused. It seems that recommendation 4 was the key one in that this committee felt that a formal business plan should be submitted and that support would be needed for that. I cannot determine whether a business case will be presented yet; the officials tell us about the regional procedures, but is there a business case currently under construction on whether there should be a station at Carno? That is not the responsibility of the Carno Station Action Group, because I agree with the recommendation that it should be the consortia-the Assembly, Arriva Trains, and Network Rail. Therefore, are those organisations consulting the Carno Station Action Group, and are they working on a business plan for a station at Carno? We need a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to that. I note that Network Rail’s response is that it does not consider that an appropriate business case exists for a new station at the site, but that, if a third party were to submit a business case for its reopening, it would be assessed by Network Rail. It seems completely disassociated from the process-that is what concerns me.


[309] Mr James: On whether a business case exists, the answer is ‘no’. However, one is being worked on; I am aware that the action group has contacted TraCC and has asked for its help. We told TraCC that it should lead the process, and that the people of Carno should help to provide evidence for that business case, along the lines of the Welsh transport appraisal guidance, which sets a clear framework for appraising projects. Therefore, the current answer is that it is in progress-it is probably in its early days.

[310] On Network Rail’s position, it is stated that Network Rail would not be prepared to fund the station itself. However, there is a window for third-party funding, so, if there is a business case, and if it is a priority, then it is something that we can do because we have the powers to do that under the Railways Act 2005.


[311] Gareth Jones: As one of the Members who was present in Carno at that crucial meeting, I am pleased to hear you say, Minister, that, whatever we write in our letter to you, or to the Petitions Committee, if that content is positive and gives support, then that you would seriously consider that.

[312] I accept that this is not a business case as you would normally require, Minister, but, as a mark of respect to the action group in Carno, I believe that it is to be warmly congratulated on the way in which it has presented this case to us, and to the Assembly. Its objectives in relation to the community and what it expects in terms of development in this part of mid Wales are in line with our objectives and aspirations as the Welsh Assembly Government. Getting all of that in line with a successful business plan is another matter.

[313] However, I can reassure those people from Carno who are here that we as a committee thank them for the work that they have carried out. We recognise their sincerity and aspirations, as well as their expertise in this matter, and their aspirations. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members of this committee when I say that we will be declaring our support for what they wish to see, namely the reopening of the station in Carno.

[314] I remind you, therefore, that we will be writing to the Chair of the Petitions Committee, as a result of this session. I thank you, Minister, for joining us, and for your comments. We wish this action group all the best; it is carrying out good work for the community in Carno.


[315] The Deputy First Minister: Thank you.