Tunnel U-turn opens way for public funding

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THE GOVERNMENT yesterday took half a step forward in the long-delayed high-speed Channel tunnel rail link by finalising much of the route. However, it delayed making decisions on two sections and on intermediate stations.

The main changes from the suggested London to Folkestone line announced last March are the addition of a

2.1-mile tunnel through Islington in north London and two small ones in Kent, and confirmation that St Pancras, not King's Cross, will be the terminus. A question mark remains over the route at Ashford, Kent.

In an unexpected U-turn, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, opened the way to increased public financial support for the 68-mile link, expected to cost pounds 2.5bn to pounds 3bn, by announcing that both international and domestic use would be eligible for subsidy.

Yet, the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 specifically bans such subsidies. Mr MacGregor said yesterday that the passage of the Railways Act last year and the privatisation of European Passenger Services, which will run trains to Paris and Brussels starting this summer, means this will not contravene the Act. However, Brian Wilson, Labour transport spokesman, said: 'This is the reversal of seven years of policy in half a sentence. Previously, they had said that the link could all be funded privately. Now they have abandoned that policy.'

Mr MacGregor said that apart from Ashford, only 20 to 40 houses would be blighted. However, an Islington group says hundreds of homes near the Caledonian Road will be affected. Diana Shelley, for the Cally Rail Group, said: 'A few extra hundred yards of tunnels would save our homes and businesses and cost pounds 12m less.'

The station's siting at St Pancras also leaves the way open for a new Thameslink station, and extra trains for that north/south London link.

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