Treasury rail cash limits 'must be relaxed': Investment plea by track body chairman

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THE GOVERNMENT-appointed head of Railtrack warned yesterday that Treasury-imposed cash limits would have to be relaxed in order to provide a safe, efficient and cost- effective rail network.

Robert Horton, chairman of the body that will run the network after privatisation, said Railtrack's aim was to act as much as possible like a commercially-driven plc.

Maintaining a rail network that enabled train operators to run the reliable services passengers demanded would require new disciplines within the railway and a new outlook from government departments, he told a conference fringe meeting.

'I hope that will mean greater freedom from rigid financial limits than has previously been enjoyed by nationalised industries. Like any business, there are significant risks and if we want to encourage the private sector to invest and share that risk we have to be able to offer them suitable rewards.'

Without a change in Treasury practice, Railtrack would be subject to an external financing limit in the same way as British Rail - putting a cap on the investment it can raise from the private sector.

Sharing the same platform, Peter Ainsworth, MP for Surrey East and secretary of the M25 parliamentary group, suggested the Government save billions by cutting the pounds 23bn road building programme. Car demand could be cut by reducing the number of out-of- town shopping centres.

Later, John Gummer, Minister for the Environment, told the conference that new planning guidance would apply 'much tougher tests' for retail development on greenfield sites. 'I believe we are close to overdoing the fashion for the out-of-town shopping centre.'