§ Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)
Crossrail 1 is an imaginative project for an east-west railway line through central London. It could increase the capacity of London's underground and national rail services by 15 to 20 per cent. In the west, it will run from a terminus beyond the M25—yet to be decided—but it will certainly serve Heathrow airport. It was announced last week that it would include stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel. To the east of Whitechapel, one option is a route north of the Thames, through Ilford and Romford, to Shenfield in Essex. The second option is a route through the Isle of Dogs and along the south bank of the Thames, through the London boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Dartford, to a terminus at Ebbsfleet in Kent, the international station on the channel tunnel rail link.
I intend to concentrate on the route from central London to Ebbsfleet. The company responsible for developing and promoting those routes is a 50:50 joint venture of Transport for London and the Strategic Rail Authority, which has been allocated a budget of £154 million by the Government to carry out preparatory work and acquire powers for the lines. It is intended that a decision on the preferred routes will be taken before the end of the year, with the possibility of a hybrid Bill being brought before Parliament in the 2003–04 Session.
The choice of route through east London cannot be made in isolation from the major Government-sponsored project for the development of the Thames gateway. That will regenerate east London on both banks of the Thames and Thameside areas of Kent and Essex through the provision of many thousands of new homes and jobs, mostly on brownfield sites.
One of the largest areas available for business development in London lies in riverside Greenwich and Bexley in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin). That land lies in wards that are among the 10 per cent. worst deprived nationally. Improved transport from east to west and across the river is the key to realising business opportunities and job opportunities for local residents. A new river crossing is already proposed. The crossrail link from central London to Ebbsfleet is exactly what is needed to prime the regeneration of the area, as has been shown in study after study.
One reason why I fear that that opportunity might be overlooked in deciding the route for crossrail is because of the ritual practices of transport planners. Many of their methods of analysis and models are based on identifying latent and unsatisfied demand among existing residents and businesses. They then explore the road and rail links that will satisfy that demand most economically. In many cases, that is the right approach, but it is not the right approach where transport links are intended to promote the development of new communities or to attract new businesses, as in the Thames gateway. In those circumstances, the approach that is appropriate to serving pent-up demand in existing communities leads people to say, "Why put a railway through north Greenwich and Bexley when 58WH there are insufficient people and jobs in the area to justify it?" That is the point; regeneration means attracting the development of housing and jobs because they are not there. Exactly that argument raged 25 years ago, about extending the Jubilee line through docklands, which was not done for the reasons that I mentioned. Acres and acres of land remained derelict for two decades until the Jubilee line was extended. We should consider the effect that that has had on the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich peninsula.
My first plea is for crossrail 1 to be built from Whitechapel to Ebbsfleet. Businesses will then be attracted to Greenwich and Bexley Thameside because the reduced journey times will enable them to pull in skilled employees from the whole of London. For example, the journey from Paddington will be reduced from more than an hour to half an hour. Those businesses would also have easy access to the European Union via Ebbsfleet or internationally via Heathrow as a result of crossrail. The quality of employment available in the area could change dramatically. The same arguments apply in reverse to the residents of the area. Their job opportunities would lie in the whole of London rather than locally or in central London.
There has been talk of taking the crossrail route only as far as Charlton, Woolwich or Abbey Wood and then relying on an interchange with Connex services on the north Kent line. It is well known that such interchanges deter passengers from using the service. What is the point of the line going through the Isle of Dogs—which is doing very nicely—and the developed areas of Charlton and Woolwich, but stopping short of the major areas of regeneration opportunity in Belvedere, Erith and Crayford? At least, the first stage should extend to Slade Green, so that a substantial part of the potential regeneration area would be covered. Such talk is worrying because it makes it look as though the project is being directed with a narrow focus on cash and engineering, without any attention to the wider regeneration issues. It is especially strange for the crossrail service to stop short at that point, as the company responsible for crossrail has told me that the extension to Slade Green would add little cost because the land is already available.
I make the strongest possible plea for the line to be built to Ebbsfleet in continuing stages, with firm dates for the beginning and end of each stage and a firm commitment of money to make those dates credible. Britain, particularly London, has a history of "manana" public projects. No one can be sure when they will be carried out so the private sector is, understandably, unwilling to commit complementary investment until public works are finished. For crossrail to achieve a regeneration objective, it is vital to have a firm and credible construction programme so that companies can plan and invest concurrently.
The consultation document contains two variants on the route from the Isle of Dogs to Ebbsfleet. One goes from the Isle of Dogs past the dome on the Greenwich peninsula to Charlton and the other continues on the north bank of the Thames, through the major development area in the royal docks and crosses the river by a tunnel to Woolwich Arsenal. Thereafter, the routes are the same to Ebbsfleet.
59WH The route through Charlton is estimated to be some £400 million cheaper than that through the royal docks. However, the Charlton route is already densely developed, so the potential for new residential or business development is limited. In addition, constructing the Charlton route would prevent Connex services on the north Kent line from going directly to London Bridge as they now do.
In contrast, the royal docks area offers a major regeneration opportunity; crossrail could make it into an extension of the developments on Canary wharf. Access to London City airport and to the Excel exhibition centre would be greatly improved and people from Greenwich and Bexley would have a major new source of job opportunities.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
On behalf of the London borough of Newham, might I underline the enormous significance of the royal docks option? It will be worth a great deal in terms of the thousands of extra jobs and homes for the area. It is right to stress the impact of transport on regeneration. The benefit is already clear in the east end, so I hope that the Minister will pay careful attention to my hon. Friend. Other Members of Parliament from the east end strongly endorse his comments.
§ Mr. Beard
If it were thought that crossrail should stop at Charlton and not continue to Ebbsfleet until years later, the extension would be unlikely ever to be made. Substantial demolition of houses between Charlton and Woolwich would be involved, whereas the royal docks route involves no such inhibition. The question about the royal docks route is whether the economic gains would make the extra £400 million cost worthwhile. In my judgment, that route has much greater regeneration potential than that through Charlton, as my hon. Friend has just said. If that does not carry enough weight with the Minister, it is also the judgment of my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) and for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas), the London boroughs of Newham and Bexley, the London development association, the London Transport Users Committee and the Mayor of London.
In summary, it is essential that crossrail 1 through east London be considered as a major contribution to the regeneration of the Thames gateway to London, the greatest foreseeable opportunity for urban regeneration in Britain. To achieve maximum effect in prioritising the development of housing and jobs, crossrail should go from central London to Ebbsfleet via the royal docks as one dedicated railway line. Planning must include a commitment to the necessary finance, so that there is sufficient confidence for private investment to be concurrent with public investment. On that basis, crossrail 1 and the Thames gateway project can be trailblazers for urban regeneration in Britain in the 21st century.
§ John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) for allowing me to speak in the debate. He 60WH and I represent an area of London that is one of the worst served for public transport and includes some of the 10 most deprived wards in the country. My constituency includes Thamesmead—in effect, a new town designed in the 1960s as a contribution to solving London's housing crisis, but built without any thought of providing an adequate public transport infrastructure. Inadequate bus services developed in an unplanned and uncoordinated way as the population grew, with the result that transport in and out of Thamesmead is poor and within it even poorer. Thamesmead's nearest railway station is Abbey Wood, on the periphery.
Part of my constituency lies in the London borough of Greenwich, and colleagues at Westminster often assume that because of that, I have access to the new Jubilee line station, which serves the Greenwich peninsula. However, where I live, on the boundary of Thamesmead and Belvedere, in the heart of my constituency, there is no direct bus or any other link to the Jubilee line. Even from parts of my constituency that have a direct bus link, the journey time can be an hour or more. Yet Thamesmead and Belvedere, as my hon. Friend said, represent one of the largest employment areas and potential employment areas in London. The Belvedere employment area is the second largest industrial area in London, with potential for more development. Realising the potential of the Thamesmead and Woolwich industrial estates, the Belvedere employment area and, further east, the industrial and development sites in Erith and along the Thames road to north Kent, as well as retaining existing businesses, depends on good transport infrastructure.
The Minister saw for himself on his recent visit the problems caused by the Thames road bottleneck. When he saw the view from the top of the Pirelli vulcanising tower, he could see the development potential. Regrettably, a few days after the Minister left the site, Pirelli served 90-day redundancy notices on the bulk of its staff and the company is in danger of closure. I hope that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will intervene to ensure that the Government do what they can to protect the submarine cable industry in this country.
§ Paul Clark (Gillingham)
On the point about the potential success of businesses in your constituency, are you not concerned that if the stupid proposal to end the line at Abbey Wood happens, congestion in your constituency will be much greater? Would you agree —
§ John Austin
There are problems inherent in that. I would support an Abbey Wood destination and interchange as an interim measure, as long as we had the future plans to Ebbsfleet to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford referred.
Before constituency boundaries were changed, I was the Member for Woolwich. The seat included Woolwich Arsenal, which in its heyday employed more than 80,000 people on one site. It was the largest factory in Europe and it was bigger than the whole of Ford Europe is today. Woolwich Arsenal gradually declined after the 61WH war and was eventually closed in the 1970s. Boundary changes have resulted in it being just outside my constituency, but it borders Thamesmead.
I have been campaigning for almost 20 years for a rail tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford and I would have preferred a heavy rail link, which would have provided the best opportunities for regeneration by linking with the north Kent line to fill in the missing link in the orbital rail network.
The decision to extend the docklands light railway, which will help to boost the local economy in Woolwich and to assist the Woolwich Arsenal development, has been taken. It will not, however, have the major regenerational effect that crossrail would have had. As my hon. Friend said, the choice of crossrail route cannot be made in isolation from the development of the Thames gateway, where there is a large area of development land on both sides of the Thames, which could provide the homes and jobs that London needs.
Crossrail offers an opportunity to redress the east-west imbalance in London, and a route to the royal docks in Newham would support regeneration in what the Mayor's draft London plan identified as the third largest opportunity area in London. East London and the Thames gateway can provide one third of London's total new housing requirement and 40 per cent. of all new jobs. The royals is the largest area of development land in the Thames gateway and opting in favour of a station in Charlton would be short sighted and would jeopardise the regeneration benefits for the royals, which are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks).
The royals route could also serve London City airport, which would link to the Government's recent report on airport capacity in the United Kingdom. That report proposes a planning policy actively to encourage airports to maximise their potential capacity by utilising their existing runways. At present, City airport serves 1.6 million people a year and the Government's consultation paper suggests that that figure could reach 5 million by 2030. That figure could be achieved sooner with crossrail, which has a possible throughput of 7 million passengers per annum by 2030. The extension of the docklands light railway to the airport by 2005 will certainly provide better access, but it will be insufficient to support either the airport's growth in capacity or the full development of the royals.
I live under City airport's flight path. The airport is a few miles away, but whether I travel by public or private transport I can get to Gatwick more quickly than I can get to it. Crossrail will massively cut journey times in east London. The journey time from the royals to Paddington would be down from 58 minutes to just 18, and that from Tottenham Court road to the royals would be down from 49 minutes to 14. The royals option is important for London, but the scale of the potential development, the key visitor attractions and the university make it nationally significant.
I know Charlton because I lived there for 15 years and represented it on Greenwich council for nearly 20 years. I lived a few hundred yards from Charlton station and the sacred turf of the Valley. There is a highly developed residential area to the south of the Woolwich road. The area to the north of the Woolwich road is largely 62WH industrial and again it has little scope for residential, commercial or office development, or the generation of the jobs, which the royals would provide. Greenwich council argues that crossrail might not terminate at Charlton and could be extended to Woolwich, but there is no scope, or plans, for additional track eastwards from Charlton. Crossrail could go from Canary wharf to Charlton and Woolwich only if it were to take over the track that currently serves the Connex services from Woolwich into London Bridge and Cannon Street. In that case, there would he no direct trains from Erith, Belvedere, Abbey Wood or Plumstead into London Bridge, and a shuttle bus would replace them. Only the royals route guarantees a service to Woolwich that would not interfere with the existing north Kent line services.
Originally, there was talk of a terminus and interchange at Woolwich, but current opinion seems to favour a major interchange with the north Kent line at either Plumstead or Abbey Wood. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford suggests an interchange further east at Slade Green and I have no argument with that. My constituents want access to the new crossrail and continued access to the north Kent line. Only the royals guarantee a link to Woolwich.
Crossrail services could begin in 2012 and obviously the major benefits will accrue close to opening. However, as my hon. Friend said, an early announcement and an early commitment by the Government would provide significant pre-opening benefits in anticipation. For Woolwich and Abbey Wood, a decision to choose the royals would boost confidence, assist in retaining employment and enable developers to bring forward proposals sooner or to revise their master plans to reflect crossrail. Only the royals route offers the best prospect of maximising the full potential of the royals themselves, as well as enhancing the prospects for regeneration and development in Havering, Barking and Dagenham north of the Thames, and in Woolwich, Plumstead, Thamesmead, Belvedere, Erith and on to north Kent in the south. The Government must make a clear decision on the route of crossrail and it must be via the royals through to Woolwich and beyond.
§ The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) on securing the debate and giving the Chamber an opportunity to discuss proposals for a cross-London rail link from east to west. We heard useful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin), for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and for Gillingham (Paul Clark). I am pleased also to see my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen). That demonstrates the widespread interest in the subject among Members of Parliament.
My hon. Friends are aware of the work that is being undertaken by the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London through Cross London Rail Links Limited, a joint company set up by the SRA and TFL with the remit of examining alternative route options and developing the business case for the project. I shall shortly return to the route options under consideration, especially in relation to the east of London, but first I want to make three points.
63WH First, the Government support viable proposals for a new east-west crossrail link. The transport 10-year plan indicates that such a project could contribute up to a 15 per cent. increase in seating capacity on rail and underground into central London during the morning peak. Hon. Members will agree that such a contribution is much needed. However, we must be sure that the project has a robust business case and will provide value for money. The work that CLRL is doing is vital in ensuring viability.
Secondly, I should make it clear that work is taking a little longer than CLRL originally envisaged. It had hoped to be in a position to finalise the business case and to recommend a preferred route by the end of the year. It now looks as though it will not be in a position to make recommendations until the first part of next year. I fully understand the concerns felt by hon. Members and their constituents who are potentially affected by the project about the continued uncertainty over the outcome of the work on the business case and the assessment of the route options. However, it would be generally agreed that such decisions cannot and should not be rushed. Crossrail would be a very expensive project—of the order of £10 billion, depending on the preferred option with commensurate benefits. It is therefore vital to get the scheme right. Evaluating the business case for such a major project, with all its economic, financial, social and environmental impacts—several of which were highlighted during the debate — is a complex and difficult process. The choice between route options will not be easy, given the strength of the arguments that were made today and have been articulated by other hon. Members and boroughs. Forecast costs and benefits must be thoroughly bottomed out.
Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead said, the interface with the existing infrastructure and services must be thoroughly understood. Looking further ahead, we must put the mechanisms in place to ensure that any project is delivered to time and to budget. Time that is spent now on getting crossrail properly scoped and defined is time well spent and need not delay the overall implementation programme.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford will be disappointed, but not surprised, that I cannot anticipate what recommendations CLRL will make, nor how the Government will respond to them. Nevertheless, I certainly heard the points that he and other hon. Members made and I am sure that he and others involved will put their case to CLRL with equal conviction during the stakeholder consultation and any future public consultation. On next steps, I understand that before the end of the year, the board of CLRL intends to make a statement of progress to date on the work to develop crossrail.
Before we consider what a crossrail route might be, we must decide the objectives that crossrail is meant to achieve. In May, before setting out to consult key stakeholders and local authorities, CLRL agreed several objectives for crossrail with the Government, the Mayor of London and the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority.
64WH We said that a proposal for crossrail should aim to support the wider transport, social and environmental objectives of the Government's 10-year plan, the Mayor's strategy for London, the SRA's strategic plan and regional planning guidance. It should also relieve congestion and overcrowding on existing national rail and underground networks and support the development of strategic interchanges. It should facilitate the continued development of London's primary finance and business service activities located in both the City and docklands. It should facilitate the improvements of London's international links including, looking to the west, Heathrow. It should facilitate the regeneration of priority areas such as the Thames gateway and the Lea valley, and it should provide improved east-west access into and across London from the east and south-east regions. To meet those objectives, proposals for crossrail must be feasible from an operational and an engineering perspective, must be environmentally acceptable and must represent value for money and be affordable.
I turn to the route and service options that CLRL is considering. Given the objectives that the joint company has been set and the work done in the 1990s on earlier proposals for a new east-west link across London, it quickly became clear that there was a core route for the project based broadly on the previously safeguarded route, which would link Heathrow with Stratford and docklands. Around that core, CLRL examined a wide range of possible route options before selecting for further study a shortlist of corridors along which route and service patterns could be analysed in depth. In the west, those included Aylesbury, Watford Junction and Reading. To the east, they included Shenfield out to Ebbsfleet via north Kent. Within these five corridors there are of course multiple possible variants. For example, north Kent could be accessed either through the royal docks on the Isle of Dogs, or a more southerly approach via Charlton.
My hon. Friend mentioned alternatives in north Kent and CLRL is looking at a range of service patterns and frequencies for the royal docks and Charlton options. If the route were to be via the royal docks, new tunnels would be required from Custom House to Stepney Green and to link Silvertown and Woolwich. Depending on how far along the corridor the route extended, the north Kent line would be used from Abbey Wood. New stations would be constructed at Woolwich and the Isle of Dogs, as well as an interchange at Ebbsfleet.
If the chosen route were to be via Charlton, the north Kent line would be used as far as Charlton. Charlton station would be rebuilt, and a new line and tunnel built from there to the Isle of Dogs via the north Greenwich peninsula. There would be connecting services to London Bridge.
Those are the route options that CLRL consulted stakeholders about from spring to summer this year. CLRL is digesting the results of that consultation and undertaking the analysis. We await the outcome of that work.
As my hon. Friends will be aware, I have received many representations on crossrail from Members and local authorities, business interests and private individuals. Advocates have pointed to the need to provide a large increase in rail capacity to docklands, 65WH particularly—as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham has pointed out—to support the growing business and finance sectors. They have argued for crossrail to facilitate regeneration in the Thames gateway to serve key development sites, including those in the royal docks, but also on Kent Thameside. It would also have the desirable effect of freeing capacity at Liverpool Street station. Proponents argue that crossrail can become the regional transport spine along Kent Thameside, providing significant journey savings from north Kent and can form an integrated transport network with much increased opportunity for modal interchange.
66WH I understand the strength with which advocates of crossrail and its several potential routes put their cases. We will not be able to satisfy every competing interest. We are awaiting the work. The CLRL board will, I hope, be in a position to make an announcement before the end of the year on progress. I ask for some patience about that, but I understand that the debate is still to be advanced.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Two o'clock.