HL Deb 28 April 2003 vol 647 cc441-4

2.42 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why no decision has yet been made on the Crossrail project and how the delay will affect the London infrastructure plan.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in February, Cross London Rail Links Limited, a joint Strategic Rail Authority/Transport for London company, submitted to Ministers an interim business case for Crossrail. Given the importance of the project for the future development of London and beyond, and the costs involved, it is essential to ensure that the proposals are soundly based, financeable and deliverable. An announcement will be made as soon as is practicable.

I assume that the Question refers to the Mayor's Spatial Development Strategy, his draft London plan. The final plan should be published towards the end of this year or early next year. There will certainly be more about the prospects for Crossrail during that period.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that Crossrail is somehow symbolic of our national processes and indicative of our plight? The project has been around for some 15 to 16 years now. It is very much needed and yet it seems to have become bogged down in a welter of committees, consultants—about the only beneficiaries—and reports. The time has arrived for decision. The Department for Transport must be well aware of every argument for and against the issue. I hope that the Minister will push the department to solve this problem as soon as possible, instead of letting it drift on indefinitely and get nowhere while the solution becomes more expensive.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, does a fine line in scorn. I always enjoy being the butt of it. But really this is going a bit too far. The Crossrail project was first proposed in 1989. It was killed off in the Railtrack privatisation by his government. The present project was revived only in December 2000. Yes, of course we take a long time on many of these projects. But when I look back at past projects—the first Channel Tunnel proposal took 15 years to come to nothing; the second Channel Tunnel proposal took 15 years and escalated in cost from £2.6 billion to £12 billion; and the Jubilee Line was late and 67 per cent above cost—is it not better to get it right even if it takes a little longer?

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is precisely those examples which give us a great deal of concern on this particular proposal and this situation? Is not a key problem the inability of the Government so far to make up their mind on the enabling legislation that is required before they can make progress? There are actually only two choices— the Transport and Works Act or a hybrid Bill. That would at least get the project on the move. At a cost of between £7 billion and £11 billion for Crossrail, which is absolutely crucial to the London plan, is he really satisfied with progress at this moment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the question of process has indeed been a problem in the past. The chosen route at that time was a private Bill, which foundered against something like 300 objections. The preferred route now is, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, rightly said, a hybrid Bill. That of course has all kinds of legal difficulties. But the problem is not the process, but that this is a very expensive project, for which there are a number of alternative developments. We need to be sure that it is right in transport terms, at the right cost and that it produces the right benefits. To rush into something of that kind—

Noble Lords


Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We are talking about a short period since the proposal was first put forward.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if, as now appears increasingly likely, the Government take the very welcome decision to support a bid for the Olympics to be based on the east side of London, the construction of Crossrail is not only desirable but absolutely essential?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I shall not anticipate the Government's decision on the Olympics. The IOC has a deadline of 15th July. I have no doubt that we shall meet that deadline one way or another. But certainly it is true that the present proposal is for a major stadium in east London and that Crossrail could be of significant benefit to that if it can be completed in time.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that Crossrail is a 50:50 joint venture between the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London and that the proposal is to be financed by both the private and public sectors? Bearing in mind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that it could cost up to £11 billion, what proportion of the overall spend will come from the public sector?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I can confirm that it is a joint venture. The details of the financing are part of the consideration in which we are engaged at the moment. As I have said, in February this year we received an interim business plan. We are working on that as though it were a final plan. But it will not be a final plan until July. We could hardly make a decision until a final business case had been presented.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, is the noble Lord really saying that the Government are not prepared to listen to what is being said throughout the industry that major infrastructure projects in this country, and in London particularly, such as Crossrail, but also Thameslink 2000 and the East London Line will continue to flounder unless there is very strong government leadership in order to pull together the complex array of financial partnerships, operational matters and planning?

So far as rushing into things is concerned, are we really going to look forward to Thameslink 3000?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we do two things wrong in this country: we take too long about worthwhile projects; and we perform some projects badly—they are wrongly thought out and involve unanticipated costs. To take the Channel Tunnel rail link as an example, the previous government spent many years arguing about the route. It is only now that the present Government have a grip on the matter and the funding that it is under way—the first section will be open towards the end of this year.

There is always a balance to be struck, but I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, or anyone else would argue for entering into such expensive projects, however worth while, without having the technical assessments, the business case and financing all in place.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, is the Minister aware of another proposal that might make it possible to gain the advantages of Thameslink 2000 more quickly and at much lower cost: the radial rail proposal advanced by Dr JCV Mitchell, which would be compatible with the cross-river tramlink routes—CRT 2 and 3—and would avoid demolishing part of the historic train shed at London Bridge, rebuilding Blackfriars station on the bridge and obscuring that historic view of the City from the west? Is the Minister aware of the radial rail proposal and, if so, will he support it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Question was about Crossrail rather than Thameslink 2000. Alternatives to Thameslink 2000 have certainly been advanced. I am happy to write to the right reverend Prelate about his suggestion.

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