HL Deb 15 November 2004 vol 666 cc1190-3

2.52 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What appraisal process has taken place to compare the Crossrail and London Regional Metro schemes in order to create an east-west rail line across London.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, an assessment of London Regional Metro's proposals was carried out as part of the Montague review of the Crossrail business case, a copy of which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport placed in the Library on 20 July 2004. In addition, the Crossrail hybrid Bill will be supported by an environmental statement, which will contain an assessment of the main alternatives to Crossrail.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. But is he aware that the current design of Crossrail makes it technically incompatible for the existing electric trains to Shenfield and Ebbsfleet or for the Heathrow Express to go into the tunnel at all? That means that Heathrow Express passengers will have to negotiate the wonderful interchange that is Paddington in order to get down underground.

Is the Minister aware that the London Regional Metro scheme would cost £6 billion less than Crossrail, which will probably be £10 billion after financing costs? Does he therefore believe that the Crossrail scheme as it stands represents good value for money?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, of course the Crossrail scheme has to be evaluated against other proposals. The London Regional Metro proposal has got the advantage, which my noble friend has indicated, of being cheaper. But it delivers far fewer benefits and is far less ambitious than the Crossrail scheme at present envisaged.

My noble friend is right. There are aspects of the Crossrail scheme that do not meet every conceivable specification, but a tunnel which goes across the centre of London from east to west will have some major engineering, technical and transport features to it. It is not surprising therefore that we have to strike a balance between cost, what is achievable and the best possible service to passengers.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a bit late in the day to start having major doubts about Crossrail and the distortion that that would cause to the whole investment programme of the Mayor of London?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I hasten to add that the doubts are not on the Government's side. I was responding to a challenge that was presented from my noble friend Lord Berkeley about an alternative scheme. I was seeking to give assurance that the scheme to be presented in the hybrid Bill in February or March next year will contain the benefits to be derived from the Crossrail scheme. It will also have an evaluation of other proposals being put forward and why they have been rejected.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the London Regional Metro scheme is simply a tunnel to be bored under London, which has no tracks or provision for rolling stock, and is really only part of a scheme? Has it been subjected to the same rigorous appraisal of the Treasury Green Book that has been applied to Crossrail? If so, will that be made public?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, at this point, the London Regional Metro scheme has the disadvantage that the noble Lord has identified; namely, being somewhat vague about crucial aspects of the way in which it could work. The presenters indicated that they wanted to keep the control of certain aspects of the scheme, which they regarded as their intellectual property. Of course, that has the disadvantage that it is open to the challenge which the noble Lord has so accurately identified.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-chairman of the Crossrail All Party Group. Is the Minister aware that I am advised that LRM proposes to use the boring machines of Crossrail, which will be totally unacceptable because they will be too small and worn out?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, no one underestimates the engineering challenge of this tunnel. After all, we will have seen nothing like it since the construction of the London Underground; but that comparison would apply only if all of the Underground had been constructed at the same time. Of course, as we all know, routes came on line over a long period of time.

This is a major engineering project. The noble Lord has identified that there are real challenges in the building of the tunnel. That is why on past occasions, when regret has been expressed that the Crossrail link will not be ready in time for the Olympic Games, accurate reflection has focused on the fact that this is one of the great engineering challenges of our time, and that there are, of course, attendant difficulties.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, the Government have made encouraging noises about Crossrail, but have they committed any funding for the construction?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, let us take first steps first. Our first job is to publish the Bill and to get parliamentary approval for the concept of Crossrail, with all the pieces in place for that. The issue with regard to funding, as everyone will recognise, is the absolute key to the project. No one would underestimate the enormous sums involved and the fact that not all of this could conceivably come out of government coffers but will require a substantive degree of private investment. Therefore, the noble Earl will need to be a little patient before the Government are in a position to identify just how all the resources are to be achieved.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, there are a number of people who are concerned that Crossrail in the west will terminate at Maidenhead rather than Reading, which, of course, is one of the great junctions of this country. Is any further consideration to be given to extending Crossrail to Reading? Of course, I must declare my interest as a council tax payer in Reading.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord's interest would never have sprung to mind had he not identified it. I think that it is recognised on all sides that this rail line is the major engineering project of our time. Therefore noble Lords who seek to identify ways in which we could improve the scheme by useful additions are perhaps asking a little more than we are able to respond to positively at this stage.

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