HC Deb 09 May 2001 vol 368 cc117-23WH 12.30 pm
Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)

I am grateful to have secured this important Adjournment debate. I would not be so foolish as to expect the Minister to be able to give a definitive response to the points that I will raise, notwithstanding the respect that I have for him and for his ability to grasp important and complex issues. I hope, however, that he and his Department will accept that I, and those putting forward the same point of view, have a strong case, worthy of consideration.

That case is to argue that the new crossrail link's eastern end should run further south than the route originally proposed: south of Stratford, running through Canary wharf, the royal docks, Barking and Dagenham and on to Purfleet. I have no pecuniary interest to declare, but I should point out that I am chair of the Thames gateway all-party parliamentary group. That is the area affected by the proposition under discussion.

I seek to address the question of how to deal with London's prospective growth. That question has not really been asked for decades—it has not had to be. However, London is now growing again, gaining jobs and facing tremendous pressure on housing. It needs a transport infrastructure to service it. The problem of accommodation for key workers is an essential element of the housing stress and must also be solved.

We must combine spatial and economic development with a workable transport plan, bringing the key issues together. The decision that I am discussing today is the most important since the end of the second world war. It is about access: not just to places but to jobs, opportunities and homes.

The Minister responsible for regeneration at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has constantly argued that we need a key to access all the deprived areas of the Thames gateway. The plan that I shall put forward for consideration does that by serving south London and north Kent as well as docklands, east London and Essex. It addresses the areas of greatest deprivation, therefore providing the greatest opportunities. The main spine for east London is the A13 trunk road, but it will not be able to carry the volume of traffic expected in years ahead. The route that I propose is only a mile from the original study.

At present, the east end of crossrail—I shall deal only with its eastern end—is proposed to go from Liverpool Street to Stratford and on to Shenfield. The plan has been around for some 15 years and was first promoted when Stratford was expected to become the regeneration and employment hub of east London. The plan has been gathering dust while east London has been gathering momentum. Stratford is, and will continue to be, an important centre, not least because of the proposed channel tunnel rail link. It has, however, become neither the regeneration nor the employment hub.

It is to the Government's credit that they have grasped the nettle that crossrail will happen. We must maximise the advantages that crossrail will bring to the capital. However, the reality of what has happened in east London has been different from the expectations of 15 years ago. I shall refer to specific figures later. The real regeneration and employment hub has not been Stratford. Canary wharf, Exel, London City airport, the university complex and Norton Pharmaceuticals have joined Tate and Lyle and others. It is docklands that is the real hub. Stratford, which the Docklands light railway and Jubilee line termini have already enhanced, is still an important area. However, at present more than 60 trains an hour pass through it during rush hour, and I wonder whether it can cope with additional capacity.

I ask the Minister to look at the figures for potential development. According to consultants' calculations, the total development for the southern route through Canary wharf, the royal docks, Beckton, Barking Reach, Dagenham dock and Purfleet could exceed 40 million sq ft, if I may be forgiven for using the imperial measurement. However, development for the Stratford to Shenfield line could be as little as 10 million sq ft. Housing developments such as that at Barking Reach are very much in line with London's Mayor Livingstone's announcement on Monday that east London can provide the brownfield sites necessary to accommodate London's increasing population.

The London Mayor and the Government agree that, if London's population does grow to the latest estimate of about 8 million, and if we are to protect the green belt, we need more housing on brownfield sites. They also agree—thankfully, they seem to agree on quite a lot at the moment—that east London has the necessary sites, but we must ask how those sites will be accessed. That is a particularly important question to answer if we are to build for the densities that are being discussed.

According to the study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research that was commissioned by Canary Wharf Ltd. some two years ago, we can expect docklands to generate between 110,000 and 165,000 jobs in the next 10 to 15 years. However, the Jubilee line and the Docklands light railway cannot take the strain that that will impose, and nor, as I have said, can the A13. We need not only to ensure the public transport infrastructure necessary to service commercial developments but to attract more inward investment for brownfield sites. We know that work is under way further to develop the Greenwich peninsula, but standing as it does in the shadow of Canary wharf, it could well suffer from a lack of transport infrastructure, which could deter further investment.

Equally, the development potential of the riverside areas of Barking and Dagenham will not be realised without further public transport investment. The connection with the channel tunnel rail link at Purfleet will relieve pressure on the European link to St. Pancras, create additional capacity and provide alternative routes to London. It will also provide fast access to London and the City from the east.

Challenges have been made to the suggestion of a more southerly route. For example, it has been said that extra costs could be involved, but they could be vastly outweighed by the extra benefits. The estimated cost of the entire project is about £7 billion, and the construction of a southerly route might add only £800 million to that figure. It is also argued that a southerly route would not address the potential of the Lee valley and the opening of the route to Stansted, but nor, I would argue, would the Shenfield route. Stansted is important to the development of east London, and it is clear that the various arguments must be explored. However, we must recognise that, whichever route is chosen, certain options will not be covered.

Whether it proceeds along the original route or the more southerly one that I am proposing, crossrail needs to built within the anticipated time scale of 10 years. However, I would argue that both routes are possible, even if there is a change in favour of the more southerly route.

I thank Mr. Robert John, of Canary Wharf Ltd., for bringing the matter to my attention. I also thank Mr. Chris Glaister, of Glaister's, and Mr. Peter Twelftree, of Steer Davies Gleave, for their briefings, and Mr. John Biggs, our hard-working member of the London Assembly, for his thoughts on the matter, which, as always, proved helpful. Historically, east London has been the poor relation of this great capital city, but that has been changing for more than 20 years. We need river crossings—that case has been well argued, and I am sure that the Minister is familiar with it—and improved transport links, of which crossrail should be one of the most important.

The Mayor of London has put forward his 15-year plan, and the Government have their long-term plans to eliminate social exclusion and child poverty and to create more opportunities. They argue for economic competency with social compassion, stability without boom and bust and a head and heart approach. East London has a pivotal role to play in ensuring the success of both the Mayor's and the Government's strategies. It was the vision of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and others that docklands and the Thames gateway could play their full parts.

Crossrail will be important to the success of any strategy—the question is whether we want it to be central. There are already capacity problems on the docklands rail and public transport network, which must be addressed if we are to fulfil sustainable regeneration potential. Failure to do so would be a failure to match the expectations about the new gateway area as a motor of economic growth for London and the south-east—and, for that matter, the United Kingdom—and could even stifle that important growth.

As I said earlier, this could be the most important decision since the war. My request is that those responsible for making it give the southern routes full and fair consideration.

12.40 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate and providing the Chamber with an opportunity to discuss the proposals for cross-London rail links. This is indeed an opportune time for such a debate. Last Thursday, the Government announced key strategic decisions, showing their determination to provide London with the major new passenger rail capacity that the capital needs over the next decade or so. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's warm welcome for that announcement. He is absolutely right—it is an historic decision.

It is important for me to start by reiterating the details of the announcement, which was made after my hon. Friend secured the debate. Work will start immediately on the project definition and design development of a central cross-London rail link, the tunnel section of which could follow the alignment of the crossrail scheme. The work will look at alternative service patterns and will lead to a recommendation on the option to be taken forward. For the purposes of my speech, I shall call the scheme crossrail—since everybody else does—but it is not necessarily identical to the old crossrail scheme that was proposed some 10 years ago.

The work will be taken forward jointly by the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that that, along with the decision to undertake a feasibility study into the south-west to north-east route, is a clear demonstration of the Government's commitment to the development of rail schemes in London. It is a first step, and there is much work to be done to identify the best options, but Thursday's announcement represents real progress towards providing London with a world-class rail network.

It will be helpful if I set the work in the context of the Strategic Rail Authority's report. In December 1999, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister asked the SRA to carry out a review of the issues relating to rail travel on an east-west axis across London. The report concludes that London is near to capacity in terms of the current national rail network, the central termini and the underground. That infrastructure, even supplemented by committed schemes, will not deliver the capacity to meet expected growth in passenger and freight demand over the next decade or so. The report recommends the consideration of a package of schemes of varying sizes and impacts to overcome those problems and to create a railway network that is appropriate to London's status as a world city.

In producing the report, the SRA took as a priority the identification of schemes that provide significant additional capacity in the central area to reduce congestion, to improve access and network capacity in key regeneration areas, to support the development of a network of strategic interchanges, to provide effective routes and operating conditions for freight and to provide fast and effective access to and from Heathrow. The report shows that there is little opportunity to provide the significant increase in capacity required to support the forecast growth by upgrading the existing system. Schemes for upgrading existing routes by lengthening platforms, increasing frequencies and building additional track were all considered, as were plans to link the Circle line to the national network. None of those could deliver sufficient new capacity. The report concludes that new cross-London links are required, probably along the protected corridors of the crossrail from Paddington to Liverpool Street and the Chelsea-Hackney line.

Since the beginning of the year, the Government, with the mayor and the SRA, have been considering the SRA report. Apart from the report, a large number of national schemes are being progressed or proposed in the London area. They range from relatively minor track improvements to major schemes such as the Thameslink 2000 scheme and the crossrail proposal. None of the schemes stands alone; they all have interfaces with one another. In most cases, they interface with the London Underground or bus routes and interchanges. They need to be taken forward in a coordinated manner.

While recognising the statutory powers and responsibilities that fall to the Mayor and the SRA, my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Transport set up a high level group to ensure clarity on objectives and priorities. The group aims for the development of a co-ordinated strategic approach to London rail projects in general, and to oversee programme co-ordination for work on the projects. It has a formal tripartite structure and is chaired by my right hon. and noble Friend with the Mayor and the chairman of the SRA. The announcement on Thursday followed the group's consideration of the further appraisal of the SRA report.

The purpose of the project definition work is to identify the precise scheme to be taken forward. There are a number of potential routes for the central tunnel, and more particularly for national rail destinations. There are also a number of chain service patterns that need to be examined more thoroughly before we decide on the optimum scheme. In the east, that will include an examination of options to serve the Thames gateway, the Lee valley and other destinations in east London. The approach used to assess options on destinations served will be based on a wide range of parameters, including costs and various benefits such as regeneration, accessibility, environmental benefits, relief of overcrowding, journey time improvements and fare box revenue. Extensive consultation will take place with local authorities, regional development agencies and other interested parties before any decision is made. I can assure my hon. Friend—I know that he will welcome this—that plenty of opportunities will arise for alternative routes to be considered as part of the project definition work. That work will lead to a recommendation from the SRA, TFL and the high-level group.

The heart of the project, which will now be developd, is the construction of a new tunnelled route through the centre of London. Although that alignment could be similar to the crossrail proposal, with new stations at Liverpool Street, Farringdon, Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street and Paddington, the position of the portals and the design of the stations are very likely to be different. The current designs for the central area section of crossrail are held by London Underground, which is responsible for safeguarding the alignment. Existing suburban rail services could be linked across London using the tunnel, perhaps with services to Romford and Shenfield in the east, and to Ealing and Reading in the west.

Mr. Fitzpatrick

My hon. Friend said that there would be full opportunity for representations to be made during the project definition work. Forgive my ignorance, because this may have been included in last week's announcement, but will those suggestions be called for or will they have to be volunteered, and is there a time frame for that opportunity?

Mr. Hill

Now that I have made it clear that there will be a consultation stage, it will certainly take place.

I reassure my hon. Friend that that was always the intention. I shall write to him providing the details about the time scale and how the opportunity will develop, so that he, other hon. Members and other interested parties in his constituency and in the docklands area can take advantage of it.

I was speaking about the opportunities that will arise for existing suburban rail services. The proposals that we are now considering would allow the Great Western main line and Chiltern line to connect to the Great Eastern main line and the London, Tilbury and Southend line, now known as the C2C. Crossrail could also serve Heathrow airport. However, all that is to be confirmed in the project definition work. The Government have allocated £150 million to fund the costs of crossrail project definition and design work.

The SRA believes that a crossrail link would have the highest proportion of travellers who would benefit from fewer interchanges; that it would be likely to generate the least short-term disruption to established travel patterns; that it would be best at supporting regeneration, given its penetration of west London, and that it could be brought into operation more quickly and with the least risk. A crossrail link would provide a major boost to the development of London's integrated transport network by providing a substantial increase in rail capacity in central London. It would improve access to and across the central area from many parts of east and west London. It would serve both the west end and the City, giving direct access for business, social and leisure travel within a wide area of Greater London.

A crossrail link would provide interchange at nine underground stations and at many stations on the national rail network. By removing the need to change from rail to underground at Paddington and Liverpool Street, a crossrail link would provide new opportunities for journeys to and through central London. It would also reduce crowding on several underground lines and busy stations. It would complement Thames Link 2000 services, if approved, with an interchange at Farringdon, thereby giving access to the north and the south and an interchange with the possible Hackney south-west line, which would be provided if the scheme were to be pursued.

Journey times would be 30 minutes from Slough to the City, 11 minutes from Paddington to Liverpool Street and 20 minutes from Ilford to Bond Street. Such a link would also benefit many road users whose journeys would be improved because of the more attractive rail services. It would provide a high quality of service both on trains and at the new stations and bring wider economic benefits to London. The route would also serve a significant number of regeneration development sites, including the Park Royal area, Paddington, the lower Lea valley at Stratford and the Thames gateway. Stratford, in particular, would be a key interchange station for the regeneration of the Thames gateway.

The construction of completely new infrastructure would allow features such as full access for mobility impaired people to be included as an integrated part of the design. The project definition and design development work will take about 14 months and will lead to a recommendation on the option to be taken forward. It is a major project and no decisions have yet been taken about the most appropriate process for seeking powers. At such an early stage, it is difficult to estimate when the construction of a crossrail link, if approved, may begin, but it is unlikely to be before 2005-06. The aim is for the link to be operational by the end of the year 2010, but it might be later depending on how long it takes to obtain the necessary powers and planning consents.

Increased capacity and the provision of new services are essential if we are to meet our targets for passenger growth and keep London and Londoners moving. I am delighted that the SRA, TFL, Railtrack and London Underground are working together to deliver the transport system that is fit for our capital in the 21st century. I hope that the vision that I have set out today for improved services will become a reality at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton)

The debate has ended a few minutes early. I regret that, in the absence of the Minister who is to reply to the next debate, I shall have to suspend the silting until 1 o'clock.

12.53 pm

Sitting suspended.