October 30, 2006
Four Parts of the Debate: Crossrail Bill (Carry Over) in the House of Commons
With the new session of Parliament due to start after the Queen’s speech on 15 November this debate in the House of Commons considered two motions on the Crossrail Bill before the Bill would be suspended in this session and then carried over into the new Parliament. The extracts below are from Mark Field’s interventions on behalf of his constituents and the replies he received.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Secretary of State has said that he wants this hybrid Bill to go through Parliament before a funding mechanism is decided. If that happens, and no money is forthcoming, tens of thousands of people in Mayfair, the Barbican, Bayswater and elsewhere will suffer housing blight, possibly for decades to come, with no sense that the work is making progress. Is he not concerned about that?
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Douglas Alexander): I do not want properties in Mayfair or anywhere else to be blighted unnecessarily. We want this hybrid Bill to make expeditious progress through both Houses, and we also want to continue to make progress on the question of financing. However, given the scale of the project, it is appropriate that we adopt an approach that recognises the broader local government financing issues addressed in the Lyons review. After that, we intend to discuss an alternative funding mechanism, and it has been suggested that the London business community might be prepared to make a contribution. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will consider all factors.
The Committee announced a set of interim conclusions on 25 July that covered a range of issues, including the idea of a station at Woolwich. The Committee took the view that the Government, as the promoter of the scheme, should bring forward an additional provision to add to the project a station at Woolwich. The House needs to be clear about the nature of that particular conclusion. It does not involve protecting private rights, or trying to remove or mitigate adverse effects that the project might cause. Instead, the conclusion is designed to increase the already substantial public benefits that the project will deliver. I am not aware of the Select Committee on any previous hybrid Bill ever seeking an additional station, or something comparable. Therefore, in forming a view on the Select Committee’s report on Woolwich station, the promoter is inevitably drawn into new territory.
Mr. Mark Field: I am not here to make an argument in favour of or against Woolwich station, but we are talking about £186 million out of a total budget of £13 billion to £16 billion. That is barely 1 per cent of the whole cost. For the entire issue to hinge on such a relatively small amount of money seems absolutely perverse. I would be interested to know on what basis the Secretary of State thinks that that £186 million somehow tips the whole costing entirely over the edge.
Mr. Alexander: With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, only the Member representing Mayfair could suggest that £186 million is not a very considerable sum. To give a sense of proportion, that is approximately the same sum as that identified as savings during the progress of the hybrid Bill. It is a considerable sum by any measure, notwithstanding the fact that we already have a major work stream under way to drive down the costs of the Crossrail scheme to ensure that it is affordable. My decision was reached on the basis that we have an obligation to ensure not only that the hybrid Bill concludes its passage through this House and another place, but that we are able to get the financing and funding of the scheme in place. In his earlier intervention, the hon. Gentleman made the case for making real progress on financing. I struggle to see how the addition of £186 million now would assist the endeavour of making sure that we have an affordable scheme.
Mr. Mark Field: Does my hon. Friend think that there might be some connection here with the fact that the Secretary of State represents not one of his own Paisley and Renfrewshire, South constituents on a single transport matter, as is the case with every other Scottish MP? I should also point out that the overwhelming majority of complaints that I have received from my Mayfair residents, of whom the Secretary of State was so dismissive earlier, are in fact from people living in social housing. I will ensure that in the run-up to the next general election, they will not be allowed to forget that a Labour Cabinet Minister was so dismissive of their rights, particularly given that, unlike him, I do represent my constituents on transport issues.
Chris Grayling (Shadow Secretary of State for Transport): My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. However, I hold nothing against the Secretary of State. He is doing his best and has been in the job only a few months, and he has inherited projects that have been passed to him.
However, the Secretary of State will have to do better than simply talk about things that might happen with this project in future and possible sources of funding. He referred earlier to mixed messages, but his own Department is giving them out. He quoted the Evening Standard earlier, so let me point out that during the summer, that newspaper ran a public statement from his Department. One of his press officers told it that the Department was not expecting services on Crossrail to start until 2019. By definition, that means that construction will not start in 2008, which is when, according to the project team, construction has to start to avoid the disbanding of existing expertise?expertise that is needed to keep the project going for the future. So again, there is uncertainty. We are not sure about the funding or the Department’s planned construction timetable, and there are some questions about the route.
Mr. Mark Field: The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for Woolwich, which is in his constituency, and I entirely endorse what he says. However, given that in recent years the DLR has linked up with Woolwich, does he not feel that there will be sufficient links to the main London transport networks? I am not trying to make the Government’s argument for them, but does not that make a strong case? We do not need the additional expense of linking Woolwich through the Crossrail system, too.
Mr. Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich): No; the two lines serve completely different purposes, which can be illustrated by the travel times. The journey from Woolwich to Canary Wharf on the DLR?when it actually comes to Woolwich?will be about half an hour, due to the route, while the time on the direct link via Crossrail would be in the region of seven or eight minutes. That difference in connection will have a huge impact on the economic development of Canary Wharf because it can draw on the large labour force in south-east London, who would have quick access. That is one of the reasons why people in Canary Wharf are so sympathetic to the proposals for the Woolwich station. The two lines serve different purposes and it is a mistake to confuse them, just as it would be a mistake to say that because Westminster has benefited from some improved transport schemes, there is no need for Crossrail to have any stations in Westminster. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not argue that case.
A Crossrail station in Woolwich, providing links to Canary Wharf, the City, the west end and Heathrow, would have obvious benefits, accelerating the process of regeneration and facilitating much new commercial and residential investment. Estimates by the consultants EDAW suggest that there will be scope for an additional 4,300 new homes, as well as the substantial number already planned, and for more than 2,000 new jobs?all of which would have a considerable impact on the regeneration of the area. Few locations along the Crossrail route would benefit to anywhere the same extent as Woolwich from the presence of a station.