Debate on Crossrail Two

Tuesday, 05 March 2013


David Lammy secured a Westminster Hall debate on Crossrail Two, the proposed new underground line that will connect South West London with North East London.

It follows the publication of a London First report on the subject (
available here) and a speech David delivered during the infrastructure debate last month (available here).

David used his opening speech in the debate to outline the need for the government to now take leadership on delivering major transport infrastructure to the capital. He asked the Minister replying to:

1) Commit to establishing cross-party support for Crossrail Two
2) Outline when the Minister plans to review the safeguarded route.
3) Commit to providing a longer term financial settlement for Transport for London
4) Commit to lobbying for Crossrail Two to be included explicitly in the government's Comprehensive Spending Review later this year.

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No debate on London can start without an assessment of where our capital city finds itself:

Without doubt, London is the world’s greatest city.

No other metropolis can claim to be so vibrant or so beautiful.

...This city is the magnet for the world’s greatest talents.

...This city has been the birthplace for some of world’s most successful businesses and the adopted home of countless others.

...And this city has been the inspiration to some of the greatest musicians, authors and artists of past, present and without doubt the future.

There are a thousand reasons why London is the successful modern city it is today.

But peel away the veneer of the capital’s dramatic skyline, scratch away at the patina of the city’s bustling shopping streets and you will see one of them.

The Tube has been the engine room that has propelled London’s success story for 150 years.

It was the Metropolitan Line shooting off from Baker Street up towards Harrow, into Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire that began to make “commuting” to London possible.

It was the City & South London railway – soon to be rechristened as the Northern Line - that first tunnelled deep under the Thames so that the people of Clapham no longer had to ride the Omnibus to get to Bank or Euston.

And it was the Piccadilly Line extension north of Finsbury Park in the middle of Great Depression that drove growth and jobs to places like Finsbury Park, Wood Green and Enfield.

Yet this great history of infrastructure has slowly been squandered by inertia, chronic underinvestment and a cowardly lack of ambition.

Since the Victoria line was opened in 1967, relatively little investment has taken place.

The opening of the “Fleet Line” – or the Jubilee Line as we now know it – was for the most part a rebranding of an existing branch of the Metropolitan line.

The subsequent extension to Stratford, whilst impressive, was also horrifically over-budget and over-deadline.

Small extensions to the Docklands Light Railway and the construction of the Croydon Tramlink have made differences in some quarters but it is still fair to say that the overall reach of London’s transport network has barely changed for almost fifty years.

And sadly, the signs of decay are there for all to see.

Despite the illusions created by Harry Beck’s distorted London Underground maps that the coverage is almost universal, huge pockets of London are islands of isolation.

Even in 2013, my constituents in Northumberland Park are served by just ONE train an hour on weekdays and no trains at all on weekends.

Dalston Junction is just 3 and half miles from Tottenham Court Road but the journey on public transport will take over half an hour.

Huge swathes of South London are reliant on consistently inconsistent suburban rail services that are plagued by delays, cancellations and overcrowding.

It is no coincidence that these areas have the highest rates of unemployment, the highest levels of child poverty and the lowest levels of attainment.

Without vital transport links they are starved of investment, bled of ambition and left marooned from the throbbing economic heart of the centre.

These are born and bred Londoners practically exiled from the centre.

And in those areas where services are frequent and extensive, users find themselves on some of the most overcrowded and expensive journeys in Europe.

At morning rush hour, there will be more than 4 people standing per square metre on all SouthWest trains from Wimbledon, through Clapham Junction to Waterloo.

There will be more than 4 people standing per square metre on all peak time District Line trains from Putney Bridge to Earl’s Court.

The same is true for Victoria Line trains from Finsbury Park to Victoria,

The same is true for all Piccadilly Line trains from Finsbury Park to Holborn

The same is true for Bank Branch Northern Line trains from Clapham Common to Euston.

And the same is true for Central Line trains from Stratford to Holborn.

So let’s be clear about this:

...In this country it is illegal to transport cattle where there is more than one cow per square metre.
...It is illegal to transport pigs if there is more than two per square metre.
...It is illegal to transport sheep if there is more than three per square metre.

Yet, every rush hour, more than four human beings will cram into every square metre available just to go to and from work.

At present, Londoners can only dream of being herded like cattle on their commute to work.

London’s viability as a global centre is already being undermined by a failure to resolve questions over its airport capacity, but the unspoken fact is that we are soon to lose out to our competitors on the basis of what happens to those passengers the minute they leave the terminal building.

As Tony Travers puts it: “London survives despite, rather than because of, its transport infrastructure planning and implementation“.

But there are those dismiss these concerns.

They say that London’s congestion will be relieved once tube upgrades are completed and the long awaited Crossrail One opens at the end of this decade.

There will be some relief, sure.

But such an attitude ignores the enduring lesson of the past century:

Even if the economy stops, London doesn’t.

The capital is about to be hit by a demographic tsunami

Worse still, it has taken policy makers by complete surprise:

The Mayor’s London Plan forecasted that the capital’s population would break 8 and a half million in 2027; data from the 2011 census suggest it is now likely to be exceeded in 2016 or earlier.

By 2031, there will be almost ten million people living in London, more than one a half million more than are living here today.

Accompanying that is an expected growth of 700,000 extra jobs over the next twenty years, which means 700,000 extra daily commutes.

And accompanying that is the prospect of High Speed Two increasing the number of morning arrivals at Euston station by 30%.

What capacity gains that are made by either Crossrail One, or the Tube upgrades or the Thameslink programme are set to be wiped out by 2030.

By 2031, overcrowding on the network rail routes into London and London Underground lines will be at the same, utterly unacceptable levels that they are at today.

On the main North-South lines – the Northern, the Victoria and the Piccadilly – they are set to be even worse.

The Chancellor is often fond of saying that “Britain is open for business”.

Is it open for business if it takes the average worker over an hour to commute into work?

Is it open for business if we ask our businessmen and women to travel to and from work in conditions unfit for livestock?

Is it open for business if it the underground interchanges at our mainline termini in our capital city – Victoria, Euston, King’s Cross, Waterloo – have to close during rush hours because of dangerous levels of overcrowding?

And what use is High Speed Two if you have to wait half an hour to leave Euston station?

As long as London keeps on growing, the government and this Mayor has to ensure that our infrastructure is one step ahead, not two steps behind.

Yet if it pursues the same course it has trodden for the first half of this parliament, then it will condemn London to failure:

After all, it almost cancelled Crossrail 1 on entering office.

The Thameslink programme is beset by delays.

It cancelled the third runway at Heathrow and kicked the search for an alternative into the long grass.

And it has cancelled the four-tracking of the West Anglia line that would have finally provided a decent train service to some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the capital

The only ambition this government presently has for the capital - the only vignette of a solution to the challenge it faces - is the two station spur of the Northern Line to Battersea Power Station.

An extension that is set to make its Malaysian owners incredibly rich but will do little for the businesses in Lambeth and Wandsworth that are being asked to foot the bill.

London needs a game changer.

We need a wholly new project to alleviate congestion, drive growth and improve journey times for Londoners.

The Minister will have seen the report published last month by Lord Adonis and the London First Group that details the case for a new line – dubbed “Crossrail Two” - linking the South West of London with the North East of London.

He will also note the breadth of support for Crossrail Two:

It commands the support of London’s businesses:

...69% of members of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry say Crossrail 2 is “vital” for London.
...And a ComRes poll shows that 95% of London businesses believe any cut to transport investment will damage the capital’s businesses in the long term.

It commands the support of the major transport unions.

And it commands the support of successive Mayors of London.

And the reason it is able to unite so many frequent foes is because the case for this line is utterly compelling.

As Lord Adonis and his colleagues made clear, this is the only way London will be able to cope with the challenges it will face over the next twenty years:

...It is the only way London will be able to handle the commutes for the 700,000 extra people working in central London by 2031.
...It is the only way that passengers arriving to London from High Speed Two can be efficiently dispersed from Euston.
...It is the only way we can relieve the dangerous levels of congestion on London’s major north-south tube lines – the Victoria, the Piccadilly and the Northern.
...And it is the only way to relieve the severe overcrowding that Londoners already experience TODAY on mainline routes into Clapham Junction and Waterloo, overcrowding that will only get worse as London grows.

Better still, the report sets out the case for a regional and suburban route that will deliver immense benefits to London and beyond:

....It will finally bring a tube station to Mare Street in Hackney.
...It will double train frequency for places like Kingston and Twickenham.
...It will also free up track for SouthWest Trains to increase the number of trains from Portsmouth, Basingstoke, Southampton and Farnham to London Waterloo that serve stations throughout Hampshire and Berkshire.

But most importantly it could provide a reliable train service and huge economic benefits to some of the most isolated and deprived areas of the Upper Lea Valley.

Further still, the line can also be developed from Cheshunt through to Stansted Airport, providing a stopping service on new tracks to compliment a more frequent and faster Stansted Express service.

Not only could this mean better use for the excess capacity at Stansted Airport but it will mean that some of the communities with the highest unemployment in the country can actually benefit economically from having an airport on their doorstep.

A new line that can connect areas like Northumberland Park, Edmonton, Tottenham, Dalston, Hackney and Wood Green to central London and Stansted Airport will...

... leverage investment from businesses and developers.
... create jobs each and every year after it has been completed
...And open up the Upper Lea Valley as a growth area for the capital.

So yes, Crossrail Two is ambitious.

And yes, ambition comes with a price tag,

But what price doing nothing?

What is the price of leaving communities cut off from central London?
What is the price of letting travel across London become more arduous than it already is?
What is the price of major businesses leaving our capital for more mobile, more modern competitors in Asia, Europe and America?

But there will still be those that say that this is all too sudden.

That more time is needed to consider and contemplate before the government can decide, presumably, to consider and contemplate a bit more.

So let us not forget that Crossrail Two is long in the tooth:

Part of the route was originally conceived as early as 1901 only to be dropped five years later.

After the Second World War, the idea of a “Chelsea-Hackney” line peppered almost all London rail studies.

In the early 1990s, a route finally safeguarded and mutations of it have been slowly making their way between Whitehall intrays ever since.

So let’s be clear:

Successive governments have already had the time to contemplate and consider, it is now the time for leadership and action.

As I’ve outlined above, London’s congestion problems are going to come to a head over the next twenty years.

This line needs to be open in the early 2030s, which means breaking ground in the early 2020s.

This means we need a Hybrid Bill sooner rather than later.

And because this project will no doubt be completed, owned and amended by successive governments, it is important we establish cross party support now before the parliamentary cycle begins to gear up for the 2015 general election.

So in that spirit, I’d like to invite the Minister to address the inaugural meeting of the All Party Group on Crossrail Two that I’m hoping to set up with colleagues here and in the other place over the coming weeks.

And most importantly, can he please detail exactly when he expects the review of the safeguarded route to begin, an outline of the process involved and when he expects it to be complete.

Let me finish by saying that the government’s role isn’t only to take leadership on this issue but to empower others to do the same.

Yet this government have done exact opposite:

The last Comprehensive Spending Review only outlined funding for the Department for Transport up until 2014/15, scrapping the long term funding guarantee that provided a ten year forecast of budgets in previous spending review.

So we had the ludicrous scenario of TfL publishing a ten year business plan in December 2012 that could only outline funding up until 2014/15.

And if this practice continues for the spending review later this year, TfL will still have no certainty over their funding settlement after the financial year of 2015/16.

How can Transport for London possibly plan for projects like Crossrail Two without any certainty over their funding settlement?

It was precisely this sort of financial uncertainty for transport in London that stifled investment in infrastructure of the latter half of the twentieth century.

It is only with this certainty can bodies like Transport for London negotiate the best deals with suppliers and given businesses the confidence to invest in London and in its future.

So I ask the Minister if he will agree with me that the best way to ensure the delivery of transport investment projects like Crossrail Two is to provide the bodies tasked with delivering them with clear indications of their future funding settlement over the long term?

Furthermore, I’m sure that all of us keen to see further transport investment are concerned at the enduring silence of the Secretary of State for Transport at a time when his cabinet colleagues are peacocking across television studios trying to spare their department from further cuts.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to invite the Minister to put all of our minds at rest:

When he rises to respond, will he announce his membership of the National Union of Ministers and will he put on record that he’d like to see Crossrail 2 explicitly included in the Comprehensive Spending Review in the same manner that Crossrail 1 was included in the spending reviews of 2004, 2007 and 2010.

After all, 50 years after Dr. Beeching took the axe to Britain’s railways with no plan to renovate what he spared, it would be fitting if his department would be able to announce it planned to deliver the next major development in London’s infrastructure.

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