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14 Jan 2004 : Column 313WH—continued

Crossrail and the Kingston Extension

3.30 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): Thank you, Mr. O'Hara, for letting me introduce this topic in the House. With your permission, I would like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) to contribute to the debate. I hope that the Minister will also give his permission.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty ) indicated assent.

Dr. Tonge : According to Crossrail's own PR leaflet, "Crossrail Vision",

The leaflet adds that Crossrail

and "improve international connections". There is no question but that it has done so. It provides a cross-London route that connects the city to Heathrow. In south-west London, or corridor 6, to use the lingo, it has provided extra trains from Kingston, through Richmond, to Paddington in central London. Indeed, there are now 12 trains an hour. At first glance, Crossrail is a thoroughly good thing for my constituents and should be supported. Many doubts have been expressed, however, and the limited consultation has thrown up a host of problems.

My constituency is split between the London boroughs of Richmond upon Thames and Kingston, and as usual opinions differ on each side of the park. Richmond's concerns are not shared by many residents of the north Kingston part of my constituency, which is why I am most grateful, Mr. O'Hara, that you have allowed my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton to contribute to the debate. There is no question but that Kingston residents will derive huge benefits from a fast link to central London. However, despite providing 12 trains an hour to central London, Crossrail will also result in the loss of the District line service between Turnham Green and Richmond. That is a hugely popular route, which many of my constituents use to travel directly into central London without changing trains. It also provides an easy link to tourist attractions such as the Houses of Parliament here at Westminster, the world heritage site at Kew gardens and the national archives at Kew, which hold the Domesday Book. The line is therefore popular with tourists and residents.

Sadly, in a reversal of the argument that has been advanced, it transpires that Crossrail will involve the compulsory purchase of land and, in one case, an entire property in my constituency. That land is to be used to provide a dive-under line at the Manor Road junction. When that was discovered, property values in the area were immediately blighted—an issue to which I shall return shortly. First, however, I should mention the consultation. On 14 July last year, the Secretary of State for Transport asked Cross London Rail Links Ltd. to undertake a public consultation exercise in the autumn to explain its proposals in more detail and canvas opinion on its route proposals. Stakeholders were given

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until 19 January—next Monday—to submit their reports. The consultation started at the beginning of September and was scheduled to end on 3 December. On about 13 November, two months after the official start of the consultation, about 40 households in my constituency received letters telling them of the need compulsorily to purchase their land or properties. Some received the letter as late as 4 December, the day after the official consultation ended. Richmond council was not informed in any detail about the properties that would be affected. I do not know how much it knew, but I was told officially that it had not been informed. Naturally, there was great consternation among residents that their questions could be answered neither by their MP—I met Crossrail in November but was not told of the proposals—nor by any of their local councillors.

A public meeting was called, and a group called XRail—another crossrail, but we refer to it thus for ease—with about 100 members. A public exhibition in Richmond organised on 29 November and 1 December by Crossrail was held on a landing at the top of a staircase outside the reference library. That was, Richmond council claimed, the only space that it could make available that weekend. Hundreds of people turned up. It was mayhem. They turned up to catch glimpses, if they were lucky—and most were not—of some glossy PR material, but there was no proper map showing land take, and there were no alternative proposals.

The chosen option axed the District line in my constituency and required land take from local residents. No alternatives were presented at the exhibition or at subsequent meetings, and little detail has been given to us about environmental studies, passenger flows, both present and predicted, or the business plan. Crossrail of course claims that that issue is confidential.It has also been revealed that the proposal will involve closing a large Currys branch and Homebase in Richmond. The management and staff of those two popular stores had no idea that that was going to happen or that it would result in the loss of their jobs. The consultation period has been far too short and insufficient information has been provided to allow local authorities, let alone residents, to assess the scheme.

All that damage has been done, even though funding for Crossrail has apparently not been identified or approved. Indeed, many people are now being told privately by assorted individuals that the line between Richmond and Kingston—corridor 6, in other words—will not be approved anyway, so what is all the fuss about? There is a lot of confusion.My constituents have been elated, puzzled, not properly consulted, depressed, irritated, frightened and impoverished for something that may not happen at all. Many of them now own blighted properties. Many are elderly and were planning to use the equity in their properties to supplement pensions reduced by recent scandals. It is possible that at the end of this month the route for Crossrail between Richmond and Kingston will not be approved as part of the main project but, in case of a decision perhaps 20 years hence, the relevant areas will be safeguarded. There is tremendous fear about that.

If what I have outlined were to happen, statutory blight would commence. If any of my constituents in the area wanted to sell their house and obtain compensation

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they would have to prove that the sale was necessary because of a change of employment and the need to move to another area. No one could obtain compensation if they wanted to realise the equity in their house for pension purposes. I understand that some committee or other was supposed to be examining the statutory blight problem after the channel tunnel experience. However, nothing seems to have transpired. I hope that the Minister can assure us that the problem is being considered and can be solved.

It is also vital to obtain an assurance from the Minister that, should it be decided that the Kingston to Richmond section of Crossrail cannot go ahead, the safeguarding of properties will be lifted immediately. The newly Labour—that is the only way I can describe him—Mayor of London has assured us of his support, so I assume that the Government will agree with him. Will the Minister confirm that?

Finally, Crossrail's proposal for 12 fast trains to central London will sadly result in the loss of our stretch of the District line. The XRail residents group, a local amenity society and others have questioned whether that is the only option. How many options have been considered? The local engineering group attached to XRail has produced a well argued paper suggesting alternatives to the dive-under at Manor road junction, and I understand that it has been sent to the Department for Transport. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. How many alternatives that would both retain the vital link that the District line provides and protect properties have been considered? The London boroughs of Richmond and Hounslow have informed me of their proposed variant to the Crossrail scheme, which offers great advantages to south-west London boroughs, including Kingston. The proposal involves retaining the District line and providing services to the Hounslow loop line. I hope that the Minister can assure us that that option will be considered.

We are told that the primary objection to running the District line together with Crossrail is operational: one cannot mix non-timetabled trains with timetabled trains. However, I find that difficult to understand. Surely, overcoming the problem is not rocket science or beyond the scope of modern signalling. As well as commenting on those major issues, will the Minister say what transfer facilities will be provided at Turnham Green if the District line terminates there and how accessible they will be? Will he also assure us that the long-standing request that has been made for years that the Piccadilly line stop at Turnham Green will be granted?

The consultation on Crossrail in south-west London on issues affecting my constituents has ended before it has even begun. How does the Minister intend to assess the limited responses that he has received and the proposed alternative schemes that have been submitted? Most importantly, how does he intend to deal with the safeguarding issues, which I am sure affect far more people than my constituents alone? The idea of Crossrail is truly excellent and could bring huge benefits to London as a whole, but so far it has been a sad tale. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

3.42 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on securing this debate on a project

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that we both wholeheartedly support and that is important for our constituencies. She is right to set out, on behalf of her constituents, some of the problems that will need to be overcome to ensure that there is even more agreement. She has already explained to the Chamber and to the Minister and to others outside that there are solutions to the problems and that the communities involved can support the overall scheme.

We have serious transport problems in south-west London, including Kingston, such as congestion. Such problems are increasingly imposing constraints on the economy and the society that I represent. We need more investment in public transport infrastructure, so, even though Crossrail might be some time off, it is vital that we signal huge support for it in principle.

We do not want to make the same mistake in Kingston as our forefathers. There was originally a plan to bring the main line to the south-west of England through the borough, but the good burghers of Kingston were worried about the pubs and carriages in Kingston marketplace, so they declined the offer of the line, which went through Surbiton. I use that line almost daily and, for the good burghers of modern Surbiton, it is a good thing. For Kingston, however, we do not want to repeat that historic mistake. We need the line because it will bring huge advantages.

The Montague review is considering the financing of the different options. I would like to tell Adrian Montague and all those speaking to him that we want Crossail in Kingston. The number of people who would use it to travel to and from Kingston would help to ensure the scheme's financial viability and the funding needs of the City. Kingston is the second most visited retail centre in London and the south-east after the west end and Oxford street. That is the scale of the number of people coming to and going from Kingston. It is a vibrant community, and the traffic that Crossrail would generate would help finances. I hope that Mr. Montague and his colleagues are factoring that and the huge growth currently seen in Kingston into their calculations.

I have another point that the Crossrail project team, Mr. Montague and the Government should take on board. The Richmond and Kingston branch is due to stop at Kingston, which is no surprise considering its name. However, an earlier consideration included the idea of continuing it to Norbiton, which is the next station along from Kingston. That is a superb idea, not least because Norbiton is the most deprived ward in my constituency. Times have changed since the 1991 Jarman index, and unemployment in my constituency is not as high, but just over a decade ago, Norbiton was the most deprived ward in outer London boroughs, and some of that deprivation still exists. Moreover, if the branch stopped at Norbiton, it would take the line close to Kingston hospital, one of London's best hospitals.

The argument for bringing the line to Norbiton is strong in terms of economic regeneration and social inclusion, and the Crossrail team, the Government and Mr. Montague should consider it. I am told that the practicalities are covered for turning round the trains and using the place as a stop. Considering the wider economic benefits that could be generated, such an extension should be considered by all involved in the project, not least the Minister.

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3.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty) : I congratulate the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) on their contributions. I know that many of the concerns raised are real but, like some of the criticisms, they are a tad premature.

As a London Member, I am fully aware of the issues at stake in planning for London's future transport needs. We broadly agree with the forecast in the London plan that the city's population will grow by 700,000 to more than 8 million by 2016. Those extra people will need to travel around for both work and leisure, and there will be growth in the wider south-east. Many more people will want to come into London, and the demand for public transport is forecast to grow by 24 per cent. between 2001 and 2016, an average increase of 1.5 per cent. a year.

I tell the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton that I am keenly aware from my not-too-distant past of the difficulty both of getting to Kingston and travelling around it once there. I was a part-time lecturer at the polytechnic, later the university, of North London and the polytechnic of Central London while holding down a 0.5 post as a politics lecturer at Kingston university. I had to juggle three timetables on any given day or week for the best part of a year, and in doing so I started to understand intimately the difficulties with access throughout central and north London and Kingston. Having to juggle those timetables is second only to the Atkins diet in keeping someone trim and in shape, not least because of the access concerns that have been alluded to.

As hon. Members will know, the Government have long supported the principle of the Crossrail scheme and recognised that it could provide a significant increase in the capacity of the present rail networks into and across London, thereby relieving congestion and overcrowding. That is why we asked Cross-London Rail Links, the joint venture between Transport for London and the Strategic Rail Authority, to devise a project to meet the challenges. CLRL submitted its business case in July 2003, and it has produced a serious proposal that deserves serious consideration.

As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, the proposal is based around a central tunnel across London that closely follows the currently protected alignment from west of Paddington to east of Liverpool Street station. That is a central feature whatever the exact details of the end scheme. The current proposal suggests that, from Liverpool Street, the line would be extended through Whitechapel, beyond which it would divide into two branches: one going to Stratford and joining the existing Great Eastern lines to Shenfield, the other going through the Isle of Dogs and the royal docks before crossing the Thames to join the north Kent lines at Abbey Wood, with some services continuing to Ebbsfleet.

To the west of Paddington, which is of more direct concern today, the proposal would divide the line into two further branches. One would join the North London line providing services to Richmond and Kingston. The other would be via Ealing and Hayes to Heathrow, along the existing branch served by the

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Heathrow express. That would clearly be subject to the promoters securing a satisfactory agreement with BAA, which owns the Heathrow access rights to that branch.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, in what I think was a slip of the tongue, referred to the review considering funding. In fact, the remit of the review, which is important for this debate, goes far beyond simply funding, important though that is. In response to receiving the final business plan, we set up the review and the expert team, led by Adrian Montague, chairman of British Energy and deputy chairman of Network Rail, to review the proposals. The terms of reference are to examine the business case and to assess whether the proposals are likely to be delivered according to time, scope and budget; whether they offer value for money; the extent of Government funding that can be justified; and the proportion of funding required from non-Government sources.

Deep within that are all the concerns about the line, the duration of the build, financing and other considerations, not the least of which is the timetable. One must consider—if I can use this word—the totality of the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport in July and the terms of reference for the Montague review, to appreciate fully that it is not just about funding packages. It goes far deeper than that.

In that context, I ask the Chamber to have patience for a little longer. The review team has been working since September and is due to submit its report to the Secretary of State around the turn of the month or soon thereafter. Therefore, although today's debate is valuable, it is inevitably a little premature. It is taking place so close to the outcome of the review that, with the best will in the world, I will not go into detail about the pros and cons or other aspects of the south-west London spur.

Mr. Davey : I accept that the Minister cannot say too much before the Secretary of State receives the Montague review report, but how long does he think that the Department will need to consider the report? When does he think that Parliament will hear the Secretary of State's conclusions on the report?

Mr. McNulty : At the risk of sounding facetious, that depends on whether we have a two-page dismissal or a far lengthier process. I cannot determine what is in the report, how much it agrees with, or otherwise, the business plan, or how much it tears up the business plan and says, "Here is another, equally viable project, with another tunnel somewhere else in central London." I suspect that that will not happen but I simply do not know. We do not know the details of the report or the extent of it within each of the terms of reference, but I hope that the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is, "As quickly as possible", so that we can move things on. That is what everyone needs to do.

Dr. Tonge : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty : I will briefly.

Dr. Tonge : I understand the Minister's difficulties, given that the report has not been published yet, but surely he can say something generally about the problem of safeguarding.

Mr. McNulty : Although I said to the hon. Lady, perhaps in my impatience, that I would take an

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intervention and move on, I may well touch on safeguarding in the remainder of my remarks—we will have to see. Actually, I may not know what is in the review, but I know what is in this speech.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intends to make a statement and plans to publish the review team's report in due course. Everyone I have met who has had anything to do with Mr. Montague and his team during the process, in whatever capacity, understands fully, and have told me that they understand, that it is a detailed and rigorous review of every aspect of the case. It is not an exercise to dismiss the case or whatever else. It is a very serious review of all aspects of the case.

Following the setting up of the review, the Crossrail team, CLRL and others are still rolling forward a range of work schedules and works, not least the consultation. The business plan was published in July. Initially, the Government responded to it, but nothing else happened until the review team was set up, and nothing else will happen until it has reported. Plenty of work streams still have to continue under that plan without any assessments or assumptions being made about the outcome of the review. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the report, or the decisions that might follow, but other work continues.

CLRL's planning timetable contains a public consultation that will last from October 2003 to June 2004. I will return to the specific points raised by the hon. Lady in a moment. Right hon. and hon. Members whose constituencies could be affected by the process will know that the first phase has finished. I need to make it clear that CLRL's recent public consultation to explain its proposed scheme in more detail and to canvass views on the route proposals was part of the overall package of ongoing work above and beyond the reviews.

It is misleading to characterise the first phase—informing people that they might be affected by the lines or routes in the business case—as being people's only chance of consultation in the whole process. I appreciate that the hon. Lady did not entirely do that, but she did in some ways. Whatever emerges from the Montague review about a definitive line—south, west, north and, I suppose, the east—there is much more to be done in terms of detail and there will be a far more substantive and detailed consultation, so it is not fair to say that the initial consultation period was the be-all and end-all of the process. It was just a device to explain the scheme.

I will touch briefly on what the hon. Lady asked about safeguarding. CLRL is continuing its work on that, and has asked us to update the safeguarding for the central

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section of its proposed route. It makes sense to continue to safeguard the central tunnel section, as that could be expected to be at the heart of any Crossrail scheme that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might approve. I talk facetiously about a potential tunnel somewhere in central London, but there is not going to be one. Everyone broadly agrees that, if the scheme is to proceed, the central core from Paddington to Liverpool Street station will be the central core whatever prevails, and will be at the heart of any Crossrail scheme.

The section is protected by safeguarding directions from 1990 and 1991, but they are somewhat out of date. In order accurately to reflect CLRL's scheme for the central area, the Secretary of State intends to issue safeguarding directions to update the 1990 and 1991 safeguards. However, he will not issue safeguarding directions that make anything more than technical changes to existing safeguards of the central core until the Government are in a position to make wider decisions on the future of the scheme.

CLRL has not requested safeguarding in the western or eastern sections of the benchmark scheme, so it is premature to request a delay to a new safeguarding direction for any route in Richmond upon Thames. There will not be any substance-safeguarding for anything other than the central core until we know where we are with the project and how it will proceed.

In CLRL's proposal, works would largely take place either underground or on existing railway, but it is inevitable that some people would be affected by them. The team continues to work in parallel with the review of its proposals. It took the view that, if we were to decide to take the proposals forward, it would be better to notify those people who could be affected, purely as a matter of course.

CLRL has notified all property owners and occupiers whose land could be required for works on the benchmark scheme, but I stress that that does not mean either that any commitment has been given to acquire land, or that there is any consent to its purchase. The fact that letters have been sent does not imply that the CLRL proposals have been agreed and therefore must go forward. To be fair to CLRL, I do not think that that was its intention in such a notification—it was simply to forewarn people that, pending the review, that area might be affected. To say that that is the only chance of protestation is not entirely accurate.

I assure the hon. Lady that, while I fully take on board all that she has said, and the seriousness of those concerns, there is still much to be done and a long way to go before we are in a position to know what is in the review.

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