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Mr. Rob Wilson: The Secretary of State made the point that Reading was uneconomic as the western terminus. What cost-benefit analysis of that has been made and why would Reading be uneconomic?

Mr. Darling: The issue was considered as part of the cross-London rail links project and all the information is available in the Library. It would take the best part of the rest of the debate to read it all out, but in simple terms, the costs would arise from extending the railway line from Maidenhead to Reading, including construction costs and the consequent need for resignalling at Reading. There are also capacity
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problems at Reading. I did not say to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West that, in terms of time gained, the studies that were carried out showed that most people would find it quicker to get from Reading into Paddington and then change; it would be quicker to use the existing high-speed services than to use Crossrail, which would be a local service. The studies were carried out and the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) is welcome to examine them. I may have said that construction costs were based on 2008 to 2015. If I remember rightly, it is 2007 to 2013.

As I have said, there is a new central tunnel section for the stations to which I referred earlier. Major construction work is necessary at each station site as well as intermediate ventilation and emergency intervention shafts. It is my guess that a number of these areas may concern hon. Members and their constituents. I know that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway) will certainly be concerned about Hanbury street. These are matters that the petitioning process is designed precisely to address so that we can ascertain what we can do to try to address concerns, if that is possible. We have tried throughout the process to examine all the options and to come up with those that are the least environmentally damaging and the least inconvenient to people. Inevitably, the construction of a large-scale railway underneath one of the largest cities in the world is bound to have some element of disruption.

I have mentioned that there are three outlying sections of the scheme to the west, the north-east and the south-east, and I hope that I have explained how they link with the existing network. Decisions about the route, the location of stations and so on were the subject of consultation both in 2003 and 2004. In addition to that, a number of plans have been put forward as alternatives to Crossrail, on which Members may wish to touch. However, I believe that the proposition that we have before us gives us a realistic chance of getting something constructed. It will take time, however, and it will be expensive. I believe that it will benefit London, the south-east and the whole country overall.

I hope that, during the course of the afternoon, I have been able to address some of the points that have been raised. I suspect that the House will have quite a long time to consider these matters because of the process that has been established both in relation to this place and another place. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members, as well as their constituents, will have ample opportunity to have their concerns explored.

Having considered these matters for the past three or four years, I am convinced that, if we do not do something about transport problems in London, not only London but the entire country will pay the price. I hope that, as we consider Crossrail and all the problems that we face, we can try together to reach some consensus in relation, first, to the building of Crossrail and, secondly, on the precise shape and form of it. I hope that we can avoid a situation where, in people's desire to be helpful and to add bits on here and there, we do not end up killing the entire project.

If we pass the Bill tonight, it will mark the biggest single development since Victorian times. It is a huge project with huge benefits. I commend the Bill to the House.
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5.3 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for the thoroughness, the patience and the courtesy with which he has treated the House. He has been generous in giving way and he has answered some pretty technical and complicated questions. I think that he has largely overcome the original confusion that was sown about the remit of the Select Committee. I think that the House will be grateful for the understanding tone that he has adopted towards this difficult and complex issue.

The country needs infrastructure. Building high-capacity routes in a densely populated country is an evermore complex and controversial endeavour. I hope that at least in principle, if not in every detail, we can make the issue of Crossrail something that has cross-party support.

Britain is crowded. In the past few centuries, we built our infrastructure very well—we constructed ports, canals, railways, airports, roads and now, by virtue of this project, we will construct railways again. As we build more, however, everything becomes entwined, and as we are not building any more space, inevitably the facilities that we are trying to construct for the betterment of our life overlap and compete for that space. That is nowhere more so than in our capital city, which is congested, highly populated and has many intense traffic movements from day to day. We have built in and out of London; we have built the M25 around it, but we have not built anything across it. The project will go from east to west, and from west to east. Inevitably, it must be a Government endeavour or at least a Government-authorised endeavour, so that the powers needed to implement it are enshrined in law. That is what the Bill attempts to do.

The Bill has been a long time a-coming. Any infrastructure project of this scale needs some push and drive. The people working on it need to adopt a "get on with it" attitude, balanced, as is clear from our deliberations today, by acute sensitivity to local and private concerns. Over the years, as I have said in previous debates with the Secretary of State, the country's infrastructure planning has been bedevilled by short-term horizons. The project attempts to take a longer view, and tries to solve a problem before we are completely bunged up and are compelled to do something about it. I lived in Singapore in the mid-1980s, and as we look across the world from west to east, we can see that that country had great planning horizons, and built great capacity, in excess of what was thought necessary at the time. As a result, it has a world-standard metro and a world-standard airport, which has capacity for even more flights.

Henry Miller wrote:

To some extent, that is true of the Crossrail project. For as long as I have been in the House, the concept has been hovering, waiting to be put into practice. It has been knocked off course every now and then, particularly in 1994. One of the consequent costs is the escalation of the price that the country has to pay to make it happen. Something that began as a £2 billion project is probably now a £10 billion project, and we can comfortably predict that by the time it is completed it will be a £20 billion project.
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There is no point, however, in rehearsing the passage of events over the past 15 years. Instead, we should take our text from a letter in the Financial Times yesterday that referred to our forthcoming debate. It was signed by many senior business men, including the director general of the CBI, the chairman of Citigroup and others, who urged the Government to get on with it, as it is essential for the economic growth of London and the United Kingdom. We must, as the Secretary of State largely did, look at the route, its planning and construction, as well as its interrelationship with the plans for construction projects for the 2012 Olympics. We must look at funding—the Secretary of State did not say very much about that, so we may wish to return to the subject later. We must look at the effect of the project on local interests and the intensity of local opinion along the route and among people who believe that they are affected by the knock-on effects of this massive undertaking. We must look at the interaction with other networks, and the regulatory regime, mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), that will govern it.

It is proper to put on record the scale of this huge engineering project. If it is undertaken as we expect, it will be one of the wonders of the world. I shall paraphrase the details rather than read them all out, as hon. Members will be familiar with them. There will be 46 km of massive tunnels, some of them 50 m below street level, going under huge buildings and built-up areas of London. That is an enormous engineering endeavour, the likes of which we have never seen before.

There will be safety issues. In the current security climate, the ventilation and escape shafts are a poignant detail that the Committee will want to study. We will also have to examine the interrelationship with existing railway corridors. Although the Secretary of State offered us some reassurance this afternoon, that interrelationship may pose a problem because we are trying to squeeze if not a quart into a pint pot, a great deal of activity on existing railway capacity, which will be pushed to the limit.

We are told that Crossrail will be running by 2013. I suspect that is quite an ambitious finish date. A project of such a scale may well take a decade, but it is clear that some of the other suggested schemes are not realistic, and Crossrail is currently the only one on the blocks.

I said that Crossrail would probably be at least a £10 billion project, and perhaps even more. There is an estimated shortfall in funding of about £7 billion. I would appreciate hearing more from the Minister in his winding-up speech about how that will be made up, and what sort of undertakings and guarantees will be given at the beginning of the project that the money will be available to see it through to completion. All of us can cast our mind back to the channel tunnel, a comparable infrastructure project that was always bedevilled by increased costs and insufficient funding to underpin it, such that it almost went bankrupt. We need to make sure that Crossrail is fully underpinned and can definitely go ahead.

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