Andrew Rosindell : I admire the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the whole Crossrail scheme. He understands that the huge depot will be located in Romford. Would he be equally enthusiastic were it to be located in Ilford?
Mike Gapes: Regrettably, most of the land in my constituency seems to have been built on for housing and high-rise flats. I am not sure that we have a location as suitable as that in Romford. I hope, however, that discussions can take place about making sure that brownfield sites are used and that the needs of the community are taken into account. I am sure that the issue will be resolved in due course to the benefit of all of us in London, not least the hon. Gentleman's constituents.
I have detained the House for long enough, and I want to allow other Members to speak. Crossrail is supported by a spectrum of organisations in London, by employees, trade unions, community organisations and commuters, and by a wide spectrum of interests of all kinds. Let us unite and make sure that it becomes a reality.
As hon. Members know, we have been waiting for this Bill for a long time. Speaking as a commuter in London for the past 25 years, commuting has been the best of times and the worst of times. The emotions that commuters experience range from relief when everything runs smoothly to frustration and, at the tail end, to exasperation when their train sits outside a station for 10 or 15 minutes without explanation.
London's commuters and businesses want and have been desperate for Crossrail. Importantly, it is not an upgrade, an extension to an existing system or a tweak to an existing line. It is new capacity, which we need, and a new influx of spaces for London, which continues to grow, and the economy of which continues to grow. Crossrail also provides the necessary proof that we are not prepared simply to rest on the laurels of our Victorian forefathers for another century.
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Crossrail is not without its critics, who come in all shapes and sizes. They include community groups that will be directly affected and, perhaps more surprisingly, Network Rail and many other players in the rail industry. I shall say more about that shortly, but first I shall focus on four main subjects: responses to the Crossrail Bill environmental statement, the rail industry's fears about the impact on freight and passenger services, the impact on the Olympics, and Crossrail's funding.
The responses to the environmental statement may be the best indicator of what local communities will think of the Bill. A range of issues were raised and it is difficult to say which are the most important, but I shall list just a few: availability of the statement, alternative alignments for the central tunnel, alternative schemes, construction working hours, noise and pollution, location of spoils, spoil mountains, and locations of shafts and work site. One of the most significant issues, however, was whether the proposals complied with the relevant European Union directives. I know that the Government took on board concerns about the process by extending the time frame and making information more readily available, but I hope the Minister will confirm that he is satisfied that the statement complies with those directives in all respects.
Many responses questioned the availability of evidence that alternative alignments had been considered. That applied to alternative alignments through Spitalfields and Whitechapel. There was also concern about proposed sites such as the one at Hanbury street, which I know also concerns some Members, and about the disposal of spoil at Mile End. I am sure that many if not all Members have been lobbied about alternative schemes by organisations such as Superlink, and I shall say more about that as well. The environmental statement acknowledges the requirement for an outline of the main alternatives studied by the applicant or appellant, but many respondents assert that it has not been met.
The Bill has months, if not years, of work behind it. There is little evidence to suggest that Superlink has devoted the same effort, time and expenditure to its proposals: indeed, it is clear that it has not done so. It has, however, raised issues with which I hope the Minister will deal in a way that addresses my concerns and those felt, I suspect, by other Members. One of the main issues is funding. I appreciate that this is a hybrid Bill and that we are not here to discuss funding, but it must be a source of anxiety, given the scale of the project and the fact that so little is known about how it will be financed.
I am happy to respond to that. The honest answer has to be no. A range of funding mechanisms are available to the Government. We know that discussions have taken place about increasing the business rate for businesses of a certain size for a restricted period. I had hoped that that would have been highlighted earlier when the Secretary of State opened the debate, but perhaps the Minister will comment when he replies.
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The funding issues are made more significant as a result of our successful bid for the Olympic games. To a certain degree, if not a great degree, there may be some competition for accessing available funds. The Superlink proposal challenges the Crossrail proposal in respect of regional links and making better use of services, drawing in commuters from further afield.
Mike Gapes: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the all-party group had discussions with Superlink earlier this week. I have to say that, personally, I was not at all convinced of the viability of its proposals. Questions are raised about the reliability of a system that is so dependent on existing operators and existing lines. Another problem is that Superlink has not actually published a route, so I do not know whether it proposes to tunnel under my high street or under my main station.
Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. As I said a few moments ago, the Superlink proposal is much less developed than the Crossrail proposal, but it nevertheless raises some interesting questions, to which it would be appropriate for the Minister to respond.
Tom Brake: If Superlink indeed has a secret plan, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, it would be entirely appropriate for it to be made a matter of public record. We must be able to see what the proposals amount to and what the proposed route is. It would be entirely honest to proceed in that way.
Peter Luff: I am going to rise to the defence of Superlink. It does not have the resources of the main Crossrail promoters. It is a David and Goliath situation and, on this occasion, David is right and Goliath is wrong. It is difficult for Superlink to improve its proposals with the resources that it has at its disposal.
Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Clearly, we have to consider what is in the public domain, and we have a large body of evidence from Crossrail and a much smaller body of evidence from Superlink. The general feeling is, quite rightly, that we should proceed with the Crossrail scheme before us.
Other issues raised in response to the environmental statement were working hours and noise. I hope that the Minister will comment briefly on them, particularly if, as some respondents claim, the noise levels will seriously breach World Health Organisation limits. I believe that I have covered the main points that emerged from the environmental statement.
I want to move on to the helpful briefing from the industry, which many Members have received. It is worth highlighting the main organisations that contributed to itfreight operators, Network Rail, BAA and the Rail Freight Group. If I have any concern about the Crossrail Bill, it is that it has succeeded in uniting all those different groups in expressing such serious reservations about it. The briefing highlights the
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fact that more than 500,000 people travel on services provided by Great Western and Heathrow Express, while more than 200 freight trains use the rail corridors.
The industry's view, with which I am sure all Members agree, is that Crossrail should be integrated in, and operated as part of, the national networkthe Secretary of State gave some reassurance on that pointand that it should be subject to the existing regulatory framework and managed by Network Rail within the existing operational structure. It believes that amendments will be required to recognise the rights of existing rail users, to ensure that there is sufficient capacity for existing and future rail users and to safeguard the independence of the Office of Rail Regulation. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that no such amendments will be required, as the Government already intend those points to be covered by the development of the Bill.The industry has specific concerns about the Bill's impact. There will be a new-build project, similar to the channel tunnel rail link, and a major construction project around existing rail services. The Minister will not be surprised that the industry's solution involves Network Rail taking responsibility for changes to the existing infrastructure, although the new-build could be handled separately. There are great concerns about fragmentation, a theme that has run through many contributions, although to give him his due, the Secretary of State has partly addressed them. As the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) said, the industry has concerns about the operation of Crossrail and its integration with the existing network. I hope the Minister will be able to satisfy the House that those concerns are over-stated.
I have a few further points. A huge amount of work will be required for the Olympics. I understand that the Olympic team, the Crossrail team, Transport for London and the Mayor's office are all working closely together to ensure that there is proper integration and that the major works for Crossrail are not undertaken precisely when we need the transport network running smoothly in London. However, there is concern that the Crossrail Bill and the London Olympics Bill take different approaches to the Office of Rail Regulation.
"exercise the functions assigned or transferred to it . . . in a manner which will facilitate the provision, management and control of facilities for transport in connection with the London Olympics".
The longest part of my speech should have dealt with how the scheme will be funded, but there is little to say on that significant point. We know that on 26 June Goldman Sachs and Lexiconapparently, a corporate finance boutique, although I am not sure that we need a boutique to take charge of the matterhave been
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selected to advise the Government on the funding of Crossrail. An article on the subject states that the funding structure will be complicated,