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Angela Watkinson : The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the great concerns of small and medium enterprises about a possible levy of 1.5 or even 3 per cent. on business rates. Does he agree with their proposal that the levy should be proportionate to the likely benefit to them?
Tom Brake: That is an interesting point, although I am not sure how easy it would be to establish the benefits that businesses might or might not derive. We certainly need an indication of the level at which the levy will apply. How large will a business have to be before it has to contribute? Regrettably, little is said about funding.
The Bill is welcome and long overdue. It has the potential to transform an unexceptional public transport system in London into a world-beating one. However, there is consensus among Opposition parties and other partners that the measure will require detailed scrutiny and that its remit must be allowed to extend to issues such as integration. Taxpayers, especially London-based taxpayers, whether business or private, will be paying for the project for many years to come. London has already had one millennium dome inflicted on it; it cannot afford another. Nor can it afford a 15-mile stretch of tunnel that improves services for London's commuters at the expense of the rest of the country.
The Bill is embarking on what promises to be an epic parliamentary journeya bit of a rollercoaster. We must ensure that it arrives at its destination improved and able to deliver a greatly enhanced transport system for Londoners and other commuters alike. If we do not do so, it could suffer the same fate as its predecessor 15 years ago and be stifled at birth.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I start by drawing attention to an interest that I have declared in the Register of Members' Interests, as deputy chairman of the Construction Industry Council.
I am pleased to support the Second Reading of the Bill, which is hugely important to the future of transport in London. Transport is widely recognised as London's Achilles heel. It regularly features as one of the downsides of life in what is otherwise recognised as one of the most vibrant and successful cities in the world.
The problem of poor transport in London reflects continuing failure over much of the second half of the last century to invest adequately in transport infrastructure. As the Secretary of State rightly reflected in his speech, there must be severe worries about London's future economic success if that inheritance of under-investment in transport is not made good. That is one of the key factors that we should bear in mind.
Where new investment in public transport has been made, notably the Jubilee line, it has proved resoundingly successful in opening up formerly depressed and disadvantaged parts of London and
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easing congestion on existing transport links. Developments in areas such as Southwark, Canary Wharf, north Greenwich, Canning Town and Stratford have all been enormously helped by the new Jubilee line. Crossrail has similar potential to ease congestion in central London and to support new development and regeneration, not least in the Thames Gateway area, which will be served by two links from Liverpool Street, one north of the river to Shenfield, the other passing through docklands south of the river to Abbey Wood.
The scheme is not a new one. As we all know, it was first proposed in 1989, about 16 years ago, and progress has been painfully slow. Why is that? We all know that it is because of the cost. The scheme is highly expensive, depending on two new tunnels bored through central Londonmajor engineering works that have been conventionally costed at about £10 billion, but as the Secretary of State commented, the likely out-turn figures may be between £15 billion and £16 billion. That inevitably poses important and difficult questions about how the costs should be met, and specifically what the balance should be in the contributions respectively of the fare-paying users of the service, the general taxpayer and the business interests that stand to gain, some very significantly, from the project.
The scope for substantial increases in values of property and of development sites adjoining and surrounding stations is increasingly understood. How best to recover a proportion of that planning gain is less well understood. In my view, it is essential for us to look carefully at this, in respect of Crossrail and other new rail and infrastructure developments, because I believe that this holds the key to making possible development that might otherwise not be regarded as economic.
What is not, in my view, sustainable is the defeatist notion that because of the scheme's high cost, further delay is inevitable or even desirable. We have already seen too long a delay in bringing forward the Crossrail scheme. Further cost-driven delay would be not just a mistake but counterproductive, as the ultimate costs of delivering an essential element for the resolution of London's transport problems would be even higher.
A similar mistake to which, unfortunately, the scheme has already been subject, is the false economy of eliminating necessary and desirable elements so as to reduce the cost. That has occurred with the Woolwich station, which was an integral part of the earlier proposals, but which has been deleted from the current schemealbeit with the site of the station still safeguardedpurely for cost-saving reasons. If ever there was an illustration of the penny wise, pound foolish mentality, this is it.
Woolwich is a major transport hub for a significant area of south-east London and is the focus of ambitious regeneration plans. Badly hit by the recessions of the 1980s and early 1990s and the decline of the traditional heavy industry that was the source of Woolwich's prosperity in the 19th and 20th centuries, it is at last beginning to see revival, with successful regeneration of the former Woolwich arsenal site. That incipient recovery would be given a huge boost by a new station involving rapid transport links to central and west London. The regeneration benefits of a Crossrail station at Woolwich are enormous.
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Not only would that opportunity be lost if the scheme progressed without a station at Woolwich, but there would be very serious transport disadvantages. There would be literally no stations over a six-mile section of the railway between Custom House and Abbey Wood. Furthermore, potential passengers from a wide swathe of south-east London would have no easy point of access to Crossrail. The only south-east London station would be Abbey Wood, which is not well placed to meet the needs of travellers from much of the Greenwich and Lewisham areas, and does not have the benefit of being a major transport hub, as is a Woolwich.
Supporters of Crossrail in south-east London to whom I have spoken in recent months are almost unanimous in recognising the very substantial transport and regeneration benefits of a Woolwich station. Most are astonished at the proposal that the trains should pass underneath Woolwich without stopping, when there is a very suitable location for a station already safeguarded.
Those of us who represent the London borough of Greenwich are sadly familiar with short-sighted thinking of that nature on previous infrastructure projects. The original Jubilee line proposal did not include a station at North Greenwich. Without it, the regeneration of the former British Gas site, derelict and heavily polluted, would never have taken place, with 12,500 new homes now being built on that sitea major contribution to the Thames Gatewayand the millennium dome. Whatever people feel about the millennium domeI think particularly of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who made a predictably negative comment, probably not thinking about itthis project has had a huge impact on the regeneration of formerly derelict and abandoned industrial land, and the dome will provide a magnificent site for the gymnastics in the Olympic games in London in 2012. None of that would have happened if there had not been a station at North Greenwich. Fortunately, common sense prevailed. The North Greenwich station was built and it has been not just a catalyst for regeneration, but is proving to be a thriving transport hub.
A few years later we went through an eerily similar process with the docklands light railway extension to Greenwich and Lewisham. Believe it or not, one of the cost-cutting proposals before that scheme got the go-ahead was to eliminate the station at Cutty Sark, one of London's most popular tourist destinations. Once again, our community in Greenwich had to run a high-profile campaign to reverse that false economy. Fortunately, we won. Cutty Sark station is now one of the most heavily used on the DLR network and the very idea of DLR trains passing underneath that site but not stopping is self-evidently ludicrous.
I must question the sense of the Department for Transport in once again proposing to eliminate a very significant station in the borough of Greenwich as a cost-cutting measure. Conspiracy theoristsI am not onemight suspect a vendetta against our part of London. I prefer to attribute this to a cock-up rather than to a conspiracy. That is why I tabled an amendment instructing the Select Committee to have regard to the benefit of a station in Woolwich and its economic, transport and regeneration implications. I was surprised and a little disappointed to hear my right
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hon. Friend the Secretary of State express a rather negative view of that amendment. I can see no possible reason why the Select Committee should not consider the merits of a station at Woolwich and I do hope that when the Under-Secretary winds up he will make it clear that it is reasonable and proper for the Select Committee to consider this proposal as part of its consideration of the Bill.
I shall briefly raise two points before concluding. The issue of conflict with freight and other users of the railway has been raised by a number of hon. Members, not least the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). It is a very important issue and we have a specific concern about south-east London. A very large aggregates depot, which serves the Thames Gateway area and is likely to be a major source of aggregates for the Olympics and Crossrail as well as the Thames Gateway development, is sited in my constituency near the Angerstein junction. It includes a freight link for very large quantities of aggregate brought in from the midlands by aggregate industries. Representatives of those industries have written to me, rightly expressing concern that their business could be affected by the proposals. It is not just a question of potential conflict for access to the track; there are also implications if reduced access were to lead to increased track access charges, which could make the rail transport of aggregates non-economic, in which case there would be a very substantial transfer of aggregate from rail to road, with huge environmental implications. Those issues need to be looked at very carefully indeed.
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