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Mr. Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I welcome the Bill and acknowledge the Government's commitment to the Crossrail project by bringing it forward as a hybrid Bill. I also welcome the Secretary of State's wish to put some certainty into the Bill by defining the limits of the Crossrail network. That is essential if the scheme is to be practical and affordable. The project is important to the nation and will have national rail links, but it is, in essence, a London railway and it needs to be looked at in those terms.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) referred to Superlink. If I have got the jargon right, that proposal is essentially a commuter scheme, whereas Crossrail is a metro scheme. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) made some complimentary references to Superlink. If that is Liberal Democrat policy, it would be of interest to my constituents.
Mr. Slaughter: That is the most enthusiastic view of Superlink that I have heard. As the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) said, it did not publish the route, but it showed us a map. I believe that although Ipswich and possibly Worcester were on that map, Acton main line was not.
Peter Luff: I would love Worcester to be served by a fast service direct through to Canary Wharf, but it was nowhere near the map. The hon. Gentleman is making mischief. He says that Crossrail is a metro service. People going from Maidenhead into west London do not want a metro service: they have a perfectly good rail service. Crossrail diminishes the quality of the service for many people who currently use it; and a metro is not very attractive.
I may be old-fashioned, but I thought that the links to the national rail network were the London terminals of Paddington and Liverpool Street, which seem to do a perfectly good job. The principal job of Crossrail is to provide much needed relief to central London and to the western and eastern arms; that is why
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it has received a warm welcome from business, local government, trade unions and transport groups. Even those who intend to petition against parts of the Bill generally preface their objections with an endorsement of the scheme. My constituents largely fall into that category by giving it a clear but not unqualified welcome. I shall come on to the objections in a moment.
The benefits to the national and London economy, to employment and, in particular, to the transport network were set out in the Secretary of State's speech, and I do not intend to repeat them. The good sense of having an east-west through route connecting to national rail services and the tube is so apparent that it has been advocated for some 50 years. The commercial and operational benefits are complemented by the relief that it will bring to tube lines already operating at capacity.
The specific local benefits to my constituency are significant. Ealing Broadway will be the principal interchange station on the west arm of the route. The station itself will benefit from much needed reconstruction. Commuters will experience improved services and journey times to many destinations, as well as the new routes that will be opened up to the centre of London. Acton main line station will be rebuilt and the number of trains increased from two to four per hour, reversing the cut in services made last year. The facilities at all stations along the line will be improved and the stations extended to accommodate longer trains. That is all good news for rail users in the western part of my constituency.
However, there are three concerns about the project as currently set out. First, there is a belief that the good news in the Bill could be better. Twenty-four trains will run through the central tunnel at peak times. In the east, those will continue on one or other of the Shenfield or Abbey Wood branch lines; in the west, 14 trains will be turned round at Paddington. The central conceit of Crossrail is to make a once-in-a-generation improvement in the cross-London rail network by linking up the existing extensive but disparate web of overground and underground lines. However, no attempt has been made to interchange with the West London line at Shepherds Bush or the North London line at Acton.It is difficult to tell whether the service to Heathrow from local stations will improve. BAA, which has just introduced the Heathrow Connect service, says that it will not. It is an issue not only of timetabling but of fares. If the premium fares that are currently charged for travelling even a few miles by rail to Heathrow are to continue, many non-business users are likely to boycott the service.
The second caveat, and the basis of a groundswell of local opposition to Crossrail, is the effect that it will have on the local environment, particularly the loss of a substantial area of open space comprising allotments, school playing fields and natural habitat for a number of protected species. The London borough of Ealing and numerous local organisations from the Acton area will, with my support, petition the Select Committee on those issues. The significance of losing irreplaceable open space in inner city areas cannot be overestimated. In this case, the sites are well used and have been for several generations. They are, admittedly, part of the original Great Western estate and stand on railway land, but so does much of the residential property and other amenities in that part of Acton. The specific areas of
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land marked out for compulsory purchase include a sizeable part of the playing field and nature reserve of West Acton primary school and the whole Noel road allotments site.
The teachers and pupils of the school and the residents who till the allotments are not naive, and I doubt that they believe that even armed with rakes and hockey sticks they could stop a £10 billion railroad crossing their land. However, it transpires that the land grab in Acton is wholly unnecessary, as alternative brownfield sites along that part of the route could be substituted. The same applies at Ealing Broadway, where it is proposed to take over Haven greena protected area of green space in Ealing town centreinstead of using a nearby car park for storage and construction works. I presume that that can only be for reasons of cost and convenience to the contractor. Some six years ago, similar proposals to take over those greenfield sites were turned down at the planning stage because alternative brownfield sites were available, and it remains the view of the local authority that those sites are there. Of course, the powers given by the Bill will subsume such local planning powers. Moreover, as the history of the site suggests, the proposed extensive works at Acton yard would envelop the community open space, yet they are not germane to the Crossrail scheme itself but part of separate development proposals for the freight yard. Local residents fear that were the Bill to be passed but Crossrail to be abandoned, the compulsory purchase powers given by the Bill might be used to advance other interests. That lose-lose option would mean no playing fields, but no new rail service either.
That example illustrates my third and final reservation about the Bill. Are the powers to take over existing interests, in particular the compulsory purchase of landholdings of existing users, necessary to fulfil the requirements of the Crossrail scheme? Many substantial interests with a locus in my constituency will petition on these points, including BAA, EWS Railway and Cory Environmental. I do not intend to recite the objections in detail here, as other hon. Members have mentioned them, but the general point is well made. It cannot be right for any greater powers to be taken by the Secretary of State with a view to passing them to the nominated undertaker than are necessary for the construction and operation of the Crossrail route, or for there to be no requirement to consider and negotiate the rights of existing users. If that dictum applies to other major players on the Great Western lines, it should also apply to neighbouring communities.
It is always easier in such debates to dwell on the points of difference than on the layers of agreement. I conclude by repeating that the Bill will find general and enthusiastic support in my constituency, not least because it is an essential addition to the London rail network.
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con):
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. If the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) will forgive me, I should like to revert to the point that my right hon.
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Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) made about the instructions.
The Secretary of State was persuasive. He managed to make me feel at ease and that I should not be so worried about whether the instruction constituted a firm set of locks on the Committee. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire took legal advice and told hon. Members that our original fears, and the reason why I tabled an instruction, were well founded because the Government's instruction would preclude the Committee from considering the possibility of, for example, moving on to Reading or moving the termini from Shenfield to Stratford.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which the Secretary of State would stand at the Dispatch Box and mislead the House. I have no doubt that he spoke in good faithperhaps the advice that he received was simply wrong. If so, will the Under-Secretary assure us in his winding-up speech that he will ensure that the Committee is instructed to give life to the Secretary of State's undertakings? If he does that, we can all leave the debate feeling that something significant has been achieved. I ask him for a specific response to that point.
The Secretary of State said something startling in his introduction. The issue that dare not speak its name, which has rumbled gently through the debate, is the source of the money. I was therefore startled when the Secretary of State said that he was waiting for the Lyons committee to report. That is a bizarre reason not to be forthright in the Chamber. If the Secretary of State genuinely believes that the reform of non-domestic rates and the rebanding of council tax, even with an additional band, will find the money for Crossrail, he is deluded.
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