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Chris Grayling: I should be disappointed if we were not capable of undertaking a number of major projects at once. Clearly, there is an issue in respect of the Stratford area, and it might be necessary, because of the Olympics, to build Crossrail in stages. However,
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there is a problem that the project team will put to those who listen if construction does not begin in 2008: if we assume that the Bill goes through, with support on both sides of the House, to create valuable powers for London next year, and if we assume that the Government do not come forward with funding immediately so that construction can begin, the project team will have to be disbanded, expertise will be lost and some of the initial work that the Government have paid for will have to be abandoned.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) asked me what my party would do. The answer is that if my party comes to government in 2009 or 2010 the team will already have been disbanded if the Government have not funded the project. The Secretary of State cannot spin things out for much longer. In the next few months, the Government will have to give clear statements of intent, not simply to pass a Bill to agree powers, but to decide whether they will actually deliver and pay for the project.

We will support the Bill, as we have done all along, in its progress to the statute book. We recognise and accept the need to increase transport capacity in London, where there is a clear benefit in enhancing rail capacity. I do not know what will happen over the next 12 to 18 months; whether the Government will fulfil their promises to the people and businesses of London, only time will tell. We will be ready, if they do not fulfil those promises, to make our own proposals in good time for the election so that people know what we will do when we are in government. They will know what to expect from us.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): It is touching of the hon. Gentleman to make it clear that in government he would be prepared to find the resources to fund such an incredibly expensive project. Will he remind the House how many hundreds of millions of pounds he and his party were committed to stripping out of the transport budget as a result of the James review, published at the last election? There would not have been a penny piece left for Crossrail—or for anything else—if he had had his way.

Chris Grayling: Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that it was his party that announced and then scrapped the modernisation of the east coast main line, announced and then scrapped most of 25 light rail schemes, announced and has not gone ahead with either Crossrail or Thameslink and produced in its 10-year plan a list of promises that encouraged people to believe it would make a difference to transport, yet has done nothing about them. On the other hand, it was my party that brought trams to Croydon, Sheffield and Manchester, built a new tube line in London and introduced new transport schemes throughout the country. I have nothing to be ashamed of in my party’s record on transport. The hon. Gentleman has everything to be ashamed of in his party’s record on transport.

Mr. Raynsford: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that during the 1990s it was his party in government that introduced a Crossrail Bill but failed dramatically to bring it through the House to fruition?

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Chris Grayling: But may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was my party in government that introduced Britain’s first light rail scheme in half a century, which has now been extended to his constituency—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I suggest to the House that we have had enough reminders for the time being.

Chris Grayling: You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We support the Bill, and as the months go by, I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State whether he intends to fund Crossrail, and what he intends to do about funding it. We wish the Bill well; it will have our support in the House tonight and when it returns at the end of the Committee’s work. I wish its members well in the task ahead.

8.14 pm

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I draw attention to my registered interest as chairman of the Construction Industry Council.

Crossrail is a scheme of huge importance to the future of our capital city and, indeed, to the UK economy as a whole. We are all familiar with the traffic and transport problems that already exist in London. As the capital’s economy continues to prosper and its population continues to grow, those problems are set to get worse. If radical action is not taken to provide improved connections, particularly through central London, linking key destinations and development areas, not least in the Thames Gateway, the risk of gridlock and consequent economic decline as businesses choose to re-locate—probably abroad—is very real. That will have an impact on the national economy, which is why the scheme is of importance nationally and not just for London. It is essential that the Bill should proceed through its parliamentary stages without prolonged delay. As we know, the scheme has already taken a depressingly long time even to reach this stage and further delay would be unforgivable.

Turning to Woolwich, it is important to put the station proposal in context. When the current scheme was proposed, and two schemes were put out to consultation, a station at Woolwich was an integral part of both. There was an obvious logic for that. Woolwich is an area with a proud history but with considerable economic difficulties, which have worsened over the past 50 years. It is a garrison town, which at one stage, in the 19th and early 20th century, housed the largest armaments factory in the world—the Royal Arsenal—where no fewer than 80,000 people worked at its high point. By the second half of the 20th century, however, major changes in the economy, like those suffered in many towns and cities in the rest of the country, particularly in the industrial heartlands, meant that Woolwich suffered a prolonged and serious economic decline. The Royal Arsenal closed—no one works for it now. The heavy industry on the waterfront closed and an area that had once been at the centre of the UK’s manufacturing industry faced serious problems of unemployment and deprivation. Indices of
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deprivation show that the wards making up the central area of Woolwich are among the poorest and most deprived in the country.

After decades of decline, however, there is now at last the prospect of recovery. Woolwich lies towards the western end of the Thames Gateway—one of the Government’s key growth areas—and there is real scope for new developments on formerly derelict industrial land. New houses are being created in the Royal Arsenal, and the town centre is beginning to attract significant new retail investment. There is still a long way to go, but there are real opportunities to transform Woolwich and to create a prosperous future.

I am grateful to members of the Select Committee for their attention to Woolwich. When they visited the town, they saw the evidence and were convinced that the area was one not only of great need, but of great opportunity.

Mr. Mark Field: The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for Woolwich, which is in his constituency, and I entirely endorse what he says. However, given that in recent years the DLR has linked up with Woolwich, does he not feel that there will be sufficient links to the main London transport networks? I am not trying to make the Government’s argument for them, but does not that make a strong case? We do not need the additional expense of linking Woolwich through the Crossrail system, too.

Mr. Raynsford: No; the two lines serve completely different purposes, which can be illustrated by the travel times. The journey from Woolwich to Canary Wharf on the DLR—when it actually comes to Woolwich—will be about half an hour, due to the route, while the time on the direct link via Crossrail would be in the region of seven or eight minutes. That difference in connection will have a huge impact on the economic development of Canary Wharf because it can draw on the large labour force in south-east London, who would have quick access. That is one of the reasons why people in Canary Wharf are so sympathetic to the proposals for the Woolwich station. The two lines serve different purposes and it is a mistake to confuse them, just as it would be a mistake to say that because Westminster has benefited from some improved transport schemes, there is no need for Crossrail to have any stations in Westminster. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not argue that case.

A Crossrail station in Woolwich, providing links to Canary Wharf, the City, the west end and Heathrow, would have obvious benefits, accelerating the process of regeneration and facilitating much new commercial and residential investment. Estimates by the consultants EDAW suggest that there will be scope for an additional 4,300 new homes, as well as the substantial number already planned, and for more than 2,000 new jobs—all of which would have a considerable impact on the regeneration of the area. Few locations along the Crossrail route would benefit to anywhere the same extent as Woolwich from the presence of a station.

For all of us who care about the area and have been working to secure its recovery, the decision to drop the
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Woolwich station was an absolute body blow. Even worse was the absence of any clear logic behind that decision. Quite apart from the exceptional potential regenerative impacts, there are many other powerful arguments for the station at Woolwich. Without a Woolwich station, there would be a gap of almost six miles between Custom House and Abbey Wood—one of the longest gaps on the entire network. There would be only one station in the whole of south London and that would be at Abbey Wood. That station is necessary for a connection with Southeastern trains on the surface, but Abbey Wood is not an area that is capable of providing a transport hub.

By contrast, Woolwich is a major transport hub. It has 180 buses an hour serving the town centre. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) pointed out, it will have the docklands light railway within three years. It will have the waterfront transit. It already has a river bus service, which looks like being enhanced as a result of investment. It also has a connection with the Southeastern trains surface rail operation. Woolwich can serve the wider area of south-east London. It would provide an opportunity for the people of south-east London to make optimum use of Crossrail, which otherwise would not be possible.

In addition to those benefits, there are of course the issues that were taken into account in the cost-benefit analysis, which already shows that Woolwich performs better than Crossrail as a whole, with a cost-benefit ratio of 3:1. That is likely to improve even further as a result of the savings to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already referred, where we believe that there is scope for even further improvement.

With all those potential advantages, it is not surprising that the Select Committee, after hearing all the evidence, concluded that the Woolwich station offered “exceptional value for money” and proposed its reinsertion in the Bill. In my view, the Select Committee was acting entirely properly and within its remit in doing so. If the Government had not wanted the Select Committee to consider the Woolwich station, they could have instructed it not to do so, as they did in the case of Reading, but they did not. Indeed, they provided detailed evidence on the subject for the Committee to consider.

In that situation—I speak with the authority of someone who served on the Select Committee that discussed the Channel Tunnel Bill in the 1980s, which had even more petitions to consider than the Select Committee looking at Crossrail—it is entirely proper for the Select Committee to come up with conclusions about the improvement of the Bill, and not simply to respond to individual issues of property rights. I believe that there is little justification for the argument that the Department for Transport has advanced. It is a fallacious argument. According to the evidence that I have received from the Library, the Clerks rather tend to that view, too. I am not going to get into that discussion, but I want to put on the record my belief that the Select Committee has acted entirely within its proper rights and its remit, and I wholly support it in doing so.

As I have already indicated, the station was dropped from the scheme only for financial reasons. It seems
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that that is the only basis on which there has been a reluctance to accept the Select Committee’s report. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear, it is a question of affordability and he is rightly concerned about that. I share the concern about ensuring that the Crossrail scheme is affordable. Where I differ from him is in believing that his Department has acted in a way that has treated Woolwich quite differently from other elements in the scheme. It would be proper for it to be assessed as a contributory element to the Crossrail scheme, rather than being rejected individually on affordability grounds when similar tests have not been applied to other elements in the scheme. Although I entirely accept his concern to bear down on costs to make Crossrail affordable, I believe that that exercise should be taken in the round, with Woolwich included within all the elements that are considered.

In the London borough of Greenwich, we are certainly concerned to bear down on the costs. We have made suggestions about how economies can be made by reducing the construction costs and securing additional revenue to offset those costs. The leader of our council, Councillor Chris Roberts, has written to my right hon. Friend to make it clear that Greenwich council wants to work constructively with the Government, Crossrail and other interested parties to explore how the Woolwich station can be delivered in the most cost-effective way.

There are real opportunities. The original scheme involved a deep underground station, with associated high costs. That was because, at that stage, the line was thought to be likely to carry freight and there was therefore a gradient constraint. The line had to remain underground to pass underneath not just the Thames, but Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s great southern outfall sewer works further to the east. It was kept at a relatively low level between those two obstacles. Now that no freight usage is envisaged, the permitted gradients can be steeper than previously envisaged. That in turn reduces the depth at which the station has to be built, which allows savings to be made. There is definite scope for savings through value engineering and exploring the detailed arrangements of the scheme.

Equally, the substantial development opportunities around Woolwich, to which I have already alluded, offer real scope for securing some offsetting contributions towards the costs. I am absolutely confident that the discussions that my right hon. Friend has opened the door to with his comments earlier this evening will demonstrate that it is possible to deliver a value-for-money station at Woolwich for a cost that is significantly less than the cost that has been quoted. We have certainly seen a significant reduction from the £300 million-plus figure that was originally quoted by the Government. When rejecting the Select Committee’s decision to insert Woolwich in the Bill, the figure of £200 million was quoted. Tonight we are at £186 million. I suspect that the figure will be lower than that after this exercise. I am keen that it should be. It is right that we should look for value for money, but we should not arbitrarily reject a station that would bring enormous benefits to a deprived area and that would help regeneration and the economy of south-east London.

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Mike Gapes: My right hon. Friend will know that I supported his early-day motion and that there is a powerful case. What he is saying is extremely strong. However, does he accept that we need Crossrail with or without Woolwich and that the Bill cannot be held hostage to this issue? It is crucial that we make progress so that Crossrail is a reality as soon as possible.

Mr. Raynsford: As my hon. Friend will know, I made it absolutely clear at the outset of my speech that I wholly support making progress with Crossrail. I am a great supporter of Crossrail. I believe that the inclusion of the Woolwich station will improve the scheme and provide better value for money and I am arguing for it on that basis. I am not holding the Crossrail scheme to ransom in any way and I certainly would not want that impression to be carried by any hon. Member.

In the light of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the start of this debate confirming his willingness for work to be undertaken to explore further the implications, the costs and the benefits of the Woolwich station, I do not propose to pursue my amendment. We now have the option to examine the Woolwich station in greater detail, which is what my amendment was intended to facilitate. As the Secretary of State has agreed, that will allow the Select Committee an opportunity to revisit the issue before it completes its work. Given the strong case that has already been made and that the Select Committee has recognised, I am confident that when it comes to do so it will not wish to vary its previous view, but it will certainly benefit from the additional work to explore the economics of the Woolwich station to see whether the cost can be further reduced, as I am optimistic that it can be.

In not pursuing my amendment, I would like to put on the record my appreciation of the contributions towards securing this outcome that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), the Chairman of the Select Committee, and all his fellow members of the Select Committee, who have listened with great care and diligence to the case that we have made on behalf of Woolwich. I would also like to thank the 49 hon. Members who signed early-day motion 2835 on this subject and who maintained their support, despite certain pressures to withdraw.

On that note, may I add my concern that some people have tried to present my campaign for Woolwich, and that of my hon. Friends, as a campaign for more money for London? I am not making a case for more money for London; it is case for social justice and for getting the maximum benefit from the Crossrail scheme in the interests of the country as a whole and some of the most deprived areas within the country.

In conclusion, if anyone wishes to suggest that tonight’s exercise is simply a delaying mechanism that means that the Woolwich station will be kicked into the long grass, I can inform them that we have built up in Woolwich a strong head of steam that is backed by all sections of the community—the business community, residents, people in the surrounding area, the local authority and local MPs. The campaign is vital and vibrant and it will not go away. I can thus disabuse anyone of the idea that this is simply an exercise of kicking Woolwich into the long grass. We will be
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watching the progress of the discussions in the coming months very closely indeed. We will be ready to revisit the matter when it comes back to the Select Committee, which has already shown its real commitment to the cause.

8.30 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Liberal Democrats do not oppose the motions and we certainly will not divide the House tonight. As others have done, I commend the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), for undertaking a highly significant task, albeit, in many ways, an arduous one. It was apparent from my oversight of the Committee’s deliberations that it has carried out its task with commendable diligence.

Much of our debate has been focused on financial implications, especially those of a station at Woolwich. It is entirely proper and understandable that that should be the case. However, in the light of yesterday’s statement in the Chamber on the Stern report, it is worth putting on the record the fact that a project such as Crossrail has other implications that should not be underestimated. Locating public transport infrastructure with such capacity in the capital city will bring about the significant benefits of reducing congestion and environmental improvement. Surely we should give rebalanced weight to such matters when we consider projects of this nature.

I would find it difficult to disagree with much of what the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) said about the case for a station at Woolwich. The Committee’s special report refers to the station as being “exceptional value for money”. It says that it is “amazed”—that is strong language for such a report—

It is apparent to me that the Committee feels somewhat aggrieved by its treatment at the Government’s hand, and it is quite entitled to do so.

Without the inclusion of Woolwich station, the whole case for Crossrail is undermined in many ways. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich made it clear that without a station at Woolwich, there will be no stop on the six-mile stretch between Custom House and Abbey Wood. Given the importance of Greenwich as a transport hub, especially in relation to the Thames Gateway, the situation must be revisited, so I hope that the Select Committee will stick to its guns when it produces its final report to the House.

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