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I would like to express my sincere thanks, and those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to the
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Select Committee. The Committee is at last coming to the end of its work, but we must remember that Committee members have been sitting since January 2006. During that time, they have been presented with more than 450 petitions and have considered a huge range of issues, under the successful chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). They are carrying out an exceptionally difficult job, and pursuing it with rigour. Their tremendous efforts in carefully scrutinising the Crossrail Bill are helping to ensure that the Bill continues to make good progress. The Committee has now considered all the petitions received to date. I am extremely grateful for its dedication to this task and I look forward to receiving its final report.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): May I, as the chair of the all-party group on Crossrail, add my congratulations to the Select Committee? I also congratulate the Minister and his colleagues, because a lot of work has clearly been done not only by Doug Oakervee and the team at Cross London Rail Links Ltd, but by the Department. This is a win-win solution, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and everyone else involved should also be congratulated.

Mr. Harris: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I would also like to add my thanks to the officials in the Department for Transport and at Cross London Rail Links Ltd for their tremendous efforts.

Today, we are debating a motion to allow the Committee to consider petitions against the additional provision to the Crossrail Bill that the Government intend to bring forward. Notwithstanding the Committee’s support for the principle of a station at Woolwich, its role will be to consider petitions against the additional provision, which I have no doubt it will do with its usual dedication and commitment—especially now that it can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I want to emphasise that the decision to bring forward an additional provision is not a commitment to build a station at Woolwich—it is a commitment to work towards a financial deal that would enable us to have a station at no additional cost to the Crossrail project. However, if Parliament approves the additional provision, and the deal can be finalised successfully, Woolwich station will be just as much part of the Crossrail project as the other new sub-level stations contained in the Bill.

There is widespread agreement that Crossrail is a project of immense importance to the United Kingdom, and one whose momentum continues to build. The Government recognise that there are transport capacity challenges in London and the south-east, and we are working hard to address them. Connecting the economic centres in the capital with areas outside London will support local and national economic development and regeneration, benefiting the whole country. Both sides of the House have given strong support to Crossrail throughout the passage of the Bill, and I am grateful for that. The project would be enhanced by a station at Woolwich, provided that that can be achieved without adding to the public funding requirement. I commend the motion to the House.

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12.57 pm

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): May I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, notably my chairmanship of the Construction Industry Council?

I welcome today’s debate and the new instruction to the Select Committee in respect of Woolwich. Before I talk about Woolwich, however, I would like to say how crucial the Crossrail scheme is to London. Without it, there would be a serious risk of London’s transport and traffic systems grinding to a halt within 20 years, resulting in huge economic disbenefits to our capital and to the UK economy. It is in all our interests to secure this hugely important new transport scheme, as it is vital to the ongoing economic success of our capital city.

Woolwich was originally part of the Crossrail scheme and there is an overwhelmingly strong case for having a station there. Woolwich is a major transport interchange, served not only by South East Trains but by about 190 buses every hour. It is shortly to be linked to the docklands light railway network, and it will also benefit from the introduction of the waterfront transit. It has a hugely important role as a link to the Thames Gateway, as well as giving many people in south-east London the opportunity to access the rapidly expanding labour market at Canary Wharf.

There are, therefore, obvious and substantial transport benefits to be gained from having a station at Woolwich. There will also be huge regeneration benefits. Woolwich as a town has a proud history, but over the past 30 or 40 years it has suffered a difficult period of economic decline following the closure of the traditional heavy industries that used to be the bedrock of the local economy. At the end of the first world war, the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich provided employment for some 80,000 people. By the 1980s, however, not a single person was working on the site; it had closed. A lot of the heavy industry along the waterfront had suffered a similar decline, and Woolwich faced serious problems of unemployment, poverty and disadvantage.

After that difficult period we are beginning to see some signs of hope for the future. There is new investment in the Royal Arsenal, as a result of which people are coming to live in that attractive and historic location. There is new commercial investment in Woolwich town centre and new retail developments, but there is still a very long way to go. A Crossrail station giving rapid connections to Canary Wharf, the City of London, the west end and Heathrow would make a substantial difference and would ensure that the regeneration takes root and the long-term prosperity of Woolwich is secured.

There is an overwhelmingly strong case for a Crossrail station at Woolwich, and it was a bitter disappointment to all of us who are concerned about the future of Woolwich when the Government decided about two years ago, as a cost-cutting measure, to drop the Woolwich station from the Crossrail scheme. If ever there was a case of a false economy—of penny wise, pound foolish thinking—this was it. All the figures show that Woolwich station will be a substantial positive contributor to the Crossrail scheme, with an exceptionally favourable cost-benefit ratio—incidentally, a much better cost-benefit ratio than the scheme overall.

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Not surprisingly, given the setback, a forceful campaign rapidly gathered momentum in Woolwich to reverse the decision. We have form in south-east London on such campaigns. Fifteen years ago, it required a vigorous campaign to ensure that the Jubilee line had a station at North Greenwich. Twelve years ago, we were again in campaigning mode when an equally short-sighted penny-pinching economy was proposed by the Government of the day, and the station at Cutty Sark on the docklands light railway was dropped for cost-cutting purposes. Our campaigns in both cases succeeded. As a consequence, stations were built at North Greenwich and Cutty Sark, and no one now would dream of envisaging either of those lines, the Jubilee line or the docklands light railway, without those stations, which are hugely successful, attract large numbers of passengers and generate substantial revenue.

Given that background, we were pretty confident that we could demonstrate similar benefits at Woolwich and, as I said, our campaign rapidly gained strength. I pay tribute to the many people who contributed to the campaign, including the London borough of Greenwich, the Bexley and Greenwich chamber of commerce, South London Business, and thousands of individuals and organisations who came together in what was a truly popular movement to ensure justice for Woolwich and a station that would bring transport and economic benefits.

The evidence, which was substantial, was presented to the Select Committee considering the Crossrail Bill. The Committee came to Woolwich to examine the issue at close hand and it was clearly convinced of the huge potential benefits of a station at Woolwich. I put on the record my sincere appreciation of the hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and all his colleagues on the Select Committee. They were unanimous across party on the issue. They saw the benefits of the Woolwich station and they clearly recommended last summer that the station should be reincorporated in the scheme. They had looked hard at the evidence and they had no doubt that Woolwich was necessary and represented very good value for money. All of us living and working in and around Woolwich are grateful to members of the Select Committee for their unswerving commitment to the outcome that we are ratifying today.

I do not intend to linger on the process, which was rather protracted, that has filled the eight months or so since the Select Committee recommendation on Woolwich. Suffice it to say that we have now reached the point where common sense has prevailed and the Woolwich station is to be incorporated in the scheme. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for confirming the Government’s agreement to that.

Through those discussions in the intervening period, which at times were difficult, the key element was the creativity that went into securing a cost-effective solution. Because of the obvious transport and regeneration benefits of the Woolwich station, there was always an opportunity to capture a significant amount of the development gain that would accrue from the construction of a station at Woolwich to offset the construction costs. I well remember making
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the point to the Secretary of State and his officials in the aftermath of the Select Committee’s recommendation last summer.

At the time, transport officials were somewhat dismissive on this count, but I am pleased that they have now recognised the real benefits that can be achieved through partnership and intelligent planning. As a result of the creative work that has gone in over the past six months, particularly from the London borough of Greenwich, Berkeley Homes and their advisers, together with the Crossrail team, to whom I also pay tribute, we have been able to reduce dramatically the construction costs of the station and develop a truly win-win solution. The station will be built by Berkeley Homes as part of their new development at the Royal Arsenal. The additional fare box revenues that will accrue from the station, together with the development gain from increased land values, means that the likely outcome, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, is a station imposing no additional net costs on the Government.

We should all be able to welcome today’s instruction to the Select Committee and the additional provision adding Woolwich to the Crossrail Bill, which is already out for consultation. Of course, there is still a lot more work to be done before the project is brought to a successful conclusion. The Select Committee will have to complete its consideration of petitions. Hopefully, few difficulties will be raised by the realignment of the route and the incorporation of the Woolwich station. Although I know that this has added yet more time to that which the Committee members have already had to give to the Bill, I hope that they will take comfort from the knowledge that their determined advocacy of Woolwich has brought this important improvement to the Bill. Not all Committees can look back on their labours and see such tangible results.

After it completes its Select Committee passage, the Bill still has to go through its remaining stages in this House and then the other place. I hope that will prove a swifter process than the process to date. That was partly inevitable because the Select Committee had to deal with an enormous amount of complex and, in some cases, extremely controversial material, and the fruits of its labour will make it easier for others to proceed more quickly.

When it completes its passage, the Bill cannot come into effect until the Government have finalised a funding package for the whole Crossrail scheme. No one should minimise the task involved in that, given the scale of investment needed, but we can begin to see the main architecture of the funding package. The outstanding work carried out over the past year or two by Doug Oakervee and Keith Berryman and their team at Crossrail in driving down costs and ensuring that the scheme is a demonstrably cost-effective and fundable project, has helped to make what once seemed a hugely problematic funding task look much more achievable.

As I said at the outset, Crossrail is essential to London’s future transport network and economic success, and it is vital that the remaining legislative and financial hurdles that it faces are successfully overcome. With the Woolwich station once again properly incorporated in the scheme, bringing huge benefits to south-east London and the Thames gateway, the scheme has my unqualified support. I look forward to
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us moving on over the coming months from its long gestation period into the construction and implementation phase, which I, for one, anticipate with great enthusiasm.

1.7 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): As the Minister pointed out earlier, the House is considering a motion to issue to the Select Committee an instruction to hear petitions against the construction of the station at Woolwich. This is the third such motion in the past 18 months, as the mammoth Crossrail Bill proceeds through lengthy, arduous and no doubt at times extraordinarily demanding Select Committee proceedings.

The Second Reading of the Bill took place on 14 July 2005. At that stage the House agreed the principle of the Bill, which is to construct a railway connecting the termini at Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. Among the intermediate stops agreed to at that stage were Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon and Liverpool Street. Today we add Woolwich to that list. The Minister expressed one or two reservations, but the proposal represents a welcome U-turn by the Government and recognition of the benefits of a station at Woolwich.

The previous Under-Secretary of State for Transport with responsibility for rail, now the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), stated the Government’s view at one stage that there would be Crossrail without Woolwich or no Crossrail at all. In May 2006 the same Minister placed in the Library a letter to the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) containing the Government’s view that the high cost of the station made it unaffordable. In the debate last year the Secretary of State rightly said that the Government

Despite the drop in costs to £186 million, the Secretary of State went on to say:

The benefits of the station at Woolwich have often been rehearsed, as in that debate and by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich today. It was always part of the initial consultation that the station should be there, and it was somewhat surprising when that was deleted. Woolwich lies at the western end of the Thames Gateway, where there is scope for the development on derelict land. The transportation benefits are proven. It is already a major transport hub in the south-east, and a Crossrail station would service that further. On a cost-benefit basis, it is well in line with the cost of the overall scheme. If I wanted to prolong the debate, I could continue to laud its benefits in a similar vein.

There was always a case for Woolwich, in that it would improve the scheme and provide better value. In the debate in October, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and I welcomed the prospect. We also welcomed the Secretary of State’s decision to allow the Committee to reconsider the benefits of Woolwich. At the time, the Chairman of the
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Committee said that it remained of the view that the station should be built and said that it would be pleased to undertake more work and further investigations. As the official Opposition, we wish to place on record our thanks to this long-running hybrid Bill Committee and its Chairman for their excellent and extremely valuable work.

Today’s motion is largely technical. Across the House, we have moved from a contentious and controversial discussion to one that is non-controversial and consensual. There has always been cross-party support building up for the Committee’s view, and it is pleasing that the Government have recognised the benefits of the station.

I want to say a few words in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), who pointed out in the debate in October that, in terms of affordability, £186 million was neither a huge proportion of the total estimated cost nor a sum likely to push the whole project over the edge. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State was somewhat curt and dismissive in his response to my hon. Friend. I am sure that the Minister would wish to place on record an apology to him, perhaps combined with good wishes for his upcoming nuptials this Saturday.

The Minister clarified the significant developments that have allowed Woolwich to happen—the welcome movement from Berkeley Homes, the all-party group on Crossrail, and I am sure many others, which has allowed for the provision of the box underneath the development, and the Government’s finding £28 million to facilitate affordability. In the debate in October, the Government said that affordability was the main issue. Today, the Minister said that the strict affordability of the project has changed, but he failed to say, as would have been useful, that the affordability criterion should have recognised the regenerative benefits and value for money of the Woolwich station. He concentrated on the deal with Berkeley Homes, which is none the less welcome.

Several questions remain in the air, however, in relation to the station at Woolwich. For example, when will the Government bring forward the estimate of expense that relates to the instruction, which is key to its being enacted? The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich talked about the benefits for London. Those have been well rehearsed in previous debates and I do not intend to go through them again, but it is worth clarifying one or two important points as regards enabling this exceptional project to go forward.

The Select Committee will finish its deliberations on the Bill at some stage later this year. Do the Government intend to push it straight into a Public Bill Committee in October? When do they anticipate that the first spade will cut the soil, assuming a relatively smooth passage through that Committee? We already know about the likely fare box tax revenue and business contributions. I look forward to the Government giving us some hint of their further funding proposals. Will the comprehensive spending review, high-level output specification, or 30-year rail White Paper have details of their funding proposals and what they intend their contribution to be? Those are matters of fundamental importance, because if the Secretary of State is right in
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proposing the principle that only the Government can determine affordability, then ultimately only they can finalise the funding. The Lyons fig leaf has been torn away and the Government are lying naked.

Let me finish by restating the official Opposition’s continuing position, which is that we have backed the Crossrail Bill in Parliament and will continue to do so, when it finally returns from the Select Committee’s deliberations, throughout its remaining parliamentary processes and on to the statute book—with, I hope, the Woolwich station. We recognise the economic benefits that will flow from the increase in transport capacity that Crossrail will bring to the people and businesses of London, and the motion will have our support.

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