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1.16 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), who has played a central role in ensuring that the Woolwich station has remained on the agenda and has finally been delivered. I echo the comments of the Minister and the spokesman for the official Opposition about the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill and its Chairman. When I was my party’s transport spokesman, I appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) to that Committee; astoundingly, he is still talking to me several months later. The Committee has done excellent work. I underline what the Minister said about this being an all-party matter. As an initiative, Crossrail has received all-party support in the House. Such a project will run for many years, and by its very nature requires such support, whether in this place or in the London assembly.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Not only does Crossrail have all-party support, but the proposal to bring Woolwich station on to the line is hugely supported not only in Woolwich but in south-east London generally. It will give many of us our closest access to Crossrail, and will be well used not only by people in Greenwich but by those in all the boroughs of south-east London.

Tom Brake: I thank my hon. Friend for underlining the fact that not only Woolwich and Greenwich residents will benefit from the station, but people from further afield.

Today’s debate focuses on Woolwich and Woolwich station. However, I hope that with your leave, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will be able to make a few short general comments about Crossrail itself, which is a vital project for London, for Londoners and for UK plc. Research published yesterday in a report by Buchanan and Volterra suggests that the range of benefits to London’s economy derived from the Crossrail project as a whole will be in the order of £37 billion to £68 billion. That will clearly have a hugely positive impact on London. Once Crossrail is completed, there is the potential for creating additional national tax revenues of £12 billion, as well as the reduction in costs to business that will arise with the reduced congestion and the significant benefits in the Woolwich area that the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich set out.

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The project is viewed as vital not only by business, the Mayor and my party but by Sir Rod Eddington, who was appointed by the Government to conduct a review of the UK’s transport infrastructure and priorities. On 16 April, he told the Transport Committee that Crossrail was vital and that London would face enormous congestion challenges if the project did not go ahead.

That is not to say that we do not have concerns about the project. It is huge and it would be bizarre if issues did not remain on which we believe we should focus. They include the environmental impact, tunnel alignment, the use of specialised rolling stock, which we believe will do away with the possibility of operating trains from the west of England and East Anglia—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Given an inch, the hon. Member must not take a mile. The motion is specifically about Woolwich.

Tom Brake: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back to the subject on which I was about to focus.

I want to ask one question about the overall cost of the project. There was an announcement in yesterday’s papers that it had decreased from £7.8 billion to £6.2 billion. I hope that the Under-Secretary will comment on that and how the figure was reached.

Perhaps hon. Members have a certain sense of déj vu. That is especially the case for the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. He quoted from the debate on 19 July 2005, when he said that the Government’s position was

That phrase is worth repeating. However, the Government have shifted their position, which is welcome. It is also welcome that Berkeley Homes intends making such a contribution towards the station to enable the project to be realised.

The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich set out why Woolwich needs the station and the investment. The borough is 41st out of 354 for deprivation, which means that it is in the top 10 per cent. of deprived boroughs in the country. Average income in the Woolwich area is only £12,500 a year compared with £23,500 a year in the London borough of Greenwich generally. It is therefore poor even in the borough. Its unemployment rate is nudging 15 per cent., compared with a borough average of 6.3 per cent. Clearly, the station will play a significant role in providing regeneration for Woolwich. It will also provide access to residents in Woolwich to enable them to get to jobs in London. The model for the station predicts that 11,500 passengers will board in the morning at peak times and that nearly 3,000 will get off at the station. Clearly, there will be demand from people who travel outside Woolwich to find jobs elsewhere.

However, a few questions remain about Woolwich station. Hon. Members will be familiar with the appraisal that was carried out. The final report was published on 18 November 2005, again by Buchanan. It highlighted a couple of potential negative effects,
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especially on the environment, the water table and contaminated land in the area. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can address that, perhaps not now but in writing, and confirm for hon. Members that that potential problem has been resolved and that we no longer need to worry about it. It appears on page 15 in table 5.2 of the report.

We cannot avoid the question of how the project will be funded. That is true of Crossrail generally but also of Woolwich station. I shall not dwell on the funding for Crossrail as a whole. The Government suggested that Sir Michael Lyons might pick up on it in his report, although he was not asked to do that and therefore did not. He made it clear in his press conference on the morning of the Budget that he expected an announcement in the Budget. I asked him a question and his reply was, “Wait for the Budget in a few hours.” We waited for the announcement about the special business rate but it did not happen. Clearly, the Under-Secretary now has an opportunity to tell us how the project will be funded.

The funding arrangement specifically for Woolwich station is clear—Berkeley Homes will pay for it—but a couple of questions remain. Will the Under-Secretary set out a time frame in which he expects the contractual negotiations to finish? When will the binding contract be signed off? Will he put on record the guarantee, which I believe he has already given, that the public purse will not fund the station?

Will the Under-Secretary also provide some reassurance about the greatest weakness in the proposal—the Thameslink box scenario, whereby the box is provided but the station is not? Does he have any time scales in mind between which the box will be completed and the station will be fitted out so that it can be used? The paper that the Government published on 22 March stated that Berkeley Homes and Greenwich council

I hope that the Under-Secretary can specify the method that he believes will be used to establish which businesses will benefit and what contribution he might expect them to make to ensure that the box is fitted out and we are not left with something behind hoardings that is nice, in place, ready to go, but for which no one has paid to install escalators and other fittings that are required to make it an operating station.

No one now questions the need for Crossrail. With private funds available to build Woolwich station, no one questions the desirability of proceeding with it. The only question that remains has dogged the project from the outset: how will it be funded? Could today be the occasion on which the Under-Secretary lifts the veil on Crossrail’s financing or will he instead give us a tantalising glimpse, only to pull down the veil sharply and leave the announcement of the funding package to the comprehensive spending review or something beyond it? We will know at the end of the debate.

1.27 pm

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab): I want to put on record my thanks for all the kind remarks that hon. Members have made about the Crossrail Committee.
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First, I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for introducing the instruction to allow my Committee to examine and report more fully on the need for the Crossrail Bill to include a new station at Woolwich. He and his boss, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, are clearly men of vision and listening politicians. They have heard the voices of members of the cross-party Committee and their views on the economics, purpose, ultimate objectives and design of the proposed new railway for London. It is an interesting and exciting project, not only for London and the south-east but the nation.

What is more, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary have understood the need to examine the best methods of introducing the project’s benefits to the travelling public, especially those in areas such as Woolwich, which is strategically and economically most in need of such a measure. When we consider London, we perceive its fortunes as being built out of the Thames. However, today, the Thames acts as a barrier to parts of London, including Woolwich.

The new instruction will enable the Committee to hear evidence in favour of the proposals and any subsequent objections and/or petitions against the new provision. My Committee has worked hard on the Bill, as have the civil servants who have been appointed to it. They have suffered just as much as all the hon. Members who have served on it. We have received and examined hundreds of petitions, heard mountains of evidence and visited the less sunny climes of our glorious capital in search of truth. So far, we have sat through 81 days of evidence. Sometimes, we sat eight times a week simply to get through the work.

Given all that endeavour, I must put on record a warning to the Minister that the Committee intends to embark on this latest Crossrail journey in the same way that it conducted its earlier examinations. We will not prejudge, but instead give all sides the opportunity to make their case. I hope that we will bring the report back to the Chamber soon, and get it approved and enacted.

1.30 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): This afternoon is a time for congratulations, and I add my appreciation of the work done by the Select Committee, not least its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). From day one when he received the evidence, it has been clear to me that he appreciated the need for a station in Woolwich, its regeneration, the economic aspects, and its impact on the wider area in the borough of Greenwich, where my constituency is situated.

It is a shame that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not here to bask in the glory of having had the vision, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said, to see through the arguments against the station at Woolwich and appreciate its value in enhancing the Crossrail scheme overall. I think that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport has always been a secret fan, too, of a Crossrail station at Woolwich.

The achievement of a new instruction to the Select Committee is a credit to all sections of the community in Greenwich, including not just the elected Members
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of Parliament and councillors but businesses. The chairman of the chamber of commerce, Steve Nelson, a constituent of mine, urged members of the business community in Greenwich to recognise the importance of the issue and to put their weight behind the case for a station at Woolwich. We also cannot ignore the input of Berkeley Homes, and the vision that it showed in incorporating the scheme into its regeneration of the Royal Arsenal. Without that open-minded and creative thinking, we might not have achieved the new instruction to the Committee. All sections of the community have made tremendous effort, not least the public, who always expressed their support for the scheme and appreciated the contribution that it would make to transport links in the area.

As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) —who also deserves congratulations on his efforts to argue for the station in his constituency—the score is 3-0 to us in terms of major infrastructure projects, although we do not want to rub it in. Initially, we were denied the opportunity of a station on the Jubilee line, but the then council, of which I was a member, argued forcefully to the Government of the day that it would be ridiculous to bypass that regeneration area—as it was then—next to what was to become the millennium dome, and not build a station. Similarly, the community came together and argued overwhelmingly that building the docklands light railway and bypassing Cutty Sark gardens next to the Cutty Sark clipper, one of the most popular destinations outside central London, was a serious error, and that a station should be included. On Crossrail, the community has again come together, made a forceful argument, and achieved the new instruction to the Select Committee.

In Woolwich, which is not in my constituency, although it is in the borough in which my constituency lies, transport is a key issue, as it is for many communities across the capital. Woolwich, however, is a strategic hub for people in that part of London. I cannot think of any other part of London where a major infrastructure project would be proposed—including a length of tunnel from Custom House to Plumstead, where it emerges before arriving at Abbey Wood—and a strategic and important town centre be bypassed and have no station. Common sense has prevailed today, and Woolwich is now to be included.

Mr. Meale: Will my hon. Friend confirm to the House the importance of such a stop, given that about 100 buses go into Woolwich every hour, and by 2030, I am told, more than 100,000 people will live within a 20-minute journey of it?

Clive Efford: Those are absolutely key points. In addition, in 2009, the docklands light railway will arrive, so Woolwich will become a major strategic hub, even for people living beyond the immediate area, for all the transport networks being developed in the eastern corridor and around the Thames Gateway area.

With regard to major infrastructure developments such as the DLR, Crossrail and the Jubilee line, I hope that the Department for Transport will take on board that, while providing transport links for the regeneration area along the Thames corridor is
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important, that does not mean that the areas just outside, such as my constituency, do not have transport needs. As a Member of Parliament whose constituency is not entirely within the Thames Gateway area, I have had problems trying to get transport providers to recognise that the plans for such new developments must also consider secondary transport links to ensure that the wider community also benefits from the investment.

If the wider community is to benefit fully from investment in the station at Woolwich, it will be essential, although significant links already exist, to improve bus links to Woolwich. It has been difficult, for example, to get Transport for London to recognise the need to improve the bus links from the south of Greenwich to North Greenwich underground station. That has been one of the flaws in the transport development in that part of south-east London—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying from the motion before the House. It sounds to me as if he may have a case to apply for an Adjournment debate on the subject on which he is now speaking.

Clive Efford: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back on to the route in question. When we have such developments, however, we need to ensure that the benefits reach as wide a community as possible. For my community to benefit most, those bus links need to be considered.

I very much welcome the instruction to the Select Committee and congratulate its members on the work that they have done so far. I commiserate with them on the fact that we will add to their work slightly with today’s instruction, but that is testimony to their recognition of the overwhelming argument in favour of introducing this important transport link in Woolwich. I look forward to that being included in the final Bill and being developed in the future for the benefit of the wider community in south-east London.

1.39 pm

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I hope that London Members will forgive me if I begin with an admission. When I was elected two years ago, I had not given a great deal of thought to Crossrail. I have to say that it is not a subject that comes up often on the doorsteps in Leicester, South, nor does it often feature in the columns of the Leicester Mercury.

During those two years I have learnt quite a lot about Crossrail, but when I first went into the Lobby to vote for the Bill’s Second Reading, I was unaware of what a major part it would play in my life and the lives of many other Members who were voting on that occasion—and who subsequently found what appeared at the time to be a rather innocuous card in their post just before Christmas 2005, informing them that they had been appointed members of the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill.

As I have said in the past, we might have liked rather more explanation of what membership of the Committee would mean before signing up for it, but under the wise guidance of my hon. Friend the. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), we have learnt a good deal about Crossrail
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since then. As the Minister reminded us, we have received some 450 petitions on the subject, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield reminded us, in some weeks the Committee has met more than eight times. As some of my colleagues have remarked, it has sometimes felt almost like a life sentence. One of them observed that it felt like cruel and unusual punishment, and it has been suggested that Committee Room 5 is the parliamentary equivalent of a gulag.

I was delighted to hear from the Minister today—and I suppose it was inevitable that someone would use the analogy—that there was, at last, light at the end of the tunnel. Given all our discussion about Reading, another analogy occurred to me, from the “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”. Perhaps what we are seeing is not light at the end of the tunnel, but

None the less, it is good news that we are approaching the end of our period of incarceration. We shall be producing our report before too long, and we are beginning to see some results from our labour.

With that in mind, I welcome the further instruction to the Committee. Members, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), have spoken of the case for a station at Woolwich. I join others in paying tribute to the campaign that my right hon. Friend and neighbouring Members have waged to ensure that there is a station there. It became clear to Committee members from all parties that the case for a Woolwich station was overwhelming. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the cost-benefits analysis shows that it is far stronger than not just the case for the scheme as a whole, but the case for many elements of it. It is very pleasing that the Government have accepted the logic of the arguments with which he and others persuaded the Committee.

I am sure that all Committee members are pleased that the Government have agreed to instruct us to consider a measure that will facilitate construction of a station at Woolwich. I note that continued work to develop a financial package that will make that possible, and I hope the Minister will reassure us again that the Government will continue to engage in a process of ensuring that such a package is developed. It is a question not just of making a station possible, but of ensuring that one is constructed.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield has pointed out, if the motion for the instruction is passed we shall be required to consider further petitions against a station at Woolwich. Notwithstanding anything that my hon. Friend or I may say today, we will keep an open mind in considering such petitions, and will of course give due weight to any arguments against the station. That said, however, I am sure that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield has indicated—Committee members will welcome the instruction and look forward to considering the proposal. As other Members have said, we look forward not just to this particular instruction, but to a favourable passage for the Bill.

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