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Over the past two years, we have learnt much about the benefits of Crossrail. It will give enormous advantages not just to London, but to the infrastructure of the nation as a whole. I am convinced
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that the building of this important link in the transport infrastructure of the capital, and its development in a way that will benefit the whole nation, is as relevant to those of us in Leicester and other provincial cities as it is to those with London constituencies.

While I am sure that my colleagues, like me, look forward to receiving the instruction, we must look beyond that to the development of a financial package that will make possible the development of Crossrail in its entirety.

1.45 pm

Mr. Tom Harris: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This has been a well-informed and good-natured debate, and I am grateful to Members for what they have said. Support for Crossrail clearly remains strong and spans the House.

Given that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) can justifiably claim to have run a very successful and effective campaign for a station at Woolwich, he managed very efficiently to contain his joy at his success. Understandably and correctly, he referred again to what he had said on other occasions about levels of deprivation in Woolwich. I do not intend to rehearse yet again the constitutional arguments about what a Select Committee can and cannot recommend to the Government during the passage of a hybrid Bill and what the Government can and cannot say in response. I shall confine myself to paraphrasing Lady Thatcher and saying “Just rejoice.”

The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) made some supportive comments, for which I was grateful. I was also grateful to him for telling us that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) is to be married on Saturday. I hope that he will convey my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman, although I do not suppose that what he said constituted an invitation.

The Government have always recognised that a station at Woolwich would have regenerative benefits for the Woolwich economy. The argument against it that was advanced in October did not deny that; it was simply about affordability. While a Woolwich station would of course be beneficial to the Woolwich economy, it was not seen as essential to the Crossrail project as a whole.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon asked about the timetable for the Standing Committee. The Government hope that, provided that the Select Committee concludes its business before the summer recess, the Bill will be committed in October, with Third Reading and remaining stages in the House in November. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the start of construction. That will depend on an announcement on funding, about which I shall say more later. He asked about the elements of the funding; it is in the public domain that the balance from central Government will be included, as well as a possible levy on business rates in London for businesses that will benefit from the Crossrail project. I hope to say more about that later as well. He asked for an estimate of the expense. An estimate of the expense involved in this element of the scheme, along with
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information about additional provision, will be deposited at the start of the consultation period in mid-May.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) asked about the cost of the project. He may have been referring to newspaper reports that appeared earlier in the week. I can tell him that a value management exercise has reduced the cost—at 2002 prices, the standard for all Crossrail costings—from £7.8 billion to £6.2 billion, including a contingency element of about 35 per cent. At today’s prices, that is between £15 billion and £16 billion.

Tom Brake: Can the Minister confirm whether that reduction in cost has come simply from reducing the contingency, or are other factors involved?

Mr. Harris: The contingency at 35 per cent. remains a static figure as a percentage of the core costs. The savings have been made in a number of ways, such as by a review of the tunnelling strategy, and by a review of selective door opening so that existing surface-level stations might not have to be extended. There are other elements, and if the hon. Gentleman wants me to give him more details, I am happy to do so.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Lyons inquiry into local government funding, and I am happy to repeat what I said in the debate of 31 October. I did not expect Lyons to say anything in detail about how Crossrail will be funded. The point I made in the House on 31 October was that it would be foolish to try to construct a framework for the funding of Crossrail when we did not know at that time what the Lyons report would say about the future structure of local government funding, which would be an essential element of working out the exact structure of the Crossrail funding package. I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman by telling him that in respect of that I will not lift the veil today. I hope that the announcement on Crossrail funding will be made in the context of the comprehensive spending review, and if he asks me for a date for that, I shall have to disappoint him again, but it will certainly be later this year.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the Thameslink box scenario. That is an important part of the debate, and I want to make it clear that I hope that, provided that the proper financial package is put in place and the necessary level of private funding is secured, there will be no gap between the building of the box and the fitting out of the box to make a station. In the ideal scenario, I hope that that is what will happen, and that it will do so at the same time as the construction of the rest of the south-east arm of Crossrail. However, let me make it clear that if Berkeley Homes and other partners pay for the construction of the box and Crossrail is then built but private finances are not forthcoming, from whatever source, that box will not become a station and it will be used instead as a ventilation and access area for that Crossrail arm. Although I am confident—as are Berkeley Homes and the London borough of Greenwich—that a deal can be reached and that the finances can be delivered, if that does not happen, money will not be forthcoming from the public purse;
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there will be no net increase in the amount of money that the Government are putting up to build Crossrail.

Tom Brake: The Minister might be about to come on to this point, but does he have any clear view yet as to how the benefits to business from having a station at Woolwich will be quantified in terms of trying to get private finance providers to make the contribution that we all want them to make?

Mr. Harris: That is a valid question, but I am not able at this early stage of the negotiation to give any details in respect of what mechanism might be used to identify those particular benefits. I say again, however, that I have confidence that the various partners will be able to come up with an appropriate mechanism that will have widespread support among the business community in the Woolwich area where the station will be built.

I have received some inspiration that causes me to clarify what I said earlier about the Crossrail costings. I suggested that the sums of £15 billion and £16 billion were calculated at today’s prices, but they are in fact costs of the day rather than costs of today; in other words, they are costs that will be incurred at the time that Crossrail is built, rather than based on today’s prices. I hope that that clarification does not confuse matters any further.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) for his courtesy and devotion to the task that has been before him for the past year and a half. He described me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as men of vision—I wonder if he would care to put that in writing. We are grateful to him and every member of his Committee for the dedication that they have shown in undertaking their task. He has chaired the Committee with a distinction and level of professionalism that we would expect from him. He says that the Committee will not prejudge the Woolwich issue, which goes without saying. I know that the final stages of the Bill will be carried out in the professional manner that we have come to expect from my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) referred to the Secretary of State’s role. He has never argued against the point that a Woolwich Crossrail station would be of benefit to the local Woolwich economy, and I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise the personal efforts that my right hon. Friend has made to try to secure this deal. My hon. Friend talked about the importance of bus links to Woolwich. The Labour Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is committed to public transport, and I am sure that he can alleviate that concern by working with Transport for London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) talked entertainingly about the role of the Committee. Now that Committee members are close to emerging once again into the daylight, blinking at the strength of the sun, I want again to pay tribute to him and the other Committee members for their outstanding work. I suspect that from now on when the Whips hand him a white card asking him to serve on any Committee, he might treat it with more suspicion than he previously would have done.

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Crossrail will benefit London, and it will also benefit the south-east and the United Kingdom as a whole. It will significantly increase the capacity of the rail network into and across London and it will relieve congestion and overcrowding on the existing national rail and underground networks. It will meet the substantial growth in demand for travel in the capital that is expected over coming decades. It will also improve accessibility.

Crossrail will provide improved east-west rail access into and across London from the east and south-east regions. It will support local and national Government policy for economic development and regeneration, particularly in the Lea valley and Thames Gateway. It will also significantly enhance public transport access to Heathrow airport and allow Liverpool Street station to handle many more passengers to and from Stansted airport. It will facilitate the—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hate to spoil the Minister’s peroration, but I did reprove the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about going wider than the motion before us. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

Mr. Harris: I am very grateful for that stricture, Mr. Deputy Speaker—considering that I was nowhere near my peroration. However, I will now cut to the chase.

The Crossrail project will be enhanced by a station at Woolwich, provided that this can be achieved without adding to the public funding required. Developments since October, particularly the agreement in principle that has now been reached with Berkeley Homes, represent a very positive way forward on this difficult issue. Both the Government’s and the Select Committee’s objectives have been met. The motion before the House today is a further important step toward making a Crossrail station at Woolwich a reality, and I commend it to the House.

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Question put and agreed to.


1.59 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Broads Authority Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

4 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to introduce the Second Reading of the Bill and I welcome all the other right hon. and hon. Members to the Chamber this afternoon. It may feel like Sleepy Hollow, but this is an important issue for many people, not only in Norfolk and Suffolk, but across the country and internationally. The Bill has been gestating for some time and will probably go on for some time to come, until we get it right, because that is how determined we are to take it forward.

I wish to thank my colleagues from Norfolk and Suffolk who are in their places to represent their constituents with a personal interest in the Bill. I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) is not here, but he has suffered a family bereavement. I hope that the Bill will progress, to give him the opportunity to make some of the points about which he feels passionately. I wish the hon. Gentleman and his family well in their current situation.

The broads, which stretch across Norfolk and Suffolk, are the UK’s most important wetland. They are a unique and internationally important landscape, with a designation equivalent to that of a national park. I shall say more about why they are not a national park in name, although they share many other functions with national parks. In the 1950s the origin of the shallow reed-fringed lakes—or lochs, for the Scottish—was discovered, and they can be seen as the most extensive archaeological sites in Britain, including mediaeval peat diggings from a time when Norfolk was the economic powerhouse of the country. They were subsequently flooded, which gave later generations the network of rivers and broads in which so many people delight today.

The broads are known for their big open skies, the drainage mills dotted across the landscape and the reed beds with bittern and swallowtail butterflies. They are where Nelson learned to sail, and where the concept of a boating holiday was invented. The railways are still there. Arthur Ransome made holidays on the broads popular, and hon. Members will recall the distinctive railway posters of young people disporting themselves on sailing boats. The value of tourism in the area now is estimated at £140 million a year.

A famous local naturalist, Ted Ellis, called the broads

That is a majestic phrase, and the area is indeed one of those very special places that help us to recharge our batteries and cope with our modern busy lives—and the odd MP does visit. In the 1947 Hobhouse report, the broads were listed as one of the areas proposed as a national park. Ten of the 12 proposed areas have been established as national parks under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and the other area, the south downs, is under serious consideration. However, the national park for the broads did not proceed, because of the multiplicity of authorities with
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responsibilities for the planning and management of the area, strong commercial pressures and the anticipated high costs of management. It was recognised that it needed a special solution.

In the intervening years the broads came under huge pressure, water quality declined and there was a real concern that many of the special qualities of the area would be lost. We now know that a combination of factors were in operation, including phosphates from sewage treatment works, bank erosion by boats, drainage of the precious grazing marshes for arable crops, and nitrates from agricultural run-off.

In 1977, the Countryside Commission brought matters to a head by announcing that the area met the criteria for designation as a national park and seeking views on the best way forward. The opinion that a standard national park was not the best solution remained widely held, and negotiation with local interests led to the establishment of a joint local authority committee in 1978, involving county and district councils, the water authority, the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners and other interest groups.

A decade or so later, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988 was passed, and the Broads Authority came into permanent existence the following year to provide governance of the whole system. Much has been achieved in the past 20 years, and the decline has not only been arrested but reversed. Plants that have not been seen for 50 years have flowered, and the pioneering Halvergate grazing marshes scheme led to the environmentally sensitive areas programme and modern support for environmentally sensitive farming. A bursary scheme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund is training a new generation of reed and sedge cutters and millwrights. Tourism in the broads, which faces increasing competition from cheaper overseas holidays, is moving forward by improving the quality of the product while recognising and supporting the special qualities of the broads. To conclude my introduction, at a meeting that I attended, the chairman of the East of England Development Agency expressed an ambition to make the broads like the Florida keys. Having visited the keys I shied away from that, and I said that the broads had a magic that, thank goodness, the Florida keys could neither get their hands on nor improve on.

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