Crossrail Bill

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Clause 11

Permitted development: time limit
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in clause 11, page 8, line 3, leave out subsections (2) and (3).
The clause does exactly what it says on the tin—to use the vernacular. Subsection (1) puts a time limit of 10 years on the provisions for deemed planning permission, which strikes me as quite generous. Given the exhaustive examination of the Crossrail route that has already been made by our friends incarcerated here, 10 years ought to be ample time in which to grant the appropriate permissions to begin the work. Therefore, what is the point of that time limit if, by virtue of subsections (2) and (3), the Secretary of State can ignore it? Those subsections allow the Secretary of State to extend the time limit that has already been imposed of any period he chooses.
Will the Minister enlighten us as to the circumstances in which he anticipates that it would take more than 10 years from the time that the Bill receives Royal Assent before the deemed planning permission can result in development? In 10 years, I would expect the construction of Crossrail to be well under way. If it is still in its planning stage at that time, not only will every member of the Committee and Member of the House be deeply disappointed, but everyone in London will be also.
Mr. Harris: I begin by clarifying for the elimination of all doubt that I agree with the hon. Gentleman and also expect the construction of Crossrail to be well under way in 10 years time. I do not want the Committee to be in any doubt about the Government’s intention in that regard. Last month, the Prime Minister made an announcement about Crossrail and said that we expect major works to start in 2010 and for the first services to be running in 2017. The Government and the Mayor, as joint sponsors of Crossrail, are confident that the outlined programme for construction is realistic. On that basis, we expect all scheduled works to have begun within the 10-year period provided for in subsection (1).
This is a massive project, however, and its scale and complexity are such that we believe it is prudent for Parliament to allow the flexibility that subsections (2) and (3) provide, so that the project can be completed whatever perturbations may occur—I guess it is the word “perturbations” for which the hon. Gentleman wants a definition. We cannot predict why delays might occur, but I am sure that hon. Members will join me in hoping that they do not happen.
Crossrail, as with any large project, is susceptible to external factors that might affect the programme. We believe that the flexibility to extend the period of deemed planning permission is appropriate, and I assure the Committee that the ability to extend the period of deemed planning permission that the Bill grants is well precedented. I shall offer a prize to the first Member who can tell me where that precedent emerges—the 1996 Act. It should be remembered that during the construction of the channel tunnel rail link, an extension of the 10-year planning permission was not required and we do not expect it to be required on this occasion.
Tom Brake: What further thoughts has the Minister had, as he seeks this extension, about the impact of planning blight, which will now potentially extend over a much longer period?
Mr. Harris: May I once again clarify that we do not expect an extension to the 10-year period? The clause will allow the Secretary of State, in certain circumstances, to secure an extension, but we do not intend or expect to extend the 10-year limit. The hon. Gentleman is right about planning blight and the other complications that would arise in those circumstances, which is one reason why the Government are determined that construction will begin as planned in 2010. Further, any extension of deemed planning permission would be moved by an order subject to annulment by either House of Parliament.
Mr. Binley: I offer my sincere apologies to the Minister. I am not a lawyer, thank God, being surrounded by them as I am, but will he explain in simple, non-legal terms the circumstances in which the Secretary of State at the time might need to overrule on this particular matter?
Mr. Harris: I do not want to be overly dramatic about the circumstances that might lead at some point to a major delay in Crossrail. We can all speculate about the effects, for example, of a terrorist attack either in central London or at the Crossrail construction site. I shall be frank: I do not want to speculate about it. However, the process that has already taken up 21 months of Select Committee sittings, and the hybrid Bill process has already been carried over into two separate Parliaments and one general election, so do we want an amendment that would mean that we might conceivably—in unusual circumstances—be forced to go through the whole process all over again.
The people who framed the 1996 Act knew what they were doing, and I reaffirm what I have already said to the Committee: the provision was included in the 1996 Act for the reasons that I have already outlined and the powers were not used. I do not expect them to be used now. Given the amount of work that has already gone into this Bill, I hope that the Committee will understand why the clause, as a safety net, should remain in the Bill.
Mr. Field: I understand why the Minister wants such a belt-and-braces provision. There are, however, great distinctions between the 1996 Act and the Bill. In reality, the channel tunnel was a matter of international prestige. For this Government—for any Administration in this country—to have gone back on that deal would have been a disaster internationally, given the project’s importance. The fear that many of my constituents have is about planning blight, which I addressed with regard to earlier clauses this morning. By extending in a relatively unusual if not entirely unprecedented way from five to 10 years the normal planning limit, the provision raises a question about the robustness of the Crossrail financial package. I appreciate that we will not be able to discuss that issue to any great extent until almost the final clause, but there are great concerns about a package that was cobbled together in the first week of October to everyone’s joy, but, we all felt, with an eye to a general election campaign. I worry that there will be extensive planning blight if we extend beyond the five years or even the three years that the Minister mentioned earlier.
1.45 pm
I worry about the time we have spent considering these matters in Parliament. I was not a member of the Select Committee, but a number of hon. Members have spent more than 18 months on them. We have gone through the legislative process, or we will have done within a few months, and we would be in the worst of all worlds if that financial package was not seen to be robust.
There is undoubtedly slightly less clement economic weather ahead, and there is also a sense in which the project is considered one of great international prestige. We make a big case for the importance of international trade and the significance of Crossrail well beyond London and the south-east. Ministers make that case when they are trying to convince their Scottish and northern English brethren of the importance of the project, but it is all too easy to see how the rug might be pulled away.
Even for a large-scale construction project such as this, an extension from five years to 10 is an unusual provision. I worry that it will give rise ever more to the view that there is get-out option come year 8 or 9, that suddenly the funding will not be put together and that the project will be put on the back burner for decades to come. That is the worst of all scenarios for my constituents and others who are affected, simply because they will suffer blight. That blight could be present for many years to come.
Most of my constituents are concerned about the noise and the disruption. As the Minister knows, on all occasions I have tried to make the case for the importance of Crossrail. A number of my constituents in parts of central London would prefer it if I came out against Crossrail, but I am in favour—provided that we can get on and get it done.
At the end of the process, we will have a tremendous new asset not just for central London, but for the country as a whole. The worst of all worlds for my constituents would be to have such blight hanging over their properties and their lives for many years to come. The Minister’s proposal to extend from the normal five years to 10 raises many questions.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I rise to support the Minister’s view. As we are all well aware, this is an enormously complex project with innumerable elements. Some of those elements will be much more straightforward to deliver than others, and some are rather more fundamental to the project than others. As those complex elements are brought together to produce the whole, some might be more difficult to deliver in the time frame than might seem apparent at the outset.
We should remember that the provision is being included in such a way as to enable Parliament to continue to scrutinise. Parliamentary approval will be required for any extension beyond the 10-year period. Given the complexity of the project, the uncertainty of delivering it all within the 10-year time frame and the scrutiny that would be necessary should the power be exercised, we should support the clause as it stands.
Tom Brake: I rise to echo the concerns that have been expressed from this side of the Committee. The clause creates a bit of wriggle room and takes the pressure off. With a project such as this, we need to keep the pressure on and the momentum going. There is here the potential to delay matters. If the Government roll out an ID cards programme and the costs mushroom dramatically beyond those anticipated, they would have the flexibility to use this measure as a means of slowing down expenditure on the Crossrail project to pay for those cost overruns. I need reassurance from the Minister, therefore, that there is no potential to delay the project.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Welcome to the Chair, Lady Winterton.
I declare an interest in that I am a lawyer, which means that I shall keep very quiet in the Committee, although there is one point on which I would appreciate the Minister’s clarification. Hon. Members who have spoken in this portion of our discussions have assumed that the works in question must be completed in a 10-year period. The Minister has said that there are many unforeseeable eventualities that might affect the progress of a particular piece of work. However, it is also important to bear it in mind that clause 11(1) says that the development consisting of scheduled work must begin
“not later than the end of 10 years”.
Any delays in a development, therefore, will not be affected by the removal of subsections (2) and (3).
Mr. Harris: Before I address the serious concerns mentioned by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington on managing to include ID cards in a Crossrail debate.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster made his case well in relation to potential blight. He has raised his concerns on that subject on a number of occasions, I know. Let me put it this way: Crossrail must happen, and it will—whether under this scheme or not. It is not an optional extra for the city of London. It must be built, and most of us accept that.
Mr. Field: I shall not draw a direct comparison, but let me make the observation that at various times there have been proposals for different tube lines. Anyone who lives in parts of north London around Muswell Hill or Cranleigh Gardens will have seen maps from the late 1930s indicating possible extensions of the Northern line that would have covered those districts. It is perhaps to their own good that they remained outside the tube network.
The notion that Crossrail has to be built is a little wide of the mark. It has been talked about since as early as 1948, and proposals for it have existed for a considerable time. Conservative Members are simply concerned about financial robustness. If the Minister is right that work will begin in the next three years, that will probably be under the current Administration, but if they fail in that regard, I do not see why my constituents or constituents elsewhere in London and the south-east should suffer potential blight.
Mr. Harris: All I can do is repeat the assurances that have been given by the Prime Minister and by others in government on the Government’s commitment to going ahead with the stated schedule of works, which we have already made public. We have learned lessons from the highly successful channel tunnel rail link and applied them to the Crossrail proposals, not least in handing the task of delivery to an autonomous delivery agent—Cross London Rail Links Ltd—that can recruit the people it needs with the right “megaproject” experience and expertise. I am confident that the project will come in on time and on budget, and will begin in 2010 as we have said. The project costs include a carefully calculated contingency reserve and it has been tested in a full quantified risk analysis.
I do not want the Committee to receive any impression other than that the Government are committed to Crossrail construction beginning in 2010. The measure in the Bill is a standard measure that must be applied to an infrastructure project of this size. I predict that this measure will be applied to any future infrastructure project of such a size when a hybrid Bill is involved.
I do not want anyone to glean from the comments that have been made, either by me or by any other Committee member, that the Government are anything other than fully committed to the project timetable that we have already outlined. In that context, I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will withdraw his amendment.
The clause is about not Crossrail being completed, but its being started. Unfortunately, the Minister is in the world of the unknown unknowns and the problem is that he cannot tell us what one of those unknowns might be.
Mr. Harris: Because it is not known.
Stephen Hammond: This is a problem for the Minister and the fatal flaw in his argument. We are seeking reassurance about what event he might want the exceptional power for and, because he cannot give us that reassurance—he has been unable to do so—I would like to test the will of the Committee on the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 3 ]
Binley, Mr. Brian
Brake, Tom
Field, Mr. Mark
Hammond, Stephen
Scott, Mr. Lee
Wright, Jeremy
Banks, Gordon
Brown, Lyn
Harris, Mr. Tom
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Tami, Mark
Watson, Mr. Tom
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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