Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 7340 - 7359)

  7340. In my submission, this Option has a significantly stronger effect, if your Lordships were to accept it, than Mr Cameron perhaps suggested in opening. My Lords, the reason why I, on behalf of the Secretary of State, am strongly opposed to accepting this Option, or indeed the second Option, is that, as I will turn to in a moment, in my submission, it is plainly not justified on the evidence at the present time. But then, what Mr Cameron is trying to do on behalf of his client is to bind the Secretary of State's hands for the future. So he is trying, effectively, to say that this scheme, the Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet extension, should get a very high priority if not a top priority in terms of being promoted as a TWA. In my submission, the question of whether it should be promoted as a TWA post-Royal Assent is one that should be judged at the time on the basis of a cost:benefit ratio done at that time, but also, critically, by being judged against, particularly, other transport schemes at that time and other calls on the budget—whether you look at them as a transport budget or the more general budget.

  7341. A great deal has been made in Bexley's case that this scheme has a positive cost-benefit analysis, but there may be many, many—indeed there are—other transport schemes around England and Wales that have a positive cost:benefit ratio. That does not mean they are all going to be built, it means that the Department of Transport or other funding bodies have to look at them on a comparative basis and work out whether any particular one should be taken forward or not. That will be a judgment both of the cost:benefit ratio but, also, of what the available pot of funds is.

  7342. The effect of this Option is to try to push Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet to the top of the queue, and in my submission there is absolutely nothing to justify that in the evidence that we have heard today.

  7343. My Lords, that is my submission on the effect of this Option and what Bexley are, in truth, trying to do. Their second Option is merely a variant because it is, again, trying to put pressure on the Secretary of State albeit only through asking the Committee to make a recommendation. In my submission, it would be quite wrong to, effectively, just sweep this in as "a very good thing" when the Committee has no evidence on the various different calls on the transport budget, and the potentially greater benefit of other schemes judged up and down the country by the Secretary of State for Transport. That is what Bexley are trying to achieve, and, in my submission, the Committee should step back from that and not, therefore, accept either option.

  7344. Can I then turn briefly to the merits, just to pull the various points together. The reasons that we say extending to Ebbsfleet is not justified now on the evidence is, first of all, the very high cost, over half-a-billion pounds, which on any analysis is a very great deal of public money. We are back to where we were on PRMs but on a grander scale. Even in the cost of 16 billion for Crossrail, 500 million going to Ebbsfleet is a vast amount of money when there are lots of other things that 500 million could be spent on just within the transport budget. The benefit:cost ratio does not mean that it is simply a good use of public funds; what it means is there are benefits, and significant benefits, but that is not in dispute. The first point is very high cost.

  7345. The second point is that there are very significant benefits to the people east of Abbey Wood and to the employment prospects east of Abbey Wood from Crossrail in any event. I made this point in opening. This is not an all or nothing situation for the people who live around those intermediate stations because there will be a major benefit to them from being able to go to Abbey Wood and make a quick and easy interchange. I do emphasise that it is not just the time savings, it is also the getting on to the direct service, the not having to go through London Bridge and all the crowding that goes on there and the very reliable service that Crossrail is intending to provide.

  7346. The third point is that there are about to be very significant improvements to the transport infrastructure in this area in any event, and I would highlight three. First of all, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link domestic service from Ebbsfleet which, slightly strangely, Mr Donovan seemed to downgrade suddenly on the grounds he was not terribly interested in Ebbsfleet, he was only interested in the stations in Bexley. In terms of the Committee asking itself how much benefit do we get from 500 million in real terms, in my submission it is extremely relevant that there is going to be this high-speed, high-quality link from Ebbsfleet straight into Central London, nothing to do with Crossrail. The second is the DLR to Woolwich because it will make it much easier for people to just go straight through to Woolwich Arsenal and then change on to the DLR. It is really to the employment areas of the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf that that will make a critical difference. So if you live in south-east London and you want to work in Canary Wharf you can go that way; if you live in south-east London and you want to work in the West End or the City then you will have the option of going to Ebbsfleet or Abbey Wood. The third upgrade is the one Mr Berryman mentioned, which is as a spin-off benefit from Thameslink. There is going to be a considerable increase in capacity around London Bridge which will, it is hoped, improve reliability and service patterns in this area. We are looking at major changes in any event. I would ask the Committee to be very wary—I have not gone through them in length because I just did not feel it was worth the Committee's time—but to be very wary of a lot of the material about how many people can get where, with or without Crossrail, because there are all these different things going on here. For instance, the figures about 45 minutes from Belvedere will be affected by other proposals in the area, so all those benefit:cost ratio material need to be treated with significant care.

  7347. CHAIRMAN: Ms Lieven, I was looking at Bexley exhibits from 26 onwards and all seem to be based on 2001, for instance accessibility and so on. Have you got any comments about the date upon which we ought to be trying to judge this?

  7348. MS LIEVEN: I think I know the answer to that, my Lord, but could I have a moment. (After taking instructions) My Lord, I very strongly suspect, although I cannot absolutely say, that the reason it is 2001 is that those are the Census figures from 2001. To be fair to Bexley, the figures will change over the years. I was going to make the point on the London Plan that you cannot simply assume that the changed figures from the earlier London Plans of the 2007 London Plan are related to Crossrail because large numbers of assumptions will have changed: transport assumptions, house building rates, employment rates, all these things change. To be fair to Bexley, I suspect on the instructions I have received that these changes will not make a very material difference to the benefit:cost ratio. They will make some differences undoubtedly, but it is not part of our case that if you change these variables you are likely to significantly change the benefit:cost ratio.

  7349. CHAIRMAN: But if a safeguarding decision was taken up-to-date figures would be used, would they?

  7350. MS LIEVEN: Absolutely, my Lord. If we go through the sequence of a safeguarding direction being made in the winter, I think it was, and then the Secretary of State sitting down to think, "What am I going to do next? Am I going to make a TWA", she would then get an up-to-date BCR based on all the up-to-date figures. So all of this would have to go back into the computer with all the assumptions changed to get the up-to-date figures. As I have said, it is not part of our case but that is likely to produce a wildly different BCR. We would clearly do that exercise before any decision was made to commit £500 million.

  7351. CHAIRMAN: I am looking at your point about "without delay" and this occurs in both Options 1 and 2. That means to say we would be recommending to Parliament to carry out this whatever it is that is proposed by Bexley—I equally want to be fair to them—without waiting for up-to-date figures.

  7352. MS LIEVEN: Yes. Your Lordships are being asked to make this recommendation on the basis of material which is clearly outdated. I have to repeat, we have not sought to argue before your Lordships and, indeed, there is a letter which says that we will not, that we fundamentally disagree with Bexley on the BCR. We have no material that would suggest if we did do the exercise again with all the up-to-date figures we would come out with a fundamentally different figure.

  7353. CHAIRMAN: Except for the other transport schemes.

  7354. MS LIEVEN: My Lord, even there. It is a complicated issue as to precisely what other transport schemes on what assumptions would have been fed into the figures that went into the BCR. It is difficult to over-emphasise how complex these models are. Take the example of Ebbsfleet: There will have been assumptions about the date it was going to come on-stream, the level of service, the cost of the service, the frequency of the service. All of those things will have gone into the model and may well have changed somewhat by now, but which schemes went in at which frequency and at what dates is not by any means straightforward. I certainly would not want your Lordships to think that the BCR will have ignored all other service improvements because I know as a fact it will not have done. For example, Thameslink, I just have no idea whether or not Thameslink would have been assumed to have happened eight years ago, given that it was called Thameslink 2000, or assumptions were made about it not happening at all because that would have depended a lot on exactly when. I do keep coming back to the point we do not believe there are changes in there that will make a fundamental difference.

  7355. CHAIRMAN: That is very fair, I hope Bexley appreciate that.

  7356. MS LIEVEN: I think it is only right to say that, my Lord. I was on the point `why not confirm it now'. The other one that Mr Berryman made strongly is that this is an incredibly complicated bit of railway and the four track solution is not a magic wand that can simply be waved, put a bit of infrastructure in and there is your answer, there are very complicated and difficult negotiations to be undertaken if we did go ahead with four track at some point as to how the service pattern fits into that and we would be back in the world of the ORR and timetabling work, which your Lordships are familiar with on the railway Petitioners' issues. We would have to fundamentally change the structure of services in the area to even make four tracking work, so it is not an easy solution in any event.

  7357. That is `why don't do it now and don't make the recommendation now'. As far as `why don't commit now to doing it in the future or don't try to tie the Secretary of State's hands as to doing it in the future', as I have already said she would have to redo the BCR at the time and she would have to consider how the proposal matched in priority against other schemes and other calls on the budget at the time.

  7358. Finally, my Lords, just to deal with questions that came up with Mr Berryman. It is important that the Committee do not think that because the Secretary of State is proposing to safeguard, and that has gone out to consultation, that means we have accepted the money should be spent for building the extension. There is a very big step between safeguarding something, which is literally about preserving its possibility for the future, and actually deciding that you are going to spend the however many millions or billions that it takes. The clearest example in my mind is Crossrail Line 2, the old Chelsea-Hackney line, which is safeguarded, and has been for some time, but there is certainly no Government commitment that the money is going to be spent to build it. Mr Berryman talked about the North Circular which went through safeguarding, much land was blighted, and then eventually the scheme was abandoned. It is by no means the case that because we are promoting safeguarding it will necessarily follow at some stage that the Secretary of State will decide that it is actually good value for money and should be built. Those are two very different stages.

  7359. My Lords, the final point, if we can put up Option 1 again, although I suspect this is probably a drafting point rather than a detailed one, is that it talks about the construction of "an extension" to Crossrail.[55]56 At the moment this would cover any extension to Crossrail, including that to Reading. That could be amended by a small drafting change. Clearly if this option was to be accepted it would need to be amended. My Lords, I do not know whether there is anything else I can help your Lordships or your Ladyship with.



55   56 Committee Ref: A35, Option 1-Recommend TWA Order plus amendment which designates scheme as scheme of national significance (BEXYLB-44_05A-003) Back


 
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