Crossrail Bill (Carry Over)
Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich, Labour)
No; the two lines serve completely different purposes, which can be illustrated by the travel times. The journey from Woolwich to Canary Wharf on the DLR—when it actually comes to Woolwich—will be about half an hour, due to the route, while the time on the direct link via Crossrail would be in the region of seven or eight minutes. That difference in connection will have a huge impact on the economic development of Canary Wharf because it can draw on the large labour force in south-east London, who would have quick access. That is one of the reasons why people in Canary Wharf are so sympathetic to the proposals for the Woolwich station. The two lines serve different purposes and it is a mistake to confuse them, just as it would be a mistake to say that because Westminster has benefited from some improved transport schemes, there is no need for Crossrail to have any stations in Westminster. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not argue that case.
A Crossrail station in Woolwich, providing links to Canary Wharf, the City, the west end and Heathrow, would have obvious benefits, accelerating the process of regeneration and facilitating much new commercial and residential investment. Estimates by the consultants EDAW suggest that there will be scope for an additional 4,300 new homes, as well as the substantial number already planned, and for more than 2,000 new jobs—all of which would have a considerable impact on the regeneration of the area. Few locations along the Crossrail route would benefit to anywhere the same extent as Woolwich from the presence of a station.
For all of us who care about the area and have been working to secure its recovery, the decision to drop the Woolwich station was an absolute body blow. Even worse was the absence of any clear logic behind that decision. Quite apart from the exceptional potential regenerative impacts, there are many other powerful arguments for the station at Woolwich. Without a Woolwich station, there would be a gap of almost six miles between Custom House and Abbey Wood—one of the longest gaps on the entire network. There would be only one station in the whole of south London and that would be at Abbey Wood. That station is necessary for a connection with Southeastern trains on the surface, but Abbey Wood is not an area that is capable of providing a transport hub.
By contrast, Woolwich is a major transport hub. It has 180 buses an hour serving the town centre. As Mr. Field pointed out, it will have the docklands light railway within three years. It will have the waterfront transit. It already has a river bus service, which looks like being enhanced as a result of investment. It also has a connection with the Southeastern trains surface rail operation. Woolwich can serve the wider area of south-east London. It would provide an opportunity for the people of south-east London to make optimum use of Crossrail, which otherwise would not be possible.
In addition to those benefits, there are of course the issues that were taken into account in the cost-benefit analysis, which already shows that Woolwich performs better than Crossrail as a whole, with a cost-benefit ratio of 3:1. That is likely to improve even further as a result of the savings to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already referred, where we believe that there is scope for even further improvement.
With all those potential advantages, it is not surprising that the Select Committee, after hearing all the evidence, concluded that the Woolwich station offered "exceptional value for money" and proposed its reinsertion in the Bill. In my view, the Select Committee was acting entirely properly and within its remit in doing so. If the Government had not wanted the Select Committee to consider the Woolwich station, they could have instructed it not to do so, as they did in the case of Reading, but they did not. Indeed, they provided detailed evidence on the subject for the Committee to consider.
In that situation—I speak with the authority of someone who served on the Select Committee that discussed the Channel Tunnel Bill in the 1980s, which had even more petitions to consider than the Select Committee looking at Crossrail—it is entirely proper for the Select Committee to come up with conclusions about the improvement of the Bill, and not simply to respond to individual issues of property rights. I believe that there is little justification for the argument that the Department for Transport has advanced. It is a fallacious argument. According to the evidence that I have received from the Library, the Clerks rather tend to that view, too. I am not going to get into that discussion, but I want to put on the record my belief that the Select Committee has acted entirely within its proper rights and its remit, and I wholly support it in doing so.
As I have already indicated, the station was dropped from the scheme only for financial reasons. It seems that that is the only basis on which there has been a reluctance to accept the Select Committee's report. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear, it is a question of affordability and he is rightly concerned about that. I share the concern about ensuring that the Crossrail scheme is affordable. Where I differ from him is in believing that his Department has acted in a way that has treated Woolwich quite differently from other elements in the scheme. It would be proper for it to be assessed as a contributory element to the Crossrail scheme, rather than being rejected individually on affordability grounds when similar tests have not been applied to other elements in the scheme. Although I entirely accept his concern to bear down on costs to make Crossrail affordable, I believe that that exercise should be taken in the round, with Woolwich included within all the elements that are considered.
In the London borough of Greenwich, we are certainly concerned to bear down on the costs. We have made suggestions about how economies can be made by reducing the construction costs and securing additional revenue to offset those costs. The leader of our council, Councillor Chris Roberts, has written to my right hon. Friend to make it clear that Greenwich council wants to work constructively with the Government, Crossrail and other interested parties to explore how the Woolwich station can be delivered in the most cost-effective way.
There are real opportunities. The original scheme involved a deep underground station, with associated high costs. That was because, at that stage, the line was thought to be likely to carry freight and there was therefore a gradient constraint. The line had to remain underground to pass underneath not just the Thames, but Sir Joseph Bazalgette's great southern outfall sewer works further to the east. It was kept at a relatively low level between those two obstacles. Now that no freight usage is envisaged, the permitted gradients can be steeper than previously envisaged. That in turn reduces the depth at which the station has to be built, which allows savings to be made. There is definite scope for savings through value engineering and exploring the detailed arrangements of the scheme.
Equally, the substantial development opportunities around Woolwich, to which I have already alluded, offer real scope for securing some offsetting contributions towards the costs. I am absolutely confident that the discussions that my right hon. Friend has opened the door to with his comments earlier this evening will demonstrate that it is possible to deliver a value-for-money station at Woolwich for a cost that is significantly less than the cost that has been quoted. We have certainly seen a significant reduction from the £300 million-plus figure that was originally quoted by the Government. When rejecting the Select Committee's decision to insert Woolwich in the Bill, the figure of £200 million was quoted. Tonight we are at £186 million. I suspect that the figure will be lower than that after this exercise. I am keen that it should be. It is right that we should look for value for money, but we should not arbitrarily reject a station that would bring enormous benefits to a deprived area and that would help regeneration and the economy of south-east London.