East Thames River Crossings

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 18th November 1994.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Greenwich 2:44 pm, 18th November 1994

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) on his success in securing the debate and I thank him and Minister for their courtesy in allowing me a brief period in which to speak. My constituency has within its boundaries three of the river crossings that have been proposed or are under construction. They are the Blackwall third crossing, the Jubilee line extension and the docklands light railway extension.

As the Minister knows, there is considerable support in Greenwich for a third crossing at Blackwall, although we are both conscious of the environmental consequences of the proposed high-level bridge that his Department favours, and sensitive to the concerns expressed by people on the north side of the river about the possible consequences of a third crossing. If the Minister considers the congestion that exists, particularly immediately south of the Blackwall tunnels, and the extent to which that affects a much wider region, including Greenwich town centre, he will understand the forceful support of people in Greenwich for a third crossing at Blackwall.

On the Jubilee line extension, there is considerable pleasure in Greenwich at the fact that, belatedly, approval has been given to North Greenwich station, although there is concern about the price that is being paid—approval was dependent on the 1,000-vehicle park-and-ride facility at north Greenwich. There is concern that that will attract more vehicles into a region that, as I have already said, is severely congested. As the proposal is proceeding, it gives added force to the case for the third Blackwall crossing.

On the docklands light railway extension, we enter a rather different world, a curiously Alice in Wonderland world. The Minister for Transport in London is not responsible because the scheme is being promoted not by the Department of Transport but by the Department of the Environment. That seems curious enough, but the second bizarre Alice in Wonderland feature is that Cutty Sark station, which would be on that route, and which would generate the largest number of visitors and serve the major tourist attraction of Greenwich town centre, with all the historic buildings to which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich referred, is very much in doubt.

The station is in doubt because of an extraordinary piece of short-termism on the part of the Department of the Environment, which said that the station could be built only if the full cost were raised by Greenwich council and private sector partners within a three-month period. Allowing the station not to be built flies in the face of all common sense. Without question, transport logic points to the need for a station to serve this major tourist attraction on a link that serves another of London's major tourist attractions, the Tower of London. There are links down the river, but the case for a direct rail link between the Tower and Greenwich is strong.

The decision to reject a station at Cutty Sark, which is right in the heart of the tourist area, is curious. It flies in the face not only of common sense but of the views of the people who responded to the consultation exercise that the Department of the Environment, Docklands Light Railway and the London Docklands development corporation carried out when the proposal was made to drop the station.

Local residents, businesses and other organisations expressed almost unanimous support for Cutty Sark station to go ahead. Instead of responding positively to that and working with Greenwich council and others to ensure that the station is built, the Government appear to be trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities. Saying that the station will be built only if the council raises £14 million within three months unconditionally is tantamount to killing the station. It is depressing that the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has taken that decision and who is not currently in the Chamber, has essentially signed the death warrant for Cutty Sark station and does not have the guts to admit that. I have expressed that view to him in writing, so the fact that he is not here is not a reason for my holding back from making that comment.

To its credit, Greenwich council is doing its level best to come forward with a funding package to make the station possible and it is working closely with a number of partners, local businesses, landowners and other organisations. At this stage, it is difficult to say how far it will succeed in raising the large sum of money that has been specified. I hope that it will go a long way towards achieving its aim. I am giving the council my full support, but I hope that the Minister accepts that it is very strange for the Government essentially to have passed all responsibility for securing the station on to the local authority and to have established such extraordinarily difficult conditions for the station to be built.

I hope that the Government will change their mind and that the Minister will persuade his colleagues in the Department of the Environment to make them work more constructively with Greenwich council and Greenwich's private sector partners to ensure that the station is built. Not to do so would be an extraordinary exercise in putting short-term economies before the long-term advantages of building the station, which has huge potential for generating additional income and which makes great sense in planning and transport terms.