London Orbital Rail Network

Mi6 – in Westminster Hall at 11:15 am on 19th July 2006.

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Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 11:15 am, 19th July 2006

It will be in order for colleagues to remove their jackets if they wish. It is a warm day; perhaps the hottest of the year.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs 2:30 pm, 19th July 2006

Thank you, Mr. Conway, for that dispensation, which I am sure will be appreciated by both sides.

I asked to have this debate because I am aware that transport debates are often dominated by people from other parts of the country who have longer to travel and rely more on the railways. In fact, travelling by rail is more of a London habit, and half the people who travel by train are Londoners. It is important that, from time to time, we have an opportunity to put to Ministers the particular concerns of London Members, especially when faced with the enormous levels of growth both in the capital and in the use of railways.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I am sorry to disturb the hon. Gentleman so early in his speech, but perhaps a point we should also make as London Members is that London railways are used by hundreds of thousands of constituents from outside the capital—for example, as far away as east Kent. Therefore, the state of London railways is an issue of great concern well beyond the 74 constituencies in the capital.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

It is absolutely true that the railways in London perform vital functions for three groups: first, the people who live in London; secondly, those who work in London and travel in daily; and thirdly, those from all over the country who travel to London. Those points should not be overlooked, especially by Members who represent a constituency that is a long way from London and see the issue as involving competition between their transport needs and ours.

I am not sure whether hon. Members have seen it, but there is an early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend Graham Stringer that notes the achievements of the Government in the last comprehensive spending review when they agreed to a five-year investment programme with the Mayor, and calls for the Government to use the next comprehensive spending review in 2007 to raise the level of transport spending in the UK's other metropolitan areas and to address the gap in spending per head. The motion does not call on the Department to stop funding Transport for London's investment programme, just to match it elsewhere, which suggests that London has had its turn and it should be the turn of other areas now.

That approach suggests that rail transport should be seen as an on-cost. I suggest that it is far better to regard it as an investment that contributes between £9 billion and £15 billion to central Government: much more than it receives. Investment in the London transport system benefits not only Londoners but the entire country. It is often suggested by people outside London that the capital is overheated and overcrowded, and that the pressure needs to be relieved by having more investment outside London. In fact, London has substantial under-used resources: there is high unemployment in many parts and low employment rates, as well as many bottlenecks that prevent the effective use of resources.

In addition, the population of London is due to grow by between 900,000 and 1 million in the next few years, and those additional million residents will be living all around London, but working mainly in the centre. In order to accommodate this huge pressure on the capital, TFL has introduced proposals for London's transport investment needs in "Transport 2025", and more specifically in "Rail 2025". The centrepiece of that is the East London line and the North London railway, both of which provide mainly orbital routes that will join up in about six years to form a London orbital rail network. It is worth while spending some time understanding the implications of that.

The 2001 census showed that, although 38 per cent. of Londoners live and work in the same borough—a figure that has been falling rapidly; it used to be much more than that—25 per cent. travel into central London along radial routes, like the spokes coming into a hub, and 19 per cent. take orbital journeys to work. That was defined in the survey as someone who lives in one borough, but works in another that is not in central London, so the journey to work is not radial but orbital. That means that for every four commuters travelling into the centre, there are three travelling across London to get to work. Inevitably, a far higher proportion of orbital commuters travel by car, partly because they often have to because there is no public transport, and partly because they can.

It is not only Londoners who make orbital journeys, as commuters and travellers going through London do not particularly want to go through the centre. One of the key points about the London orbital is that it will provide interchanges where commuters coming into London can switch to the orbital route to avoid travelling through the centre. That will be at places such as Clapham Junction, Willesden Junction, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Ms Butler, West Hampstead, Stratford, and in east and south London at points that are not yet exactly clear. There will be places where all the trains stop and people can get off and, instead of going to a London terminus, they will be able to travel more directly to where they want to go. Indeed, I welcome the fact that the Mayor of London has recently discussed powers to enable him to insist on the train-operating companies stopping at these orbital interchanges.

There has already been a 30 per cent. rise in rail journeys and there is another big increase to come that can never be met by the traditional model of everybody coming into the centre and then travelling to their required destination. Victoria station is already so overcrowded that it often has to be closed during rush hour because there are too many people on the platforms. The irony is that many of the people who travel into the centre do not actually want to be there.

A further reason why we need an orbital rail network is to serve the communities that were forgotten or overlooked by the tube network when it was created. South London springs to mind in that context as, certainly in my part of south London, it was believed at the time that clay could not be tunnelled through. Although it is now considered to be the best material for tunnelling through, large parts of south London where left without the tube for that reason. The constituency of my hon. Friend Meg Hillier is another example of an area of London that has never had a tube. It is only now with the arrival of the East London line that it will have a tube system. That means that communities that have so far been deprived of the advantages of having a tube will now have it. People hardly know that Haggerston and Hoxton exist because they are not on the tube, but they will now have new stations.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Of course, everyone knows about Haggerston, and I live a few steps away from the new station there. Does my hon. Friend agree that the advantage to the people of Hackney of the new orbital route and the East London line is not just the convenience of being able to access the tube, but that it will play an important role in regeneration in an area which has long had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country?

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

My hon. Friend makes the point for me that these are real places with real transport needs, but because they have not appeared on the tube map until now, they have been relatively less well known. It is a huge problem in south London, particularly for the entertainment industry and tourist attractions, that tourists always navigate entirely using the tube map—indeed, this is also the case for some north Londoners—and do not recognise the existence of anywhere served only by the rail network. I very much hope that the new East London line, whether it is run as a tube or metro service, will be on the tube map. The biggest single benefit will come from people seeing that we are on that map and being able to find the service.

I mentioned Haggerston and Hoxton, but Dalston Junction is also involved. There is a new station at Surrey Canal road and another at Sands End—although I believe that it will be called Imperial Wharf—in Hammersmith and Fulham. Furthermore, Shepherd's Bush will soon be linked to the West London line and, at last, 163 years after it was built, Clapham Junction will be on the tube. That is of enormous interest to my constituents.

Orbital routes are important. In so far as the great expansion in demand for transport in London relates to radial routes, it can already be accommodated simply by building longer trains, longer platforms and better signalling. That is what the rail industry will do. I do not underestimate the cost; the project will use a lot of Department for Transport and Transport for London resources, but it is a relatively simple and straightforward solution.

London's great fortune is that we also have orbital routes: the South London, East London, West London and North London lines, which have been underused over the years. They are full of freight paths and run very few passenger trains, which in some sections come only once every 30 minutes. The project will cost a lot of money, but all we have to do is join up those four routes to have a ready-made orbital network.

Ironically, the first phase of the East London line extension is not so much an orbital route as a radial route in from Croydon and Crystal Palace. However, it paves the way for an orbital route, and the second phase of the East London line extension—the one of main concern to me and some of my hon. Friends—will be an orbital route. Not only that, but, as it provides the missing link, it will allow all four East, North, West and South London lines to be joined up in a network that will enable a full orbital route to exist. Work is already well under way; the enabling works contract for the first phase, involving work on viaduct bridges, was in June last year. The rolling stock contract is already advanced and the main works contract, worth £500 million, is expected to be awarded next month. The bidding process for an operator for the East London and North London lines is already at an advanced stage. The appointment should be made next year and the completion date is June 2010.

Phase 2 is vital because it will link up the orbital route. It is crucial that it follows on directly from phase 1. That, of course, depends entirely on the Treasury and the Department for Transport providing sufficient capital or prudential borrowing to TFL to continue the programme on which it has embarked. The Mayor of London has told me that he regards the East London line as a single project. Provided that he can get the prudential borrowing or capital that he needs in the comprehensive spending review, he intends that phase 2 should follow on from phase 1 and he thinks that things could be ready within three years.

That, ironically, would take us to June 2013, just 10 months after the Olympics. It would be good to know that there was a way of ensuring that the work was completed before the games. Although there is a promise to build the East London line in my party's manifesto, there has been no promise that it will be ready on any particular date.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that we need the link. I am concerned that there is a phase 1 and phase 2 when it would be much better if it were all done in one phase. My suspicion—and, I suspect, that of my hon. Friends—is that phase 2 might get delayed for funding reasons. We need a clear commitment that phase 2, which includes a planned extension to Highbury and Islington in my constituency, will be followed and that we will retain the option of a link to Finsbury Park, which would become a sub-orbital network in the same way as my hon. Friend has outlined in other cases. Does he support that position?

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

As the Government were committed to building the East London line in their manifesto and as it follows the logic of all their transport policies, I remain completely confident that they will enable phase 2 to go ahead so that trains eventually run from Clapham Junction to Highbury. I accept that, to create an orbital interchange in that part of London, it would make huge railway sense for Finsbury Park to be added to the system. It is a natural hub, whereas other stations in the area are not.

The cost is great; greater than anticipated. Phase 1 of the East London line will cost close on £1 billion. Originally it was a national scheme, but it is now a London scheme; London is borrowing the money to carry it out. The Treasury, through the Department for Transport, funds the Mayor of London to enable the money to be paid back.

By comparison, phase 2 is costed at only about £250 million to £275 million. I regret to inform my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch that, of that £275 million, £200 million is the cost of extending the line by just two stations, up to Highbury and Islington. For technical reasons that I do not fully understand, that is the expensive part of the project. None the less, it is very important that it should go ahead. It might be worth pursuing why that cost is so disproportionate.

The southern extension to Clapham Junction, my main concern, is a relatively cheap £75 million, most of which is to build the new station at Surrey Canal road in the constituency of my hon. Friend Joan Ruddock. Once that has been built, we shall campaign for a station at Brixton. The idea of having a line in south London that goes through but does not stop at Brixton seems extraordinary. The Mayor has commissioned a business case for a station at Brixton, although that would involve huge technical difficulties. I shall pursue the same strategy and get a business case for a station in north Battersea.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier PPS (Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State), Department for Communities and Local Government

I agree that it would be great if the trains stopped at Brixton. That would enable people to visit Hoxton and Haggerston, which many people have heard of and do visit, but with greater difficulty than if they were a station in Brixton.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

My hon. Friend will know the difficulties of travelling from one part of London to another when it involves going through the centre. That problem will become very apparent during the Olympic games. People living outside London think that London has the Olympics, but east London has them. The difficulties that people living in south-west London will have in reaching the Olympics would be very great at the moment but would be considerably helped by the new line. Similarly, if a person wants to travel from Brixton to Hoxton, their journey, which would now take 50 or 55 minutes, would be reduced to about 15 or 20 minutes.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent South

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend and with my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, who said that we should consider doing all the work under phase 1, especially given that the Olympics are so near. Given the Olympics, Wembley and even the line from Queen's Park to Stratford, does my hon. Friend Martin Linton agree that the extension of the London orbital network, by joining east, south, north and west London, is paramount to having a successful Olympics?

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

I agree absolutely. We must remember that the Olympics are just six years and two weeks from now. We are talking about a transport system that will last 100 years, but if the Olympics helped to concentrate minds and demonstrate the advantages to people, that would serve a purpose. If we had an orbital route functioning for the Olympics, so that people from all over London found it easy to get to them, that would be of great benefit to them.

I come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington: the most important reason for having an orbital route in London is regeneration. When the East London and the North London lines are joined together under a single operator, they will bring into the London rail and tube system nearly 100 new stations—about 30 on the East London line and about 60 on the North London line. Those lines go through 80 per cent. of the wards in the top 20 per cent. of deprivation in London. Four out of five deprived areas will be served by them.

Some people say that it is old fashioned to see the structure of London as a well-to-do centre, a deprived inner ring and a wealthier ring of suburbs. There are many exceptions to that pattern, and one could point to parts of outer London that are becoming more deprived. Nevertheless, a central pattern exists, and an orbital route would be good for regeneration because it would link all those places. The south London spur, which will cost £75 million, would enable people in north Battersea, Clapham, Brixton, Camberwell, Peckham and Deptford to get to jobs in docklands in 15 or 20 minutes. At present, those journeys might take well over an hour. An orbital route would bring employment opportunities to many deprived areas, and I am sure that one can make a similar calculation for the Gospel Oak to Barking line and the North London line, which will end at Stratford.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

As my hon. Friend knows, the Barking to Gospel Oak part of the North London line was saved from closure some years ago when a previous Government tried to get rid of it altogether. However, in advance of the construction of the necessary links that he outlined, it is possible already to improve the service by running trains beyond Gospel Oak through to Willesden Junction and Ealing Broadway. As wonderful as Gospel Oak is, it is not a natural suburban interchange. Trains from Barking could easily run to many more destinations all around London. I hope that if TFL is listening to or hearing about this debate, it will recognise that that can be included in the service requirement document now, even before the new lines have been constructed.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

Indeed, I believe that Network Rail is already waking up to those possibilities. It conducted a worthwhile, although very overdue, exercise to produce the cross-London rail utilisation strategy, which considers the use that is being made—or not being made—of those lines. For instance, Network Rail has started running trains straight through from Clapham Junction to Gospel Oak through Willesden Junction, but they are infrequent and under-publicised. The trains are choc-a-bloc with people who know about the route, but the marketing of railways within London has been poor, and there are many examples of stations that are full of regular commuters but little passing trade.

One of the problems with the railways in London as opposed to the tube is, strange as it sounds, a marketing problem. Everybody knows about the tube. They understand the tube map. People who arrive in London instantly grasp how the tube system works and where they can get to, but people who have been living next to a rail station, perhaps for nine months, still have not discovered that they can get regular trains from it.

The train-operating companies need to understand that their mission in life is not simply to take people in and out of London but to take them around London—in other words, to have a tube mindset rather than an inter-city mindset—and they must market the stations and the services that they provide to the population in a way that can be understood. The companies must operate a turn-up-and-go system. It is no good expecting Londoners who are used to the tube to memorise the times of trains at all their local stations. Unless they are regular commuters, they will not do that.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent South

Does my hon. Friend agree that having a single operator would mean that stations would be safer and that secure stations accreditation could be more easily rolled out along the network?

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

I pay tribute to the good work that my hon. Friend has done on the safer stations scheme in respect of stations in her constituency and elsewhere. I had a long campaign to get one of my local stations, Queenstown Road, staffed. It was completely unstaffed for 11 years, but now there is one member of staff. That helps the situation enormously, and regular users of the station are much happier about it. One of the reasons that people are put off using the railways as opposed to the tube system is the fear of crime and unlit stations. They are afraid of walking into a station and suddenly realising that they are the only person there, and that there are no staff to protect them in the event of an emergency. I very much welcome safer stations.

London has a huge advantage because of the railways. My constituency is practically made of them. Hundreds of lines criss-cross it in every possible direction, but the local residents get little use out of them. Bizarrely, many stations in inner London were closed in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, partly because of the Beeching inquiry but even before it. For example, Battersea High Street station on the West London line was closed during the war. Stations in Camberwell and Walworth were closed at about the same time, and there are now long lines of railway track with passing trains that do not stop, even though they pass through some of the most densely populated areas of the entire country.

The existing mainly cross-London railway routes are a huge asset. They could be used if they were added to the tube system, invested in, joined up, marketed and run by a single company under the auspices of TFL, which has played a key role in focusing our energies on this issue. London transport could be a real success story in years to come.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

My hon. Friend is making an extremely good case for a an orbital railway around north and south London, but may I bring him back to the Barking to Gospel Oak line, which is very important in my constituency? Is not there a powerful case for approving electrification of that line? First, it would mean that diesel trains would no longer be used and, secondly, it would increase the capacity for freight on the line.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

I have to confess that as a south Londoner I only recently heard of Gospel Oak. I had to look it up on a map. I am glad that it has been included in the North London railway concession and that we have trains from Clapham Junction along the Gospel Oak line, but the fact that that line, which runs from Barking through my hon. Friend's constituency, through Tottenham, Leytonstone, the whole of Haringey and Islington and ends up in Camden, has been so little used is a poor reflection on the use of London railways. Indeed, I did not realise that it is not an electrified line.

I have, however, a slight concern about freight. I believe, as I am sure we all do, in as much freight running on the railways as possible, but a huge amount of the freight running through London does not actually have anything to do with London. It is going through London from Felixstowe to Liverpool, or it crosses the Battersea railway bridge in the journey from Dover to Newcastle. That railway bridge takes all the freight coming from the channel ports and going north of London. Yes, we believe in freight, but we do not want it to clog up London lines so much that Londoners themselves do not get adequate use of them.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman speaks knowledgeably about the need to increase the use of trains and to raise their profile in London. Would he agree that one of the most effective ways to do that would be to move as quickly as possible to allowing the Oyster card to be used on both trains and tubes? Not being able to use it on trains must be one of the most restrictive things in terms of encouraging train use.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I believe that the plans are well advanced. The Mayor has made the campaign his own and he has had considerable success in achieving that goal. Many of the Londoners who want to use trains will want to use their Oyster card on them.

I have rather liberally interpreted my prerogative as the person who was lucky enough to secure the debate, and I have stayed on my feet for half an hour. I know that my hon. Friends and other hon. Members want to join in, and I have perhaps taken up too much time already. However, I should emphasise that we in London have a huge opportunity because we are on the way to completing the East London line, which is one of the major transport infrastructure projects in the country. It is essential to my constituency and, indeed, to my future in it that phase 2 follows on from phase 1, although I am arguing for the project not in personal terms, but in simple, common-sense transport terms. This is an excellent project from the point of view of transport, regeneration and, indeed, social equity, and I very much look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say in reply to the debate. I also look forward to hearing the contributions of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:01 pm, 19th July 2006

I thank Martin Linton for his speech. Thank goodness it was a 90-minute debate, not a 30-minute debate, otherwise no one else would have had a chance to contribute.

Given the hon. Gentleman's insatiable desire to know more about Gospel Oak, I should perhaps tell him—my friends in the London borough of Camden would be keen to point this out—that Gospel Oak was one of the wards that went to the Conservatives in the recent local elections. Indeed, I believe that our majority there is rather bigger than the hon. Gentleman's majority in his parliamentary seat in Battersea, but that is another matter.

This is a useful debate. The failure to invest in London's infrastructure, especially its transport infrastructure, is regarded as the single biggest issue facing London-based businesses. The debate is also timely, given the Conservative party's transport initiatives, particularly its rail transport initiatives, which have been announced in the past 48 hours. Our concern is that the railway transport system is too disjointed and broken up—a complaint that goes back to the privatisation that took place under the Conservative Government. However, it could also be said that transport policy making in London as a whole is too disjointed.

One reason why we, as London MPs, perhaps have a somewhat limited voice on the matter is that much of the policy making and day-to-day decision making on transport is in the hands of the Mayor, Transport for London and the Greater London authority. That makes it difficult for us, as London MPs, to have our voice heard. As I said in my brief intervention, one of the biggest issues is that London transport affects not only the 74 London constituencies, but many constituencies and constituents far beyond the capital. It is all the more important, therefore, that debates such as today's take place.

I worry particularly about financial services and the creative industries, because we need to promote those important areas of growth in our economy. For historical and other obvious reasons, those industries are based in London, and we need to do our bit to ensure that the infrastructure, and the transport infrastructure in particular, is promoted.

I appreciate that other hon. Members have quite a lot to say, so I shall not say too much, not least because none of the orbital railway directly affects my constituency. It just outside my constituency, although it might assist parents in Hackney who happen to send their children to schools in my constituency, as well as people making other journeys. However, the City of London corporation is keen to ensure that there is proper investment in the east London link line, and it welcomes the progress that has been made so far on phase 1. I have walked through the constituency of Meg Hillier and seen the disruption in Hoxton and Haggerston. An enormous amount of building work is going on, but it will all be to good effect in the longer term. I hope that phase 2 will ensure that there is an interchange with the Victoria line, which is crucial, for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Battersea.

I do not want to speak only from a north London perspective, so let me also say something from a south London perspective. Thankfully, I have heard of Battersea and Clapham Junction, and it is important that they are linked in to the system so that we have a proper orbital railway. That will ensure that the City is well catered for and that people will be able to use the orbital railway, at least until the last available point, when they will have to take another form of transport, which might be a bus, rather than the tube or the train. That will also ensure that we take the earliest opportunity to avoid a lot of the wasted journeys that result, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, when people go into central London, only to come straight out again.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He is right to suggest that the London orbital railway may prove to be a most effective means of improving London's train transport. I have 34 tube stations in my constituency, but, as I said, none of them is directly affected by the orbital link. However, if we can ensure that there is proper investment, we might well alleviate some of the problems that people experience when the tube is very busy, particularly on days such as this.

Let me say a quick word about Crossrail, which is a central issue for most London Members. I am pretty realistic about its prospects: notwithstanding the enormous time and effort being expended in this place on the hybrid Bill, it is highly unlikely that Crossrail, at least under the current plans, will ever be built. I do not think that the finances will be there, given that the cost is projected to be £13 billion, £14 billion or £15 billion and is rising fast. However, I hope that serious thought will be given, whatever the colour of the Government, to ensuring that at least part of the projected Crossrail infrastructure is built. In particular, I hope that we shall have a line that links the City of London with Canary Wharf and perhaps the Thames Gateway, which will be necessary if that redevelopment area is to be viable in any meaningful way.

All of us as London MPs irrespective of our party have an important message that we would like to get across to the Minister. Our voice is inevitably somewhat silenced by the fact that we have a Mayor and Transport for London, but that arrangement should enhance London's transport, not diminish it. It is greatly to be regretted that the Department for Transport has taken its eye off the ball in respect of London's great needs, although, to be brutally honest, the same would be true if we had a Conservative Government. How we deal with London's substantial needs will affect its standing as a financial and tourist centre and whether we have a viable and thriving economy in the years ahead, all of which will have an enormous impact on the 560-odd MPs who do not represent London seats. I hope that the Minister will take due note of what has been said and of what other hon. Members will say, because we need to invest. In so far as the enormous sums required for Crossrail cannot be promised, please can the Government ensure that they put money towards getting the orbital railway up and running?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier PPS (Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State), Department for Communities and Local Government 3:07 pm, 19th July 2006

It was only at the end of 2003 that I was talking with a Hackney resident who summed up the frustrations about the east London line that people have felt for years by sighing and saying, "You know, ever since I've lived in Hackney, the east London line's been about seven years away." Now, only a few years later, we know that phase 1 of the east London line will be delivered by 2010. It is long overdue, but very welcome in Hackney.

We now have the building blocks in place for the London orbital railway, on which many of us have campaigned for many years, but we need the final links. I differ slightly from Mr. Field in saying this, but it is worth acknowledging that having a London Mayor and a transport body for London has transformed the prospects for an orbital railway. I should underline for the Minister that Transport for London has a track record on delivery, and London's civic and political leadership is also keen to champion the interests of Londoners. In addition, the Government have trusted Transport for London and the Mayor to deliver on several such projects, and Ministers should continue to support the long-fought campaign for London's outer circle line.

As well as regenerating the area concerned, as my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Martin Linton) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, the orbital railway will relieve congestion on the most central London routes. We have a crazy system now, with many people having to travel into London to get anywhere quickly. Those who use the north London line, for example, find it an invaluable link, but it is also frustrating.

Hackney is an anomaly in London transport terms: it is an inner-London borough with no tube. That is reportedly because a large Victorian landowner refused to have tunnelling under his land, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea suggested, it might have been linked to the geology and the clay that is prevalent in Hackney. However, we have suffered long as a result of that accident of history. Hackney can, arguably, claim one staircase of Old Street station and perhaps one staircase of Manor House station, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington,. We like to claim the little that we can for each of our constituencies, but it is a poor show for a constituency that reaches as far as Broadgate and Liverpool street in the heart of London to have nothing on the tube map. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea and I therefore form an alliance, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, in our unfortunate distinction as MPs for central London boroughs with no tube.

In Hackney we have long campaigned for better transport links. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said, it is great to see the bridge-strengthening works under way down the route in Hackney, where the track bed has been sitting there for years, frustratingly under-used. Those works may cause some local temporary inconvenience, but people are not sad to see it. Although there may be local day-to-day problems, we are delighted to see the work on the East London line.

From November 2007, Transport for London will take control of the North London line in my constituency. That will be another crucial link on London's outer circle line. When Transport for London takes over and lets the franchise, the service will increase to eight trains an hour.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of Hackney, who look forward to the completion of the East London line and the orbital line, still look forward with optimism to proper funding for both Crossrail 1 and Crossrail 2, so that the residents of Chelsea can come to Hackney and explore all our cultural and gastronomic delights?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier PPS (Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State), Department for Communities and Local Government

How can I fail to agree completely with my hon. Friend? Hackney will be on the map in so many ways—as it is already for those of us who know and love it. We are prepared to share that secret, or the best bits of it, with the many visitors we expect to receive.

When Transport for London takes over the North London line, there will be real-time information and better facilities. Staffing has been promised for stations, as well as longer and better trains, which are on the way to being ordered. That will transform a line that is very well used, but which, as the Transport Committee of the London assembly recently acknowledged, lets down many residents. Despite increases in the number of rush-hour trains, the crush at rush hour is worse even than on parts of the tube system. It is, however, a vital link to central London, so we look forward to its getting better, and to the arrival of the East London line in 2010.

All that is welcome, but we benefit from every extension that creates the full Orbirail—the full outer circle line. People in Hackney want to go places, and, as has already been touched on, we want to welcome people to Hackney, including Haggerston and Hoxton. I look forward to entertaining my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea in some of the restaurants there. Although I do not want to suggest that they are better than those in Battersea, I think that we can equal if not improve on his gastronomic and cultural experiences in our exciting and historic area of London.

Transport is important for Hackney, but it should be considered in the London context as well. The population of London is set to grow by 1 million by 2025—a number greater than the populations of many cities in this country—and we must manage that in a sustainable way. We need to transport Londoners around London in a way that is sustainable and continue to get Londoners out of cars. There has been a drop in car use as well as an increase in bus use, but we need to improve the links that we have. The improvements we are discussing will contribute to that process.

London also contributes £9 billion to £15 billion to central Government. I point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that that is significantly more than it receives in spending. It is high time that London residents got their due. Of course, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster pointed out, not only London residents will benefit, but the many people from around the country who travel on London's train system.

The capital also has the highest poverty rate in England and some of the worst housing, public health and homelessness in the UK. I have highlighted those issues as they affect Hackney on other occasions, so I shall not repeat them in this short debate, but I want to point out one issue. The number of incapacity benefit claimants in my constituency is the second highest in London: there are 7,400 people claiming, 63 per cent. of whom are under 50. Yet the constituency goes right down to Broadgate in the City. Unemployment in the area is still too high—higher than the national average. The transport links will do a great deal to get people more easily into different types of work in different parts of London.

I conclude with some key points for my hon. Friend the Minister to take up. First, I hope that the Government can work with Transport for London to produce a funding package to reinstate the western curve at Dalston. That is critical to the linking of the North London and East London lines at that very important junction for all of us in Hackney, which will become even more important as it is improved for Londoners in general. It is not yet clear whether that can be done in time for the Olympics, but Transport for London is working on it in detail at the moment. I fully support its aim to get the link built and opened in time for the 2012 Olympics. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can comment on what the Government are doing to support Transport for London, which, I repeat, has a track record of delivering projects on time and to budget. It is, in financial terms, one of the best managed public authorities in the country.

Secondly, I hope that we can secure a better station than is currently planned at the Geffrye museum, the Haggerston station. I am taking up that matter with Transport for London. Thirdly, we want all the routes to be well marked on all maps. Often, people who do not know our area of Hackney and parts of London that the outer circle line will benefit get confused about where they are. We have had big improvements in signage since we have had a transport body for London and I hope that that will continue, particularly for the outer circle line.

Finally, to reiterate points that other hon. Members have made, funding for phase 2 of the East London line needs to be forthcoming. It is great to have it for Hackney, but we want to go places and have people come to us, as well has having our own little bit of railway line on the East London line, and we would like a commitment from the Minister—today, if possible—about phase 2.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 3:16 pm, 19th July 2006

I congratulate my hon. Friend Martin Linton on securing this important debate. Whenever people talk about investing in London's infrastructure, MPs who do not represent constituencies inside the M25 are often a little sceptical. It is important to use this debate to state that investment in London infrastructure is not just for the benefit of Londoners; it benefits the entire national economy and should be seen in that light. I also congratulate my friend and comrade the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for the leadership that he has shown throughout. People in Hackney are very relieved that he has now taken over the North London line and that the improvements in frequency and in investment that he has planned will happen.

It has already been said that the importance of an orbital route in London, going through Hackney and all the way to south London, cannot be overstated. It is beneficial in terms of regeneration and employment—we have serious unemployment and underemployment problems in east London—and it is beneficial for London as a city. I was amazed to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea had never heard of Haggerston. I live in Haggerston, which should be reason enough for it to be imprinted on his memory. I look forward to having a new East London line station a few steps from where I live. Although all the stations will be in the constituency of my hon. Friend Meg Hillier the East London line is vital to my constituency for travel into central London.

I congratulate Transport for London on the work on the East London line that it has quietly gone ahead with. I hope that the funding for the next stage will be made available. I stress to the Minister that this is not just a London issue, but a national one. Investing in the London infrastructure benefits the national economy. I remind the Minister of something that people may forget: we have in London some of the most severe poverty in the country. Politicians from outside London can often be heard to say, "London is so wealthy, and has so many jobs," but we have pockets of tremendous poverty and deprivation. Infrastructure investment is key to tackling those problems. I urge the Minister, in spite of the tiny bit of scepticism that one hears from MPs outside the M25, to bear in mind the importance of the progress of the infrastructure investment, not just for Londoners but for the country as a whole.

I congratulate the Mayor and Transport for London, who, in a difficult climate, have established themselves as people who deliver. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch has said, they should get the funding for the other spur. If the Government are serious about dealing with social exclusion and child poverty, and if they are serious about engaging with all of our diverse communities, they should be serious about investing in London's infrastructure.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 3:20 pm, 19th July 2006

I congratulate Martin Linton on securing this debate and on putting forward, in a sensible, calm and collected manner, the advantages of the Orbirail scheme. I hope that the Minister of State will respond in a similarly positive vein.

The hon. Member for Battersea was worried that his lack of awareness of Haggerston and Hoxton would be echoed by other hon. Members. There are hon. Members present who represent Hackney; indeed, I served as a councillor on Hackney borough council, representing De Beauvoir ward, so Haggerston, Hoxton and Dalston are areas that are very familiar to me. Back then, in 1988, we were talking about the need to bring the tube to Dalston and I am pleased that, a number of years later, it finally looks as if it will arrive.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

To avoid a joke turning into an historical fact, what I actually said was that few people have heard of Hoxton and Haggerston because they are not on the tube map and that is one reason why I think it is important that the East London line should appear on that map. Although I am not as familiar with Hoxton or Haggerston as my hon. Friends who represent that area, I have heard of those areas and, along with the people of Battersea, I look forward to their taking their place on the map of the London tube.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I am sure that the residents of Haggerston and Hoxton will be pleased to hear that he is familiar with those quarters of London.

I think it is true to say that transport in London has improved; whether it is the lengthening of the Jubilee line trains or the new rolling stock on suburban railway lines, there is some good news. Some local authorities, including my own, are beginning to consider the serious issues of congestion, traffic and so on. My local authority was successful in securing funding for turning Sutton into a sustainable town centre and I look forward to seeing how it will tackle issues relating to car use.

However, progress is a bit patchy, and Mr. Field referred to Crossrail. Although I support that project, like him, I have serious doubts about whether the project will eventually emerge. The link that was made with the Lyons report was very unfortunate, especially as Sir Michael Lyons was not specifically asked to look at Crossrail as part of his inquiry. It seems to have been kicked into the long grass to delay a decision on the subject until a future date when perhaps in a quiet media time there might be an opportunity to make a not terribly positive announcement on Crossrail. I hope that that is not the case, but we will see.

This debate rightly focuses on another missing piece of the transport jigsaw: orbital rail, or Orbirail. As any commuter, traveller or tourist in London knows, it is very easy to make journeys into London and back out again, but it is much harder to make an orbital journey around London by rail. There are a limited number of valued bus services that provide orbital transport links such as the X26 bus route that goes from south-east London through a number of constituencies and on to Heathrow. When such services are threatened there is, rightly, a vigorous reaction and response.

There is, however, very limited rail provision, which is why my colleague on the Greater London assembly, Geoff Pope, has been vocal in campaigning on the issue of orbital rail, a view endorsed in March by the London assembly transport committee report on the North London railway. It called for three things relating to funding, to which the hon. Member for Battersea and other hon. Members have referred: funding for the upgrading of the North London line; funding for phase 2; and funding for the electricification of the Gospel Oak to Barking line.

We already know what is in the pipeline on the North London line upgrades. A view from the boroughs and transportation officers is that when the North London line is opened up and publicised—the hon. Gentleman touched briefly on that point—one of the key issues that must be addressed is the travelling public's awareness of the existence of some of the less high-profile lines. When there is such awareness, there will be a sudden growth in the number of passengers who want to travel on the North London line. The Government need to consider the issue of funding to enable the line to operate as a six-car train service to create the additional capacity that will be needed when people start to use it.

I want to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster who asked if the Government have taken their eye off the ball in respect of transport in London. I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will be able to say whether he has had discussions with Transport for London about the North London line upgrades and, if so, whether he supports them.

I hope the Minister will say, too, what time scale will be involved, what costings are associated with the project and whether there is the risk of an impact on 2012. We need to know that a dialogue is going on; I hope the Minister will comment on that and on the line's regeneration potential, which the hon. Member for Battersea mentioned in his opening speech. It is not only about cutting congestion, but about opening up new areas to regeneration which, in the case of the North London railway, could include a huge redevelopment area near the King's Cross railway land.

Developers are looking at rebuilding the stations at West Hampstead and there is potential to reduce the pressure on the main termini, which we must all seek to achieve. Although it is not one of the stations that will be affected, anyone travelling through Victoria knows that anything that can be done to reduce pressure on people coming in to the main termini and swapping to other modes of transport would be welcome.

I do not need to refer to phase 2 of the East London line extension, as other hon. Members have done so, other than to say that I support what they are calling for. However, I shall underline one factor: the range of organisations and groups that are supporting the phase 2 extension, including eight or nine boroughs, the Corporation of London and a large number of businesses. They are very keen for funding for phase 2 to be approved. Will the Minister say what discussions he has had with Transport for London on the subject and the likelihood of the project proceeding? Does he, like the Mayor, believe that a £10 billion regeneration programme will be a spin-off of the proposal? Do the Government recognise that and will they therefore be able to factor it in when they are considering whether to allocate funds to the proposal?

The final piece of the Orbirail jigsaw is the electrification of the Gospel Oak to Barking line, which other hon. Members have mentioned. Has the Minister been informed of the likely cost? Does he have a view about whether the Government would be willing to underwrite that cost in one form or another?

On the totality of the proposals, if the three different funding proposals were approved, or if one, two or three of those proposals were approved individually, what plans do the Minister and Transport for London have to publicise the availability of the lines within London and beyond to ensure that commuters coming in to London from much further afield are aware of the alternative transport services and can therefore reduce the pressure on main stations?

London is the UK's major wealth generator. The nation's prosperity and the success of events such as the Olympics depend on a transport network that is comprehensive and flexible and that reduces congestion and pollution. The creation of an Orbirail system based on the three transport enhancements that I and other Members have mentioned fits the bill and will complete London's transport network. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be positive and optimistic in his reply.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 3:30 pm, 19th July 2006

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Conway.

I congratulate Martin Linton on his speech. He talked authoritatively about the transport issues that face both the area that he represents and other parts of London. He rightly talked about the falling numbers of people who live and work in the same borough and highlighted the fact that more and more people are travelling across London. He is right to say that if the right services are not in place, there is a risk that those people will seek to drive rather than use public transport, in so far as it is possible to drive given the levels of congestion in and around London. Clearly, it is in all our interests that people should use public transport wherever that is possible and practical.

It is our duty to do our best to ensure that our public transport system is capable of offering people as wide a range of options as possible given the limitations of our transport corridors. It is striking how much we depend on our heritage from Victorian times. Most of the corridors that we seek to reopen, redevelop and use to expand services date from that period, so we should be mighty glad to have that inheritance.

The orbital route is already coming about. Phase 1 of the East London line is going ahead—construction will begin shortly—and we have seen a change to service patterns on the other side of London. One can now take a train from Clapham Junction through to Stratford, as the hon. Member for Battersea will know, and the new stations at West Brompton and others on the way in west London are beginning to create an alternative service pattern that was not there 10 or 15 years ago. So, we have already started down the road that the hon. Member for Battersea rightly identified: providing people with different transport options around London.

It is clearly desirable that we should improve service patterns in London. Evidently, if we hope, as we should, to continue to revive and regenerate our cities and encourage people to live in them—we are a small island, and cannot continue to build in green, open spaces—we need better public transport provision. People simply cannot drive everywhere in our cities that they might want to. I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman about the desirability of enhanced services and of an Orbirail-type system in so far as it can make a difference in London. I say that with a few caveats, to which I shall return.

Some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman highlights could and should have been dealt with by some of the other projects that were supposed to happen this decade but have not. I listened carefully to Labour Members' comments about the different station options that would be available around an Orbirail network, and about how a number of communities who are not served by railway stations could be so served on such a route. That is all well and good and absolutely desirable; there is genuinely a market for radial journeys in London. However, I am less convinced that there is a market for people to come from the south coast, get off at Clapham Junction, go round an Orbirail network to Finsbury Park, for example, and get on a train to the north. I suspect that the real benefits will come for people in places such as Hackney by opening up links to other parts of London, such as south-east London, and by creating easier links to docklands and parts of north London. The network would open up places that are currently difficult to reach by public transport.

Of course, some of the pressures that the hon. Member for Battersea rightly highlighted in his speech could and should have been dealt with through projects such as the rather inaptly named Thameslink 2000, which was, according to the Government's 10-year plan, due to be open and functioning by 2000. Indeed, it is slightly bizarre that even as we speak, there are two empty tunnels beneath St. Pancras station. They were built to create an additional dimension to cross-London transport, but will remain unopened because the Government have not, as yet, gone ahead with the commitment that they made in their 10-year plan to open up, develop and make a reality of the Thameslink 2000 service.

I am glad that phase 1 of the East London line is going ahead, but hon. Members should remember that it is one small part of a much broader range of projects to ease the congestion, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that have not come to fruition despite having been clearly set out as commitments for 2010 in the Government's 10-year plan.

Hon. Members rightly mentioned the significant costs of some of the proposed schemes. I suspect that that is one reason why, with the East London line, there has been a commitment only to phase 1, although the whole line was originally due to be completed within a few years. I can clearly see the potential benefits of the East London line coming to Clapham Junction; a link to Finsbury Park, as described by my hon. Friend Mr. Field; and various other suggested enhancements to the route. However, there are, of course, huge costs.

It should be of significant concern to us all that the costs of such rail projects have risen so much in the past few years, and it should be a challenge for Governments and would-be Governments to address why they have risen so much. We have to bring those costs down so that we can spend the savings on projects such as phase 2 of the East London line and Thameslink 2000. We must get to grips with this issue: our railways are far too expensive, especially in recent times—much more so than they appear to be in other countries. We have not yet got to grips with that challenge, but we must do so.

There has been a lot of discussion about the work done by Transport for London and the Mayor of London, and comments were made about the professionalism of Transport for London. I think that TFL does some good work. The Mayor clearly has an absolute commitment to enhancing London's transport infrastructure, and he is not wrong to identify transport in London as a key issue for its future economic success.

A variety of transport challenges are building up: it is becoming increasingly difficult to get an easy and comfortable journey into central London, and there is a significant under-provision of transport to parts of central London such as Hackney. The Thames Gateway also causes me great concern. We cannot build a city of a million people on the Thames without proper infrastructure provision. Those issues will have to be addressed.

I have a few concerns regarding some Labour Members' remarks about the Orbirail project, and about some of the consequences of its creation. The first such issue that I shall address is that of cost and prudential borrowing. It is becoming commonplace for people, when they talk about transport in London—people in TFL, and Labour Members—to regard prudential borrowing as something easy that can just happen. The bottom line is that the Mayor intends to spend £10 billion, raised by prudential borrowing, on transport projects over the coming years. After that money has been spent, the debt has to be paid. It is not like a zero-percentage-rate credit card on which one can go out and spend up to the credit limit and it is all fine thank you very much. We have to pay the debt off in the end. The cost of servicing that £10 billion of prudential borrowing will be about £800 million a year; TFL's budget is about £4 billion a year, so the equivalent of £1 in every £5 will be spent on servicing the debt. We cannot simply look at the Mayor's prudential borrowing for transport infrastructure as being some great nirvana, because ultimately it has to be paid for, and I am not convinced that he has the money to pay the bills.

At the start of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster pointed out that many people who come into London, and many people upon whom its economic prosperity depends, do not come from within the London geographic area. My constituency is inside the M25, but I am not a London MP. My constituents cannot vote for the Mayor of London and do not have a say in what Transport for London does.

I do not have profound concerns about the desirability of sensible stops being made by trains coming in from outside London to link in with an Orbirail-type development. I think that is sensible and would happen anyway. If a metro-type service is using an orbital route around central London, for someone who is running a suburban train in it will become natural and logical to stop at the stations where an interchange on to that service is possible. I do not think that that in its own right would be a problem. I think it would simply happen as a matter of course.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

My hon. Friend and Tom Brake would understand that precisely that sort of mentality existed with the tramlink between Croydon, Wimbledon and Beckenham. Precisely that linking up of a range of different residential areas was involved. It predated Transport for London, so, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, it is not just the existence of TFL that has allowed some joined-up thinking in transport matters in the capital.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend makes a valid point and gives a further good example of where such thinking has worked well in the past without politicians seeking to direct it.

As somebody who represents people who travel into London from outside the Mayor's catchment area, I do not wish to see the Mayor taking direct responsibility for changing the service patterns on trains that come from areas outside his control. It is simply not right to have the Mayor taking decisions about service patterns to fit a particular need in central London when those decisions materially affect commuters who live 30, 40 or 50 miles away. The Minister must be extremely careful before he hands over too many powers to the Mayor over the timetabling of the suburban rail network. Doing so may allow the Mayor to achieve his transport aspirations within London, but it will work to the detriment of those who come from outside London and will ultimately impact on the competitiveness of London and the south-east.

I have two other brief points to make. First, for all the Mayor's aspirations for the north London line, and for improving and continuing those services around an Orbirail route, we must be careful about the impact on freight. Labour Members are right to say that some of the freight coming through north London should be going elsewhere—another of the commitments in the Government's 10-year plan for transport that has not so far been kept. Of course it is crazy that goods coming in to Felixstowe and going to the midlands have to come through central London; that should not be happening. However, some freight comes into London in its own right, and if we fill the north London line with passenger services to the extent that those freight trains can no longer come into London, the consequence will be additional lorries on the roads. Ministers, TFL and Labour Members must be mindful of that when talking about the growth of services on the north London line.

The last point I want to make relates to a comment made by the hon. Member for Battersea, and is about the specification of services. He offered some hopes about the kind of service provision that the train companies would come up with. My message to him is that they have no freedom to do that now. The rail service in this country is specified in fine detail by the Minister and his colleagues. They have a team of civil servants who write train timetables and set out in minute detail which services can and cannot run. If the hon. Member for Battersea is looking for a specific level of service on the Orbirail route or in other areas that he represents, it is the Minister he needs to go to see, rather than the train companies.

We all agree that London's transport infrastructure is essential not only to the future economy of the city, but to that of the country. We should all work to enhance it in the right way for the future. I commend the hon. Member for Battersea on highlighting the issue of Orbirail, which is often a forgotten project, but potentially a very valuable one. I hope that the jigsaw puzzle pieces that the Government put together in their 10-year plan for transport, which would all come together to form an Orbirail route, will come to fruition by 2010, as promised by this Government.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 3:44 pm, 19th July 2006

I congratulate my hon. Friend Martin Linton on securing this debate and on the passionate case he puts for an orbital rail route to serve his constituents.

One of the nice things that I have discovered about being a transport Minister is the opportunities it gives me to bring people together; I think of the good folk of Clapham junction being able to enjoy cultural interchange with the good folk of Dalston junction, and of bringing Haggerston and Hoxton on to the map. Another thing I have discovered is that when somebody comes up to me and mentions a small place, whether it be a small village far away from London or one of the villages of London, or when they ask me about the B205 or some small station that I have never heard of, the one thing I should never do is admit to never having heard of the place, because everybody thinks that transport Ministers keep an encyclopaedic knowledge of such places. I am not going to boast about whether I know of Haggerston and Hoxton or not; all I shall boast is that we will want them to be provided with a comprehensive rail and public transport service. The steps that the Government are taking, hand in hand with Transport for London, will deliver that.

I want to take issue with Mr. Field, who seemed to imply that we take our eye of the ball and leave London's transport to TFL. TFL, like local authorities outside London, passenger transport executives around the country and other bodies are the delivery mechanisms by which the Government deliver most of their transport schemes. TFL is just one such body. Most transport in this country is local. The Government must have some direct input into the Highways Agency trunk road network and the main rail services, but the vast majority of goods and people are moved on local roads and through local transport. We have a very close relationship with all those local authorities.

In London, we have the close relationship with TFL and the Mayor in order to deliver London's transport. We are certainly not taking our eye off the ball by relying on the local expertise of the Mayor and his team at TFL. The hon. Gentleman might feel that the voice of Members of Parliament is not heard because they are somehow divorced from TFL, but I would argue that it is the job of MPs to get engaged with their local transport delivery mechanism. Just as I try to engage with Kent county council on behalf of my constituents, he should be engaging with TFL.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Does the Minister not accept that for strategic funding purposes, one of the difficulties that we have in London is that the Mayor has a precept? He is able to charge tax, part of which goes to transport, although other bits go to policing and are spent in other high-profile ways. That breaks that nexus and makes it more difficult for all of us; it is the devolution debate writ large. I speak for Conservatives, although perhaps not for Labour Members of Parliament with London constituencies, when I say that there has been a sense in which the Department for Transport has taken its eye off the ball as far as London transport is concerned.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I do not accept that at all. Every local authority has the power to raise funds through its council tax to supplement the money that the Government give it for its transport systems. I was listening to the comments made by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who talked about the views of Members of Parliament who represent constituencies outside the M25. She believes that they have a negative view of the amount of money that is spent on London. It is true that many Members who represent constituencies outside the M25 think that all the money is spent on London and that more of it should be spent on their areas.

The Government clearly take the view that spending on London transport is a necessary part of our national transport infrastructure, and that we have a largely radial transport network in this country and it comes in through London. We think that there are benefits to spending on transport in London. If there is a tension between Members who represent constituencies outside London and those who represent London constituencies, I would like to encourage London Members to start engaging with Members who represent constituencies outside London and explaining to them the importance of travel investment in London. That would also give them the opportunity to explain the difficulties that they feel. The fact that both Members who represent London constituencies and Members who represent constituencies outside London think we are spending too much on the other area probably indicates that the Government are getting the balance about right.

I return to the matter of the London orbital railway. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea and other hon. Friends made powerful cases about the levels of deprivation and unemployment in London, which many people do not realise. The Government certainly do, and we see benefit in providing a transport infrastructure in places for which regeneration is a huge opportunity. We see the benefit of the orbital network relieving congestion, and alongside orbital services we must recognise the need to maintain journeys on the radial routes into London as journeys on those services are also vital to the economic well-being of London.

We must also recognise the importance of allowing freight traffic to serve London and pass through its rail network from, among other places, the channel ports. My hon. Friend made a powerful case but nearly lost me when he appeared to suggest that freight from the channel ports should not come through London. Perhaps he momentarily forgot that I represent a constituency that is a channel port and that many of my constituents are employed in putting freight on a line that comes through London.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

I am suggesting not that freight should not pass through London to reach its destination but that it might benefit the channel ports and London if there were a simpler route. There was at one time talk of a tunnel under the Thames at Shell Haven to allow freight from the channel to reach the rest of the country without having to use the congested and clogged railway lines of London.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend is right that freight currently has to pass through London. Maybe in the future we can find simpler and more straightforward ways to move freight around. Chris Grayling pointed out that dilemma, but the difference between him and the Government is that we are making investments that will allow us one day to deal with that problem, whereas I suspect he has no intention of even thinking about such investment.

On 14 February this year we announced the transfer of responsibility for the management of the rail services collectively known as the North London railway to Transport for London. That transfer will become effective from November 2007, from when TFL will be responsible for the franchising of passenger services that are currently operated by Silverlink. It will be responsible for the management of the franchise—or as I understand it intends to call it, the concession—and the financing of future enhancements. Those matters will need to be judged alongside other TFL priorities. It is important to pause and reflect on what that means: that a London organisation, answerable to London politicians and therefore to the people of London, will be deciding the priorities for London, rather than national politicians such as myself trying to second-guess them. That is an important step forward.

Of course Network Rail will remain the owner and operator of the track infrastructure, and the agreement that we have struck with Transport for London does not change the status of that ownership. As part of the handover process, TFL has named the four bidders that pre-qualify to tender for services and it will soon issue invitations to tender. Services under its control will include Gospel Oak to Barking, Stratford to Richmond and Euston to Watford Junction. TFL's aspiration is four trains an hour on each of the core routes and significantly greater frequencies on some sections, especially at peak times.

Although the scheme has not yet been committed to and is subject to agreement with Network Rail on the availability of paths on the route, TFL also plans significant station upgrades and a fleet of new trains. Two new stations on the West London line—Shepherd's Bush and Imperial Wharf—are planned to open in 2007, with four new stations being added as part of the northern East London line extension.

I say as an aside that my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend Mr. Slaughter, who is here with me today, has reminded me how useful it would be if there were an additional station on the West London line in his constituency, linked to Crossrail. I must tell him that we cannot always get what we want, but I know that he intends to campaign hard on his idea.

The 60 existing stations, including those south of New Cross Gate, will be cleaned, renovated and upgraded. All the changes are being made possible by the record level of investment in London's transport infrastructure facilitated by TFL's five-year investment programme and the funding settlement reached with the Government for the period 2004-05 to 2009-10. The first phase of the North London railway infrastructure enhancement is expected to be completed by early 2011, and it will be in good time for the Olympics. Used properly, the North London line has the potential to be a vital radial route around a wide arc of north London, shortening journey times for those travelling across London and relieving congestion at the central London terminus stations.

However, when considering such services we must also be aware of the important role that the North London line has for freight and the contractual rights that freight operators have on it and on other routes. The North London line is part of the main route between the major east coast ports, Felixstowe and Harwich, and the west midlands and north-west. The route has been cleared to allow larger containers to operate along it, with the aim of maintaining rail's modal share as the container market changes. Any changes to passenger services must be considered alongside freight requirements, and we know through work with TFL and Network Rail that the requirements of freight operators have been a major issue in identifying the infrastructure requirements to deliver enhanced services on the North London line. That probably answers the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea about why the extension of the line around Highbury and Islington and Canonbury, although it is only a short stretch of line, is so much more expensive than the other parts of the enhancement. It is because of the need to provide extensive signalling and other work to meet the needs of freight traffic and those using the interchange between the two lines.

We have not ruled out the further devolution of franchising powers, and we will need to consider it on a case-by-case basis. We need to be mindful of the synergy between London's services and those further afield in any decisions that we make, and understand the impact on issues such as performance that may be the result of such decisions. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell pointed out the problems that would be caused if the Mayor were to make decisions on commuter trains stopping frequently in London and the impact that that would have on the hon. Gentleman's constituents and mine. We would clearly need to engage with the Mayor on that matter, but it is sensible that he is allowed to make suggestions about the need for trains to stop at particular interchanges so that people can take an orbital route around London rather than having always to come right into the centre and travel out again. It is a matter of getting the balance right and listening to the Mayor's ideas rather than allowing him to dominate the decision-making process.

TFL has not taken over the franchising role for the north London railway, so we shall have to assess how that project develops in the coming years. Orbital services will be significantly enhanced in 2010 when the East London line extension phase 1 opens. That project will link the rail network north and south of the river to the east of the city and provide, for the first time in a number of years, regular and fast journeys between north, east and south London, with services between Dalston in the north and west Croydon and Crystal Palace in the south. Journey opportunities will be significantly enhanced by opportunities for connections with existing services. Preparatory infrastructure works to facilitate the extension have commenced and as part of them Shoreditch station recently closed.

The planned and committed investment in enhancing London's orbital rail network up to 2012 is in excess of £1 billion. The Department is aware of further aspirations for enhanced orbital services: the East London line extension phase 2, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, would provide further orbital journey opportunities, but it is not funded within TFL's current business plan and I am afraid that it is not expected to take place until after 2012. I am of course aware of the representations that my hon. Friend has made to my ministerial colleagues on that project and the importance that he places on it, and the Government will consider the funding of such enhancements as part of the next spending review, and in TFL's submission to the Department if it TFL proposes it.