Rail Services (South London Line)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:13 am on 14th July 2010.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 11:13 am, 14th July 2010

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments.

I stress that we, as a Government, are committed to devolution. We are talking about an earlier example of devolution to TfL and the Mayor, so whatever the Department for Transport thinks we live within the existing legal framework. Therefore, the Department may have fewer powers in this regard than in respect of other rail matters elsewhere in the country.

TfL made a judgment that the East London line service to Clapham Junction provided better overall benefits than the south London line to Bellingham. Clearly, Members present do not share that judgment. It is entirely appropriate that TFL, which is London's transport planning body, should make this judgment and assess the trade-offs between the different service proposals. Ministers in the previous Administration accepted the guidance provided by the Mayor on that being the best use of the limited available resources. If the Mayor and TfL make such decisions-the coalition agreement states that the Government believe that decisions should be taken at a more local level-it is important that they stand behind the consequences of such decisions when they are made, including the impacts on passengers at stations such as Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street.

The decision not to implement the proposed London Victoria to Bellingham service was requested by TfL and the Mayor to help fund the East London line service. Implementing both the Bellingham service and the East London line would have been ideal, but both services were not affordable and TfL and the Mayor judged that the East London line extension provided more benefits than the diverted south London line. A judgment call was made by TfL in light of the financial constraints it faced. As is the case with such funding agreements, a number of conditions were attached to the funding given by the Department. TfL was fully aware of those conditions before it signed the funding offer.

Importantly, the Department was conscious of the need to keep stakeholders informed of any changes and included a requirement for TfL to inform key stakeholders about the route of the proposed changes. The Department also included a clause stopping East London line services operating into London Victoria. If TfL decided to operate into Victoria we would need to renegotiate, and perhaps reduce, the £24 million funding offer. This may seem an odd condition, but it was put in place because other train operators would have had a claim on the Department for loss of revenue if TfL operated services into London Victoria.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall mentioned her concerns about London TravelWatch. She is aware that following the proposed changes, and significant negative public reaction, TfL and London TravelWatch undertook a further exercise to investigate what mitigation measures could be implemented to resolve some of the problems that stakeholders identified. That study recently reported and the Mayor of London wrote to the Secretary of State regarding its conclusions.

The study suggested stopping some peak-time mainline services at Peckham Rye and Denmark Hill and implementing a new off-peak Victoria to Bromley South stopping service, which would call at Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street. However, in all its study work, TfL has not addressed the hon. Lady's key concern regarding peak period train services from Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street to London Victoria. The study was, of course, led by TfL with London TravelWatch and they will need to answer the question about why such services cannot be accommodated, but I understand that a key constraint is the length of platforms at stations, and the costs of extending them, which limits the services that they believe can call at those stations at peak times.

Of course, we in the Department will study the conclusions of the study carefully, but I should make it clear that the Department is unlikely to be willing to fund the mitigation measures that the Mayor is proposing, given that the issues arose because the Mayor sought the withdrawal of the proposed Bellingham service.