The Impact Of Crossrail on Worcestershire

House of Commons

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): It will not have escaped your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am the only Member seeking to catch your eye who does not represent a London or south-east constituency. I have a confession to make: I woke up to Crossrail a bit too late, although I have always supported the project in principle. I remind the House that there is nothing new about Crossrail: the first such services operated in about 1860, when trains on the Great Western main line went through to Farringdon on what are now the Metropolitan and Circle lines. Sadly we lost the service at some point in the late 19th century-

Mr. McNulty: Liberal cuts.

Mr. Luff: I think it predates that. However, there is nothing new about Crossrail, which is a thoroughly good idea in principle. The trouble is that the proposal is not only about London. That is why the carry-over motion must be carefully considered. Is this the right Bill to carry over?

In principle, I entirely buy into improving London transport services. As one who spends most of his working life in London, I can see the need to do that.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): My hon. Friend says that he buys into that, but no one else has.

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1613

Mr. Luff: My right hon. Friend takes me to task for my characteristically lax use of language—something of which he is never guilty—and makes a powerful point about the problems that have been highlighted during this debate. I concur with him on that point.

The Bill as drafted has several drawbacks and I am not at all sure that it is the right Bill to carry over. The first drawback is that it appears to give a lot of power to the Mayor of London. I understand that, earlier today, as part of the deal done on the Railways Bill, some of the powers that that Bill would have given the Mayor were removed. I am not sure that services running to the west of London, which will have a serious impact on the Great Western main line, should be handed into the power of the Mayor of London.

Secondly, I am concerned about the Bill's long title, which states that the Bill is to

"Make provision for a railway transport system running from Maidenhead"

I like Maidenhead a lot. My family has strong links with the town and my great-great-great-great uncle was mayor of Maidenhead in the 18th century, so I am delighted that it is to have a wonderful new railway service—but that service should go to Reading, as the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) said. At this point, may I say that I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) said about the hon. Lady? I wish her every happiness in the future. She has been a fine Member of Parliament and has made a fine contribution to our proceedings. She will be sorely missed.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Luff: Yes, but not on that point, I hope.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Worcester-Maidenhead axis is interesting, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that even the people of Worcester would benefit from a Crossrail connection, which would mean that trains could go under London and people would not have to change services? Everyone would be helped if there were a new railway line that everyone could use.

Mr. Luff: Sadly, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. He draws me on to the constituency point I wish to raise in connection with the Bill and the reason why I have reservations about carrying it over. It was alluded to by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) in what will probably be his last intervention as a Member of Parliament. He is an old friend of mine—I was his boss once and he mine, and we go back a long way. It therefore grieves me to have to draw the House's attention to the fact that he was slightly wrong. In fact, although the Bill as drafted will increase track and platform capacity at Paddington station, it will reduce capacity on the lines into Paddington. That is the crucial point.

I am working hard to improve services from my constituency to London on the Great Western and Cotswold lines. I want an hourly Adelante service instead of the present rather patchy service. I think that the Bill that we are being invited to carry over will result in the two relief lines—those on the left going to

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1614

London—being devoted exclusively to Crossrail services, leaving only the two existing main lines to and from Paddington for all the other railway services out of Paddington. I am therefore seriously concerned that, if we carry it over, the Bill will frustrate the ambitions of my constituents—and those of the Clerk at the Table, who is a Hereford man and would therefore benefit from improved services through to Herefordshire. I think he missed that observation, but I am sure he will read it in Hansard tomorrow.

The regulatory impact assessment for the Bill—I am grateful to the official who e-mailed it to me this morning—is focused entirely on the benefits to London. Yes, there are benefits to London, but the document contains no assessment of the impact on services beyond London. That worries me greatly.

Mr. Tyler: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Linda Perham: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Luff: I was hoping to draw my remarks to a conclusion, but I shall give way first to my—for the present purposes—hon. Friend.

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make another intervention. Does he not agree that carrying over the Bill creates the opportunity for the concerns that he and I have expressed this afternoon to be properly examined, unlike the alternative of pushing it though at speed today?

Mr. Luff: That is a very good point. My concern about that suggestion is that the Bill refers specifically to Maidenhead and those who know the workings of the railway services between London, Reading and the west know that Maidenhead is a very odd place to terminate services and that making it the terminus could have serious implications for the management of the railways. Although I support Crossrail in principle, I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that the Bill, even as drafted, does not preclude an extension of Crossrail services to Reading, which is what one of the consortiums—Superlink, I believe—proposes.

Linda Perham: I know that the hon. Gentleman is focusing on constituency concerns, but does he accept that if the Bill is not carried over, we lose the opportunity to make progress on the project, which has already been delayed? In addition, will he consider London's position as an international financial centre and the benefits that flow from it? If Crossrail is not implemented, the future of London and the UK economy will be seriously threatened.

Mr. Luff: I am extremely conscious, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if I respond fully to the interventions, I shall be in danger of making a Second Reading speech, whereas I wanted to explain briefly why I had reservations about the Bill being carried over. To be honest, I think it should be carried over—

Mr. Forth: Why?

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1615

Mr. Luff: Because I am a reasonable man. If I receive the reassurances I seek, I think that, for the reasons just given by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham), we should accede to the motion.

Mr. McNulty: Bearing in mind that I might not have a chance to respond to the debate, let me say that Cross London Rail Links, which came up with the original business case, suggested Maidenhead and all the consultation was done on that basis. Not least because of the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), we looked at the virtues of a Maidenhead-Reading route, but we were unable to do that because by that time the route had almost been locked down to the existing one. However, we have said since the Bill was published that we will consult on safeguarding the Maidenhead-Reading route, perhaps as a prelude to including it when the Bill has passed. The issue therefore remains live, not least because of my hon. Friend's endeavours.

Mr. Luff: That is a genuinely helpful intervention, and I shall conclude very shortly, as I appreciate what the Minister has said. However, if the carry-over is agreed today—that will obviously happen—the Committee that considers it must look carefully at capacity issues for the west country, Wales, Oxfordshire, Wales, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. I fear that trying to fit all the freight and passenger services into those two railway lines could have serious consequences. The significant sums that the railway would cost would be better spent on other enhancements to the rail network, such as upgrading the entire line to the west country and Cornwall, a sadly neglected corner in the economic development of our nation. That is certainly the view of the west London branch of Friends of the Earth.

In conclusion, if the Bill is carried over, we must be careful not to carry over a measure that could undermine significantly the transport interests of my constituents and many other people to the west of London.

2.40 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I support Crossrail and the carry-over of the Bill. We in the east end of London have long looked forward to the completion of Crossrail, which will do an enormous amount for regeneration and job creation in our area. We have had to wait 15 years or more, and we do not want any more undue delay. Even today, we can read on the front pages of London's local papers news of a serious drive-by shooting that affected the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). The jobs and regeneration that Crossrail will bring will be important in the fight against crime and social alienation.

I congratulate my colleague, the Mayor of London, on fighting a hard campaign to bring Crossrail into existence. I join hon. Members who have urged us to support the carry-over motion and to introduce the Bill early in the next Parliament along with concrete proposals for funding the line. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths)

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1616

on her last speech in this Parliament. She entered the House in the great landslide of 1997 and, although she is stepping down at the election, she has played her part in ensuring that we will win an historic third term. Finally, I would like the Bill to be carried over and speedy progress to be made on Crossrail because the next step is Crossrail 2, which will enable people to travel in splendour from the historic delights of Dalston all the way to Chelsea.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Like other hon. Members, I shall be brief in my support for the carry-over motion, which is essential if we are to make rapid progress in the next Parliament on securing funding for the scheme. To some extent, I agree with hon. Members that, while the Bill is important in putting such provisions into law, we also need an agreement on funding and the cost of the project. Costs are already high. If Mr. Kiley's figure are correct, they are already £14 billion to £15 billion. By the time, Crossrail is built, they will be considerably more, because inflation will have increased. We therefore need an agreement on funding and, like many other candidates in the election, I support the scheme and the funding that it requires.

May I draw the Minister's attention to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about blight compensation? The line does not go through my constituency, and impinges only on the southern part of my borough but, because it is a massive scheme, it has an impact on everyone in London and could lead to incredible improvements in transport infrastructure. However, blight is a huge factor in long-term planning issues. Businesses and landowners around Heathrow terminal 5 have been given blight compensation from the beginning of that scheme. Unfortunately, people in the path of the Crossrail development, even if they support it, will not have their land purchased under compulsory purchase orders and will not receive compensation in the period in which it fails to go ahead. The planning process would be encouraged if blight compensation were paid from the beginning of such schemes, as that would provide an incentive for promoters, whether in the public or private sector, to develop them as quickly as possible.

John McDonnell: To clarify the point about the development of the third runway at Heathrow and other airport expansion schemes, the proposals for the blight compensation scheme are currently subject to consultation and discussion. However, my hon. Friend is correct that there is a legal duty on the British Airports Authority, working with the Government, to offer blight compensation, which could readily be transferred to other schemes to provide security for long-term planning processes.

Jeremy Corbyn: I endorse my hon. Friend's clarification, and thank him for it. I hope that the Minister has heard what we are saying and recognise that, while supporters of Crossrail want it to proceed to completion, we also want to ensure that the blight problem does not go on forever.

I have no concerns about the involvement of the Greater London authority and the Mayor and London. Quite the opposite—I have every confidence in them, because the devolution of planning and transport

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1617

matters means that they should have that involvement and planning power. Without the effective voice for London that is projected by the Mayor and the Assembly, schemes such as Crossrail would be a lot further behind.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that far from being concerned about the Mayor's involvement in the scheme, we should accept that that involvement gives rise to confidence? People should not quibble about his involvement, as he should have greater powers, particularly over transport in the south-east of England.

Jeremy Corbyn: I could not agree more. If people had listened to the Mayor of London about the regeneration of the tube, we would have a bond issue rather than a public-private partnership and a great deal of public money would have been saved. I think that everybody now accepts that, and I hope that Crossrail can be similarly funded, as that will turn out to be a great deal cheaper.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) made some legitimate points about the rail network beyond London and the impact of Crossrail. Clearly, the constrictions on the Paddington line require a great deal of examination—that is a perfectly fair and reasonable point. He will accept, however, that by developing Crossrail we encourage overall rail traffic usage, which has a knock-on effect on the rest of the system. I am sure that he will join me in wanting to secure both the reopening of the line between Worcester and Cheltenham and the twin-tracking of the Honeybourne line through the Cotswolds.

Mr. Luff: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of my constituency. The line between Worcester and Cheltenham is already open, but he is right about the twin tracking. I agree that Crossrail will make travel in the south-east more attractive, and even more people will travel from the areas served at present by Paddington beyond Reading. We must therefore make sure that capacity issues are thoroughly addressed on the Great Western main line

Back to Speeches