Crossrail is widely recognised as a crucial component in London's future transport network. Without it parts of central London will face gridlock and the economic development of the capital will be seriously impeded.
But like many other essential infrastructure projects it comes with a hefty price tag. So while the Crossrail Bill, which authorises the construction of the scheme, progresses through Parliament, a great deal of work is going on behind the scenes to reduce costs and explore the range of options for raising the necessary nance.
Most of this is sensible and constructive, but unfortunately there have been some foolish decisions prompted by shortterm penny-pinching. Perhaps the most notable was the decision to drop the Woolwich station from the scheme.
There is an overwhelmingly strong case for a Crossrail station at Woolwich on both transport and regeneration grounds.
Woolwich is seeing the beginnings of economic recovery after decades of decline.
A Crossrail station linking Woolwich to Canary Wharf, the City, West End and Heathrow would give a massive boost to this process, and facilitate substantial additional housing and commercial investment.
It would also provide a transport hub at the western end of the Thames Gateway, with links to the South East rail service, the Docklands Light Railway, the Waterfront Transit, the Thames Riverbus Service and 180 buses every hour. Without a station at Woolwich, the only Crossrail stop in south London would be at Abbey Wood, which cannot provide the same interchange opportunities.
These transport and regeneration bene ts explain the exceptionally favourable cost benet ratio for the Woolwich station - at 3:1, far better than for the Crossrail scheme as a whole.
The government decided to drop the Woolwich station purely to save money. The station must be underground because it lies between the river and the southern outfall sewer - both of which it has to pass under. Original estimates suggested costs in excess of £300M, but recent studies, based on bringing the station nearer to the surface, indicate it can be built for less than £200M.
While £200M is substantial, the huge bene make this investment look worthwhile.
The select committee considering the Bill concluded that the station was essential and offered 'exceptional value for money'.
It instructed the promoters of the scheme to come forward with detailed proposals.
Although the government initially said it was not minded to accept the recommendation, the committee, which has a statutory role in place of the normal planning enquiry, has stuck to its guns, insisting that the government should reconsider.
Its chairman, Alan Meale, has issued a statement making clear his belief that 'it is unprecedented for a government to refuse to act on the committee's decision at this stage of a hybrid bill'.
Expect to see some further signicant developments over the coming weeks - the Campaign for a Crossrail Station at Woolwich is very much alive.