London’s £15.9bn Crossrail scheme faces a renewed threat of cuts or delays after new transport secretary Philip Hammond challenged mayor Boris Johnson to prove that it is value for money.
Hammond told NCE that he was to meet with Johnson this week to discuss the future of the project. Crossrail is being jointly promoted by the Department for Transport and Transport for London, which Johnson heads.
“I’m meeting with the mayor to seek reassurance that, given the public spending constraints, Crossrail can be delivered in a cost effective way,” Hammond said.
Reducing the number of stations or delaying their construction are options believed to be under consideration.
Hammond said he wanted Johnson to explain what efforts had been made to keep costs down.
“I’ll be looking at whether all value engineering options have been exhausted,” he said.
“Although I’m sure the mayor has ensured that there is value engineering being done,” he added.
Hammond spoke to NCE after unveiling a new platform for Network Rail at London’s Kings Cross station.
His comments provided little reassurance to those wanting clarity on the future of the scheme following publication of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition document last week.
“I’ll be looking at whether all value engineering options have been exhausted”
Crossrail is mentioned only as having the coalition government’s “support”. Three words in the 16,012 word document are devoted to the £15.9bn scheme.
The document also makes clear that cutting debt is a higher priority than new build.
“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement, and the speed of implementation of any measures that have a cost to the public finances will depend on decisions to be made in the Comprehensive Spending Review,” it says. The government is due to publish its Comprhensive Spending Review in the autumn.
Change of plan
The document also warns that high speed rail plans will have to be “phased” because of the “financial constraints”.
The plan now is to build the Conservatives’ version of Arup’s Heathrow hub, with construction first focused on the London to Birmingham route before second and third phases continue it to Manchester and Leeds.
This is a departure from the Conservative plan published before the election which involved building a line from London to Leeds via Birmingham and Manchester in a single phase. At the time shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers criticised Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis for lacking ambition by focusing only on the route to the West Midlands in the first stage.
Hammond defended the new plan stating that he was confident that construction would begin in 2015 and that the inclusion of the Heathrow hub was vital because of the coalition’s intention to scrap a third runway at the airport.
Coalition ministers last week confirmed their intention rip up the UK’s planning system and axe the Infrastructure Planning Commission.
The reforms will end regional spatial strategies, regional assemblies and regional development agencies.
All planning and policy decisions would be pushed down to local authorities.
“We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups,” says the coalition document.
It also pledges to create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities.
There is also a commitment to an Open Source planning system. Open Source takes its name from a computer concept where IT firms allow users to develop and modify their software.
The coaltion’s plan - a key plank of the Tories’ election manifesto - would aim to replicate this by allowing individuals to have more say in local planning.
A decentralisation and localism Bill will push the proposal through.