Another milestone in the long and tortuous Crossrail saga was passed last week when Gordon Brown announced the Government’s commitment to build the scheme.
This is not of course the first time that Crossrail has been given the go-ahead. Originally planned in the early 1990s, to provide a direct east-west rail route through central London, it was launched and subsequently abandoned by John Major's Government. Revised in principle when Labour came into Government in 1997, it still had to wait the best part of two Parliaments before legislation to authorize construction was introduced. And while the Crossrail Bill has been progressing through Parliament over the past two years, there remained a degree of uncertainty while the financial package necessary to fund this large and expensive scheme was put in place.
Few people dispute the need for Crossrail. Without it London traffic would almost certainly grind to a halt within two decades. It is also vital to the continuing success of London's economy linking many of the capital's economic powerhouses – Heathrow Airport, the West End and City of London, Canary Wharf and the Thames Gateway.
The engineering challenges are formidable, but the Crossrail team, ably led by Doug Oakervee, has demonstrated its feasibility and long-term economic benefits. The funding formula which has now been put in place rests on four main financial pillars – fare box revenues, government grant, direct contributions from businesses along the route and a supplementary business rate applying to all London businesses with a rateable value over £50,000.
Those of us who have championed Crossrail over the years have had to fight dogged campaigns to get where we are today. In South-East London we faced a real setback three years ago when, in an effort to reduce the then burgeoning costs of the scheme, the Government unexpectedly dropped the planned Woolwich Station that would have brought huge regeneration benefits to one of London's most disadvantaged areas. That decision was reversed earlier this year as a consequence of hard campaigning and a financial contribution from the businesses likely to benefit in Woolwich. But even as recently as last week there were worrying suggestions that the South-East London branch from Canary Wharf to Woolwich and Abbey Wood might be deferred by three years from the planned 2017 completion date.
Mercifully that threat has receded, so we can now look forward to the whole Crossrail scheme receiving Parliamentary approval next summer.
Nick Raynsford is MP for Greenwich & Woolwich