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My JLE Steven Norris, former transport minister 1992-96

It was Cecil Parkinson who, as Transport Secretary convinced the Treasury that there was a case for the JLE. The scheme had, after all, been around for decades in a series of guises, but once the improbably-named G.Ware. Travelstead had persuaded Margaret Thatcher that Docklands should not be developed as originally planned - a low-rise, rather modest scheme - but rather the financial power centre of Europe to rival the City itself, there was no doubt that infrastructure would have to be substantially upgraded.

The Treasury insisted that the Government seek contributions from the major commercial beneficiaries of the scheme and that of course meant the developers of Canary Wharf themselves.

It was clear that even on this basis the Treasury was unhappy with the whole idea and regarded it as poor value for money. They tried as hard as they could to get the then Department of Transport to back CrossRail instead.

Although this was ostensibly because CrossRail was a better value for money case, the real reason was because the CrossRail scheme was less prepared than the JLE and thus they would have achieved their objective of postponing any public expenditure by at least another three years if they could have conned the DoT into changing horses. We didn't, and I duly inherited the scheme when I became Minister for Transport in London in April of 1992.

Unfortunately, almost at once a potentially lethal blow was struck when the property recession took its toll and Canary Wharf went into receivership only part-let. Treasury clearly assumed they had got us, because they restated an absolute condition of the scheme was extracting £400M (rather less than £170M at net present value) from what was now a group of independent banks which were the effective owners of the Canary Wharf company.

Treasury put barrier after barrier in the way of the scheme getting the go ahead, but they had reckoned without Nick Montagu, the superb Grade 3 at the DoT, (and now, ironically, Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue) and Geoff Skinner, his able deputy. Between them they countered every objection, vaulted every new hurdle and finally secured agreement from all the banks at Canary Wharf. We had done a separate deal with British Gas for the station at North Greenwich (and without which there would have been no Millennium site, by the way) and the scheme was up and running.

Throughout, my job was simple. Refuse to concede, browbeat and physically threaten Treasury Ministers as necessary, keep up morale within LT and the department as the months dragged on, and just as importantly, ensure that the contractors did not revise their original bids because Treasury would have seized on that too as an ideal excuse for cancellation. It is often said you achieve nothing of real value in life without being thoroughly unreasonable. That was most certainly the case with the JLE.

As the scheme nears completion, perilously close to the millennium deadline and substantially over budget, I am even prouder to have been a midwife at its fragile birth.

It is a magnificent achievement by any standards. It has brought new life to a whole swathe of south and east London. It has made the renaissance of the Greenwich peninsula possible and brought new life to Stratford and the whole area around it.

And I guarantee the day it is fully open there will be few who will question whether it was worth the money. They are much more likely to ask why it took us so long.

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