How many contracts have to be let before the £16bn Crossrail project becomes unstoppable? The answer, it seems, is quite a few more yet.
It is a worrying prospect. While there is a huge amount of support within government and across the political spectrum for the project, as Crossrail chief executive Rob Holden reminded us this week, the project could still be halted during the next 18 months.
The current state of the UK public finances means that when it comes to public spending, no project, it seems, is ever truly bullet proof. And with a general election looming and the likely prospect of a change in administration, investments on the scale of Crossrail will continue to be vulnerable to review.
“While any support is always helpful to major infrastructure projects, having the right political support is crucial.”
So unfortunately while cancellation at this stage would be lunacy, we cannot rule it out. And certainly we cannot rule out the prospect of the project coming under pressure to tighten its scope.
On the one hand you could conclude that it is only right that as a nation we cut our cloth according to our resources. Crossrail is, after all, a large investment which over the next eight years will draw on precious government cash.
But on the other hand this is just the kind of project that we should be investing public money in. Its construction will drive the economy then deliver a long lasting piece of infrastructure which will serve the capital for the next century and beyond.
And we cannot ever tire of making this point − to whoever will listen.
“We cannot ever tire of making this point − to whoever will listen.”
But as Holden says, while any support is always helpful to major infrastructure projects, having the right political support is crucial.
His last project HS1 was driven first by Michael Heseltine then by John Prescott. Crossrail still needs a figure of this political calibre backing it − someone who can stand up and make things happen.
But who should we be lobbying this time? Lord Adonis, the new transport minister or his Tory shadow Theresa Villiers? Perhaps. But while both are already Crossrail converts, neither really hold the kind of political power needed to secure a project.
Should we go to the top − Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling or David Cameron and George Osborne? Perhaps this would be more logical but, then again, given the scale of the challenges crossing their desks I doubt if they would be remotely interested in championing a single infrastructure project.
Sadly it seems that right now heavyweight politicians with a passion for the development of transport infrastructure are a bit thin on the ground. But if we are to keep projects like Crossrail and all those planned to follow such as High Speed 2, we must follow Holden’s advice and continue to lobby.
Hopefully, for the sake of the whole nation, if we shout loud enough someone of quality will emerge.