With government having launched an invasion of City Hall by means of its emergency funding agreement for London’s transport network back in May, Transport for London on Friday issued its emergency budget. The document gives us the first glimpse of what the government’s politically motivated theatrics, if continued during negotiation for the post-October TfL funding settlement, would mean to London’s future infrastructure pipeline – and with it our ability to “build, build, build” our way out of the Covid-induced economic slump.
It’s not pretty. There are deferrals of track and fleet renewal works, question marks over bus decarbonisation and an immediate pause on the Sutton tram and the Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe crossing proposals. More fundamentally, it also casts uncertainty over the future of TfL’s entire major projects portfolio, including the London Underground Bakerloo Line extension. Boxed in by a lack of government funding and powers to raise finance itself, London is currently charting an unenviable course, set to enter a major recession with plenty of shovel-ready projects yet unable to get digging.
In taking this approach to London, the government is playing with fire. Despite the persistence of vague concepts like “levelling up” and political games with the Mayor of London, various unavoidable truths are clear: first, London matters to the whole of Britain’s economy, delivering a net fiscal surplus of £32.5 billion a year to the national economy; second, London’s public transport will be inextricably linked to its recovery, as over 90 per cent of Central London workers commute by sustainable modes; finally, infrastructure investment in London gives incredibly high economic returns, which start to pay dividends well in advance of tunnelling machines going into the ground.
The Bakerloo Line extension along Old Kent Road to Lewisham and on to Hayes is a prime example of this. A simple and contained Tube line addition, it will finally bring to southeast London what the rest of London has had for over a century – a train every two to three minutes direct to Central London. In doing so, it will transform the economic landscape both of its route through Southwark and Lewisham and of broader southeast London, with 80 per cent of rail stations in our transport-poor corner of the capital plugged into new interchanges at New Cross Gate, Lewisham, Catford and Beckenham Junction.
The Bakerloo Line extension will bring thousands of new homes, underpin new employment centres along the route and boost productivity for the whole of our capital’s economy. In construction alone, the extension will create 12,000 jobs in London and 18,000 more in the nationwide supply chain, while underpinning 9,500 permanent new jobs along the corridor. According to the London Simulator, a tool for calculating the impacts of new infrastructure, it would generate a tax surplus to central government of £17.3 billion by 2050 – a fraction of its estimated cost.
These aren’t plans for an unrealistic future utopia. The project and the momentum behind are the result of seven years of painstaking work by TfL and Lewisham and Southwark Councils working together with Sadiq Khan and, before him, Boris Johnson when he was Mayor to build a cross-London, cross-party coalition of support. The momentum of the scheme and expectation of its delivery is already underpinning investment decisions by developers and employers all along the route, with new homes and commercial units under construction along the corridor. For the momentum to falter due to pre-election game-playing would be devastating to our boroughs’ economic recoveries.
The Bakerloo Line extension is a perfect example of the sort of shovel-ready scheme that government should be engaging with TfL on getting built. Rather than making both London’s and Britain’s recovery from Covid-19 slower and more painful, now is the time for an urgent change of course to Build Back Better, getting projects like this funded and built.
Damien Egan is Mayor of Lewisham and Peter John is leader of Southwark Council. The two boroughs have been running a joint campaign and petition in support of the Bakerloo Line extension. Image from architectural practice MICA from its work on the project for TfL.
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