A paradox of the EU referendum outcome is that Brexit Britain, perturbed by “rich London” with all its swarming foreigners, might become even more reliant on the capital’s economic power than it already is. If the Conservatives in government hadn’t spotted this before the general election campaign – or, Heaven forbid, thought it advantageous not to mention it – there are signs that it is cottoning on now. That was certainly a confident view among speakers at a meeting called by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on London in Portcullis House on Wednesday night.
Its purpose was to address the future of rail transport in the city, including, importantly, the prospects for control of more suburban rail services being devolved to Transport for London (TfL) – an issue on which a firm cross-party agreement within London has not been replicated in relations between APPG London chair and Remainer Bob Neill MP (Con, Bromley and Chislehurst) and transport secretary and lead Brexiter Chris Grayling (Con, Epsom and Ewell). Neill’s bollocking of Grayling over the matter last December was a splendid thing.
But mostly, the talk was of Crossrail 2. This monster engineering project, which would insert a whole new, mostly underground, rail link between Wimbledon in the southern suburbs, Euston and St Pancras, and Tottenham Hale and New Southgate to the north, would be twice as big as Crossrail 1 (now officially the Elizabeth Line) and cost around twice as much to build. The extra capacity it provided would also make a lot more difference, not least to constituents of Grayling who commute into London by way of Worcester Park, often in intimate standing positions.
The Mayor’s office and other interested parties have been frustrated in the past by what they see as the government’s past wariness of showing too much enthusiasm for Crossrail 2, perhaps for fear of inflaming voters in the north of England, perhaps, in Grayling’s case, due to an ingrained disinclination to do anything to assist Sadiq Khan.
Money, is, of course, a problem: the estimate is £31bn. But Graham in particular set out how projected costs, which London and its businesses would provide half of, are being whittled down. And with the election over, an outbreak of co-operation between Grayling and City Hall, and minds concentrating on buttressing the UK economy against any Brexit-induced blues, the case for Crossrail 2 has been being made with renewed hope. It is a bluntly patriotic one.
Along with Neill, the panel comprised Barking and Dagenham leader Darren Rodwell in his London Councils role, Michèle Dix, TfL’s Crossrail 2 MD, David Lammy MP, who chairs the separate APPG group on Crossrail 2, Phil Graham, chief executive of the National Infrastructure Commission, and Val Shawcross, Deputy Mayor for Transport. Shawcross came bearing a 16-page leaflet bearing the branding of the Mayor, TfL and Network Rail and significantly entitled: Ten Reasons Why The UK Needs Crossrail 2 Now.
Some of those reasons go for any new rail link, such as “unlocking” potential for investment in housing, giving people better access to employment and, as mentioned above, adding passenger capacity and travel options for droves of commuters and others. But that national interest angle flagged on the front recurs throughout with sleeve-tugging insistence.
“Crossrail 2 will support the strong economy our nation needs,” declares Reason 1, describing it as “‘pro-growth’ infrastructure” that will link “homes with jobs” from Portsmouth to Cambridge.
Reason 6 describes Crossrail 2 as essential for helping Euston to support HS2 as it conveys humankind down the length of England. “Without Crossrail 2, the Victoria and Northern Lines will be so crowded that passengers arriving from the Midlands and the North will have to wait for several Tube trains to pass before being able to board,” it warns. Sounds a bit like trying to take the Central Line westbound from Bethnal Green of a morning peak.
Reason 9, headed Building A National Asset, effectively says: “We Brits are good at this stuff, Grayling, so get your finger out.”
And Reason 10 is explicit: “The UK’s international links attract investment and jobs from across the globe. London is at the heart of this. For the UK to compete on the world stage after Brexit, we need a commitment that investment will be made in our infrastructure – and in London and the South East, that means Crossrail 2.”
The chief purpose of the meeting was to galvanise, mobilise and synchronise still more the already impressive consensus for Crossrail 2. Just about everyone with any clout in the capital is firmly on board. Will the government at last let the train begin to moving out of the station?