Leonie Cooper: London Underground’s Northern Line Extension shows what public transport investment can do

Leonie Cooper: London Underground’s Northern Line Extension shows what public transport investment can do

The long-awaited opening of the Northern Line Extension is a testament to what can be achieved with proper investment into London’s transport network. This is a historic moment, as for the first time in 80 years two new stations, at Battersea Power Station in Wandsworth, where I am a councillor, and Nine Elms, have been added to the line.

The project has been six years in the construction and was funded upfront by Transport for London after securing a £1 billion government loan. The benefits for Wandsworth are huge and transformative, with the West End and the City now reachable within 15 minutes. Crucially, the Extension has also supported the creation of 25,000 jobs and 20,000 new homes.

In addition, thanks to a separate package of £23 million of funding from City Hall we will also see 289 additional new social rent and other affordable homes delivered in the borough over the next five years.

Earlier this month, I got an early preview of the Battersea Power Station stop along with follow members of the London Assembly transport committee. I was blown away by the light sculpture, the incredible architecture of the station and its airy and modern ticket hall, framed by a striking bronze roof and giant skylight.

As well as helping Wandsworth, the Extension will help to support London’s green and economic recovery. The pandemic has pushed TfL’s finances to the brink, after passenger levels on the Tube and buses plummeted back in March 2020 and have struggled to rise ever since.

To prevent transport services grinding to a halt, the government has provided TfL with three short-term emergency funding settlements so far. However, these settlements have all come with punitive conditions attached, insisted on by the Department for Transport.

Due to this lack of longer-term government funding and the accompanying threat of service cuts, TfL have had to put major infrastructure projects, such as the Bakerloo Line extension and Crossrail 2, on ice for the foreseeable future.

This delay is costing the creation of thousands of jobs, not just in London but across the rest of the country too, while putting future investment in the capital at risk. Ministers know the dividends of these improvements will be shared out with other regions of the UK and should support them.

In December, the DfT is due to come back to the table with the Mayor and TfL to discuss the next funding settlement. This time around, it is vital that they offer a fairer and multi-year financial package. In 2015, the previous Mayor, Boris Johnson, was handed a six-year capital and borrowing package. London needs such secure support again.

Ministers should look to the example of the Northern Line Extension, which has proven that capital projects can boost London’s recovery, providing new jobs and new homes. It is only fair that other parts of London also see these major benefits.

A lot has been and continues to be said about “levelling up”. This aspiration has to apply to the whole of the country. As we strive to exit the pandemic, the capital must not be left out or left behind.

Leonie Cooper is a Labour London Assembly Member and represents the Merton & Wandsworth constituency. She is also leader of the Labour group on Wandsworth Council. Follow Leonie on Twitter. Photograph from TfL.

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