Levelling up Britain must not mean levelling down London, says outgoing TfL chief

Levelling up Britain must not mean levelling down London, says outgoing TfL chief

“Levelling up” transport investment must not mean “levelling down” for London, outgoing Transport for London boss Mike Brown told London Assembly Members today.

“We are at a crossroads,” the TfL commissioner said in his final appearance before the Assembly transport committee. “I absolutely welcome a commitment to more investment in the north and other regions. But it serves no one if the levelling up that is achieved is at the expense of London.”

After almost five years in the TfL top job, Brown moves on in May to chair the delivery authority overseeing the £3.5 billion restoration of the Houses of Parliament. He joined TfL in 1989, rising up the ranks before a two-year stint running Heathrow airport, returning to TfL initially as managing director of London Underground in 2010.

His worst moment in the job had been the Croydon tram derailment in 2016, where six passengers died and many more were injured, he recalled: “I will never forget that day” And delays and cost overruns on the Crossrail scheme were a “massive regret”.

There had been significant achievements too: Tube improvements, “active travel” by foot, bike and public transport up to 63 per cent of journeys from 50 per cent, a doubling of protected cycle space since 2016, greener buses, better services on TfL-controlled overground lines, and dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions from vehicles down more than 30 per cent since last year’s introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone. And Crossrail, still a “fantastic, world-beating project”, would see its central section finally open next year.

But with 40 per cent less funding than in 2010, and London one of the few capital cities in the world with no direct operating grant from government – a net loss of £700 million funding a year, coupled with £1.3 billion estimated fares revenue lost due to the Crossrail Elizabeth Line’s late opening – Brown’s message to the committee, and to Whitehall, was that more support was needed.

Recalling a “city in decline” in the 1980s, when he began his career, with three in 10 Northern Line trains regularly cancelled during the morning rush hour, he warned that decline could come again. “It’s important we don’t lose momentum. If we are going to have a safe, reliable transport network capable of meeting demand and supporting a functioning and growing city, we need government investment and we need certainty of that investment now.”

Signalling upgrades on the Piccadilly Line, increasing capacity on it by 60 per cent, would be his first priority for funding, alongside replacing Bakerloo line trains – the oldest in the country – and extensions to the Bakerloo Line and of the Docklands Light Railway to Thamesmead. 

“We have to keep the core service running. No one would forgive us if we allowed a degradation of existing operations on our watch. And only with government support can we complete the upgrading of the tube network,” he said.

New Piccadilly Line trains were being constructed in a factory in Goole in Yorkshire, he reminded members, with the potential for future orders for replacement Central Line, Northern Line and Jubilee Line trains – “2,000 jobs for a decade, in a different part of the country”. 

Wider certainty was needed too, he said, with TfL analysis showing Tube usage in particular fluctuating in line with Brexit and economic uncertainty. “We are in a very volatile situation, with fluctuations we haven’t seen in 20 years, except during the 2008 crash. It is important the message goes out that London is open for business.”

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