London Mayor renews calls for long-term TfL funding and defends Silvertown Tunnel

London Mayor renews calls for long-term TfL funding and defends Silvertown Tunnel

Initial government proposals for Transport for London’s third bailout deal, finally agreed after last month’s mayoral election, could have seen one in five bus routes lost or one of the capital’s twelve London Underground lines shut down, Sadiq Khan told the London Assembly today. 

Although Whitehall had backed away from those proposals, the Mayor said at his monthly Mayor’s Question Time session that the city’s transport network still faces “tough choices” as it revises its budgets to meet government conditions requiring TfL to balance its books by 2023 and reduce costs by more than £1 billion by the same date.

“It was clearly not the deal we wanted and it has presented a number of challenges both for TfL and London,” he said. “We accepted it to keep public transport in London moving, but it cannot be right that the capital’s transport network, which is vital to support national recovery, is so reliant on fares income.”

The Mayor drew Assembly Members’ attention to TfL’s credit rating being downgraded last week and “the lack of clarity from the government on long-term funding being cited as a cause. This will only make it harder to secure much-needed investment in London to keep public transport in London moving,” he said.

Revised spending plans expected to be approved by the TfL board next month would form the basis of fresh negotiations as part of the government’s overall Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) later in the year, Khan said. He also confirmed that a review of TfL’s pension arrangements, criticised by the government as over-generous, is underway.

“We hope that through the CSR we can have a more constructive discussion,” the Mayor added. “The pandemic has shown that TfL cannot rely so heavily on fares. We need a long-term deal, not cuts to services, and the government is currently the only source of such funding.” 

The terms of the government bailout have also meant that TfL could not do more to help drivers replace non-compliant vehicles in advance of the extended Ultra-Low Emission Zone coming into force in October, Khan said in reply to Conservative AM Keith Prince’s complaint that the new £12.50 a day charge for the most polluting vehicles driving within the North and South Circular roads would disproportionately affect poorer Londoners.

TfL had already provided more than £56 million for scrappage schemes, he said, with no government help, while similar schemes in Birmingham and Bath have received Whitehall funding. “How can you be happy that they are getting preferential treatment,” Khan asked, adding that tackling poor quality air is itself a “social justice” issue, with the poorest Londoners worst affected.

The Mayor also pointed out that six in 10 Londoners living in the expanded zone do not own a car, and that ULEZ-compliance in the existing central zone is at 87 per cent. He cited comments on the current ULEZ from public health expert Dr Gary Fuller of Imperial College, who said yesterday that after 28 years studying air pollution, “it’s hard to think of another policy that has led to such a dramatic change”.

Khan also heralded the arrival yesterday of 20 zero-emission hydrogen powered buses on the number 7 bus route. These were constructed in Northern Ireland, and Khan said London’s investment in them showed that the capital is “creating jobs around the country” as well as tackling air pollution.

He went on to reject calls from newly-elected Green Party AM Zack Polanski to pause and review the controversial Silvertown Tunnel scheme, which will bore a new road link under the Thames between the Royal Docks and the Greenwich peninsula and is designed to relieve congestion at the nearby Blackwall Tunnel.

The tunnel scheme is “one of the most heavily scrutinised projects in the history of the mayoralty,” Khan said, with 10 separate direct or indirect consultation exercises since 2009 including a six-month public inquiry.

“We’ve long-needed a new river crossing and this is the right scheme,” he said, adding that the recent mayoral election, where the top-polling candidates, himself and Tory contender Shaun Bailey, had both backed the plans, had reaffirmed public support for it going ahead.

Mayor’s Question Time, 24 June 2021 can be watched in full here.

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