It is sad but perhaps inevitable that in line with its anti-London rhetoric, the government has mothballed Crossrail 2, which as Alexander Jan wrote for On London, is a complete U-turn in transport policy. Buried within the funding settlement being forced on Transport for London, it’s a decision that owes more to political positioning than economic, regeneration or transport sense, but that’s something we have become used to over the last year.
As Mayor of Hackney, I’ve long campaigned in support of Crossrail 2, together with council leaders and fellow Mayors in north and east London. Representing a borough without a Tube station, Crossrail 2 would transform our links with central and south east London and create jobs for our residents. It would also relieve pressures on existing infrastructure like the London Overground and, at Dalston Kingsland, create a fully accessible station and connection into Central London.
While I can reluctantly live with the decision, its shambolic handling leaves councils and businesses concerned with where that leaves years of planning for economic growth and new housing in our town centres – at the very time our high streets need certainty to rebuild after the pandemic.
As part of the planning for a new route, the Department for Transport, over many generations and false starts – remember the Chelsea-Hackney line? – safeguarded sites in Dalston and Shoreditch, effectively stopping any redevelopment or major investment in areas where a new rail line might be built. We’ve spent years working with the Crossrail 2 team to amend these rules and ensure that places of community value like Ridley Road Market are protected and heritage assets retained in any plan.
Put simply, leaving those old unaltered restrictions in place and kicking the project into the long grass, with no clarity about the future, will put those protections, new homes, businesses and jobs at risk. We’ve spent the last two years speaking to residents in Dalston about what they want the future of the area to look like. What should we tell them now that the biggest investment in a generation has been canned?
With large areas of both Hackney Central and Dalston subject to safeguarding directions, major strategic sites such as the Kingsland Shopping Centre, Clapton Bus Garage and land around Hackney Central station will be hamstrung from development, without any certainty that Crossrail 2 will go ahead. It will severely limit the future potential of our town centres and their key gateway stations.
If the government isn’t serious about delivering this transformative project for London, it must level with the public now and remove this red tape and uncertainty, so that local people and all affected councils can get on with delivering their ambitions – not leaving our town centres to stagnate when they need investment most.
This is also a levelling up issue. The benefits of investing in transport infrastructure don’t just stay in London. Already, TfL estimates that 55 pence in every £1 it commits to procurement is spent in the regions, creating and sustaining jobs. Our construction and transport industries need green, shovel-ready projects that will keep their expertise and experience put to use, from the Elizabeth Line on to High Speed 2 and Crossrail 2 as well.
Coronavirus continues to devastate our present, but it shouldn’t destroy the long-term growth and sustainability of Hackney nor our capital as a whole. London’s economy continues to shift eastwards, but that needs to be underpinned by the right infrastructure.
Margaret Thatcher notoriously once said in relation to the similarly abandoned Chelsea-Hackney line: “Why would people in Chelsea want to go to Hackney?” She was wrong then and it would be a shame for communities all along the Crossrail 2 route if the same mistake was made again by the current occupant of Number 10. We can’t wait until the 2030s or 2040s for these plans to be dusted off again.
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