Crossrail

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak in this debate, because I want to speak up for south-east London, which has long been forgotten in terms of transport infrastructure. As I have said on many occasions, we do not have direct access to the London underground. Much investment across London goes into the underground and much of the debate about London’s transport is concerned with it. However, many parts of London are not served by it and we rely heavily on Network SouthEast and, where that fails, the only alternative for travel from my constituency to central London is the car. We also have over-congested roads.

Crossrail is essential to the future of London’s transport network. If London is ever to make a significant attempt to meet the future needs of its commuters, the scheme is essential. However, it must be properly planned and the wider benefits for the entire community must be taken into account, not just for those in the Thames gateway or further along the Thames corridor. It has long been the experience of people from my constituency that they look on as developments take place along the riverfront. Such developments are welcome, but the planning for those schemes includes little thought about how the wider community can link into those schemes and benefit from them. London has been dogged for too long by such second-rate planning, with too often the cheapest option taken and the wider benefits unconsidered.

The population of London is projected to grow by 800,000 by 2016, and jobs in London will increase by 600,000 by that time. Along with that growth will come the demand for extra capacity on our transport network. It is estimated that Crossrail will provide some 40 per cent. of the extra capacity that London will need. It will more than double capacity through the central London corridor that is currently provided by the London underground and it will reduce journey times by up to 40 per cent. However, that does not mean that Crossrail should go ahead regardless of the wider concerns of many parts of London.

Most of the jobs that will be created over the next 10 or more years will be in the Thames gateway area, the Isle of Dogs, the City, the west end and around Heathrow. Crossrail will be vital for people who want to access these areas. Most of my constituents currently travel towards central London. In the past, London had a transport network that was rather like spokes of a wheel. People have been living in suburbs and have travelled in on rail networks. If they were lucky enough to live near the tube or “on the tube”, they travelled by that means into central London. The development of the Thames Gateway and east London will change that fundamentally. I am already being approached by people who want to work on the reconstruction that is taking place in the Thames Gateway area. They want access to the Thames Gateway for training so that they can have the opportunity of taking the jobs that will be available.

The future travel patterns of people from my part of London will change completely as development gathers pace. The need to travel north across the river and possibly go east, rather than west into central London, will become more common. Crossrail needs to recognise the change that will take place.

The cost of introducing a station along the Crossrail route after it has been built would be extremely costly. That is why I want to draw attention to the amendment that was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), although it was not selected. He asks in that amendment for a railway station at Woolwich to accommodate the future needs of people from south-east London who will need to have access to the Thames corridor and the Thames Gateway area, to travel to the wider areas to which Crossrail will offer connections. We need a station at Woolwich.

Woolwich is in a strategic position in south-east London, where it could become a transport hub for that area. It makes no sense to bypass a strategic centre. It would make a mockery of the transport policies that have been published over many years, which are full of well-meaning statements about integrated transport, if we did not take the opportunity to make Woolwich a transport hub. We have the opportunity for a major infrastructure development to do just that, to become an integrated transport hub for an area of London that for too long has been deprived.

The proposals are for Crossrail trains to travel past Woolwich, the first stop south of the river being Abbey Wood. I welcome the fact that there is to be a station at Abbey Wood. However, that cannot be considered to be a strategic location for a major station and a major development such as Crossrail. Woolwich is bypassed because it is cheaper to do so. Such second-rate planning has dogged us for too long.

Woolwich is served by 18 bus routes, plus two night buses. The docklands light railway will arrive in Woolwich in 2008-09. The Royal Arsenal is being rebuilt. It is already home to thousands of people who live in the new buildings, and there are thousands more to come.

For too long the needs of south-east London have been overlooked. Twelve of London’s most socially deprived wards are in the area around Woolwich. The fact that the east Thames corridor has been overlooked for too long is recognised in the Thames Gateway development programme. We cannot overlook the level of deprivation that exists south of the river in areas such as the one that I represent. If my constituents cannot access Crossrail, they will suffer enormously as developments along the Thames Gateway take place. I have already mentioned that we do not have direct access to the London underground system. We also face the problem of a lack of planning for surface transport. For example, we have seen no major developments in bus networks.

Last week, I spoke to a group of young people who were hanging around in my constituency and asked them what they did with their time. Our local cinema is close to North Greenwich station, which is in the north of my borough. I asked, Do you ever go down to the cinema? Do you ever make your way down to the new facility there?” They said, “It is too far. The bus takes too long.” We have had the Jubilee line in my borough for more than five years, but there is no direct bus link. If those young people wanted to use our local bus network to travel to the cinema close to North Greenwich station, it would take two hours out of their day. No young person will consider that. A commuter travelling to London to work will not consider that transport as an option, so a heavy burden is placed on the south-east rail network, on which there is too much reliance. It is frequently overcrowded and that forces people on to our roads. Larger schemes such as Crossrail must meet the wider needs of existing communities as well as communities that will be developed along the Thames Gateway. Buses are not regarded as an alternative for travelling into central London, so access to Crossrail is essential if we are to provide a decent transport network for people in south-east London.

The Thames Gateway is one the biggest regeneration areas in Europe. A total of 200,000 homes will be built there, and there is capacity to build 30,000 more homes than are envisaged in the Government’s housing strategy. Some 150,000 jobs will be developed in the area. Inevitably, people focus on the Thames Gateway when they talk about Crossrail, but we must look at the wider community. According to the Thames Gateway partnerships, development will benefit south-east London, but that depends on how we define south-east London. History teaches us that if we do not pay attention to problems at the outset it is expensive to put them right after the development is complete. The docklands, for instance, were developed before the docklands light railway was built. The Jubilee line was built through the docklands much later. The lack of public transport infrastructure proved to be a major fault in the development of the royal docks and it was some time before people could experience the wider benefits of the area.

I can only demonstrate what we are planning to do with Crossrail by making a comparison with the opening of the Hammersmith and City line. Imagine the trains on that route failing to stop at Hammersmith broadway and the line ending at Ravenscourt Park. Such a proposal would be met with derision. Similarly, if trains on the Jubilee line did not stop at Canary Wharf, people would wonder about the benefits of such a transport link for the communities it was intended to serve. The failure of Crossrail trains to stop at Woolwich will have a similar effect on south-east London. The area has been a poor relation of public transport development in south-east London for far too long, and we will not countenance a failure to develop Crossrail there.

Woolwich is not included in the proposals because of cost—it is not because of a lack of demand. Crossrail’s own briefing says:

“Crossrail will establish a brand new network of services linking areas across London and beyond. This will allow existing suburban rail services to run through London, reducing overcrowding on Underground lines and reducing congestion at a number of busy national rail stations.”

We must make that statement come true. We cannot allow the development of Crossrail to bypass people in south-east London. I sincerely hope that the Select Committee will take on board the arguments in favour of a station at Woolwich on the Crossrail line, and that the Bill will be amended accordingly.

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