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Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) on his success in securing the debate and I thank him and Minister for their courtesy in allowing me a brief period in which to speak. My constituency has within its boundaries three of the river crossings that have been proposed or are under construction. They are the Blackwall third crossing, the Jubilee line extension and the docklands light railway extension.
As the Minister knows, there is considerable support in Greenwich for a third crossing at Blackwall, although we are both conscious of the environmental consequences of the proposed high-level bridge that his Department favours, and sensitive to the concerns expressed by people on the north side of the river about the possible consequences of a third crossing. If the Minister considers the congestion that exists, particularly immediately south of the Blackwall tunnels, and the extent to which that affects a much wider region, including Greenwich town centre, he will understand the forceful support of people in Greenwich for a third crossing at Blackwall.
On the Jubilee line extension, there is considerable pleasure in Greenwich at the fact that, belatedly, approval has been given to North Greenwich station, although there is concern about the price that is being paid-- approval was dependent on the 1,000-vehicle park-and-ride facility at north Greenwich. There is concern that that will attract more vehicles into a region that, as I have already said, is severely congested. As the proposal is proceeding, it gives added force to the case for the third Blackwall crossing.
On the docklands light railway extension, we enter a rather different world, a curiously Alice in Wonderland world. The Minister for Transport in London is not responsible because the scheme is being promoted not by the Department of Transport but by the Department of the Environment. That seems curious enough, but the second bizarre Alice in Wonderland feature is that Cutty Sark station, which would be on that route, and which would generate the largest number of visitors and serve the major tourist attraction of Greenwich town centre, with all the historic buildings to which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich referred, is very much in doubt. The station is in doubt because of an extraordinary piece of short- termism on the part of the Department of the Environment, which said that the station could be built only if the full cost were raised by Greenwich council and private sector partners within a three-month period. Allowing the station not to be built flies in the face of all common sense. Without question, transport logic points to the need for a station to serve this major tourist attraction on a link that serves another of London's major tourist attractions, the Tower of London. There are links down the river, but the case for a direct rail link between the Tower and Greenwich is strong. The decision to reject a station at Cutty Sark, which is right in the heart of the tourist area, is curious. It flies in the face not only of common sense but of the views of the people who responded to the consultation exercise that
Column 319the Department of the Environment, Docklands Light Railway and the London Docklands development corporation carried out when the proposal was made to drop the station.
Local residents, businesses and other organisations expressed almost unanimous support for Cutty Sark station to go ahead. Instead of responding positively to that and working with Greenwich council and others to ensure that the station is built, the Government appear to be trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities. Saying that the station will be built only if the council raises £14 million within three months unconditionally is tantamount to killing the station. It is depressing that the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has taken that decision and who is not currently in the Chamber, has essentially signed the death warrant for Cutty Sark station and does not have the guts to admit that. I have expressed that view to him in writing, so the fact that he is not here is not a reason for my holding back from making that comment.
To its credit, Greenwich council is doing its level best to come forward with a funding package to make the station possible and it is working closely with a number of partners, local businesses, landowners and other organisations. At this stage, it is difficult to say how far it will succeed in raising the large sum of money that has been specified. I hope that it will go a long way towards achieving its aim. I am giving the council my full support, but I hope that the Minister accepts that it is very strange for the Government essentially to have passed all responsibility for securing the station on to the local authority and to have established such extraordinarily difficult conditions for the station to be built. I hope that the Government will change their mind and that the Minister will persuade his colleagues in the Department of the Environment to make them work more constructively with Greenwich council and Greenwich's private sector partners to ensure that the station is built. Not to do so would be an extraordinary exercise in putting short-term economies before the long-term advantages of building the station, which has huge potential for generating additional income and which makes great sense in planning and transport terms.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): I support my hon. Friends the Members for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) and for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), who represent the south bank in east London whereas I represent north Woolwich, or the north bank. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) is here, too. My hon. Friends have made clear their views on the Blackwall crossing and stated what nonsense it would be not to have the Cutty Sark station on the docklands light railway. The Woolwich crossing, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich referred, should have a high priority. It would extend the north London link from Richmond and Willesden junction--and perhaps by even more ambitious routes--across the Thames to north Kent, Dartford and even further. There is no great support for the construction of a road for the east London river crossing, but there is support for another extension of the docklands light railway, even by tunnel, across to Thamesmead. Such a proposal would be
Column 320in keeping with the Government's change from road to rail and would be wholly in line with the royal commission's recent report. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich said about the river. Should there be a practical proposal for developing the river as part of London's overall transport system, I hope that the Government will give it as much support as they have given to road planning and construction.
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): I congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) on securing this important debate. Having spent some years replying to such debates, I now appreciate that there is an invariable rule which is that the longer one allows the proposer to make his case, the longer one needs to reply to what he said in the shorter time remaining. The inverse is even worse in that if the proposer sits down after five minutes having said nothing, one has to extemporise for the remaining 25 minutes. However, it was important that the hon. Member for Woolwich and also the hon. Members for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) should have been able to put their remarks on record.
We are not in the business of spending vast sums of public money to build infrastructure for purposes wholly unrelated to the environmental, social and economic needs of an area. We know that the Thames is a great asset of which we wish to make more. Indeed, we have been doing so on an all-party basis and Labour and Conservative-controlled boroughs further down river have co-operated with me. However, what emerged from the consultation and planning work was that the Thames is also a barrier. It is a barrier to regeneration and, as the hon. Member for Woolwich said, it is starkly evident that that is especially so east of Tower bridge where, as the river widens, crossings become fewer, which is a genuine constraint on our ability to regenerate areas where unemployment is high, housing is bad and conditions are far from ideal.
There have been tremendous developments in docklands, north and south of the river and adjacent to specific regeneration areas. There are signs that whole areas are coming back to life. Hon. Gentlemen will agree that many people in London have consistently underestimated the impact of the Jubilee line. It will have a tremendous regenerative effect on a swathe of south London, through Bermondsey and Southwark to Surrey Quays before it crosses back to the Isle of Dogs, on to north Greenwich and up to Canning Town. We all, therefore, have a straightforward agenda in our minds. We want to try to remove the river as a barrier to allow for the regenerative expansion we all seek, and to try to do so in a way that is consistent with the needs and wishes of the local population. I hope that the hon. Member for Woolwich will allow me to say that he was less than his usual equable self when he described us as having all our eggs in a road-building basket. If he will forgive me for saying so, that was a ludicrous caricature. As he knows, the whole point about our strategy in east London is that it takes account of Woolwich metro, of the Lewisham extension of the docklands light railway and of the Jubilee line
Column 321extension. That is a quick £3 billion- worth of eggs in the road-building basket. Compared with that, the road- building component is relatively modest.
Equally, in all fairness, the hon. Gentleman's version of the history of the east London river crossing was unrecognisable. There is no reticence, as he puts it, about Woolwich metro. Far from it; it is very much a live project for us. I was delighted to take it on board as it arose from the Union Metro proposals and to see how the operators generally regarded it highly, not least because it is quite a cost-effective proposal with much of the infrastructure already in place.
Again, the hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me for putting this next point on the record; it needs to be said. There was no dithering over the proposition that we should attract the private sector into the Jubilee line extension. "Dither" is the last word that I would associate with that transaction. For the record, what happened was that Labour Members constantly berated me for not simply saying, "Get on with it. Start building. Do not worry about the private sector. The private sector is too slow. Build the thing." I said no because I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport were well aware that as long as Labour Members took that view, the private sector would sit back and say, "If they are mugs enough to put the money in themselves, let them do it." It was only when the private sector saw clearly that this Government did not flinch that it contributed £400 million towards the building of the line--money that would otherwise have been lost to the Exchequer and lost to London. I apologise to no one for having stood firm in that transaction and for having achieved an excellent result.
To add insult to injury, which is uncharacteristic of the hon. Gentleman who is such a mild and generous-hearted chap in reality, he said that it would be nonsense for us not to build a station at north Greenwich. He is absolutely right. It would, indeed, have been nonsense which is precisely why I made it clear to the private sector interests there that they would contribute in large measure to its construction. That is exactly what they subsequently did. If one seeks office in this country, it is as well to sharpen up one's bargaining techniques because these people are no patsies. I fear that a life in the wilderness has left the hon. Gentleman with his customary good nature, but without that instinct for the jugular which so
Column 322defines the Government, whom it is probably best to leave to do these sort of deals while the hon. Gentleman remains happy to chide me--
Mr. Austin-Walker rose --
The third crossing at Blackwall is, indeed, a difficult proposition. The difference between the tunnel and the bridge is that the tunnel costs about £80 million more and, unfortunately, provides only two lanes of traffic, whereas the bridge provides four. It is clear that the bridge is extremely intrusive on the north side and it is also clear that British Gas has many reservations about its intrusion on the south side. We want to try to find an alternative, but I am loth to see the tunnel as an alternative simply because it is a rather inadequate solution. We shall need to press further on an all-party basis on that.
On the Cutty Sark station, it is simply a question of looking at £14 million, which is more than all the other station costs put together. That must be set against the fact that Island Gardens and Greenwich stations are on either side of the Cutty Sark and that each is about 700 yd from it. It is the sensible project management that has to go into making tough decisions which will shape that project. The important point is that Greenwich will be on the DLR map. Greenwich is what tourists recognise and Greenwich is where people will go.
The consultation document, which we hope to issue shortly, will stimulate, I hope, exactly the kind of constructive exchange that we have had to date both north and south of the river, recognising as it does that this is a problem that we all have in seeking to regenerate the local community. I echo the hon. Gentleman's words in that I have enjoyed an extremely co- operative relationship with Len Duvall of Greenwich council and with many of his colleagues. I look forward to that continuing. I am heartened by the co-operative sense in which people both north and south of the river are prepared to look at these issues. I promise the hon. Gentleman that there will be no shortage of co-operation on my part in endeavouring to see this through to a successful--
The motion having been made at half-past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned at Three o'clock.
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