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Crossrail 2 moves from ‘if’ to ‘when’

David Leam, infrastructure director at London first, has written in Construction News on the National Infrastructure Commission’s report which backs Crossrail 2.

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Every major infrastructure project has a coming of age moment at which people stop asking ‘if’ it will happen and focus instead on the ‘when’.

Crossrail 2 passed that milestone last week, with the publication of the National Infrastructure Commission’s report which backed both the strategic case for the scheme as well as its broad route, and concluded with a call to arms to the chancellor to basically get on with it.

Lord Adonis’s report was certainly a major boost for the project that takes us one step closer to construction starting in the early 2020s. So if the champagne is on ice, what now needs to happen if we are to pop the cork?

Keeping the ball rolling

First, the momentum generated by Lord Adonis needs to be sustained through this week’s Budget. That requires the chancellor to match his warm words with hard cash.

Transport for London estimates a need for £160m in development funding, to which the Treasury must make a meaningful contribution. Government backing is also needed for the commission’s call for a Crossrail 2 parliamentary bill in 2019.

Second, the project needs to be championed and prioritised by the next mayor. Speaking at last week’s London Infrastructure Summit, Tideway boss Andy Mitchell shrewdly argued that politicians should focus not on the ribbons they cut but on the projects they start. Whoever wins in May should make it their mission to have secured the go-ahead for the scheme by the end of their first term in 2020.

Third, funding. The mayor and government now need to do the hard yards on constructing a viable funding package.

Who pays?

Lord Adonis was right to challenge London to shoulder at least half of the cost. This will involve some creativity and inevitably an element of pain, but I am confident that London business will do its bit – as it did for Crossrail 1.

That said, the construction industry really must ask itself some searching questions about costs. It’s simply not sustainable to expect government to maintain its backing for major infrastructure if the price is a ride on a one-way cost escalator to fiscal hell.

Launching his report, Lord Adonis observed that while it will take less than a decade to build Crossrail 1, it took a good four decades to agree to proceed. Let’s not make that mistake again.

Contact: David Leam, dleam@londonfirst.co.uk

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