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London needs Sir Peter to put the Northern Powerhouse back on track

Initial responses to the news that Sir Peter Hendy is leaving his job as Transport Commissioner to become Chairman of Network Rail have missed the real implications for London.

True, his undoubted talents will be a loss to the capital – and a big gain for the country as a whole. True also is that Sir Peter’s presence at the top table will strengthen the cause for rail devolution to London, as well as to other UK cities and regions.

Londoners should above all however be hoping that Sir Peter can succeed in getting the Government’s northern powerhouse project back on track. The government’s decision to pause investment in rail electrification projects across the Midlands and North has been met with predictable and understandable dismay.  One headline noted explicitly “In the north rail upgrades paused. In the south Crossrail goes ahead”.

Yet if recent decades taught us anything, it must be that no-one wins by setting North vs South. Disagreement, doubt and uncertainty about project prioritisation and delivery serves only the Treasury naysayers who still see the decades long process of agreeing Crossrail as evidence of a heroic rearguard action.

What London – as Britain – now needs is for the government and Network Rail to develop a deliverable investment plan for the country as a whole.

London is in the fortunate – and hard earned – position of having a tube and rail investment programme underway that should take its public transport system through to the end of the decade. But with the capital growing by 100,000 people every year, and rail and tube services bulging at the seams, we now need to agree firm plans for the 2020s and beyond.

Top of London’s list is Crossrail 2 – a new railway line connecting Surrey and Hertfordshire via a tunnel from Wimbledon to Tottenham. The scheme has a strong business case, supporting London’s continued economic growth, with the potential to enable up to 200,000 additional homes. But London has only been able to promote it credibly while Crossrail 1 remains on time and on budget – as it has successfully so far done.

It should now be clear that London needs the wider national rail investment programme to be on a similar footing. While as much as half of the cost of future schemes like Crossrail 2 can potentially be funded by London itself, if we are to be successful in securing continued investment in public transport in the SE then it needs to be in the context of a credible investment plan for the country as a whole.

So for London’s sake, let us hope that Sir Peter can sprinkle some of his Olympics gold dust on Network Rail and get Britain’s rail investment programme back on track.

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

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