Ken has secret £1bn PPP plan

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The Independent Online

Ken Livingstone is working on a secret £1bn plan to build three east London crossings spanning the Thames, to be financed through a public private partnership.

The London Mayor has appointed investment bank Bear Stearns to drum up support for the project, but will wait until the Government has made its final decision on how to fund the London Underground before going public.

The Tube decision is to be made at a board meeting of London Underground early next month. But Mr Livingstone is keen to avoid talk that he is flirting with the PPP concept since he has consistently said it would spell disaster for the Underground.

Documents obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveal that the Mayor hopes to part-finance the project by a toll on the Blackwall Tunnel, east London, which could raise £40m to £50m a year.

The revelation will further inflame the row over Mr Livingstone's plan to charge motorists for entering the capital, which has been attacked by London business groups.

On top of the money raised through the Blackwall Tunnel, Mr Livingstone is also considering using the tolls from the Dartford Crossing for the project. This would help to meet the £60m to £70m cost of buying the sites and the estimated £20m in environmental works.

If Mr Livingstone's Transport for London can demonstrate it can cover these costs, then it is understood the project would not require the approval of Transport Secretary Stephen Byers. Cost of construction is estimated at £1bn, to be shouldered by the private sector.

The crossings would be in east London as part of the regeneration of London's Docklands and the land around the Dome. Reports commissioned by Transport for London reckon the scheme would create 48,000 jobs and provide work for a further 7,000 in construction.

Silvertown Crossing, near the Dome, would be a lift-bridge for local traffic. Further east, Woolwich Crossing would be a tunnel for either a rail link between north Kent and north London or an extension of the Docklands Light Railway. Thames Gateway Bridge would be a dual carriageway linking two main roads north and south of the river. The two bridges would carry a toll to be paid to the private partner.

Despite Mr Livingstone's willingness to embrace PPP, he is aware of the political dangers. A preliminary report on financing by Ernst & Young says: "To prevent the private sector from making super-profits from the projects ... the concessions should be offered on a variable ... length so the crossings revert to the public sector once the private sector earns a suitable return." Despite the warning, the PPP would be expected to run for about 25 years. Transport for London has not ruled out offering the schemes as three separate PPP deals.

The consultantcy WS Atkins is said to have prepared a report on the transport, planning and regeneration issues for the London Development Agency which also has an interest in the project.

As well as the appointment of Bear Stearns, Transport for London is believed to be close to selecting Ashurst Morris Crisp as legal adviser.