Livingstone looks East for someone to build Crossrail

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The Independent Online

Ken Livingstone wants the Chinese to build Crossrail, the £10bn link between east and west London which is seen as crucial to the capital's bid for the 2012 Olympics.

Ken Livingstone wants the Chinese to build Crossrail, the £10bn link between east and west London which is seen as crucial to the capital's bid for the 2012 Olympics.

The London Mayor told a meeting of business leaders last week: "There will be about a dozen serious contractors invited to bid for the project and most of them will speak Chinese. We want it built on time and to cost."

Mr Livingstone highlighted the way in which the Chinese had constructed an entire underground system for Shanghai in the space of three years, but conceded this was partly down to labour practices that would not be permitted in the UK.

Appearing at a question and answer session organised by the London Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor said he expected a hybrid Bill paving the way for Crossrail to be introduced into Parliament before the election, expected next May, but said that funding for the link would not be finalised until afterwards.

Crossrail will run from Maidenhead in Buckinghamshire to Shenfield and Ebbsfleet in Essex via Paddington and Liverpool Street in central London. One of the lines will run though London's Docklands and there will also be a spur to Heathrow airport. Construction is due to start in 2006, enabling the line to open in 2011, a year ahead of the Olympic Games which London is bidding for.

The project is being sponsored by Mr Livingstone's Transport for London and the Strategic Rail Authority and has been given the go-ahead by Tony Blair. Its backers claim it will bring £20bn worth of benefits to London and help in the regeneration of the Thames Gateway to the east of the capital.

The private sector will be expected to meet a significant part of the £10bn cost but the early stages of the project will be financed by TfL, which has been given powers to borrow £2.9bn over the next five years. "I have been given the biggest cheque in my lifetime and intend to spend every penny of it," he said.

He also said there would have to be some "painful fare rises" to pay for improvements to London's transport system. Although these would be "deeply unpopular", he said he would rather be a two-term Mayor whose legacy was a more effective capital than a three-term one who played it safe.

Mr Livingstone said that once the winner of the 2012 Olympics had been announced next June, he hoped to lead a delegation to China and India with the aim of promoting London as "Asia's gateway to Europe". In particular, the Mayor wants to create new Chinese and Asian communities to the east of London as part of the regeneration of the Thames gateway. Mr Livingstone told the business leaders that if children only learnt one foreign language at school it should be Chinese. "If you can speak Chinese you will never be out of a job," he said.

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