Eric Sorrenson, chief executive of the London Docklands Development Corporation, said legal actions recently launched by residents complaining of poor health from the dust of building the road could add another pounds 100m to the bill. Already, the highway, most of it in a road tunnel, is the most expensive per metre ever built in Britain.
While the action was being vigorously defended, Mr Sorrenson warned that defeat for the corporation would have grave repercussions for UK builders. "It would dramatically change the face of the construction industry in this country if they succeeded."
In a tense question-and- answer session before the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Mr Sorrenson and Andrew Turnbull, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Environment, admitted that the development corporation and government were under pressure from Olympia & York, builders of Canary Wharf, the prestige development at the eastern end of the road. Without the link, the viability of the office complex would have been threatened.
Labour MPs on the committee emphasised London Docklands dominance over other urban development corporations. In one year, said Alan Williams, 66 per cent of all the national development corporation budget went to the LDDC, and of that 66 per cent was the short link road.
"It is incredible," said Mr Williams. "A half-buried white elephant gobbled up money desperately needed in other parts of the country."
Another MP, Alan Milburn, produced official figures showing that Docklands swallowed more than half a nationwide grant of pounds 5bn.
One reason for the price of the road was the rehousing of residents, which cost pounds 100m.