Go-ahead for Crossrail signals Treasury defeat: Donald Macintyre and Christian Wolmar report on the East-West link

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The Independent Online
A BILL giving the go-ahead for Crossrail, the pounds 2.5bn East-West rail link for London, will be announced next week, in spite of being strongly contested by the Treasury.

A Cabinet Committee meeting chaired by John Major decided in favour of allowing the complex Private Bill to proceed after what informed Whitehall sources said was a last-minute attempt by Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to get the project delayed.

The decision means that the Committee Stage of the Bill establishing Crossrail will go ahead on 25 January. The link is intended to run between Liverpool Street and Paddington.

Fears that rejection would cost the party dear in May's London borough elections helped swing support behind John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, and Steven Norris, minister with responsibility for London.

The meeting on Thursday night heard doubts from advisers about the link's viability, given the escalating costs and the reduction in the number of commuters entering London since the scheme was first conceived in the mid-1980s.

Consultants pointed out that smaller schemes, such as bringing the new Heathrow Express trains into the City using track and train paths currently occupied by the Hammersmith & City line, would be cheaper and reap many of the benefits of Crossrail.

The Bill still faces a number of hurdles, not least overcoming a strong protest lobby in central London whose homes and offices are on the tunnel's route.

But David Lidington, MP for Aylesbury, who is promoting the Bill and yesterday strongly welcomed the decision, along with Tory MPs with constituencies bordering the route, strongly urged Mr Major not to shelve the plan.

The biggest hurdle will be attracting private finance. The Government expects the line to be privately funded. Crossrail's advisers have warned it is unlikely that more than 25 per cent of the cost,

estimated at pounds 2.5bn to pounds 3bn, would be available from private sources, whereas the

Government wants only half to come from the public purse.

The decision to agree to the link project came after the full Cabinet had approved a report on sustainable development showing how Britain will meet anti-pollution targets, and is believed to imply an emphasis on moving more traffic from road to rail in the medium- to long-term.

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