Business groups yesterday cheered the Government's decision to finally approve the much-delayed Crossrail project in London, but demanded that ministers come clean on how much they would be required to pay.
The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said a deal had been reached that would allow work to start on the east-west link in 2010. He described it as "a great day for London, Crossrail and the economy" which is expected to benefit by £20bn.
Opposition politicians, however, immediately questioned the timing of the project, given the increasingly frenzied speculation that a general election is imminent.
Under the plans, it is hoped that the first trains will be running on the line, which goes through the capital between Maidenhead in Berkshire and Shenfield in Essex, by 2017.
The new line will be able to carry 200 million customers a year and will add 10 per cent to London's transport capacity, with a spur linking it to Heathrow in London and another allowing travel from White-chapel to the Isle of Dogs ending in Abbey Wood.
It will be 73 miles long – 25 of which will be underground – and serve 38 stations, including new builds at Canary Wharf, Farringdon and Bond Street. Finance workers in Canary Wharf will be able to use it to reach Heathrow in 45 minutes.
The Government will pay for a third of the project's £16bn cost, with a further third financed from borrowing against revenue from future fares. The remaining third will come from business, primarily through a supplementary levy on London's business rates, although this excludes very small businesses.
The CBI deputy director general, John Cridland, said: "Business supports the Crossrail project and welcomes the Government's decision to give the go-ahead. But we now want to know exactly what they are being asked to contribute, in particular through the supplementary business rate."
Mr Cridland was critical of the fact that this had not been discussed with the wider business community. He said: "Many businesses do not accept this as a fair mechanism for funding Crossrail – and they are worried that this decision will lead to multiple requests for similar contributions up and down the country."
Mr Cridland's concerns were echoed by the British Retail Consortium which said the plan set "a worrying precedent" and voiced fears that local authorities would see it as "a green light to pick the pockets of private enterprise".
The director general Kevin Hawkins called the funding model "ill-considered and completely inequitable". He warned: "Effectively, retailers will subsidise the biggest beneficiaries, one of which will be government."
However, the City of London Corporation hailed the project. Michael Snyder, the chairman of the City of London's Policy and Resources Committee, said: "Fundamentally, we need this.
"This is an absolutely essential project, particularly given the importance of financial services to the capital and the employment it provides."
The corporation has agreed to contribute £200m of its own funds to the project, while Mr Snyder will lead efforts to raise a further £150m from businesses to bring its contribution up to £350m. A banker from one of the leading City firms said: "It's fair enough. We get the money back anyway through arranging the financing."Reuse content