Livingstone loses battle to prevent Tube using PPP funds

A part-privatised Tube network took another step forward after a controversial court ruling
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Ever since Ken Livingstone declared his intention to be Mayor of London, the former MP and GLC leader has opposed the Government's plans to inject private expertise and cash into London Underground.

He fought and won last year's mayoral election on a pledge to overturn the scheme and claimed he had a mandate from the people of the capital.

Backed by Bob Kiley, the American transport expert he hired to sort out the dilapidated system, the Mayor claimed that the Government's proposals conflicted with his own statutory duty to ensure safe and efficient transport for London.

But now his two-year crusade looks doomed to end in failure in the wake of yesterday's High Court ruling on the plans. It also raises doubts about the sincerity of the Government's commitment to devolution.

In a key judgement, Mr Justice Sullivan rejected the Mayor's application for judicial review, ruling that it was for the Government "to have the last word" on the issue.

Although an appeal is possible, the judge's verdict made it highly unlikely that Mr Livingstone's campaign against the scheme would be successful.

In a two-hour ruling in a packed, sweltering court which saw one person in the upper gallery faint, the judge began by saying the sight of the statutory bodies responsible for transport in London "locked in litigation is not a happy one".

Behind the legal challenge was a hotly-disputed, well-publicised political debate over how best to end the years of under-investment in the London Underground, he said.

The Tube condemned hundreds of thousands of long-suffering passengers to daily services which were "chronically overcrowded and notoriously unreliable", he said.

The judge described how Parliament had "side-stepped" the issue at the centre of the case by refusing to make clear during the passage of the Greater London Authority Bill who ultimately would have the power to decide the future of the Tube system.

He said that ministers should have made clear that the Government, through LRT and LUL, had been given "the last word" and not the Mayor of the devolved body.

"At least the intent of ministers would have been made plain ... False hopes might not have been raised only to be dashed in these proceedings," he said.

Granting TfL permission to appeal against his ruling on a legal challenge estimated to have cost £150,000, the judge said: "I grant permission, not because I consider that there is a real prospect of success but because there is another compelling reason in the importance of this case to Londoners."

Suzanne May, chair of the London Transport Users' Committee, said the judgement did not mean that the public-private partnership was the right way forward, "it merely tells us that the Government can legally impose its will on the Mayor".

The train drivers' union Aslef warned that it would ballot its members on a fresh round of industrial action if its worst fears about the safety of the system under PPP were realised.

Mick Rix, general secretary of the union, said: "Ministers may have won a legal victory, but they have lost the political argument and the battle for public opinion.

"I hope they will think again before imposing a Railtrack on London's passengers. If the operation of PPP continues to raise safety concerns Aslef will not hesitate to ballot its members on industrial action."

Vernon Hince, assistant general secretary at the RMT union, said : "No one wants PPP on the Underground apart from the Government and particularly the Treasury. What minister are proposing will make the system less safe, there's no doubt about that."

John Cridland, deputy director of the CBI however said it was good news: "Now the talking can stop and the real work of modernising the Tube can begin."