London Crossrail project 'jeopardised' by inaction

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Indy Politics
THE pounds 2bn Crossrail project for linking east and west London is being put in jeopardy by the Government's inaction, business leaders warned yesterday.

The private Bill, sponsored by British Rail and London Underground, has been stuck in the Commons since November 1991 because of uncertainty over the project's funding and the failure of the Government to give it parliamentary time. Yesterday, at a press conference organised by the business lobbying group, London First, a group of senior City figures said Crossrail was essential for London to retain its ranking as a premier European city. Crossrail will connect Paddington with Liverpool Street stations and link their commuter lines.

Supporters are worried that unless the Bill receives its Second Reading before the end of this session in the autumn, it will fall because new legislation, the Transport and Works Act 1992, comes into effect. They warned that it would then take five years to pass an Act under the new system.

The project was initially conceived as an entirely public-sector venture but in his Budget speech, the Chancellor, Norman Lamont, said he wanted the private sector to finance part of it. The results of studies by Bechtel and S G Warburg into the viability of the scheme have just been given to ministers and are thought to be very positive. A Department of Transport spokesman said the reports were being studied.

Ministers are thought to want to see a strong commitment of funds from the private sector before allowing the scheme to go ahead. However, at yesterday's meeting, Michael Cassidy, the Corporation of London's chairman of policy, said: 'I fear that the need for private sector funding will be used as an excuse to kill the project.'

Sir John Egan, BAA chief executive, said: 'If the Government wants the private sector to be involved, the rules for investment must be the same for both parties. The risks must be shared and there must be strong political support'.