Transport schemes labelled 'white elephants': The Channel tunnel terminal at Waterloo and the Limehouse road link to Docklands are opening in London today. Christian Wolmar reports
Monday 17 May 1993
The pounds 130m Waterloo International terminal will spend at least its first year unused because not only is the fitting out of the tunnel nowhere near finished, but the trains are not built.
European Passenger Services (EPS), the BR subsidiary which will operate the British cross-channel trains, does not expect services to start until next summer and can give no precise date.
The station, which has five platforms, each a quarter of a mile long, is an elegant building designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and containing pounds 1m of Italian-designed station furniture. It will gradually build up to its full use of four arrivals and departures per hour.
However, the terminal's long-term future has been put in doubt by the decision to build the terminal of the Channel tunnel rail link in north London, probably at St Pancras. Journeys to Waterloo will take at least 15 minutes longer from the tunnel and be subject to the vagaries of using track shared with Network SouthEast.
A spokesman for EPS said that capacity will be such that St Pancras will not be able to take all the trains. But John Prideaux, chairman of Union Railways, the BR subsidiary which is designing the link, has indicated that most trains will go to St Pancras and some experts reckon that Waterloo will be used only for a handful of regular trains and special excursions.
Rail magazine says: 'Short-sightedness and muddling by politicians, civil servants and some sections of BR has cast a shadow over this inspirational building.'
The 1.1 mile-long Limehouse Link, costing pounds 345m including the land and rehousing for 600 families, is the most expensive stretch of road in Britain. Its opening completes the 7-mile Docklands Highway which cost a further pounds 400m.
The road scheme is a core part of the London Docklands Development Corporation's regeneration policy. However, the Docklands bubble of the late 1980s has burst leaving, according to the consultants Applied Property Research, 55 per cent of the 9.6 million square feet of office space empty on the Isle of Dogs, where the road goes.
Canary Wharf, the centrepiece of the whole Docklands development, has let barely a third of its space, causing the developers Olympia & York to go into receivership. Several tenants are now seeking to break their leases.
The roads were drawn up around optimistic employment predictions. In 1988, the LDDC said there would be 114,000 jobs by now. In fact, by April last year there were 63,500 with a growth rate of around 5,000 per year.
With office prices now down to around pounds 8- pounds 9 per square foot, compared with three or four times that level during the boom, few new developments can be expected before the turn of the decade, leaving the road underused except for commuters passing through on their way to the City.
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