Leading Article: No way to cost a railway

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THE fate of London Underground's planned Jubilee Line - a pounds 1.8bn project - now hangs upon the office accommodation of 2,500 staff in the Department of the Environment. The success of negotiations between the administrators of Canary Wharf, the banks and the Government depend on a decision whether to move these civil servants to Docklands. The Cabinet's ruling is expected this week. This is no way to decide the transport priorities of the capital.

The Jubilee extension was announced in late 1989 by Cecil Parkinson after intensive negotiations between Olympia & York, Canary Wharf's developers, and the Government. The developers agreed to provide financial support, worth about pounds 160m, towards the pounds 1.8bn cost. The administrators have made a similar offer - but only on condition that the 2,500 civil servants are moved to Canary Wharf.

The line would create four new stations for south London - at Southwark, Bermondsey, Canada Water and North Greenwich - though there have been doubts about whether there is sufficient funding for all of them. It would give new access from east London, as the extension is planned to run through Docklands to Canning Town, West Ham and Stratford. And it would provide added capacity in central London between Waterloo and Baker Street.

This, however, is icing on the cake. The raison d'etre for the line would be to provide a viable transport structure for Docklands and, therefore, boost land and property prices there. Without the Jubilee Line, it is unlikely that the existing offices can be filled and the second half of the Canary Wharf development, a projected five million square feet of office space, would not be built. But this would not be a disaster, and should not, in any case, be of concern to the Government. The London Docklands Development Corporation would presumably find alternative use for the land. There might even be more parks, more housing, possibly sports centres and schools. Docklands might be in danger of becoming a real place.

There are a number of cheaper transport schemes that would be of immediate help to east London. They would bring regeneration to a substantial part of south and east London for a fraction of the cost of the Jubilee Line extension. For example, extending the East London Line to Peckham and Dulwich in the south and Highbury and Dalston in the north along mostly existing lines would cost a mere pounds 100m. Similarly, the Docklands Light Railway could be extended south of the river to Lewisham for pounds 130m-pounds 140m. The money for this is supposed to come from the private sector, but it could be raised by the Government if the Jubilee Line were cancelled.

These two schemes, both of which have been subjected to a cost-benefit analysis by London Transport, give two or three times better value for money than the Jubilee extension. So do the bigger projects on the stocks: the Chelsea to Hackney line, which actually goes from Putney Bridge to Epping Forest, and the Crossrail route underneath London linking the Liverpool Street and Paddington lines, both costed at around pounds 2bn. London needs substantial investment in public transport. Scrapping the Jubilee Line extension would allow for a more rational use of resources.

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