Crossrail 2 Debate (Westminster Hall – 5/03/2013)

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing the debate. I represent a south-east London constituency. My constituents would not necessarily benefit directly from new stations on a Crossrail 2 project. Nevertheless, they would benefit from improved transport links in London more generally, so it is important that we are having the debate today.

I want to discuss another strategic transport project in London—some might call it Crossrail 3—that would bring huge benefits to our capital city. It would improve capacity on transport links between south-east and north-west London, as opposed to Crossrail 2, which improves the links between south-west and north-east London. I urge the Minister, when considering Crossrail 2, to think more strategically about the transport needs of London as a whole. For my constituents, one of the most important issues in public transport is extension of the Bakerloo line from Elephant and Castle, where it currently stops, through Southwark to Lewisham and then to join the Hayes line. That would provide huge benefits in relieving congestion on existing transport routes to London, and would support growth in south-east London and Canary Wharf.

I want to take a couple of minutes to share with hon. Members some of the reasons why that transport route is equally important to the strength of London’s economy. At the moment, my constituents rely heavily on overland trains, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said. The recent census figures show that one in five of the working population in Lewisham uses trains to get to work, and the number in Bromley is similar. At the moment, south-east London benefits from the East London line, which runs through Honor Oak and Forest Hill to Crystal Palace, but that skirts the western border of south-east London, and the tube network does not extend into south-east London, although we are fortunate in having the docklands light railway.

Overcrowding on overland trains to London Bridge and Cannon Street is unbearable for my constituents. I regularly take the train to London Bridge and it is unpleasant to be stuck in the armpit of a stranger. Overcrowding during the rush hour is intense and there is a desperate need to relieve that congestion. The benefit of bringing the tube network to south-east London would be felt not just in people’s quality of life, but in the planned regeneration projects in south-east London.

Southwark and Lewisham are two of the fastest growing boroughs in London, and it is projected that by 2030 Lewisham’s population will be 346,000, which is 70,000 more than at the moment. The rise in Southwark’s population will be similar. We have a terrifically young population who want to access job opportunities in central London. Those huge population increases in south-east London mean that we must find a way to transport people around. Lewisham plans to build 18,000 homes by 2026, and when new developments go up in our town centres my constituents come to me to ask how people will get on trains because they are already full. There is a desperate need in south-east London to address capacity on public transport.

The links from Lewisham in particular to Canary Wharf are strategically important. Canary Wharf as a commercial and business centre has grown very quickly. I understand that its working population is about 100,000, and I am told that by 2025 it will have doubled to 200,000. We have read about the problems in the financial sector, but there will be huge growth in that part of London. Linking the population of south-east London to those opportunities by extending the Bakerloo line, through a connection to the DLR, is terrifically important. The centre of economic activity in London is shifting eastwards, so when this and future Governments consider how to address strategic transport needs they should look at London as a whole.

Will the Minister tell me and other hon. Members what discussions he has had with the Mayor of London and Transport for London about the possibility of extending the Bakerloo line? I am aware that upgrade work will be done on that line within the next 10 years and it would be good to hear whether that work can be done in a way that allows a later extension to the Bakerloo line. It would be good to know what vision he and TfL have for addressing those transport needs in south-east London.

I was recently speaking to a good friend who is a transport planner. She told me that in London we need to find a way of addressing the next century’s transport needs. The Victorian era left us with a fantastic underground network, and we now need to ask what the 21st century’s legacy will be. Whether it is Crossrail 2 or Crossrail 3, London is a fantastic world city that will continue to grow, and we must find a way of moving people around and getting them from their homes to their jobs so that they can enjoy the most this incredible city has to offer. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some reassurance that he is on the case and considering how to tackle those transport needs in the next few decades.

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