Experts doubt whether major rail project will go ahead, reports James Cracknell
A proposed new railway through Enfield could “transform” the borough and “increase people’s quality of life” – but there are growing doubts over whether it will be built.
Crossrail 2 is planned to add significant extra capacity to the West Anglia Main Line in the east of the borough and provide a regular, direct rail service to south-west London, via the West End. A second branch of the route could terminate at New Southgate.
However, delays and cost overruns to Crossrail 1, which had been due to open in 2018 but will not start running for at least another year, has sapped enthusiasm for a second major rail link through the capital.
A conference hosted last month by the Policy Forum for London brought together several experts in major public infrastructure projects to discuss progress on Crossrail 2 – with a speaker from Enfield Council invited to highlight the benefits it would bring to the borough.
The Congress Centre in central London heard that shifting political priorities and concerns over funding sources had put Crossrail 2 at risk. But Neeru Kareer, head of strategic planning and design at Enfield Council, told the audience the £30billion project still had huge potential.
Neeru said: “We suffer from economic and social deprivation. Improved connections to London would secure employment opportunities and affordable housing for previously excluded communities.
“Crossrail 2 is about transformative impact and at the heart of that is reducing inequality. It would realise the ambitions of our residents.”
Neeru warned that the local authority “could not plan in a vacuum” and needed to see a firm commitment to Crossrail 2 from the government. Doing so would also “propel delivery” at the council’s flagship housing redevelopment scheme, Meridian Water, where the council wants to build 10,000 homes.
She added: “The opportunities that Crossrail 2 present would enable us to increase people’s quality of life.”
Political priorities have shifted since the current Crossrail 2 plans were first announced in 2013, however. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives mentioned the project in their election manifestos, with both parties instead keen to show they were prioritising infrastructure in the north of England. Ongoing delays to Crossrail 1, which will be known as the Elizabeth Line when it eventually opens, have also spooked potential investors.
Manish Gupta, a corporate finance partner at Ernst and Young, spelt out the difficulties. He said: “Crossrail 1 was estimated at £16bn but is now costing £20bn. It was supposed to open in 2018 but is now scheduled for 2021 or 2022. Until a couple of years ago it was seen as an exemplar of big infrastructure projects. Today everyone associated with it wants to disassociate themselves from it.
“Crossrail 2 is even more challenging. There is a government requirement for 50% of funding to come from private sources – for Crossrail 1 it was 25%. When Crossrail 2 was first approved there was a pro-London lobby in government. Today there is a debate about London versus the north.
“How do we get over that challenge? Something equally big needs to be sanctioned for the north.”
Although the cost-benefit ratio for Crossrail 2 is said to be strong, Manish warned that it would likely need four times as much private finance as Crossrail 1, given the sizeable difference in their budgets. “We have to show that it makes sense,” he added.
If built, Crossrail 2 would serve Meridian Water, Ponders End, Brimsdown and Enfield Lock stations with regular trains every five minutes, although these would not begin until the 2030s.
At the Policy Forum for London event the panel of experts was asked by the Dispatch for their views on how likely it was that Crossrail 2 would still happen. Two said they thought it was inevitable, but two others expressed doubts.
Richard Bull, a legal director and parliamentary agent for Pinsent Masons, said: “A member of the government told me that he fears political support is draining away – unless the costs are properly managed it will be difficult.”
David Gordon, chair of the London branch of the Institute of Directors, added: “The risk of it not happening are quite high.”