Crossrail and beyond – Investing in London’s infrastructure
This morning, 15 years after Crossrail was approved and after more than a decade of construction, the Elizabeth Line opened to the public for the first time. A new railway for London and the south east, the Elizabeth Line stretches over 100km and serves 41 stations. At the height of construction, Crossrail was the largest infrastructure project in Europe. Its completion is a fantastic achievement which will bring significant benefits both for London and for the whole of the UK.
The Elizabeth Line will drive London’s economic recovery. The new line increases central London’s rail capacity by 10%, reduces journey times, and brings an additional 1.5m people within a 45-minute commute of the major employment centres in central London. This will help drive investment in the capital and boost productivity, contributing an estimated £42bn to the national economy.
While the Elizabeth Line has obvious economic advantages for London, it will benefit the whole of the UK too. That’s because the capital’s economy is not apart from or in competition with the rest of the UK – it is an inextricable part of it, and highly connected to the regional economies of the UK. For every pound of consumption or investment in London, 24p of production is generated elsewhere in the UK. Nearly two thirds of the contracts awarded as part of Crossrail have gone to businesses within the UK and outside of the capital. The economic boost provided by the Elizabeth Line will enable investment in public services and infrastructure across the whole of the UK. When the capital thrives, the rest of the UK benefits too.
The Elizabeth Line will help ensure the capital’s recovery is sustainable as we move toward net zero. With an estimated 200 million passengers a year, the line will help avoid a car-led recovery, reducing both toxic air pollution in the capital and greenhouse gas emissions.
The new line will also help deliver the homes the capital needs. The Elizabeth Line will enable the delivery of over 90,000 homes in London and the wider south east, helping to address the housing crisis which contributes to cost of living pressures in the capital.
Delivering the infrastructure London needs
While the Elizabeth Line offers fantastic opportunities for the capital, it should not be the end of the story.
First, we need to remain focused on how we deliver the infrastructure we will need in the future. Infrastructure keeps the capital moving, connected and productive. Maintaining and investing in modern infrastructure is vital to ensuring London remains a global city, an engine of growth, and a great place to live.
Central London Forward has worked with our member authorities to identify our infrastructure priorities for the coming decades. This includes transformative transport projects such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension and upgrade, alongside digital infrastructure, and the infrastructure we need to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. It was very welcome to hear the Prime Minister express support for both Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension recently. Delivering these schemes will require an active partnership between central and London government. As with Crossrail, this would likely require a combination of some direct funding from government, and fiscal devolution to allow the capital to raise revenue locally to fund the investment. What we need to avoid is a situation where government neither provides the required funding nor the flexibilities for London to do it ourselves.
Second, we must avoid falling into the trap of seeing investment in infrastructure as a zero-sum game. While London will need further investment in our transport network, so too does the whole of the UK. Both London and the rest of the UK will need major investment in infrastructure to reach net zero, and to adapt to climate change. Improving London’s infrastructure does not preclude investing in infrastructure across the country. Indeed, through boosting the productive capacity of our economy, it can actively enable it.
Third, we need to ensure all Londoners benefit from the opportunities the Elizabeth Line will create. While the new line will drive growth in central London, there is no automatic link between economic growth in the capital and benefits for Londoners. On the eve of the pandemic, London had by far the highest levels of productivity and average pay of any region, yet we also had the highest levels of poverty and inequality of any region.
A local economy can only be considered truly successful if local people can access the opportunities it creates. The construction phase of Crossrail delivered real benefits for Londoners, with over 1,000 apprenticeships created and 5,000 unemployed local people supported into work. But beyond the initial construction, we need to remain focused on ensuring growth in the capital is both inclusive and sustainable, including through ensuring Londoners have the skills and support that they need to share in the success of their city.
Joe Dromey is Director of Central London Forward – 24.5.22