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East London Line

Volume 456: debated on Monday 29 January 2007

4. What discussions she has had with Ministers in the Department for Transport on the prospects for completion of both phases of the East London line extension in time for the London Olympics in 2012. (111452)

The Olympic bid that was submitted in November 2004 committed Transport for London to deliver the first phase of the East London line in time for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, and it is on track to do so. In addition, TFL has committed to completing the Dalston curve section by bringing forward the connection of the line to Highbury and Islington, which had originally been part of phase 2. As yet, no decision has been taken on phase 2 of the scheme, in which my hon. Friend and I have constituency interests and for which he has been an extremely powerful campaigner.

Will my right hon. Friend stress the advantages of starting phase 2 a little sooner so that it can be completed in 2012 rather than 2013? That would help millions of people from south London—from her constituency and mine—to get to the Olympics. It would also help Olympic competitors and visitors to get to Olympic venues in south-west London, such as Wimbledon, and venues with linked cultural events, such as Battersea arts centre—if Wandsworth council has not closed it by then.

I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members with an interest in the subject, whether direct or indirect, will make the case for phase 2 with the Mayor of London, on behalf of their constituents. On Battersea arts centre, I echo the Prime Minister’s words: Wandsworth should do everything that it can to keep the centre open. I should make it absolutely clear that we are talking about a Conservative authority that has had a 25 per cent. plus increase in its grant since 1997, so any decision to close the centre is a Conservative choice, not a Government requirement.

The Secretary of State will be aware that it is not just new lines that London is dependent on for Olympic success; we also need to ensure that existing lines can cope with the extra passengers. One of the lines that I have in mind is the District line, which will be the key line feeding Wimbledon and Olympic tennis, but it is already seriously overcrowded. Has her Department made any estimate of whether such lines will be able to cope, given the extra capacity required for the Olympics?

Very detailed analysis has been made of London’s capacity to handle the additional traffic generated by the Olympics, and that has been incorporated into the transport plan, which has been highly commended for both its timeliness and comprehensiveness by the International Olympic Committee. Because of the timing of the games, commuter traffic levels will be about 20 per cent. lower than normal, but the Olympics will add about 5 per cent. to that. I am sure that the hon. Lady will take every opportunity to raise her specific concerns with Transport for London.

Given all the building work in London, the extension of the East London line, all the work being done in preparation for the Olympics, and the fact that many projects in the early waves of the building schools for the future programme are in London, does my right hon. Friend share my concerns about the tremendous need and drive for more skills in London? Is she sure about the planning for 2012, because many of us believe—and this was suggested in evidence to the Select Committee on Education and Skills, which I chair—that there will be dreadful skills shortages in construction if we do not act fast?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the subject. The creation of a more skilled work force, particularly in east London, is an important part of the legacy of the Olympics and is a prerequisite for ensuring that all the infrastructure for the Olympics is built within budget and on time. I am sure that he will commend the work of the London employment and skills task force, which addressed that subject specifically and linked it to the commitment to using local labour from the east end wherever that is possible, so that local people can build what will be their facilities.

The Secretary of State will appreciate that 2012 provides a focus for a number of regeneration projects in central London. However, I would like her to give thought to not just phase 2—and if it is to be delayed, let us make sure that it takes place as soon as possible after 2012—but a number of other regeneration projects, particularly those around King’s Cross, which have been put on hold pending the Olympics, often for the reasons that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) mentioned, namely, a lack of skills. Will she ensure that we take a proper look at regeneration, both looking to the decade beyond 2012 and focusing on the short term?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that regeneration and legacy are fundamental justifications for holding the games. The decision has been taken to go ahead with the major ticket office project at King’s Cross. He will know that the channel tunnel rail link will convey passengers in seven minutes from King’s Cross to Stratford. We will arguably have the best public transport facilities of any Olympic city ever.