I beg to move,
That this House has considered plans for Beam Park Station.
This afternoon, I will make a series of points relating to the failure to proceed with the proposed station at Beam Park in my constituency. The station is essential for a number of reasons. First, it will successfully complete the Beam Park housing development and wider regeneration across South Havering, and Barking and Dagenham. It remains key to unlocking other housing schemes along the A1306 eastwards towards Rainham and westwards towards Dagenham, an area forming part of London’s largest opportunity area. The station is central to making a success of those possibilities.
Secondly, the station is essential to making good on countless promises made over many years to local residents who have bought homes there, the value of which they fear is fast depreciating. They feel that they have been deceived. Thirdly, the station is essential to following through with commitments made to people in the wider community, who have accepted new housing on the basis of promised new infrastructure. They, too, feel let down and angry.
There is also a wider national issue regarding the so-called levelling-up agenda. If the Government are serious about imposing housing targets on local authorities, they must accept and support the infrastructure and services to go with them, especially when for years they have been promised to residents in order to secure their consent for the plans. In that sense, Beam Park station is an example of how not to regenerate local communities, and how to maximise cynicism and anger in them. People feel manipulated and exploited by the planning system. It is a story of promises made and subsequently withdrawn once consent has been secured. Unless the situation is resolved, I fear that there will be long-lasting effects that will inhibit future economic development and undermine community support for future regeneration, so the stakes are pretty high locally.
By way of background, the Conservative London Borough of Havering has historically been the prime mover behind the planned Beam Park station; it then secured wider support. The detailed project came via the housing zone programme, which was devised by the Prime Minister when he served as Mayor of London. Under Mayor Johnson’s programme, London boroughs could seek housing zone status, and funding based on bids that would commit to increasing housing outputs. The funding was primarily for infrastructure projects or land remediation that would facilitate large-scale housing development. That was always the purpose of the station: to secure more housing units.
As far back as 2013, Havering worked up a bid for the Greater London Authority to bring about the development of Beam Park station. The bid was approved by Havering Council’s cabinet in August 2014, and was driven through by the then housing cabinet member Damian White, the present council leader. In June 2015, Havering secured housing zone status and funding for the Beam Park development programme—one of only four agreed at the time. It was a flagship policy for the then Mayor Johnson, who said:
“Housing Zones will provide the swift delivery of new homes for Londoners that is so desperately needed and create entirely new, highly-connected urban districts”.
In December 2015, Havering and the GLA entered into an agreement for £9.6 million of housing zone funding to cover the station design and initial construction of the site. Havering then funded the governance for railway investment projects process through a contract with Network Rail. Standard documents from Network Rail were then reviewed by the GLA’s internal and external legal advisers. In 2020, the GLA agreed to invest some £32.75 million to construct Beam Park station, stating that the GLA and Countryside Properties, the developer,
“have been working closely with Network Rail…to progress plans for the station.”
It was a done deal, or at least appeared to be. It was signed off by the Conservative Mayor, the Conservative council and developers, and had secured the backing of the Conservative Government, or so we were all led to believe—for example, by the way that Network Rail was involved in progressing the project throughout the process. Network Rail was a willing partner. The Network Rail route utilisation plan from July 2020 describes Beam Park as a “committed scheme”. Once operational, the station was to be transferred to the franchise operator c2c, who would have ongoing responsibility for the station. Once again, c2c was a willing partner. Everyone realises that without additional infrastructure, existing c2c stations will crack under the pressure of an expanding population. Over the years I have worked with c2c to alleviate congestion at Rainham station, and it literally cannot cope with thousands more commuters, and could well become unsafe at peak times.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. As a fellow Havering MP, I endorse everything he said about the benefits of having the new Beam Park railway station, and about the commitment that was given. There would be benefits for our economy and the environment, and there would be more jobs and lower crime—all things that areas such as ours, an Essex area that is part of Greater London, need. Surely we should get these benefits. To take them away would be a betrayal of the people of Rainham, South Hornchurch and the London Borough of Havering.
I completely agree. I am glad the hon. Gentleman has agreed with what I have said. I am not sure that he will agree with all the comments I will make, but I take on board the importance of cross-party support for this project. Hopefully, the problems we have been experiencing since the back end of last year can be rectified. I hope that the Government will support the GLA and the boroughs of Havering, and Barking and Dagenham, in getting this station back on the railway. I welcome the support for the commitment to my constituents and everyone across the London Borough of Havering.
Everyone realises that the pressure on the c2c line could be immense without the three stations at Beam Park, Dagenham Dock and Rainham to remove the congestion. The original c2c franchise agreement from before the pandemic, which is actually published on the Department for Transport website, states:
“The Franchisee shall provide all reasonable assistance and co-operation…to the Secretary of State and any other parties responsible for or involved with the development…of a new station at Beam Park.”
So far, so good. On the basis of these commitments, local residents accepted extraordinary amounts of housing development across south Havering and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. We are talking about tens of thousands of new units, against a backdrop of austerity and service cuts, because of the promised infrastructure.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is right. People have invested a lot of money in purchasing new properties. They are buying homes in this area because they believed that there would be transport links to central London so that they could travel to their jobs and for other purposes. Taking this link away after they have committed to living there and have bought a home will really disrupt people’s lives. It simply is not fair. People thought there would be a station, but it has been taken away.
I totally agree with the hon. Member. I am glad that so far we are in agreement on the state of affairs and the need for the issue to be rectified.
The Beam Park development alone consists of 3,200 housing units for 13,000 new residents through a partnership agreement with Countryside Properties and London & Quadrant. However, the scheme was always conditional on a new station being provided. A Grampian condition means that development cannot progress past phase 3 unless the station is delivered. Under phases 1 and 2, to date 1,150 homes are under construction, have been completed or have been sold. Other local housing developments are also dependent on the station. On billboards on the A13, developers are continuing—even this afternoon—to market the properties on the back of a new station. They promise a 20 minute journey time to Fenchurch Street.
Late last year, however, everything changed. The Department for Transport issued letters to the GLA and c2c in August 2021 stating that the Department is not supportive of the development of a new station at Beam Park. In a letter to me, the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) said:
“It is not that the Department withdrew support or funding for the development of the station, but that support was never given in the first place.”
This announcement blindsided developers and the wider private sector, along with the GLA and the local authority. The station is an advanced and fully costed project. GLA officers had been working with Havering, Network Rail, c2c and Transport for London for years. There is a collective desire to see the station brought into service as soon as possible. Detailed designs are in place and construction was due to commence last autumn. The construction of the station will be funded by the GLA. All required funding has been secured. The GLA has also agreed to provide the DFT with an indemnity for the first 10 years to protect against any operational deficit.
In a general sense, I think we can all agree that it is critical that infrastructure is provided that allows land to be developed to its full potential. Beam Park is an excellent example of that. As well as unlocking homes for over 13,000 residents, the station will form a civic heart for Beam Park, acting as a catalyst for the regeneration of the surrounding area, which has high levels of deprivation. The new station will also bring environmental benefits by encouraging a shift away from car use and supporting reduction in parking. The housing projects unlocked by the station will invest over £1 billion in the local area, delivering two new primary schools, a 3 hectare park, community and health centres, and over 60,000 square feet of commercial space, directly creating hundreds of new jobs.
Unfortunately, all that and more is now threatened. Let me spell this out quite simply: since the DFT announcement, private sector enthusiasm for local regeneration has spun into reverse. Already, local compulsory purchase orders have been withdrawn. They were dependent on the infrastructure. The business model for the whole area has been thrown into question. Community anger is intense. New residents feel their property values are in freefall, as the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) mentioned.
In the long term, residents feel manipulated by the local authority, with false promises of an infrastructural uplift. Local anger is palpable and totally understandable. Within a few weeks, thousands have signed local petitions seeking to get the Government to change their mind. For the Government’s own housing and levelling-up agenda, the decision is a disaster; it is draining support for new housing in a key national priority area for regeneration.
I have met Countryside, which is very supportive of efforts to restore the station project. It has commissioned Grant Thornton to assess the social and economic impact and wider benefits of the project. I have written to Ministers and spoken to the GLA’s deputy Mayor for housing, Tom Copley, who shared his correspondence with Ministers calling for the station to be allowed to go ahead.
The basis of the Government’s withdrawal of support appears to centre on the indemnity that the GLA has offered to the DFT, as the DFT is not actually contributing any funding to the capital cost of the station. The GLA has offered £10 million to cover a 10-year period, whereas the DFT appears to want an unlimited figure for an unlimited period.
To be honest, my real concerns are for the local residents. New residents of Beam Park are angry and feel that they have been sold homes on a false prospectus. Many are now seeking legal redress. The Government’s decision undermines the role of the strategic authority in Havering, which at best has been shown to be negligent and poorly managed. It is an appalling state of affairs when the then Mayor and council can agree a project—
I have agreed with most of what the hon. Gentleman has said until now, and I have a good working relationship with him as a neighbouring constituency MP. I gently say to him that everyone would benefit from the station, and that what it needs is not to be politicised, but co-operation and collaboration between the Government, the Mayor of London, Transport for London and Havering Council. People’s lives are going to be disrupted if the station is not built, so I urge the hon. Gentleman to work collaboratively on a non-political basis to find a solution so that it can be built and people can live in that community and have the transport links that they need.
I generally agree on the need for cross-party collaboration. I hope that we can work with the Department for Transport to resolve this matter, in collaboration with the local authorities in Havering and in Barking and Dagenham, and the GLA. However, we also have to understand why we got to the present situation. How could the then Mayor and council agree the project and assume that their own Government and Network Rail backed them, only for us to discover years later, due to a lack of due diligence, that they do not and they claim not to have done so, with terrible collateral consequences for local residents?
I do not want to twist the knife and make party political points—I agree with the hon. Member for Romford—but the reality is that this dreadful situation has consequences for thousands of my constituents and will likely derail hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in my area. I am angry and frustrated at the reckless decision making at the heart of this project. It is an appalling state of affairs, yet it is not too late to resolve the situation.
I am sure that there are inter-Government tensions around the decision, not least given the Government’s stated housing objectives. Should the Government not change their mind and allow the station to proceed, the future phases of Beam Park and other housing schemes in the area will be in doubt, as planning consents are dependent on there being a station. There will probably be a need for new planning applications to both Havering and Barking and Dagenham Councils. There will be escalating anger and opposition to new housing development. Both new and long-term residents feel that they have been played and betrayed.
Meanwhile, Government policy appears slightly out of sync. We see the Government mounting pressure on local authorities to increase housing targets, yet simultaneously pulling the plug on the infrastructure needed to support both new and existing communities in their priority areas. I am told that Havering Council has instructed lawyers to consider a judicial review against the Department for Transport decision, legally challenging its own Government, which is quite a state of affairs. Meanwhile, it is trying to blame everyone apart from itself for the debacle.
I urge the Government to sit down with the GLA to resolve the indemnity issue and fast-track the station; it is not too late. The Tory levelling-up agenda is all well and good as a soundbite, but actions speak louder than words. Through either negligence or indifference, those in power have reneged on promises of meaningful investment. Their failure to deliver Beam Park risks growth grinding to a halt across the south of my constituency. Therefore, I urge the Government urgently to rethink their plans for Beam Park station.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) on securing the debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for his contribution.
The provision of a station at Beam Park is a project that has been developed by the Greater London Authority. I understand that the provision of the station is a planning condition set by the local planning authority, and the delivery of additional housing in excess of 3,000 homes is dependent on the station. We do, of course, support the development of housing near the railway in the borough and more widely across the country. In past years, we have released public railway land that is no longer needed for operational use, thereby enabling the delivery of thousands of new homes.
We are working closely with local authorities and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to deliver new stations and railway improvements, enabling new homes to come forward that are served by excellent and sustainable public transport connections. Through the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, we have set out how we will use the establishment of Great British Railways to further support development near stations and deliver local economic growth.
However, we must not lose sight of the need to appropriately scrutinise proposals for works on the railway, ensuring that we deliver schemes with the greatest benefits that protect taxpayers now and in future. The value for money of schemes should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Developers cannot assume to look to the rail operating budget to subsidise housing development.
Where a new station is required to support development, Network Rail’s guidance “Investment in Stations” makes clear to promoters of new stations the importance of the Department’s authorisation for a new station if a train operator is anticipated to serve it, which is the case with Beam Park. That need for the Department’s authorisation and the value of getting it at an early stage, before proceeding to the more detailed and costly business case stage, was underlined to the GLA in a meeting in December 2017, when the GLA first consulted the Department, as proposals to develop a new station at Beam Park had been in place since 2014. At that meeting, early on, the Department’s officials voiced concerns about the business case in a number of rail areas, which I will address.
The full operational costs of incorporating an additional station in the network, which in this case would involve the provision of an additional train and associated crew, had not been considered in the business case. That significantly adds to the cost of providing the station. In addition, the proposals had not acknowledged that the station would be abstracting from the two stations either side of it on the same line—Rainham and Dagenham Dock, which are both approximately a mile away from the proposed new station. Those concerns were raised and identified not only by the Department but by the train operator, Trenitalia c2c Ltd, and were explained to the GLA in writing in March 2018 before it committed to fund Beam Park station.
Adding the extra call at Beam Park would lengthen the journey time for Essex commuters and reduce the attractiveness of the railway to help stimulate new housing developments in Essex. Those housing developments serve and stimulate London’s economy but are outside the GLA’s area of housing responsibility. The Department’s concern is to understand how the GLA takes account of that loss of potential when considering new stations in the GLA area to stimulate housing growth. The analysis of the proposed station at Beam Park that we have seen to date does not seem to consider that strategic issue.
The GLA’s response to our March 2018 letter made it clear that it had no intention of reviewing the business case, despite the concerns I have listed, but that it intended instead to progress with the scope and programme for opening. The next time the Department for Transport was contacted by the GLA on this matter was in mid-2020, by which point the GLA had, in March 2020, approved the expenditure to deliver a new station at Beam Park. Fundamentally, there was no further consultation with the Department and no response to the concerns raised.
In a further letter to the GLA in September 2020, following the contact made by the GLA in mid-2020, the Department restated its concerns about the development of the station in the light of the significant funding risks related to the station’s operational costs, and the performance impact that would have on the network. The letter made it clear to the GLA that the Department could take no financial risks associated with the station.
The Department’s concern throughout the process has been to ensure that we are held immune from all financial risk caused by a new station at Beam Park. The GLA’s offer of a £10 million capped amount limited to a 10-year period is not acceptable to the Department. The GLA’s offer does not cover the full cost risk we believe Beam Park station imports; it would need to be unlimited in both time and cost. In addition, the GLA business case was prepared and approved prior to the covid pandemic; passenger volumes are now significantly lower than previously forecast. Ticket revenue from Beam Park is unlikely to cover the additional costs in the short term, and it may not do so even in the long term.
Let me take the opportunity to clarify that the Department has not withdrawn support for the development of the station; support was never given in the first instance. If the GLA is satisfied that the new station presents value for money and is an acceptable use of public funds, the Department’s position is to look for a commitment to hold the Department immune from any financial risk we believe the new station presents. The Department fully supports the housing development in Beam Park and the wider Dagenham and Rainham area, and continues to work alongside the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to assist with strategy and planning. We will provide support to develop and enhance the existing stations, and we encourage local stakeholders and the GLA to focus their attention on opportunities to improve access to those stations by improving street access where the former industrial land use made station access difficult from parts of the surrounding area.
I thank the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham for securing this debate and shining a spotlight on issues related to Beam Park station.
I thank the Minister for all her comments. I fully understand the arguments—the viability of the station has to be paramount; it has to be part of the discussion—but will she please at least pledge to the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham, to me and to all the people of the London Borough of Havering and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham who could benefit from the station that she will go back and look at it afresh, and look at ways we can progress it? Will she also commit—I know it is sometimes difficult—to work with the Mayor of London to see if he and TfL will co-operate with us?
Havering is a forgotten borough. We get very little from the GLA. We pay a lot of money in, but we get very little back. We are Essex; we are not really London, but we get lumped in with London. This is one thing that would actually benefit our borough. If it is taken away from us, there will be huge disillusionment not just down in Rainham, South Hornchurch and Beam Park but across our borough. We feel neglected. We do not feel we are getting our fair slice of the cake in the Greater London area, and I hope that the Government will take the chance to level up areas such as ours. I gently ask the Minister to take this issue back and see what she can do. This is a cross-party thing. We want the station to go ahead and succeed, and I ask her to do her utmost to ensure that it does.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He speaks with such passion for his constituents, which I absolutely understand and would expect him to do. What I can say is that the Department has not withdrawn any funding. This is a scheme led entirely by the GLA. We are committed to providing better connectivity, while demonstrating that investments provide appropriate value for money. The Department remains absolutely open to engagement with stakeholders. I hope that gives some reassurance to hon. Members.
Will the Minister commit to a meeting with me and the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham, together with Darren Rodwell, the leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, and Damian White, the leader of Havering Council, to see if we can iron out some of these issues and work together to make the project succeed?
As I said, the Department remains absolutely open to engagement with stakeholders. Let me take that point away and see. I can certainly meet my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham.
In conclusion—I have my eye on the clock—it is important that all parties recognise that much of the work on the current business case was based on the railway pre-covid, and early indications are that the post-covid situation worsens the case for Beam Park, as commuter demand has declined. Despite that, the costs associated with a new station have not reduced. While we will work with the GLA should it be able to provide funding to cover all the costs of Beam Park, we recognise that it may not be able to do so.
Question put and agreed to.