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Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2008

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Tom Harris) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On the 22 February 2005 the then Secretary of State for Transport (the right honourable Member for Edinburgh South West, Alistair Darling) introduced a hybrid Bill to provide for the construction, maintenance and operation of Crossrail. At this time, directions were also issued for the safeguarding of the main Crossrail route, from Maidenhead to Shenfield and from Whitechapel to Abbey Wood, for the associated construction worksites, and for the possible extension of Crossrail from Abbey Wood to Hoo Junction. This safeguarding protects the route from any conflicting developments which could interfere with the construction or operation of Crossrail.

As a result of negotiations with affected parties and the development of engineering design works, there have been changes to the land needed for the construction and operation of Crossrail. This means that some land that has been safeguarded will no longer be needed, while we are proposing to use other sections of land that are not currently safeguarded. Accordingly, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has issued revised safeguarding directions for the main route that reflect these changes.

In July 2005, the department consulted on the possibility of safeguarding land between Maidenhead and Reading West Junction, which would protect land potentially required, should it be decided to extend Crossrail services to Reading. The department also consulted on updating the safeguarding directions in the Abbey Wood to Hoo Junction corridor, to allow for additional works considered necessary for an extension of Crossrail services to Ebbsfleet. A decision was deferred following an instruction by the House to the Select Committee, where it considered appropriate, to consider any petitions on the extension of Crossrail to Reading (and Ebbsfleet) and to report to the House whether there was a case for the extension to be made by an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992. The committee heard some evidence but did not make any recommendation on these matters in its Special Report, published on 23 October 2007.

I have now decided to safeguard additional land between Maidenhead and Reading. While I am clear that Crossrail services will terminate at Maidenhead and have no plans to extend them to Reading, this measure gives the flexibility to be able to extend Crossrail in the future, should there be a business case. This safeguarding of the route would also protect the possibility of undertaking electrification works on the route to Reading, even without the extension of Crossrail. Again, this keeps this option available should a decision be taken to electrify the railway beyond Maidenhead.

There is no need for works powers to extend to Reading to be included in the Crossrail Bill, which would seriously delay the passage of the Bill through Parliament. If such powers were needed these could be sought by means of a Transport and Works Act Order. There is also sensible advance planning through designing station improvement works at both Reading and Maidenhead to allow for the possibility of the future extension of Crossrail services.

The next step on safeguarding is to consult Network Rail on which sites should be protected if any works were to be undertaken on the safeguarded route.

The department is still considering updating the safeguarded route to Ebbsfleet and will continue to discuss this matter with Cross London Rail Links and the relevant local authorities further. The department will make an announcement regarding this in due course.