The glad tidings are that Boris Johnson has just given Crossrail a fiscal injection. Unfortunately £3.5bn worth of other transport projects around the capital have been sacrificed to do so. Olivia Boyd looks at where that leaves the industry …

Cancelled? The £500m Thames Gateway bridge, on which Halcrow was the engineer and Marks Barfield the architect

Cancelled? The £500m Thames Gateway bridge, on which Halcrow was the engineer and Marks Barfield the architect

Self-styled efficiency champion Boris Johnson made his latest attempt to slash London’s expenditure last week by dropping £3.5bn of transport projects across the capital. By striking seven infrastructure schemes from Transport for London’s business plan, Johnson said he was saving the taxpayer millions in fees on developments that had no hope of being built.

The move seems at odds with the Greater London Authority’s recent promise to invest £1bn in London to see it through the financial crisis. But Transport for London (TfL) says the money saved will be channelled into a raft of more promising projects as part of the biggest investment in the city’s transport system for a generation, with an overall budget of £39.2bn to 2018. Projects set to receive funding include the £16bn Crossrail scheme, as well as schemes to cool tube lines, upgrade stations and improve traffic flow.


So what money can be reclaimed by dropping these schemes? TfL says more than £70m in design fees and at least £2.5bn in implementation costs will be saved, including £500m at the Thames Gateway bridge, £750m at the extension of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and £18m from a plan to

part-pedestrianise Parliament Square. But while TfL promises that this money will now be better spent, it’s not good news for the construction consultants who were pinning their hopes on the scrapped developments helping them through the dark days of the recession.

The mayor’s argument that the schemes would never be built is little comfort for consultants that were counting on the cash. “Whereas Ken opted to keep lots of schemes on the go, even though they never got funded, Boris wants to focus on ones that have funding. That means there is less work for consultants,” says Stephen Joseph, executive director at the Campaign for Better Transport.

“It’s a big blow to us,” says Roger Hawkins, executive director at architect HawkinsBrown, which was lead designer on the Parliament Square project, working alongside DSDHA and Vogt Landscape Architects. “It’s all part of a lack of ambition by the mayor. London is competing on a world stage – something the previous administration understood.

“We had a whole team – lighting, landscape and urban designers, traffic engineers. We are bitterly disappointed it’s being discontinued.”

Aidan Potter is director of urban design at architect John McAslan + Partners, which was lead architect on the Oxford Street tram scheme, in a team that also included Mott MacDonald and Buchanans. He said the practice had a “significant” team working on it. “It’s a sign of the times and we need to be philosophical about it. But it is a shame – Oxford Street needs all the help it can get.”

The end of the line?

Reaction to the cuts has, however, been mixed. Despite TfL’s blunt statement that it has “no funding available to take the projects forward for construction at this time”, the news is not necessarily fatal for all seven projects. Steve McAdam, director of urban design practice Fluid, says his own project,

High Street 2012, is likely to continue with funding from English Heritage and others. And the DLR extension could be revived if central government steps up funding in support of its housing schemes in the area.

Confident that the £750m DLR extension will continue, environmental consultant Temple Group says it has not disbanded its team. “As far as we are concerned, nothing has changed,” says managing director Mark Southwood. “The DLR team is still confident it can demonstrate good value for money.”

But in east London, at the start of the much-heralded plan to regenerate 40 miles of the Thames Gateway, some are taking the news badly. Sidney Kallar, lead member for regeneration at Barking and Dagenham council says the “disgraceful” decision to drop the DLR extension will have severe implications for planned housing schemes. “It’s appalling,” he says. “What it means is that at the Barking Riverside site you won’t be able to build 11,000 homes; you’ll be able to build 1,500 if you’re lucky. The area is locked in by water and everything depends on the transport.”

Kallar, who has written to the mayor demanding a meeting, is also furious about the decision to scrap the Thames Gateway bridge, which follows a year-long inquiry. The project is “absolutely necessary” to ease congestion and boost growth, he says, adding that “only a blind person would say we don’t need another crossing”.


Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, agrees that the East End is getting a rough deal. “In recent years, the Thames Gateway has suffered from too many plans and too little investment and this decision is removing two major pieces of investment in the area,” he says. “It isn’t a brilliant signal.”

But Travers supports the mayor’s decision to make other cuts, such as the proposed £500m Oxford Street tram. Scrapping these schemes may free up cash to drive forward more important projects, notably Crossrail. He said: “Having consultants endlessly working on projects that don’t go ahead is a special kind of British decadence. If Crossrail happens, it will mean major programmes of work for years and that is the right place to concentrate efforts.”

Johnson’s decision indicates that he views Crossrail as one of the capital’s more secure projects. The scheme expects to appoint its programme delivery partner and design framework before the end of the year and the project delivery partner in February. However, those in the running are waiting anxiously for this month’s pre-Budget report to see if the government will back up the project with a cash injection to make up for the shortfall in private sector contributions. Last week’s announcement that BAA would come good with its promise of £230m funding for the scheme was a boost but it is hardly decisive.

Peter Koning, director of rail planning and operations at Faber Maunsell, used to work on the Crossrail beat at Network Rail and now his team has been shortlisted for the design framework. He is optimistic. “Over the years, Crossrail has gone from ‘it’s not really going to happen’ to ‘it might happen’ to ‘it’s really going to happen’. The BAA announcement is a reassertion of the project and gives us confidence.”

Other projects

But although TfL is consolidating its business plan, not all the bucks in the capital will be going on one big bang. Joseph expects to see the boroughs taking a more active role in bringing forward public space schemes and cites Camden and Oxford Street as locations where councils have “strong ambitions”. This might be a good tip, particularly for those not yet involved in Crossrail. And, given the number of years the £16bn project has been in the offing, banking on it happening immediately, or even soon, could be a mistake. “Crossrail has been given the go-ahead so often before,” says Travers. “Only when contracts are signed and the Queen is asked to turn up with a spade to start the digging will I finally believe it.”