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Safeguarding vital investment

Posted: 11 May 2010 | Kulveer Ranger, Mayor of London's Transport Advisor | No comments yet

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the development of industry to support a thriving economy has been wedded to the need to build infrastructure that can enable people to move and to transport goods. Transport projects are crucial to the future of our cities, countries, and continent, and as the global downturn leaves governments attempting to balance the books, it is essential that we make the argument for continued investment. Transport projects have the capacity to transform – to stimulate real growth, real regeneration, and real jobs, and to ensure that Europe emerges from the deepest recession in 30 years in good shape – ready for the challenges and opportunities of a globalised economy.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the development of industry to support a thriving economy has been wedded to the need to build infrastructure that can enable people to move and to transport goods. Transport projects are crucial to the future of our cities, countries, and continent, and as the global downturn leaves governments attempting to balance the books, it is essential that we make the argument for continued investment. Transport projects have the capacity to transform - to stimulate real growth, real regeneration, and real jobs, and to ensure that Europe emerges from the deepest recession in 30 years in good shape - ready for the challenges and opportunities of a globalised economy.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the development of industry to support a thriving economy has been wedded to the need to build infrastructure that can enable people to move and to transport goods. Transport projects are crucial to the future of our cities, countries, and continent, and as the global downturn leaves governments attempting to balance the books, it is essential that we make the argument for continued investment. Transport projects have the capacity to transform – to stimulate real growth, real regeneration, and real jobs, and to ensure that Europe emerges from the deepest recession in 30 years in good shape – ready for the challenges and opportunities of a globalised economy.

In London’s case, public transport is absolutely critical to the health and success of our city – and to that of the UK as a whole. We have a pioneering Tube system, which despite its 19th century origins is still the envy of many other cities. Our buses carry more than two billion passengers a year – the most since the 1960s. Yet our system is without doubt in desperate need of repair, not least because of a lack of investment over numerous decades generally occurring when economic times and misplaced policies have coincided. Furthermore, with a population set to grow by 1.3 million over the next 15 years, we cannot continue to just get by – we need to maintain a steady course of continued investment through the stormy waters.

The issue is that we need this at the same time that our budgets are coming under enormous pressure. Transport for London’s budgets have faced a hole of £2 billion over the last two years brought about by the recession-related fall in tube ridership, and the faltering of the Public Private Partnership system of upgrading the tube.

We have not lost sight of the huge regenerative power of transport infrastructure, and are fighting on all fronts to protect our core projects. That’s why, when looking for savings, we have focused on efficiencies, such as cutting £220 million of consultants fees as part of a programme that will see us save us £5 billion up to 2017. We have also had to raise some fares in order to protect the vital upgrade work.

If you examine our investment priorities, the illogical rationale that would be involved in cutting them becomes apparent. We have already started preparatory works for Crossrail – the largest transport infrastructure project in Europe. This new railway, connecting Heathrow airport in the West of the city, with London’s main shopping and financial centres and the 2012 Olympic park in the east, is scheduled for completion in 2017. It will cut journey times and congestion on other parts of our transport network, boosting overall rail capacity in London by 10%. At the height of its construction, the project will employ some 14,000 people – and will bring significant benefits in terms of jobs, regeneration and it will add up to £36 billion to the UK economy.

We are also seven years into the 30-year regeneration of our underground system. It is the biggest programme of investment of the past 70 years, upgrading eight tube lines, including new signalling systems, station modernisation and introducing air-conditioned rolling stock on 40% of the network.

Our Overground is being transformed to create a new orbital link around inner London, connecting some of London’s poorest districts like Hackney to the rail system for the first time, attracting new inward investment and aiding growth. Other projects include increasing the capacity of the Docklands Light Railway by 50%, and the Thameslink project, which will enable 24 trains per hour to move on a north to south line through central London and means that right now we are rebuilding London Bridge and Farringdon stations, and creating a new iconic interchange spanning the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge. But we cannot be complacent – these investments must not slip. It is these improvements that will enable London to continue to develop, and continue to attract business from across the world.

The scale of these projects may be larger than in some other cities, but the point is the same: well-considered transport projects bring great benefits and governments, and those aspiring to govern, should think long and hard before considering sacrificing them. I thoroughly support assessing the objectives and clarifying the benefits of projects and prioritising value for money, but we should never lose sight of the fact that delaying or cancelling erodes what we are aiming to achieve. London and Europe’s position in the global economy is intrinsically linked to the capability and efficiency of our transport networks. Only by being evangelical in extolling both this relationship and the benefits can we ensure that vital investment is appreciated and safeguarded.

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