As the country’s attention is focussed across the Atlantic (hopefully a post on that will emerge before long), the Mayor has chosen today to quietly announce – without mentioning it at yesterday’s public TfL board meeting – that he is, as predicted, dropping the continued development of at least three major transport schemes:
- the Cross-River Tram (as discussed here)
- the Docklands Light Railway extension via Barking Reach to Dagenham Dock (as discussed here)
- the East London River Crossing
Yesterday was all about transport related bluster from Boris in his ludicrous Way to Go! document, admirably dissected by Diamond Geezer here. As far as I can see, the document was drafted by TfL officers before being sent up to the eighth floor of City Hall for various Boris-isms to be added, with the odd bit of Latin and phrases such as ‘traffic-throttling excrescences’ – I think that’s traffic-calming to you and me. Given this is a public-facing consultation document, I’d love to see the Plain English Campaign get its teeth into it.
Today, however, is all about the cold reality of cuts. Johnson will argue that he is following the mantra he set out in Way to Go:
One thing we cannot do is spend tens of millions keeping projects alive, for political reasons, when there is simply no government funding to deliver them. The truth is that we don’t have to cash to do everything we would like, and it is better to be honest than continue to play upon false hopes.
Up to a point, Boris is right that there is no government funding, although I always thought that Tories were supposed to be against state dependency and in favour of innovative private sector funding solutions, or something like that. But by putting the chairs on the tables and going home, Johnson is guaranteeing that there will neverbe funding for these vital projects (I’m a bit sceptial about the details of the current East London bridge scheme, but the principle of building a further below-Tower Bridge crossing is absolutely right). The Mayor would be well advised to study the history of how funding was achieved for the on-going transport infrastructure projects that he hails in Way to Go: Crossrail, the Tube upgrade, the East London Line Extension and the Thameslink Project.
If six months after his first election in 2000, Livingstone had said “There’s no government funding for these schemes this year, so we’re giving up”, they would not now be underway. It was through spending money on developing the schemes technically and building the case for them, plus constant lobbying of government, that eventually they reached the top of the Treasury’s funding queue. Now Boris has left the queue, walked out of the building and cycled off in the opposite direction. Some will argue that Livingstone had it easy – he was a Labour mayor (most of the time) dealing with a Labour government. I can’t say I really buy this argument, especially as Johnson has regularly said he expects a Tory administration from 2010. Doesn’t he think Osborne is going to splash the cash on a Tory-run London?
I, and many others, have rehearsed the arguments on these schemes plenty of times before, so I’m not going to do so again. I’m just sorry that I was proved right when I predicted that a traditional Tory slash and burn agenda lurked beneath Boris’ bumbling exterior.
PS. No news yet on the East London Transit, but I’m not hopeful. I was wrong not to be hopeful. The TfL Business Plan, now available here, pretty much confirms these schemes are going ahead (although they’re not going to push ahead on the extensions beyond the first phases). Boris rejects Gilligan’s advice again? How will the sock-puppeteer cope?