JEREMY CLACKSON, our transport correspondent, is holding on tight for a bumpy ride over London’s public transport finances
According to an internal Transport for London report obtained by Inside Croydon, the Mayor of London has been forced to abandon all major tram infrastructure projects for the foreseeable future.
The only planned capital spending on the tram network will be on essential safety work arising from the Sandilands tram crash.
The report, compiled by TfL officials, was circulated at City Hall this week, and categorises the transport authority’s projects by the four categories used in their business planning, from “Critical – Needed to maintain current safety level; or legally required to be safe and operable”, to “Deprioritise – Projects that could be deprioritised and are more discretionary in nature”.
Works arising as a result of the Sandilands crash remain listed by TfL under “Critical” capital projects.
Listed as “Deprioritise” is the loopy Dingwall Loop project, originally devised to make it easier for cars to drive into the giant new Westfield supermall. Improvements and extensions to the platforms at Elmers End tram stop are also deferred, seemingly indefinitely.
There is no mention in the report of any of the hoped-for extensions of the tram network, such as to Crystal Palace, which was a fully funded project and ready to go until Boris Johnson took over as London Mayor in 2008, while the more recently floated Sutton branch extension of the tram network doesn’t figure in this report at all.
As the report admits, TfL’s budgets are under sever pressure, with vital income from fares down against what had been forecast, and predictions of fare income for the next five years lowered by more than £2billion.
And the report does not even mention the late-running, over-budget CrossRail project.
Among the spending projects chucked overboard is £100million saved by not doing any proactive resurfacing works for two years on the major routes for which TfL has responsibility. Which could make for a bumpy ride ahead of the 2020 London Assembly elections.
“At TfL we are managing a number of financial challenges,” the report begins. “A subdued national economy has slowed ridership across the country and reduced fare revenue. Despite a recent upturn in Tube ridership, passenger numbers have been down, particularly on buses.
“Against a cautious set of forecasts in our last annual budget, overall fare revenue is up 2 per cent compared to last year – just above expectations. However since the Mayor’s first TfL Business Plan in December 2016, our predicted fares income for the next five years has been re-forecast to be around £2.1billion lower than originally expected, due to the state of the wider economy.”
Such cuts and restrictions will come as a bitter blow to the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, whose father was a bus driver, apparently.
Khan, who is up for re-election in 2020, was warned by Labour Party colleagues before he took over at City Hall that his policy of a fares freeze, while a surefire vote-winner, would box his TfL finances into a corner during uncertain times. And so it has proved.
Of the projects being “deprioritised”, the report says of the Elmers End tram scheme: “while this scheme would improve the tram network, no specific capacity uplift depends upon it, and there is limited potential for third-party funding”.
With mounting doubts about whether Westfield will ever actually go ahead, the Dingwall Road tram loop is binned by the TfL report thus: “The Dingwall Loop project was designed to offer capacity enhancements to support future development in central Croydon. In light of the revised Westfield planning permission, which provided no direct funding for the project…” meaning that Westfield withdrew the £12million that they were going to provide towards the cost of the project which they had demanded, “… new feasibility work has highlighted that there may be more effective ways to achieve these.”
There was, however, perhaps a glimmer of some hope for the future extension and improvement of the tram network, which has remained largely unaltered since it was opened nearly 20 years ago.
The TfL report states, “We are currently liaising with the London Borough of Croydon to update the tram network strategy which will set out a long-term plan to improve access, reliability and capacity. This will include medium-term capacity options, as well as short-term operational flexibility measures and projects to enhance key town centre tram stops.
“Along with the London Borough of Croydon, we would welcome further investment in Croydon transport infrastructure and the opportunity to discuss capacity increases with developers.”
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