Our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, on finance problems for Transport for London that could have a profound impact on south London
Transport for London’s appeal to the government for £3.2billion to allow it to keep operating in the covid-19 crisis will have real implications for transport projects planned for Croydon. And that could also affect the Town Hall, too.
TfL’s income has collapsed since even before the coronavirus lockdown was imposed, with Tube passenger numbers (before this week) down 94 per cent and no fares being taken on buses.
TfL has been forced to furlough 7,000 staff. Work on 300 significant engineering projects around the capital have been paused, indefinitely.
TfL’s chief financial officer Simon Kilonbrack told TfL’s finance committee on Tuesday that it would have to take legal recourse to protect the organisation from running out of cash if a government bailout could not be secured. As a local authority body, a Section 144 notice must be issued by the finance officer to try to stop an impending financial failure.
Kilonbrack said, “I think if we are unable to conclude the financial negotiations within the next 24 to 48 hours, then we will have to… I think it is unavoidable at that point that we will have to commence the statutory Section 114 process.”
The Treasury will very likely find the money to keep TfL going, in line with Boris Johnson’s government’s urgings to encourage people to return to work. Amid the confusing and mixed messages issued since the Prime Minister’s address on Sunday, the government is notionally discouraging people from using public transport, but the collapse of TfL would cause huge damage to central government’s efforts to get London working again.
The Treasury will likely set conditions on any bailout.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s fare freeze will likely be one casualty. This has cost TfL £640million during Khan’s mayoralty.
Mayor Khan losing discretion over this policy will raise questions as to what policy difference the current City Hall structure can offer, with London government more than ever needing national government financial underpinning.
For Croydon, there will be special difficulties if the Treasury cast their slide rules over TfL projects due to be built in south London. At risk will be the new junction on the A23 Purley Way at Fiveways, the Liveable Neighbourhood project for Old Town, aimed at making that area less dominated by urban freeways, Sutton’s hoped-for tram extension, and even various cycleway and road safety initiatives.
The Fiveways junction proposals – which have been on the TfL engineers’ drawing boards for more than five years – would register a low score on any Treasury cost-benefit analysis. The scheme was driven by a desire to untangle the Purley Way’s worst traffic bottleneck before Westfield opened their £1.4billion shiny new megamall in the town centre.
But now that project has been rendered “a dead duckling”, there is no compelling business case for TfL to spend money they have not got on the A23 traffic scheme. Meanwhile, residents in Waddon and Wallington living close to one of London’s most polluted roads will continue to inhale the noxious traffic fumes.
Likewise, a traffic amelioration project the other side of the Croydon Flyover, with the £17.5million Liveable Neighbourhood proposals for Roman Way and Old Town, could also be put to one side during TfL’s financial lockdown.
The loss of both these long-considered infrastructure projects could be a desperate political blow to Labour in Waddon ward.
Labour won majority control of the Town Hall in 2014 when the party won Waddon ward from the Tories.
Losing Waddon to the Conservatives in 2022 could also see a shift in the balance of power that would see Tony Newman lose control of the council.
The councillors there – Joy Prince, Robert Canning and Andrew Pelling – are already exposed to mounting community anger about the council-owned Brick by Brick housing developments. Another investment in their ward, to create a football centre of excellence on the Purley Way playing fields, paid for with a grant from a charitable foundation linked to the Football Association and Premier League, is also now in doubt because of the financial uncertainties around the professional game caused by covid-19.
With less than two years until the next local council elections, the cupboard of goodies in Waddon is looking more than a little bare. And there’s little chance of Newman coming up with more local initiatives to assist them, following his declaration of war against Waddon’s Constituency Labour Party in Croydon South.
Waddon is not the only Labour-held ward that is beginning to look vulnerable. New Addington South is another ward blighted for Labour by Brick by Brick’s “slumification” proposals, putting at risk the Town Hall seats of two of Newman’s favoured councillors, Oliver “Ollie” Lewis and Louisa Woodley.
And Maddie Henson, who is about to spend the next 12 months barred from any real political campaigning while serving as Mayor of Croydon, could lose her Addiscombe East seat, too: the Conservatives are so far ahead in the national polls that if local council elections were held today, Croydon’s Tories could match Labour’s number of seats at the Town Hall.
Which makes the decision to be made by Treasury officials over what funding to make available to TfL all the more keenly awaited.
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