Recap – we’ve maintained for a while that the East London Line Extension Phase 2, from Surrey Docks to Clapham Junction, was a key test of the Boris adminstration.  The reasons are threefold:

  1. It’s a good solid public transport project – going ahead with it quickly would send a reassuring message that the new boys were getting to grips with things,
  2. It requires a good working relationship with central government, since the project can only go ahead with DfT approval, DfT need it to go ahead for Thameslink and the only thing to thrash out is the financing,
  3. It’s a relatively inexpensive, well worked-up scheme and will provide continuing employment during difficult times.

So how are things going?  The London Assembly Transport Committee are universally in favour.  The list of people who’ve asked Boris questions about it since May includes frequent contributions from Richard Tracey, Caroline Pidgeon and Valerie Shawcross, which is pretty much cross-party, and I bet there’s a Green in there somewhere, but the buggers ask so many questions it makes my eyes bleed reading them all.

Between them I can see at least 18 questions since May, to most of which this boilerplate answer is all that has been forthcoming from the new accountable administration:

We have not yet secured funding and TfL are continuing discussions with the DfT. However, I am determined that this will be achieved in the near future.

or alternatively:

TfL have not yet secured necessary funding from the DfT, although I am hopeful that this will be achieved in the near future.

Or, back in May:

Detailed design work is progressing on Phase 2 and TfL is in discussion with DfT regarding funding for this Phase, which could still be open before the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

To make a change, from June:

I hope that a funding decision can be agreed soon to ensure services can commence by the target opening date of December 2011.

That’s nice and clear.  Let’s run things back a bit, to see what his unaccountable, out-of-touch predecessor was making of it back in March:

TfL hopes a funding decision can be agreed soon to ensure services can commence by the target opening date of December 2011.

Eh?  Are they economising by reusing old answers?

I think it’s fairly clear from that that we’ve not seen a great deal of forward momentum in this project in the first few months of Team Boris.  The most recent answer available online, from last month’s MQTs, came in response to Valerie Shawcross’s umpteenth question on the subject:

Both TfL and DfT are meeting shortly to discuss the scheme further and make a decision on whether or not the project can proceed.

This sounds ominous.  However, the most recent written answers are available too, and these shed a bit more light:

Over the past few months there has been ongoing liaison between the DfT and TfL on this matter.  This has resulted in general agreement over some of the key elements that make up the funding package. Following this agreement, the remaining funding gap is around £30m. I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport proposing that this gap should be divided equally between the DfT and TfL. I am currently awaiting a response to this proposal.

Boris also answered a question from Mike Tuffrey about meetings with ministers by revealing meetings with Ruth Kelly on 9th July and her replacement Geoff Hoon on 22nd October (where they also discussed Oyster PAYG, of which more anon).

All of which gives the background to the Evening Standard’s article this week about the ELLX Phase 2b, headlined

Boris begs for cash to rescue south London rail link

and continuing:

Mayor Boris Johnson has called on the Government to help commuters waiting for the East London line extension between Surrey Quays and Clapham Junction.

There was a shortfall in the overall cost, which Mr Johnson has trimmed down to £30million. Today he pledged to find an extra £15million but stressed he couldn’t afford any more.

This should be read as ‘Boris leaks letter to Standard in order to put the squeeze on Geoff Hoon’.  I’m not impressed.  In fact, if this project folds, in the middle of a recession where everyone except insane Thatcherites thinks that spending money bringing forward infrastructure expenditure is a good idea, I shall personally get very annoyed indeed.  Boris has, since coming into office, raised fares, reduced expenditure on useful new projects to approximately nothing, found £9m behind the sofa for bus police teams, thrown £21m (and rising) back at the Venezuelans purely because of ideology and is apparently going to raise the costs of the bus network by £12-13m a year to satisfy the bendy jihad.  Obviously a simple reversal of these various small drains on the budget would instantly unlock the funds required.  In fact, just deciding not to debendify the 507 and 521 would pay for it over two years, since continuing the status quo would probably save about £7-8m a year.  Construction is supposed to be complete by the middle of 2012, remember, so there’s time.

So how about it, Boris?  Reprieve the bendy bus on the 507 and 521 (which is the sensible option, and avoids the inevitability of commuter anger next June).  Use the cash to seal the deal on East London Line Phase 2, show your commitment to public transport investment, save real jobs and put your money where your mouth is on spending your way out of recession.

There.  Who says we’re not constructive?

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