December 20 2018

Shaun Bailey: No excuse for Sadiq Khan taking his eyes off the Crossrail prize

London is growing. This great global city will soon be home to 10 million people. It’s a stark change from the late Seventies of my youth, when London was synonymous with decline.

But a growing population places burdens on a city. Without transport up-grades we simply won’t be able to move these new Londoners around. That’s why we need Crossrail so badly. It will open up new regions of the capital to development: it is expected to bring 94,000 homes and 362,000 jobs underpinned by millions of square feet of retail space. I certainly would have thought twice about buying a house in Romford without the prospect of Crossrail.

When Sadiq Khan inherited the project it was on time and budget. That’s certainly not the case now. Last week Londoners found out that we’ll have to wait at least a year more. The delay was paired with word of a third bailout from central government. We’ve all been badly let down. Not that Khan deserves all the blame — we understand Crossrail is a complicated project — but we do expect our leaders to be straight with us when it comes to communicating delays and their cost implications.

And Sadiq Khan has not been straight with Londoners. He told the press he was informed of the Crossrail delay on August 29, two days before the public. This was the same story given to members of the London Assembly in early September. Documents from Transport for London, however, appear to contradict this. On July 26, Khan was briefed that Crossrail was “high risk”, with a December 2018 opening deemed “not feasible”. In management speak, that’s the equivalent of a flashing red light.

Nor was July 26 the first time the Mayor’s key staff were told of inevitable delays, as recently outlined in an article by transport blog London Reconnections. Indeed, Crossrail had been blinking red for months. That’s why Khan has been summoned back to the London Assembly’s transport committee tomorrow to explain himself. Either he didn’t know what was going on under his watch or he didn’t tell Londoners the true state of affairs. It is either incompetence or untruthfulness. 

Tomorrow is about holding the Mayor to account. He should apologise to Londoners for not being straight, and level with them about the state of Crossrail: when it will open, how much more it will cost, and how he will ensure the new schedule of delivery?

He should streamline its project management and reporting and bolster it with external expertise; mega-projects like this appear to require skill sets beyond those currently at TfL. He should commit to public quarterly reporting and total transparency; this strict standard will ensure he does not again take his eye off this capacity-building prize.

Because if Crossrail goes off the rails, Londoners won’t get a crack at Crossrail 2 — another vital project needed to keep our growing population moving.


Originally published in The Evening Standard