Negotiations on funding the Crossrail station at Woolwich gained some extra breathing space today when the contract for fit-out of the station box was delayed for a further few months until the third quarter of 2013.
Only last Friday (March 15th) it had been announced that Crossrail Ltd was due to start tendering for the fit-out contract by the end of the month, suggesting a resolution to the ongoing funding problem had been reached.
Under the original Crossrail plans Woolwich was left off the map. It was only after a concerted effort from all across the borough that a station was added to the scheme, albeit under the proviso that this would not be centrally funded and Berkeley Homes and others would have to foot the bill.
Since the bill gained Royal Assent in 2008, Berkeley has argued that the economic downturn means that they can no longer fund the station themselves. This is despite successfully gaining concessions from Greenwich Council to build higher blocks and reduce the affordable housing commitments at the Royal Arsenal development. Berkeley Group reported a 40% rise in profits to £142.2m in the six months to October 2012 and have confirmed they are on track to return over £1/2bn in cash to shareholders by 2015.
The Liberal Democrats in London have been chasing all parties for an answer. Caroline Pidgeon, London Assembly LD leader, has repeatedly pressed Boris Johnson for an answer, stating that if Woolwich Station did not go ahead
"this would be a criminal waste of public money and a real betrayal of people in south east London. The Mayor and TfL should spend less time and effort pushing forward a new tunnel under the Thames designed primarily for private motorists and instead ensure that a public transport link across the Thames delivers to its full potential."
In response to a written question from local campaigner Stewart Christie in October, Chris Roberts, Labour Leader of Greenwich Council stated,"funding contributions are required from Crossrail Limited, Transport for London, Berkeley Homes and the Council. I remain confident that all parties are motivated towards the same outcome of ensuring that the Woolwich station will open as planned."
When further pressed, Roberts went on to say that a supplementary Section 106 agreement, or levy, was one funding possibility.
Time is running short despite today's reprieve as the Department for Transport have stated that fitting-out the station after Crossrail becomes operational would be "more expensive and complex". We call on Mayor Johnson, Transport for London, Greenwich Council and Berkeley Homes to act quickly and sort this out.
Woolwich needs this station to happen but the taxpayers of Greenwich Borough do not want to pay £100m on their own.
George Osborne visited the Berkeley Homes "Royal Arsenal Riverside" development in Woolwich today, including the construction site for the buildings above the Crossrail box, in the company of Tony Pidgley, Berkeley Group Chairman, Tory donor and recently appointed CBE, for a photo opportunity to promote his budget announcements to support homebuyers.
Let us hope he took the time to convince Berkeley to do the right thing.