The proposed extension of the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham cannot be guaranteed as Transport for London reels from the financial pressure heaped upon it by the coronavirus pandemic, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport has revealed in a letter to a Greenwich councillor.
Eltham North councillor Charlie Davis, who is also standing as a Conservative candidate for the London Assembly, lobbied for an answer on the future of the project following last month’s £1.69 billion government bailout of the mayor’s transport agency.
The bailout came after TfL’s fare income plummeted by 90 per cent, and led to widespread media reports the planned extension of the Bakerloo Line from Elephant and Castle to Lewisham – and possibly on to Hayes – could be scrapped.
Heidi Alexander said she could “categorically assure” Davis the Bakerloo extension did not feature in any of her discussions with the government on the funding settlement. But she acknowledged ongoing pressure on TfL’s finances meant the future of such projects couldn’t be guaranteed.
“You will be aware however that there is still considerable uncertainty over TfL’s longer term funding arrangements and so just as there was not a confirmed funding and financing package for the [extension] prior to the onset of the pandemic, there is equally not one in place now,” she said.
‘Catastrophic impact’ of Coronavirus
She added the project remains at an early stage of development and work was under way with the government to safeguard the route of the extension, saying she would “like to accelerate those discussions at an appropriate time”. The route would pass underneath the Old Kent Road to New Cross Gate before running to Lewisham. In February, Sainsbury’s abandoned plans for a housing development on the site of the proposed New Cross Gate station.
In her letter to Davis, the deputy mayor also detailed the “catastrophic impact” of Covid-19 on TfL’s finances, adding that London is the only major city in western Europe that does not receive a government grant for its day-to-day operations, meaning it relies heavily on fares income. Government funding for TfL ended in 2018 under a deal signed by Khan’s predecessor, Boris Johnson.
TfL’s finances have been a bone of contention since the bailout was secured – with Conservatives repeatedly criticising Khan’s policy of freezing fares on the network.
Commenting on the response, Davis, who is running for the Lewisham and Greenwich assembly seat, took aim at what he called “the poor financial management of the Labour administration at City Hall”.
“Even now, the mayor refuses to take responsibility for this issue and provide the leadership required to guide TfL through this challenging period,” he said.
“The Bakerloo Line extension is a vital piece of local transport infrastructure, not just for Lewisham but for wider south-east London.
“The fact the deputy mayor is unable to guarantee the future funding of this project is deeply worrying, I will continue to campaign to ensure this vital project is not sacrificed to bail out Labour’s failings in London.”
In her letter, Alexander said the Government bailout would allow TfL to run public transport safely in London for the next four-and-a-half months, but had left the body saddled with extra debt.
“However, it was not the deal we wanted and will mean TfL taking on an additional half a billion pounds of debt, undoing the hard work the Mayor has put into fixing TfL’s finances over the last four years,” Ms Alexander said.
Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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