Oral Update

MQT on 2009-11-18
Session date: 
November 18, 2009
Question By: 
Darren Johnson
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


In accordance with Standing Orders the Mayor has agreed to give a short oral update, and I know that there has been one issue that has been raised by Members that they would like the Mayor to address in his update.


Answer for Oral Update

Answer for Oral Update

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Thank you, Chair. Good morning and obviously it is fantastic to see such a big turnout for this display of democratic scrutiny here in London.

You are right, Chair, that Assembly Members have asked me to tell them about the South London Line and rail travel in south London but, first, there are just a couple of things I wanted to mention that have happened since we all last met.

We have announced a plan to fund 8,000 young people into apprenticeships through an £11.5 million investment. We have opened the Heron Unit at Feltham Young Offenders Institution. We held a People's Question Time in Brixton which I think, by common consent, was an overwhelming success and I pay tribute, in particular, to the fortitude of Val [Valerie Shawcross AM] in chairing that particular session. I think you did extremely well. We have launched a trial scheme to cut carbon from at least 200,000 London homes by 2012 and that is going extremely well and much, much better than I think we had anticipated.

Of course the Members who came on the delegation [regarding the South London Line] to see Sadiq Khan [Minister of State for Transport] will know exactly what happened. I think it was, on the whole, a successful mission. The Government certainly heard our points and it heard the points that we were able to relay to it about the concerns of rail travel users in south London, and it is agreed that the Department of Transport (DfT) will give serious consideration to finding alternatives following the withdrawal of the South London Line mandated by it.

In this whole story and in this conversation that has begun about rail travel in south London I think there is a danger that we will miss the big good news point - and I think I am entitled to stress the good news as the Mayor - that the extension of the East London Line, connecting it up with the North London Line, will hugely increase capacity for rail users in south London. I know that Dick Tracey has campaigned on this and James [James Cleverly AM] has campaigned on this. Everybody has been making very much the same points. I would just beseech you to point out that there will be a significant increase in rail capacity in south London. That is a huge part of what we want to do. We see the vital importance of integrating the Underground and the overground and of delivering improvements in rail capacity in south London.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Thank you very much, Mayor, for receiving the deputation and for coming with us to see the Minister. The Minister is, in fact, going to see the community representatives very shortly as well. I think the key issue that is overlooked in your letter and, perhaps, in your update there --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): In my letter to you?

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Yes, which has been laid around and thank you for that . We are grateful that you are taking an interest in this. The key issue that has been missed is this point about the moving of funding from the Victoria Bellingham Service, which was proposed to replace the South London Line, to fill the funding gap on the East London Line. The community has always said that the East London Line was offered as an additional service and it did come as a shock to everybody to discover that Transport for London (TfL) was proposing to remove the funding from the Bellingham Victoria South London Line replacement to fund the East London Line.

Can you tell me whether or not you have had any more thoughts about accepting the Minister's offer that if you would continue to fund the Victoria Bellingham Line for two to three years the DfT would compromise and look at taking it back for the long-term? That seemed, to me, to be a very sensible opening knock in the negotiations.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): You are right, Val, and I think that, obviously, is an interesting suggestion, and it is clearly something that we will want to consider. It will be one of the 30 options that London TravelWatch is in the process of considering and, clearly, we will want to think about the funding implications and, bluntly, whether we can afford it.

I think people coming to this story cold may not quite understand what has gone on here. In effect, we were able to get a very significant improvement - as you know and as you campaigned for, along with many others - in rail services in south London. The price was that one of the mitigation measures, the Victoria to Bellingham route, would no longer be funded.

I think one of the interesting things that came out of our deputation was that the particular group we were with - and it may be just a reflection of the group that we were with - were much more interested, frankly, in delivering a direct service from Denmark Hill and so on to Victoria or to London Bridge. That was their overriding priority I would say and they were less concerned about the Bellingham link.

I can see that the Bellingham link would obviously mitigate the problem in the short-term, and I am certainly willing to consider it, but I have a far too healthy respect for you, Val, to offer any kind of binding commitment now because I know that anything I say you will seize on, pocket and then ask for something more, so I am going to be extremely guarded in what I say.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Just bear in mind, Mayor, it is only £2.4 million a year we are talking about here --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I hear what you say.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): My pockets are big. Thank you.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I hear what you say.

Jenny Jones (AM): Mr Mayor, for those of us who are not coming to this topic cold, it is turning into a sort of groundhog day because just as we think you have actually understood that you do have some responsibility for this, you write another letter saying you do not. So what I want to ask you is do you understand you do have some responsibility here?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): It is certainly the case that, with others, I would claim credit for the considerable TfL investment that we have made in rail in south London --

Jenny Jones (AM): No, we understand that.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Good.

Jenny Jones (AM): But what about the South London Line? Do you understand you have some responsibility there?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Obviously --

Jenny Jones (AM): Good. Great. Again. It is in the minutes --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- any decision by the Department for Transport to close the South London Line, we could have averted that decision had we said that we were not going to go ahead with the East London Line extension.

Jenny Jones (AM): Well perhaps if you had understood the problems you might have renegotiated that particular --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That was the trade off that people were offered. Given that the East London Line extension, which will create this loop right the way through south London --

Jenny Jones (AM): But it also means cuts.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- hooking up Clapham with Canary Wharf for the first time --

Jenny Jones (AM): Yes, we understand it is a great line.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): It is a great line and I think we should be singing its praises.

Jenny Jones (AM): But why should we get one great line and lose another great line? We do not understand why we are losing something.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I appreciate your maximalist position and I think you are right to be maximalist in representing your constituents. This is the job of the London Assembly: to come and demand the earth from people who hold the budgets.

Jenny Jones (AM): £2.4 million is not the earth, Mr Mayor.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): The difficulty is that sometimes the best can be the enemy of the good and the huge improvements that we were offered by completing the East London Line extension seemed to be worth seizing for us.

Jenny Jones (AM): You might have renegotiated it, I guess, because it was your decision.

Can I ask you, have you actually set up a meeting yet between TfL and Network Rail to discuss capacity at London Bridge, because we definitely heard from Network Rail that it could create that capacity if that was its instruction.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I am aware of that view as I think you relayed that to us last time --

Jenny Jones (AM): Last week. Yes.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- and it is a good and interesting point. As you will remember from the discussions that we had the other day, Ian Brown [Managing Director, London Rail, Transport for London] has had extensive conversations already - and I am sure is having further conversations --

Jenny Jones (AM): Have you set up a new meeting though?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- with Network Rail and it is very much TfL's view that, in order to satisfy that objective, you would have to construct, more or less, a different type of station at London Bridge at very, very considerable expense.

Jenny Jones (AM): We actually think that is wrong. I have got to leave it at that I am afraid. Thank you.

John Biggs (AM): Very quickly. Your predecessor as Mayor set the ball rolling by bidding for and then taking over the operation of the North London Line, the West London Line and the East London Line and its extensions. At a previous meeting you were asked what ambitions you had to expand TfL's role over Network Rail systems in London and you froze in your seat. You have had a lot of time to think about it since then. What are your future ambitions other than this fudgy thing on the South London Line?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): My future ambitions. I am interested you say that about the previous Mayor because --

John Biggs (AM): Can you identify the services you would like to take over, for example? What is the next one?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): There are no limits to my ambitions in --

John Biggs (AM): So you do not have any?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- the democratic control and oversight of overground services in London. I think, unlike the shambolic and weak performance of the previous Mayor who never secured control of the franchises in the way that he constantly boasted that he would, I have every confidence that we will make far more progress in the next year on that issue, and institute some measure of democratic oversight of the franchises in London than the previous incumbent.

John Biggs (AM): OK. Thank you.

Darren Johnson (Chair): Thank you. That concludes questions on the update so we will then move on to questions on the order paper.