A future of a crucial planned Tube line bringing commuters from South-east London into town has been thrown into doubt by the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed extension of the Bakerloo line from Elephant and Castle to Lewisham cannot be guaranteed – as Transport for London (TfL) reels from the income it lost in lockdown, a letter from the Deputy Mayor for Transport has revealed.
The details come after Greenwich councillor and London Assembly candidate Charlie Davis lobbied for an answer on the future of the project, following last month’s £1.69 billion Government bailout of TfL.
The bailout – which came after TfL’s fare income over the past two months plummeted by 90 per cent – led to reports the planned extension of the Bakerloo line could be scrapped.
Deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander, a former Lewisham MP, said she could “categorically assure” Cllr Davis the Bakerloo extension did not feature in any of her discussions on the funding settlement.
But she acknowledged ongoing pressure on TfL finances meant the future of such projects couldn’t be guaranteed.
She said: “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 added the project is at an early stage and work was under way with the Government to safeguard the extension, saying she would “like to accelerate those discussions at an appropriate time”.
In her letter to Cllr Davis, the deputy mayor also detailed the “catastrophic impact” of Covid-19 on TfL’s finances.
London is the only major city in Western Europe that does not receive a Government grant for day-to-day operations, she added – meaning it relies heavily on fare income.
The financial management of TfL has been a bone of contention since the bailout was secured – with Labour and the Conservatives clashing over the issue repeatedly.
Cllr Davis, who is running for the London Assembly seat of Lewisham, 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, Ms 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 past four years,” Ms Alexander said.
Future plans published on the Bakerloo extension could also see the Tube line extended to Hayes, in a move that has repeatedly been rejected by Bromley council.
The authority has instead argued for additional capacity and connectivity for existing services in the town centre.
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