x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Crossrail on track to deliver £42bn

As infrastructure developments go, there are few grander than Crossrail, described as Europe's biggest engineering project.

As infrastructure developments go, there are few grander than Crossrail.

Described as a railway for the 21st century, Europe's biggest engineering project is designed to revolutionise transport in Britain's most prosperous region, the south-east.

Thirty-seven stations, including Heathrow Airport west of London and the financial centre of Canary Wharf set on the River Thames in the east, as well as the counties of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Essex and Kent, will be connected to one another and to Greater London.

Crossrail's future is assured. People have to get around efficiently and London's transport system is under severe pressure. Some 200 million passengers are expected to use Crossrail services each year once the railway reaches full operation some months after services begin in late 2018.

In 2010, a "funding envelope" of £14.8 billion (Dh87.18bn) was agreed with the aim of meeting the cost of delivering the project in its entirety.

The money comes from a variety of sources, more than 60 per cent from "Londoners and London businesses" - a phrase covering contributions from central and local taxation on households and companies.

The prize, along with the vast improvement to transport services in the capital and its surrounds, is significant: Crossrail says the "estimated benefit to the UK economy is at least £42bn".

Contrast this with the experience of developers seeking to make commercial sense out of such buildings in the business heart of London as the Shard, on which external work is complete, or the Pinnacle, funded by Saudi Arabia's Economic Development Corporation but now stalled until early next year.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London and always ready to talk up the capital's interests, described the Shard as "a symbol of how London is powering its way out of the global recession".

But the £1.5bn building, built with Qatari funding, shows little sign at present of meeting its developers' promise of being fully let by the end of 2014.

The Independent newspaper identified six other "landmark additions to London's skyline", including the Pinnacle, that may now never be built. But from the same Independent report comes a bold message of reassurance.

"I've seen four recessions during my career," says Peter Murray, the chairman of London's Centre for the Built Environment.

"And in each one I've heard people say: 'look at all this empty office space, why do we need it?' And after each one, as the economy has improved, it has become occupied."