The News


bringing important railway connections together

City and Canary Wharf Skyline

“The combination of the City and Canary Wharf makes London the number-one financial centre in the world” – Sir George Iacobescu.

There is growing appreciation of the immense benefits the Brighton Main Line 2 project will deliver to London and the South East. New links north of the Thames are planned, whilst to the south the region urgently needs lots more capacity into the capital with supplementary services on revitalised main lines. As we predicted when BML2 was first launched, it would be the London Phase providing the engine to the whole scheme. Network Rail and the train operating companies agreed – “sort that out and you have a sound case” they told us. Subsequently, the project’s eastern Thames connection, designed to provide fast north-south links through Canary Wharf and Docklands, captured the interest of investors and wealth creators.

A few days ago in the London Evening Standard Sir George Iacobescu, chairman and chief executive of the Canary Wharf Group, the principal developer in Docklands, said: “Despite all the uncertainty there is now, I am convinced London will continue to grow and it is our duty to make it happen.” Brimming with confidence, he rightly predicted: “Ultimately, if you cast your eyes into the future, the City and Canary Wharf will become one.”

The area has been a phenomenal success from its small beginnings, whilst Sir George confidently declared construction would “continue for decades to come”. He is perfectly right as international investors continue to demonstrate huge confidence in the UK as the country prepares to free itself from the over-arching control of the European Union.

“We feel we have built a city, the number of people working here is the same as the entire population of Cambridge. Canary Wharf is already 50 per cent bigger than the financial centre of Frankfurt.”

It is calculated that business here generates over £36bn per annum.

Sir George also told the newspaper that Canary Wharf had shifted London’s centre of gravity miles eastward, whilst transport links such as the Jubilee line and Docklands Light Railway had been fundamental to its success. When representatives from BML2 and its investors met at Canary Wharf tower we were shown an enormous scale model of the entire location with LED strips illuminating its transport links. Nevertheless, a north-south axis, which BML2 would provide, was glaringly absent.

In another development, London’s highly-influential journal Estates Gazette recently told its world-wide readership about BML2: ‘Private investors are backing a new Crossrail-style high-speed line from Stansted to Brighton which could help unlock the delivery of 100,000 homes.’ This was prompted by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s comment in the House of Commons during November that he was “very open” to the project and saying he’d be “delighted” to see the necessary routes reopened to enable it all to happen.

Estates Gazette usefully referred to the London Plan explaining: ‘Combined, the draft London Plan envisages nearly 100,000 new homes and 190,000 new jobs across the four locations.’ This amounts to: Lewisham, Catford, New Cross – 13,500 homes and 4,000 jobs. The Stratford Olympic legacy – 39,000 homes and 65,000 jobs. The Isle of Dogs – 29,000 homes and 110,000 jobs. The London Borough of Croydon – 14,500 homes and 10,500 jobs.

This is the geographical axis upon which BML2’s London Phase is planned to serve, whilst the feature explained ‘A new subterranean station underneath Wellesley Road, Croydon, would enable trains coming from the south to travel under London to Stratford and then on to Stansted, Essex.’

A tunnelled speedy link between Croydon and Stratford is the investors’ evaluation. They determine this to be the best solution to enable superior and much-improved connections from the south into Docklands. As Estates Gazette helpfully explained: “A north-south rail route between Canary Wharf, E14, and Stratford, E15 would include interchanges for Sussex and Kent commuters. Gatwick Airport would be just four stops from Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. The four locations for proposed new stations are at the heart of Opportunity Areas, where planning policy encourages redevelopment and intensification of uses.”

A statement from the investors behind BML2 made some very important points: “Over the past 12 months, the company set up to seriously advance BML2 has invested sizeable amounts of time and capital into the project and has brought together a wide spectrum of interested partners and professional services firms with the view of establishing an international project consortium.”

Wholly aware of the challenges ahead and the scarcity of government funding it continued:
“Our preliminary work has been focused on the conceptual viability of the project supported with a substantially new investment and financing structure that would remove both the project construction risk and the capital cost of the finished project from the government’s balance sheet.”

Estates Gazette had no difficulty immediately recognising the colossal benefits of BML2, saying: ‘The new line could bring huge uplifts in land values along the route, just as Crossrail has done. House prices around Crossrail locations are set to rise by 16% between 2016 and 2020, compared with just 7% across greater London, according to JLL.’ [JLL Corporate Property Management, Investment & Development]

Emily Williams, Research Analyst at Savills, the global real estate company, agreed and explained: “In short, better connectivity in the form of new railway lines mean better PTAL ratings [a higher PTAL means more valuable development land]. Increased densities therefore follow.” She pointed out: “Even the draft London Plan suggest the capital should make the best use of land by directing growth towards the most accessible and well-connected places. Crucially, this includes both existing and future public transport networks.”

Estates Gazette appreciated there was ‘little likelihood of government cash to spearhead BML2’ and rightly observed ‘significant funds from the private investors backing the project will be vital.’ Aware of the current appetite among private corporations searching hard for truly sound infrastructure projects it recognised that BML2 would ‘increase capacity from the south coast to London and enable commuters to travel direct to Canary Wharf and Stratford, locations that have seen a huge increase in homes and jobs in recent years, as well as relieving capacity issues around Victoria, SW1, and London Bridge, SE1.’

Whilst the London phase has understandably attracted most interest, BML2’s Sussex and Kent phases are intrinsic to its operation and success. The Brighton and Tonbridge main lines will certainly need both of the supplementary routes revived to Brighton and to Tunbridge Wells and performing beyond their previous function. Further study and discussion into realising these phases as soon as possible has been going on throughout the past six months. The intention is to have a full multi-£m technical and engineering assessment commencing as soon as practicable.

Discussions about reopening sections of the rail network and BML2 have occurred recently among councils in Tunbridge Wells, Lewes and Brighton. The Greater Brighton Economic Board has just backed long-standing plans to untangle one of the many bottlenecks on the Brighton main line at Windmill Bridge Junction north of East Croydon. The Board hopes to persuade the government to commit £1bn in 2019 to sort out the junction and thereby increase high-peak hour capacity. Local Enterprise Partnership chief executive Jonathan Sharrock said Network Rail had acknowledged rail links to Brighton had suffered from years of underinvestment. Mr Sharrock stressed that they did not “rule out” a separate campaign for a second line but believes the Brighton Line should be tackled first. However, Brighton city councillor Geoffrey Theobald, a staunch supporter of BML2, said that although further investment was welcome on the Brighton Line, the primary objective should still be a second Brighton main line.

Removing bottlenecks is all very well, but it should be borne in mind this will still leave the south with no alternative routes and only a very vulnerable two-track railway south of Three Bridges. As with the equally susceptible two-track line between Orpington and Tonbridge, we will still suffer point failures, signalling problems, train breakdowns, ‘poor rail conditions’, train crew shortages and all those unforeseen incidents which so frequently plague a struggling network.

Overall, railways should not be a transport-only matter for the rail industry and DfT civil servants to deliberate upon and manage. They are the facilitators of economic growth and prosperity, as well as improving the quality of life for everyone. Good communications are essential and the South East desperately needs the two new main lines BML2 will deliver.

London also needs BML2 for the fast, high-capacity link it will be through its expanding, wealth-creating ‘super-hub’ – and directly joining Gatwick and Stansted.