Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Thameslink 2000 plan, announced with great fanfare in his predecessor‘s 10-year plan and delayed within 10 weeks because of environmental problems, has now?after 10 months?been deferred indefinitely owing to cost overruns? Can he also confirm that there will be fewer services on the lines taking my constituents to London? When will they see any improvement, rather than deterioration, while plans are constantly being delayed?

    Mr. Darling: The environmental problems to which the right hon. Gentleman refers are planning problems. No Government and no railways can get around the fact that planning permission must be applied for.

    As I have said a number of times in the House when I have been asked similar questions about Thameslink, we must bear in mind that we are trying to build a railway rather than redeveloping parts of London. In the case of Thameslink, some people have seen an opportunity to do an awful lot of redevelopment along the way. That inflates costs, and while it may be desirable for development reasons it does not help us to build the railway.

    I am anxious to get Thameslink extended. The right hon. Gentleman is right: it has been a major boon for London, opening links between north and south that existed to no real extent for a long time. Two things are necessary for the extension. We must secure the planning consent, which is being considered at the moment, and the project?like all rail projects?must be both affordable and deliverable. If those things can be achieved, Thameslink will significantly improve north-south links across London, and I for one would dearly like that to happen.

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