White Knights and Wishlists: Northern and Bakerloo Line Extensions

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As the final quarter of 2011 drew to a close, the future seemed bright (or at least no longer entirely dark) with regards to extending the Underground. The release of the Mayor’s updated Transport Strategy earlier that year had brought both the extension of the Metropolitan Line to Watford Junction from Croxley and the extension of the Bakerloo line firmly into the public eye – with the Mayor promising to bring it to the eyes of Whitehall as well. There they joined the extension of the Northern Line to Battersea – a thoroughly matured scheme seemingly headed for a Transport Works Act (TWA).

As the first quarter of 2012 dawns, however, the landscape already seems to have shifted considerably. Of the three schemes it is now only the Croxley Rail Link – the project that would have seemed the least likely of the three to proceed at all just three years ago – that now seems likely to make it off the drawing board, at least in the short term.

Yet despite this it is the prospect of extensions to the Northern and the Bakerloo Lines that continue to draw headlines.

Given the dire need to improve Tube connections in South East London this is perhaps understandable. No doubt the fact that both represent solid London political fodder helps as well. What it means, however, is that in recent months the reality behind the carefully chosen wording of strategies and press conferences has sometimes become difficult to discern. What follows, therefore, is an attempt to summarise in the simplest terms the current situation with regards to both schemes.

Taking the Northern Line to Battersea

We have covered at length the development of the proposal to take the Northern Line to Battersea and December 2011 seemed to see the scope of this project finally agreed. TfL, REO (owners of the Battersea site and the extension’s major private sector backer) and both Lambeth and Wandsworth councils reached provisional agreement over the route the extension would take. Out of all the routes consulted on publicly, Option 4 appeared to have been decided upon. This would see the Northern Line extended from Kennington to Battersea, with an intermediate station, “Nine Elms,” in Wandsworth somewhere in the vicinity of Sainsbury’s on Wandsworth Road. An option for further extension to Clapham Junction at a later date would be included within the design (a detailed breakdown of this can be found in the associated report to Lambeth Council).

By December, it seemed that the main question that remained was over funding. The project work undertaken by TfL (and paid for by REO) had established that the developer’s own initial public estimates of possible cost (approximately £390m) were highly optimistic and certainly didn’t include the cost of an intermediate station. After detailed cost evaluation, the inclusion of the associated costs of an extra station and the inclusion of a 35% optimism bias it seemed likely that funds and assurances equivalent to approximately £850-900m would be needed.

Nonetheless, the business case for the station was still strong, and it was believed that funds could be found. No money would be available from TfL or Central Government, but S106 commitments from developers would cover an estimated £300m – with £200m of that crucially coming from REO’s Battersea plans. Alongside that it appeared that additional local transport funding and business rate commitments could be found which, if combined with some form of Tax Increment Funding (TIF), would likely prove enough to cover the total cost of the scheme.

The major question, therefore, was one of borrowing. TfL were unwilling to take on the upfront borrowing that would be need to carry out the project (unsurprising as the organisation, whilst perfectly secure and solvent, is already very close to its borrowing limit) and thus this would need to fall to the developer or a combination of the boroughs involved. It was an issue, but one that was by no means insurmountable.

Then just before Christmas it was confirmed that REO would be placed in Administration – Lloyds and Nama, to whom the developer owed $380m – had called in their loans and REO, a subsidiary of troubled Irish developer Treasury Holdings, were unable to pay. In order to recoup their costs, the banks wanted the Battersea site sold.

As it stands, therefore, the Northern Line extension to Battersea is now effectively on hold. Without the Battersea development (and more importantly the £200m S106 that brings to the table) the project cannot proceed.

TfL have confirmed that the Mayor has requested that work towards a potential TWA submission at the end of 2012 will continue based on the current scheme. If a new developer has not bought out the site and agreed to the S106 arrangements, however, this will not be submitted, as both the DfT specifically and the Treasury have indicated that whilst they support the scheme in principle, they will provide no public funding. With REO’s exit from the scene it is not yet clear who will carry any extra cost incurred by the TWA process.

Extending the Bakerloo

It has become a much publicised fact that the Bakerloo Line is the only one of London’s Tubes that currently has spare capacity. Given this, it is perhaps no surprise that there has been much talk of its extension.

This has become particularly prevalent after the inclusion of a Bakerloo Extension in the long term aspirations expressed in the Mayor’s updated transport strategy. Perhaps encouraged by this, Lewisham then carried out their own investigation into a possible extension of the line. Since then, the Mayor has reiterated his desire to see the Bakerloo extended and his intention to broach the subject with the DfT and Treasury.

Unfortunately, no concrete plan is currently being developed to extend the Bakerloo. TfL have confirmed that, as part of the production of the new MTS, the possibility was investigated and a number of options updated and revaluated (business case comparisons to extending the DLR instead were apparently also made).

As a result of this TfL have confirmed that, as it stands, the best business case would see an extension to Hayes, with one of two routes likely (and almost certainly not Lewisham’s suggested scheme):

1) Hayes via Old Kent and Lewisham
2) Hayes via Peckham and Camberwell Green

TfL Planning Director Michelle Mix, speaking in front of the London Assembly Transport Committee last week, admitted that of these the first option had a far stronger business case due to the inclusion of New Cross.

Although TfL’s report into the extension isn’t public, it is thus reasonable to suspect that the proposed route of such an extension would be similar to Option 3 of the 2007 study undertaken by TfL.

Despite a strong business case and spare capacity, though, it is financing that once again means that a Bakerloo extension is currently a non-starter.

At the Committee meeting Mix confirmed that the baseline cost estimate for a Bakerloo Extension is currently £3.5bn – £4bn. Sufficient money for such a project certainly doesn’t exist within TfL and, as with the Northern Line, neither Central Government nor the DfT are prepared to make such a commitment. Without a significant commitment from an external source – such as a developer – no work on extending the Bakerloo is likely to take place for the foreseeable future.

As a result, Mix confirmed that TfL currently considered the extension of the Bakerloo to be a very low priority project, with current efforts in that area focused on securing funding to upgrade the Line rather than extend it. Indeed she also confirmed that, to her knowledge at least, there had been no discussion between the Mayor and the Government so far over the topic of a Bakerloo Extension.

A Return to the Wishlist

As can be seen above, therefore, without a financial White Knight, talk of both Northern and Bakerloo Line Extensions should very much be taken with a pinch of salt. Both projects have significant merit, but with TfL’s financial efforts focused elsewhere they lack the funding required to be taken further. They may both have significantly stronger business cases than Hillingdon Council’s desire to take the Central to Uxbridge, or the similar extension of the Central to Harlow, but they must remain on London’s wish list nonetheless (a list that perhaps in practical, rather than political, terms the Bakerloo extension never really left).

As a result it seems likely that those looking to see the colours of the Underground map stretch further will have to content themselves in the short term with looking north. There at least some hope can be found as indeed, perhaps, can some lessons. As the history of the Underground has consistently demonstrated (and Herts Council’s persistence with the Croxley Rail Link proved), more often than not expanding London’s transport infrastructure is about being able to whip out the right plan quickly at the right time.

If nothing else, at least for both the Northern and Bakerloo Lines it now seems that those plans exist.

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.