Vanity Fare? Time to Re-think the Link…

Confusion & political back-biting reign over MLX fundingkhan_harrington_WO

At a meeting of the London Assembly on 28 September, Mayor Sadiq Khan ruled that TfL would not stump up any further funding for the Metropolitan Line Extension to Watford Junction (formerly Croxley Rail Link). You can read the full decision here.

Since then it has been reported in the Watford Observer that MP Richard Harrington has been in further talks with the Mayor to try and identify where the £50m shortfall above the current £284m estimate might come from. Others have suggested the true cost could now be as much as £360m yet still the plans for this scheme involve the closure of a very well-used station – Watford Met!

In the words of a famous song: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” – it must be the real life because you really couldn’t make it up! Meanwhile elsewhere in Watford…

Charter Place

Intu is forging ahead with the £180m extension of its shopping centre and multiplex cinema development in Watford town centre regardless. Maybe Intu thinks Watford is well enough connected? Surely if they thought the new link would bring in hoards more customers they and/or their financiers would be lobbying hard and even maybe offering a funding contribution? The fact they are not attests to the leakiness of the so called business case for MLX.

Health Campus

There is plenty of housing and other development planned for the so called ‘Health Campus’ including an hotel and private ‘care village’. But we are no nearer any commitment from the NHS to fund any new healthcare facilities, least of all the redevelopment of the hospital that the new rail line was designed to serve – even though the proposed station would be a far from flat 400 metre hike. Surely the NHS would see the new rail link as an opportunity to establish Watford as an efficient sub-regional treatment centre for West Hertfordshire – no?

Ascot Road

And in the wake of the awful Grenfell disaster the Council has granted planning for a 24-storey residential tower at Ascot Road where the nearest public transport would be the proposed Cassiobridge station and residents would predominantly not need a parking space. Oh dear – it would take a lot more of these to make up £50m shortfall!

So revisiting the original business case when the overall cost envelope was only £120m or was it £150m – whatever – how does it anywhere near stack up at £284m, let alone £360m?

Don’t get us wrong, this campaign is not opposed to the link per se provided services to Watford Met are maintained.  However even without that the biggest single item in the budget is the ‘vanity viaduct’ across Baldwin’s Lane that on its own accounts for £120m – at least 1/3 of the overall cost.

Other Options

If that were dropped the scheme would amount to a spur line from Watford Junction via Watford High Street and Watford Hospital to Cassiobridge. This could be run as part of the London Overground – or as a separate light rail or tram – is this so ridiculous? The idea is not so new – this was one of the ideas we looked at few years back. The Croxley Rail Link Plans have been kicking around for over 20 years – probably more – since the Croxley spur was closed in the 1980s. If the real idea is opening up more areas of Watford with better public transport (without detriment to those which are currently well served) we would strongly advocate exploring more affordable alternative options.

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