Southwark Council is paying £63m for a tube station upgrade that is “currently undeliverable” – and the borough’s Liberal Democrats want the money to be used on a new tram network instead, the News can reveal.
The council has already handed Transport for London (TfL) about £37.8m since 2014 for upgrades to the Elephant and Castle tube station ticket hall and improvements to the northern roundabouts, and is due to spend another £25.2m over the next nine years.
The upgrades to the station were due to form part of the Bakerloo line extension, which would have seen two new tube stations added to the Old Kent Road. Southwark Council said last year that the extension was “fundamental to plans for growth and development in the borough”.
Labour’s Cllr Johnson Situ added at the time that the upgrade to the station would “help support the case for the overall Bakerloo Line Extension project, strengthening TfL’s case for capital funding.”
But the extension to the Bakerloo Line has been shelved indefinitely, due to TfL’s financial struggles after the pandemic. Earlier this year a TfL board member said the work was unlikely to happen in her lifetime.
News did emerge in a report by trade publication New Civil Engineer this week that TfL had asked consultants to draw up plans for tunnels as part of the extension, and land along the planned route had already been safeguarded. But there has been no confirmation that the money for the £3.1b project is available.
Meanwhile even the fate of the station upgrade itself appears to be shrouded in uncertainty. The work, which includes a ticket office, new escalators, lifts and entrance, as well as connecting tunnels from the Northern line to the Bakerloo line, is supposed to be paid for by developers Delancey, who are building on the site of the former shopping centre, Southwark Council and TfL.
But the transport agency said in a report in October that it did not have the funding for its part of the project, which means that “the full scheme is currently undeliverable as originally envisaged”. TfL said this week that the first part of the station project was confirmed and the timing of the new ticket hall would be finalised when it had its share of the money.
It is unclear what proportion of the overall cost of the scheme is covered by the council – TfL has redacted the total amount from official documents, citing “commercial sensitivity”.
TfL and mayor Sadiq Khan maintain that the core scope of works on the station upgrade should go ahead. Funding is likely to depend on TfL’s financial agreement with the government, with a meeting coming up in December.
But Southwark Liberal Democrat councillor Damian O’Brien is calling for Southwark Council to get back the money from TfL, halt future payments, and use the money to invest in a tram network.
Cllr O’Brien will ask the Labour council leader Kieron Williams what he plans to do to reclaim the money from TfL at a meeting on November 24, and ask for his view on the best use of the funds.
The £63m comes from community infrastructure levy (CIL) payments – money that the council can charge developers for building in the borough. Most of the money has to be spent on infrastructure like public transport – which is why Cllr O’Brien suggested reviving the tram idea.
Trams have long been discussed as an option to tackle Southwark’s relative lack of public transport and are popular with both Labour and the Lib Dems. In March this year a motion that backed exploring new tram lines along a host of other green transport options gained cross-party support.
During the debate that followed the council not only confirmed it was actively looking into ideas to create the first new tramline in over a century in Southwark, but it also recognised the need for “rapid” solutions in the next few years, regardless of whether the Bakerloo line extension ever actually goes ahead.
Private company Trampower said in April it could pay for a new tram network itself, to be up and running by 2025 – but no planning application appears to have been made.
Cllr O’Brien said: “We’ve got all that money sitting in TfL’s bank account at the moment. Don’t sit on our money – we need it.” He added that the tram network was both a quality of life and an environmental issue. “If you’re going to implement climate stuff it takes money,” he said. “Most of the active transport infrastructure runs east-west. What we need to do is bring people from the south of the borough to the north and vice-versa.”
Southwark Council did not respond to a request for comment.
A TfL spokesperson said: “We are committed to delivering the Elephant & Castle Station Capacity Upgrade in collaboration with Southwark Council and Delancey, which will provide step-free access between the Northern and Bakerloo lines and a new entrance, as well as adding extra capacity.
“Unfortunately our financial position has changed as a result of the pandemic and we cannot currently commit to provide our intended share of funding for the completion of the whole proposed scheme. Rather than impede the start of the development, it has been agreed with London Borough of Southwark and the GLA to use existing third-party funding to deliver the first phase of work, which includes the new station box, enabling works and connecting tunnels.
“This is crucial to enabling the wider development and protects our ability to proceed with our scheme in the future. The first stage of the project, which will provide the overall station box, is confirmed and early enabling works are already underway, with the timing of fitting out the new ticket hall to be confirmed when we are able to commit our share of the funding in the future.”