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Crossrail: Mayor ‘misled’ public over delay

The mayor of London has been accused of “misleading” the public and the London Assembly transport committee over when he knew the project would be delayed.

In a letter to the mayor, the committee’s Lib Dem chair Caroline Pidgeon claimed that evidence given by the mayor, Crossrail and Transport for London in September relating to the delay revealed “a number of worrying decisions” and a “continuing lack of openness”.

Crossrail revealed on 31 August that the central section of the £15.4bn line would not open until autumn next year, at least nine months after the original December 2018 opening date.

Ms Pidgeon claimed the timing of when Crossrail knew a delay was likely was “murky”.

In her letter, she pointed out that Crossrail told the transport committee that it had informed both TfL and the Department for Transport that a delay was likely on 19 July.

However, the mayor has previously told the London Assembly that Crossrail had not informed the project’s sponsors of a likely delay before its funding was increased by £590m on 24 July.

Ms Pidgeon added: “It would be surprising and extremely disappointing if Crossrail waited until the moment they were provided with an extra £600m of public money before revealing they were going to fail to meet their own delivery date.

“In fact, this account is very hard to believe.”

The Lib Dem committee chair suggested Crossrail should have made stakeholders aware that it was considering a potential delay months in advance. 

She added that, if Crossrail had not begun considering a delay until August, then this would represent a “serious failing in project management” that would “undermine Crossrail’s previous reputation for competence”.

Ms Pidgeon also alleged that the mayor, TfL and the government concealed growing concerns that Crossrail would not meet its original schedule.

She suggested that, by the time of the funding announcement on 24 July and TfL board discussions the following day, “it was clearly very well established that Crossrail was not likely to meet the December opening date, even if a new date had not yet been confirmed”.

She continued: “By concealing this, you and the government turned both parliament and the TfL board – crucial forums for scrutinising Crossrail in public – into little more than theatrical performances.”

While accepting that the mayor did not know the specific details of the delay, Ms Pidgeon’s letter suggested that, “given the evidence we have received, we feel it is highly likely that you were informed on or soon after 19 July that there was very likely to be a delay”.

She continued: “It may have been justified to wait for clearer information before a public announcement. However, it is arguable that maintaining that you were completely uninformed is misleading.”

In a press release published alongside the letter, the assembly’s transport committee claimed it had learned of a statement TfL made to the London Stock Exchange on 24 July 2018 that made no mention of the delay.

As a result of this discovery, the committee said it had written to the Financial Conduct Authority for clarification.

Ms Pidgeon used her letter to call for future Crossrail board meetings to be made public, and for details of those held previously to be published “in the spirit of transparency”.

She also asked TfL for an explanation over the delay to purchasing rolling stock, which Ms Pidgeon suggested was a factor in the delays.

In response to Ms Pidgeon’s allegations, a Crossrail spokesperson said: “Crossrail has been reporting cost and schedule pressures to sponsors.

“At the Crossrail board meeting on 19 July, a schedule risk was flagged and the executive were tasked to report back and present a formal recommendation to a special meeting of the board in August.

“At the Crossrail board meeting on 29 August, it was confirmed that it was now no longer possible to meet the December 2018 opening date.

“This was communicated to sponsors on 30 August and announced at the earliest opportunity on 31 August.”

A spokesperson for the mayor also issued a statement in response to the allegations: “The mayor did not hide his anger and disappointment when Crossrail announced that the central section of the project wouldn’t be opening until autumn next year – anger and frustration made worse by the length of the delay and how late in the project it was announced.

“The mayor has expressed his frustrations directly to the leadership of Crossrail – both privately and during meetings in public.

“The mayor has now asked Crossrail and TfL to look into whether the joint sponsors should have been made aware of the revised schedule at an earlier date, and whether the right scrutiny and oversight is in place as the project moves to its final phase.

“As part of this, the mayor has asked the TfL commissioner to arrange for an independent review of Crossrail’s governance, to report next month.”

The Department for Transport has been contacted for comment.

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