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Business leaders demand decision on capital's Crossrail

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Deputy prime minister John Prescott came under further pressure this week to give the green light to London's long-awaited 'Crossrail' east-west rail scheme when business leaders asked him to make a rapid decision on the project.

Damning the capital's transport infrastructure as 'unacceptable', business pressure group London First challenged the winner of the next election to settle questions over funding and timescales in the very earliest stages of its administration.

'We want all political parties to convince us that they are making transport improvements in London a key election pledge. After the election we will maintain the pressure for at least 100 days, in which time we want to see specific actions taken, ' said Lord Sheppard, chairman of London First, a group of 330 private-sector organisations.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said only that the project was 'under consideration'. But signs suggest the Labour government is looking positively at the link, running directly between Paddington in the west and Liverpool Street in the east - and rumours are rife that an announcement for the £3 billion project is to be made soon. The original scheme from the early 1990s - which had stations designed by practices including BDP, Ralph Erskine Architects and what was then Alsop & Stormer - has been recommended to ministers by the Strategic Rail Authority and has been included in London mayor Ken Livingstone's draft transport strategy.

'I'm fairly optimistic, ' London First director of policy and transport Irving Yass told the AJ. 'But an announcement has got to mean something more than just saying 'we want Crossrail to go ahead'; there are still arguments about which lines feed into it and on what terms it's going to be financed.'

Detailed design work was carried out between 1992 and 1994 and, unless the route has changed, many of the plans could be dusted down and reused. And Will Alsop's scheme for Crossrail at Paddington would be immune from subsequent redevelopments in and around Paddington station.

'We too have heard the rumours; there does seem to be some quiet confidence, ' said Alsop. 'If Crossrail went forward, the way we designed the station could still go ahead in an unchanged form. It's quite an independent structure and construction.'

But John Smith, project architect on the Paddington scheme and now director of JSA Architecture, warned that all existing design work could be made redundant with even the smallest changes to track alignment.

'The quality of the architecture was high in some of the schemes produced seven years ago, but seven years is a long time in terms of changes to the context of the project. You don't have to have a great change in track alignment to result in major, major changes to the design of a station.'

Smith estimated that if an announcement were to be made over the summer, the project would still not be ready for another five to 10 years.

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