CAMPAIGNS: Cross London rail proposal wins backing - Public Affairs

Client: Cross London Rail Links PR Team: In-house and AS Biss & Co Campaign: East-West London Crossrail project Timescale: September 2001 - ongoing Budget: £2m per annum

As everyone who travels into or around London knows, negotiating the capital by rail or tube is unpredictable, unpleasant and time-consuming.

The day-to-day realities of packed carriages, poor service and awkward interconnections have crushed passenger morale, while struggles to rebuild the tube, fare hikes, strikes and crashes have undermined London's economy and its reputation worldwide.

With existing tracks stretched to their limits, the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London took the step two years ago to set up a joint venture, Cross London Rail Links (CLRL), to promote and develop two new lines through London: Line 1, east to west and Line 2, northeast to southwest.

Allocated a £154m budget by the Government, CLRL was tasked with developing a feasibility study for the two lines and acquiring parliamentary powers, or planning authority, for Line 1.

Priority was given to the East-West London Crossrail project, which is currently set to create a twin-bore tunnel from Paddington to Liverpool Street, connecting with existing and new rail links to the Isle of Dogs, Stratford and Shenfield in the east and Heathrow, Kingston and Richmond in the west.

Objectives

To gain initial Government backing for the Crossrail project linking east and west London, followed by parliamentary approval.

To promote the project to the media, while developing an understanding of any public concerns from individuals, businesses and local authorities.

Strategy and Plan

Unlike a new-build scheme across virgin territory, such as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the East-West London Crossrail line involved a host of regulatory, statutory and local authorities.

The PR team faced the challenge of communicating core messages to a varied audience, ranging from the media and English Heritage to local councillors, communities, MPs and government departments.

Last November, the PR team presented its initial case for Crossrail to the Department of Transport, with an interim business case put forward in February and the definitive business case submitted last month.

Meetings were set up with senior technical officers from the 22 local councils the Crossrail route would traverse. The project is estimated to cost £10bn to build.

The PR team also had to make a case for the scheme to local government, weighing up the projected costs, disruption and environmental impact, against the benefits of the rail link, once it is running.

These benefits include relieving pressure on other transport links in the capital and to Heathrow, while regenerating vast tracts of London, such as the East End, plus securing economic growth.

Ongoing dialogue with the media and other stakeholders at a local and regional level was key - potential worries included integration of the line into the existing transport system and the location and design of stations.

Measurement and Evaluation

AS Biss & Co worked with CLRL to collect intelligence at a local authority and Government level, and, on 8 July, 88 MPs joined forces to launch a new Crossrail Parliamentary All-Party Group.

Local, regional and national media, including BBC 1's Breakfast with Frost and the Financial Times, have followed developments closely.

CLRL will also be involved in monitoring itself, once the extensive public consultation exercise kicks off this autumn. This will involve wide-ranging discussions with local authorities and community groups, resulting in a report in January.

A second consultation phase on the detail of the scheme will follow in March 2004, with an unveiling of the submission to Parliament for the hybrid bill giving the go-ahead for construction, expected in September that year.

Results

On 14 July the Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling announced his backing for the Crossrail project, but also indicated the scheme would not get parliamentary approval until at least November 2004. This decision disappointed some campaigners, who had been pushing for a hybrid bill in this parliamentary session.

So far, the media has responded positively to the idea of a new rail link for London.

However, there is the thorny question of funding, where Darling is demanding 'a substantial contribution' from private companies.

The Guardian transport correspondent Andrew Clark said: 'When you talk to the London business community, they say that the kind of money Darling is looking to get from the private sector is unrealistic. I think Darling's announcement is a thinly disguised delay.'

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