Despite approval Crossrail still has years of development ahead

There is a story about a Japanese soldier found on a desert island many years after the Second World War, unaware that hostilities had ended.

After being briefed on world events during his years of solitude, he asked just one question: "Has Crossrail been built yet?"

Crossrail has endured a kind of mythical status akin to the search for Lord Lucan or speculation about the Loch Ness monster. The project has been on the drawing board for 18 long years. Despite cross-party political support, it has only secured a green light as part of a half-cocked and ultimately abortive bid to stage an early general election.

Those who criticise the planning system for delaying major projects would do well to think of Crossrail and shut up. Perhaps we should now consider radical reforms to the way politicians make decisions, on the grounds that they are slow, bureaucratic and confusing to the public.

Grumbles aside, few could argue with Crossrail's importance to the London and national economy, which makes the 18 years of dithering all the more galling. Travelling around the capital even outside rush hour is already an ordeal. It will only get worse with the projected increase in population of 600,000 by 2016. Some experts estimate that the cost to the economy of not building Crossrail will be £1.5 billion.

But the signs are that approving the project is the easy part. The construction industry is contending with several other major projects in the capital and that is without considering the 2012 Olympic Games, which will suck in resources from everything else. Crossrail entails large-scale tunnelling under a major city, one of the most precarious and costly forms of development.

Crossrail's approval will also annoy many outside of London, who can point to various transport projects that are not only much cheaper and less complex but have been on the table for almost as long. Any hope of these schemes and their regeneration benefits ever seeing the light of day are receding because there is no guarantee of future budgets. Infrastructure is not just a London issue, but once again that proposition has been ignored.

- Huw Morris, editor.

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