(Heathrow) BAA talks on Crossrail in ‘final stages’

8.8.2008   (BBC)

By Jim Pickard and Bob Sherwood

Talks aimed at pursuading BAA, the airport operator, to put up an estimated £250m
towards the new rail link between Heathrow and the City are in their "final stages",
according to sources close to the negotiations.

The news emerged as ministers were on Thursday forced to deny claims that Crossrail’s
funding was in doubt, insisting the scheme was proceeding to the planned timetable.

"BAA agreed to contribute financially to the Crossrail project in late 2007 as
part of our commitment to improving public transport access to Heathrow Airport,"
the airport operator said on Thursday.  "We are working with the Department for
Transport and Crossrail about our contribution and the final amount will be subject
to regulatory approval."

A source close to the discussions said the talks were in their "final stages"
and it was a matter of "crossing the Ts and dotting the Is".   But another said
that BAA’s lack of clarification was "unhelpful".

There are also questions over the ability of the City of London Corporation to raise its £350m share of the project, nearly half from companies, in the face of an impending recession.  
The corporation said on Thursday it was still confident of collecting the full
sum because it had until 2016 to do so.

The department also needs to finalise a deal with Canary Wharf for its contribution,
agreed last year.

The project moved closer last month when the Crossrail Bill won Royal Assent.  
Its funding includes £5.1bn from the Department for Transport, a further £2.7bn raised as debt and
£3.5bn will be raised through a levy on London’s businesses
.   Further billions will come from passenger fares.

Steven Norris, former transport minister and former London mayoral candidate
for the Tories, warned on Thursday that the project could "slip" given the broader
economic downturn. "Don’t let anybody believe that there are not some serious
question marks over the project," he said.

Theresa Villiers, shadow transport secretary, added that the Crossrail budget
only "limped" past the post at the end of last year.   "As the economy slows it
is up to Gordon Brown to ensure that big firms do not abandon ship as the credit
crunch hardens," she said.

On Thursday night the Department for Transport refused to comment on specific
negotiations but said there were "absolutely no plans to revise the funding package".