Court battle halts Tube work

26 Jul 01
Final contracts that would allow the private sector preferred bidders to begin work on London Underground's deep Tube lines could be delayed by a further six months until next spring.

27 July 2001

This will happen regardless of the result of Mayor Ken Livingstone's legal challenge to the government's public-private partnership in the High Court.

Contractors admitted privately to Public Finance this week that the October deadline for exchanging contracts was in danger of slipping back until next April following the prolonged uncertainty.

If this prediction is borne out, the private sector would begin work a year later than planned, delivering another blow to the much-maligned PPP and condemning travellers to more years of discomfort and disruption.

The contracts had already been delayed by the time the preferred bidders were announced in May. Originally, the work was due to begin on April 1 this year.

The breakdown in talks between transport commissioner Bob Kiley and the private sector consortiums over the issue of a unified management control has also slowed the process down.

Although both preferred bidder groups, Metronet and Tube Lines, say publicly the October deadline is possible, that hope is fast slipping away. 'There have been delays in the past but if everybody shows willing we are still looking for an autumn close,' said a spokesman for Metronet, the group set to carry out work on the Bakerloo, Central, Waterloo and City and Victoria Lines.

The company plans to pour in £2.8bn in the first seven-and-a-half years of its 30-year contract to upgrade trains, stations and signalling.

A spokesman for Tube Lines, which plans to invest £3.5bn in the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines in the first seven years, said if the contracts went ahead as planned, work could begin by November 5.

Both groups are also bidding for the sub-surface line contract. A preferred bidder should be announced in September.

The latest confusion over contracts came as the High Court battle got under way. Livingstone's challenge, through Transport for London (TfL), claims the PPP is potentially unsafe and prohibitively expensive.

The mayor's office argues that if it is successful in court it will have implications for the devolved authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

'It is a bigger issue than just London and it is bigger than just transport,' said a TfL spokeswoman.

Livingstone believes he has a 30% chance of victory, while the contractors maintain they are confident of seeing off his challenge.

A decision is expected by July 31 at the latest as the presiding judge, Mr Justice Sullivan, goes on holiday the following day.


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