Government 'never gave support' for Beam Park station, minister says
- Credit: Alastair Lockhart LDRS
The government has never given support for Beam Park station to be built, a minister has said.
This newspaper has seen a letter sent by Chris Heaton-Harris, minister of state for transport, to Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas about the issue.
The future of the station, proposed to serve a 3,000-home development on the border of Havering and Barking and Dagenham, is uncertain.
As reported earlier this month by this newspaper, the Department for Transport wants to "be held immune" from the project's financial risk for the benefit of taxpayers and passengers.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) has committed £43million to the station build and a spokesperson for London mayor Sadiq Khan called the DfT's decision not to support the project "extremely disappointing".
But it has now emerged, according to Mr Heaton-Harris, that the government has never backed the station.
He wrote: "It is not that the department withdrew support or funding for the development of the station, but that support was never given in the first instance."
At a press conference called by pressure group Preserve, Mr Cruddas questioned why authorities proceeded with the housing development without government approval.
He said: "This has huge implications in terms of future developments in the local area and the position of residents who bought under the assumption of a station that now looks like it's not going to occur."
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Mr Heaton-Harris claimed the DfT told the GLA in December 2017 that its approval for the station was necessary.
The DfT wrote to the GLA in March 2018, the minister added, informing it of its concerns around the business case for the station.
He said the GLA decided to proceed with the programme for opening and did not consult it again until mid-2020, once it had already approved the money for the project.
However, a spokesperson for Mr Khan's office said it has been in "ongoing discussions" with the DfT since taking over responsibility for the project.
Mr Heaton-Harris wrote the DfT "made clear" to the GLA last September that it could take no financial risk on the station.
City Hall has offered a ten-year indemnity to protect the government against any operational deficit but the minister said this needs to be unlimited in time and cost.
"The GLA business case was prepared and approved prior to the Covid pandemic and passenger volumes are now significantly lower than those previously forecast," he wrote.
Some residents have moved in already, with construction underway on the first two phases of the development.
The whole build was due to be complete in 2030 but Havering Labour Group leader Keith Darvill feels the development will not be able to continue without the station.
He said: "Thousands of people in the borough require new properties and are on the housing list.
"We're not going to be able to satisfy all of those without this development going through. It's a major problem and we hope it can be resolved."
Initial plans for a 3,500-home Rainham and Beam Park development, unveiled in 2015, included hopes from Havering that a station would be completed in 2016.
The station was part of planning applications submitted by Countryside and L&Q to both Havering and Barking and Dagenham Councils in 2017.
Havering was also originally the formal promoter of the station before the project was taken over by the GLA in November 2018.
The plans were approved by Barking and Dagenham Council but rejected by Havering over the height of planned apartment blocks.
They were subsequently given the go-ahead by City Hall, but South Hornchurch ward councillor Graham Williamson, of the Independent Residents' Group, claims Havering and the GLA ignored the DfT's concerns about the station.
"It's a disaster for Beam Park, it's a disaster for Havering. We can't be building properties and developments without the infrastructure either built first or guaranteed."
But council leader Damian White felt it is "disingenuous" to suggest it was the council's fault that the DfT decided not to back the station.
"We have never lied or made false promises," he said.
"It is absolutely our expectation that there will be a new station at Beam Park, and we feel just as let down by this decision as everybody else.
“This is GLA land and they have the funding for the new station and are therefore leading on the station project."
Cllr White felt it was clear from Mr Heaton-Harris' letter that the DfT is not blaming the council.
“We have already met with the DfT, GLA and other government departments and work is being done to find a solution."
Mr Khan's spokesperson said: "The design and delivery of a rail station is a complex process which City Hall has been working through for several years to gain regulatory approval from DfT.
“City Hall has been in ongoing discussions with DfT since taking over responsibility for the project and continue to work with DfT to agree a way forward.”