A publication for SERA may seem an unusual context in which to state my support for a large scale infrastructure project that is estimated to cost upwards of £9billion. The scale and disruption of these projects give the impression of literally turning the city upside down. Churned up pavements and mile-high piles of soil, incessant drilling and HGVs filing in and out of construction sites with military precision – it is not hard to see why large scale infrastructure projects are met with suspicion by environmental activists.
Yet beyond the digging, tunnelling and intensive construction, Crossrail 2 offers a much-needed solution to some of London’s most pressing environmental needs. Infrastructure investment in the built environment need not compromise our commitment to the green environment. In fact, investment in urban infrastructure can help minimise the impact that city life has on the green environment.
Cities around the world have been investing in mass transit infrastructure as a means of addressing urban air pollution and reducing carbon footprint. With 20 per cent of London’s carbon footprint derived from personal transport, a proportion secondly only to household energy, a mass transit project such as Crossrail 2 can deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions. The construction process itself can be greened – in the construction of Crossrail, 95 per cent of the excavated material is reused or recycled for the project. Over 90 per cent of the construction waste is reused or recycled for the project.
Crossrail 2 can work for London because it is a solution that suits the city we live in. For mass transit projects to work, they need to connect existing densely-populated areas of the capital where people live and work. Good transport links that keep pace with population density not only ensure concentrated areas accessible and liveable. Where the appropriate transport infrastructure exists, a more concentrated geographic footprint can mean a smaller environmental footprint.
Existing travel by tube is already a green option for travelling in the city, with travelling by Tube being almost three times better in terms of carbon emissions than travelling by car in the capital. When broken down per passenger kilometre, carbon emissions are for rail are less than half those of an average car and a third less than a bus. The environmental benefits of rail and tube travel will only be sustained if the necessary investments are made to meet increasing demand on London’s rail and tube network. The population of London is projected to grow by over 1.2 million people over the next 20 years – not forgetting the number of people who commute to the city from outside London. We need to keep these people moving, and we need the green infrastructure to do so.
Without significant investment, the existing strain London’s transport infrastructure will only worsen – more over-crowding, more delays and more unpleasant experience for commuters than ever. By easing the burden on the underground and National Rail networks, Crossrail 2 can both keep our current population moving, and allow for urban growth that will rely on green transport rather than cars.
With its implications for jobs growth and inward investment, it is of little surprise that business leaders are championing Crossrail 2. Yet the project has also united the less likely of allies, including major transport unions and successive Mayors of London. It is time, now, for the environmental movement to get on board. If we are to take cars off roads, and if we are serious about tackling air pollution, we must commit to a greener form of transport and the necessary infrastructure. Crossrail 2 is not just about keeping London moving, it is about keeping our city breathing.