LONDON, Oct 1 (Reuters) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has put his personal clout behind plans to build a 32 billion dollars rail link across London, but he said business had to pay its fair share.
His words were the clearest indication yet that the government was close to approving Crossrail, which will stretch from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, serving stops in the capital, to Essex and Kent in the east. Business leaders said intense negotiations over the weekend had narrowed the funding gap to a point where it could be bridged.
''I want the project to go ahead immediately, subject to the satisfactory conclusion of detailed negotiations for additional contributions from all beneficiaries,'' Brown said today.
''The City of London will need to make a significant contribution,''he added.
In central London the trains would run through deep tunnels, with stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel.
Brown was speaking at the Reuters headquarters in London, alongside former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and finance minister Alistair Darling.
Crossrail would be one of Britain's biggest-ever building projects, exceeding the 7.5 billion pounds spent on digging the Channel Tunnel and the 9.3 billion pounds budgeted for the 2012 Olympics.
Crossrail could get the official go-ahead in the pre-budget report, which is expected in the next two weeks, said a source close to government.
CHAMPAGNE ON ICE ''A comprehensive package is now needed to fund the 16 billion pounds required, largely from the public sector, but also from the proceeds of the business rate and a contribution from certain London businesses and developers who will be benefiting significantly from Crossrail,'' Brown said.
''From all the signals, including the mention by the Prime Minister this morning, it looks like there's a deal to be done on Crossrail,'' said Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of business group London First.
''We are hopeful that a positive announcement might be just around the corner,'' added Valentine. ''The champagne stays on ice until we get the confirmation.'' The rail link was first proposed in the mid-1980s, but has since produced nothing more than endless planning meetings and parliamentary debates, despite business clamour to ease the capital's clogged transport network.
It would add 10 per cent more capacity to London's underground rail network, improve the business districts' links to international airports and support the urban regeneration expected around the site of the 2012 Olympics.
Sources said last month that the funding gap holding back Crossrail had been whittled down to around 350 million pounds, and a London First spokesman said that had shrunk further during weekend talks between business leaders and the Treasury.
''It is small enough to be bridgeable with goodwill on all sides,'' he added.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone estimates the rail link would benefit the economy of London and the southeast by over 30 billion pounds.
REUTERS SKB HS1727