UK govt gives go-ahead to London's Crossrail

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LONDON, Oct 5 (Reuters) Britain will go ahead with a long-awaited 16 billion pounds project to build a new rail link across London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today, after extra funding was agreed earlier this week.

Crossrail, which will be one of Britain's biggest ever building projects, was hailed by Brown as having ''enormous importance, not just for London but for the whole country''.

The rail project to connect the western and eastern ends of London was first proposed in the 1980s, but has since produced nothing more than endless planning meetings and parliamentary debates despite business clamour for it to ease the capital's clogged transport network.

London mayor Ken Livingstone estimates the rail link would benefit the London and southeast economy by more than 30 billion pounds.

''It is the key to the next 20 years of economic development of London,'' Livingstone said.

The project had been deadlocked over 350 million pounds of missing funding, which the authority governing London's financial district agreed to pay at an emergency meeting on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as Brown agonises over whether to call a snap general election this week.

Speculation has been running high that the new prime minister would seek his own mandate by calling an election for November 1 ''Getting the go ahead for Crossrail has been like piecing together a giant jigsaw, but with real UK jobs and GDP growth at stake,'' said Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, which represents over 300 London businesses.

''Canary Wharf, BAA and City of London have all made important contributions,'' she added.

REUTERS JK RN1509

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