Remove axe threat from rail schemes, EEH says


The chair of the sub-national transport body has called on the Government to provide certainty over major rail projects in the area.

Cllr Richard Wenham, chair of England’s Economic Heartland home to the proposed East West Rail (EWR) scheme has called on ministers to complete the £5bn scheme - the future of which is currently in doubt.

Ely North Junction

As Transport Network has reported, when backing the £1bn A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet road scheme, transport secretary Grant Shapps referred to ‘uncertainty’ around the second and third stages of EWR.

This followed Mr Shapps’ comments in July, when he said that he would scrap the final two stages if he became prime minister, as well as a red rating for the scheme from the Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority.

EWR, which aims to create a rail link from Oxford to Cambridge, is being delivered in stages.

Connection Stage 1, currently under construction, facilitates services between Oxford and Bletchley/Milton Keynes while Connection Stage 2 predominantly upgrades existing infrastructure between Bletchley and Bedford and Connection Stage 3 involves building a new line between Bedford and Cambridge.

Cllr Wenham suggested that he believed the scheme could still be completed in full as well as Network Rail’s plans for capacity improvements at Ely in Cambridgeshire.

These appear to be as much, or more, at risk as EWR following comments by rail minister Wendy Morton about the implications of the 2021 Spending Review.

In a letter in June she said she was ‘considering the necessary changes to the national enhancement portfolio and some projects will have to be cancelled or indefinitely paused’.

She added that should this impact on the Ely programme, ‘my Department would continue to work with industry to explore opportunities to realise at least some of the desired outcomes, either through wider operational changes to the network or through smaller, targeted investment enabled by future funding settlements’.

In reply, MPs and peers in the East of England All Party Parliamentary Group warned that these options would ‘not deliver the strategic outcomes the capacity enhancement improvements at Ely are designed to address’.

The letter was co-signed by both Cllr Wenham and his counterpart at Transport East, Cllr Kevin Bentley.

Cllr Wenham told Transport Network: ‘It is important that certainty is now provided on major infrastructure schemes including East West Rail and Ely area capacity enhancement. In East West Rail, the Government has an infrastructure project which would transform the economic potential of our region and make a key contribution to UK prosperity; while Ely would also deliver substantial national economic benefits and remove HGVs from our roads.’

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