On 5 February this year the Consortium organised a Stakeholder Workshop with council cabinet members and chief officers from many of the line of route local authorities. The workshop was facilitated by Cllr. David Robertson deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council. The aim of the workshop was threefold. Primarily the Consortium sought to engage with local authority representatives, most but not all of whom are members of the Consortium, but the workshop presented an opportunity for everyone to receive the very latest news on the project and share with delegates the aims and objectives of the Consortium over the coming months and year leading up to implementation of the project and start of train services. The workshop was attended by both Department for Transport and Network Rail, both of whom were able to demonstrate their strong support for the scheme.
Transport Times Conference
In May of this year the Consortium were represented at the Transport Times Conference ‘Is there a case for rail?’ The keynote address was given by the Rt.Hon. Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Transport. Other key speakers included Sir Roy McNulty who presented an overview on his investigation and report into the costs of running railways in Britain and Adrian Shooter the managing director of Chiltern Railways. The Consortium fielded the Project Manager Patrick O’Sullivan and Transport for Buckinghamshire’s Steve Watson. Considerable interest in East West Rail was shown by delegates at the conference and many useful contacts were established.
Private Sector Involvement
Following the abolition of Regional Assemblies and Development Agencies by the coalition government, a number of private sector led Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) have been established. Two in particular have identified the western section of East West Rail as a critical piece of transport infrastructure which they would like to see implemented as part of the drive to deliver the coalition government’s objectives of creating economic growth, new jobs and new housing. The LEP’s are the SE Midland and Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnerships respectively. Although not a formally recognised LEP, Buckinghamshire Business First have also expressed support.
An application for Regional Growth Funding (RGF) was recently made by the LEP’s in order to fund the next stage of development. The programme includes all necessary planning and development work required to obtain statutory powers to build the new railway as well as the necessary work to ensure the project is included within the government’s next spending round and in particular the Department for Transport’s 5 year rail infrastructure investment programme for 2014-19 known as the High Level Output Specification (HLOS).
Although the bid for round 1 of RGF was unsuccessful, the Consortium has been very successful in obtaining a healthy fighting fund of £500k through contributions from local partners within the Consortium, which will enable work to continue with essential elements of the development programme. The Consortium is actively exploring with Whitehall additional alternative sources of development funding.
Future Development Programme
The East West Rail Consortium is now looking at ways of obtaining authorisation for the project. Subsequent to the 2008 Planning Act there are three possible methods of proceeding:
by using permitted development rights,
by means of an Order under the Transport and Works Act or;
by means of a Development Consent Order under the 2008 Planning Act.
The appropriate method depends on whether or not the proposed works are permitted development. The Consortium has appointed specialist planning advisors to assist in the evaluation of the scope of work that ma or may not be delivered under permitted development. Once this has been determined the Consortium will be in a position to decide on how to obtain authorisation and will then be able to progress with the appropriate planning process leading to implementation.
Work is under way on a number of fronts to realise a number of different funding opportunities. The primary opportunity is to follow up the Minister of State for Transport’s agreement that East West Rail be a candidate scheme for the Department for Transport’s next funding programme known as the High Level Output Specification. This is the Department’s programme of the strategic outputs that Government wants the railway to deliver for the public funds they are prepared to make available during the period staring in 2014 up to 2019. In parallel with this aspect, work is in progress to determine the possible scale of contributions that can be raised through the new Community Infrastructure Levy.
In addition to these streams of work designed to raise the funds to support the delivery of the capital scheme, further preliminary investigations will begin shortly with the private sector to establish other funding opportunities.
Support from MPs
The Consortium enjoys particular support from both Milton Keynes MPs – Iain Stewart MP for Milton Keynes South and Mark Lancaster MP for Milton Keynes North. The Consortium is anxious to establish as many MPs whose constituencies lie within and adjacent to the line into a Parliamentary support group for East West Rail. Lessons have been drawn from the success enjoyed by the Swindon to Kemble Railway, funding for which was announced by the Chancellor in the March budget as a result of successful lobbying by local MPs with ministers.
With this in mind a promotional event was held at Portcullis House in Westminster on 12 July. The meeting was hosted by Iain Stewart MP and the Chairman of the Consortium Neil Gibson attended along with fellow Project Board member Martin Tugwell, Allan Dare from Chiltern Railways as well as Martin Dare-Edwardes from Oxfordshire City Region Enterprise Partnerships, Maxine Aldred from SE Midlands LEP, Bob Wilson from Milton Keynes Council and Consortium Project Manager Patrick O’Sullivan.
Iain Stewart (MP Milton Keynes South) has offered to act as the facilitator for a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to act as champion for the project – and all MPs along the route will be invited to join the APPG to actively promote the project and lobby on behalf of the Consortium.