Consortium delight at Budget announcement

In his November 22 Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond­­­ announced funding to build the Western Section of East West Rail, while promising to accelerate progress on the missing link between Bedford and Cambridge.

The Treasury’s position paper states that funding will be made available for ‘Network Rail to deliver phase two of the western section of East West Rail, from Bicester to Bedford, and Milton Keynes to Princes Risborough, with the aim of the first passenger services to be running in 2023 and the project to be complete by 2024’; and that an independent East West Rail Company is being established, ‘which will seek opportunities to accelerate delivery of the central section of East West Rail between Bedford and Cambridge, with the aim for passenger services to begin by the mid-2020s’.

Councillor Mark Shaw, Chairman of the Consortium’s Western Section board (Oxford to Bedford and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes), said: “The Chancellor’s announcement is a real cause for celebration for all those who have been campaigning for East West Rail over more than 20 years, and, of course, all of our residents and businesses who will greatly benefit from the improved connectivity and economic opportunities the line will bring.

“The Consortium was established by Ipswich Borough Council in 1995, and now includes around 20 local authorities. In many ways we were the visionaries – making the case to re-establish the old Varsity and Great Central lines based on the significant economic growth it would unlock, long before the ‘Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor’ was on the agenda.

“There have countless twists and turns in our campaign to get this vital piece of infrastructure built. But without our perseverance, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Now, finally, we know with certainty that the section between Oxford and Bedford, and Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, will be delivered by the early 2020s, with the Government pledging to accelerate delivery of the missing link between Bedford and Cambridge.

“The role of the Consortium, which is a shareholder in the scheme, does not stop here. We will continue to work with our partners during the planning approval process for the Western Section, to ensure that the impact of construction on our residents is mitigated wherever possible. We will continue to work with Network Rail as it finalises a preferred route for the Central Section. And we will continue to identify ways to improve the section east of Cambridge, to ensure that the scheme’s vast benefits are felt as widely as possible.”

The Treasury announced match-funding for the development of plans for a Cambridge South station, ‘with possible construction from the early 2020s subject to affordability, meaningful local contributions and a robust business case’. This station would eventually be on the East West Rail line.

The Treasury also announced that in ‘partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, and the Greater Cambridge Partnership, the government is also commissioning Network Rail to report by summer 2018 on rail growth in Cambridgeshire up to 2043, and the enhancements required to support this – which could bring rail benefits across East Anglia, including from Cambridge to Ipswich and Norwich’.

Cllr Ian Bates, Chairman of the Consortium’s Central Section board (Bedford to Cambridge) said: “We welcome this news today. The opening of East West Rail would be a huge boost for the region, linking Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford.

“The new station will support the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, a world-leading centre of innovation. The Consortium has recently published a study demonstrating the economic rationale for improving connectivity east of Cambridge, and some high-level suggestions about how this might be progressed, which provides a very useful first step in identifying possible enhancements.

“I’m proud to chair the Central Section board to progress East West Rail as it’s a nationally important economic corridor. Not only have we been listened to but it’s now possible new links could be accelerated to benefit our local communities and the region beyond.

“Now we need to work with our local partners, together with Government and Network Rail, to push ahead with the Central Section and improving eastern connectivity, to realise the full potential of East West Rail.”