Coun­cil lead­ers con­fi­dent lost rail link will re­open

Bristol Post - - NEWS - Stephen SUMNER Lo­cal democ­racy re­porter [email protected]­

PLANS to re­open the rail link be­tween Por­tishead and Bris­tol have moved a step closer. North Som­er­set Coun­cil lead­ers say they have every con­fi­dence the rail link will re­open de­spite Gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to fund it.

The au­thor­ity’s ex­ec­u­tive this week al­lo­cated an­other £1.4 mil­lion - on top of the £14.2 mil­lion they have spent so far - to ad­vance MetroWest phase 1 by sub­mit­ting plans to build and op­er­ate the pro­posed new line.

The £116 mil­lion project is seen as the only way to re­duce traf­fic and give more peo­ple di­rect ac­cess to the rail net­work, but it was dealt a blow in May when the De­part­ment for Trans­port re­fused to help cover a £47 mil­lion short­fall.

Coun­cil leader Nigel Ash­ton in­sisted Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling was fully be­hind the scheme.

He told an ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing: “It’s only be­cause of the coun­cil’s ef­forts over the last 28 years this is still go­ing. It’s im­por­tant for the whole re­gion.

“It’s been quite clear from the present min­is­ter for trans­port Chris Grayling that he is fully sup­port­ive and recog­nises this is an in­te­gral part of MetroWest.

“It’s the only part that adds new pas­sen­gers, and it makes a profit from year one. It’s a shame it’s been bogged down with other is­sues the gov­ern­ment is talk­ing about.

“We sup­port it, so does the whole of the West of Eng­land.

“It makes the whole scheme vi­able. It’s down to the sec­re­tary of state and the civil ser­vants to make a de­ci­sion, which I’m pretty sure will be pos­i­tive.”

Papers from the meet­ing say Mr Grayling wrote to North Som­er­set MP Liam Fox in Oc­to­ber urg­ing coun­cil­lors to press ahead with MetroWest phase 1. He said that ad­di­tional Gov­ern­ment sup­port had not been ruled out but a num­ber of out­stand­ing is­sues needed to be re­solved.

Mr Fox wanted as­sur­ance that lo­cal fund­ing op­tions had been ex­hausted and that a tram/train study was con­sid­ered as an al­ter­na­tive tech­nol­ogy. Cllr Bob Garner was pes­simistic. He said: “I re­gret that I can­not share your en­thu­si­asm that it will all be OK.

“If the money is not forth­com­ing, do we have a se­cret plan to deal with the lack of Gov­ern­ment fund­ing?”

Deputy leader Coun­cil­lor El­fan Ap Rees said he had every con­fi­dence the project would go ahead.

He said: “Fund­ing has been a bit of an is­sue but we have been ad­vised that ad­di­tional gov­ern­ment sup­port is not ruled out, and there will be £500,000 com­ing in from Weca to­wards the project.

“I’m very con­fi­dent we will get to the buf­fers at the end of the line.

“It’s a high pri­or­ity. It will pro­duce ad­di­tional jobs. It will help with re­duc­ing traf­fic, par­tic­u­larly at junc­tion 19.

“It will give 50,000 ad­di­tional peo­ple di­rect ac­cess to the rail net­work.

“We are fully con­fi­dent it will wash its face and make a profit for the op­er­a­tor, and there­fore will be a ben­e­fit.”

The £1.4 mil­lion will come from a | £6 mil­lion con­tin­gency the coun­cil ap­proved in Novem­ber 2017.

The ex­tra money will fund the com­ple­tion of a de­vel­op­ment con­sent or­der for the works that of­fi­cers are draw­ing up.

It will need to be for­mally au­tho­rised by North Som­er­set Coun­cil, the West of Eng­land joint com­mit­tee and Net­work Rail, with an agree­ment in place S be­tween it and the coun­cil, be­fore it is sub­mit­ted to the DfT.

MetroWest phase 1 con­sists of two parts - 1A is from Sev­ern Beach to Bath and 1B is from Bris­tol to Por­tishead.

Photo cour­tesy of Ken Crowhurst’s col­lec­tion

A 1905 post­card of the old Por­tishead rail­way sta­tion, de­mol­ished in 1955

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