Council leaders confident lost rail link will reopen
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.
A 1905 postcard of the old Portishead railway station, demolished in 1955