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LEPs urge £1bn+ spend on east-west links

INFRASTRUCTURE

19 August 2016
 

Local enterprise Partnerships covering central southern England are calling for more than £1bn to be spent on improving east-west road and rail links between Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford. 

The LEPs make the call in their response to the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission, which is currently exploring the infrastructure needs of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth corridor. The NIC was asked to look at the corridor by the former Chancellor George Osborne. 

The investigation comes on top of a DfT study into creating an east-west Expressway between Oxford and Cambridge. 

A joint response to the NIC has been prepared by the six Local Enterprise Partnerships across the area (Buckinghamshire Thames Valley; Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough; Hertfordshire; Northamptonshire; Oxfordshire; and South East Midlands). It has been endorsed by the local authority-led England’s Economic Heartland strategic alliance, which covers a smaller geography.  

The LEPs say the area is a “single, high productivity, knowledge-intensive cluster”, with high demand for new housing and employment. 

They highlight the slow journey times for east-west travel across the area by both road and rail, noting that for many rail journeys it is quicker to travel via London.  

“Both East West Rail and an Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, unlike many other infrastructure projects, would result in transformational benefits,” they say.

“It is important that priorities are not seen as an ‘either/or’ between road and public transport... A lack of both East West Rail and the Expressway mean that much demand for travel is routed via London and its orbital road network. As such, funding for these two most strategic infrastructure investments would also provide for relocation of road and rail capacity to support the growth of London and the wider South East of England.” 

The Government has committed to phase two of the East-West Railway, which involves reconstructing and upgrading the railway between Bicester and Bedford via Bletchley, and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes. 

The timetable for delivering the project – and its scope – are, however, uncertain. The East West Rail Consortium of local authorities says a target date for completing phase two is expected to be announced in early 2017; it believes operations could commence in the early 2020s.

Network Rail was this week unable to confirm to LTT a cost for the project. Changes to the  project’s scope are understood to   have led to a huge increase in the estimated cost, which is understood to range from £700m to £1.5bn, depending on the project’s specification. 

One observer said a decision still had to be made about whether the project was a low-speed “urban railway” to support the delivery of thousands of new homes, or a high-speed – and much more expensive – intercity railway.

With Government funding for rail enhancements increasingly limited (see above), councils  may face pressure to increase the local contribution to phase two beyond the current £45m. 

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