North Somerset Council has vowed to find a way of delivering the MetroWest phase one project to improve local rail services in Bristol and surrounding area, following the DfT’s rejection of a bid to the Large Local Majors Fund (LTT 25 May).
MetroWest phase one would see the branch to Portishead in North Somerset re-opened with an hourly train service to Bristol, and a half-hourly service frequency on the Severn Beach line (as far as Avonmouth) and Bristol to Bath line.
The proposals have an estimated cost of £116.5m. The West of England councils have secured £69.5m locally and North Somerset, which is leading the phase one plans, submitted a bid for £46m to the DfT’s Large Local Majors Fund last year.
The DfT recently rejected the bid. It is the only project submitted to this finding stream to be rejected so far. All the nine accepted projects were road schemes.
James Willcock, MetroWest phase one project manager at North Somerset, told LTT the Large Local Majors guidance was heavily skewed towards road schemes but the council submitted a bid after talks with the DfT.
Describing the rejection as a “little bit frustrating”, he said: “We’ve been here before with major schemes. If you’ve got a good scheme with a solid case you’ve just got to keep going.”
The Department had said it will be happy to continue discussions about how the project could be funded, he said.
“We’re confident we will be able to close the gap,” said Willcock, adding that the council is now exploring the funding model Worcestershire County Council has put together for Worcester Parkway station, which is currently under construction. “That funding model is of interest to us.” Worcestershire filled a funding gap with borrowing, to be repaid from a share of fare and parking revenues (LTT 24 Jun 16).
A development consent order (DCO) will be needed for the MetroWest project because it involves bringing back into use more than 2km of disused railway – the section of track between Pill to Portishead is 4.7km. Willcock described the DCO approval process as a “formidable process”. “It’s a very high bar.”
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