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Business Case

Does the EWR Co. Option E Decision meet its Own Assessment Criteria?

The EWR Co. assessment is based on these 4 principles taken from page 7 of their document Connecting Communities: The Preferred Route Option between Bedford and Cambridge Executive Summary:

“• Creating connections: not just laying down steel and concrete, we are focused on designing a railway that is most likely to create connections between local communities that will support the economic growth and prosperity in the area 

• Rooted in community: at a very early stage in the design of the route between Bedford and Cambridge, we consulted local communities, asking for comments and points of view on the new route. The responses were central to the way we made our decision, and means the Preferred Route Option is fundamentally grounded in feedback from the community, stakeholders and local authorities.

• Environment at the forefront: we developed route options with environmental considerations at the forefront. Rather than being an after-thought, we used environmental data as a fundamental part of our decision-making process. Our communities can have confidence that the Preferred Route Option has been selected to support ambitions for East West Rail to increase biodiversity and acting in a way which respects important environmental and heritage sites in the local area 

• Cutting-edge techniques to develop cost estimates: taxpayers must have confidence in our ability to manage the financial side of the project and deliver value for money. To reduce the risk of cost over-runs later in the project, we used cutting edge techniques and new digital technology to produce our indicative cost estimates. Whilst there remains significant uncertainty in these cost estimates, these innovative techniques will help us to continue refining and improving our estimates, supporting better decision making now, and pointing to opportunities for potential cost savings in the future”

Three  of the five options assessed by EWR Co. went through Bassingbourn and were challenged by CBRR (Cambridge Bedford Rail Road) and Cambourne was chosen as an intermediate stop instead of Bassingbourn. We now wish to analyse that decision using the same 4 principles and the Treasury target for SCBA (Social Cost Benefit Analysis).   

We now wish to analysis the Option E based on these 5 principles :-

  • Creating Connections:
    • Passengers 
      • The volume of traffic between Cambridge and Bedford has not been proven
      • The local movements are no doubt demonstrable given local traffic issues in Cambridge and local stops (with or without passing points) are not in the initial build. So we need an analysis of a phase 2 – the inclusion of local stops. But in that case a light rail solution such as the Cambridge Autonomous Metro will be more cost effective.
      • Cambridge East (Cambridge Airport and Fulbourn) is not included.
    • Freight
      • The existing line from Cambridge onwards to Felixstowe is old, single track and has many level crossings.
      • Freight levels have not been identified in the reports to date despite planned increases to Felixstowe docks
      • Freight would have to pass through Cambridge to Ely under current published plans, probably at night.
    • Technologies
      • The proposed route passes through rural countryside – not past science parks 
      • The railway line does not connect with the expansion of Cambridge University in North West Cambridge where it has built both academic facilities and accommodation facilities 
      • The trains are planning to be diesel – hardly the latest technology.

The result is that the connections have been attempted but they are not the most efficient and neither maximise connectivity nor do they maximise or support local prosperity growth.

  • Rooted in the Community:
    • The local plan for the 3 boroughs of South Cambridgeshire, Cambridge City and East Cambridgeshire have not been followed despite an explicit plea to do so in the South Cambs consultation response and as evidenced by EWRCo.’s proposal for a station near Caxton to serve Cambourne.
    • The weightings of the various stakeholders have not been revealed
    • We have been told that certain villages would be in favour of a Northern Route into Cambridge – these villages/communities in North Cambridge were not, as far as we are aware, consulted. 
    • It is inevitable that rural communities in Cambridgeshire will be divided by the railway line –  this is unnecessary in a county that is planning to develop new villages and towns; these new communities could be developed around stopping points on the new line and be less divisive 

The result is that the decision has not been rooted in the Community and will create more disruption than is necessary.

  • Environment at the Forefront:
    • The area of Option E has been left as a green area between Cambridge and the gradual expansion of London northwards. This area that has been carefully preserved, will now be divided by putting the proposed line in the area currently identified.
    • The environment of the rural villages will be changed forever whatever the mitigation.
    • The animal life will be disturbed more than is necessary
    • A railway line that follows transport corridors would minimise the impact – this has not been attempted
    • Freight trains will go through the middle of Cambridge and possibly all night

The result is a route designed to create maximum environmental impact to rural and town communities.

  • Cutting Edge Techniques:
    • The new railway line will last 150 years; planning should work on this basis. 
    • There is no assessment of the impact of local stations that we assume would come in phase 2 with local stops at intermediate stations, nor an assessment of its impact on light rail solutions such as CAM.
    • The plan should allow for the most direct route for freight along planned transport corridors – that has been achieved in part.  But where is the assessment of completing the A428/A14 transport corridor?
    • Modern techniques will allow us to follow the corridor and hence minimise community, environmental and commercial dislocations 

To date cutting edge techniques have not been used to predict the cost benefits ratios; wider community consultation should be undertaken now.

  • Social Cost Benefit Analysis (SCBA):

Because quantitative assessment of land use changes is not included in the justification of the current decision between route options A to E or indeed routes to the north of Cambridge, the EWR Co. decision  is not soundly made based on the data presented in their Option Report.

We believe that the current justification under SCBA depends on increase in property values; however, as the basis is unknown, it is not possible to compare the decision route with the alternatives. 

We strongly believe that alignment with the Local Plan(s) will create greater value in a shorter time frame. We are not alone in thinking this, a key stakeholder, South Cambridgeshire district council said the following in their consultation response:

Uncertainty regarding growth implications of consultation.
Further to the above however, we note in the strategic objectives that the most significant relates to supporting growth, and that the business case for the railway is predicated upon such growth. We note from the consultation and other evidence that there is very significant uncertainty as to the scale of growth envisaged around potential station locations. Evidence sources and modelling assumptions referenced vary greatly, and the only certainty seems to be that the implied growth above and beyond current Local Plan commitments would be substantial.”

In addition, over a 150 year period, that should be used for analysis of a project of this sort, the impact of ongoing benefits will outweigh any additional cost of putting the proposed new railway line in the right place to minimise operating costs over its whole life and optimise benefits to the community.  

Summary

We call for a much closer co-ordination between EWR Co, the district and county councils to come up with a more complete business case. This will either prove the existing case or it may reach very different conclusions about the best route. Perhaps there is a role for a senior politician to co-ordinate the views of the parties and reach a considered opinion based on all the facts and report publicly as part of the consultation.