Categories
Business Case Ecology Route Alignments

OxCam Arc, Local Plan Update and the EWR Central Section

 

Growing up on the Cam in 2021

I hope that you all had a good break. Since our last blog post in June we have been able to read some of the responses to the EWR consultation; read the new OxCam Arc consultation and looked at the proposed update to the Greater Cambridge Local Plan. A disconnect between EWR Co.’s preferred railway alignment and the housing plan is continuing to emerge and we will illustrate this in this blog post.

If you want to make your voice heard about the OxCam Arc (of which EWR is a part) one thing you can do is to have a look at the 5 minute questionnaire put together by a group called StopTheArc – it asks some of the  fundamental questions not in the  official MHCLG consultation. They were kind enough to ask Cambridge Approaches to review it before publishing.

Still No Published Business Case

One of the things we do on this Cambridge Approaches blog is to ask questions about the business case for the central section of the EWR.

We know from EWR Co.’s Preferred Route Option Report published in January 2020 that the estimated total cost was £5.6Bn (having risen from £1.9Bn a year earlier) and, since we understand that this will be funded by the taxpayer, it’s not unreasonable for us to ask for the business case. For comparison, would the EWR Co. management team get very far in raising £5.6Bn on Dragon’s Den if, after working on their project since 2018, they still won’t share a business case with the people that they want to fund it? Put another way, they are taking us for granted.

For the record, the public line on the lack of business case from EWR Co. in response to our Freedom of Information request at the start of 2021, was that public servants need a safe space and that it is not normal for a business case to be published at this stage. People are sufficiently disturbed by the proposals so that they received 190,000 responses to the 2021 consultation, but it’s too early to publish the case for the project.  Really?

This questioning of the business case was followed by Anthony Browne MP asking about the effect of COVID on travel patterns which will likely permanently reduce passenger numbers by 40% as people have learnt to work from home. EWR Co.’s recent video from EWR Co on the 23rd August 2021 talks about this problem (see 3:07 into the video) without any convincing resolution. Covid-19 will pass, but the technology that allows people to work from home is here to stay and employee expectations have now changed. 

As EWR Co point out (video 2:36), the hope is that people will move into the area to live and work and set up businesses so it might be that this influx of people will to some extent counteract the others working from home. Indeed, the NIC report “Partnering for Prosperity” set out a target of 1.1 million additional jobs in the area by 2050 corresponding to about 2 million more people and 1 million more homes. We assume that the focus of this growth is intended to be along the EWR around the initial stations and any new ones that are added over the lifetime of the railway. (If not what is the point of the railway exactly?) The  impact of this on existing residents will be higher than that of the railway alone.

The second EWR consultation ended in June 2021 and we still have a lot of unanswered questions.  Looking at the consultation responses from bodies like the South Cambridgeshire District Council and the Cambridgeshire County Council, we were not the only ones with outstanding questions. You can read the Cambridge Approaches consultation response here and some others here.

In the Cambridgeshire County Council 2021 EWR consultation response we find the following: 

GrowthThe East West Rail Central Section should support growth and enable sustainable transport patterns to be realised from that growth. The detailed alignment of the Central Section should be considered alongside the consideration of appropriate locations for growth in the Ox-Cam Arc, and the appropriate scale of that growth. The strategy for station provision on the Central Section must be informed by the consideration of appropriate locations for growth. 

This is an appeal for the route alignment of the EWR central section and its station locations to follow a co-ordinated housing plan.

South Cambridgeshire District Councils 2021 EWR consultation response says: 

Significant further work is still needed to understand the localised impacts of the scheme, the options for mitigation, their effectiveness and implementation including the sequencing with wider strategic infrastructure and development. 

Again, they are concerned that the railway is not aligned with the housing and economic plan for the area.

So, some of the outstanding questions centre on how the route relates to other plans for the area e.g. for economic growth, housing and local transport. Unfortunately for all concerned, the EWR Co. management team are not in a good place to answer these questions because they are being pushed by the Department for Transport to get the route defined in advance of key decisions by other bodies.  This heightens the risk that EWR will not choose the right approach which will be to the detriment of its business case, local residents and potential users of the service.

Train Wreck in St. Neots

EWR Co.‘s Simon Blanchflower post consultation press release celebrated the scale of response:

The number of responses we’ve received, the breadth of information and level of detail they contain demonstrates the value of consulting with local people at an early stage, and the huge level of public interest in East West Rail.

But a strong response should not be taken as meaning respondents are in favour of what is being proposed.

A good example this and of the railway alignment not taking account of the housing plan can be found in the St. Neots Town Council Response to the EWR consultation which is, broadly, that they are furious.

We are surprised that EWR has aligned its preferred routes in close proximity to one of the largest housing developments in the East of England. None of the five corridors considered in the first phase of the consultation included this land, and the late inclusion has come as a shock to residents, housing developers and St Neots Town Council.

St Neots Town Council is opposed to the construction of these viaducts and asks EWR to urgently reconsider plans to align these routes with the eastern edge of our town.

EWR are proposing 12m high viaducts through St. Neots East reminiscent of the Great Wall they have proposed between Cambourne and Hauxton. There is also no station at St. Neots, maybe that is because of the Tempsford development, but since we don’t even have a vision for the OxCam Arc Spatial framework who knows? More to the point how do EWR Co. know?

Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (GCSP) Local Plan

On the 31st August 2021 an update to the local plan was published.  It is currently under consideration by councillors and will not open to public consultation until later in the year (November?). The updated plan will run to 2041 (previously it ran from 2011-2031). 

Figure 1 shows an overview map of the developments proposed.

Figure 1 Local Plan Update – Overview

Note that no new housing development is proposed around Cambridge South Station, despite this being one of the repeated justifications for the southern approach to Cambridge for the EWR. This diminishes both the justification for the EWR southern approach route and the business case for the central section of the railway. In contrast, significant new development around the northern route proposed by CBRR is confirmed and developments in Northstowe and Waterbeach are to be accelerated together with new brown field developments to the north and east of Cambridge.

The Mythical Houses Around Cambridge South Station

The myth of significant housing growth around Cambridge South Station has been discussed in a recent letter from a local resident to local District Councillors as follows:

“…the county council’s 2019 response to EWR Co (repeated in the third bullet of paragraph 2.3 of the covering note to the draft response) said ” The ability of EWR services to … provide for the very significant planned economic and housing growth in the south of the city including at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus”.  This was an odd statement in 2019, given that the county council is not the planning authority, and it was, at the time, not evident from the Local Plan what housing development the county council had in mind in saying this.  It appears even odder now, given the variety of housing development options under consideration by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (“GCSP”)  – see their November 2020 development strategy options assessments and the emergence of the North East Cambridge Action Plan.  

In 2019, the constituent authorities of what is now GCSP made clear a new local plan was coming and that they would be looking at all reasonable development strategies and SCDC at least has repeated this point in its response to this consultation.  Notwithstanding this, what the county council said in 2019 appears to be understood as fact not just by EWR Co, but also by EWR Consortium.  

Among the papers for the EWR Consortium 9 June meeting (not, in fact, discussed) is this one under the heading “realising the potential of EWR” which says (emphasis added):

Cambridge South: Cambridge South [station] will be located near to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge Biomedical Campus – key employers and site for new homes in the south of Cambridge. Planned to open in 2025, the station will be on the Cambridge line and West Anglia Main Line, and should also sit on the East West Main Line once it opens a few years later.”

It goes on to say that “The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is working on the Outline Business Case…”.  It is not entirely clear what this outline business case is for and could be a historic priority of the former Mayor because the next paragraph of the document mentions the CAM.

It is possible that all these statements can be traced back to what the county council said in its 2019 response which may have served to lead others to believe that there were likely developments in the south of Cambridge.  It seems important for both EWR Co and EWR Consortium to understand the true position and the county council should take responsibility for doing this.”

Now would be a good time for EWR Co and EWR Consortium to review the evidence for the southern approach and the whole business case in the light of this new local plan since the local authorities are planning no new houses around either EWR station on the southern approach in Cambridgeshire all the way out to 2041. Do MHCLG people know better that the local experts about how best to develop Cambridge?

Conflicting Plans at Highfields Caldecote

One of the consequences of the EWR route being fixed in advance of related housing plans are conflicts emerging when the housing plans do come out. The detailed costing information that came out with the last consultation indicates that the preferred route had been established in outline all the way back in mid-2019. Such conflicts can no doubt be resolved by adjustments to the railway route or knocking down houses, but they are also symptomatic of the lack of co-ordination between EWR Co. and the other planning authorities. 

Here is another example of the issue. EWR Co’s preferred route goes through a station north of Cambourne and crosses the A428 with a long, skewed bridge just north of Highfields Caldecote (see blue route in Figure 2).

Figure 2 EWR Co Preferred Route Crossing the A428

However, the updated local plan has housing across the proposed route of the railway (See Figure 3).

Figure 3 GCSP Local Plan for the Same Area

Rate of Housing growth

The GCSP planners are estimating that to meet the demands of the local economy (i.e. the number of new jobs they foresee over the period) we need to add 1,771 houses per year over the next 20 years leading to a total of 48,794 houses from 2011 to 2041. This is a lot less than the 271,000 houses in the National Infrastructure Commission report (NIC Report) for this end of the EWR central section up to 2050.

It has been acknowledged that the case for the EWR central section depends on housing growth. For example, this is stated in the recent EWR video referred to earlier. In fact, it depends on the transformational housing growth put forward by the NIC report. However, if this level of growth is not going to come from the local plan where could it come from?

OxCam Arc Consultation

The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) recently launched a consultation to help them shape the vision for the OxCam Arc. In section 5.8 of this document there is a rather hard-hitting paragraph:

“5.8 In parallel to the development of the Spatial Framework, the government is also exploring options to speed up new housing and infrastructure development in the Arc to help meet its ambitions, where evidence supports it. This includes examining (and where appropriate, developing) the case for new and/or expanded settlements in the Arc, including options informed by possible East West Rail stations between Bedford and Cambridge and growth options at Cambridge itself. The government will undertake additional Arc consultations on any specific proposals for such options as appropriate. The Spatial Framework will guide the future growth of the Arc to 2050, including on the question of new housing and infrastructure and will, as part of its development, take into consideration any significant new housing and infrastructure coming forward to meet the Arc’s ambition.”

They are reserving the right to add housing developments around EWR stations including at Cambridge itself. One assumes that, coming from central government, they would not be small developments. As pointed out by the county council it would be better for the transport infrastructure to fit around the housing plan rather than vice versa. Similar problems occur with the sites for schools and hospitals if the funding and hence the location is controlled by central government.

The housing plan proposed by GCSP considers environmental aspects by choosing dense developments often on brown field sites close in to Cambridge itself. If instead the plan is to be driven by the siting of EWR stations then these benefits will be lost. 

Water Supplies

I was looking at the flow of water in the Cam this morning on Stourbridge Common near to Cambridge North Station. Viewed from a footbridge, there were various pieces of vegetation and sticks on the surface, but none of them were moving at all. A recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth explains why this is happening. The chalk aquifers that feed the rivers having accumulated water over a very long time are now running dry because so much water has been abstracted by the water companies to serve new houses. There is also a waste water capacity problem which leads to overflow events into the rivers. Plans to fix these problems are being studied, but are not expected to be in operation until the 2030s.

GCSP commissioned a study from Stantec on the Water Supply in late 2020 which states: 

For water supply, over-abstraction of the Chalk aquifer is having a detrimental impact on environmental conditions, particularly during dry years that may become more frequent due to the impacts of climate change. None of the growth scenarios considered here offer the opportunity to mitigate these existing detrimental impacts. Even without any growth, significant environmental improvements are unlikely to be achievable until major new water supply infrastructure is operational, which is unlikely to occur before the mid-2030s. Therefore, this analysis has focussed on a “no additional detriment” neutral position. To prevent any increase in abstraction and its associated detrimental environmental impacts, mitigation measures will be necessary. All stakeholders agree this should include ambitious targets for water efficiency in new development. 

If there is already a problem that won’t be fixed for 15 years why are we planning to accelerate growth in the area now?

There are also significant problems with waste water and flood risk downstream in The Fens. The campaign group Friends of the Cam has a lot more on these issues.

Discussion

In summary, the business case for the EWR central section depends on the housing growth around stations. In South Cambridgeshire the updated local plan to 2041 has accelerated housing growth in Northstowe and Waterbeach new town while Cambourne, Eddington, North East Cambridge and East Cambridge have new developments. This is not at all consistent with EWR Co.s preferred route into Cambridge south.

The level of housing growth has been objectively assessed by the planning officers to meet the needs of the area although it is not clear how the water infrastructure will cope with any more growth. It is also not clear how anyone would objectively assess housing needs – it really depends what assumptions are made. Do we want this to be a high growth area if so why? Are we trying provide more homes for London commuters? Are we trying to encourage migration into the area from other parts of the UK and abroad? Which parts of the economy are we trying to stimulate? For more in depth discussion of why the OxCam Arc is not a good idea see this article. If you would like a say try filling in this 5 minute survey.

Will MHCLG add further housing via development corporations as indicated in their consultation? Well, speaking to Eversden Parish Council recently, Bridget Smith (Leader of South Cambs. District Council) reported the housing Minister, Chris Pincher as saying that there would not be houses in addition to those that the local authorities are planning for. It would be nice to see this in writing.

We conclude that either:

(A)There is no business case for the EWR extending to Cambridge on the southern approach because it will not enable much housing growth OR

(B) Central Government need to push through large housing developments around the proposed route of EWR over and above the needs of the local economy to service additional fast economic growth in the OxCam Arc not recognised by the local planners and to serve more London commuters.

Option A is a waste of public money, option B looks like being even less popular than the railway itself and does nothing for those parts of the county that need levelling up investment.

OxCam Arc Consultations

Given the above situation, one might expect that an MHCLG consultation about the OxCam Arc vision might set out some indicative scale of development around EWR stations. It is instead phrased around prioritising various features of the plan without really setting out the core proposition. See this brief BBC South News report for some detail on the controversy around this consultation. Perhaps MHCLG are taking it a step as a time, but they are so far behind EWR Co. that their spatial framework may not be able to influence the route of EWR. MHCLG’s consultation suggests development is to be set around EWR stations no matter how poor those sites are in planning terms.

We encourage you to respond to the MHCLG consultation by October 12th. The Stop The Arc Group have some great ideas about what you might like to say here, but please also use this post to relate your response to the EWR Central Section.

The Stop The Arc Group have produced a 5 minute survey about the OxCam Arc which asks people some of the more fundamental questions about the Arc. Cambridge Approaches had some minor involvement in the development of the survey and support it. 

Please do fill in the 5-minute survey here.

One of the early results of the 5 minute survey after 1500 responses is that over 90% of people would vote against the OxCam Arc if there was a referendum.

Categories
Business Case

What Does the Transport Secretary’s £794M Funding Announcement Actually Mean?

A Resident of the Option E area Ponders Grant Shapps’ Announcement.

You may have noticed the press coverage on 23rd January 2021 about the East West Main Line (“EWML”) based on this press release from the Department for Transport (DfT). It’s about funding to complete the renovation of the old line from Bicester to Bletchley in the Western Section of the East West Main Line. You can hear Grant Shapps’ short You Tube video about it here. It clearly does not relate to the substantially new Central Section between Bedford and Cambridge.

The funding commitment for Bicester to Bletchley was announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn 2020 Spending Review (see page 38). The new information on the 23rd January 2021 is just the actual amount to be spent.

So why is the DfT recycling old news?

The announcement comes at the end this week’s Spotlight East West Main Line 2021 conference which also was set up to promote EWML. The presentations are still available online. So, the DfT press release is clearly part of the choreography.

There were conference presentations on Monday from England’s Economic Heartland and Transport East. When the conference moderator asked them what they saw as the main hurdle for the EWML, they both replied that it was securing funding from HM Treasury. In fact, it emerged that this was one of the main reasons for the conference’s promotion of the EWML scheme this week.

Later in the week, the Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris very honestly explained some of the hurdles that he faced in getting more funding from HM Treasury. He said that “49% of DfT funding went toward 2% of the journeys – and that’s rail”. He also said that currently “the Treasury has many calls on its shallow pockets”.

Readers of this blog will know that we are also concerned that the taxpayer really gets value for money from the EWML. This is not unconditional opposition to the scheme, but just a demand that EWR Co. really demonstrates the business case for it and shows that they have optimised the route around the constraints produced by that business case. For example, if it supports freight, then we need to consider the impact on communities, if it’s about commuting to the nearest city, make sure this is maximized, if it’s about the fastest end-to-end transit, draw a straight line from Oxford to Cambridge.

If you divide the total cost of the Central Section by the population between Bedford and Cambridge in 2019 prices it comes out at around £9,000 per household. We are all big stakeholders in this. So, how is the business case looking for the Central Section?

It emerged in the conference that the EWR Consortium do not have a published business case for the EWML. Perhaps EWR Co. / DfT have one?

CA have to report that we have not seen any of the following from EWR Co.:

  • a housing plan associated with the route
  • an environmental impact assessment across route options
  • a plan to co-ordinate with other transport schemes around Cambridge
  • credible explanations of Benefit to Cost Ratio calculations across options
  • proper analysis of a Northern Approach to Cambridge
  • honest impact assessment of the forecast long term 30% drop in passenger numbers post-Covid announced at the conference.

The Rail Freight Group did present interesting information at the conference to show how the freight traffic demand has already bounced back since the start of the pandemic. See Figure 1.

Figure 1 Impact of Pandemic on Rail Traffic

Of course, while this is good news for the freight industry, those poor people to trying to make a passenger rail business case are not in such a strong position.

One thing we did think was settled was that the Central Section would be freight capable. This was because of the “substantive answer” to an earlier question from CA to EWR Co.. However, it became clear that Maggie Simpson from the Rail Freight Group speaking at this week’s conference was working under that assumption that the Central Section would not support freight. Also Kerry Allen, a planner from Suffolk County Council said that freight plans were at an early stage.

Chris Heaton-Harris then “clarified” the situation by saying that it was “up for grabs” whether the Central Section would be freight capable.

As regards passenger usage, Maria Cliff, EWR Co. Head of Operations explained that they had developed “personas” for the types of rail passenger that they would serve. 

Figure 2 EWR Co. Customer Personas

Really good to see that EWR Co. are starting to get to grips with who will actually use the railway, this should have been published years ago. Notice the lack of the “Rapid Roy” persona who really needs a regular 90-minute transit from Oxford to Cambridge or indeed “Freight Operator Freddie”. It does make sense that the everyday users are commuters and schoolchildren, going to their nearest city. We strongly agree about school children so many 6thformers from around the county go to school in Cambridge. We believe that with the addition of a Northstowe station,  the northern approach to Cambridge is likely to serve commuters better than Option E as clearly explained by CBRR’s Sebastian Kindersley here.

There are definitely benefits from building the Central Section but, given the amounts of money involved and the uncertainties around the business case, is EWR Co.’s plan imminently to launch a consultation on detailed route alignments in the option E area really sensible? If you are not sure please sign this petition.

Categories
Business Case

Unexplained Cost Increases for the EWR Central Section

Peaceful View Across the Option E Area. Imagine a Deep Railway Cutting in the Foreground and these freight trains going through it.

EWR Co. have given us two snapshots of their cost estimates for the East West Railway Central Section (i.e. Bedford to Cambridge). Firstly, at the time of the last public consultation in January 2019 in Table 3 of the Technical Report[1] and then again in January 2020 when they announced the Option E decision in their Route Option Report[2]. Note that all figures are in 2010 prices so we have to add around 15.6% to get to 2019 prices.

Both reports give the total costs for each route option and then break them down into upfront capital costs and recurring costs over 60 years according to the Department for Transport methodology. The recurring[3] costs are the “infrastructure and renewal costs” (called “whole life costs” in the 2020 report, we assume that these are the same thing), operational costs and fare revenues. 

This analysis is done from the taxpayer’s point of view so fare revenue is treated as a cost, because the taxpayer has to pay the fares to use the trains.

The Option Report also gives figures using a more optimistic (we think very optimistic) NIC high growth assumption and the costs are higher. The cost figures we give here are the lower “Department for Transport (DfT) Business as Usual” (BAU) figures.

The three tables below show the total, capital and recurring costs. The total is just the sum of the capital and recurring costs. The figures in the table are the costs in the Technical Report, the costs in the Option Report and the percentage increase from one to the other. 

Table 1 Comparison of Total Costs
Table 2 Comparison of Capital Costs
Table 3 Comparison of Recurring Costs

First impressions looking at the data:

  1. all the total costs went up hugely and, since EWR Co. did not present a comparison, they made no comments about why this has happened. 
  2. the recurring costs went up by so much it gives one very little confidence that they are right. If they are right now, then they were very misleading at the consultation.
  3. the capital cost for Option E rose by much less than the other options and no explanation is given. However, it is certainly a useful result for EWR Co. as it allows them to justify the choice of Option E since it was otherwise the most expensive of the 5 options.
  4. The total cost figures for 4 of the options are identical – this may be an unlikely coincidence or possibly that the cost estimates have not been produced with the expected amount of rigour.

Note 33 on p.100 of the Option Report states that for the DfT BAU table 15.4 (the data we presented above), the Bassingbourn station is removed in Options A, C and D, while for the NIC high growth table 15.5 the station is left in. It then says that the capital costs therefore differ between the growth scenarios for these route options.

However, we find that while the capital costs of A and D do go up by £0.3 and £0.2 billion respectively, to allow for the additional station, the capital cost of Option C is unchanged at £3.5 billion. Option C is therefore anomalous.

Looking again at table 15.4 the revenues for Options A, C and D are not significantly lower than Options B and E even though they have one less station. How can that be?  

Questions for East West Rail

  1. Please can you explain the huge increase in capital cost between the figures in table 3 of the Technical Report and Table 15.4 of the Options Report?
  2. Why did the recurring costs (the difference between the total costs and the capital costs) go up by up to 1100% between the same two reports?
  3. In the light of the order of magnitude increase in recurring costs, does that mean that the recurring costs implied at the time of the public consultation were misleading? If not, why not?
  4. In the light of the order of magnitude increase in recurring costs, how can we have confidence that the figures currently presented are anything like correct? 
  5. Why did the capital cost of the chosen Option E uniquely rise by so much less than the other options? This is the main reason why the most expensive option in January 2019, became the one with the highest BCR in January 2020. Without an explanation of this cost increase, this BCR justification of Option E is meaningless. So please give a detailed explanation.
  6. What was the cost given by the MoD to remove their Bassingbourn site and what alternatives were looked at?
  7. Given that Options A, C and D did not have a station at Bassingbourn in Table 15.4 why was there no visible impact on the revenues, whole life costs or operating costs?
  8. Given that you state in note 33 on p.100 of the 2020 Options Report that the removal of Bassingbourn Station reduces the capital cost, why is the capital cost identical for Route C in Tables 15.4 and 15.5 of the same report?

[1] East West Rail Bedford to Cambridge Route Option Consultation Technical Report January 2019 Table 3, p.40

[2] East West Rail Bedford to Cambridge Preferred Route Option Report January 2020 Table 15.4, p.100

[3] EWR Co. do not give these a name, but we refer to them here as recurring costs.

Categories
Business Case

Is the EWR Central Section a Boondoggle? A Sanity Check on its Business Case.

Whatever you think of the Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman, he did make some really interesting points. For example, he proposed that spending should be categorized according to a 2 by 2 box as follows[1]:

You are the Spender On Whom SpentOn Whom Spent
Whose MoneyYouSomeone Else
Yours12
Someone else’s34
Milton Friedman’s Spending Categories 1-4

He then goes on to give many examples of how category 1 spending is often performed much more efficiently than the other categories especially category 4. Category 4 spending can often result in a Boondoggle. This is defined by Wikipedia as “a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.”

The East West Railway Central Section (EWR CS) is definitely category 4 spending. Let’s see what we might think of it, if it were category 1.

The estimated total cost of the EWR CS rose from £1.9Bn[2] for option A in the January 2019 consultation to £5.6Bn[3] for the chosen option E in January 2020. That’s an increase of 295%. Little or no explanation of this increase is given in the EWR Preferred Option Report and shame on me for not questioning it. But hey, it’s someone else’s money, right?

Well, the government either pays for it out of taxation in which case we all pay for it now, or adds to the peacetime record £2 trillion public debt and our children or grandchildren pay for it. Another option is that we have a period of high inflation in which case, well we all pay for it. There is no escape from the cost and, since south Cambridgeshire is quite a wealthy area, we can expect to pay more than pro-rata of the UK population.

How much do we pay each? Well, there are public works going on all over the UK, so let’s generously attribute this to the to the population of the Oxford Cambridge Arc which is currently 3.7 million people. Let’s further assume that only half of these live in the Bedford to Cambridge section. Taking an average of 2.5 people per household then we are looking at a bill of 2 x 2.5 x 5.6e9 / 3.7e6 = £7,568 per household. Ouch! If you had the choice, would your household spend this on the railway?

The railway is being optimised for long distance trips rather than lots of stations to support commuting. I have been in the Cambridge area since the 1980s and I have been to beautiful Oxford 3 times, once by bus, once on the way back from a holiday in Wales and once by car. Milton Keynes, well, I’ve been to Ikea, but I needed to take the car to bring back the furniture. Bedford, Bicester, St. Neots, Aylesbury etc, sorry never been there.

I have worked in the Cambridge Tech sector for decades, travelled all around the world, but latterly found that much of the collaboration was by digital means. Am I typical? Well let’s look at the 2014 Atkins report which was one of the early studies underlying the East West Railway. Under the section “evidence-based conclusions” we find: 

“Poor east-west orbital connectivity in is apparent in long journey times by both rail and car and is also reflected in the very low demand at present between locations on this arc;”

This is a curious statement. They found evidence for poor demand and assumed that if they built an expressway and an east west railway then demand would grow. Probably true, but would it grow enough to pay for the costs? Atkins are a large consulting company are they at all conflicted in making an assessment for the case for the East West Railway? Anyway, it looks like a high-risk assumption to me. But hey, it’s not my money, right?

Even a back of fag packet calculation shows there’s a problem.

From https://cambridgeshireinsight.org.uk/economy/ there are very roughly 250,000 people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in classes of occupation who may be considered to do a lot of business travel (managers, directors and senior officials, professional occupations, assoc. prof. and tech occupations, sales and customer services from Occupation Type table).

Very generously, guess that 10% of these people would travel to Oxford or Milton Keynes etc once a month on average. This equates to a total of 25,000 trips per month (each way). 

Number of trains per month at say 4 trains an hour for 8 hours each way = 4x8x30 = 960, say 1,000 trains per month

Number of business people per train = 25.

OK there are some people travelling for leisure and other reasons as well and it doesn’t allow for potential growth over 100 years, but given that an 8-car train can take about 400 people and even if the demand calculations are out by a factor of 2, there is still a problem for such a line. 

At the very least the EWR CS should be delayed until the demand is properly estimated and publicised in a more stable economic climate (post pandemic and post Brexit).

Another piece of evidence can be found in this diagram in the National Infrastructure Commission report on the Oxford Cambridge Arc.

Figure 9 of NIC Report Partnering for Prosperity

This diagram shows the strong demand for commuting around all the cities in the Arc. It does not demonstrate demand for travel from end to end. Meeting commuter demand is linked to supporting housing growth which is an objective of the NIC report for the development of the Arc. 

There are cheaper ways to meet commuter demand than a heavy railway such as the EWR CS. What about busways, trams and a local light railway such as the proposed Cambridge Metro?

So that you can see the disconnect in thinking here, let’s have a look at what the EWR Co.’s route option report says about the business case for the Option E decision.

“1.19  EWR Co’s analysis has concluded that when looking across these five key criteria Route E is most likely to deliver against the strategic objectives for EWR and provide the best overall value for money from government’s investment in the railway.”

There is an imagination failure. Where is the comparison with the counterfactual, do nothing assumption? Where is the comparison with other solutions to meet the need to support commuters/housing development?

Given the current (lack of) evidence presented for the EWR CS by government, it looks like a Boondoggle to me and I’d rather my £7,568 was spent on something else.


[1] Milton Friedman “Free to Choose” 1980, p.146

[2] EWR Bedford to Cambridge Route Option Consultation Technical Report January 2019 §9.1, Table 3, p.40

[3] EWR Bedford to Cambridge Preferred Route Option Report January 2020  §15.13, Table 15.4, p.100

Categories
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.