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Reflections on EWRCo.’s Haslingfield Drop-In Event 12th October 2022

Interviewed in Radio Cambridgeshire, Nellie the pantomime white elephant welcomed EWR to the herd. She said, “Like all good white elephants, EWR is ridiculous and its costs greatly exceed its benefits.”

EWRCo. held their “no new information” drop-in event in Haslingfield, and they delivered as promised. There was indeed no new information about the proposed railway which has been blighting our communities since April Fool’s day last year.

Here at Cambridge Approaches we put in a lot of effort in to publicise their event (7,000 leaflets, 1,000 bin posters, social media campaign etc). We also invited the press along to see what was going on. This was the first chance most people have had to meet EWRCo. staff face to face. Why didn’t EWRCo. do any of that? The event was well attended and EWRCo., reported 550 attendees. Not bad on a working day for an event advertising no new information.

Illustration of the 10m high Embankments Proposed by EWRCo. for their Great Wall

Local farmer Edd also kindly parked his cherry picker outside the venue and set it to a height of 10m as specified in the latest Great Wall proposals from EWRCo., we also marked out the width of their proposed embankments to 70m. Seeing the height of it, the EWRCo. spokesperson was clearly in denial and was heard to say “it will never be that high”. We advise her to read her own consultation document.

In case they were in doubt about what we would like from them, hundreds of people had put out “Show Us the Business Case” on their bins along all the main roads through the surrounding villages and in Haslingfield.

Bin Posters “Show us the Business Case in Haslingfield and Surrounding Villages

And our request was answered. The business case appeared in the form of Nellie the pantomime EWR White Elephant with a price tag of £7.6billion. Interviewed in Radio Cambridgeshire, Nellie the pantomime white elephant welcomed EWR to the herd. She said, “Like all good white elephants, EWR is ridiculous and its costs greatly exceed its benefits.”

Steve also bought along a 3D map of the area so people could see what the effect of the railway would be locally. There was lots of interest from people attending the event.

Topographic map of the Haslingfield area with EWR proposals. This does not show what it would look like during the years of construction.

Meanwhile the Pantomime Continued in the Methodist Church

I didn’t meet anyone that was in favour of the proposed route, but maybe there were one or two.  Many residents were pretty angry, but we did not get to the situation reached at the Wyboston Lakes EWR drop-in where residents of the Bedford Poets area were so angry that EWR Co. felt they had to call in the police to calm things down. 

The drop-in meeting was bound to be difficult, since the interests of residents and the EWR Co. staff were clearly different and hard to reconcile. This was exacerbated by the policy of no new information sustained now for 18 months; the lack of briefing on predicable questions given to the EWRCo. staff and their generally low level of knowledge about the project. Staff turnover seems to be high and there were many new faces.

We had a de-brief session amongst some of the people from our campaign to exchange experiences we had had with the drop-in session. Here are some of the things we found.

Deflecting Questions

The job given to the poorly briefed EWRCo. staff was to stand talking to angry/upset residents for six hours while giving out no new information. Tough one that. Deflecting questions was therefore the core skill. Here are some of the techniques/answers that were reported on the day.

  1. I can’t answer that, I just want to build things.
  2. I’ve just been with EWR for 2 months, I’ll ask a colleague
  3. I wasn’t with the project then
  4. We are studying that
  5. Big infrastructure projects all do it this way, we’re following standard procedures
  6. Qu. Will you disclose the business case? Ans. The DfT owns the business case – Qu. but I asked DfT and they won’t disclose it because they don’t want to upset EWRCo. Ans. What was their exact wording?
  7. We’d like to publish the business case, but we are still progressing it
  8. We are looking at lowering the very high embankments
  9. On the subject of the route: “it has to go somewhere”
  10. You will need to speak to X, but they are not here today
  11. Qu. Can you find this out for me? Answer: “You need to use the normal contact point”.  Qu. “but I did two weeks ago and have not even received and acknowledgement.  Answer “Silence.”

Patronise

  1. I’ll talk to you when you have calmed down, I’m human and understand your concerns.
  2. There’s no point me answering that, you’re not going to listen to what I say. She then walks away and follows up with “Are you ready to talk?”
  3. ‘It’s not like ‘the Apprentice’ you know, it’s not a quick thing…it’s really complicated.

More Deflection

  1. We will compensate you if you have noise, vibration or mental distress. After [we build it] you will need to fill out a form to illustrate what is happening to your home and then we [will] evaluate it.
  2. We have already lost 10-20% of the value of our homes, will there be any compensation for that? – silence.

Conflicting Information

  1. On the question “Are you set on the southern approach to Cambridge? Answers included “yes”, “no” and “maybe”.

Waffle

These are best shown by example.

EWRCo. “We’ve made no decisions yet (route consideration). I wish I could tell you that but we don’t know. There’s business case with a capital B and C and business case with a small b and c. We don’t have passenger numbers but there are so many things to visit in the area we’re sure the railway will be used. Us: So the purpose of the line is tourism? EWRCo.: yes maybe..!”

On Radio Cambridgeshire the following morning, we were treated to the following. 

Dotty McLeod: “And in what way Hannah was it [the drop-in event] useful for you?”

Hannah Staunton: “It’s always helpful to be able to talk to the public, and really dial into some of the key topics and things that they’re interested in, that they could be concerned about as well. In some cases, it’s really helpful for us to be able to explain to people why some of the things that they are concerned about perhaps aren’t as concerning as they could be, or maybe talk to them about some of the benefits of the scheme that they haven’t otherwise heard. So, it’s really useful to gauge how people are feeling and what people are thinking, and then the team can go away and consider that as we go through the design and planning scheme.”

To be fair, we did not hear so much of the standard line “we are still going through the X billion pieces of feedback we received in the 2021 consultation and considering how every piece should influence what we decide” – or words to that effect. I guess even that does wear a bit thin after 18 months. In reality we are all waiting for the government to decide if they want to buy his white elephant.

Comment Please

Do join in with your experiences in the comments. If you actually learnt anything that would be even better.

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EWR Co. Drop In Event – 12th Oct 2-8pm Haslingfield Methodist Church

New Date and Venue for Haslingfield Drop In Event
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EWR Drop In Event 9th Sept 2022 Postponed Again

Message from EWRCo.:

“It is with great sadness to learn of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We have made the decision to postpone the East West Railway Company public drop-in event scheduled for 2pm on Friday 9 September.

We will share details of a rescheduled event.

If you have any questions, please call 0330 134 0067 or email contact@eastwestrail.co.uk”

It is of course the right decision.

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Business Case news

East West Rail Co. Have Overstated EWR Benefits

In response to an open letter from Cambridge Approaches, EWRCo. tackled the important issue of the economic justification for the railway. They made the following statement.

By providing reliable, affordable and sustainable transport for people in and around Cambridge, businesses will thrive and grow, igniting an exciting ecosystem of business and academia that The Economist recently reported could contribute up to £274bn per year for the UK in gross added value. Seen in that context, the value driven by EWR is clear. More than that, it’s a catalyst for economic growth that will support the wider UK recovery.” East West Rail Co. Article in Cambridge Independent 16/8/2022

Implication – build EWR and you will get £274bn/year just from the Cambridge economy. Let’s fact check this claim.

The article they refer to in the Economist actually says:

“A study prepared by the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership in 2020 found that the region between Oxford and Cambridge contributed £111bn in gross value added to the economy every year; the government reckoned that could rise to between £191bn and £274bn a year if a programme of building created new homes and linked up towns by rail and motorway.” The Economist 20/7/2022

So the figure is actually £274bn -£111bn = £163bn for the whole area between Oxford and Cambridge inclusive, not just Cambridge. Which just happens to be the same figure as is quoted in the “Transformational” scenario of the National Infrastructure Commissions (NIC) report “Partnering for Prosperity” on the subject of the OxCam Arc.

Whoever wrote the article in The Economist clearly does not want to mention the OxCam Arc because they know that the government side-lined that project in favour of levelling up back in February 2022.

This NIC report is in turn based on work from Cambridge Econometrics which was analysed by Oxford Professor David Rogers as shown:

Prof. David Rogers analysis of Cambridge Econometrics Report underlying Partnering for Prosperity Report 6/5/2021

The part of the £163bn GVA attributable to transport and agglomeration is only 9.2% of the total. EWR Co. need to tell us what tiny fraction of that they think EWR will contribute – if the OxCam Arc Transformational scenario were adopted and they can entice a significant number of people to actually use their EWR.

EWRCo.’s article is probably overstating the benefit of building the railway by at least two orders of magnitude. Even that assumes that the OxCam Arc transformational scenario is actually built.

The same article from EWRCo. goes on, implicitly accepting that car owners may prefer not to use their EWR. More broadly, there are a variety of reasons why owning a car is not an option for many people. Perhaps the purchase, maintenance and running costs of a car are just too much, their homes do not have access to parking, they have physical limitations which don’t allow them to drive, or they are prioritising sustainability for themselves and their families.”

One question – how many of these highly-paid transformational scenario biotech workers are not going to be able to afford to run a car?

If you are reading this from EWRCo. and you can understand the issues pointed out, then I suggest you need to submit a correction to the Cambridge Independent or risk losing credibility.

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EWRCo. Drop In Event Haslingfield 9th Sept 2022 *** POSTPONED ***

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Outstanding Information Requests to EWRCo. August 2022 Update

File Containing Reasons for EWRCo. Chosen Approach To Cambridge and the Business Case.

The previous version of this saga was provided in this post back in February 2022. Here is an update.

Recap

During the EWRCo. 2021 consultation, we wanted to understand the fundamentals of how EWRCo. had arrived at their proposed approach to Cambridge. If an approach that required a Great Wall to be built through our villages, severing communities etc. was the best option, then so be it, at least we would understand why that was so. We have the same issues with the business case, but the FOIs for that are another story.

Previous experience with freedom of information requests indicated that we needed the request to be carefully written as any mistake might be used by EWR Co.’s legal team as a reason not to release the information. The Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations contain many exceptions and no doubt for good reasons. We had also noted that EWRCo. tended to refuse requests that other public bodies had accepted. This was in cases where people had asked EWRCo. and another public body for the same information.

We engaged our lawyers at Leigh Day to write a limited FOI request for the most important information. Separately we sent a less formal letter asking for information that did not fit the criteria for the Leigh Day letter. Leigh Day were asking for information already referred to in the 2021 consultation, but not provided.  As always EWRCo. waited the full 20 working days before responding to Leigh Day. They then threw the book at us. They went through all the requests CA had made and bundled that with the Leigh Day Letter. They worked out exactly how many hours they had spent responding to our requests. We would view that as time spent providing information that should have been available in the first place. Noting the association between CA and local parish councils, they even went through parish council minutes looking for statements they felt were unreasonable.

In their lengthy refusal letter, the request was labelled “manifestly unreasonable” and “vexatious”. We were a bit surprised, since all we were doing was asking for information that they must have had to support their 2021 consultation and preferred approach to Cambridge. They also accused us of deliberately timing the letter to land when they were busy with the consultation.

Maybe they were a bit stressed. Maybe their supporting information was not all that it should have been. After all who worries about documents that are never going to be published.

We then asked Leigh Day to write an appeal letter for an internal review, explaining in legal terms why the request should be answered including case law supporting that (especially the Dransfield case on vexatious requests).

To their credit EWR asked another senior member of staff to look at the case, he was an Engineer rather than a lawyer. In any event when the pressure of the consultation was over and they had time to look again at our request … they decided to stick with the decision not to disclose and for the same reasons as before. It was still in their view manifestly unreasonable and vexatious.

At this point we decided to refer the matter to the information commissioner’s office (ICO) along with another letter from Leigh Day explaining legally why the request should have been accepted. The ICO accepted that there was a case to answer but did not have anyone available to properly look at it. 

Update since February 2022

Time passed and we published a post on this blog setting out the information we had requested and our experience up to that point in getting it.  As a result of that, local MP Anthony Browne took up the case and wrote words to the effect that whatever issues EWRCo. had with Cambridge Approaches, he would like to see the answer to those questions.

EWRCo. refused that request as well on the grounds that the matter was now with the ICO. Clearly, it’s not about who asks for the information or when.

I note that the recent Lib Dem Statement on EWR, read out at the last SCDC meeting and kindly copied to us by Cllr Bridget Smith, contains the following paragraph.

EWR is a Government scheme being delivered by a private company resulting in poor accountability and little transparency. It has been an enormous frustration that government has kept residents completely in dark for years now about their intentions. This is a pitiful way of delivering a major piece of public transport infrastructure.

It seems that locally at least, there is some crossparty agreement on EWRCo.’s lack of transparency.

Months later and about a year after the original FOI request, the ICO looked at the case. They started by asking us if we still wanted the information. We did. They also asked EWRCo. if they would now provide it. They would not.

Time passed and eventually the Information Commissioner ruled that EWRCo. could not use the argument that the request was vexatious etc and they should respond again within a certain number of days without using that exemption.

We waited, were EWRCo., actually going to supply the information? 

Well, the latest news is that EWRCo. have appealed the Information Commissioner’s decision, so the saga continues and we will provide evidence to the tribunal next month.

Stay tuned for the next gripping instalment.

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Business Case news

Secretary of State for Transport Wants to Cut EWR Tranches 2 and 3

Have your say in person 19th July 2pm-8pm Haslingfield Village Hall

Grant Shapps was interviewed on LBC on the 11th July 2022. Here is a transcript of the dialogue.

Iain Dale: “What would you cut from your transport budget?”

Grant Shapps: “I would take East West Rail and I would remove..”

Iain Dale: “Why haven’t you done it already?”

Grant Shapps: “Well, I haven’t had the opportunity”

Iain Dale: “You are the Transport Secretary you could have easily done it already, you could have gone to Rishi Sunak and said I know you want to cut spending here’s one way you could do that.”

Grant Shapps: “I have done that in other ways, but you have just asked what I would do as Prime Minister and I am telling you. I would cut East West Rail on what’s called two and three so there’s the second and third tranches of it and save 3 to 5 million pounds straight away.”

The interview is here and the part on EWR starts around 11 minutes into the recording.

Grant Shapps pulled out of the PM leadership race the following day, but his intention is now clear.  We are left with the question what is keeping the EWR Construction Stage two and three proposals afloat?

Yes, he meant billion not million. Yes, it must be tough on the staff at EWR Co. to hear their main sponsor saying this. It’s also tough on the thousands of residents blighted by this railway year after year with no end in sight and no meaningful changes or answers from EWR Co. in response to our many objections and questions. It’s also really tough on the taxpayers if they have to fund a project without a decent business case.

How long can this bizarre limbo continue? EWR Co. is full steam ahead on the ground and the transport secretary wants to cancel construction stages 2 and 3.

Meanwhile, after the EWR Co. Cambridge drop-in their spokesperson Hannah Staunton was interviewed on Look East on the 29th June. Here is a transcript of that one.

Look East: “Post pandemic, does the business case still stack up?”

Hannah Staunton: “Absolutely, so we know that, I think the latest research is saying that the current rail use levels are 90% of what they were before the pandemic and the need case for good, decent east west public transport in this area has always been incredibly strong. I don’t really see the case weakening for East West Rail if anything it’s sort of getting stronger.”

Did the business case for EWR always stack up before the pandemic? (If so, why was the Varsity Line cut in the 60s?) Why is she talking about a need case, when the question was about the business case? There are plenty of need cases for many things which don’t have a business case.

Pre-pandemic, UK railways needed an annual subsidy of £6.5 billion. The EWR has no big cities along the route and interchange times will make it less attractive for London commuters and long-distance routes. Even with today’s high rail fares, it will need a larger than average subsidy. Furthermore, with no level crossings allowed, the construction costs are ludicrously high[i], not to mention the huge environmental and human impact, the latter already being felt.

The lack of effective co-ordination with other local transport and housing schemes mean first and last mile penalties will reduce the number of passengers especially over shorter journeys and that is exactly where the most demand might be.

As for the business case getting better. The published outline business case for the EWR western section makes frequent reference to the foundation document of the OxCam ARC. “Partnering for Prosperity”. Michael Gove kicked that into the long grass in February by not mentioning it in the levelling up white paper and again last month at the levelling up select committee.

If the EWR needs a subsidy, who benefits? Investors, landowners and property developers selling land around new stations at hope value? Subsidising the fares of superstar biotech workers off to meetings in Oxford? Subsidising weekends away for people that can afford to live in central Cambridge? If it’s about commuting to the science parks around Cambridge there are much cheaper and more flexible local transport schemes for that. Just about anything is cheaper than EWR.

If the local property developers and other companies that signed the 22nd June letter to Grant Shapps demanding that the EWR be funded in full believe there is a good case for the railway, why don’t they fund it in full? Just £200 million from each signatory would do it and think of the return on investment.

At a time when people are choosing between eating and heating, the time for EWR Co. telling us is over, they need to show us the business case. Publish a well-substantiated positive, business case or cancel it and reduce this unnecessary and seemingly never-ending blight on the area.


[i] Ferrovial’s UK construction director was interviewed by the New Civil Engineer, for their 12th July 2022 edition. He stated that HS2 was estimated to cost £100 million per km and will actually cost £200 million per km, the average achieved cost of similar projects in Europe is £32 million per km. Ferrovial have been involved in both. It’s 50km from Bedford to Cambridge, the EWRCo. Jan 2020 Option report estimated a capital cost of £3.2 billion in 2010 money. Allowing for inflation since then of 36% that would be £4.3billion today leading to an estimate of £87million per km. Similar to the HS2 estimate.

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Briefing Note for EWR Drop In – Rescheduled for 12 October 2022

Sunset on Haslingfield? – How long will this Beautiful Countryside Remain?

East West Rail Co. are holding a drop-in session from 2pm to 8pm at Haslingfield Methodist Church on Wednesday 12th October 2022.

The South Cambridgeshire countryside is a beautiful area full of nature reserves, handsomely tended farms, pretty woodland and the occasional vineyard, it’s been that way for centuries. Unfortunately, that’s where the nice part of the story ends. The government have trusted the routing of this new railway line to EWRCo. who have decided on an approach that can only have been decided on cost as it completely ignores what is right for communities and the environment. Their plan is to put a railway on top of a ten-metre high embankment (higher than a house) right across our countryside, blighting it for centuries to come. The impact on our lives and the value of our homes of this “Great Wall” will be devastating both long term and during the years of construction.

Briefing

  1. On 30th May 2022, new EWR Co. CEO Beth West said to campaigners in Bedford that they are submitting a revised business case to the Department for Transport (DfT) at the end of June. DfT/Treasury decision will take months after that.
  • A recent Network Rail report compared EWR and peak road transit times. They found a 12-minute advantage for EWR from Cambridge Station to Bedford Midland Station. National Highways say peak road will reduce by 10 minutes when the planned A428 improvements are implemented. EWR will only provide benefits for a small proportion of trips between Cambridge and Bedford.
  • The local housing and transport plans have taken no account of the proposed EWR Bed-Cam route. The OxCam Arc “spatial framework” to integrate these will not now be produced. Thus, high first / last mile transit times for the railway will remain a problem. Michael Gove spoke about the Arc at the Levelling Up Select committee recently and distanced himself from ribbon development between Cambridge and Oxford. The EWR was an integral part of the OxCam Arc – which, it seems, is no more.
  • UK railways lose money on average, particularly since the pandemic. EWR has no large cities along its route, so we can expect lower than average passenger traffic, especially considering competition with road. Nationally, freight revenues are small compared to passenger fares.
  • 70 local parish councils, district councillors, county councillors and the combined authority Mayor signed a letter to DfT forwarded by Anthony Browne MP asking for the business case to be published or the project cancelled. The rail minster responded without addressing the question at all.
  • Although DfT have a target to make railways net zero. EWR Co. have no definition of what that means. Does it include the estimated 866,000 lorry movements required to construct the Great Wall of S. Cambs? Or the thousands of additional houses?
  • Three years ago, in the January 2019 consultation, the target date for the EWR planning application was the end of 2021. Recent communication with EWR indicates that this date has slipped at least to the end 2024. According to their annual report to April 2021, EWR Co. have 150 staff with a median salary of £90,000, but the project has not progressed towards the planning application for the last 3 years.

Some Questions you might Consider asking EWR Co. at their drop in Event

  1. Are the delays in producing the 2021 consultation response really because EWR Co. are waiting for a green light to proceed on the business case? (the high number of responses being more of a cover).
  2. Do EWR Co. agree that all statements they make should be backed up by rigorous evidence? (If so why do they make so many anecdotal points).
  3. Is the northern approach to Cambridge still actively being considered?
  4. How have EWRCo. assessed the number of people that would use this railway and why don’t they publish all the numbers?
  5. Given the 3x cost increase in 2020, what cost reduction measures have been considered and how do they affect the proposed route/solution?
  6. Why have EWR Co. made no progress towards the planning application in the last three years?
  7. We are aware of the options, but how will EWR Co. reduce the height of the Great Wall? 
  8. Do EWR Co. have an open mind on whether the project should go ahead, or do they start from the answer that it should. Are they not conflicted because their jobs depend on it?
  9. How is this project consistent with the Government’s levelling up policy? 
  10. Why would peak ticket prices be any cheaper than 55p/mile seen on Thameslink and, accounting for £12.50/day parking, at Cambridge station how will this compete with the marginal cost of using a car? (Most families in the area need a car anyway and the marginal cost of an electric car is around 7p/mile).

There is a complete lack of transparency on the part of EWRCo. They have provided no detail on how they reached their decision for the approach into Cambridge. They have not responded to the public consultation and they have not presented a business case to justify spending tax payer’s money. Please stand firm against it and make your feelings heard. 

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Business Case news

A Letter to the Transport Secretary

Official portrait of Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP crop 2.jpg
Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP, The Secretary of State for Transport.

Julia Virdee from Chesterton Mews, Bedford appeared on BBC Look East 18th March 2022. She was standing next to her home and explained to the BBC reporter that it might be demolished by the Bedford to Cambridge section of the East West Railway (EWR CS). 

She said that she didn’t really understand why they were building the railway.

There are thousands of people like Julia all the way from Bedford to Cambridge. Some have the threat of compulsory purchase and demolition, many more have the prospect of living close to huge embankments and viaducts or the destruction of one of their favourite places.  They all have the prospect of years of disruption during the construction phase. 

Maybe you are one of these people, in which case this post is for you.

Here at Cambridge Approaches we have been trying to understand the business case for the new Bedford to Cambridge section of the EWR since we started in the summer of 2020. It’s easier to live with the prospect of the arrival of the new railway in our communities, if we can actually understand the business case. If it’s actually about property agents, like Bidwells and their “unbelievable number of foreign investors” making profitable investments in the OxCam Arc then I am really not sure how that will help Julia. To be clear we are not against development in line with the average UK population growth, we just don’t see the need for the sort of transformational growth called for in the OxCam Arc project leading to a 50% increase on the population of the area by 2050 and this survey shows that we are not unusual. That’s what the EWR is there to support, if that’s not going to happen then the hugely expensive central section surely shouldn’t happen either. 

We have tried asking EWR Co. and the Department for Transport for the business case, sending freedom of information requests, getting Cambridgeshire County Council to write on our behalf to find out the status after the no show in the autumn spending review and so far, we have not a lot to report. Essentially, they say “we are looking at it and it’s jolly complicated”. Also, that they are not ready to share anything. Reading between the lines, and speaking frankly, we think they are struggling to justify it. It’s not easy to make a marginal business case and the people working for EWR Co. must know that the jobs[1] of people they work with may depend on it getting through. 

The relentless BFARe campaigners in Bedford, hit on the idea of writing to the government via their MP, Richard Fuller. Apparently, protocol dictates that ministers have to reply to MPs. They actually got a response from the Rail Minister with new information. She was expecting to review the case for the EWR CS in May 2022 (see Figure 1). Blimey. Amazing.

Figure 1 Last Paragraph of Letter from Rail Minister to Richard Fuller MP

So, obviously, we approached our MP Anthony Browne’s office, who said he was up for forwarding a letter asking for the business case and suggested that we ask around to see what other organisations would support it. The result was the following letter. 

“To: The Rt. Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport
by email

15/3/2022 

Dear Secretary of State, 

East West Rail Central Section (EWR CS) – Bedford to Cambridge Business Case

We write as a group of parish councils, councillors, environmental groups and residents of South Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Central Bedfordshire. 

We are alarmed that, despite the design for this section having been worked on for several years and construction costings having been produced, at no time has EWR Co. made their business case public.

In a letter dated 2nd February 2022 the East West Rail Team confirmed that “EWR is a key project for supporting the delivery of the Government’s objectives for the Oxford Cambridge Arc.” However, the flagship Levelling Up White Paper published on the same day makes no mention of the Oxford Cambridge Arc; and indeed, specifically excludes the Oxford/Cambridge/London Golden Triangle as a search area for further investment.  

In January 2020 the EWR CS benefit to cost ratio was stated at an extremely low value of 0.64. Since then, a number of factors would lead us to think that the BCR can have only worsened. There is no housing planned around EWR stations in the update to the Greater Cambridge proposed Local Plan 2021; there is no published incremental business case for freight; there is no evidence that post-pandemic inter-city passenger numbers will be anything like as before and local commuter traffic numbers and patterns are unknown; the EWR CS was not mentioned in SR21. Lastly, the electrification or “hydrogenation” of the line will add significantly to the cost.  

If this project is to continue then a positive business case needs to be published.  If this project is not to continue then it needs to be stopped now, lifting a planning blight that impacts many communities, thousands of people and to prevent wasting millions of pounds on current project costs.  

We believe that the time has come for EWR Co. to publish a business case; and the purpose of this letter is to ask you, as Minister responsible, to direct EWR Co. to do so.  

List of Supporting Organisations

Arrington Parish Council
Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trusts
Bedford For A Re-consultation (BFARe)
Barrington Parish Council
Barton Parish Council
Bourn Parish Council
Boxworth Parish Council
Cam Bed Rail Road Action Group
Cam Valley Forum
Cambridge Approaches Action Group
Comberton Parish Council
Countryside Restoration Trust
CPRE Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
CPRE Bedfordshire
Caldecote Parish Council
Clapham Parish Council, Bedfordshire
Croxton Park
Croxton Parish Council
Croydon Parish Council
Dry Drayton Parish Council
Elsworth Parish Council
Fowlmere Parish Council
Gamlingay Parish Council
Great Shelford Parish Council
Guilden Morden Parish Council
Harlton Parish Council
Harston Parish Council
Harston Residents Association
Haslingfield Village Society
Haslingfield Parish Council
Hatley Estates
Hauxton Parish Council
Litlington Parish Council
Little Shelford Parish Council
Kingston Parish Council
Knapwell Parish Council
Madingley Parish Council
Melbourn Parish Council
Meldreth Parish Council
Newton Parish Council
Oakington Transport Action Group
Orwell Parish Council
St. Neots Town Council
Stapleford Parish Council
Steeple Morden Parish Council
Stop The OxCam Arc Group 
The Eversdens Parish Council
Toft Parish Council
Trumpington Residents’ Association
Wimpole Parish Council
Yelling Parish Council

List of Supporting Individuals

Cllr Michael Atkins, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem) 
Cllr Sam Davies, City Councillor, Queen Edith’s Ward (part of the South Cambs. constituency) (Independent)
Cllr Peter Fane, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Stephen Ferguson, Chairman Cambridgeshire County Council and Mayor of St. Neots (Independent)
Kevin Hand, Ecologist, Board member and former president Cambridge Natural History Society
Cllr Mark Howell, Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative)

Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, Vice Chairman, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Maria King, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Lina Nieto, former Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative)
Sir Michael Oliver, Deputy Lieutenant of Cambs. and former Lord Mayor of the City of London
Cllr Mandy Smith, Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative)
Cllr Firouz Thompson, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Ian Sollom, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Susan Van De Ven, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Aiden Van De Weyer, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Dr. Richard Williams, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Conservative)
Cllr Nick Wright, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Conservative)”

The team of us that asked for support for the letter found the process really heartening. We are so grateful for the show of solidarity. Organisations and Councillors all over South Cambridgeshire supported it as did people further afield in St. Neots and Bedford. We have different issues about the route proposals, but all of us need to better understand why this is such a good idea. We would be surprised if the government feel they can ignore this level of support.

There is a second aspect to the letter. If EWRCo. cannot justify the project it needs to be stopped, so that the blight on the thousands of residents is removed and the EWR Co. employees can work on a better project. Given the other burning issues facing the government it would be immoral to spend public money on a project that does not have a good business case.

The Cambridge Independent covered the story of our letter in this week’s edition. They asked others for their opinions. Solid support from the MP and the suggestion that other more local transport solutions be looked at. The EWR Co. spokesperson said “Business cases for major infrastructure programmes are complex and are developed over time, consistent with the large amount of evidence gathering that is required.” In other words the same old, “we are looking at it and its jolly complicated.” 

But the EWR Co. spokesperson also switched from saying that the project was part of the OxCam Arc to saying that it “is an important part of levelling up outside London”. If EWR Co.’s spokesperson thinks that the area between Bedford and Cambridge is included in the levelling up white paper, then I don’t think they have actually looked at what it says. The diagram below is taken from the white paper and might help them.

Figure 2 Regions that need levelling up do not include the OxCam Arc: Source Levelling Up White Paper 2nd February 2022

Note that the Bedford to Cambridge region has zero measures in the bottom quartile.

Our letter was forwarded by Anthony Browne’s office to the Transport Secretary on 15th March 2022. Let’s see what response he gets.

If EWR Co. (and Network Rail before them) can’t justify the business case now after working on it for so many years, then the Bedford to Cambridge section of the EWR needs to be stopped. 


[1] Incidentally, the median salary of employees at EWRCo. In the year to March 2021 was £90,000 up 20% on the previous year. See their financial reports on companies house. (p. 72).

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Outstanding Information Requests to EWR Co.

“[EWR Co.’s] drive to put Community Right at the Heart of the new East West Rail Connection” Source: EWR Co. Community Hub – Why Would our Community be Worried About That?

Background: Encounters with a Boondoggle

During the 2021 consultation, Cambridge Approaches requested some more information from EWR Co. to inform our response. Despite considerable efforts from EWR Co. and ourselves, previous experience with trying to get useful answers from EWR Co. led us to try instead getting legal help from lawyers Leigh Day in drafting the key information requests. Around the time that the consultation closed, all our requests were refused. EWR Co. said that the requests were “vexatious” and “manifestly unreasonable” and that the public interest lay in refusal. They reached this conclusion not just by reviewing the actual requests, but looking at the correspondence that they had received from Cambridge Approaches and anybody they judged might have been in contact with us over the previous year or so. They also looked at minutes of parish council meetings discussing the EWR. It seemed anything but focussing on the information we had actually asked for. We appealed the decision after the consultation had closed because we felt that this information was still important and to give EWR Co. a chance to review their decision when they were not in the middle of the consultation. Unfortunately, their internal review response was very similar to the first one. We have referred the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office who have undertaken to review it. There is six month long queue at the ICO. Sadly it seems our experience with this process is not unusual.

I have copied the information that we requested in the letter drafted by Leigh Day below. What do you think? Are they manifestly unreasonable? Are they vexatious? Or were we just trying to understand the underlying information behind the options they had considered for the railway’s approach to Cambridge? I was there and can tell you that our intention was the latter. On our side we hope to resume a more constructive dialog with EWR Co.

Our Outstanding Requests for Information from May 2021

Request 1: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the “high-level environmental appraisal” of the nine Route Alignment Options and the proposed northern approach

Request 2: Insofar as it is not covered by request 1, EWR is asked to provide the information upon which it relies in concluding that it is “confident” that the detailed design can mitigate any impacts on the Wimpole and Eversden Woods SAC. Such information is to include the impacts identified and the mitigations considered.

Request 3: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the “operational analysis” on which it relies in concluding that the northern approach proposed in appendix F of the Second Consultation Document would require the provision of a four-track railway in section NA2.

Request 4: EWR is asked to provide the information upon which it relies in concluding that the Shepreth Branch Royston Line could remain as a twin track railway from the new Hauxton Junction to the Shepreth Branch Junction.

Request 5: EWR is asked to provide the information on which it relies in concluding that no “significant alterations” will be needed to the bridge where the Shepreth Branch Royston Line crosses under the A1301. Such information is to extend (insofar as it has been considered) to both a two and four-track approach to the Shepreth Branch Line and to the grade-separated junction that EWR considers may be needed at Shepreth Branch Junction

Request 6: EWR is asked to provide the information it holds in respect of any assessment of the number of properties that would need to be demolished if the portion of the Shepreth Branch Royston Line from the Hauxton Junction to the Shepreth Branch Junction were to require works to increase the number of tracks 

Request 7: EWR is asked to provide any non-public information provided to it by Network Rail or other organisations, or any assessment it has itself undertaken, which leads to the conclusion that there may be demand by 2043/2044 for around 24 freight trains per day on the line between Bedford and Cambridge. Such information is to include any quantification of the current freight use of the Shepreth Branch Royston Line and the West Anglia Main Line.

Request 8: EWR is asked to explain the need in principle for the viaducts, cuttings, and embankments between Cambourne and Hauxton Junction on the southern approach

Request 9: EWR is asked to provide any engineering long section drawings which it has produced to assess the northern approach.  If no such drawings exist, EWR is asked to provide (a) the length of viaduct; (b) length in cutting; and, (c) length on embankment of its proposed northern approach.

Request 10: Insofar as EWR has already undertaken this assessment, EWR is asked to provide a list of the roads which will be permanently severed or otherwise obstructed by each of the Route Alignment Options comprised in the southern approach (Cambourne through to Cambridge station)

Request 11: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the updated “cost estimates” provided by Network Rail and Atkins referred to in the Second Consultation Technical Report at 5.4.12, and any such cost estimates produced subsequent to those referred to in that paragraph. Such estimates are not to be limited to the figures, and should (insofar as they exist) include the explanation of the estimates provided by Network Rail and Atkins