Dear Mr Gallagher
I am writing to you instead of Simon Blanchflower as I understand that he is retiring from his position at EWR Co.
Can you confirm that work on the central section (CS) of the East West Railway has now been suspended?
I ask because there are many people living on or near the preferred route that are now in a state of limbo, which they fear will drag on for years as dates in the planning process seem to be slipping and slipping. We need to be able to get on with our lives. Cambridgeshire County Council asked the Department for Transport a similar question after the Autumn Spending Review and as of this month have received no reply.
As you know the estimated cost of the preferred route in your words “matured” during 2019 as a result of more accurate work from Faithful and Gould. This resulted in a 3x cost increase for the preferred route area from January 2019 to January 2020. The benefit to cost ratio of the central section published in January 2020 was low and the following things have happened since:
- Commitment to the EWR CS was conspicuous by its absence from the 2021 autumn spending review (SR21) which covers the next few years. In contrast, the work on the A428 was explicitly mentioned. This was flagged as a problem by the EWR ML partnership and the EEH both before and after SR21.
- Significant additional work was identified in 4-tracking into Cambridge on the southern approach, together with 6-tracking and housing demolition in Bedford in the 2021 consultation document and no revised costing was published.
- Considerable local opposition to the emerging preferred route has been expressed all along the route from Bedford through St. Neots to Cambridge – the petition for a proper consultation on a northern approach to Cambridge stands at over 12,000.
- The wider benefits of the land value increase around new EWR CS stations due to the OxCam Arc look like they will not occur due to the shift in focus of the government to levelling up outside of London and the South East. This was confirmed by Mr. Gove on the Radio 4 Today Programme on the 10th January 2022. When asked about the much-delayed levelling up white paper, he said that the decision had been made at the time of the spending review and that the aim was to “get every part of the UK operating at the level that London and the South East currently do”. He also mentioned a preference for housing on brown field sites – hardly consistent with some of the new EWR station locations. Where does that leave the OxCam Arc upon which the yet-to-be-published EWR CS business case apparently depends? I note that the leader of the OxCam Arc team in Whitehall, Kris Krasnowski was redeployed to the Scottish Office in July 2021.
- Local housing plans such as the one in Greater Cambridge have taken no account of the EWR CS station locations.
- Passenger rail numbers continue to be depressed and there are continued signs of a permanent shift in behaviour after the pandemic to more home working. There are press reports of plans to lay off rail staff in their thousands.
- No one has demonstrated that freight traffic on the central section will move the needle on the business case for the CS. However, freight, especially on elevated track continues to cause great anxiety for people living near the emerging preferred route, both near the proposed great embankments and viaducts and in the city and town centres. The emerging preferred route is really not great for freight.
- Perhaps at the insistence of past members of central government, EWR Co. continue to emphasize the importance of rapid transit from Oxford to Cambridge even though common sense and I believe your own forecasts say that most of the passenger traffic will be local. As a result, the business case for a more local railway may be more favourable.
These considerations fuel my concern that you will not find a good business case for the central section. I look forward to your answer to my question in bold at the start of this letter.
Dr. William Harrold
Co-founder Cambridge Approaches.