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.