Ely Junction rail upgrade and A10 to Cambridge improvements to go ahead with money saved from HS2
Ely Junction will finally be improved and the A10 upgraded with money saved by aborting the northern leg of the HS2 rail link, the government has confirmed.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Conservative Party conference that the £36billion saved by axing the Birmingham to Manchester section of the HS2 (High Speed 2) rail project would be reinvested into a raft of other schemes.
Among those is the remodelling of the Ely North rail junction, enabling an extra six freight trains a day to run to the Port of Felixstowe and more passenger services to be provided - a move much demanded by politicians in the region.
The upgrade is expected to remove 98,000 lorry journeys each year from roads in the region, particularly the A14.
The East of England will also get £180million for 13 road schemes, including proposals to upgrade the A10 between Ely and Cambridge - another project that has been years in the pipeline.
A massive £2.8billion pothole fund to fix roads in the East, South East and South West was announced, while the current £2 bus fare scheme will be kept and extended until the end of December 2024 instead of rising to £2.50 as planned.
Ely Junction links five railway lines that connect Cambridge, Peterborough, Norwich, Ipswich and King’s Lynn but represents a bottleneck on the network. Network Rail wants to increase its capacity for freight trains.
Dr Nik Johnson, the Labour mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, welcomed its upgrade.
"So many of us here in the East of England have been championing an upgraded Ely Junction for many years, so today's confirmation that we can at last get to work will be widely welcomed,” he said.
"This is a major investment in vital infrastructure that we have campaigned long and hard for. It's a huge opportunity, not just for our region's residents and local economy, but also nationwide.
"Locally, it means greater rail connectivity across the East of England, boosting travel for leisure, tourism, and industry. Nationally, upgrading this out of date junction will connect major international ports in Felixstowe and London with distribution hubs in the Midlands, the North, and beyond.
"Crucially, in allowing more goods to be transported by freight, an upgraded Ely Junction removes 98,000 lorries from the road each year. As well as massively improving air quality, and reducing CO2 emissions, this work will also reduce congestion by 5.6 million hours annually, including on critical routes like the A14.”
Under the plans, an enhanced spine route for rail freight to and from the Port of Felixstowe will be provided and another bottleneck - Haughley Junction in Suffolk - will also be upgraded.
The government predicted the scheme will cut 450 lorries from East Anglia’s roads every day and enable passenger services to double on the Ely to King’s Lynn and Ipswich to Peterborough routes.
"Campaigners have long pointed out that to upgrade Ely Junction is to back British business,” added Dr Johnson. “With that in mind, earlier this year, I co-chaired the Combined Authority’s Rail Summit, bringing together stakeholders from across the nation to push for government support.
“Over 45 politicians, chief executives, business leaders, industry leaders and campaigners added their signature to our letter to the Chancellor and rail minister calling for the much-needed upgrade, and today we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief at our achievement.
"That said, whilst much of this success comes off the back of years of invaluable work for which I thank everyone involved, it is a great shame that we are not able to jointly celebrate with HS2 colleagues on what could and should have been another invaluable investment in our national infrastructure.”
The Eastern Powerhouse lobbying group, which has also been campaigning for upgrades to Ely and Haughley Junctions, also welcomed the announcement.
Chair James Palmer - who was the Tory mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough before being ousted by Dr Johnson - said the group was “delighted”.
“Freight services from Felixstowe to the Midlands will be able to take a direct route through Ely, rather than be directed through London, making the rail network in the East far more efficient,” he said.
“The Eastern Powerhouse met with Secretary of State Mark Harper on September 5 and discussed the importance of Ely and Haughley to both the regional and national economy. Clearly Mr Harper was listening, as just under a month later, the government have changed policy and funded these key projects.”
The government said East Anglia would directly benefit from the new plan announced for Euston. HS2 will now run from Birmingham to Euston in central London, rather than terminating at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs.
A Development Corporation will create a ‘Euston Quarter’ and leverage private sector investment, unlocking £6.5 billion for investments.
Announcing that the northern leg of HS2 would be scrapped, Mr Sunak told his party’s conference: “I say to those who backed the project in the first place, the facts have changed.
“The right thing to do when the facts change is to have the courage to change direction.”
And he added: “The management of HS2 will no longer be responsible for the Euston site. There must be some accountability for the mistakes made, for the mismanagement of this project.
“We will instead create a new Euston development zone building thousands of new homes for the next generation of homeowners, new business opportunities and a station that delivers the capacity we need.”
Funding unlocked by the Euston plan will include:
- £610m for 39 road schemes across East Anglia, the South East and South West, with the A10 between Ely and Cambridge among 13 in East Anglia
- £1bn for new road schemes in the East, South West and South East
- £2.8bn for roads resurfacing fund in the East, South East and South West of England to combat potholes.
Proposals for the A10 discussed over recent years have envisaged it being dualled between Cambridge and Ely to solve the delays experienced at busy times on the route, alongside which the new town at Waterbeach is due to be built, adding further pressure to the road.