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Prime Minister Liz Truss backs Cambridge phase of East West Rail

Prime Minister Liz Truss has given her backing to the Cambridge phase of the controversial £5bn East West Rail project.

Prime Minster Liz Truss said her government will set out more details in ‘due course’. Picture: Rob Pinney/PA
Prime Minster Liz Truss said her government will set out more details in ‘due course’. Picture: Rob Pinney/PA

Ms Truss said her government would be “laying out more details in due course” but that not building these projects fast enough was “one of these reasons for our sluggish economic growth”.

However, campaigners in Cambridgeshire say East West Rail “doesn’t work” and they have seen ‘no evidence’ that it will attract new investment.

Ms Truss told BBC Look East in question about the Cambridge section: “What we want to do is build these important infrastructure projects. I do support East West Rail and we’ll be laying out more details in due course.

“But what I will say is that we need to speed up the building of these projects. One of the issues we’ve got and one of these reasons for our sluggish economic growth as a country is we’re not getting these things built fast enough. So what I will be doing is making sure we’re accelerating important projects.”

The PM’s comments come less than a week after the project was included in a list of key infrastructure projects in the government’s Growth Plan.

And that announcement followed the publication of a report titled Building Better Connections: the business imperative for East West Rail by the East West Main Line Partnership.

This set out the need for the Oxford to Cambridge railway line to be delivered in full by profiling the support of businesses including AstraZeneca.

East West Railway Company CEO Beth West
East West Railway Company CEO Beth West

Beth West, chief executive officer at the East West Rail Company, said: “We were pleased EWR appeared on the list of projects [the] government is keen to accelerate. We believe that local people living and working in the communities in and around Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge, deserve reliable, sustainable and affordable public transport that links them to their jobs, families and friends.

“EWR will offer cleaner, faster travel between home and work and opportunities for days out, reducing journey times, traffic congestion and pollution. We are delighted at the prospect of delivering the benefits of this fantastic new line for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Of the report, Ms West added: “This area has a world-leading ecosystem of businesses and universities, and with EWR on track to support their growth, it will not only attract more inward investment to the region, but will power the wider national recovery too.”

Serious doubts emerged over the latter stages of East West Rail after the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority said they appear unachievable and former transport secretary Mr Shapps admitted he would like to scrap them.

In July, the Department for Transport spokesman said it would be for “the next prime minister and government to make a decision on East West Rail”.

Cambridge Approaches is campaigning against the East West Rail Company’s favoured southern approach into the city.

Dr William Harrold in Haslingfield Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr William Harrold in Haslingfield Picture: Keith Heppell

Responding to the PM’s comments, co-founder Dr William Harrold said: “EWR doesn’t work. It is an intercity heavy railway trying to solve a local commuter problem.

“The Bedford to Cambridge section is hugely expensive and fails to compete with the road network either on travel time or cost. As Grant Shapps recently said, it won’t take many cars off the road.

“The project is being justified by proponents on the promise of huge growth, 274 times the output of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus today. EWR was part of the now defunct OxCam Arc and without that it makes even less sense. This growth, which may be what is attracting our new PM, would involve a tsunami of concrete across the whole area between Oxford and Cambridge.

“Leaving aside whether this is desirable, proponents of the EWR need to demonstrate how their solution will actually attract significant new investment.

“Talking to businesses like AstraZeneca who are already committed to the area and just need a Cambridge South station does not demonstrate that EWR will attract new investment that would not happen anyway. Where is the evidence for that? We have seen none.

“Even if there were a case, the proposed route is also wrong, it does not fit local housing, transport and economic plans, nor is it optimised for freight.”

Cambridge South station and the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet improvements were also named among the projects to be “accelerated as fast as possible” under the government’s Growth Plan.

The government set out the list of infrastructure projects with the aim to get the “vast majority starting construction by the end of 2023”.

It said these projects may benefit from acceleration through planning reform, regulatory reform, improved processes or other options to speed up their development and construction.

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