Six verdicts on the preferred East West Rail route from Oxford to Cambridge via Cambourne
The government has announced that the preferred route for East West Rail is now via a new station at Cambourne into Cambridge, rather than travelling via Bassingbourn.
The decision follows campaigning from residents and politicians who argued this route would better serve the growing communities along the A428 corridor.
Here are some of the thoughts of community and business leaders.
‘We welcome route and net zero carbon ambition’
The route via Cambourne was the option South Cambridgeshire District Council said should be chosen when asked during a consultation.
Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer, deputy leader and lead cabinet member for strategic infrastructures at the council, said: “We are pleased and relieved that an announcement has finally been made on the route of East West Rail. We are also supportive of the decision to run the new railway from Bedford to Cambridge via Cambourne. We were told that one of the key factors in determining the route was the environmental opportunities that this option offers. Any project of this size has an impact, but overall it will offer huge scope for environmental enhancements, much of which be in South Cambridgeshire.
“The decision on whether this will be an electrified line has not yet been made but we are told that it will be a net zero carbon railway which is exactly what we would want as we move towards being a zero carbon district by 2050.”
Leader Cllr Bridget Smith added: “I have asked East-West Railway Company to work very closely with local councillors and officers, and to fully engage with all of our affected villages from the outset. This is vital so they know exactly what is going on and have every opportunity to input their views into the whole process.”
‘Cambourne station needs to be to the north’
Cllr Ruth Betson, a Conservative South Cambridgeshire district councillor for Cambourne, said: “This is fantastic news for all of us in South Cambridgeshire, who have campaigned hard over the last couple of years to get this result from the town council in Cambourne to the CamBedRailRoad group in the south of the constituency to all the residents who responded to the consultation last year.
“I think that all of us in South Cambs recognise the importance of saving our rural villages around the Wimpole Hall area and instead taking advantage of the more developed area around Cambourne.”
East West Rail Company’s early plans suggest the station is envisaged to the south of Cambourne, although it has said it is aware of the nature reserve there.
Cllr Betson said: “Our job now is to show that a train station to the north of the town of Cambourne on the A428 is the best location for a new transport corridor, a station that could become a travel hub for the surrounding new developments and open up quicker, and faster access to Milton Keynes and London for our communities. However, today I am really grateful that this first major decision has been made.”
Mayor: ‘It won’t affect metro plans’
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer said: “We welcome the announcement of the preferred route for East-West Rail, and look forward to further details as to the specific route that will connect Cambridge and Cambourne with the East Coast Mainline south of St Neots.
“To be clear, this will not affect our plans for delivery on the Cambridge Autonomous Metro, and we remain committed to bringing the CAM to Cambourne and on into the centre of St Neots. The CAM will deliver a world-class mass transit system that will complement the new rail link, serving the smaller communities that the heavy rail line will pass without stopping.
“Local residents may notice a lot of construction work in the future, with the CAM, East West Rail and the dualling of the A428 all planned for the next few years. With so many new transport projects underway in this area, it is critical that we who are responsible for delivery think strategically about how plans relate to and connect with each other, to ensure the minimal disruption and the best possible service for the people and communities we serve.”
RSPB: ‘A welcome contrast to HS2, but why not electrify the route?’
The RSPB welcomed East West Rail Company’s commitment to achieving “biodiversity net gain” from the project, in contrast to the destructive nature of the government’s other large railway project, HS2.
RSPB operations director Jeff Knott: “Given the very negative response of HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport to the numerous concerns that have been raised about the scheme’s impacts on wildlife, it is something of a revelation that another national rail scheme right next door is making such positive noises about its intent towards nature.
But he suggested it was “unfathomable” that the decision had not been made to electrify the line fully, given the government commitments to achieve zero carbon by 2050.
Mr Knott called for a strategic environmental assessment to be carried out – and argued that “one of the least environmentally damaging routes wasn’t even considered”.
The RSPB was relieved, however, that the option chosen will avoid passing within metres of its headquarters, The Lodge nature reserve in Sandy, which features rare heathland and woodland habitats.
‘Rail route will unlock economic potential’
England’s Economic Heartland, which brings political and business leaders together in a strategic collaborative partnership with a shared commitment to realise the economic potential of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, welcomed the announcement.
Dave Hodgson, chair of England’s Economic Heartland’s strategic transport forum, said: “This announcement is a key milestone towards delivering East West Rail from Oxford to Cambridge, and eastwards towards Ipswich and Norwich. It provides certainty to our local authorities, who can now examine what the chosen route means for their area, and plan ahead with confidence.
“Across the Heartland there is overwhelming support for the East West Rail project.The momentum generated by the East West Railway Company is particularly welcomed given the extent to which the project will transform travel patterns across the region, and beyond.
“Responses to our outline transport strategy made clear that we must support the economy while at the same time reducing transport’s impact on the environment. The need for change is now. East West Rail will be the Heartland’s sustainable spine, and the wider opportunities this transformational infrastructure project creates means we have a unique opportunity to effect the change that is needed.
“We look forward to continuing our strong working relationship with the East West Railway Company as we work to maximise the potential of East West Rail for the region. This includes work to improve local connectivity to and from stations, ensuring the widest number of people and businesses can access the opportunities East West Rail unlocks. The work is driven by our ground-breaking data tools which provide us with insight on the travel behaviours of our local communities.”
CBI: ‘It will level up East of England’
CBI (Confederation of British Industry) regional director for the East of England, Richard Tunnicliffe, said: “The news about a recommended route for the East-West rail route is a landmark step in the project. The CBI welcomes the government’s commitment to the East West Rail route between Oxford and Cambridge. This project will help level up the whole East of England linking us up from Reading to Norwich.
“Completing this work is utterly essential to ensure we level up the regions, and businesses in the OxCam Arc welcome the opportunities this line will provide, with access to new skills, widening market access and building on the innovation that makes this region a world leader.
“There is a lot of work left to go to today is a real day for celebration as this vital piece of infrastructure will help unleash the full economic potential of the region.”
More by this authorPaul Brackley