East West Rail

Transport – in the House of Commons am ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

What recent progress he has made on the East West Rail project.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

For connection stage one of East West Rail. I was pleased to attend an event in March to mark the completion of work on the final section of track connecting Bicester and Bletchley, with services expected to commence next year. At the spring Budget, £240 million was announced to accelerate work introducing services between Oxford and Bedford by the end of the decade. Following the announcement of the preferred route alignment between Bedford and Cambridge last May, a statutory consultation is due to launch this summer.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

The connection of East West Rail from Bedford to Cambridge will cost the taxpayer an enormous amount of money—the Minister knows that, because he was at the Transport Committee sitting right next to the permanent secretary when she said so—although apparently that is okay because a few landowners and developers will make shedloads of money out of planning gain. Meanwhile, the latest chief executive officer of East West Rail has scarpered because he could not stand the heat in the kitchen.

As the Minister said, East West Rail is progressing with a statutory consultation—having completely fluffed the first consultation by not contacting the right people—but holding it over the summer months while people are away. All the time, the project is being driven by the economic growth board in the Treasury, which meets secretly and tells people nothing. What can the Minister tell my constituents about this project?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question —[Laughter.] He was indeed in the same room as I was when I was with colleagues—this is an important aspect—from the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up as well as our permanent secretary to discuss the cross-governmental co-ordination that will be required to unlock all the economic benefits. As he knows—we will not necessarily agree on this point—I believe that East West Rail is critical in delivering a workforce to Cambridge, which will allow Cambridge to compete with the likes of Boston and cities in south-east Asia so that those pioneers have a workforce and we can keep Cambridge, and indeed Oxford, motoring on that basis.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Indeed, some are more positive about the improved connectivity potential in and around Cambridge, but the Minister will be aware that his colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities recently established the Cambridge delivery group, which is looking to create 150,000 additional homes, which will in turn create a whole series of transport challenges. Will he tell the House what structures are in place to ensure proper dialogue between his Department, DLUHC and East West Rail?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The East West Rail growth board, which, as my hon. Friend Richard Fuller pointed out, is being led by the Treasury, will be critical to ensuring that joined-up approach. It is essential that we look at this project as an economic opportunity for the area. I have met my hon. Friend’s constituents as we have both travelled around, and I appreciate that there is an impact where there is housing, but if we do not have a workforce, Cambridge and that region will not be able to compete on the global stage and we will not see the pioneering scientific and bio-health developments that we see from Cambridge. That is why I believe that this railway is critical.