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Councils welcome DfT support for East West Rail

The East West Rail Consortium, a group of councils and businesses in the heart of England, has welcomed confirmation from the transport secretary that the government is still committed to the project.

Speaking at the CCN Annual Conference on Monday, Chris Grayling said that while devolution was “part of the solution” in some cases, he was “no fan of devolution for devolution’s sake”.

He added that in certain instances the government should “stump up the cash” for major transport projects, including East West Rail.

Cllr Rodney Rose, deputy leader of Oxfordshire county council and chair of the Joint Delivery Board for East West Rail Western Section, said: “There is overwhelming support from the public, the business community and investors. We need to crack on and get it built so we can realise the opportunities it presents to boost the economy, create new jobs, support housing growth and improve the quality of life of people in the region.

“Following a period of uncertainty over delays due to pressure on the national rail budget, we’re optimistic that government will now follow through on its commitment by making funds available for earliest possible completion.”

He added that the East West Rail Consortium would work closely with the Department for Transport and Network Rail, and expected a clear delivery programme by January 2017.

The East West Rail project is a planned rail route linking Norwich and Cambridge with Oxford via Milton Keynes.

The first stage is the Western Section Phase 2, which involves reconstructing and upgrading disused and underused sections of railway between Bicester and Bedford, and upgrading freight-only lines for passenger services between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury.

The project, for which the East West Rail Consortium has promised £45m, was delayed to the next control period, in 2019-24, after Network Rail was forced to re-plan all projects because of its escalating cost.

Grayling added that England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance, which has formed a strategic transport forum as a precursor to a strategic transport authority for the region, was on his agenda because of East West Rail.

Cllr Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and chair of the Alliance, said East West Rail was “the top infrastructure priority” for the Alliance and six local enterprise partnerships.

He added that he was “positive and confident” that there would be “rapid progress” on the project.

In August, Paul Maynard, the rail minister, wrote to Cllr Rose saying that despite the project’s deferral, the Department for Transport was “working hard to explore ways which could see its delivery brought forward”.

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