Abandoned Portishead rail line. (Credit: Barry Cash)
North Somerset's MP Dr Liam Fox and council are both frustrated by the delay to reopening the Portishead Railway line. Both have expressed frustrations at the possibility of environmental activist groups delaying plans for reopening railway stations in Portishead and Pill. Phase One of the MetroWest scheme was delayed for a further six months in October after the Department for Transport (DfT) cited 'environmental reasons' which needed further consultation.
An Artist's impression of the Pill station (Metrowest)
Dr Liam Fox slammed the decision, stating that he fears too much power is handed to those who wish to halt progress in the area by forcing judicial reviews. He cited groups such as Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion as potential reasons for the delays.
North Somerset's MP wrote in a letter: "I am extremely disappointed by this course of events. Since the explanation given in the written ministerial statement about 'environmental reasons' for the delay was very vague, I asked for further ministerial information.
"It appears that there is no specific reason for the delay on environmental grounds and, indeed, it would be possible to go ahead with the DCO (development consent order) immediately except for one potentially serious factor. Government advisers believe that there is a strong chance that environmental activist groups might seek a judicial review over the whole project on 'environmental grounds'.
Dr Fox has requested Parliamentary time as a matter of priority for a debate on Portishead Railway in the House of Commons Chamber.
An artist's impression of what Portishead station would look like once built.
If granted, a £116million project would see Portishead Railway Station reopened for the first time in decades and Pill station put back to use.
North Somerset Council has estimated that, once works were completed, more than 500 jobs would be made available, while the area's economy could be boosted by more than £250million in the first decade.
The council's leader, Don Davies, has revealed that he and other senior executives are 'extremely sceptical' that the project will come to fruition, despite £25million of taxpayers money already being spent on it. Hhe is sceptical that the project will move forward.
Cllr Davies stated: "The response, having discussed it at length with my executive colleagues, frankly beggars belief. I would say that we are now becoming extremely sceptical that the project will ever move forward to completion, so leaving our second largest town with entirely inadequate sustainable transport links."
Elsewhere, a movement set up to promote a bus alternative to the MetroWest scheme has lambasted both North Somerset's MP and council for ploughing on with a project it describes as 'scandalous'. The Portishead Busway Campaign, headed by Barry Cash, proposes that the railway line be repurposed to allow buses to follow the route to the Cumberland Basin before joining the road network.
Mr Cash said "The MetroWest scheme is a waste of money and all parties involved should get out while they have the chance. At best, it will run four or so packed trains during rush hour but they will be seldomly used throughout the day - costing taxpayers money and polluting the area."
Mr Cash estimates that the service could be started with just £10million funding - £106million less than predicted for MetroWest Phase One.
The plans were ruled out by both North Somerset Council and the DfT - with the council's leader stating that the alternative is ill-conceived.
Cllr Davies said: "It would take an ingenious piece of engineering to pull off Mr Cash's plans and the benefits, environmental and economical, are not as significant as the railway plan. We want people to stop using cars - thousands can make weekly commutes across the South West with the railway line open. Scraping plans to make a busway would waste time and the money we have already invested. I hope we can move on from the delays and have the project completed by 2025, I have campaigned for 30 years for this to happen and I am determined to see it happen."