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New Hope for Portishead Line

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

Portishead Station 1867

According to a report in the New Civil Engineer, construction and flood risk concerns have been alleviated as part of plans to reopen the abandoned Portishead rail line. Highways England and the Environment Agency had raised concerns with plans to restore the abandoned Portishead railway line, as part of the ongoing planning process. Highways England aired concerns that the construction programme will adversely impact the nearby road network, while the Environment Agency has flagged the potential risk of the railway flooding once it is reopened. However, the project's programme manager has confirmed that an agreement has already been reached with both bodies to alleviate those concerns. MetroWest Phase 1 Programme Manager James Willcock told NCE that "the concerns raised by Highways England and the Environment Agency were raised some weeks ago and have now been resolved". He added: "The agreed position with these two statutory bodies in set out in the respective Statements of Common." The Planning Inspectorate gave the green light to examine plans for the £116M MetroWest scheme in December 2019, with the examination currently ongoing. The West of England Combined Authority and North Somerset Council project would be delivered in partnership with Network Rail. The scheme involves reopening over 5km of railway which will be added to the national network, the construction of two new stations at Portishead and Pill, and works to upgrade 9km of freight only railway. Concerns raised by Highways England and the Environment Agency were submitted to The Planning Inspectorate in response to the latest consultation round. Highways England’s submission stated that it “is unable to support the Portishead Rail DCO application at this time, on the grounds that further information and clarification is required in respect of the Transport Assessment and Construction Traffic Management Plan”. Consequently, Highways England asked for clarification on eight points relating to construction plans, HGV movements and use of the nearby section of the M5 (see box below for full list of Highways England’s requests for information). The Highways England statement added that its concerns “relate solely to the construction phase of the Portishead Branch Line reopening” and that it is “satisfied that there are no significant adverse transport implications for the SRN [strategic road network] once construction is complete and the scheme is operational”. The Environment Agency also raised concerns of its own in relation to flood mitigation plans. In its submissions the Environment Agency warns that the line could be prone to flooding once it reopens unless further mitigations are put in place. It adds that the proposals current Flood Risk Assessment is “deficient in a number of respects”. Issues of particular concern to the Environment Agency include:

  • The potential high frequency of flooding of the proposed railway line

  • The potential increase in flood risk to third parties, particularly in the vicinity of Portishead, Pill, Easton-in-Gordano and Clanage Road

  • The climate change allowances adopted

  • The provision of flood plain compensation i.e. is it adequate and is it provided on a hydraulically linked, level for level basis?

  • The use and understanding of the designated flood zones

  • Details of works proposed in the vicinity of, and/or over main river culverts i.e. a ‘no additional loading approach’ has not been clarified, as previously requested

Despite concerns around flooding, the Environment Agency said that it “remains fully supportive of the aims of the proposal, which is viewed as having considerable merit, as an integral element of a more extensive sustainable transport network”. Network Rail launched a search for contractors to build the proposed Portishead to Pill rail line in February. The project is a key part of the first phase of the MetroWest programme of transport improvements across the region being led by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and North Somerset Council. The work will enable the relaunch of trains between a new Portishead station and Bristol Temple Meads, including 5.5km of new railway to be constructed on disused line. Works include detail design, surveys, environmental and ecology, civils, track, highways, signalling and telecoms, buildings, M&E and E&P. The estimated value of the contract is between £50M and £100M.

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