Ministers cite housing growth potential in announcing preferred route for Bedford-Cambridge rail link

The government has selected the most expensive of five shortlisted options as its preferred route for the central section of a rail link that it says should help deliver new homes in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

Cambridge. Image by Evgenii Klebanov, Flickr
Cambridge. Image by Evgenii Klebanov, Flickr

Ministers today announced their preferred route for the central section of the new East-West Rail line, running between Cambridge and Bedford. This would link up to the existing western end of the route, towards Oxford.

A joint announcement by the Department for Transport and the housing ministry said they are in favour of "route E", which would run from Bedford, south of St Neots and Tempsford via Cambourne to Cambridge.

A cost estimate made last year said this option would cost £3.4 billion to deliver, almost 30 per cent more than the next most expensive option (£2.6 billion) and 70 per cent higher than the cheapest shortlisted route.

A consultation document published in January last year said the routes were selected by considering "a wide range of factors", including the potential "contribution to enabling new homes and economic growth, including serving areas with land that could be developed", and "environmental impacts and opportunities".

It added that an application for the new line will be made through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project route for major infrastructure.

A statement from the DfT and MHCLG said that East West Rail "has the potential to support new homes and jobs in the arc".

Announcing the decision, housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: "These plans could see significant improvements to transport links across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, one of the most exciting economic growth opportunities in Europe, while also potentially helping us to deliver the homes that people need.

"I want to make sure that any of these new homes are built to a high standard and all future development in the area is well designed, beautiful, environmentally friendly and embraces the latest technologies. These communities will be world class and a blueprint for forward-looking design across the country."

Rob Hopwood, planning partner at property consultancy Bidwells, said:"At this early stage, the announcement implies new stations at Tempsford and Cambourne, and there may be others being considered in between.

"The National Planning Policy Framework and government policy intentions are moving towards guidance which requires higher density housing around railway stations.

"This will provide an opportunity for the housebuilding and commercial property sectors to promote and deliver sustainable development at scale.

"However, for the preferred route, most of the preferred corridor east of Cambourne is in the Cambridge green belt, which will bring with it important decisions to be made on where and at what scale development should take place."

England’s Economic Heartland, a coalition of politicians and businesses in the region, has lobbied for the project.

Dave Hodgson, chair of the group’s strategic transport forum and Bedford mayor, said: "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."

The plans are being progressed by the East West Railway Company - a body established in December 2017 by the Department for Transport (DfT) to deliver the scheme.

In 2018, Network Rail applied for a Transport and Works Act order to upgrade track and signals between Bicester and Bedford as part of the route.

Plans for development of the Oxford to Cambridge ‘growth arc’, including new rail and road links, were proposed in a report from government advisor the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published in November 2017.

The commission called for one million homes to be built in the area by the middle of the century "if the arc is to achieve its economic potential".

The NIC's plans, including the East-West Rail link, were backed by the government in the 2017 Autumn Budget.

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