A busy day in Parliament as East West Rail features in both Budget and Transport Committee

March 6th 2024

naomi transport committee

It was a busy day in Parliament today (6 March), as EEH’s managing director Naomi Green gave evidence on East West Rail to the Transport Committee, just hours before the Chancellor gave the ‘green light’ for services from Oxford to Bedford to run by the end of the decade.

Naomi appeared as part of the committee’s inquiry into strategic transport objectives, with East West Rail being used as a case study.

Naomi told the committee East West Rail was vital to realising the Heartland region’s economic potential: “Jobs created in our region are not competing with Birmingham, or Yorkshire and the Humber, but with places like Shenzhen, Toronto and Singapore. Two of the top five universities in the world are represented in this region, supported by a wider network of universities such as Cranfield and the Open University, all leaders in their field. But there are pressures in our region, on housing, on our impact on the environment, on land for businesses to grow, and productivity which is lower than the national average – all signs that there is a need for better connectivity.”

She added that the challenge was that transport appraisal techniques can appear ‘two-dimensional’ and not fully reflect the range of wider transformational benefits a scheme such as East West Rail will bring to towns and cities in the region.

The session also heard from Bedford Mayor Tom Wootton, who said while ‘East West Rail is a great idea’, his authority had significant concerns over the chosen route and the quality of engagement his residents had received.

The Chair of the Oxford to Cambridge Science Supercluster Board Dr Andy Williams said East West Rail will spread the opportunities of Oxford and Cambridge into a much wider region, provide access to a greater labour market and create an important ‘critical mass’ which also brings in other clusters such as around Cranfield and Motorsport Valley.

Following the meeting, Naomi said: "One of the things that came across from the panel was that East West Rail should not be seen as a 'housing growth' project driven by Department for Housing, Levelling Up and Communities. Rather, it is a project that puts Britain on the map, as a world leading science and innovation cluster, and as a great place to live, work and do business. The Treasury Growth Board for East West Rail has not, yet, engaged with local and regional partners. But it must. And it needs all aspects of Government, including the Departments for Education and Culture, Media and Sport, Environment and Science, Innovation and Technology involved if we are truly realise the opportunity of our region."

Later in the morning, the Minister of State for Rail, Huw Merriman MP, was also quizzed by the committee, alongside Dame Bernadette Kelly DCB, Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport; Beth West, Chief Executive Officer, East West Railway Company; and Will Garton, Director General for Levelling Up, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

As the committee concluded, MPs filled the House of Commons’ chamber to hear the Chancellor’s Budget, which included:

  • Delivery of works on the Bletchley to Bedford section of East West Rail, supported by £240 million (from existing budgets), will mean services operating between Oxford and Bedford ‘by the end of the decade’.
  • In Cambridge, ‘timetables will be improved to reduce journey times, deliver better performance and better connect the Cambridge Biomedical Campus when the new government funded station at Cambridge South opens in 2025’. £7.2 million will unlock improvements to local transport connections for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and the city (see reaction https://www.greatercambridge.org.uk/news/gcp-chair-responds-to-budget-statement)
  • AstraZeneca intends to invest £450 million to research, develop and manufacture vaccines in Speke, Liverpool and will expand its presence at Europe’s largest life sciences cluster in Cambridge with £200 million in investment. The Cambridge facility will house around 1,000 employees and will be adjacent to its £1.1 billion global R&D Discovery Centre (DISC), which already hosts 2,300 researchers and scientists.
  • £400 million of investment to extend the Long-Term Plan for Towns to a further twenty places across the UK including Wisbech. This provides places with ten years of endowment style funding and support worth up to £20 million to invest in communities and regeneration.
  • The government is also extending devolution powers through new Level 2 devolution agreements, including with Buckinghamshire Council.
  • ‘Having worked closely with the Culture Secretary and listened carefully to representations from companies like Pinewood, Warner Brothers and Sky Studios [located in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire], we will provide eligible film studios in England with 40% relief on their gross business rates until 2034’.

You can watch the transport committee here: https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/78aaf84f-8bc4-468f-826b-2ccfde870ef4