Cross party, cross industry and cross country support for upgrading Ely rail junction was demonstrated as the East of England All-Party Parliamentary Group hosted the launch of EEH and Transport East’s brochure Keeping Trade on Track in Parliament on Monday 19 June.
Co-chairs Peter Aldous MP and Daniel Zeichner MP were joined by Iain Stewart MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee and Tan Dhesi MP, Labour Minister for Rail, who heard the case for investment into Ely Junction and supporting schemes from an expert panel. All four welcomed the report, recognising it powerfully expressed the case and level of support for the scheme powerfully.
Mr Aldous said he couldn’t think of any person or organisation who doesn’t support the scheme: “If we wait three or fours years we will have missed a golden opportunity for the UK.”
Mr Zeichner added: “The question should be why on Earth wouldn’t you fund it?”
Mr Stewart said Ely is an ideal example of why transport needs to be looked at in the round, including its benefit to the network as a whole, modal shift, connectivity in a global sense and wider economic benefits. He added that while half a billion pounds sounds a lot of money, in the transport world it’s a relatively small investment that delivers many benefits in relation to its cost.
Shadow minister Tan Dhesi said Ely was a scheme which needed to be supported to increase capacity of rail freight. “It’s incredibly important not just in the East but for the Midlands and North, a lot of people are dependent on this project.”
More than 40 MPs, Peers, rail, business and regional stakeholders listened as the panellists set out clearly the national economic, social and environmental case for funding the £466m upgrade to the rail network around Ely.
Naomi Green of England’s Economic Heartland, which co-authored the Keeping Trade on Track report, highlighted the strategic case for intervention. She explained how the high business case ratio for the project recognised the huge benefits to freight movement through the East to and from businesses in the Midlands and North, along with improved connections for passengers and the notable decarbonisation benefits, due to removing 100,000 HGVs off the roads each year. In her experience it is unusual to find a project that delivers so comprehensively for all users and said it was a ‘no regret’ scheme.
She added that Ely was an example of a rail investment solving a roads problem by taking nearly 100,000 HGVs off the roads annually and therefore shouldn’t just be a consideration for rail funding.
Steve Beel from Freeport East which covers the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich said there were risks around inaction on Ely, to both business growth and climate:
He said: “Ely currently adds costs and carbon to every single container being moved out of the UK”.
He highlighted how shipping is an international business and if the UK is not competitive we will lose out to Rotterdam and other European ports, adding time and cost to businesses and risking skilled jobs.
James Tierney of Maritime Transport Ltd spoke about the amount of private investment going in to developing rail freight terminals and to reduce the carbon impact of moving goods by shortening HGV journeys. He emphasised importance of Ely to the private sector and the huge increase in demand for rail freight over recent years adding that the benefits would be felt right across the country.
Maggie Simpson OBE of Rail Freight Group supported the previous points emphasising the commitment of the industry to growing rail freight and the private investment going in at all points in the journey from supplier to customer. She said investing in Ely supports businesses right across the country and is critical to the UK’s growth and role in global trade.
In questions and comments many attendees took the opportunity to express why their organisation supported the project particularly highlighting the benefits to passengers which would come from more frequent services. Attendees also highlighted how siloed funding pots and segregated infrastructure planning resulted in slow decisions, and urged the parliamentarians to keep advocating for the scheme whenever possible.