Government approval sought for major transport scheme

A nationally significant scheme to re-open the Portishead to Bristol railway line is to be submitted to the Government for formal approval.

At yesterday’s Full Council meeting (Tuesday 25 June), North Somerset Council agreed to submit a Development Consent Order (DCO) application to the Planning Inspectorate for the £116m MetroWest Phase 1 scheme. The DCO application seeks powers to build and operate the disused section of railway from Portishead to Pill, gain environmental consent to undertake works to the existing freight railway through the Avon Gorge and obtain powers for the compulsory acquisition of land.

Councillors also agreed to enter into a new formal agreement with Network Rail.

Relaunching train services from Portishead with new stations at Portishead and Pill 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.

Benefits of the scheme include:

  • 181,000 fewer car trips in the opening year, increasing to 278,000 fewer car trips a year by 2036
  • A reduction of 7.5 million car kilometres in the opening year
  • 958,980 passenger trips by rail in the opening year increasing to 1,295,103 passenger trips by 2036
  • Bringing more than 50,000 people within the immediate catchment of the two new stations at Portishead and Pill
  • Providing better access to employment and educational opportunities
  • Upgrading the existing train service at 16 stations across three rail corridors, directly benefiting 180,000 people within a 1km catchment
  • Creating 514 new direct permanent jobs and temporary jobs during construction
  • Providing £3 of quantified benefits for every £1 invested to deliver the scheme, putting the scheme in the high value for money category
  • Enhancing the regional economy by £264m in the first ten years.

Leader of North Somerset Council Cllr Donald Davies said the council was committed to investing in local infrastructure: “MetroWest Phase 1 is a nationally significant project that will deliver wide ranging environmental and economic benefits to our region.

“Once completed, Metro West Phase 1 will connect an additional 50,000 residents directly to the national rail network and will improve the level of service for a further 180,000 residents on the Severn Beach and Bath corridors.”

Regional Mayor, Tim Bowles, added: “I want the West of England to have the rail network it deserves to help reduce congestion, improve air quality and keep people moving. This is a huge step forward and complements our plans to provide direct services between Severn Beach and Bath for the first time, as well as the re-opening of Henbury train station.”

Once the application is registered by the Planning Inspectorate, the Secretary of State for Transport is expected to make a decision within 18 months.

Subject to final business case approval, construction work is expected to start on the Portishead to Bristol line in December 2021 and take around two years to complete.