Bath Voice News: HS2 cancellation fall-out sees Metro Mayor ruling out underground trains for Bristol

By John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporter: Plans for a tube-style underground in Bristol have been vetoed by Metro Mayor Dan Norris at a key vote. 

The West of England Combined Authority (Weca) was due to decide on how to progress plans on its proposed mass transit system at a meeting today. But the future for the “Future4West” scheme remains uncertain after region’s political leaders failed to come to an agreement.

Mr Norris used his veto to prevent any further consideration of a tunnelled underground along three routes through the city —  overruling Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and the leaders of South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset Councils and going against the recommendation of his own transport chiefs.

Mr Norris said: “I won’t waste a penny more of taxpayers’ money on an underground. I voted for overground options only because I believe an underground to be unaffordable and unrealistic.”

But the three council leaders blocked all moves to only continue with an overground and cut-and-cover mass transit system — leaving the vote in a stalemate and the future of Bristol transport in limbo.

Mr Rees said: “We need to keep all options on the table until the evidence tells us it’s not possible.”

Weca estimates that a tunnelled tube-style underground could cost between £15bn and £18bn — leading opponents of the plan to dub it “fantasy” — although Mr Rees claimed that subsequent Weca papers had suggested it could be delivered 40-50% cheaper.

Meanwhile, a cheaper mass transit system based mainly overground with some cut-and-cover tunnels could include massive roadworks — including digging up stretches of Gloucester Road and Church Road.

Mr Rees told the meeting that the idea of asking a future Bristol City Council administration to close these roads made the scheme “undeliverable.” He said: “Liveable neighbourhoods have been challenging enough. This would be an intervention of epic proportions.”

The meeting was also warned that dropping consideration of tunnelled underground options at this stage could cost them in the long run. Richard Bonner, chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership, told the committee: “If you think about Stokes Croft, Gloucester Road what that means for roadworks impeding the ability of traders to have sustainable businesses for two or three years of disruption, there’s a significant risk that some of those traders will find that they are not able their sustain their businesses.”

Mr Bonner said that the combined authority could save £10k to £30k if stopped investigating underground options, but that they could then face more the costs and delays caused by legal challenges from affected businesses if they dug up the roads without fully considering the alternatives.

South Gloucestershire Council leader Claire Young said she was sceptical about a fully underground option but said “this is not about that.” She said: “We have very very clear legal advice — we also have the views of the business community — all very clearly saying we need to keep all options on the table.”

But nothing is on the table until the region’s political leaders can agree.

The photo is of the London Underground. Pic: BBC.

By Harry Mottram: Whatever your views are on the HS2 rail project linking the Midlands and the North the Government has made its mind up to scrap it and spend the money elsewhere. And Bath and the surrounding region could benefit as the Network North document published today (4th October, 2023) says that Network West run by the Metro Mayor Dan Norris’s West of England Combined Authority (WECA) could get an extra £100 million pounds. In the document it states: “We will boost funding to the West of England Combined Authority by £100 million. The funding could be used for an extension of MetroWest to the south – covering Weston-super-Mare, Taunton/Exeter, and Worle/Weston-super-Mare Parkway. The authority could also start Temple Meads passenger and capacity enhancements, step-free access across the network and complete electrification between Temple Meads, Bristol Parkway and Chippenham.”

Cynics have already suggested none of the many transport upgrades promised in the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference will ever take place. Partly due to the time scales required to progress the projects, and partly because if the Government calls and loses a General Election in 2024 then the incoming Labour or Lib Dem Government may or may not action the plans. It is possible that a new administration could even restart the HS2 Manchester section since millions have already been spent on its construction including the acquisition of land at tax payers expense.

However if the plans go ahead to pump cash into Network West then commuting from North Somerset to Bath from places such as Portishead, Pill and Weston-super-Mare would get easier. But it’s a big if as Sunak’s critics suggest.

Bath Voice Monthly Newspaper is distributed free to thousands of homes and some supermarkets – distributed from the first of the month. Harry Mottram is the News Editor

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Harry Mottram is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Telegram, TikTok and Mobile: 07789 864769