By Andrew White

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to get the Bristol to Portishead railway line re-opened have suffered a major setback. They have been told it could be at least 10 years before a decision is made on whether to bring the rail link back into use. The Department for Transport says it is “unlikely” the idea of reopening the line will be reconsidered until 2015 at the earliest. Passenger services on the line were axed in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts and freight services stopped in 1981.

Fresh hopes for the line, which is still intact although overgrown, were raised in 2001 with the opening of a freight line between Bristol and Portbury Dock. Campaigners collected a 1500-signature petition calling for the line to be reopened and copies were presented to Bristol City Council and North Somerset Council last month. The Government’s assertion that a decision on bringing the line back into use will not be made before 2015 pours cold water on plans set out for its long-term reopening by the region’s local authorities.

The Joint Local Transport Plan (LTP) is being jointly developed by Bath and North east Somerset, Bristol city, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils, and will run from 2006 to 2011. This sets out proposals to manage transport in the region and form the basis of a bid to Government for funding.

Draft proposals were submitted to the Government at the end of last month outlining proposals for improved bus, rail and some road improvements. This included a long-term proposal to reinstate the disused Portishead line to meet demand generated from the building of 4,000 new homes. The proposal is one of a number of hoped-for new initiatives to make better used of the region’s rail network as a means of easing congestion on its roads. Although the LTP states that the reinstatement of the Portishead line would not come before 2011, it said it remained an option providing government funding was available.

North Somerset’s executive member for strategic planning and transport, Councillor Peter Burden, said today that he had written to Transport Secretary Alistair Darling on the matter. He hopes that the reopening of the line would be included in the eagerly-awaited Greater Bristol Transport Study.

But at the same time, Mr Burden, who lives in Portishead, felt the Department for Transport did not favour railways in general. He said: “The Department for Transport just does not believe in heavy rail use – but the campaign goes on.” Mr Burden said the recent major house building in Portishead had seen the town’s population rise to more than 20,000. “There has been a phenomenal growth rate and it was all done on the assumption that there would be public transport expenditure. One of those things was the railway line. “We all thought that once £17 million went into getting the line to the port, that getting the extra for the rest of the line would be straightforward- but it’s getting harder.”

Mr Burden added that the four unitary authorities in the former county of Avon were hoping to have talks with Mr Darling in an attempt to secure improvements to the local service.


Evening Post   4 August 2005