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PRG April 2019 statement

How the funding was agreed and what happens now

Portishead Railway Group (PRG) Committee have prepared this paper so that residents of Portishead, Pill and the surrounding villages can understand the process that got us here and also the lengthy process that should eventually lead to the reopening of the railway.

It is really important that as many people as possible understand why rebuilding the railway can’t simply start immediately. They can then spread the word – expectations must be realistic to avoid further disappointment.

A recent history of the completion of the funding jigsaw

o PRG Committee decided that ‘being nice’ with central government wouldn’t result in additional funding.

o PRG therefore adopted a strategy that can be summarised as ‘firm insistence’.

o A further letter was sent in September 2018, reminding Dr Fox that the railway wouldn’t go ahead unless central government released some funding.

o WECA and NSC issued ‘working together’ undertakings.

o A further £16m of local funding was identified.

o Made it clear that the remaining funding shortfall of £32m could now only be provided by central government.

o Proposed a combined national and local funding solution for future railway reinstatement schemes up and down the country.

o The release of £31.9m of additional funding will have resulted from pressure applied by all of these organisations, not just by one particular organisation or individual.

o  As a result, no single organisation or individual should claim sole ‘bragging rights’.

Why rebuilding the railway can't just start immediately

o These projects are known as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

o Because between Portbury Junction and Portishead more than 2km of track will be built (the main criterion for railways within the Planning Act 2008).

o Therefore any track built and added to the rail network forever increases the cost of maintaining the rail network.

o This is achieved by a Development Consent Order (DCO).

o One of them is a Full Funding Statement which obviously couldn’t be written until central government had stumped up the final piece of the funding jigsaw: £31.9m.

The DCO process and why it is important

o Because reinstating the Portishead railway is classed as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project under the criteria set out in the Planning Act 2008, a DCO is required.

o MetroWest has the responsibility for preparing and submitting the DCO application –  hopefully in June or July.

o Assuming the application is received by the Planning Inspectorate by the end of July, a decision could reasonably be expected in Q1 2021.

o There are circumstances which could lead to a longer assessment period, or possibly a shorter assessment period, but it seems these rarely occur.

A possible overall programme

o Construction compounds and temporary roadways have to be built first.

o Much of the line through the Avon Gorge is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with almost no access.

o The line has to be sufficiently available for Royal Portbury Dock rail traffic to run.

o These could be separately authorised locally, if that is seen as advantageous.

o DCO process, to signature   18 months (end Jan 2021)

o Contracts start-up time       6 months (end Jul  2021) See Note *

o Railway and road works      21 months (end Apr 2023)

o Testing period                   4 months (end Aug 2023)

Possible total:  approximately 49 months from DCO submission

o Unexpected geological issues uncovered during the works in the Avon Gorge could extend the railway works period.

o As a counterbalance, the railway and road works period and the final test period could both be slightly shorter.

* A note regarding the contract start-up period

No contracts should be signed until after the DCO has been signed.  

Contractors will then require reasonable contract start-up times – the period during which they will marshal materials, machinery and labour, perhaps also placing subcontracts on other organisations. This all takes time.  

Even then, very little ‘rail’ work can be carried until the various compounds and temporary roadways have been built, and these cannot be built until the DCO is signed off.

In the programme estimate above, PRG Committee has assumed a start-up period of six months. This is generous; the start-up period could be shorter if there is a will to make it so.

PRG Committee hopes the reader now has a good grasp of why these things have been, are, and will be, this complex, and therefore why work cannot start for around another two years.  

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